Manchester City 4—0 Liverpool.

It could have been worse for Liverpool. Raheem Stirling instead of hitting the post against Chelsea could have scored and put Manchester City 2—1 ahead and they’d have probably won that game too. This game might have mattered. It could have been worse for Liverpool, substitute Mahrez goal after 94 minutes was chopped off. That would have made it 5—0 for City. The same score they lost at the Etihad the last time they were here.

I was thinking before the game Pep Gurudiolo’s and Manchester City’s worse decision in recent years was to buy John Stones and not Virgil van Dijk. City would have had the title this year with van Dijk in the team. But for such an emphatic win tonight, early on it was even. With both teams playing a high line, chances came and went.

Gabriel Jesus ‘goal’ was disallowed for a marginal offside. Mo Salah hit the post. Liverpool’s balls in behind the City defence was causing problem. Mane should have scored with a header. He should also have scored with a much easier chance in the second half. He’d a poor game, as did most of the Liverpool team. I’ll need to change that to all of the Liverpool team.

Sterling created Kevin de Bruyne’s first goal when the Manchester City forward was hauled down by Gomez. De Bruyne scored from the spot. Then Sterling scored the second goal by turning away from Gomez and hitting the ball through the Liverpool central defender’s legs. Nutmeg nightmare. The Scottish international Andy Robertson, and left-back, had a good claim to be the worst man on the park. He lost Foden for the third goal. And on this showing Robertson would have a hard time getting a game for Clyde, his former club. The best players on the park were wearing the City shirts.

Oxlade Chamberlain tried to stop Sterling adding to his tally and scored an own-goal. By that time, midway through the second half, the game was over.

Liverpool chances came mainly from Manchester City’s defenders and goalkeeper trying to play from the back. Manchester City’s chances came for de Bruyne, Sterling and Foden, who looks a real prospect.

In what could have been one of the biggest games of the season, but in reality a glorified friendly, Liverpool were the losers, but the winners. But I remember a time when the most important fixtures weren’t dictated by telly money. And would have been played on a fucking Thursday night. Crap game. Liverpool were terrible, but that doesn’t matter. City’s defence was terrible. They’re still in the European Cup. That does matter, but not to me. I’m focussing on the qualifiers for the Champion’s league. Celtic should go for De Bruyne and bring him home to Parkhead, where he’d be appreciated.  

Diana Wilson: 28/6/2020 RIP.

Diana and grand-kids, Danya and Leo.

Diana Wilson got allocated one of the new builds in Trafalgar Street, 2003-4. She was much the same age as Ricky Ross, Deacon Blue, and Dignity has become a bit of a naff-classic. In those days of the late 1950s a Daily Record cost 2d, now it cost 85p. You could buy a bungalow in Great Western Road and have change from £125. Black-and-white telly, but not for all. Most couldn’t afford it, even with Radio Rentals. Crowds flocked to new X-Ray Units, which was the next best thing – and free with the spanking new NHS. 25 000 test in one day, setting a new world record in a drive to beat tuberculosis. TB, remember that? Lots to do with lack of sanitation and overcrowding. ‘Real Gone Kid,’ Ricky knew about that. Falkirk won the Scottish Cup.  The game wasn’t even on the radio. The problem of over-crowding at fitba was being debated.  

The late summer of Diana’s life, after an overcrowded tenant block in Castle Street Dalmuir, and the old Trafalgar. New build. New start. New shiny Trafalgar for shiny new people that didn’t steal astroturf for their bedroom from the pitch nearby (ahem, a close neighbour).  I used to pass the back garden, real grass, and grandkids out the back—Danya and later Leo— staffie dog on the doorstep, keeping an eye on you through the metal railings. It was meant to be her son Tam’s dog, but it wasn’t daft it knew where it’s Kennomeat sandwiches weren’t buttered. Her car would be parked out the front. It didn’t go any further than Clydebank shopping centre, but it was proof she could drive, although she’d rather not. Children and animals were drawn to her because she was a Goodfellow, sometimes names ring true.  

