Football’s Darkest Secrets, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, director Daniel Gordon.

Dalmuir Diamonds is long gone. A boy’s football club I wasn’t part of, but knew about.  Players aged nine, ten or eleven played on the gravel park at Beardmore Street in the early 1970s. The park paved over. Whenever anyone mentions Dalmuir Diamonds there’s that snigger and Bob Finlay’s name is mentioned. Bit of light-hearted bender banter. He was a janitor in the Community Education Centre boys got changed in and he was manager of the team. He was also a kiddy fiddler.

I took a similar light-hearted tone when writing about getting trials for Celtic Boy’s Club and standing there with my kit in a plastic bag and the manager picking the team and not having a clue who I was. I might well have wandered in off the street. My punchline was that I didn’t stay long enough and wasn’t even good enough to get sexually abused. Looking back to the under-15s team that Davy Moyes played in (along with some of my schoolmates, but not me) and we trained on the gravel parks at Barrowfield, there were two abusers there. One was Jim Torbett, the other manager of the under-16 team that included Charlie Nicholas, was Frank Cairney. He spotted me running off the pitch after a Thursday night training session. And he did a strange thing, although he didn’t know me and had never seen me before, he punched me in the stomach as I passed him. I didn’t think anything about it.

I played football for over thirty-five years, but didn’t win any Scotland caps or play professionally as these guys did. I played Welfare leagues for teams that needed bodies that were semi-ambulant and would pay two or three quid for a game. I loved it.  

Andy Woodward, who played for Crewe Alexander; Former England internationalist, Manchester City and  Liverpool forward Paul Stewart, who also scored in the FA cup final for a Spurs team that included Gazza and Gary Lineker; David White the new wunderkid at Manchester City who played for England; Ian Ackley who didn’t play professionally, Dean Radford, who played for the Southampton youth team; Dion Raitt, who played for the Peterborough youth team, and like all the other boys hoped to become a professional player; David Eatock at Newcastle United youth team; Colin Harris at Chelsea. All of these boys had the joy of playing the sport they loved and excelled at sucked out of them. They became different boys, different people after the abuse. Watching these three programmes, the pattern seemed similar to how Michael Jackson worked away from the bright lights.

Befriend the family and offer the dream. If your kid works hard enough, he’s going places. He’s already got the talent. All that’s needed is that bit of extra encouragement and tuition. Barry Bennell, sentenced to 31 years, for 50 counts of child sexual abuse, with hundreds, perhaps thousands of cases not coming to court hid in plain sight. He was the star maker for up-and-coming boy’s teams and had contacts with Manchester City and later provided a conveyor belt of talent to lowly Crewe Alexander. He indirectly propelled them and their up-and-coming manager Dario Gradi up the English leagues. Bennell was untouchable. He raped and sexually abused Andy Woodward, daily, while he was a schoolboy at Crew Alexander academy aged between eleven and fifteen. He married Woodward’s sister. That’s how convincing he was. Andy Woodward even wrote a letter exonerating and praising Bennell for his work with kids like him when he was arrested and sentence to four years in prison for child abuse offences Florida in 1995 after accepting a lesser plea of sexual molestation.

Thirty years later, 2016, aged 43, Andy Woodward waived his anonymity in an interview with Daniel Taylor, a sports journalist at The Guardian. He also spoke on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show. This had a catalysing effect so that others who suffered sexual abuse came forward with their own stories of abuse.

An NSPCC hotline, set up with the English Football Association money, but dedicated to ex-footballers who had experienced sexual abuse received more than 860 calls in the first week.

‘One of the texts we had was from a 13-year-old boy who was preparing to take his own life. He texted to say that, because of Andy, he was going to talk to someone.’

Paul Stewart also waived his anonymity. He spoke publicly of his ordeal after being abused by Manchester City youth coach Frank Roper. Roper told him he had to have sex or he wouldn’t make it as a footballer. Other kids were doing it too. Normalising behaviour. Holding the dream at arm’s length. Holding the shame inside. Roper threatened to kill his parents and brothers if he told anyone.

‘I had some highs in my career, but I never enjoyed them, because I had this empty soul,’ Stewart says. ‘I was dying inside. I masked it with drink and drugs’.

Frank Roper died before he could be brought to justice.

Former Southampton youth coach Bob Higgins is filmed in an interview suite not answering question put to him by Hampshire Police detectives as they conduct interviews. Even more worrying, Higgins was the subject of a police investigation in the early 1990s, but the subsequent trial resulted in his acquittal. Dean Radford and Ian Ackley waived their anonymity.

Watching this programme it’s difficult to believe a jury would not convict Higgins. And whilst he was put on the sexual-offences register, he was not jailed. Dion Raitt, who was abused by Higgins at Peterborough in the mid-nineties sums up the belief that justice delayed is justice denied: ‘If they’d have got their justice the first time around, then I wouldn’t have even met him’.

Following a trial in which a jury couldn’t reach agreement, and a retrial, Higgins was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse against 24 boys and sentenced to 24 years in jail.

Derek Bell confronted George Ormond, a youth coach connected to Newcastle United, who had abused him. He went to his door with a knife. Luckily for Ormond (and Bell) he wasn’t in. He later went back and recorded a confession from his abuser on a tape recorder hidden in his jacket pocket. Ormond was convicted in Newcastle Court of 36 sexual offences (I’d guess you can multiply that by any figure over ten to 1000) in a period spanning twenty years between 1973 and 1998.  

 Judge Edward Bindloss described Ormond as ‘wholly preoccupied with sex’ and said he ‘used his position as a respected football coach to target boys and young men in his care’.

