Celtic 3—2 Lille

Celtic start with a 4-4-2 formation. Conor Hazard in goals. Scott Bain and the £5- million-signing Vasilis Barkas on the bench. The young Irish keeper didn’t have any chance with the two goals we lost. The first was a rare mistake from an attempted lob backward by Calum McGregor to a static central defence. And Yazıcı races into the box and squares to an unmarked Ikone to equalise and make it 1-1, after Julien’s header put us ahead three minutes earlier. Lille’s second equalising goal came from another poorly defended free kick. Shane Duffy headed the ball out. Timothy Weah (remember him from our loan deal under Rodgers) scored with a volley from inside the box.

 Elyounoussi should have been marking him, but wasn’t. That’s been the story of Celtic’s slide into ignominy, bottom of the charts in the Europa group and the goal’s lost column, and generally, in Europe. (I’ve zero interest in the Champions League draw).  But the Swiss midfielder had a fine game. Hazard, finally, had a chance to make a save in the 80th minute, Ihaji from around the penalty spot fluffed his chance, and the Celtic keeper was glad to gather a trickler. We needed a bit of luck.

  I don’t think many would argue with the way David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro played in midfield they deserve another chance. Turnbull scored the winner, to make it 3-2, after Ajer galloped down the touch line and whipped in a cross. And the former Motherwell midfielder created the first with a whipped in corner and the second. Turnbull was an easy pick for man of the match.

Soro wasn’t far behind him. He broke up play and kept the ball. He had to go off with cramp in the ninety-second minute. That shows how much running he did. He created the second goal by winning the ball and passing it to Turnbull. The midfielder toe-poked it to Frimpong who was clattered inside the box. Stonewaller.

Calum McGregor took the penalty and made up for his earlier error by scoring.

Ewan Henderson came on early for Jeremie Frimpong who smashed his head against an advertising board. I’m a big fan of Ewan (and his brother Liam, the ex-Celt) but it was difficult to see how he would get into such a talented midfield. He showed brio here and no-little skill. He’s an outstanding talent.

Up front Patryk Kilmala worked hard, which always sounds like a put-down. His only shot on goal after twenty minutes was saved the keeper, but led to the corner from which we scored. Any striker that doesn’t score is never happy, nor should he be.  Ajeti came on for the last ten minutes but managed to embarrass himself (and by association Celtic) by rolling around on the touchline for no reason.  

Duffy came in to partner Julien in a defence that has leaked more goals than any other team in the European competition. The French man has a decent record scoring goals from free kicks. But recently we tend to lose far more goals that we score. We’re keeping Julien, for the present, but the jury is out on Duffy. You can’t really blame him for the second goal here. He won his header. But he also misjudged a header when he was on a booking. He could have been sent off for hand ball. I don’t need to work very hard to make a case for sending him back to Brighton in the January window. We’re out of Europe. The Scottish Premier League gone. Duffy was not the answer, nor the player we thought he would be.

I’m not a fan of Ajer. He’s not a central defender. And if AC Milan had put the cash up I’d have been glad to see him go. But I can remember him having a stormer at right back against Aberdeen. Here he created the third, and winning goal. But that leaves a gap because if we’re playing 4-4-2 and Ajer is at right back then Julien needs a partner. Answers on a postcard. Perhaps Scott Brown should take a step backwards. Neil Lennon might surprise everyone by picking the same team that started tonight on Sunday. We’re playing catch-up, and it doesn’t matter because we’re not going to catch them, but it does hurt. It does hurt. The ten is gone. Let’s think about next season, this season. Get rid of the dross now.

Will you take the Covid-19 vaccine(s)?

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/06/the-vaccine-miracle-how-scientists-waged-the-battle-against-covid-19

Around 20% of us are unlikely to take the Covid-19 vaccine (there are more than one type of vaccine, but it is highly unlikely you’ll get a choice—unless you’re rich—which propriety brand you will get inoculated with). These are a vocal minority, let’s call them I’d-rather- smear-my-face-with-shit group. Our French compatriots numbers are higher.

Around  15% are unsure.  We’ll wait and see group numbers could swell if there are reports of side-effects. Mavericks are sure to spring up such as Andrew Wakefield who claimed there was a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and childhood autism. He was struck off by the General Medical Council and his claims disproved, but he remains unrepentant.

My medical experience comes from playing the side of Dr Finlay’s head as an extra in Dr Finlay’s Casebook. So you could say, I’m a medical man, and I’d treat Wakefield’s claim with the contempt reserved for the moron, moron’s claim that injecting yourself with disinfectant was a cure for Covid-19.