Often there’d be familiar faces sitting in the garden, holding up a bottle of beer in a sunshine salute. Tam’s pals were also Diana’s pals. I’d run into them in the pub. And after listening to a Pickering wittering on for so long even the devil had went up the road for a sleep and hid his head under the blankets, Big Pat would ask, ‘whit was that about?’

I’d shrug, my ears had melted like wax to the side of my baldy head, and, to decompress, I’d go and talk to Wullie Dalziel because he knew everything.

But Diana Wilson, Diana Goodfellow, wasn’t a know-it-all; she was a listener. You could have a laugh, but you could also trust her with your secrets. Listeners are where love is. Children loved Diana because she listened. Dogs loved her because she was what love is. Her concern wasn’t for herself, but for others. Listeners know where you’re coming from.

The last time I saw Tam was about a month ago, in the shop we go to for papers and rolls, which used to be Ramjam’s, then Iffty’s and I’m not sure what it’s called now. I meant to ask Tam how his mum was, but I was in a bit of a hurry and didn’t. Diana always made time for people. She would have asked about me and mine. I’m an open-mouthed grazer.  In biology there’s the notion of the keystone species. They play a critical role in the balance of ecological communities. Diana Wilson was a keystone species; she was a carer and listener. Her death doesn’t just leave her family—son and grandchildren—gutted, it deadens the water of our community and makes it a poorer and more poisonous place to live. Kindness was her religion. Sorely missed.  RIP

Blue Is the Warmest Colour, Film 4, 11.05 pm, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche (2013).

Wow, Mary Whitehouse, this was a sizzler. To think back in the 1970s I used to get red faced watching The Sweeney, when they showed a bit of tit. This would have been a swift case of spontaneous combustion and my charred remains found glued to the false leather settee. Whoopee, finally, a blue movie on the telly, but I’m too old for it now!

But if you cut away the nudity, which I gawped at and enjoyed being a voyeur for a few hours, this was a tremendous film. Honest in a way I recognise in the best writing and could—honestly—say that could have happened. Emma ( Léa Seydoux) is a fifteen-year old Parisian schoolgirl who likes books and reading (Jane Austen’s Emma, like many of her protagonists is in love with the idea of being in love). Our first glimpses of her are in the classroom, discussing—you’ve guessed it, love at first sight—and there’s a play on this theme. Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte) fancies Adèle and her girlish friends are soon letting her know, hinting that the senior schoolboy isn’t Brad Pitt, but isn’t bad and he’d be good in bed. Emma is part of the queen-bee school set, a French Mean Girls, with sex and more sex a constant topic. Emma’s unsure, but she plays along. She agrees to date Thomas. But her head is literally turned when she sees Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) a young woman with eye-catching blue hair in the street, with her arm flung around another young woman. They are obviously lovers. Emma’s and Adèle’s eyes briefly meet. Love at first sight, definitely, maybe.

When Emma masturbates in her bedroom it’s not Thomas she fantasises about, but the girl with blue hair. She does have sex with Thomas, but that soon fizzles out.

One of her girlish school friends teases her with a kiss, but when Emma follows it up, wanting more, she’s shunned as a dyke. But her best friend at school, Valentin (Sandor Funtek) is gay (that old trope of Hollywood movies) and takes her to a gay nightclub. Emma wanders away to another club, following a gaggle of women into a place that is a lesbian-hang out. Here’s where the meet-cute takes place.

The law of the meet-cute is nothing happens, but everything happens. Camera work tries not to beautify but make Emma uglier and therefore more human, emphasising her teeth or the way she plays with her hair. It works by not working. She’s a stunner. Adèle isn’t as pretty, but has a girlfriend in tow. She pays for Emma’s drink at the bar, and tells her girlfriends that they are cousins. She knows she’s underage, but gets her phone number.

She appears outside Emma’s school and Emma gets into a fist-fight when her school-girl friends hassle her about being a dyke. She denies it.

Adèle is a fine art student on the cusp of graduation. They hold hands, but Emma wants more, needs more, and when they kiss for that first time you know she’s going to get it. Boy does she. Only it’s not boys, it’s girls. The camera doesn’t miss a trick.

