Colin Burnett (2021) A Working Class State of Mind.

I bought a copy of A Working Class State of Mind because I like Colin Burnett’s writing. I’m an editor on ABCtales and some of his fiction appeared online. Most of the other editors are English. Whisper it, we’ve even got an American. But he recognised the moron’s moron Trump as the narcissistic psychopathic puckered lips organism that he proved to be. I got nudged towards Colin Burnett’s work because as the resident Scot it was my domain. And Colin Burnett writes in the Scottish dialect of Leith as did Irvine Welsh in Trainspotting.

It’s a risky venture, because it limits the number of potential readers in a market saturated with fiction, and everybody shouting and nobody listening. But hey, even Rabbie Burns needed the helping hand of the Masons to become an international icon. The Scottish language promotes intimacy, and in getting closer to the language you get to closer to yourself and your class, or so James Kelman would have us believe. What resonates within us is who we are. And if you’re one of those that declare I’ve no interest in politics then you’ve not been paying attention. Politics is about power. And we the working class lost the propaganda war by the early seventies. The narrator in the first story, ‘A Working Class State of Mind’ puts it this way.

The greatest trick those in power ever pulled wis gittin the workers tae believe we aw huv equal opportunities. Fae the moment we first open our eyes and until the time finally comes tae close thum. Oor lives huv been mapped oot fur us by they’m fae the cradle tae the grave. In this country ‘cash is class’. When yur born intae a family wae a bit ae money and the right postcode, you’re oan the home straight while the rest ae us are jist warmin up fur the race.

A trio of characters run like Edinburgh rock through the stories. In the last story of the collection their backstory becomes the story. Dougie is about to go to Secondary School, the infamous Ainslie Park, but he’s got company, his wee mate Craigie is going to the same school. Dougie’s mum is trying to convince him it won’t be that bad.

‘That wis until ma faither decided tae inject himself intae the conversation.

“Son” he said, while lowerin his newspaper.

“Jist remember, eh? snitches git stiches.”’

The reader is already familiar with Aldo. Adlo is the ballast that makes most stories work; he appears as a wee skinny Asian kid with a kick-ass attitude. He’s a familiar figure in any working-class community. The hardman that takes nae shite. But he’s also funny, but not deliberately so. And he has a heart. In ‘Lost and Found’, for example, he rescues a stray puppy tossed like a hot dog from a car. We learn that Aldo had to split up from his one true love because he found out she was a Tory. I know the feeling well, having a big sister I slotted into that category, but there’s no divorcing her. The irony is there’s nobody more capitalist in his approach to the business of drug dealing than Aldo.  

In ‘House of Horrors’, for example, gambling is just a casual breeze.  ‘He didnae need the money as he made maire fae sellin snow than a doactur did fae savin lives. Still there wis aloat ridin oan this fuckin horse. Ma two grand, and Aldo’s yin.’

From ‘Wuhan to Leith’ and ‘Lost and Found’, Aldo’s innate capacity for violence is harnessed to indirectly help the community. But usually not in term of labour exploitation.

‘Business hus plummeted cos ae this virus. Ah’ve loast a lotae fuckin money, that’s fur sure. None ae ma runners will pick up or droap oaff fur me in case they catch it. Deep doon ah jist wish ah wis still dain ma community service cos nuttin wid deter they retards fae dain business. Thanks largely tae the fact that none ae thum are playin wae a full deck. Been buzzin oot ae ma nut maist ae the day. Oan coke and heavy bevyin.’

The weakest story in the collection is ‘Sebastian the Great’, possibly because there’s no Aldo. Here the narrator is Callum. He’s sipping watered down lager as he attends a literary even in Edinburgh. I guess we’ve all been there. I labelled them Americans. When asked what they have written they rhyme of a staggering amount of bullshit. And they’re hooked into the Scottish literary establishment. One guy I met had, like our friend Sebastian the Great, a grant from the Scottish Book Trust to write a book and was late by two years—but unconcerned. I read his book and it was shite, but hey, that’s my opinion. Everybody loved him, as does the middle-class in this story. The problem with the story isn’t in the facts. We know the publishing industry is dominated by the middle classes and mainly women. The problem with the story is it become a bit of a rant. Better if Aldo bust it up.

I’m becoming predictable too.  I hate the Tory scum. And what we’ve become. That’s my rant. But Colin Burnett puts it more eloquently. Read on.   

Notes:

Noticed this about [adrenalin] andreline pumpin through yur veins, p14

Jeremey Kyle who wis convinced his cat wis the antiChrist. It wis summit tae dae wae the cat sittin oan his phone and diallin 666  (p16).