But we all like the narrative of the underdog, the whistle-blower willing to take on the establishment and tell the truth. A.J. Cronin who wrote Dr Finlay, as a Scottish doctor, wrote what he knew. Dr Andrew Mason’s character, the narrator of The Citadel, for example, was portrayed as having working-class origins in the hungry nineteen-thirties. He is about to be struck off by the General Medical Council. But instead of apologising, he rises up and castigates them.

‘commercialism? the usual guinea-chasing treatments, the unnecessary operations, the crowds of worthless pseudo-scientific propriety preparations we use…The whole profession is far too intolerant and smug…For years we’ve been bleating about the sweated conditions under which our nurses work, the wretched pittances we pay them.

Louis Pasteur, the greatest figure of all scientific medicine, was not a doctor.  

The deferential era in which the characters Dr Andrew Mason, or Dr Findlay, or indeed the author A.J.Cronin steps forward, was one when if a medical doctor told his patient to smear his or her face with shit you’d be sure to make a good job of it has passed is also a myth. Our gods are just different gods. Who is yours?

Who can we trust, when ‘I’ the online warrior knows best? (ironic since I’m writing this online).

I’m no different. I’m not the exception to the rule. Keyboard warriors believe there’s a conspiracy to keep them quiet. Like Dr Andrew Mason they’ll have their day, and their say. They’re called trolls for a reason. They won’t be struck off. They won’t be silenced. They’re the rightist of the right.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jan/23/conspiracy-theories-internet-survivors-truth

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/nov/29/how-to-deal-with-a-conspiracy-theorist-5g-covid-plandemic-qanon

Carl Sagan’s invisible imaginary dragon is always a step too far. Fake authority is easily bought. George Clooney goes at it with brio as a tobacco lobbyist in Up in the Air/Thank You for Smoking.

‘You can’t prove anything/ You can prove everything, given enough data’. Thought provoking killer cliché.

In Martin Ford’s apocalyptic vision in The Rise of the Robot, Technology and the Threat of Mass Unemployment, what we’re left with is our planet (and the planets closest to earth) cannibalised as the cuckoo in our nest, the next generation of robots work to eliminate uncertainty.

We don’t know if the current Covid-19 vaccine will limit the spread of disease. What we have is best guess. Those inoculated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, according to studies have lower viral loads than those given a placebo. This suggests they are less likely to spread the Covid-19 virus.

We wear face masks not to protect ourselves, but others, getting inoculated helps to prevent the spread of disease. In the same way, I wouldn’t cross the road while holding a three-year-old girl’s hand (Tilly) while standing at the traffic lights until I hear the beeps, because it also sets her a good example. I might get hit by a truck but I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m following a code that can protect both of us. That doesn’t mean I won’t also be looking right or left and stop listening for traffic.

Philip Knightley (1997) provides a case study of all the familiar ingredients of how pharmaceutical companies evade responsibility. The Thalidomide Scandal, Where We Went Wrong. Blaming the victims. Court injunctions slowing down disclosure, while accepting no responsibility and extraneous factors as causative.  Creating a Kafkaesque bureaucratic maze to rival that of Grenfell victims—before and after. Class played a large part. The richer and more vocal middle-class victims were more likely to obtain compensation. Negligence and ruthlessness of establishment forces to finalise a settlement. In many ways it mirrors the hostile environment our Home Office and Priti Patel helped create for immigrants seeking British citizenship.    

Politics is about power. It doesn’t surprise me that Boris Johnstone’s cronies are handed tens of millions of taxpayers money for providing (fill in your own example here, such as Personal Protective Equipment) while not giving any of us a real choice. Drug companies cash in on their monopolies to hike up prices. That doesn’t surprise me either. That doesn’t mean the product they’re selling doesn’t work. American steel monopolies created quality steel. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is new technology. Cutting edge.

Robert A. Caro says in his introduction to Working: ‘Political power shapes all of our lives. It shapes your life in little ways you might not even think about.’

The I’d-rather-smear-my-face-with-shit group, don’t want you to think. Don’t want you to read. They have their own agenda and want simple answers to complex questions.  If an airplane made of millions of complex parts becomes grounded for mechanical reasons that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fly. Our bodies are made of billions of cells.  Pharmaceutical companies and epidemiologists are the ground crew telling us they can fix it and it’s safe to fly. Sure we’ve had setbacks and crashes. But it’s not all about you, you, you, or I, I, I. We need to look at the larger community. What’s the point of clapping NHS workers while ignoring their advice? When you, your daughter or son gets sick and can’t breathe, don’t phone an ambulance. Tell them it’s just a giant hoax. The one and half million dead are faking it in the same ways six million Jews didn’t perish in death camps. The true figure is only known by us right-wingers. A vaccine is for losers. You know best. Hey, I’m going to fly.  I want to get as far away from those right-wing loonies as I can.