We play a game of meet the parents.  Adèle’s parents are solid middle-class, unfazed about sex and their daughter and step-daughter, respectively, having a girlfriend and not a boyfriend. Emma said she hates seafood, Adèle says something like shellfish tastes like pussy, so she loves it. Anyone for oysters?

Emma’s mum serves bolognese. She is grateful for all the tutoring Adèle is doing to help her daughter’s grades improve. Her dad asks Adèle about what kind of jobs she can expect to do when she finished swanning about with a fine-arts degree and what her boyfriend does. Adèle plays along and tells him, her boyfriend is a businessman, and she doesn’t know what she’ll do after graduation.

Emma, beautiful, nude, Emma is Adèle muse for her graduation and her up-and-coming exhibition. By this time they’re living together. While Emma does the grunt-work of keeping the house running and doing the dishes and at the end of the night, wants a kiss, a real kiss, Adèle turns away.

Emma is also working in school, training to be a schoolteacher. One of her male colleagues obviously fancies the pants off her. You know when she goes along to one of the teacher’s night’s out, well, you know. But it’s off camera.

Adèle finds out and they split. It’s messy because it’s no longer about sex, but love. Emma is eminently loveable, but she admits to having fucked up. We root for her. We want her to succeed. But you know, Adèle, older, wiser, we want her to bend a little. That’s how much of a good movies this is. We want characters on a screen to be more unlike characters on a screen, or in real life, because we’re not really sure.

They meet again. Don’t know where. Don’t know when… And Blue Is the Warmest Colour… Great film.

Everton 0—0 Liverpool.

The latest of the must-watch fixtures. Liverpool look to win and go on and win the Premier league for the first time since before the early, Dalglish management era. A youthful Alan Shearer playing up front with Chris Sutton for surprise-package Blackburn.  I might also fling in that Roy Keane agreed with my assessment of Manchester United superstars, de Gea and Maguire, he said he wouldn’t have let them on the team bus. I’m waffling on here because this was by far the most boring of the three games I’ve watched. Matip put a header past from an Alex Alexander free-kick, a decent chance. And Firminho missed a decent chance from inside the box, dragging the shot wide, when he could have played Keita in. James Milner, in for Andy Robertson, came off with a injury just before half-time. The only player born when Liverpool last won the league. The progression to the 2020 championship goes on. But this will be a match quickly forgotten. Saha on the bench. The ace in the pack, not used.

Richardlson had a half-chance for Everton on the break, after cutting inside substitute Loveren. Liverpool dominated. Stoppage for drinks. Matip gets injured. Hmmmmmm, it’s boring enough. The risk of injury. Thr risk of dehydration. Tom Davies hits the post, with the best chance of the game.

To reiterarate, the worst game of the three I’ve watched so far. Liverpool dominate. Everton have the better chances. In a word, boring. Liverpool still await their title.

Tottenham Hotspur 1—1 Manchester United.

After watching the Manchester City game against Arsenal, I thought I’d give the next—must watch—game a try. Yawn. Let’s get to the first-half goal. Stephen Bergwijn, The Dutch and Spurs forward, got the ball near the touchline. He turned and ran past the £70 million England centre-half, and Manchester United defender, without actually doing very much more than sprint and pick apart a disjointed offside trap. His shot from the edge of the box had power, but had a Celtic keeper let in this type of shot I’d be totally raging. David de Gea, the Spanish national, and Manchester United goal- keeper, made a total hash of it. If this was a Scottish keeper you’d hear the usual condescending chorus of ‘dear, oh dear’ and there’d be patronising smiles and  a debate about how rubbish we really are.

Ironically, Spurs scored when Manchester United were having their best spell of play. Marcus Rashford, fresh from his humbling of little trumpet, Boris Johnson, had one snapshot on goal.

In contrast, the other England centre-forward, Harry Kane, back from injury and into the Spur’s attack, had few touches and no shots on goal and was anonymous.

