Sara Trevelyan (2017) freedom found: a memoir.

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The spiel on the back page of the cover a kiss and tell from Jimmy Boyle: ‘She absolutely taught me how to love’.

Em, as my old da would say, fanny wash.

Sara in contrast has a whole book to tell the reader how it is or was.  ‘At the end of the 1970s, I met and fell in love with one of Scotland’s best-known prisoners, Jimmy Boyle. Our two very different worlds collided in an unexpected way…’

I love books, but gave Trevelyan’s away after reading the first few pages. Obviously, it boomeranged back. Trevelyan would find something significant about that. In her world view nothing happens by accident.  I stuck it in the toilet. I’ve read A Sense of Freedom (don’t remember much about it). And I was thinking about writing something with prisons in it.   What irked me most here was the writing. No cliché goes unused.

‘I spent my teenage years on the sunny beaches of Australia. In my wildest dreams I could never have imagined myself living in Scotland and becoming the wife of such a notorious prisoner.’

We know about Jimmy Boyle. Myth and legend, he nailed a guy to the floor over an unpaid debt. Boyle’s crucifixion in the penal system. His rehabilitation in Barlinnie’s Special Unit.

For a bad yin, Jimmy did good. Nice house in the South of France. Property portfolio. Hobnobbing with gentry. Ditched Sarah Travelyan for Kate, a wee blonde Glaswegian. Said he was feeling a bit lonely. Asked Sara’s permission to meet someone else. She tries to be non-judgemental.  If he wasn’t already fucking her then I’m a parrot.  Inevitable, I’d say, but I’m cynical that way.

Sarah Trevelyan (she dropped the h from her name) is one of those open-book types (if you’ll excuse the cliché). The joy of being relatively wealthy is you get a second chance and then a third and so on.  She trained as a physiotherapist. Didn’t make it. Trained as doctor in London. Came north, worked as a junior doctor in the psychiatric wards of a hospital in Edinburgh. Didn’t sit her exams. Left medicine to become a counsellor and psychotherapist.

Every experience needs to be channelled and learned from, if not in this life, in the one after. My reading of this and I’m sure she’d forgive me, because that’s where freedom is, she’s been taken for a ride. I’m OK. You’re OK.

Jimmy Boyle in the Special Unit is a different man from Jimmy on the outside. I’m sure they fell in love. I’m reminded of William Carlos Williams and Jack Gilbert’s different interpretations and  poems about Icarus flying, yeh, he did fly, before he fell, before he drowned. Sometimes we forget that.

Then cynical old me is reminded  of the number of women with access to prisoners, number of women that wears the crown of a real-life specimen of a medical doctor, number of women that say they are in love with the bantam cockerel of the Special Unit. Prison is a place where men don’t grow up until they leave. Jimmy in terms of outside years, remains an adolescent boy. Boy with hard on meets women that loves him. They lived happily ever after and have two kids, a boy and a girl.

After the divorce from Jimmy Boyle, Sara reverted to her birth name is one of the lucky few, let’s call them the upper to middle classes, her mother was a doctor, her father was, in effect, Britain’s film censor.

Prolepsis. Sarah before and after her broken heart went overboard with lots of stuff about bridges and crumbling bridges and pillars moving apart.

Sara flits from one course to another, taking stock and getting ready to face the world. Tibetan treks. Angel therapy. She gets a cottage near the Findhorn Foundation. I like her. It’s difficult not to. And I do wish her well. I send her my love out in waves of stamped- addressed envelopes (refundable). We need more people like her. And, let’s be honest, less people like Jimmy. I know he’s rehabilitated and all that, but he still sounds like a selfish cunt.  He sounds a bit like me.

Let’s finish with something uplifting. It’s not all bad. Black matter may be the most common substance in the universe, that has no substance, but it’s the light of dying stars that show where we are, who we truly are.  Sara in her quest of a new identity and real identity quotes Rama Krishna: ‘The winds of grace blow all the time. All we need to do is set our sails.’