Yes, I’ll take the vaccine.

Flint, BBC Scotland, BBC iPlayer, narrator Alec Baldwin, writer Richard Phinney, director and editor Anthony Baxter.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000q1km/flint

I found it strange that a crew from BBC Scotland led by Anthony Baxter should from 2014 spend five years filming a documentary about water pollution in Flint Michigan, the former home of General Motors, and the narrator is Alec Baldwin. We’re far from home.

Remember around 25 years ago when John Gummer, the then Tory agricultural minister, fed his four-year-old daughter a burgher to prove the British beef was safe after the BSE (Mad Cow Disease) disaster? Here we have President Obama sipping water from the Flint River’s Treatment Plant and declaring it safe. Whilst we have Reverend Jesse Jackson declaring that water is a basic human right. Amen to that.

What we have is a crisis of faith in authority and what they are telling us. (Soon to be mirrored by the almost 50% that will not take a Covid 19 vaccine because they don’t trust those telling us it’s safe – and often for good reason—although in the case of the Covid vaccines, plural, ignorance plays a large part).

Who to believe becomes what we believe. In Flint the mayor declares it an issue of class (and ethnicity). General Motors produced almost 50 million cars in Flint. That’s past tense. Since 1970 the population has halved. Houses that sold for $60 000 can now be bought for $6000. Lots lie empty.  

Rick Snyder was elected as Michigan’s governor on a ticket of running local government like a business. This is the kind of ticket the Laurel and Hardy of British politics Cameron and Osborne ran down the British economy. The same ticket Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison ran in sacking firefighters to save public money because in Rupert Murdoch land global warming is a hoax nobody is falling for. We could even throw in the moron’s moron’s wilful dismantling of government agencies tasked with the prevention of public health epidemics because they were insiders.

Snyder got away with sacking firefighters and police officers to balance the books. His plan to ratchet up water prices and take water from the Flint River and not from the Huron River, in south-eastern Michigan which had been used before then to save around $5 million per annum was a fiscal disaster and health disaster.

It followed the usual trajectory. First up is to blame the victims. Jeremiah Loren, aged 12, with a skin rash and debilitating illnesses is somehow to blame, if not him, then his family.   

As Michigan’s governor, he stripped Flint’s city council of its power, and his administrators raised water prices to balance the books. They then forced the city to use water from the Flint River in order to save more money. Something was wrong. Tap water was brown. Residents were told to run it a little longer. Advised that colouring had nothing to do with safety—it was still safe to drink. At the last remaining General Motors assembly plant car parts began to rust.

Professor Edwards with the help of his students from nearby Virginia Tech College took water samples and found lead 5000 times over the limits advised by the World Health Organisation. He declared it ‘a man-made disaster’ that such a toxic substance had been allowed to accumulate, particularly, in the bloodstream of around 10 000 city children where it was linked with among other factors a lower IQ and possible brain damage.

ACT 2. Snyder admits there may have been a problem. He’ll fix it (but you’ll pay for him to fix it). Hey Presto. Fixed. Your water is safe to drink. Cue Snyder drinking water treated by the Flint Treatment Plant and taken from the Huron River. No more talk about saving money, now it’s about saving lives. We do get a fix on him with his ad-lib about those on welfare (that they should be glad to pay over-inflated prices for drinking poison).

Class actions suits against Flint, and at state and federal levels are filed. We’re in Erin Brokovich territory.

The expert for the Water Defence League, Scott Smith, proves to be a charlatan and snake-oil salesman. Professor Edwards turns turtle and agrees to work with Snyder. Edwards declares the water safe to drink, well, as safe as any other state. Edwards files a law suit of defamation against, mother of three, Melissa Mays. She was a major part of the city-wide initiative to uncover the truth about Flint’s water. Edward had publicly thanked and praised her and other volunteers.

Alec Baldwin appears in front of the camera to ask a resident and mother, ‘why don’t you leave?’  

If you can’t work out the answer, here’s a questionnaire I developed (A) I just love poisoning myself and my kids or  (B) I’m skint, and where would I go?

If you answered A, congratulations, you voted for the moron’s moron, Trump. If you answered B, and voted for Trump, keep drinking the water. Rust belt? Sure, hope so.