George Ormond received a twenty-year prison sentence. A substantial sentence like the other paedophiles featured in the programme. Too little, too late, for many. Those abused lost not their dreams of glory, but their ability to dream. They lost their childhood, and the abuse cast long icy spikes into adulthood. These paedophiles, who still plead their innocence, stole their innocence. It makes me angry, really angry. Magnify that anger and multiply the shame those poor boys felt. That’s the way I create my characters and the way they walk and talk. Let’s hope they rot in prison. They’ve created a prison for their victims.   

Journey to publishing Shuggie Bain.

Journey to publishing Shuggie Bain. [online event, transcript]

Jamie Crawford (interviewer)

First draft, 900 pages. What did you start reading? Discover queer literature Alan Hollinghurst. Jeanette Winterstone.

James Kelman. George Friel. Alan Warner.

Sunset Song. Jamie, at 14, it wasn’t one of my favourite books.

Douglas Stuart I never thought I can do this. Real lifeline to connect with Denise Mina. Kirsten…

Reading middle-class narratives. Not my thing. Pride and shame at my poverty. How powerful A Kestrel and a Knave.

Do you still think those narratives are missing.

Still middle class industry. Like is drawn to like.

Took you 10 years. Where there points you thought you’d never finish it.

So busy. Cheats. How to write when I wasn’t at my desk. I never lost faith in it. I didn’t feel overwhelmed. Never very far away.

Getting to the point I want to do this.  How did you find your way to get published.

Met a woman at a party. Queried agents. Rejected by many. She sends it out to be submitted. When you get rejected, do you want to know? Answer. Just say no.

Books journey, finding your champion. Rejected 34 times. (by all the big publishers).

American publisher. Scottish guy.

Jamie Crawford, my first job was literary agent. Putting it out to US publishers. Thought process?

Simple. I live in America. In New York. It was swiftly rejected in UK and Scotland. Function of where I live. Many Scottish voices pushing outwards. Writing Shuggie a way of returning home.

Agnes difficult character.

Shuggie interesting voice. Didn’t want everything to come from his 7-year-old pov.

I wanted to stay in school. So I ended up living on my own in a bedsit and work 4 nights, DIY superstore. For the first time I didn’t have to take care of anyone else.

Collapse of city mirrored by characters, as city collapses. Agnes decaying too. Families struggling. Leanne. Even Annie’s (across the road).

AA, Alteen. Lots of families coming apart.

Drive to Pithead.

Agnes had hopes. She’s married the wrong man.  

Shuggie is  very quickly othered. Attack on feminist. Queerness.

Did you have a soundtrack in your head?

Kelly Marie. Middle of the Road, Bay City Rollers. Whitney.

Book hit the zeitgeist?

Pursuit of truth, struck a real chord?

I only set out to write a very intimate love story. Agnes trying to get on. Violence, misogyny. Create worlds and these characters. We’re still struggling with the same things.

The freedom of having no audience. Does that change how you write?

I’d finished my second novel before Shuggie was published. The way people have taken Agnes to their hearts.

Adaptation, who’s going to play Agnes? Writing pilot and outlines. Leek is my favourite character by far.

Adaptation? How’s it going?

Difficult. Consequence and forward motion. Remix in a way. I didn’t want to hand it over to a screenwriter.

Did you find the environment you grew up in frightening?

Class and literature?

MC writers write anything, but WC have to answer questions about WC narratives.

Different response? Scottish people, can feel the realism, on the page. I know Jinty. Universal experience. Lots of mothers coping with addiction.

Books about hope and love.

Up to 40 languages in translation. Right now published in four languages.

Events, talking about books.

Next book?

Young Mungo, published next April. Loch Awe? Set in the 90s.

Short stories for New Yorker. I have been writing for a long time. Working on my third novel. I spent three years living on the Hebrides. Writing about love and loneliness and textiles.

Have you become a writer full time? Yes, writing my primary focus.

My mother kept me focused by teaching me how to knit. Focussed on her memoir. Solidarity. Good people going through tough times.

I’ve spent my entire life in the world of women. Even textile college, 15 women to one man.

Favourite books. Graham Armstrong, The Young Team.

Andrew O’Hagen Mayfies. As You Were, Elaine Feeney.

Storyville: Undercover OAP—The Mole Agent, directed by Maite Alberdi

Undercover OAP was short-listed 2021 Oscars in the documentary category. The set-up is the kind of cheesy romps made by post-war Ealing studios.  Detective Romulo needs to recruit someone to infiltrate a Chilean nursing home. Their mission is to find Sonia, who is resident in the nursing home, and to determine if she’s been properly looked after, or abused (the implicit message otherwise why would Sonia’s daughter hire a Private Investigator?) Detective Romulo recruits recently widowed Sergio, 83-year-old, to be his dapper spy.

Romulo, like M, in Bond movies, instructs Sergio on how to work the latest hi-tech gizmos before he goes undercover, beginning with a basic iPhone (I don’t know how to work a smartphone either) in which his mole has to make daily reports.  Then he moves on to spectacles that can film what Sergio is looking at in real time. And a pen, a decoy device, that films and captures audio.

Sergio looks suitably bamboozled and reverts to pen and ink when making his reports. He’s the added advantage of a film crew following his progress. (These other hi-tech items props in a staged show of an investigation.) Shades here of a book I didn’t finish, and a film I found unfathomable, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (2013), but Sergio is climbing in a different kind of window and world. We the viewers are voyeurs.

What happens next is unscripted. Sergio isn’t much of a spy. After a few days, he finds Sonia’s room. He reports back she doesn’t leave her room much. She prefers to be alone. She’s not talkative and seems happy enough that way.

Marta, another resident, is a bit of a magpie. Sergio reports back that he’s sure she stole a necklace from Sonia’s room. But Marta stands at the gate and calls out for her mom, and waits for her to visit. She’s waiting to go home. Her mum has been dead for at least twenty years. Nobody visits her. Staff indulges her and hand her a mobile phone, and playact speaking on the phone and kidding on it’s her mom. I found that subterfuge lovely and loving.