Hidden 9pm BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, directed by Gareth Bryn


As any of my long-term blog readers knows (which numbers about two and a bit) the embourgeoisement thesis that was used to determine whether working class folk can become middle class by becoming Luton car workers or continually watching BBC 4 programmes shows I’ve been infected by BBC values. I’m almost middle class.

Hidden on BBC 4 shines. If we use my old favourite Wallander as a benchmark (not the Kenneth Branagh shite, although it wasn’t that bad) then Hidden hits the mark without being Wallander of being Wallenderish.

We get away from the metropolis and big-time policing and here we are in Wales, a place so far from civilisation that sometimes they use subtitles as if everybody was speaking like a Glaswegian drunk.

Then we have the magnificent DI Cadi John (Sian Reese-Williams) who has to return home to the land of the subtitles because her father Huw (Ian Saynor) is poorly. He’s an ex-cop and she’s in his patch. Her sisters aren’t that impressed and give her stick.

DI Cadi’s got a bit more help on the work front. Her sidekick DS Owen Vaughan (Sion Alun Davies) is there to mope about, but we know he’ll come up (we can no longer use the word trumps) like a dog with a bloody stick.

There’s a body, of course in a rural outpost of streams and natural beauty. There’s been a murder, as they used to say in Taggert (I appeared in the Glasgow series as the back of somebody’s head in a bar as did everybody else in Scotland that voted for Scottish Independence) and it’s a young girl, Mali Pryce (Greta James) that her dad Alun (Owen Arwyn) had reported going missing in 2011. He’d been in jail and Mali had been acting up. Class issue. Alun didn’t think the authorities and the police in particular took her disappearance seriously. He’s been proven tragically correct.

DI John and her colleagues now know she’s been held somewhere local for the last few years. And in the last frame identifies a bracelet that Mali wore that another missing girl is pictured wearing. That gets the clock ticking, because there’s another Hidden girl.

All good dramas line up the suspects to be knocked over like fairground ducks. Here we have the brooding presence of backwoodsman Dylan Harris (Rhodri Meilir) and his volatile and dominating mother, Iona  (Gillian Elisa) who beats him and makes him sleep outside. He doesn’t, of course, but slips into a cell that looks suspiciously like the kind of place you’d keep a young girl.

Then there is the question of the young girl sleeping upstairs in Iona and Dylan’s house. She’s too young to be Iona’s and Dylan doesn’t look the fathering type, too socially awkward. There’s the suspicion here that Mali Pryce had a child, Dylan is the father and I might be totally wrong because there’s always red herrings.

Throw in exhibit A, district nurse, salt of the earth type Lowri Driscoll  (Lois Meleri Jones) she knows something, but the viewer doesn’t know what it is. Her boyfriend is a violent thug and seems to be stalking her. And he seems to have smashed her car window.

Hidden shouldn’t be hidden on BBC 4, it’s the best drama on telly. It should be on BBC 1, prime time. I’ll be watching this and as usual, I’ll get bits wrong and bits right. Write…

John Banville (2016) Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir. Photographs by Paul Joyce.

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Einstein was right, time is distance. John Banville asks ‘when does the past become the past?’ The answer, of course, is it doesn’t, but it does. Recently, the citizens of Ireland voted to modify the law and allow women to have abortions in their country. Banville tells a story of how his mother was reprimanded by the parish priest for reading ‘Women’s Own’ magazine showing the influence of the Catholic Church in controlling people’s lives. Only Eastern European and Communist countries Banville suggests could compare with nineteen- fifties Ireland.  She did as she was told and stopped reading it. For those of you that don’t know about ‘Women’s Own’, it’s about as racy as an Enid Blyton book. The irony noted by Banville is Dublin had historically more prostitutes than most modern capitals.

Curiously, gay marriages, shouldn’t be such a shock. This crops up in the only novel of Banville’s that I’ve read, set largely in Dublin, The Book of Evidence, and has the protagonist trying and failing to remember the taxi driver that stalks him because he owes him money, and he finally, calls him Reck, well, Reck appears here too, alive and not kicking, and gay pubs feature with abandon as they do in literary Dublin. Or indeed, unliterary Dublin. Pubs and cinemas that’s where people found their culture. Glasgow is very similar, but less understanding of the queer fellows or local ‘characters’. Dublin was ahead of London or even New York.  This is shown with a brilliant vignette.