Dirty God, BBC2, BBC iPlayer, written by Susanne Farrell and Sacha Polak and directed by Sacha Polak.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000q5vv/dirty-god

I expected this to begin with the acid attack. Instead Jade (Vicky Knight) is returning home, but still wearing a see-through face mask until her face settles. Her hopes are pinned on a miracle, that reconstructive facial surgery can return her to the fresh-faced girl she was before the attack. And not this ‘dog’s dinner,’ as she calls it.

 Hospital staff are supportive but warn her that this is as good as it’s going to get and she’ll need to adjust and accept her facial and body scarring. It won’t go away.

Jade’s mum, Lisa (Katherine Kelly) is a glamourous shoplifter. She used her flat on the estate to punt her stuff to other mothers. ‘He destroyed you,’ she later tells her daughter.

Jade’s odyssey is to prove that she has not been destroyed, that she will rise again. A spiritual black guru appears in wings, intermittently, to lick her facial scars and show Lisa she is desired. That’s the way I read it, but I might have been wrong. It’s a bit naff.

Apart from that it’s pitch perfect. Jade’s no goody-two shoes. She wants a life and she wants her baby Rae (Eliza Brady-Girard) back. But when Rae first sees Jade, the toddler screams, she doesn’t recognise her mum. Lisa has to take the baby and her granddaughter back to her flat, which is on the same balcony.

But Jade doesn’t want the other granny, her attacker’s mum, to have any time with her baby.

Jade’s friend Shammy (Rebecca Stone), the same age, but still beautiful, takes her clubbing. Tells her not to worry. Her attacker will get serious time and she’ll never see him again. (With almost a quarter million currently waiting for their cases to be heard in criminal courts in London this is obviously hyperbole). Just on cue, the acid attacker, her ex-boyfriend turns up.

The girls flee, but they’re not alone. Naz (Bluey Robinson) is the love interest. He hitches up with Shammy, but he’s had something of a thing for Jade, which might not have burnt out.

Jade gets a shitty to pay for the promise of reconstructive surgery. She’s been promised online it can be done in Morocco. Flavia (Dana Marineci) shows her the ropes in the call centre in London in which they both work.

These are her allies, Jade’s job is to find herself and find acceptance. Easier said, than done. And it’s done very well. Well worth watching to see the kind of baiting disfigured girls, women, in general, get. Jade gives as good as she gets. That’s the beauty of it. She’s not a fucking wilting English rose.

Celtic 1—1 St. Johnstone.

P    W        D         L          F          A         +/-        Pts

      1          Rangers (4-0)  16        14        2          0          45        3          +42      44

      2          Celtic (1-1)      14        9          4          1          35        14        +21      31

      3          Hibernian        16        8          5          3          24        16        +8        29

      4          Aberdeen        15        8          4          3          21        17        +4        28

Celtic’s nine-in-a-row against St. Johnstone, played nine games, won nine, scored 29, none conceded. The team from Perth, sponsored not by Adidas, but by A&B taxis, followed the Ross County blueprint, and all other teams in Scotland—they sat back and waited for Celtic to fall apart. For the most part this didn’t happen in the first-half. Biton had a header cleared off the line, but from another angle Stevie May’s header was going past. Barkas’s kick-outs played in the St Johnstone midfield. He came out and flapped at a routine cross ball, which makes me almost nostalgic for Rab Douglas.  Then at the end of added time in the first half Biton stopped to moan while play went on, Frimpong let an overlapping St. Johnstone player get to the touchline and cut back. What we’ve come to expect of the usual Keystone Cops’ defending, but we didn’t lose a goal. We left that until late.

Edouard, after twenty minutes,  had the best chance of the first half, a pass from man-of-the-match McGregor played him in, and his shot saved by the keeper, rebounded to Laxalt, who scuffed his shot.  McGregor, close to half time, riding three challenges, set Edouard up for another chance and one-on-one with a defender, but the ball was taken from the Celtic attacker. Rogic created another half chance, but nothing much to sing about.

Laxalt clattered early on had to go off. He was replaced at half-time by Greg Taylor. Brown, playing his 600th match for Celtic goes off for Griffiths. Rogic goes off for Turnbull on the 70th minute. But the Perth side score first with 15 minutes remaining. I could just say the usual here. Tanser on the right to Stevie May, he hits the back post and an unmarked Chris Kane bundles it into the net from close range. Substitute Elyounoussi, our top scorer, has a bit of luck with a cross from Christie which falls into the back of the net to make it a goal apiece and give us a draw. He has another chance from a corner, but doesn’t score.