United started the better team in the second-half and dominated. Martial had shot blocked by Spur’s centre-half, Eric Dier, but Martial did better a few moments later, getting his shot away. But it was saved by Lloris. The equaliser was down to substitute Paul Pogba. He’d rolled Dier on the touchline and the Spurs defender with a clumsy nudge pushed him over. Bruno Fernandes, the best player on view (almost as good as Callum McGregor) scored with the penalty.

Spur came into a bit after that. The referee awarded United another penalty when Dier was adjudged to leave a foot in on Fernandes, but it was overturned by the video ref. Greenwood, on for the United winger, James, had the last meaningful shot of the game in extra-time of extra-time.

I’m not sure if I enjoyed the game, but the second half was a lot better than the first. Next must-watch game, Everton v Liverpool. Don’t really care who wins that one either. Bring on the Celts and real football. From what I’ve seen so far Celtic would have beaten Manchester City, Manchester United, Spurs and Arsenal. But I’ll hold fire until we get through the Euro qualifiers to see which of these teams we get in the Champions League. Obviously, it can’t be Manchester City who’re barred. We might not even bother with Europe and winning the Champions League in season 2020/21 and concentrate on ten-in-a-row.

Manchester City 3—0 Arsenal

I don’t watch much of English football now. Usually, I fall asleep on a Saturday night watching Match of the Day. After lockdown I watched the big game. When you don’t really care who wins, as I do, the game needs to be sparkling to keep your attention. Arsenal started quite well, but City made the better chances. They’d four shots on goal, before Kevin De Bruyne tried a speculative pass. Earlier he’d misplaced a pass and helped create one of Arsenal’s two first-half chances. Here he misplaced another pass, but David Luiz let the ball hit against him and he played in Raheem Stirling who slammed it into the net. Luiz had came on as an substitute, one of two, Arsenal changes to their first eleven, as players not quite up to speed suffered injuries.

Mikel Arteta, the Arsenal boss, who once played for Rangers, knows a diddy when he sees one and Luiz comes into that category. I was half supporting Arsenal because ex-Celtic player Kieran Tierney was given a run out.

  Ederson Santana de Moraes, the Man City goalkeeper picked apart the Arsenal defence with his first two, second-half passes in the opening minutes. Riyad Mahrez, first touch was poor and he was through on goal, but the chance gone. A minute or two later, another defence-splitting pass. Luiz pulls Mahrez back in the penalty box. Luiz gets sent off.

De Bruyne scores the penalty and it’s just a matter of how many City will score. Eleven players against ten. Training match, with water breaks.  

Substitute Fernandino to England hopeful Phil Foden to make it three…

Arsenal’s best player, goal-keeper, Bernd Leno, which pretty much says it all.

Man City’s keeper wiped out one of his own defenders late in the game. He was taking no chances. Playing Luiz is perhaps taking too big a gamble. Interesting to see where Luiz will go next. Unbelievably, Luiz has gone for around £100 million-plus in an up and down career. He’ll soon be back at Chelsea.

Same old Arsenal, beaten 3—0 by City last time. Beaten 3—0 this time. Kevin de Bruyne taken off, but still made man of the match. Really, it was Luiz. Football is back (yawn). I suppose I’ll watch the Merseyside derby. Don’t care who wins that one either. Waiting for Celtic’s season to begin, anew.

The Salisbury Poisonings, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, written by Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson, director, Saul Dibb.

Before Covid-19, the coronavirus, Salisbury was briefly in lockdown in the winter of 2018 after two Russian agents poisoned former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal  (Wayne Swann) who worked for MI6 (allegedly) and his daughter,  Yulia Skripal (Jill Winternitz) with polonium, a highly toxic and deadly nerve agent. This might have been a hard sell.

Now we’re au fait with the whole situation. As soon as Sergi and Yulia start spewing up, and people crowd around them, you’re shouting that the telly, get away from them, ya numpty. Don’t you know anything about the R number?

Then DS Nick Bailey (Rafe Spall) who’s leading the investigation wades right into the infection zone and, when he starts sweating and mopping his brow, you just know he’s got it. He goes to the hospital for a check-up. They send him home, as hospitals sent tens of thousands of elderly folks into care homes, to empty acute-care beds for sick people, malingerers, with a bit of flu, without testing them for Covid-19. We knew the DS would be back and it would be intensive care. We’re up to date with all that stuff.