After being voted Carnival King, Sergio is given a surprise birthday party for his 84th. Cakes and dancing. Most of the residents are women. Benita, aged 85, for example, has an eye for Sergio. She wonders if Sergio would like to go outside with her and help her collect her pension. She asks the staff if she should give up her God-given virginity to him. Bright-eyed as a schoolgirl the prospect makes her happy. Sergio lets her down gently. He tells her his wife is still in his heart.

Mrs Rubira can’t remember talking to Sergio, her mind wavers. She remembers her children, but they don’t remember her. None of her family has visited for years.

Petita, another resident, writes poetry and talks about the loneliness epidemic. Each resident despite being part of a crowd, even for the poorer members, sharing a room, is alone and lonely, with few visitors. One resident recalls bringing up her family and her grandchildren, but when she could no longer give, they got rid of her.

 When Sergio’s three months are up and it’s time for him to leave, he explains to his new-found friends that he’s met he was happy living with them, but he has a one-year old grandson that melts his heart. He’s less graceful about Sonia’s daughter that hired him. If she wants to find out what his mother is like, he says, he should visit her. Families and friends have similarly abandoned most of the women in the home.

That is the real crime. We are the culprits. I don’t need a detective to tell me, I’m guilty of also having abandoned my mum before she died in Boquanran House. It was just up the road. I visited infrequently, perhaps once a month, then once every two months. I lied to myself that it was alright. She was alright. Shame on me.      

Douglas Stuart (2020) Shuggie Bain

Hi Dougie, I’ve had a look at your manuscript. We both know that it’s hard trying to get anything published when we write about people like us, using the language we speak—Scottish dialect. Remember all that fuss when James Kelman, for example, wrote in stream- of-consciousness, working-class dialect and a judge ofThe Booker Prize winner 1994, a Rabbi, no less, resigned because she (it might have been a he) thought How Late It Was, How Late was shite? Dialect in your manuscript isn’t as combative as Kelman’s and runs light touch as, for example, William McIlvanney. You’re far more likely to pick up readers and have far more chance of finding a publisher because of this.

The trick is to be consistent. And I must admit you did a great job. I only spotted two slippages and both were the same (you were consistent in that too, which is a good sign). When the narrator leads with ‘It got her goat’, when, for example Agnes Bain questions her son, Shuggie, while living in Pithead, ‘Are you calling me a liar?’  I think you mean: It got on her goat. He got on her goat. Not he got a goat. Small things, but you might want to look at that again.   

Your debut novel will never win the The Booker Prize, but if you’re looking for a publisher most people that write books offering writing advice tell you to never start with mood music or the weather.

‘The day was flat.’

Do you need this?

The day was flat. That morning his Shuggie’s mind had abandoned him and left his body wondering down below. The His empty body went listlessly through his routine, pale and vacant-eyed under the fluorescent strip lights,  as his soul floated above the aisles and thought only of tomorrow. Tomorrow was something to look forward to.

That’s an intriguing opening paragraph to your manuscript. And it leaves the reader with a question, why is tomorrow different from today? Your book begins and ends in the same place: Glasgow, The South Side 1992. The titular Shuggie Bain, fifteen, going on sixteen, going out into his past and coming back to himself. Time doesn’t stands still. He bears witness to his mum, Agnes Bain’s passing.

But Shuggie is not the sole narrator. That would tie your book to his life experience. And when you take the reader back to Sighthill, 1981, Shuggie’s experience as a boy aged four going on five isn’t enough to carry a book. He’s not old enough to know what marks him out as being different from other wee boys, as being shunned, bullied, spat upon. Different in a way that his brother, Alexander, aged 15 and nicknamed Leek is different, able to retreat somewhere inside himself. Or the way his eldest sister Catherine, aged 17, is different but the same, as the other women at the Friday night card school in Agnes’s mum and dad’s high-rise flat. By giving yourself an omniscient narrator you give license to travel through time and follow your characters to where the story takes you. This works well, in your circular narrative journey, but like any superpower it must be used cautiously.

Agnes Bain, telling, not showing, since the novel is mostly about her being an alky, is a good place to start.

‘To be thirty-nine and have her husband and her three children, two of them nearly grown, all crammed together in her mammy’s flat, gave her a feeling of failure. Him, her man, who when he shared her bed, now seemed to lie on the very edge, made her feel angry with the littered promises of better things.’

Shug Bain raping his second wife, Agnes, beating and humiliating her on a trip to Blackpool worked great. It showed exactly the kind of psychopathic narcissist he remains in an aging body with is sweep-over bald head. His holy of holies was his hole. The father of fourteen children, none were loved, but some like Shuggie were an embarrassment, not a chip off the old block and best jettisoned.  If Shug Bain was born a rich American he might well have been elected 45th President. But in telling, not showing, his true vindictiveness finds an art form. When he takes Agnes and his children from the relative safety of Sighthill and her mum and da’s house to Pithead, it had been a test to see if she would follow him to the gates of hell.

‘She had loved him, and he needed to break her completely to leave her for good. Agnes Bain was too rare a thing to let someone else love. It wouldn’t do to leave pieces for another man to collect and repair later.’

Crawling around the warped logic of his psyche works well. But the constant mirroring shift in point of view from one character to another can be overdone.

Catherine looking at her half-cousin Donald Bain, who she marries to escape her mum’s alcoholism and back again, to show what the other is wearing, or how they feel, is a neat trick, but could be classified as overwriting. A shift from Agnes’s lover and potential saviour in Pithead, Eugene’s point of view, for example, back to Shuggie’s in the following paragraph tells the reader little we need to know.

‘For a while Eugene said nothing. The strange little boy had stunned him to silence. ‘You know son, maybe it’s time you thought more about yourself. Leave your mommy for a while.’

Here again we have someone looking queerly at Shuggie. We get it at that point. No need to over-emphasise and over-write.