Played 12 won 2. This is Celtic’s record,  not St. Johnstone’s. We’ll get the usual guff about St. Johnstone deserving at least a point. The same kind of story as last week’s defeat, with Ross County coming to Parkhead and winning for the first time in years. Teams with a fraction, less than five percent of Celtic’s budget are doing it not because they’re getting any better, we’ve just got worse and worse and worse. The other narrative is we’ve got five winnable games coming up. I heard that story last week and the week before. But then it was seven games (making allowance for Milan). There’ll be no ten-in-a-row for Celtic. Better preparing for the season after next. Ironically, I don’t rate Rangers, we can certainly go there and win, but only bragging rights. What a total fuck-up this season has been.

Leo Tolstoy, Childhood, translated by C.J. Hogarth.

After reading War and Peace I felt that someone should gallop up and hang a medal around my neck. I’m easily confused and Russian names are Russian to me. Childhood is a much easier beast. Short pen-portraits of, for example, ‘The Tutor, Karl Ivanitch,’ ‘Mama,’ ‘Papa,’ ‘Lessons,’ ‘The Idiot’.

His is a very structured life. Papa is a little god, all bow before him. He runs the estate with an iron grip. No rouble unaccounted for. Yet, he can lose a million roubles playing cards. Mama, is an angel, as all mama’s are.

‘Get up my darling, it’s time go by-by.’ No envious gaze sees her now. She is not afraid to shed upon me the whole of her tenderness and love. I do not wake up, yet I kiss her and kiss her…’

She does not remonstrated with Papa, for she is a simple woman with a belief in God’s goodness. All is as it should be. Papa may need to sell some of her estate, but what is hers is his. Echoes of this gambling loss appear in War and Peace.

When the children need to leave for Moscow to stay with Grandmamma for their proper education not on tutoring, but how to enter a room, for example, she knows it is for the best. Living in the countryside would hold them back. High society resides in Moscow and they must learn who is and who is not to be snubbed.

I cannot explain my cruelty on this occasion. Why did I not step forward to comfort and protect him (a boy, not quite of their aristocratic heritage)? Where was the pitifulness that made me burst into tears at the sight of a young bird fallen from its nest…

And his first love Sonatcheka (after a boyish crush on another boy).

The most prominent features of her face was a pair of unusually large half-veiled eyes, which formed a strange, but pleasing contrast to the small mouth. Her lips were closed, while her eyes looked so grave that the general expression of her face gave one the impression that a smile was never to be looked for from her: wherefore when a smile did come, it was still more pleasing.

Tolstoy’s heroines are here and undiluted by age, made stronger by yearning. The outward and inward. The use of ‘gave one’, rather than gave me, moves it from the first-person narrative to the universal. She’s still not smiling—yet when she does the world moves around her to accommodate her.   

I had strange ideas on manly beauty. I considered Karl Ivanitch one of the handsomest men in the world, and myself so ugly that I had no need to deceive myself on that point…

[Grandmamma] patted my cheek; “You know Nicolinka, nobody will ever love you for your face alone, so you must try and be a good and clever boy”.

Tolstoy’s insecurity as a boy also has a universal appeal. As does his grief at the death of his mother, and her beloved servant, and former serf, Natalia Savishina, in ‘Sad Recollections’. Natalia’s brother found it hard to believe that after sixty years’ dedicated serve Natalia had left only sixty roubles. Her love couldn’t be counted in roubles, but, hey, I’m with the revolutionaries here.  

Millions lost on the turn of a card, but around a rouble a year so the Tolstoy family can get three meals a day and their every aristocratic need catered for. Tolstoy is not writing history, but re-living it. His story is not my story. I’m the Idiot, the peasant ploughing his fields, serving his meals and looking after his horses. There way of life was not to my liking, then or now. The quality of the writing, well…that’s a different kind of lesson.

AC Milan 4—2 Celtic.

Great start for Celtic—thirty-nine-year-old Ibrahimovic was on the bench. He’d bossed the game at Parkhead and made the men against boy’s tag seem not a cliché, but reality. Celtic started well. They didn’t concede from the first corner of the match in seven minutes. Then Milan defended like Celtic and handed Rogic the first goal.  Rade Krunic takes a poor touch at the edge of the box, the Aussie still has lots to do, but, even during this crisis, he’s shown himself to be a class act.

A minute later McGregor should have made it two, firing at Gianluigi Donnarumma from twelve yards.

Then Edouard does make it 2—0, class from the Frenchman, inside fifteen minutes. Celtic could have been three or four up. But we knew it was too good to be true. And I was hoping we’d hold on for a draw. Honours even.

Celtic gifted two goals. Christie was at fault for the first of the Milan goals. He made a needless challenge on the edge of the box. Barkas doesn’t make a save. It’s hardly a headline. Sutton, the co-commentator was asked whether he should have Barkas or Bain in goal and answered ‘neither of them’. Hakan Calhanoglu’s goal had me fearing he’d opened the floodgates. Not because Milan were doing anything much, but because the Celtic defence is no defence at all. It’s officially the worst in Europe. Celtic have conceded four goals in their last three European games.