One day I witnessed an epicene young man, as camp as Christmas, step balletically off one of those buses as it was drawing to halt. When it had stopped, the conductor, a diminutive fellow, appeared brandishing a furled umbrella. ‘Hey fairy,’ he called, jeeringly, after the departing dandy. You forgot your wand!’ The young man stopped, turned, strolled back, took the umbrella, and tapped his taunter lightly on the shoulder with the tip of it, saying, ‘Turn to shit, evil dwarf!’

I’m not really one for studying photographs. But for the descriptions alone this book is worth reading. Dublin is full of hidden corners and hidden pens. Banville, included. Read on.

James Kelman (2008) Kieron Smith, Boy.

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Kieron Smith, Boy almost in a stream of consciousness, single-minded, dizzying prose, which for over 400 pages guides you through the before and after of late 1950s Glasgow with its decaying tenements and rats and squalor and then the promise of new greenfield sites and housing schemes, mile after mile of houses with inside toilets but nothing much to do.

I’m guessing the first part is near Govan, where Kieron lives with his mum and dad, who has given up his job with the merchant navy and come home for good and his brother, Matt. Matt’s the brainy one. Or so it seems. The one that passes his eleven plus and goes to grammar school. His mum dotes on Matt. His da respects him.

Kieron, later, gets to go to the same Grammar school, but dogs it to work with his mate Mitch. Mitch is his best mate in the new scheme. He’s a great fighter and has been to Approved School, but he’s a bit slow.  Kieron’s in first year. He’s just gone twelve.  Matt in fifth year, at a time when kids left at fifteen to work.

They moved, of course, by then, leaving somewhere like Govan to somewhere like Drumchapel, perhaps Easterhouse. New slums for old. Kieron loved the old life. He’d a nook where he liked to read and ponder, beside his granny and granda. Just around the corner. Moving away it wasn’t the same. And his granda, who was teaching him about boxing and life, dies.

Kieron’s mum wants the better things in life. She’s a snob and doesn’t like crudity or Catholics much. His dad hates Catholics and black men. He’s not sure who he wants to win when he watches the boxing on telly. This is something Matt winds his da up about, as Kieron looks on. He hates all that. The tension. The peacocking.

He prefers the dullness of necessity, what Kieron refers to as Fate with a capital.

sticky stuff on the road or so ye might trip up or cum setting across a wild beast, ye turn a corner and out jumps a crocodile, so that’s yer Fate, unless you can do something about it, you have a knife in yer belt then you can kill it, plunge it doon…Because that’s yer Fate.

The paperboy said stuff. All people did. They said stuff and it was just boasting…It was yer Fate to go to hell.

Kieron’s got a lot of growing up to do. We leave him mid-stream, still trying to get by, paddling on, and looking to distant shores. Small boys are often a good guide to the future and to the past and not just for Treasure Island. Read on.

Shaun Bythell (2017) The Diary of a Bookseller.


Remember them, booksellers before Amazon? On 1st Septmeber 1962, 250 000 Glaswegians gathered in the driving rain to pay homage to the last run of the tram cars. Who will honour our booksellers?

Shaun Bythwell likes being his own boss. He is the owner of The Bookstore in Wigtown, which he bought in November 2001. His employees like him too, which makes him one of the good guys. Amazingly I’ve heard of the Wigtown Book Festival. His bookstore is the second biggest independent in Scotland and his diary dates from 2014 when the nation had a vote on Independence. We lost, but maybe next time. Shaun is still there.

George Orwell also had a job selling books. His ‘Bookshop Memories’ acts as a counterweight to Bythwell’s diary musings. Here in February 2015, for example, Orwell writes of his experience during the nineteen thirties:

The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman. But the hours of work are very long – I was only a part-time employee, but my employer put in a seventy hour week, apart from constant expeditions to buy books – and it is an unhealthy life.