‘The secondary school was bigger than any he had seen. He had waited and cautiously followed a boy that lived on the landing downstairs. The boy was tanned and the colour of summer holidays. At the street corners he turned around and with big brown eyes he looked suspiciously at the little boy who followed him like a stray.’

‘Following like a stray,’ is clichéd.  And I’m not sure you need a change in point of view.

For example, a simple tweak such as:  at street corners he turned and his big brown eyes glanced in my direction. You retain your (Shuggie’s) point of view, which carries on into the following paragraphs and his experience of disappointment and alienation the East End school that he felt in Pithead. Dreams of a new start—dashed.       

These are only suggestions. As the author you are omniscient, but also omnipotent. It’s your shout. Your characterisation stays the right side of caricature. Most debut novelists when trying to decide whose story it is, for good reasons such as they lack a more mature writer’s experience of life and what it takes to write a book, go to narrow. Agnes Bain is the focal point of your book. Shuggie Bain whose name is on the cover is the most consistent, but you go wide. Other characters get to tell their story.

Agnes is brutally raped by her husband, and another taxi driver. She’s also found with her tights ripped off at a party under a pile of coats. She’s diddled into sex by Big Jamie and countless others. She’s beaten and demeaned. But by going wide in your characterisation you highlight an episode even more chilling, and give your novel greater resonance and stickability with readers.

When Little Lizzie, Agnes’s god-fearing mother, somehow finds herself pregnant by the greengrocer she owes tick-money, while her husband, Wullie, is away fighting in the second world war, the reader fears the worst when he comes home. Agnes is still a baby, daddy loves and coos over. Little Lizzie doesn’t get it in the neck as we’d expect. Wullie understanding and soothing. He reassures her even after she admits to have done everything she could to get rid of the child before it was born. He takes the bastard child out for a walk in the pram, but comes back without the child or the pram. He no longer wants to talk about Little Lizzie’s mistake. He’s dealt with it. This sub-plot or story within a larger narrative helps set the background tone to the world Agnes lives in. Poverty isn’t just about money, it’s about circumstances and choices, who gets to say what.  A mother can’t even mention the child she held and lost, because that wouldn’t be right, isn’t a fiction, and had the ring of a world-weary truth.  

Poverty is the living coffin. Being an alky the nails in the coffin for Agnes and her dependents. Every generation writes its own epitaph. You got it with your sign spray-painted outside the pit in Pithead. ‘No Coal, No Soul, Only Dole’. In particular, you nail what it’s like to be dependent on the Monday book, followed by the Tuesday book of £8.50. No waffle. No generalisations. Being explicit ties you in with so many other great writers from Kerry Hudson, Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (2012) Lowborn: Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns (2019) to Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and writers like Emile Zola that know the price of everything, especially failure.

I was brought up with the Provie man and Radio Rental for our telly. I imagine you stretching it a bit here. I thought renting tellys—paying 50p for programmes—went out in the seventies. But I bow to your judgement. Diddling the gas meter or electricity meter, well, that’s still an ongoing story. But I imagine it’s more difficult, if not impossible, now.

There’s a caveat I just don’t get. No milk in the fridge. No food on the table. No electric fire to turn on. Everything that can be pawned or sold is gone. Yet, Agnes is always on the phone. Where I came from, phones cost money. There was a waiting list for them to get installed and it cost (roughly) £110. That doesn’t include rental charges or call charges. When Agnes moves to Pithead, she’s immediately on the phone. When she moves to The East End, she’s on the phone—for taxis she can’t pay for—yet still on the phone. She even sends a phone cut off at the wire to Leek, like a severed head, emphasising their relationship was done. Yet, again, she’s on the phone afterwards. I suggest you look at that again.

Agnes’s relationship with her phonebook is part of who she thinks she is. Her relationship with the drink curdles the soul. I recognise the symptoms and you’ve caught them in flight.

‘Well, you get a little bit stronger every day, but the drink is always there waiting. Doesn’t matter if you want to run from it, it’s still right behind you like a shadow. The trick is not to forget’.

We know what’s at stake. And we care enough about your characters knowing they’ll fail, but we can’t just look away. That’s page-turning power.

I hope my suggestions make sense. And I wish you well with your debut novel. I’d a similar novel set in Clydebank in the early ninety-seventies and nobody wanted to publish it. Maybe it just wasn’t good enough. But I hope you do better. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. Your novel is great. If in doubt, write another, better, novel. Send me it, I’ll have a look. Writers write, reading always.

Celtic 1—1 Rangers

Out for a cycle yesterday, and my mates and me all thought Morelos would break his duck and score in the Old Firm game. Being die-hard Celtic fans, most of us thought Celtic would win. The first ten minutes of the game nothing happened. Celtic were standing off Rangers. Both keepers had nothing to do. Jo-Jo Kenny had a few bad touches and put the Celtic backline under pressure. Morelos had a flicked header from which he was never going to score about summed it up. Then Elyounoussi scored. What a goal it was. Edouard found a gap wide on the left, darted to the touchline and whipped in a cross between Goldson and Helander. Elyounoussi launched himself at the ball and bulleted it past McGregor. We’re one up and literally cruising. We should have scored more.

Edouard should have scored twice. The first on almost the half hour mark he was booked for diving. A ball from his strike partner found him around ten-yards from goal. He should have hit it first time, but delayed his shot. Barasic’s flailing leg missed him and he went down. The second chance on the cusp of halftime was more straightforward. A step over and one two with Elyounoussi and the Celtic number nine was in on goal. Helander made a lunge, but Edourd’s shot was easily saved by McGregor.

Elyounoussi also had a free header from a corner saved by the Rangers’s keeper. Celtic, as they have done all season lose a corner and give the other team a goal. We lost the first and second ball. Morelos gets his goal.