Kris Ajer who Milan were reportedly looking at, saw what we can all see. He’s decent on the ball, as a late run showed, but as a central defender he lacks defensive quality. The very thing that makes you a defender. One cross-field pass in the second half had the Milan forwards in on goal. Most of our defenders are midfielders who can’t get a game in midfield. That tells you everything you need to know.

For the Milan second goal, Barkas had a helping hand from Laxalt. His back pass wasn’t great. But the Celtic keeper could and should have done better than play it straight to a Milan player. Samu Castillejo was first to react and the ball hit Laxalt as it went into the net. Celtic had enough defenders to deal with it. They didn’t.

  Jens Petter Hauge scored the third and created the fourth by drifting in from the touchline and beating pretty much the Celtic team. The Danish man of the match cost four million Euros. Less than the price of our shiny new Celtic keeper. Less than the price of an on-loan Boli. Less than Ajeti. Less than the loan deal for Shane Duffy.  

Buying duds or taking them on loan has meant Celtic not only have the biggest wage bill in the Scottish Premier League, they also have be far the largest outgoings. For every pound they spend, Murray (who sold the Ibrox club for a pound) said he’d put down a tenner. I’m not really sure what point I’m trying to make here. Bamboozled, certainly. As Sutton claimed, the big game wasn’t in Milan, it’s St. Johnstone on Sunday. But we’ll need a minor miracle to win the league. Even with Lennon gone: too little, too late. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth. We lack a clear plan of how to get out of this mess that has seen a Celtic team win only two games in their last ten. I used to love the sound of the Champions’ League music. We weren’t at that level. We were top seeds in this Europa League group. Finished bottom. How far can we fall?

Ocean Vuong (2019) On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a book worth reading more than once—I won’t, of course, too many other books to discover and read, but sometimes we need to pause. The mark of a wonderful book is you can open it any page and learn something. Here’s the start, which is so important (as us writers know) for setting the tone.

‘Let me begin again.

Dear Ma,

I am writing to reach you—even if each word put down is one word further away from where you are. I am writing to go back to that time…’

First-person narratives draw the reader in. A cosy arrangement, saying you can trust me. We all love our mum right?

Who are you, becomes what are you? Here Vuong is a dutiful son. His father Paul, an arthritic, pot-smoking Vietnam veteran is not his father. His mother Rose’s real name is not Rose, but an aid agency contacted him in the nineteen-eighties after he’d been married eight years telling him he’d a wife and son in a Philippine refugee camp. She cannot speak English, neither can her sister, or her mother Lan, Vuong’s grandmother.

Vuong inhabits two worlds, a child of immigrants, he is there voice to the English speaking world. There face is his face. A face that does not fit inside the eyes that look back at him.

His mother finds work in the toxic environment of a nailbar. They are the lowest of the low. His mother has no health insurance and psychotic episodes. Grandmother Lan flings a hand over Ocean’s mouth, whispering for him to keep quiet when fireworks go off, or the mortars will find them.

Normal life for Voung is Lan calling him ‘Little Dog’ to confuse the spirits that might blight his life if they believed he was someone important.

Vuong inhabits there world of ghosts and demons and boys at school who bully him.

‘That time at the nail salon, I overheard you consoling a customer over her recent loss.

“I lost my baby, Julie. I can’t believe it, she was my strongest, my oldest.”

“It’s okay,” you said in English, don’t cry. You’re Julie…how she die?”

“Cancer…and in the backyard too.”

“My mom, too, she die from cancer.” The room went quiet. You’re co-workers shifted in their seats. “But what happened in the backyard, why she die there?”

The woman wiped her eyes. “That’s where she lives. Julie’s my horse.”

You nodded, put on your mask… “ A fucking horse you say in Vietnamese.”.’

Contrast 1964 and 1997 when Tiger Woods wins his first Major’s golf tournament.

Back then: General Curtis Le May “promised to bomb the Vietnamese back to the Stone Ages”.

The US military would end up releasing over ten thousand tons of bombs in a county no bigger than California—surpassing the number of bombs dropped in all of World War II combined.’

Rose and Lan’s experience was of being hunted. Their experience of being in America is to keep their heads down. And reminding Voung that being Vietnamese is enough of a burden and he must remain invisible.

