Ten-in-a-row—No, No, were you at the game caller?

Ten-in-a-row—No, No, were you at the game caller?

Nah—and neither were the Celtic team. It was that bad we’ve even got Barry Ferguson sympathising with Neil Lennon. 

Martin Powell, the only MP I trusted, used to go for long walks when Celtic were playing Rangers. That was during the Martin O’Neil era.  I thought that was crazy. But he might well have had a point. I’m old enough now to take up golf.

During Scoreboard, Hugh Keevins  asked a Celtic die-hard, are you seriously saying that the league is finished with 28 games to go? 

Let’s go for a long walk.

Football management is like a game of poker.

Lennon went incandescent because his team was leaked before the game. Kenny Miller is being fingered as villain-in-chief.  He shouldn’t have been. Lennon should know who was going to play for Rangers, in what positions, and what they could do and couldn’t do. And what opportunities it offers Celtic. You’re only as strong as your weakest hand.

No surprises for Celtic. No surprises for Rangers.

Celtic played exactly how Steven Gerrard expected. They were predictable and pedestrian.

Rangers didn’t play well. They didn’t need to. Morelos was petulant, off the pace, and should have been booked earlier than he was for flicking his hand in Scott Brown’s face. Barker ran about, like the majority of the Celtic team, with little direction or purpose. Stevie G said in the post-match interview they needed to stay humble. They’ve a lot to be humble about.

Stevie G knows what cards to play and when to play them. In a game of poker, he’s called Lennon’s bluff and won twice at Parkhead. At Hampden, Stevie G can count himself unlucky.  No posturing at the final whistle for the Ibrox manager and players. They know they’ve got the beating of Celtic now.

Goalkeeper makes saves.

We used to have this conversation that no Rangers’ player would get in the Celtic team during the Martin O’Neil era, and more recently. Obviously, we didn’t include Rab Douglas and whether he cost us the final in Seville is a moot point. Goram, the flying pig, Kloss, McGregor and an older and wiser McGregor again are so much better.

If there is still reserve-team football during lockdown, it’s difficult to imagine the current Celtic keeper getting a game in Rangers’ reserves.

Celtic let Craig Gordon leave. The management team kept Scott Bain as back-up. There was talk of signing Scotland, and ex-Celtic keeper, David Marshall. We went for a Greek internationalist, Vasilis Barkas, and paying premium rates for a keeper than doesn’t  make saves.

The problem left back spot

Money wasted on buying a dud who flies to Spain and doesn’t tell Lennon.

Taylor is not a dud, neither is he Tierney. Neither is he Andy Lynch, Tosh McKinlay or Anton Rogan. He’s a mixture of the good, the bad and the Anton, I’ll kick everything for the cause, because, but Taylor doesn’t cut it.

We brought in Laxalt on loan because Lennon knows that.

Johnny Hayes, like Craig Gordon, has left the building? Why?

Celtic’s loan-signing policy.

Rangers had no loan signings in the team that outplayed us.

Loan signings are a try before you buy. In, for example, Charly Musonda and another few nameless faces. It’s been great business because you can just return them to their parent club. 

Craig Bellamy, Paddy Roberts, and Fraser Forster were guys here in the short-term that made a positive difference. Players we would have kept in a heartbeat.

In the Fergus McCann football business, you don’t have an extra Celtic jersey. Loan signings are giving other teams money. Or in Fergus’s case, other financial institutions.  Rangers had no loan signings playing in the Old Firm derby. Glen Kamara only cost £50,000 from Dundee and helped run the show. Remember Didier Agathe £100 000 from Hibs? Bargain basement. Rangers had Steven Davis playing. He was a loan signing that was made a permanent deal and cost zero.  Fergus would have liked that. Nobody was slating him because of his age, in the way Scott Brown is hounded. Steven Davis was another that didn’t have a particularly good game, but he was in the winning team.

We’ve come a long way from Jock Stein and the 1967 European Cup winning team. Eleven players that lived within a twelve-mile radius of Glasgow (Bobby Lennox, furthest away in Saltcoats). But Jock Stein wasn’t a cuddly bear that was lucky. He was ruthless. Jimmy Johnstone when his legs were gone was sold. Stein was hesitant to let Johnstone play in a pre-season friendly, and have a final hurrah, before he was sold to Dundee. That too was a must-win Celtic game. As Scotland manager, he told Ipswich player, John Wark, if you can’t go box to box and score goals, you’re no use to me. It’s not difficult to imagine what Stein would have said of a Celtic team that never managed to have a significant shot on goal in an Old Firm derby.

Shane Duffy v Connor Goldson.

We all know how this went Goldson scored two goals, early in the first and second half—game over.

Neither Duffy or Goldson are great passer of the ball with their feet. Duffy had more touches of the ball than anyone else on the field.  Their strength is in the air. Duffy was a marquee signing for Celtic. Loan fees and paying his wages was a gamble Celtic were willing to take.

Goldson was the cheaper option. Straight fee. Pennies by Celtic standard. His wages would be laughable. Fergus McCann would be asking hard questions about value for money. Why didn’t we buy the cheap option, sooner?

Why with Celtic’s superior resources, reserve team football and money in the bank do we need loan signings?

Goldson was lauded (not by me, obviously) but it could and should have been different. Elyounoussi easily rolled Goldstone and should have made it 1—1 after twenty minutes.

Elyounoussi is, of course, another loan signing. Is he any better than what we’ve got? Is he better than Rogic? David Turnbull, top midfield scorer for Motherwell, came off the bench, so I was told? Paddy McCourt? Obviously not as good as Paddy. But hey, you’ve got to laugh.

Celtic’s signing policy is related to their resale value (that’s not news)

Virgil van Dijk. That’s all I need to say. He was promised the dream and then he was sold for what we thought was buttons. That will never happen again has coloured our thinking. Players that don’t want to be at Paradise should be sold— not immediately, that’s bad for business, and we are a business, but sooner rather than later.