Ah guess General Custard must huv said the

21

same hing at Little Bighorn. And we aw ken what

turned up there, another load ae irate Indians [overwriting]

Ah feel like Leith’s answer tae Dr Dolittle 21

 And when the time comes tae draw oor final

breath, we’ve accumulated enough debt that our

creditors will be hoadin a seance. 24

The greatest trick those in power ever pulled wis gittin the workers tae believe we aw huv equal opportunities [all in it together] 24

Story about a spider. Robert the Bruce, Bannockburn.

The greatest trick

those in power ever pulled wis gittin the workers tae

believe we aw huv equal opportunities. Fae the

moment we first open our eyes and until the time

finally comes tae close thum. Oor lives huv been

mapped oot fur us by they’m fae the cradle tae the

grave. In this country ‘cash is class’. When yur born

intae a family wae a bit ae money and the right

postcode, you’re oan the home straight while the rest

ae us are jist warmin up fur the race. 24

House of Horrors.

ah’m oan yin ae

they zero­hour contracts. Ken, the hings where yae

dinnae ken if yur gonnae earn a quid or a livin wage

fae month tae month. And that’s why the bookies 28

As ah enter the shoap flair the young

cashier Megan wis chattin tae Auld Tam at the coonter.

Yince she cloacked ma presence in the shoap ah’m

suddenly bein cawed oor by her.

“Dougie” she says. “Come oor here fur a

second. Yae kin settle this argument fur us.” 29

A puny boay cawed Paul

who ah kent fae the boozer hud jumped oantae a till.

He wis a small guy wae prickly black hair and a

tangerine complexion, due tae his love ae the sunbeds.

Aldo knoacked this boays front teeth oot wae yin

punch.”

Ah couldnae understand why Stevie hudnae

mentioned Aldo wis involved in the mayhem. Probably

thoat it went withoot sayin. Ah love the guy, ken? but

Aldo scares the shite oot ae me.

“Fur fuck sake” ah says. “Anywey, why are yae

whisperin? Aldo’s no even here” ah add as ah take a

casual peek aroond the room, jist tae be shaire.

ah’ve no seen Aldo in

here fur nearly a week.

His

mother and faither own and run a popular Indianoan

Portobello High Street. Aw his faimily are hard workin,

law abidin citizens, and they didnae ever toil fur

money. So there really wisnae any excuses fur Aldo

and the borderline insane wae the wey he’s turned oot. ‘A Little Taste of India’

He

might be a lunatic but he’s oor lunatic, 36

Now ah kin feel ma hert skippin a beat

and ma blood pressure seems tae huv went up a notch

or two efter aw that excitement fae the race. The hing is

though yae kin ask any seasoned gambler and they’ll

tell yae what ah’m aboot tae say: “A gid start doesnae

add inches tae yur dick.” 37

“How yae doin ya willy

washer?”

Fae that remark ah didnae need tae be

Columbo tae ken who it is: Aldo. He alweys makes

the same stupid joke anytime ah see him

Aldo

must be aboot 6ft 2 wae a muscular build oan accoont

ae bein a weightliftin and droid enthusiast. He hus

these tribal tattoos covered acroass his bald heid, which

doesnae make him look any less ae a looney tune.

Ah’m a haime help.”

This is the first time in

months ah’ve been anywhere near a win.

He didnae need the money as he made maire fae

sellin snow than a doactur did fae savin lives. Still there

wis aloat ridin oan this fuckin horse. Ma two grand,

and Aldo’s yin.

he

probably only gits tae see boays like this oan the telly.

Someboady who wis born wae a silver

cock in his mooth. Tae ma shock and the posh cunts

nerves, Aldo seems tae take in what ah jist said tae

him and he gestures wae his hands that he is ready tae

forgive the boay fur winnin by remarkin: “Yur right,

Dougie.”

Sebastian the Great. 47

A

night ae networkin as a writer at yin ae these fancy

theatres in the centre ae Edinburgh. Aye ah goat

invited through makin the shoart list fur a playwritin

competition.

Maist ae the folk in here emit that

unmistakeable smell ae private education.

Cos ah’m someboady who

doesnae believe the middle classes own a patent fur a

wee hing cawed ‘imagination’. In other words ah’m the

great, big, dirty pink elephant in the room.

“Ah’m, Callum” ah tell him. Before takin

another sip ae ma watered doon pint.

“So, Callum,” he says “how long have you been

writing?”

“The past five year” ah say “what aboot yursel,

likes?”