You’d be sneering, when rooking police turn up at Sergei Skripal’s home and a neighbour with a spare set of keys offers to let him inside. Lucky for them, DS Nick Bailey tells them to stand down, ‘Do not go in that house!’ No personal protective equipment, we’re saying. What kind of bungling amateurs employed by Boris Johnson are we dealing with?

The hero, Tracy Daszkiewicz (Anne-Marie Duff) a civilian, director of public health and safety, needs to take charge. Which is quite a mouthful.  She’s got to give the police, council and traders the bad news. We’re shutting you down.  She’ll also need to employ trace and track. Salisbury city centre and the places were the Russian dissidents had visited would need to be locked down. All of this is so familiar; we wonder why anybody bothers arguing with her.

Of course, there are the couple that got away. Dawn Sturgess (Myanna Buring) and  Charlie Rowley (Johnny Harris). They’ve also been poisoned, but they’re invisible to the public eye, portrayed as alkies, so they don’t notice, while flinging back the booze. It’s not as if they’re real people.   I’m sure Tracy Daszkiewicz will find them, but won’t be able to save them.

We’re ahead of the curve here too. Not everybody is saved. It’s not all happy endings. But this is worth watching. Now we’re all experts, it’s easier. We’re more informed and that’s not a good thing. The price has been too high. I wonder who’ll play the weasly windbag Boris Johnson in the Covid-19, mini-series.

Kenny (Keemo) Bannatyne: 1/6/1974 to 12/6/2020

fiona and kenny (keemo) bannatyne

Shakespeare’s Caesar: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…

I briefly thought about Keemo when lockdown began. Needing, in effect, new lungs, he was the highest-risk category.  Then  I forgot about him. Life gets in the way.  Now I’ve found out he’s dead. I’ll remember him for his kindness.

After Robert’s death he brought Mary flowers. He attended the funeral with his wife and we had a laugh talking about the old times in Trafalgar Street. I asked how he was getting on. Alright, is the usual reply. But he’d tubes in his nose, and told me about waiting for a transplant.

Keemo was waiting for someone else to die so he could get their lungs. Somebody younger. That’s the reality of a tissue match. As an old soldier, he knew the odds were dwindling.

Then we’d Covid-19. Triage takes place in the NHS. All those waiting for treatment of one kind or another are put on hold and in a very long queue. His odds were shortening even more.

Your lungs don’t just make sure you breathe it also works the blood. Try running a car without oil. Red blood cells don’t behave in the ways they should. Pain, pain and more pain. Old soldiers never complain.

He’d a wife and three kids to worry about. The psychological effect of holding out the chance of treatment and then taking it away is comparable with first-world war troops in trenches. They were told they were going over the top—then told to stand down. Old soldiers grow bone weary, the hope in their eyes gradually extinguished.

We’ve had the best weather since that summer of 1974 when Keemo was born, but it was a winter of discontent, and a miners’ strike that toppled the government. We’d already tried the three-day week. Everybody backed Red Rum in the Grand National and even the Scottish Grand National. Bookies complained they’d go bust. Celtic made it nine-in-a-row. Scotland beat England at rugby. The Waltons and Porridge were on the telly. The New Seekers, ‘who’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,’ split up. A good year to be born for a future army boy.

The 1980s was a time of mass unemployment (the current depression and mass unemployment will be much worse) but the army, as always, were recruiting. He ticked all the boxes. Ginger. Red-faced. Loved the Rangers. Sign on the dotted line for a twenty-year stint with the First and Third Battalion, Argyle and Southern Highlanders.

army boy

I met Keemo in the Drop Inn, obviously. He got hooked in to playing a few games for our pub team. He was one of the lads.

After Barry Brennan’s funeral, as we waited outside to clap the wrong hearse, Lainey mentioned that it was also Terry Ross’s anniversary. Twenty-odd years since his death. It got me thinking I could maybe write something, a book of those that I knew that had died. A memorial to remember people like us, with 50% profits to the Golden Friendship and Jim McLaren.   I joked about including Wullie Dalziel, but never gave Keemo a thought.