The French trois. Edouard didn’t play. That wasn’t much of a shock, but a setback. It was mitigated by his form—any scouts turning up looking for a £35 million striker would have been baffled. Sell.

Ntcham wants away and has been engineering a move for the last two seasons. Take the hit. Again, missing in action—let him go.

Christopher Jullien rag dolled by Lyndon Dykes and, more recently, the Kilmarnock centre forward. We bought him for £7 million, hoping for a standout and sell-on profit. His is a longer term deal. And I think there is a player in there. Whether it is as a Celtic player, I don’t know.

Ryan Christie would have started. I think he’s the best midfielder in Scotland (well, apart from McGregor) but he wants away and has been, like the rest of the Celtic team, ineffectual against Rangers in other Old Firm meetings. Keep.  

Nir Bitton wants away. See you later, pal.

Tom Rogic. I’m a big fan. I was scared when Brendan Rodgers left he’d come back and take Rogic. Now I’m texting Judas Rodgers,  Rogic’s number. The love affair with Celtic is over. Lennon doesn’t fancy him. Ironically, Rodgers might be at the club longer than Lennon. New managers have a different vision.

The game is nothing without fans.

Chris Sutton, former player and pundit, suggests that having no fans favours a Rangers team that are serial bottlers. Stats from the locked-down Bundesliga showed that playing at home wasn’t as much an advantage. Away teams won more. Bayern Munich kept winning. Class tells.

Rangers are not the Barcelona of old, but they’ll win pretty much every week. Celtic seems largely incapable of that. The Old Firm team that won the first game went on to win the title in four out of five seasons. That’s not us. We didn’t even look as if we could manage a draw. Only one team looks like bottlers. Here I hope I’m wrong.

Is it time for Lennon to go?

I’ll put it another way. Stevie G has his number. A novice manager has got the beating of him. As Lennon said, coming second in Glasgow is coming last. Jock Stein or his apprentice, Alex Ferguson, would have had the hairdryer full on at half-time. At full time, well, we know the story. We’re hit with the same managerial clichés.

Will Celtic win ten-in-a-row?

No.

Celtic 0—2 Rangers

Connor Goldson scored a double, early in the first and second half in a game which Celtic never had a shot on target. The Parkhead team were pedestrian and predictable in a comfortable Old Firm victory for the Ibrox club. After Goldson’s eight minute goal, Elyounoussi missed the kind of sitter, which you’d expect your granny to score.

And at 2-0 down, substitute Griffiths had a one on one with McGregor, knocked the ball by the Ranger’s keeper, and should have scored. Or as commentator Andy Walker suggested went down for a penalty. He did neither and the chance fizzled out. Two noteworthy moments that could have changed the momentum of the game, but probably wouldn’t have.

Because, let’s face it, and I hate saying it, Rangers were better, bossed the match, and deserved to win.

Abject failure, all over the park for Celtic. Man for man and, in terms of a team, Rangers were better. Ten-in-a-row? I don’t think so.

Sure we came back from a winter break and shutdown, rejuvenated last year. This Celtic team looks jaded. Shite.

No Celtic player gets pass marks. Our goalkeeper is the kind of dud easily overlooked. Why send a plane to pick him up, if he doesn’t make saves? Is he any better than the keeper we let go, Craig Gordon? Obviously not. Is he any good. Probably not. Is he any better than the two Ibrox goalies? Definitetly not. I’m really not sure what to do now. We’ll get the usual messages, we’ll come back stronger.

On this showing AC Milan will beat us. And it wouldn’t surprise me if Aberdeen win next week at Pittodrie, or at least take a point. League over. We’re chasing a Rangers team that doesn’t look as if they’ll implode. I hope I’m wrong. But I wouldn’t put even bad money on Celtic. None.

 Anybody that watched this game knows how dreadful Celtic were. Big build up. Big let down. I’m even sober, which makes it worse. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Best just to not read the papers or social media.  Social isolation has its strong points.  Gutted.  

Possible picks, Celtic v Rangers

Celtic’s first eleven against Rangers—who’s in and who’s out?

Goalkeeper is an easy pick. Celtic hired a private jet to bring Vasilos Barkas back from a recent international. He was on the bench for Greece. He’s not really done anything that Scott Bain, or Conor Hazard, or you’d expect any other bog standard goalie to do. He’s certainly not won us matches the way—may he rot in reserve-team-football hell, the Southampton keeper we got on loan last season did. Hope we don’t need him, but time for Barkas to step up and be counted.

Another loan player, Shane Duffy, is going to be in the middle of a back three, back four, or indeed a back five. He’s limited when it comes to passing, but in the air he’s colossus. Just what we needed. Capable of getting us a goal.

Kristopher Ajer will play on Duffy’s left-hand flank. Ajer is a far better ball player than Duffy, but for his size, extremely limited in the air. Pre-Covid, if AC Milan were offering £15 million, I’d have taken it. Overrated.

Here’s where it gets interesting. We paid £7 million for Christopher Jullien. He can be elegant and good in the air, but can be bullied, as he was at Livingston and Kilmarnock. His injury coincided with the arrival of Duffy. Duffy is a number one pick. I expected Jullien to slot into the position on the right flank.

But Nir Bitton held that positon and with a few good performances looked like establishing a run in the team. He too got injured. OK, as Celtic supporters, it’s annoying when the injured Bitton pops up starring for Israel against Scotland. He’s not great in the air, but as a former midfielder, unflappable on the ball. No matter, he’s out.

Hatem Abed Elhamed also starred for an Israel team that outplayed Scotland. He also played well when he replaced Bitton in the Celtic team. He’s also out. Also injured.

Unless Neil Lennon plays a wild card, Julien will start. The problem here is with Julien’s tendency to grab at players and with him likely to be up against Ryan Kent, let’s hope the Celtic defender doesn’t give anything stupid away.