Ryan Kent also had a great shot saved by Bain. In a game Celtic dominated they were lucky to be drawing.

The second half, more and less of the same. Celtic had more of the ball, created fewer chances. Edouard had another two chances. No goal. Not good enough. Defensively, sub-standard again. Epitomised by Conor Goldson winning headers on goal from corner in 87th and 92nd minute. Celtic had similar chances from corners, but we don’t seem to be able to score from the numerous chances we make, whilst conceding in almost fifty-percent of games played. I’m not going to say a draw was a fair result, because I’m bitter and biased and hate Rangers. But this was as low-key an Old Firm gate as I can remember. It was a nothing game and it ended up a draw. Celtic’s man of the match for me was Diego Laxalt. Rangers’ man of the match, Alan McGregor, without having to pull off any top-notch saves, which tells you everything you need to know about the game.  

Britney Spears: Unbreakable, producer and director Maureen Goldthorpe and Brian Aabech

There’s a new documentary out about Britney Spears revolving around her court-sanctioned conservatorship order that has lasted thirteen years and counting. I Care a Lot, described as a psychological thriller, shows how these orders really work.  They are intended to protect those that need spoon fed and allocated pocket money, but only if they show that they need it. Britney’s conservation order is dictated by her divorced father, Jamie Spears. This is the documentary I thought I was watching, but I was wrong. Unbreakable is a rehash of Britney’s rise and fall.

Louise Burke, Deputy Editor ‘More’ and another talking head takes us through it. We get a few clips thrown in for free. Many of them on a loop.

Rags to riches is straightforward. Born 2nd December 1981 in Kentwood Louisiana, population 2200. Small-town mentality. Everyone knew everyone else and nobody had much money. School teacher mom. Building contractor dad.

Stage Mom, Very driven. Aged three, doing solos and performing for audiences. Even at three she had talent and her parents were taking her off to competitions. Flying to Atlanta. Flying to New York. Chasing the American Dream.

 By the age of four, Britney was wearing makeup and dressed to the nines.

Aged eight, her mum flew her to Atlanta to audition for the Mickey Mouse Club. The producers thought she was too young, but they kept in touch. Her family moved to New York to try and launch her as a child actress. And she lived there for several years trying to make it, but she never did.

Family heavily in debt after trying to launch Britney as a child star.  Despite her winning roles in adverts. The family were forced to declare bankruptcy.

Age eleven, second audition for the Mickey Mouse Club saw her accepted. She landed lead roles beside Christine Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. A relationship developed with Timberlake, who had a similar career driven mom.

 Aged 15, returned to New York to try and find a career which involved singing in a band. First album (Baby One More Time) sold 25 million copies. Biggest album sales, by teenager, to date. She was marketed as a virginal teenage Lolita.

1999 top of the world. Breaks up with Timberlake 2002, after rumours she was cheating with her choreographer. (3 number 1 albums behind her). Britney’s parent’s divorce, two months later.

Courted controversy. MTV kiss with Madonna. Madonna took a piece of her, but no one talked about Britney’s performance after that, but her salaciousness. Her controversy. New Album, In the Zone.

Toxic 2004. Suddenly married childhood friend Jason Alexander (small-town boy). Marriage lasted 55 hours, before being annulled on the grounds of incompatibility. 3 Jan 2004.

Six months engaged to back-up dancer Kevin Federline. He had just split from his wife that had just given birth to their second child. Britney proposed to him. Married, Sept 2004. Britney announced she was taking a break from performing, possibly because she was pregnant.

Two weeks after the wedding, severed links with her mother and fired her manager.

2005 Greatest Hits and My Prerogative. Announced she was pregnant. Sean Preston Federline born. 6th September 2005, gave birth to her second son, Jaden James. November, filed for divorce.

Paparazzi turned on her because of her relationship with her children. She was selfish (not self-aware) they declared. More famous for her lifestyle than her career. Public far less forgiving when a women has children and they see pictures of her partying.

She courted the press, sleeping with one of the paparazzi. Being on camera is a drug. She lives for that attention (aged 25, 26, and 27). Out of control. Two tattoos, checked in and out of rehab twice. Shaved off her hair. Head-shaving picture went viral around the world. Went wild and partied on the LA nightclub scene. Her lifestyle became toxic. Late Sept 2007, charged with a hit and run incident she lost custody of her children.

Tony Baretto, ex-bodyguard declared. ‘I felt sorry for her as a parent.’

Taken to hospital (a few times) after, for example, locking herself in the toilet with her child. Her father stepped in. (Jamie Spears). 26-year-old singer again surrounded by paparazzi as she drove around LA.

Discharged herself from hospital. Eaten alive by her own celebrity.

Britney’s father her conservator. She could not manage her own affairs. Bipolar rumour?

2008 album. Blackout went to the top of the charts.  Circus, 2008 fastest selling album. Womanizer became number 1 in Billboard Charts. Everybody likes to see a comeback. As she approaches her 30th birthday.

Unbreakable is a calendar with windows. The viewer can have a look at Britney now and fresh-faced Britney. Her trajectory follows that of other Hollywood stars such as Judy Garland. She had no childhood. It was work, work and more work. Her self-image was tied in with being popular. Her success was tied in with being young and virginal. Something had to give and if she snapped any bubble-gum psychologist would be able make a case for whatever theory s/he was proposing. I’m no music fan. No Britney fan. If asked if I felt sorry for a multimillionaire my laugh would be so hollow it would most likely choke me. But, yeh, even on the meagre rations offered here, I feel sorry for the new Britney. Whether she should be free from the conservation order? I don’t care. The irony here is the stage mother that set her up, is out of the loop. Her father reaps what he has not sown; surely that’s a more accurate image of The American Dream?

The Ghost Inside My Child, Prime, edited by Caleb Emerson

The Ghost Inside My Child, Prime, edited by Caleb Emerson.