Selling books is one of those jobs I could imagine doing. The thrill of the chase, the knowing and not knowing what you will find in the next book haul which Bythell experiences. But the long hours and the bad back hauling books. 172 000 miles on clock of his old van. 100 000 books in the shop. Nah, doesn’t sound that great. What is harder to imagine is how Bythell makes a living.

Amazon, of course, are like the orcs invading Middle Earth. ‘Cut-throat and barbaric’ notes Bythell in November 2014. An earlier entry 9th September states Amazon sells books cheaper, ‘for less than the cover price’. No book store can compete with that. No publisher can resist Amazon’s advance. No writer, with the exception of James Patterson, who campaigns against them, can fall out with Amazon. Amazon’s unique selling point is we’re cheap, but at what cost?

An analogy here is with Blythwell and his (ex-) wife Anna arguing against windfarms on Wigton Bay in a place dependent, almost totally, on tourism. Thursday, 22nd January:

At 4.30 p.m. a friend [who] lives right in the middle of the proposed site and estimates that if it goes ahead it will reduce the value of his house to almost nothing.

Scotland’s future, I believe, the future of an independent Scotland lies not in the black, black oil of the North Sea or the fossil fuels, but in renewable energy, wind and wave, but the land is owned by a handful of people with the murky past of the aristocracy. Here we have one of the smaller breeds of orcs, the developer of the proposed wind farm.

19th Janury…began by telling me, ‘I’m not here to try and change your mind’, then spent the next three hours trying to change my mind. Anna was very impressive dealing with him, asking how much he was going to get paid for allowing them to build on his land (over three times what the rest of community will receive each year) and whether he would be able to see them from any of the properties on his estate. He looked at the floor and sheepishly admitted that he would not be visible from any of the numerous properties he owns.

Standard bookish and Amazon fare, one guy gets paid more than the entire community, moves his money offshore, pays no taxes, but moans about it being too much and asks for a block discount, and doesn’t have to live with the monstrosity that he benefits from. Aye, right.

The leaven in the books is provided not by the customers, but mainly by Nicky, an employee who seems more like a member of Bythell’s extended family.

Friday 28th November: Nicky decided to stay the night so we could drink beer and gossip. Predictably we both drank too much. I offered her a bottle of Corncrake’s Ale and told me she doesn’t like any beer that has a bird’s name in it. This is the kind of logic that she applies to all her decision making.

Till total £62.50

5 customers.

I was surprised to read in the epilogue that Nicky had left The Bookstore for a job with Keystore ‘closer to her hovel’. Shaun Bythell split up with Anna, but they remain friends and The Bookstore goes from strength to strength. Ahh, a happy ending. Read on.

John Banville (2014 [1998]) The Book of Evidence.

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I picked this book up to have a quick look. I was more than likely to just put it down again. As a younger self I had picked up John Banville’s prize-winning novel The Sea rolled my eyes and went under. I didn’t get beyond the first chapter. The Book of Evidence has redeemed John Banville. I’m sure there’ll be fireworks in writers’ heaven and he’ll be glad another reader has seen the light. Now I’ve read one and a bit of his books I intend to read more.

This is a book of grotesques because the narrator himself is grotesque. He is in prison for a murder that he freely admits he did. He’s trying to work out his motive –why he killed. The conclusion he reaches is he murdered a working-class woman, a servant, not because she had thwarted his robbery attempt, but because he could.  The Book of Evidence is not a mea culpa.

It is more than that. Fredrick Charles St John Vanderveld Montgommery (Freddie) from the ramshackle estate of Coolgrange in Ireland looks at the world and admits he hadn’t really seen it. He looks at himself and he’s not sure what he is. The only things he’s sure of his voice and sense of entitlement. The reader is in the privileged positon of seeing Freddie and the world he has created.

Think of an oversized boy man like Donald John Trump, born around the same time but obviously smarter (as are 99% of the population of the world he might well blow up). Freddie has had some education, thinks himself, in another life, an academic prospering in America, but threw it all over for a woman, Daphne. Well, not threw it over, exactly. Things happen to Freddie or they don’t. He’s not really culpable. Not really.