No matter what team Lennon puts out, with James Forrest injured, Jeremie Frimgpong will hug the wide-right touchline and sprint back to mark Ryan Kent. Well, he can. He’s did it before with some aplomb. One of the few Celtic player to get pass marks in the Old Firm fixtures in the pre-split Christmas of 2019. He plays with a smile on his face. He makes things happen. But unlike James Forrest he doesn’t score much. There’s still time. Potential match winner.

Greg Taylor is the kind of player Scotland use when they’re playing meaningless fixtures. His best game was Celtic away, in Riga. Most of his other games are bang-average. Not a bad player. Not a great player in the mould of a Tosh McKinley.  I’d have settled for Johnny Hayes.

Lennon’s got a decision to make here. Diego Laxalt, the Uruguayan international on loan from AC Milan, could be thrown in for Greg Taylor. I can’t see it. And I’ve not seen Laxalt, although I can remember him, because of his Henrik-like hair, playing alongside Suarez. Give me a bit of that. Fling him into the mix. Here’s hoping.

It gets a bit boring here. We know Scott Brown and Callum McGregor will start in the central midfield slots.

There is now an outside chance of Ryan Christie starting, but we’ll not dwell on that and say he’s out.

Oliver Ntcham will start in Christie’s place. Terrific and cultured player. Doesn’t want to be at Celtic and has a tendency to disappear during games, but not a bad stand in.

Odsonne Edouard is in quarantine, but unlike Christie, could start. Usually, I’d say, will start. Barry Ferguson, the Ranger’s pundit, rated Edouard in the £35 million bracket. But not on this season’s performances. Lacklustre. Doesn’t look interested. He’s off are a few of the remarks I’ve heard (usually, because it’s me saying it). It’s not really a wild card to play Edouard, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion he’ll be on the bench.

Now it gets difficult to pick one from three to who will play centre-forward. I know it won’t happen, but with no Edouard I’d just go with Leigh Griffiths. We’ll get the usual pish about him not having game time.

That didn’t stop Albian Ajeti putting the ball in the netti and scoring goal a game before he got injured. He’s back too, with the usual stricture, not- match-fit.

Edouard can play with any of these two strikers. Or, if he’s out, Griffiths and Ajeti, pairing.

If we’re going to stuff the midfield and Edourad is out then Partyk Kilma could find himself as lone striker. He’s fed on scraps and came through to score goals. His goal against St Johnstone summed him up. Halved in two, he jumped up, and thumped the ball past the keeper. Kilma is no dud. Ironically, the guys that are half-fit are first picks. Scoring goals can change his prospects. Score against Rangers and it could change his career.

In the absence of Christie the guys that can play in behind the striker (whoever that is) is red hot. Ntcham could be pushed up. And I think that will happen.

Mohammed Elyounoussi playing ahead of Taylor and in behind the striker. He’s on form and scores goals. But I’m not convinced. He disappears.

If we’d got Tom Rogic on loan from Southampton and played him in the same position (as he did under Brendan Rodgers) then I’m sure the Australian internationalist would also have scored goals. He might even start. But don’t put any money on it. It’s the bench and a long wait for Rodgic.

The wildcard here is David Turnbull. The former Motherwell player has looked tidy with the ball, and untidy, giving it away. He takes great free kicks. Has boundless energy and an eye for a goal. He might well replace Christie in the team, in the short and longer term. I’d favour him over Elyounoussi.

Celtic as we all know have won eight games in a row. Don’t be fooled. Unconvincing and wide open at the back. I don’t rate Rangers, but they have shown they could exploit the open space. I expect us to start with one striker and a packed midfield.

Lennon usually plays one wildcard. In this game it will be Diego Laxalt in for Taylor. Celtic will win, if they score first. If not, it’ll be a draw.  

Barkas

Duffy

Ajer

Julien

Brown

McGregor

Ntcham

Frimpong

Laxalt

Elyounoussi

Ajeti

Kevin Woods 10/3/1967- 15/10/2020, R.I.P.

Mark, Lynn, Jack, Kevin’s Auntie Cath, Kevin’s Auntie Heather (RIP) and Kevin

I couldn’t find my phone, and I asked Mary to ring it. And I’d a message from Laughing Boy, Craig—telling me his older brother, Kevin, was dead. My thoughts were Kevin’s poor old mum, Lynn. But Kevin always kept an eye out for Laughing Boy. And when he hooked up with Carla and her son, Aaron, they were part of the family. When Jack was born, Kevin taught him how to fucking swear. These were the kind of life skills he had to learn, pronto, or even bastarding, fucking pronto, because he was from Dunn Street, starting Dalmuir Primary School soon, and he didn’t want him to get fucking bullied.

Kevin knew about these things being a fully trained juvenile delinquent. If they locked him up on Inchkeith, Edinburgh’s leprosarium, he’d have found a way off the slippery rock.

The 58 000 ton Queen Elizabeth 2 came down the slipway on the Clyde, the glorious year Kevin was born, 1967. The Daily Record cost 4d.  The Prisoner was on BBC.  And Hogan’s Heroes was on STV.  They were always escaping from folk in uniforms, mainly Germans, but sometimes stooges and snitches. You’d need to rent a telly from Radio Rental, which made you mental, to watch them and make sure.  

Kevin was adaptable. He’d an on-off fling with Eddie Lynn’s ginger-haired sister in Durban Avenue. Ironically, Kevin moved to a granny flat in Durban Avenue, his dream home, and he’d a grey beard, many a granny would have been proud of.  

He didn’t mind living in Clydebank. His mum was here, his stepdad, Mark, and Laughing Boy. I sometimes forget they’d another brother Dougie (the quiet one) who lived just thorough the Clyde tunnel.

‘Train,’ said Kevin.  

He wasn’t daft. He was always thinking ahead. But as a fresh-faced boy, when he visited his mum in the early hours of a Friday night, he knew she’d ask, and he’d have all the answers to life, the universe and everything ready—as we all do—and was half cut to lubricate his brain,  because she could make a carry on about it. He’d anticipated that too.   

 ‘And taxi,’ he added, because Kirkoswald Drive wasn’t near any train stations. He didn’t have any change in his pockets, but he did have a pair of scissors.  