Voung makes a comparison with Tiger Woods to make the immigrant experience more understandable to outsiders. Earl Woods names his son after a Vietnamese comrade who saved his life on his final tour of duty. Lieutenant Colonel Dong Vang Phong—“Tiger Phong”, Earl had named him because of his ferocity in battle. Earl had married a Vietnamese women and had his apartment vandalised with slogans painted on the walls.

Ocean Voung makes a literary joke about this experience, playing his mother’s lack of English against her, telling her that it was a message of support. As evidence he pointed out red paint was used, a propitious colour.

Ocean also falls in love with Trevor, who like many of his friends living in a mobile park-land, was hooked on Oxycontin after an injury and then heroin.

‘First developed as a painkiller for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, Oxycontin, along with its generic forms, was soon prescribed for all bodily pains: arthritis, muscle spasms, and migraines.’

Horror story, hearing Trevor’s voice… four years after he died.

He’s singing “This Little Light of Mine” again, the way he used to sing it—abrupt against lulls in the conversation, his arm hanging out the window of the Chevy, tapping the beat on the faded red exterior.

Ocean Vuong offers an insider story of an immigrant’s experience, a marginalised outsider, in the so called land of the free.  Not exactly a fuck you, because that’s too simplistic, too black and white, and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’. Read on.

Storyville: Locked In: Breaking the Silence, BBC4, BBC iPlayer, director Xavier Alford, editor Collete Hedges.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000pz1w/storyville-locked-in-breaking-the-silence

I once told the doctor there was nothing much wrong with me, apart from bits falling off. I’m hitting sixty and that’s the kind of thing you expect. My biggest fear is dementia. When you talk to others, often you hear, ‘My mum, or my da… had it’.

Director and cameraman Xavier Alford, aged 42, is a father of two and he suffers from a rare neurological disease, an equivalent of Guillain-Barré syndrome, better known as locked-in syndrome. I’d read the book and seen the movie, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a variation of the same theme, but with a happy ending.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diving_Bell_and_the_Butterfly

There’s no happy ending here. Xavier Alford faces a future in which he hopes science will find a way to stop his immune system attacking neurons. Motor neurons, as the name suggests, help us to walk, but also in such involuntary actions as breathing. Xavier has lost strength in his arms and his bad hand is his good hand. His hands natural resting position becomes claws. A consultant points out as muscles waste an indent in his wrist should be concave but is convex; he’s losing his grip on the world both literally and figuratively.

Xavier goes down the well-worn path of confronting his fears, and interviews others with the same condition. His wife is a reluctant participant in filming. His teenage daughter a peripheral presence, but shown doing acrobatics.  His youngest son encouraged to ask awkward questions, such as ‘will he die?’

Every three weeks Xavier goes for blood transfusion, the immunoglobulin in red blood cells diluted by healthy-but foreign- cells and putting a temporary stop to the antibody attack on the electricals signals to his brain. Afterwards his joints have more mobility. On camera he shows himself bending his wrist. But it doesn’t come without cost. Treatment leaves him suffering headaches, and he’s also got to spend long periods hospitalised to feel this shitty way. A small price to pay for movements we take for granted. But, as we see, with an older man Xavier visits, who can no longer walk, blood transfusions lose efficacy. His wife becomes his carer, a common theme, and he becomes more like an ever-more-dependent son.

He visits a patient in South Wales, who also felt that tell-tale tingling in his hands. The unaccounted otherness, we put to the back of our mind.  His condition had rapidly deteriorated. In three weeks he’d gone from being normal to having to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions with blinking his watery left eye. Consultant Dr Phillipa Jones had to ask the hard question, did he want to live, if his condition worsened? His answer was the same as mine, ‘No’.

We all die. With progressive illness, the path is set out in front of you. But there’s collective guilt attached. His mother questioned if she had been a good mother, perhaps she’d drank a bit too much when she was younger, and if she was somehow to blame. Xavier ponders whether he already knew there was something wrong, before he married, and he should have mentioned it. She’d a right to know, even though he didn’t.  The question of whether it’s hereditary. Xavier’s son asked if he would get it?

The answer was ‘No,’ but also yes. It wasn’t hereditary but could strike anyone, rich or poor, young or old. The equivalent of getting six numbers up in the health lottery and finding out your prize isn’t something you’d give to your worst enemy.

Going downhill doesn’t happen in one gulp. Not necessarily. Xavier gets emotional and tells his wife on camera, he loves her. ‘Do you love me?’ he asks.

She tells him she’s not speaking in front of the camera, but they’ll talk intimately after a few bottles of red wine. Money worries, sexual dysfunction, these kind of things are in the future, but for now they are safe. A happy ending of sorts. How can we make the worst better? We can’t. We can’t. We can just endure. Sad ending too. When it’s black or white we’ve got it wrong. Here Xavier gets it mostly right. I’m sure we all wish him well–

Arthur Golden (1998) Memoirs of a Geisha.