I wrote a story a good while ago (I don’t exactly remember when, because it wasn’t very good) about reincarnation. The plot was simple. This rich guy had found a chemical marker that could be traced and he could leave his substantial wealth to himself. Cut out the middle man, sons and daughters. Win-win. Hokum. I was, of course, aware that of the myths of paying the ferry man a coin to ferry your soul across the River Styx to Hades. On the way back into the world your body would be washed clean of all memory that would hinder a present life. Such stories are impossible to corroborate. The dead don’t talk.

If we look at how the next Dalai Lama is picked that offers clues. You guessed it, I wrote another story about that, well, not about that exactly, but it was another clunker.

George Saunders Lincoln in the Bardo creates a fictional space between life and death, in which certain rules apply. It’s also a good modelling tool for thinking about such things.  

The Ghost Inside My Child does likewise. It follows a certain pattern in which the neonate is more advanced than his peers. S/he walks and talks relatively early. Then s/he has nightmares (in Americanised lingo it’s described as night terrors). Mothers are unable to comfort them. The child then reveals that s/he has been here before. They’ve lived another life. In most cases these are white, Christian couples, living in Middle America. Probably even Trump supporters.  For a wee boy, for example, to tell his mum he liked her earrings. And say he had the same kind when he was alive the last time is quite a shock, especially since she was a black women killed in a fire. I never knew the Empire State Building was also hit by a plane.  

That’s when we get the scary music. Fathers are always the ones to play the sceptics. I don’t believe in that kind of thing, they usually say. But the evidence, while actors are used to dramatize key scenes, is pretty overwhelming. A circularity in which each story is different, but patterns remain the same. An imprinting of a violent death that is being lived in the child’s body. Yeh, I know about confirmation bias and finding evidence to support the things you already believe.  If you believe in life after death it’s not such a big jump. If you don’t, it’s not a jump you’ll make. It contradicts everything we believe about individuality. We are all each other. And the idea of consciousness existing after the brain ceases to function defies the logic of the mind being a product of electrical neurons firing and creating a sense of self. Dare I say it, mind become akin to soul. The mind is not a product of consciousness or the brain. But like babushka dolls the soul contains the seeds of reality. Artificial intelligence, however, complex it becomes will lack the one element that makes us human—soul.

Great Scottish Writers: Janice Galloway.

Great Scottish Writers: Janice Galloway.

Janice Galloway’s autobiographies This is Not About Me and All Made Up begin in the same way: ‘This is my family’.

Stylistically, she doesn’t use quotation marks. There’s no standard way of writing in the Scottish language and dialect. I was checking her work out to find some kind of consistency in my writing. Reaching for the musicality of speech mixed with social realism. She’s light-touch and mostly Standard English. Not into writing as we speak. No, Ah, for I or even A, for the subjective pronoun. Think James Kelman, How Late it Was, How Late. A style mimicked by Graham Armstrong in his autobiographical novel, The Young Team.

 In the short story ‘Still an Animal’ from Galloway’s collection Jellyfish, for example, the narrator and her wee boy, Calum have finished playing Crazy Golf:

‘They took the balls and putter back but the attendant was no longer there, just a man holding a child by the hand.

Stop fucking whining he said. You’ve had plenty, you greedy wee cunt.’ [quotation marks my own]

This is speak so we can see territory. Looking at that, or listening, we know exactly what kind of man, what kind of person is talking. We can work out what kind of relationship he has with his son. Work out what he’s wearing and where he lives. And how his son is going to be a chip off the old block or dying to prove he’s not.  I’m quite a connoisseur of fucking. Well, in the written sense. Carl MacDougall, for example, tends to use ‘fucken,’ and, if I remember correctly, Bernard MacLaverty ‘fuckin’. I’ve used the latter in my writing, but sometimes with the apologetic apostrophe for non-Scottish readers, fuckin’, or reekin’ or boggin’. There’s no wrong or right orthography, but apologising for how we think or write seems stupid.

Galloway’s great strength isn’t in the use or non-use of a fucking apostrophe it’s with telling us the things we already know. Her characters are people that speak, like us, dress like us, but are a major disappointment to themselves. We can stand outside our reading of the text and think I’d never do that, when, in fact, Galloway’s only holding up a mirror. There’s such a great descriptive phrase in her first autobiographical book she uses it again in her second. The character that gets to speak it is Janice’s Granny McBride, and she’s lived in Saltcoats so long Saltcoats lives in her.

My Granny McBride, near blind and unable to swim, had been pool attendant for three summers by the time I was two…It was only for one fortnight or summer, after all, the fortnight of Glasgow Fair.

‘They’re on holiday, she’d explain. Anything might happen.

More often than not, the Glasgow visitors sat on the sand in the thick of genuine Saltcoats drizzle, crazed with freedom, eating dry bread straight from the packet…The mistook rafts of bladderwrack for sharks or submarines, and harmless jellyfish were pounded to pieces with rocks, sticks and penknives…’ [quotation marks, my own].

In ‘It’s Still an Animal,’ Jellyfish, much the same thing happens. The reader (me) can make tenuous connections to her autobiographies. In a similar vein suggest that ‘and drugs and rock and roll’, from the same collection has similarities to her breakout novel, The Trick is To Keep Breathing shows—without telling—the hierarchical relationships in Glasgow’s psychiatric wards between nurses and patients and patients without patience, and some that are simply mental, and can’t help themselves, poor dears. Similarly, ‘that was then, this is now (1)’ isn’t about love but sex, adolescent sex and finding out what your body is for.  The nascent pubescent sexuality expressed so well in her autobiography. I could even stretch it a bit and draw a relationship between George Orwell (Eric Blair) in ‘almost 1948’ and a young Galloway, who also crashes her moped, but is largely unharmed. Her boyfriend had taught her the basics, but they still had sex when they split up, because she thought it was a fair exchange.