Three bedrooms. Laughing Boy had his room. Kevin now had a room of his own. He went to bed before the police chapped him up. They might even breathalyse him. They were asking question about a double-decker bus stolen from an Edinburgh garage. Life lessons from The Prisoner and Hogan’s Heroes: never admit anything to men in uniform. A pair of scissors could start the engine in those old buses.  Kevin swore he didn’t ken anything about it. They might have believed him, but that had been the fourth weekend in a row with a bus parked outside with the engine running. Yawn.  He needed to walk a thin line.

Kevin told me about the time he and his pals had climbed along the ledges and dropped in through the skylight of Leith Glass. He wasn’t naming names, but since I’m a snitch, Yogi Hughes that played for Celtic was in the gang. Laughing Boy, because he was youngest, was lookout. Kevin pulled an unlocked drawer in the office, and it held riches, the pay-packets of the workers. The brown enveloped with wages inside went up inside his jacket in the alphabetical order they were arranged. He’d never dressed better, or richer.

His neighbours in the modern balconied tenements they live in were all complaining about not being paid that week, because some bastard had stolen the payroll money.  They’d heard it was an insurance job.  No one was talking.

The pubs at the Haymarket had been serving Laughing Boy since he was twelve (and had hair – he said, but there’s no evidence of follicles) and they collected the insurance. The brothers were veterans. They’d done their time, stuffed into their da’s parked car with a bottle of lemonade and salted crisps, waiting for the British Legion to close. Da came out pissed and drove them home. If they were stopped, he’d work his magic with the Masonic handshake and they’d be back on their way – home.

Kevin spent most of his life in pubs. When he acted as an independent ganger for a scaffolding firm working all over Scotland, Kevin got the money and paid the wages to Dalmuir folk such as Jaz Cunningham that worked for him. Kevin didn’t invent the Clydebank Blitz, but he did like to blitz jobs, with no tea breaks or dinner breaks, finish early and go to the pub.

When he spotted a van that suited me and went up to the auction and bought it, we celebrated by going to the pub. Kev was big on cars. He’d probably want to drive the hearse. And he’d worked with Walker long enough to know that even though he was dead, DVLA probably wouldn’t know about it yet, so, technically, he could still drive. That would be good enough for Kevin.  If he was willing, Walker would be too. Watch closely to see if the driver of the hearse is wearing shades, and check to see if the hearse has Walker’s number plates over the old ones.

Kevin never gave up working, even when he was ill. His oesophagus was held together with medical paper clips, he’d stomach and liver problems. Sssh, whisper it, he liked working, he just wasn’t going to tell the government his business. He liked it even more when Walker, eventually, paid him. That usually involved a bit of argy-bargy. Threats and promises. When Walker never came through with his wages Kev was known to take a car worth thousands being transported for auction to the scrapyard and scrap it for ready cash. Walker could go and fuck himself. That’s the way his life was. Winners and losers.

Kevin, like his brother Laughing Boy, had worked offshore with their stepdad, Mark. Kevin didn’t like being locked up. He liked going to the boozers at night. And sometimes during the day. He didn’t really like staying at home, even though his mum still brought him food and cooked his meals. Sometimes it was with not-so-fast-Eddie, having a few pints in the Mountblow Bar before lockdown. That’s where I last saw him. Sitting at the table joking. Who’d be first to go? Wandering outside for a fag. Both pointed at the other and laughing.

When he was hanging about with George Ramsay (RIP) it was mainly the Drop Inn and nipping to the bookies. Both of them could tell by the spin of the reel in the pub, when it was going to pay out. That was their game theory. Just another fiver or tenner would ensure the jackpot.  I’d seen them getting it. But even young Jack would swear like a fucking trooper when you watched them sticking it back in the machine.

Laughing Boy and Kevin. Kevin and Laughing Boy One diminished without the other. As we all are. Same old, same old, until one goes and one remains. They were a Leith version of The Proclaimers. None of them would walk 500 miles or more to be at your door. Why bother, when you can drive a double-decker? But they’d go that extra mile for you. I ken that. If you knew man or boy, you’d ken it too. Kevin Woods, R.I.P.

Peter Matthiessen (2010 [1978]) The Snow Leopard.

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen is a holy book, one of those books you could read again and again, but probably won’t. It was reprinted as a Vintage Classic for a new generation of readers. I got called me a book snob, online. It irked me, at first. Readings what I do. I’m one of the clichéd, if I’ve nothing to read, I’ll read the ingredients of the sauce bottle kinda guy. I even read poetry, but I don’t put it on my chips very often.  But honestly, I’m a book snob. I give myself reasons. Starting with because I’m getting older and there are only so many books I can read. Usually, I forget books as soon as I read them, but The Snow Leopard leaves an imprint of something remembered. There’s something pure and wise in the writing. George Orwell suggested good writing was like looking through a pane of glass. Great writing holds up a mirror to the soul.

The Zen expression of Matthiessen’s beloved second wife ‘D’ ‘No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place’ is matched by the words of his transcribed diary of a journey outward and inward that rings true and pure.

‘Expect nothing,’ Matthiessen’s guru, Eldo Rosh,i had warned him on the day he left. He had also held his wife’s left hand and Matthiessen had held her right hand as she died and they chanted and renewed their Buddhist vows.

Matthiessen’s quest is renewal and if fate brings it, to see the fabled snow leopard, which only two Westerners had seen (until tens of millions viewed it on David Atttenborough’s Planet Earth, sipping tea and letting Digestive crumbs settle on the cushion, but that’s a different story).

Matthiessen carries his ego and his fate with him as a tortoise carries its shell. Roshi’s advice to be ‘light, light, light’ was for both the inner and outer journey.  The great sins for his Sherpas, carriers and guides on his journey Westward, Nothward and up At Crystal Mountain was ‘do not pick wild flowers and do not threaten children’. I like these dictums.