Obviously, it was easy to start with Robert Russell. Then Terry Ross and Pieman and Benny Hagen from school. All died young. Then my own brother, Stephen. Stevie Mitchell (and his daughter, Stacey). Hamish, Ikey, Matt Collins, Tam Mc Swiggan, Jim Largactil. Old Archie Smith (Charisma) with a voice like a grand piano, bickering with his brother John, while sitting on a plastic bag to stop him getting his good suit wet and peeing on the covered seats in the lounge bar. Callum Ballantyne and Harry his da, the man with the shell suit and sponge. Rab Pickering, the only man ever to be evicted from Drumchapel by Glasgow housing. And Rab junior, leukaemia,  and serial shagger of the bar staff. Joe Reddick, who whistled down women, like a dog catcher. Ian Betty, Sweaty Betty with the one eye. Maggie Fyfe, who once wandered into my house and wandered back out again, after I pointed her in the direction of the door, but she couldn’t find the canal bridge and returned confused. I’d like to tell you there was a happy ending here, but she too died, waving not drowning. Lainey’s mum was called Bagwash for some reason. Keemo would know why. Barra McGaghey, Jim Carlisle and Maurice (whose second name I forget, but who lived beside Alan) who threatened to kill himself – and did. Billy Wilson, captain of the pool team, but only because I let him. Benny McCann, ‘hallo son’, he’d say because he’d forgotten your name. Gordon Abrahams who’d tell you a joke and forget the punchline, but he’d laugh so much it was funny. Davy, Tibb’s dad. The old guy with the ambulance he’d done up to tour Scotland, ‘the wagon’ he called it, but never had a license. Typical punter. Sandy McQuillan, Benny’s pal, who’d talk out of the side of his mouth as if everything was a secret- which it was. George Norwood and the nine o’clock gang who shuffled off to the Park Bar, and then beyond that. Davy McCallum, the boy that went missing, never to be found. Keemo knew them all, and knew him better than anyone, just as he knew Robert.

Keemo’s not missing, but is missed. His family torn apart. He fought the good fight. The one we all lose. Too early. Too soon. An army boy does not reason why. It was his turn to go over the top.  The rest of us make our own mind up and think we’ve got a choice. Forever young. He was a kind soul. We are diminished.  RIP.

Annest Gwilym (2020) What the Owl Taught Me.

I don’t usually review poetry. I’ll tackle pretty much anything else—fiction, factual biography, drama, documentaries, comedy, by which I mean politics and economics— with an insouciant swagger and the hope nobody will ask too many searching questions. Poetry leaves me too exposed as a fuck-wit. No-nothing. One of those dreams where you running around your old school naked and everyone else is laughing and pointing. Dib-dib, dab-dab. The emperor has no clothes – clichéd opinion.  

I’m breaking my exception to the rule, non-rule, because quite simply Annest Gwilym’s collection of poetry, What the Owl Taught Me, is in a word, beautiful.

I’m also shouting it out because unlike, for example, Les Murray, whose Translations from the Natural World it bears comparison, but he is published by Carcanet. Big-hitters in the publishing industry, able to get publicity and fees for poets.  She has none of those advantages of money working the media, or the prestige of established voices singing her praise and lifting her poetry out of the common muck, where Gwilym and Murray show, it thrives in Welsh and Australian soil, respectively.    

Gwilym needs to be more than a poet, but a one-stop shop, battling for attention with tens of thousands of versifiers and self-promoters. I read some of her work on (she used the pseudonym Rosa Cruz). I bought her last poetry collection, Surfacing.  The rhythm of language takes you inside words, inside, for example, Crows, the first poem in the new collection.

They huddle like conspirators

in slick black suits

grazing the grid of the sky.

Their guttural chack chack chack

blisters the ears like car alarms.

Grass Snake (below) had me hunting for a copy of D.H. Lawrence’s Snake.

A snake came to our garden,

slid over the rockery to the pond

to fish for frogs and toads

in the stunning heat of mid-afternoon,

with forget-me-not drooping.