The plot is simple. Freddie and his wife and child have washed up on a Mediterranean island. It’s not clear where Freddie gets his money, but he likes the better things in life and has no intention of living within his means. It amused him to blackmail an ex-patriot drug dealer Randolph and obtain sizeable loans he has no intention, no notion, of paying back. But Randolph is out of his depth. His ear is hacked off by Senor Aguirre who now holds Freddie’s debts. The ‘silver haired hidalgo’ thinks himself a gentleman and comes to a gentleman’s agreement that he will keep Freddie’s wife and child on the island while Freddie goes home to raise the money.

Freddy has not been home in years, has no notion of how he’ll raise the ransom, but, of course, it’s a fait accompli. Forces greater than Freddie seem to be pushing him on. Pushing him home to his and the chamber maid’s fate.

A washed blue dawn was breaking in Madrid. I stepped out of the station and watched a flock of birds wheeling and tumbling…and the strangest thing, a gust of euphoria, or something like euphoria, swept through me, making me tremble and bringing tears to my eyes…I was at a turning point, you will tell me, just there the future forked for me and I took the wrong path without noticing—that’s what you tell me isn’t it, you, who must have meaning in everything, who lust after meaning…I have declared my faith.

Reductionism, standing apart from his self, Freddie does not see clearly, but understanding of his self, and the world around him, creep up on him. He is not unique in this. What makes him unique it the murder he commits. He is the prosecution and defence witness. In every way he is found wanting. But Freddie is someone you know. Someone like Trump. He lives and breathes in The Book of Evidence. On this evidence Banville has created an authentic voice with a knowing approximation to the truth. Read on.


Damon Young (2017) The Art of Reading.

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It seems a bit stupid to call reading an art. I was going to write counterintuitive, but that’s a kind of wanky word. Reading is just something I do. We can stick art as descriptive tag before most words and phrases and somehow make it seem erudite. Try it at home. The Art of the Blowsy Blonde. The Art of the Bicycle. The Art of the Mug. The Art of the Article.

But as Damon Young shows reading, if done properly, really is an art form.  And if you are interested in The Art of Writing this is a great place to start. The Art of Writing, of course, starts with The Art of Reading. Both are in constant flux. You are what you read. You are what you write.

Young has split his book into easy to read sections. All are readable. Liberating Pages looks are why we read. There are as many reasons as there are books. I quite like this explanation which combines two factors in a dance.

In classical Greek, the word for virtue was arête, excellence. As Aristotle argued, an excellence is not a state of mind, since these change—it as for life’s striving, not a single moment…Each excellence…is a hexis. So literary arête is not innate, but nor is it artificial. Like reading itself, a good hexis is a potential we are born with, but have to realise with regular toil.

I guess many of us might recognise ourselves here (guilty as charged).

…the art of reading often takes place to the fantasy of publication.

That old cliché you’ve got a book in you.

One survey reported that in the United States, eight out of ten people wanted to write a book—a startling figure even if only half right.

Contrast this with The Pew Research Centre found that a quarter of Americans had not read a book in the previous year.

Or in the President of the United States case the previous life time.

As Flannery O’Connor notes ‘They are interested in being a writer. Not in writing.’

‘The reader’s potencies are denied, along with a chance to exercise them more artfully.

Curiosity and The Infinite Library. In Jorge Luis Borges short story the ‘Library of Babel’, the rooms go on forever, rather like pages in the World Wide Web. Curiosity, in one reading of David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature is ‘the love of truth’.  If a book is not true it is not worth wasting your time reading. A book must also be necessary. A plenum of possibility.

‘There is a joy in getting someone to hand us their butterfly,’ quipped novelist Zadie Smith, ‘so we can spend twenty pages making the case for it being our giraffe.’

Patience, Courage, Pride, Temperance and Justice follow Curiosity. I’m sure you get the gist of it. Reading is an art. Our tastes change. We change. But that love. That first love of reading makes your life better and you more empathetic. Those that don’t read are dullards. They have my pity. Read on.