‘The sherpas are of the famous mountain tribe of north-east Nepal, near Namche Bazzar, whose men accompany the ascents of the great peaks: they are Buddhist herders who have come down in recent centuries out of eastern Tibet—sherpa is a Tibetan word for ‘easterner’…

Porters are mostly local men of uncertain occupation and unsteadfast habit, notorious for giving trouble’.

GS, his European travelling companion, sets out on a different goal, to study the autumnal rutting habit of the Bharal, Himalayan blue sheep, to determine whether they were archetypal ‘strange sheep’ or goat in the Land of Dolopo. All but closed to Westerners. With the coming snows and the clock ticking there is a limited window of opportunity in which GS the zoologist and Matthiessen, the biologist, are both primed as much for failure as success. They are an odd couple, who in their different ways shun human company. Yet, they seek the distant companionship and understanding of each other. A different kind of love.

They are short of money and their time window is dictated by heavy snow and the whims of district officials and police. And Matthiesen is 56 years old and does not have the mountain lungs of the porters or sherpas. Physically, he’s not up to it. He’s travelling heavy, rather than light. After over a week of walking in heavy rain they’ve not got as far as they hoped. Everything takes longer.  

‘All the way to heaven is heaven,’ as Saint Catherine of Sienna observed after three years of silence. As Mathiessen and his travelling companions gets away from civilization there are moments of grace.

But the obverse of this, all the way to hell is hell, as they come down, literally and metaphysically.

‘My knees and feet and back are sore, and all my gear is wet. I wear my last dry socks upside down so that the hole in the heal sits on top of my foot; these underpants ripped, must be worn backwards.’

We know, of course, Matthiessen’s quest to see and experience close contact with the snow leopard is doomed, but more cherished spiritual attainment, is putting his battered life in order. He promised his son he’d be home soon, home for Halloween. He knew it was a lie. But needs must.  

Needs always must. Unless you are the Rimpoche, ‘precious one’ and High Lama of Shay, Crystal Monastery. Sitting on his stone terrace facing the Crystal Mountain. Matthiessen hadn’t recognised him when they first met, seeing only a crippled old monk curing clothes in some awful goat-brain mixture. He’s here the second time by invitation. Served sun-dried green yak cheese in a coarse powder, with tsampa and buttered tea, called so-cha served in blue china cups in the mountain sunshine by Takla, the acolyte of Rimpoche. It’s heaven.

Matthiessen politely enquires about the Rimpoche’s isolation, especially with his twisted legs and arthritic bones which make it difficult of the High Lama to get about.

The High Lama, laughs, infectiously.

‘Of course I am happy here. It’s wonderful. Especially when I have no choice.’

The lesson Matthiessen takes from his meeting is acceptance.

Have you seen the snow leopard?

No! Isn’t is wonderful.

But as Matthiessen comes back down to earth, it isn’t so wonderful. All the way to heaven is heaven. All the way to hell is hell. Read on – and ponder.

Gavin Francis (2020) Island Dreams: Mapping an Obsession.

Gavin Francis tells us of his love affair with islands and maps. And he traces his addiction to a district library in Fife he visited as a child aged eight or nine. How his little fingers traced patterns over atlas and archipelagos ‘as if reading Braille’. As an adult he had to choose between studying medicine, or becoming a geographer. A romantic notion to which I say, you’re a fucking liar, but hey, we all tell fibs. It’s how you tell them that matters.

He quotes John Berger’s description of Gigha, ‘A  uterus leading to the western sky’.  That alone makes it worth reading and his account of his odysseys of island hopping to a more sedate existence and medical practice in the centre of Edinburgh (you need serious money to live there) is knowledgeable, in an easy-to-read style, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

‘A fair summary of what I’m attempting here: a simple and sincere cartography of my own obsession with the twinned but opposing allures of island and city, of isolation and connection’.

Here’s island life as an ideal.

W.B. Yeats, small lake island in County Sligo.

The lake-island of Innisfree

‘I will arise and go now, go to Innisfree. And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.’

But be warned, like ye old maps of here be dragons, island life such as the year spent as a warden on Unst, with the gannet colony overlooking the Muckle Flugga, must be chosen or it becomes a prison. Francis tells us that ‘isolate comes from the Italian word isolare: to make an island.

‘We have the unnecessary and foolish word: isolate.’

Eleven autobiographical chapters with overlapping themes end in Island Dreams. Islands simplify life and there is the commonality of escaping the clock and finding time. Finding yourself and where you’re meant to be. Often thrown back into a different century.

In Letters From an Island, Louise Mac Niece, wrote of his gaiety at having come north, running away from the south’s ‘cruel clocks’.

Francis visits Inchcolm (Holy Isle) Iona of the East, Bass Rock (Prison Isle) and  Inchkeith, Edinburgh’s leprosarium that shows the tick-tock of choosing and being chosen sometimes by God, sometimes by man and cruel nature. No vehicles. No phones. No radio. A falling back on yourself. A revelation of your real nature.

James IV experiment on Inchkeith was ostensibly for a higher purpose, to reveal the language of angels. (I’m sure I read a book with that title.) The first Scottish and English king ordered his lower subjects to take a mute woman to Inchkeith, to give her two orphan children, and provide her with everything she needed. He wanted to discover what language the children would speak when they were old enough to have perfect speech. ‘Some sources said they spoke good Hebrew, but I did not know any reliable sources for these claims’.

In the realms of higher ideals, there are always casualties and it’s always the poor that suffer most, first and last.

Francis uses the ‘precious one’ Rinpoche and Lama of Shey on the Crystal Mountains of Himalaya as an examplar of being and belonging. The Rinpoche whose body is twisted with arthritis has an acolyte but spends his days in a cell looking out into the diamond light of the Crystal Mountains. He has not left in eight years and is unlikely to ever do so.

‘Of course I’m here,’ the Lama said. ‘Especially when I have no choice.’  

Author of The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen makes much of the Rimpoche’s laughter and good humour, but italicises ‘Especially’. To choose is to be chosen and all is right in the world.