Yellow doll’s eyes and a golden collar,

its olive narrowness, quicksilver-smooth,

it tasted air with a flickering tongue.

Ekphrastic poetry is commonplace but to get beyond the words and into a symphonic resonance in the reader, as happens here, in this collection, is a rare pleasure.

Last Night I Became an Emperor Moth won some competition you’ve probably never heard of ( but it’s the words that matter. Listen to the way they ring.

I rode through the liquid night,

As a melon sluice moon crested a bank of cloud.

Part of the hush and curve of the universe;

Pleiades above me a diamond cluster ring.

Clothed in starlight, wings powdered,

furry belly glossy and plump.  

If you’re a poet, or would-be poet you could learn a lot from this collection. If reading is your religion then now is the time to sing praise. Amen to that. Read on.

Tour de Falkirk

Laughing Boy (LB) lead racer, followed by Andy Rat.

Shared route
From NCR754 to New Lairdsland Rd via 754/NCR754.

Average speed 19 miles-per-hour. Distance 38.3 miles.

Bod, my wee brother, was still in lockdown mode, hoarding Digestive biscuits and t-bags, but he lived in Grangemouth and they’re used to that kind of things. I chapped his door. He peeked through the letterbox, his knuckles showing (this was getting ridiculous, one eye up, the other down).

I explained to his knuckles and squinty eyes about the Tour de Falkirk. How Andy Rat,  LB and me had cycled through from Clydebank. Red nosed as alkies chasing the dream of unlimited opening hours.  Not really to see him, but since he lived locally and it was handy, we’d appreciate a quick cuppa tea and perhaps a Digestive biscuit.

‘That’s fifty miles,’ he said.

Sweat poured from me. The wee woman, next door, came out with a mop to clean the third-floor landing without need for a bucket. Falkirk quines were canny that way.

Bod growled, ‘Who do yeh, think yous are – Dominic Cummings?’ Fuck off back to Dalmuir, where you came from.’ His letterbox snapped shut.

We watched the wee woman washing the floor.

LB’s putty coloured legs had slowed earlier on the cycle path to under nineteen-miles-an hour on the cycle path to a pensioner trickle.

I’d shouted ahead and around the bend of overgrown grass and low-hanging branches of trees, ‘Whit’s the problem?’ 

‘Have you run over another unaccompanied immigrant child trying to swim the knolly and get entry into Clydebank?’

Andy hammered it, drawing up beside my freewheeling bike. His handlebars had become loose after an unexplained bump on the gritty canal path earlier.

‘Nah,’ LB turned his glistening dome to look back at me. ‘Check that out.’

He’d been entranced by a fat bottomed girl on a pink bike.

‘She’s creating a bottleneck,’ Andy remarked.

‘Wow,’ LB almost swallowed his tongue. ‘I know whit I’d dae with that.’

The woman mopping the floor had no pink bike, but a similar rhythm to a pole-dancer.

‘Very professional,’ said Andy.

‘You comin the cunt,’ she snapped.

I translated for Andy since he’d never been to Falkirk, never mind Grangemouth. ‘You coming the cunt?’

Bod’s knuckles reappeared. ‘Fuck off hame.’

I said to the wee quine, ‘Whit is it wae the streets of Grangemouth, up past the swimming baths and the pavements lined with fat, ugly, balding men, clapping us, as if we were NHS workers—and not just boy racers.’

Her yellow acrylic goonie showing speed bumps, she sidled in beside me brandishing her mop. ‘You gonnae sweat any mair? She licked lipstick off the lower part of her falsers.

Bod poked his fingers through the letterbox and gave us the Winston Churchill victory sign. ‘Fuck off.’

The wee wifie leaned against me to adjust her breasts. She wasn’t very tall, but she made up for it by being very broad. Her tits were the Falkirk equivalent of builders’ bum, inflatables, something to grab onto when the ship went under. She had to work her feet hard to keep them in line.  

‘You’re in there.’ LB gave one of his trademark, stuttering, laughs.

‘You ken,’ she said, ‘It’s the 30th May.’