Her sister Cora, of course, was a different kettle of fish. A Cruella de Ville type that would happily skin Dalmatian pups for a nice jacket, or hand them to her mum, their mum, to do the job for her. She’s eighteen years older than Cora and has abandoned her kid and husband (we find out later it should be kids, plural). She breaks Janice’s nose, routinely beats her up, and also smacks their mother around. Waited on hand and foot. If she was a man, we’d find it perfectly normal, if not perfect. But as a character she gives leaven to Galloway’s stories. Without a Cora-type character, they’re pretty much of a muchness. Cora is gold, deeply engrained and deeply mined.

We know Cora. In Cora we trust. And because we can trust her, in Galloway we can trust, singular and plural.     

Why is Covid Killing People of Colour? Presented by David Harewood, Director Jason Bernard.

David Harewood an actor (whose work I’m unfamiliar with) recently presented a BBC 1 documentary about mental health. His story about being black and being sectioned when he was aged 23, Psychosis and Me, asked questions of society. He found black men like him were more likely to be seen as a threat and sectioned and given higher doses of anti-psychotic medication. Here he has a larger stage to show that Black Lives Matter, when, of course, for the Tory government and society at large they clearly don’t.  

Kenan Malik, for example, quotes from a paper recently published by the Policy Institute at King’s College, London, Unequal Britain, and public attitudes to inequality. In it they find around 13% stated ‘most black people don’t have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves up out of poverty.’ This fits in with a larger class narrative of other people, black people, being responsible for spikes in Covid-19. A failure of morality framed around individual shortcomings, which was favoured by nearly half of those in the study. A Victorian response to the feckless poor was a call for them to learn life-lessons from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management in the twenty-first century. Of blaming the poor for being poor. Of blaming Covid victims of bringing it all on themselves.

The report suggests conclusion ‘there is no appetite for change’ is mirrored by an exchange between Harewood and black MP (her skin colour is important) Kemi Badenoch, the government’s minister for equalities. He wants to know why she has dismissed the idea racism might have played a role in putting black and minority ethnic communities at risk from Covid-19.

‘Come on David, you and I both know that things are getting better’, she said.

The Tory government response to reports of structural racism endemic to society is to wheel out MPs like Badenoch, and Priti Patel, or even the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak as exemplars of meritocracy. The no colour bar. The no class bar. That all we need to do as individuals is try harder and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. There’s no structural problems. No institutionalised racism.  Grenfell Tower, of course, stands as an indictment against such government propaganda that seeks to name and shame and neuter power, take it out of politics, and shut down debate about inequality and racism.  

Harewood visits Tamira, whose father was one of the first members of NHS staff to die from Covid-19. She tells us how not enough was done to protect him at work. He lacked protective equipment, but felt unable to complain. Senior-management posts are, of course, predominantly white for historical, racist reasons. And 95% of those medical doctors killed by the Covid-19 are not white.  Those facing the viral onslaught are people of colour.

Harewood’s experience as a young man is mirrored by researcher Dr Jenny Douglas investigating people of colours experience of the NHS during and after childbirth. Her research found black women are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than their white cohort. Women she interviewed felt their concerns were not heard by health professionals. And black women were given less medication during childbirth on the assumption black women were somehow able to bare more pain than white women.

American professor Arline Geronimus suggests living with racism has a physiological impact on the body. Constant stress and the expectation that people of colour will be attacked verbally or physically produce cortisone which dampens the immune response. Black patients age faster and suffer from poor health much earlier – a process she calls ‘weathering‘.  Black patients’ chronological age does not match their physiological age. Their kidneys and hearts, for example, look as if they belong to a much older patient. And, of course, they die younger.

Harewood meets Andrew Grieve, an air quality expert from Kings College London, who states air pollution can harm every organ in your body, including the placenta. He shows a map of how this is related to income in London. The greater your exposure to air pollution the lower your income.

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, for example, lost her nine-year-old daughter Ella in 2013 to a fatal asthma attack. Ella’s most severe attacks coincided with local spikes in (mainly traffic) pollution. Simply, poor black people live beside busy roads. And in America hot spots which showed where temperatures were highest mapped out where black people lived. Places so hot it was difficult to get a breath.

 Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah campaigned to get air pollution listed as a cause of her daughter’s death. In a landmark ruling in December 2020, the coroner found in her favour, the first time ever that air quality has been acknowledged as a cause of death in the UK. Local authorities now have a duty of care to do something. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Dr Marina Soltan, a respiratory doctor, whose research shows that patients with chronic conditions such as hypertension or kidney disease are nearly twice as likely to die from Covid-19, and that many patients with these conditions come from deprived areas.

Dr Guddi Singh, a paediatric doctor and health expert, who reveals that what happened in Brent is mirrored across the country, where nearly 65 per cent of the local population are black, Asian or from other minority ethnic groups, but the borough had in March 2019 the highest Covid-19 mortality rate in the country. Harewood as a black man is nearly three times more likely to die from Covid-19 that those classified as white. Dr Singh explains that a significant risk factor is the job key workers do. They risk their lives, exposing themselves to the virus to keep the country running. People may clap them, but they’ll not promote them, or offer a pay rise.   

The documentary used empirical data to establish what we already know, IPPR and the Runnymede Trust recently estimated almost 60,000 more deaths involving coronavirus could have occurred in England and Wales if white people faced the same risk as black communities.

It found 35,000 more white people could have died if the risk was the same as for the south Asian population.

Investigating claims that there’s something lacking in people of colour that make them more susceptible than white cohorts to the Covid-19 virus. It’s not us, it’s them argument with racist undertones, that regularly crop up in relation to intelligence. The tendency of 70% of Afro-Americans, for example, to be Vitamin D deficient, which is mirrored in the United Kingdom.