Francis makes much of the Rinpoche’s choice too. It contains in it the paradox of letting go and freely choosing unchoosing. Ironically, in an act of synchronicity, I was also reading The Snow Leopard when I was reading Francis’s book about the lure of island and city life. Books he tells us are also islands, I often choose. Matthiessen’s journey is a Vintage Classic. Island Dreams: Mapping an Obsession is entertaining but neither vintage nor a classic. There’s no shame in that. The Precious One might be perfect, but the rest of us plodders…Read on.

Ian McVeigh (Clank) 16th July 1954—26th September 2020, RIP.

I don’t know how Ian McVeigh got the name Clank, but he was the Clank Gable of Dalmuir, only he seemed to pop up everywhere, like God or the Devil.  I hadn’t, for example, been in the John Rea’s snooker hall in years (obviously, before lockdown) I turned around and Clank was standing behind me. I went to the Drop Inn and Clank was playing pool. Later I headed to the Mountie and Clank Gable turned up. Clank didn’t as much stalk you as wear you down. I guess that’s how he was such a success with women of a certain age.

Clank was born on the same day as John Mitchell, his buddy, that died on Monday, but Clank was also the same age as Annie Lennox. Annie Lennox, now that would have been a challenge for Clank. I’ve seen him in action, close up. Clank would always be a bit short with the cash, so he wouldn’t be matching you round for round. That was more a hypothetical idea. He’d bought a pint of lager as entry fee, had a look about and if Annie Lennox wasn’t an Aberdeen wifey, smelling something fishy, he’d have sidled up and pounced. Blondie dyed hair, same age as him, bit haggard in the face and loaded. That was Clank’s type.

Everybody’s got a Clank story, some of them quite unbelievably believeable. I met him on the square outside Dalmuir library. He’d a bottom-tier flat in Pattison Street, but he was never in, he was always out, looking for the next bitty thing. He’d have gone to his own funeral to have a look about.

‘I’m aff it,’ Clank said that day. Shook his head and screwed up his face. ‘That drink doesnae do you any good.’

I nodded my head. Half an hour later, standing in the rain, I was still nodding my head and agreeing with him. But he didn’t do fitba, because he knew I was a Celtic man.

‘Rangers are shite,’ he said. I was still nodding. ‘You want to go for a pint?’

The next guy he met, he’d be telling, ‘That Celtic are a bad lot’.

As we all do, Clank moulded the truth as he went along. When he was wee, Clank got on the coach that left outside Browns and went on trips to places like Morecambe Bay with his older brother Jimmy and his Ma. Staying in a caravan the size of a baked bean with no telly and no toilet. We all did it. Clank worked on and off, but usually off, he had a few longer term relationships, but he didn’t talk about them. They were in the past. He lived in the present, like a kid. And his longest lasting relationship was with his Alsatian dog. He couldn’t bear to get it put down and practically carried it about.

Annie Lennox did the right thing, avoiding Clank. The twenty-million quid that the British Government spent opening Colvilles Steel Plant, later nationalised as Ravenscraig, the year they were born, Annie Lennox must have that kind of spare change lying about too.

One of my favourite Clank stories is when he was chatting up an older woman, a bit worse for wear, which he favoured, but came away with the immortal line: ‘I’d love to take you out.’ Shrug of the shoulders and that wee moustache quivering, face giving it large, ‘But I’m a bit short’.

She goes into her bag and pulls out twenty quid. And holds it out.

Clank reaches for it and says, ‘You no drinking?’

Another Clank story was one of his mates got jailed when they were over in Jersey. Small island. Only one prison. Clank found it and went to visit him, wearing his mate’s new leather jacket. He explained the boys had a whip round, but it wasn’t quite enough for bail. He promised to come back the following day, after they had another whip round to make up the balance. We all know how that went. His mate was sent home to think again wearing a demob suit from Hepworths.  

But you could never stay mad at Clank. He’d start agreeing with you. Explaining. Then you’d be up at the bar, buying him a drink feeling sorry for him. Not that he’d ever want you feeling sorry for him, he’d tell you. And tell you some more. Aye, life was shite. Maybe another pint would sort it. Boom and bust. Just so happened he’d a bust flush. These things happen.

I’m wondering if Annie Lennox knows about Clank. I heard it was cancer killed him. She should really know—what she missed. I know she’s into reincarnation. You always got Clank the same way. When the great wheel of karma spins, he’ll be reincarnated as Clank.  He never let you down. Or wanted to hurt your feelings. He’d simple needs. And Clank knew everybody—apart from Annie Lennox—and he didn’t have enemies. Some people looked down on him, but they should look at themselves in the mirror. You could always trust Clank to do the right think, especially if it was the wrong thing. Clank was one of us, for richer or poorer and he preferred the former. Spin the wheel of dharma. Like many others, I’d have liked to have gone to Clank’s funeral too. Pay my respects, like I would gone to John Mitchell’s. It’s not to be. I’m sure Clank would have understood.  RIP.  

John Mitchell 16th July 1965—21st September 2020. RIP.

I live in Dalmuir, but my brother who lives in Falkirk phoned me to tell me that John Mitchell was dead. Then the house phone went and my partner’s niece, Caroline, phoned to let me know John Mitchell was dead. I dropped in on old John Brady, he’s in his eighties and the first thing he told me was John Mitchell was dead. I parked at Parkhall shops on the jaggy lines you’re not meant to park on, but it was OK, cause I was only going to be a second and I painted my van invisible to cops and traffic wardens, but then Rab McLaren parked (illegally) at the bus stop and hurried over to tell me John Mitchell was dead. Big Pat Facebooked me, to tell me John Mitchell was dead. I know what you’re thinking, that’s the kinda hoax John Mitchell would pull and you’d hear his slow laugh, and he’d spark another can.