Arthur Golden (1998) Memoirs of a Geisha.

I’d already read Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. Perhaps I didn’t appreciate in the way I should the first time. A few things I remembered:  it was set in Japan, and it was seemingly a memoir about a Geisha. The sort of information that even the outgoing President of the United States would be able to pick up from flashcards, or the cover of the novel when prompted. Perhaps he would recognise that Japan wasn’t on his list of ‘shitty countries’ (that tend to be African) or on his axis of evil favoured by George W Bush. But the moron’s moron might confuse Japan with another country he was having a trade war with in the same way he had to be reminded what happened at Pearl Harbour.

Memoirs of a Geisha uses as a framing device a historian visiting an elderly Japanese woman, Sayuri, who has stayed in the Waldorf Tower in New York since 1956. In this way history becomes her-story. She asks him to write about her memories of Japan from her birth in 1920, through her training to be an apprentice Geisha girl in the hungry thirties of Kyoto. Her graduation, the selling of her virginity to the highest bidder which set a record in Japan. This allowed her to pay off all her debts before she was sixteen (although she claimed, modestly, her mentor Mameha’s virginity had sold for more in relative terms). The increasing militarisation of Kyoto. And the war years of deprivation, when the Geisha schools and tea houses were shut. Geisha girls were sent to work in factories. How the most celebrated of Kyoto’s Geisha’s elite scrambled to survive. The loss of the war, which brought the American’s, who didn’t rape and kill, as Sayuri  supposed they would, but were rather kind, flinging sweets to children (and detonating atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki which historians, and novelists, can contrast with Japanese troops’ attrocities in the annexation of Korea, the mass rape of ‘comfort girls’ and the genocidal Rape of Manchuria, but that’s another story or stories). So here we have post-feudal Japan from 1920 to1950 before it became one of the richest nations in the world around the 1980s, to be eclipsed by its rival China (which will soon eclipse America).

In terms of emotional plotting, it’s much simpler. It’s the tale of Cinderella. An older man, the Chairman, is kind to her when she is at her lowest, and gives her money to buy a sweet. He becomes the prince of her dreams, but Geisha girls don’t marry, although they did –or do—become paid consorts to the very rich. Prince Charming may have a wife, and a Geisha as consort and lover.   

Sayuri tells us there were over 800 Geisha houses in Gion when she began her training, and now there was less than sixty. The gei in geisha > means art. Her elder sister had been sold into prostitution, which was something different. Prostitution may be the oldest job in the world, but being a consort was a dying art. Geisha girls objectified the Japanese cultural idea of female beauty. Girls train from as young as three-years-old, for example, to play the lute, sing, and act in Geisha schools, and their studies continued after graduation. A spider’s web of industries evolved in small and larger cities which everyone including the tea houses were they perform has a cut of their fees for entertaining gentlemen.

Costumes that Geisha girls cost more than a year’s wages a labourer could hope to make. And any self-respecting Geisha, Mameha tells Sayuri, (and the reader) needs a varied collection of costumes so their clientele isn’t bored with the same old thing. Reputation is all.  Losing face isn’t just about getting old, but by selling sexual favours is to fall to the lowest rung of common prostitution. Geisha girls must be virginal, without being virgins and must learn to stir the pot of men’s needs and desires, in other words, to entertain. They must also find a rich man to fund their costly lifestyle, in which their time is metered. Each Geisha girl must become, in modern parlance, their own brand and pay their debts to their house mothers.

Each brand has its own house (okiya).

‘Whatever any of us thought about Hatsumomo she was like an empress in our okiya since she earned the income by which we all lived.’

Hatsumomo is the ugly sister in the Cinderella story. But although equal in beauty, to Sakuri’s ‘sister’— a term which applies to a Mameha who takes her from the closed world of being a maid to train and introduce into their enclosed world of Geisha—Hatsumomo is nasty and spiteful.

‘This is our foolish lower maid, said Hatsumomo. ‘She has a name, I think but why don’t you call her “Little Miss Stupid”.’  

The house brand with all its costumes is Hatsumumo’s. Her house ‘Mother’ and ‘Auntie’ are depended on her, as is the other trainee geisha and the servants, the lowest of which is ‘Litte Miss Stupid’.

Sayuri must knock Hatsumomo off her perch, claim the Chairman as her lover and become his consort. She must learn to be always a lady, but never seen with her claws out.  In a patriarchal, misogynist world, image matters more than substance. Love conquers all or something less meretricious that that. It follows the money? Read on.