This argument was countered in two ways. Going through the charade of Harewood being tested, which showed he was a bit Vitamin D deficient. And Harewood being told that levels of Covid in Africa tend to be less than in whiter Western nations.

Harewood had an obligation to speak out, and he did so, but given the tools to challenge a government minister’s waffling- quite simply- he folded. The working-class cringe is still alive and people of colour should wince when watching.  

Why we blew ten-in-a-row—answers posted on the internet.

As Jock Stein was fond of reminding us, ‘the game is nothing without fans’. One of the compensations of Celtic blowing the league and Rangers winning it is there’ll be nobody there to see it. Winning the league during lockdown or even the quadruple treble was just another day. No going to the pub with your pals. No mass celebrations. No mass street parties of the kinds we remembered after stopping that mob from winning ten-in-a-row all those years ago. Back pages of the tabloids will be filled with players celebrating, but the next day moving on to the next weather front. It didn’t have so much resonance. I won’t say let Rangers’ fans enjoy it, I’ll say, ‘fuck them as usual’, but it’ll soon be over, just as this season has been over since December, and it’ll be relatively pain free.

The other aspect of there being no fans is would we have won more points with the much quoted 60 000 in Paradise and the multitudes that follow, follow to every away ground in Scotland?

The simple answer is YES, we would have won more points. Nobody doubts that. But Rangers have had an exceptional season. So to compare like with like, it’s not that that killed our dream.

The idea that these kinds of things go in cycles makes a kind of nonsensical sense. It’s a bit like believing in fate. Before Jock Stein Rangers were dominant. We won nine-in-a-row, twice. But they did it too. Wim Jansen brought in a little-known winger from Dutch football, and the rest as they say is history. Rangers were the dominant team, with loads of money, and yet, somehow we found a way past them. As Rangers have done this year.

Having the right manager in place is a good starting point. Neil Lennon came in and won the league, completed the treble, but we were already on the slide. It made sense to appoint him as a stop-gap manager. He didn’t cost anything. He had the tools having been at Parkhead before. He knew what it was all about. But many of us weren’t sure. When he did the job and won the league and completed the job, it was obvious even to us doubters that he would be the appointed one.

Anyone that’s looking at John Kennedy and seeing played one, won one, will see a familiar pattern emerging. When Lennon’s team went on a winning run of five games, it was hardly scintillating, but then we got the usual pish about us being back on track. We’ll get that with Kennedy. He’s our Graeme McMurty. A backroom re-shuffle that doesn’t take us any further forward. When Celtic win a few games and especially if we beat Rangers (which I think we will) then we’ll hear the usual stuff about the players being fitter and more tactically aware. I don’t really get it, as if full-time professionals who are wired up and every breath measured and every kick quantified are hardly going to be unfit. There’s nowhere to hide nowadays. Jim Baxter on his benders or wee Jinky in his rowing boat – these guys trained every day, but they couldn’t hack it now. But you’ll hear it every time. They’re unfit. Or they’re fitter with the new manager’s regime.  

Celtic lost so many games because they can’t defend. I don’t think it surprised many of us when Ross County scored with a header, again. We’ve got a goal-keeping problem. A left-back problem. A right-back problem. And the central pairing is so bad we brought in Shane Duffy. This didn’t happen overnight. It’s been that way for years.

Biscuit-tin mentality. We’re a selling club. Buy cheap. Sell and prosper. You know the players I’m talking about. Kieran Tierney is the obvious example. But we recently sold a player for £11 million and I can’t even remember his name. He was no great loss. I look across at Ibrox and don’t think there are many big sales that would keep them afloat.

The promised land of Champions League is one sure-fire way of paying all the bills. By making the wrong choices, and buying in players that just can’t cut it at Celtic, we’ve opened a door for Rangers and invited them into the promised land. They’ll be able to pay their bills and have that wee bit extra to pay their debtors. They might even do what Celtic did and splash out on their falling apart infrastructure, upgrade it and make it venue for other sporting and entertainment fixtures. Rangers were almost totally reliant on the fans coming into the stadium, even with lockdown, and season book sales.

It’s all about the money. We were so far ahead we didn’t spend the money we should have spent. Now we face a mass player clear-out. I’ve not got a problem with that. Teams always evolve or they die. Ours is already on life support. We need a new manager and six or seven new players. We’ll probably get John Kennedy and one or two new players to fill the gaps left by others leaving at the end of the season.  We’ll think small again and remain small.

Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong this season. I sometimes think managers, like players need a bit of luck. Lennon’s luck had run out a long time ago.  I wasn’t the only one to say he should be sacked in November last year, or even before that with anther Champions League qualifying debacle. I don’t even think that would have made much difference, but it would have allowed a new manager to come in and prepare for next season  (Judas, Brendan Rodgers’s argument).

For Rangers everything that can go right has gone right (apart from losing to St Mirren and being put out of the League Cup). That won’t last. As league champions they’ll need to play their players more money. There’ll be unrest. They’ll even start missing penalties. Wee niggley things.

It wasn’t that long ago that Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was quoted for the England job, in the same way that Stevie G is quoted for the Liverpool job. Let’s not forget his Rangers team before lockdown were losing home and away to teams they were expected to beat. Same team. Same players. What’s different? I’d say, quite simply, they’d all the luck going and the biggest factor by far is they don’t lose goals. They defend well. Ironically, John Kennedy who was appointed to sort out our defence (on the basis he’d played centre-half for a few games all those years ago and has a few coaching badges) has helped oversee a shocking number of goals lost. Most of them at free-kicks of corners. Bad coaching? The wrong kind of players? All of the above.

Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for a reason, when we had a chance to invest in a squad of players we blew it. We cut corners on quality. You get what you pay for, or in our case, don’t pay for. I guess to end on a high-note, the one that didn’t get away, David Turnbull. We could build a team around him. And we’ll need to dig up a Wim Jansen – pronto.