John was the Dean Martin of Dalmuir. If that was as good as you were going to feel all day, then another drink would help you on the road, or up the road, or to find a wandering lift-button and watch it settle like a bingo number to the floor you stayed on. I used to laugh at John when I met him in the Horsie or sometimes Macs—his da, Old Joe settled in the bar and that was the last pub I saw him, about a year ago, my brother Bod was with me—and I’d test him, ‘how long you been on it now?’

He’d laugh and take a swig of lager and be able to tell me to day. And there’d be a lot of days. I think he was trying to break some kind of record. That was before—but there’s always different kinds of befores and different kind of afters —when he talked about getting back with his partner and their kids. That gap got longer too and before he moved into the flat at the bottom of Mountblow Road. The one where he phoned his da from to tell him he had chest pains.

That’s what I heard from the Dalmuir beehive. Old Joe told him to phone an ambulance. John had a massive heart attack.

Heart attacks are always described as massive. Especially ones that kill you. You never hear about the tickly heart attacks that give you the munchies.

John could surprise you, because although he could read big PC like a comic book, or tell you what Army Mick had in his rucksack without needed to check, the second eldest Mitchell, whisper it, liked real books. Some people would suggest that as a mark of intelligence, but with John you could never be sure. He’d just slag you. He knew about Tom Sawyer—tickled pink, tackling a garden fence and not allowing his good mates a shot at painting his aunt’s fence until they begged him. It was such good fun. Like a tickly heart attack you can laugh about later. Even though there’s no later.  

Now there’s only his da, Old Joe and his elder brother, young Joe. His mum died. His brother Stevie, about fifteen years ago. And Stevie’s daughter Kerry. All the numbers. The years get mixed up like slow-melted slush. She died about two years ago. John helped put the ramp into Helen and his niece’s house, when she came to visit her mum. He’d worked with old Joe as a roughing joiner, which was a different kind of rough. Then, of course, Mikey, the youngest Mitchell died first, all those years ago, while working with Stevie, which meant to have knocked Stevie off the rails. I liked Stevie, but Stevie seemed to able to knock himself—and most other folk—off the rails without any help, especially if a pool table was involved. John was the mellow one.

When John was born in 1965 a Daily Record cost 4d. I’d have been watching Captain Pugwash on the telly, only we didn’t have a telly. They were too expensive. And we didn’t have a fridge, because we weren’t snobs. We kept the milk bottle on the window sill and margarine never melted. The Mitchell’s came with the same Irish heritage.

In 1965, Charlie Tully left Celtic.  14 were arrested in a ferry blockade in Skye about Sunday opening.  The Wee Frees weren’t for it, not just pubs (obviously) but ferries too.  John Mitchell was lying in his cot, chuckling. But the Wee Frees got their own back and all the pubs shut earlier and earlier now.

John paid attention and took the government’s advice and spent most of the hours of daylight outdoors were it was safe to talk pish. In fact, he encouraged it. His brother Joe, could play the guitar and sing. His brother Stevie had magical feet and was one of the best players I played with. John had the ability to look like a swarthy skinned Italian and his face became as weathered as his jacket.  I once saw him, Clank, Brownie and Tam Collins (senior) going for a bracing walk up Duntocher Road and a circuit down Mountblow hill, without any of them having a can. That’s called the exception to the rule-rule.

The shop at the bottom of the hill served the discriminatory drinkers that were thinking of venturing inside the public park, or public golf course, or public canal path. John was very public minded. He’d put his empties in public bins. And he’d always have a laugh and tell you the truth, which was always a worry, but you’d think he was kidding.

John Mitchell’s dead. That’s a real shocker. He’d a massive heart attack. We know about that. But never think it’ll happen to us. Another Mitchell gone. Another funeral, I can’t attend. That’s the least of my worries. Spare a thought for his ex-partner and their kids. Spare a thought for old Joe and young Joe. And if you’re the praying kind don’t chain yourself to a fence to keep the pubs closed. The governments doing that for you. And you can’t afford to drink in pubs anyway. For John Mitchell that would be a kind of sacrilege. Live life as it should be lived. That’s the sacrifice. I just hope he’s not buried in that jacket he always wore.  And say a wee prayer, for one of us. RIP John Mitchell.     

Edvard Radzinsky (2000) Rasputin, The Last Word, translated from the Russian by Judosn Rosengrant.

At just over 650 pages this offers a comprehensive account of Grigory Efimovich Rasputin’s life and deaths. Deaths—plural. Most of us are familiar with the legend that Rasputin was poisoned, shot and finally drowned. His bound hands still clawing underneath the ice. Radzinsky takes the reader through different versions, but with the same outcome. Rasputin was murdered. The question of why he was murdered in much the same way that the tsar, tsarina and the Romanov children were murdered, he leaves to the last paragraph of his account.

Rasputin is the key to understanding both the soul and brutality of the Russia that came after him. He was a precursor of the millions of peasants who, with religious consciousness on their souls, would nevertheless tear down churches, and who, with a dream of the reign of Love and Justice, would murder, rape, and flood the country with blood, in the end destroying themselves.   

There is an Afterword, in Putin’s Russia the name St Petersburg had been restored (formerly Petrograd and Leningrad) and the coffin of the tsars (like Rasputin’s body their bodies were burned to ash, so it would be an empty coffin) was returned from Ekaterinburg and laid to rest in the great cathedral. Putin said he wouldn’t attend, but did. Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra (Alix) and their children Olga, Tatyana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexi were feted as living saints by the Russian Orthodox Church.

In a black and white, cartoonish, world it was Rasputin that led they astray, and while he lingers in infamy their goodness vindicated shines anew.

When you look for miracles, often you find them, especially if you are one of the last autocratic rulers on one of the biggest and richest, but technologically backward countries on earth. The 1905 war against Japan had ended in Russia’s humiliation. I’m no fan of Shakespeare but Richard II and the appeal for treason is perhaps a good place to start if you want to understand autocracy.

‘The unreal world of miracles and prophecies was increasingly becoming Alix’s real world. In Sarov they spent whole evenings by the spring and the rock where Serafim had lifted his voice in prayer. At night she and Nicky would bathe in the waters of the spring, putting their trust in the saint’s help and praying for an heir.’  