‘I thought it was the 29th, said Andy.

We stared at him, and he took off his specs and cleaned the lenses.

‘No, you ken, it’s the 30th and you ken whit that means?’

LB wondered away to check the lock on his bike. Andy stroked his chin, where he used to cultivate a beard.

‘Is it UFO day?’ I hazarded a guess.

A day when the good people of Grangemouth came out to claim wee flying balls of light left in lock-up garages, disc-shaped objects, unsmoked—aliens had left behind. Other people, outsiders, and unmasked conspiracy doubters said didn’t exist.

‘No, yah, loon,’ she said, grabbing my hand. ‘It’s fallen women day.’

‘Whit does that mean?’ said Andy, who hadn’t read the same biblical texts as me.

She explained it better and blinked a lot as if she’d oversized eyelashes stuck in her hazel eyes. ‘This whole street is full of fallen women. The council moved us here after wee-bit, bitter, complaints from tarts that couldn’t keep their men happy—they were just jealous.’

I turned and looked at his front door.  ‘How come my wee brother lives here then?’

He waved at me through the letterbox, ‘Because I asked to get a house, here. Are you mad? No just fuck off hame. No more will be said.’

I was catching on quick and even LB, who’d come back, was smiling.

‘So it’s a bit like Notting Hill, without the mandatory cut-out photograph of a smiling black policeman – without any kind of law and order at all?’

‘You must have kenned about it,’ she snorted. ‘Outraged letters to the Falkirk Herald, calling it a waste of taxpayers’ money.’ She laughed. ‘We don’t pay any tax, so put that in your crack pipe and smoke it.’

Andy pointed his finger in the general direction of her tits. ‘So are you, one of them fallen woman?’

‘I’m on the third floor, getting on a bit. If you want the real fallen women you need to go to the ground-floor flats. Those girls have a bit of a reputation to upkeep—but I dae my best, yeh ken?’

‘I’ve no brought any money wae me,’ I said.

Andy shrugged. He never brought any money, because it would slow him down.

LB swigged down a drink.

‘I’ll do anything for a Lucozade Isotonic,’ she said.

‘We’re in,’ said Andy.

‘Need to watch your time,’ LB rubbed at his forehead and checked his two watches, synchronising them.

‘Any Digestive biscuits?’ I asked her.

‘Yeh ken, I can snap a Digestive biscuit into four with my fanny?’

I looked around. ‘But there’s only three of us.’

Bod flung open his double-locked door and stood clutching a packet of Jaffa Cakes.

‘You know I can always accommodate you and your Jaffa Cakes, Bod.’

But she pulled my arm, instead of his, guiding me towards her door and the high-volume, face-the-music behind it. ‘And the girls from the first-floor can put on a bit of a show for you and your friends.’

‘Wait, until I nip in and get my Tetley,’ said Bod.

‘Any cocaine?’ LB rubbed his hands and laughed. ‘I’m aff the fags and cocaine kills the craving, but as long as Carla doesn’t find out, she willnae mind…’

‘Och, she’ll never find out,’ I said. ‘Member that time we said we were going to the pub for an Old Firm game and ended up on a Zeebrugger to Amesterdam. Stayed for a week, shitfaced—and she never found out about that—did she?’

‘Nah,’ he admitted. ‘She just thought I was a bit peaky. But that was before we had the dog.’ He pushed out his chest, not as far as his belly, but a pregnant, manful, attempt. ‘I’ve got responsibilities noo.’

‘That was a great weekend,’ said Andy. ‘What was the score?’

‘I think we won about 5—0, I wasn’t really paying much attention to the game.’

‘That’s right,’ he said, ‘Dembele, or even Johnny fuckin Hayes. Who cares?’

‘Well,’ I said to LB, ‘I never thought a fat fuck like yourself would be able to cycle the length of yerself.’

‘Fuck it,’ LB brushed past me, more like his old self. ‘My legs are all wobbly. Where’s the marching powder?’

Bod handed me the Jaffa Cakes. ‘I’ll no be needing these…can I join yer bike gang?’

‘Nah,’ I shook my head.