The tsarina Alexi resented that Alexander II who was appointed by God to rule over the Russian people could no longer do so directly be decree. He had to pay more than lip service to the Duma. And she feared her son Alexi would inherit the wind. His powers would be curbed and he would be little more than a token head of state like her grandmother, Queen Victoria. But the blood of the Romanov’s was tainted. Alexi was born with haemophilia. There was no cure, but Rasputin. 

As a peasant he was a direct link to the Rus, the real Russian people that provided the bread that they all ate. He called the tsarina, ‘Mamma,’ and tsar, ‘Pappa,’ mother and father of all Russia. God’s anointed. And he prophesised that their paths and that of all Russia, were inextricably linked.

Radzinsky allows Rasputin to be both miraculous and diabolic. The spirit the peasant channels he suggests, however, is Alix’s. Semi-literate, he could read her easier than he could any book. Her wishes, where his wishes. ‘Pappa,’ needed to be sure that God was watching over him. Rasputin gave him evidence of this. Self-fulfilling prophecies are a useful tool.

Sex plays a big part in the legend of Rasputin. Radzinsky links it to secret sect of Christianity that didn’t come from the West of Europe and was purely Russian in origin, but were more universal in their ideas of chastising and subjugating the body for Christ’s glory. The Skoptsy (Castrators) cut off their penis.  The Kylysty (Flagellants) was another heretic sect with a belief in the second coming of a Russian redeemer to liberate the oppressed and dating back to the seventeen century to the time of the first Romanov’s. A mixture of paganism and Russian Othordoxy. It taught that every man should become Christ and the Holy Ghost would descend upon him. Self-scourging, Christ-like flagellation and ascetic practices were one part of their belief. But during radenic (rejoicing) at communal gatherings, when the Holy Ghost descended an orgy took place. Svalnyi grekh (group sinning)  promiscuous sex between men and women took place in order to conceive as many new ‘Christs’ and ‘Mothers of God’ as possible.

Rasputin when having sex with many women followers was healing them and himself of the sin of lechery by having sex. Tautological reasoning, but for Rasputin it was a living creed. He wore out many couches he kept in the houses in which he lodged and his sexual appetite was overwhelming. ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa,’ believe none of these government reports, believing him, Christ-like, to be unjustly accused and vilified.

With a direct link to the highest of the high, the tsar and tsarina, Rasputin pedalled public offices and millions of roubles passed through his hands. Much of it stolen by his ‘secretaries’.

The plot to kill Rasputin came from the highest reals of Russian society, member of the Yacht club. The war with Germany was a debacle mirroring that of Japan. While condemning the tsar would be an act of treason, criticising his Germanic bride was not, and demonising her proxy Rasputin was aligned with a malignant hatred of a peasant interfering in matters of state. An act of righteousness would wipe out Rasputin. Peasants could be quietly flayed and beaten to death. But there was a note of caution.  Rasputin’s supernatural powers, his guards, and ‘Mamma’ and ‘Pappa’ watching over him, yet the plan to kill him was quite straightforward.

‘At Midnight A Friend Will Come To See Him.’  (16th / 17th December 1916)

The Friend is Prince Felix Yusopov, a bisexual, who dressed in girl’s clothes as a little boy and had sex with other men and women. Radzinsky hints he may have been treated for his homosexuality by Rasputin, in what ways is not made clear. Yusopov had millions of roubles and thousands of hectares of land, he was friends and neighbours with the Romanovs. Yusopov’s wife, Irna, a society beauty was the—missing—bait in the trap. The hypocrisy of the widespread acceptance of Yusopov’s sexuality and the condemnation of Rasputin’s was based on class. Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich who was briefly engaged to one of tsar’s daughters, before it was called after a behind-the-scenes scandal about his love affair with Felix, was said to have fired the final shots at Rasputin and left him for dead (although water in his lung suggested to pathologists he’d finally drowned). Felix shot him too. And tried to poison him. Radzinsky explains these failures were not supernatural, but amateurish attempts to take his life.

The police account of hearing three or four shots and having seen Prince Yusopov and his butler crossing the courtyard of his palace was significant in that office was a public servant, little more than a jumped-up peasant, the other a Prince. One’s testimony could be believed, the other ignored. Class matters. And it never mattered more in the cover-ups then and after the 1916 revolution. Rasputin was said to have prophesised his own death and the Bolshevik revolution in the name of natural justice that would end with the Romanov’s deaths mirroring Rasputin’s.  He created his own hell and he paid the price of being an upstart peasant. The Romanov’s are in heaven looking down on us. Aye, right. Believe that and you’ll believe anything.  Read on.

Lena Dunham (2014) Not That Kind Of Girl.

‘A young woman tells you what she’s “learned”.  Learned is kinda ironic, I guess. I’m Scottish, not sure who Lena Dunham is, but it tells me on the cover she’s the Creator and Star of HBO’s Girls. That helps. I imagine it’s a successful comedy franchise in America and it involves Girls. When I check her biography I find her show has won a stack of international awards and she has too. Lucky her. I guess that goes with the territory of the American Dream.  I’m Not clued-up, or That Kind Of Girl either. In fact, I’m a guy. The cynic in me asks if an unsuccessful and unknown called Lena Somethingelse had submitted the same manuscript for publication, well, would she be laughing now? Would we?

I quickly read through the book, missing out bits about dieting. Like reading an ex-girlfriend’s diary, (sorry about that Jackie Reid) or her copy of Cosmopolitan. I liked Dunham’s parents in the same way I liked reading about the Scottish Makar (Poet Laureate) Jackie Kay’s parents, but not as much. After all Jackie Kay’s parents were Marxists and true believers. Kooky in the right way. Lena Dunham seems kooky in the right way too. I’m not sure what I’ve “learned”, but bits of it were entertaining. I picked it up on its way to charity-shop junk and kept reading. Sometimes that’s all you can ask. Read me. Read me. Read me. I know that feeling well. Read on.