“Oh, fifteen years or, so.” He says. “Writing’s

been good to me, you know?”

“Naw ah dinnae fuckin ken.”

“Ah’ve been peyed only the yince” ah tell

him. “And that particular commission wis jist

enough tae keep me in beans and toast fur a week.”

This sends him intae an unrestrained fit

“That’s Melvin Andrews, the playwright. The

Scottish theatre fund has just handed him twelve

thousand pounds to write a play about why his last one

was so bad.”

“But if his last yin wis sae bad” ah say “Then

why are they commissionin him again?”

“He’s one of the chaps,” he tells me

reassuringly. “You don’t question the credentials of one

of the chaps. Better to just write a cheque.”

lits be real. We kent as many astronauts as we

did writers when we wur growin up.

comin fae behind me: “I haven’t missed Sebastian

Wolfston’s talk, have I?”

Oot comes a middle aged elegant looking boay

wae readin glesses pushed tae the edge ae his nose.

Grinnin fae ear tae ear, so he is. He’s goat long and

shiny luxourious black hair. Which is only bested wae

his Colgate smile and a yellow scarf draped roond his

neck like some Eton educated disciple.

“I know a lot of you are just starting out on your

writing career,” he says. “But just remember one

important thing. Your first commission is likely to be

no more than five thousand pounds. But don’t worry.

Eventually you still start to make real money …”

Though, of course. Ah dinnae scream anyhing.

Ah jist sit there smilin and applaud back at him.

Along wae the rest ae these performin seals.

Or, mibbie,

even a new symptom ae the virus itself. Fuck

knows, likes. But what ah do ken fur sure is

ah’m self isolatin until ma beautiful English

mother tongue starts workin again.

“It wis inspired by ma hatred fur Boris Johnson

and of course ma own personal loathin fur the Tories.”

Sebastian stares wary intae ma eyes. Before he

bursts intae a high pitch fit ae hysterical laughter.

seat ah cannae

help but hink that ah’ve played aw ae these posh cunts

at their haime groond and actually won. 58

The Sleeping Giant 59

Ah said “Yae cannae

jist throw awey sivin year like a yaised rubber,

Cool as you like “Silly me, Douglas” she said “I

forgot you’re a student of Shakespeare.”

“Come on!” she hud said “Let’s make an

appointment at RBS.”

Choosin tae furget, inexplicably, mind you. The

yin fact aboot me that her and the entire world kent.

That ah um a degenerate gambler.

the mere suggestion ae shared finance is

insanity. And wis pretty much the same hing as handin

me a loaded gun.

how she earns twice as

much as me when she’s oot there teachin snotty nosed

brats?

ah meant tae ken that the selfish bastard

ah’d backed that day wida went and snapped his neck

efter failin tae sail oor the final fence.

ma plan wis tae huv the money back

in the accoont before she wid even notice.

last week

ah wis suspended fae ma joab pendin an investigation

“He was your responsibility, you were his

carer” she says. As if ah didnae hear enough ae that fae

Brian’s daughter and the rest ae his enraged family.

This wis a boay who survived the might ae the Third

Reich and a Japanese POW camp but in the end it wis a

simple peanut who cawed his number.

Aldo come tae inject

63

his ain lethal dose ae misery intae ma awready shitty

existence. Sure as shite tae. As ah answer the door ah’m

faced wae the steroid induced psycho that he is.

“Ah bumped intae Justine yisterday at that posh

coffee shoap in the centre ae toon ‘Sicilia’. She wis wae

some flash cunt cawed, Mario.”

“She wis wae Mario?” ah snap “that fuckin

chippy owner?”

“Ah ken this cunt is probably geein yur burd

her medicine the noo. 64

“Either that cunt Mario hus grown a third airm

fae somewhere or he’s goat a big cock” Aldo explains

tae me. 65

Ah only came tae invite yae fur a pint wae me

and Craig themorra doon at The Carousel. Craig’s goat

a new tart he wants us tae meet, true love apparently.

Aw and its quiz night tae. And as it happens wur

shoart ae a boay n aw.”

She went tae yin ae they places where they check yur

parents bank balance before agreein tae lit yae step

inside. St Johns Academy wis cawed. Nae doot yuv

heard ae it but in case yae huvnae then “We Are All

Posh Cunts” is actually the school motto.

Ah stroll through The Kirkgate. A wee shoartcut

taewards The Carousel. The place appears tae be

unusually quiet.

Justine wis alweys whingin in ma ear aboot how

ah shouldnae be best mates wae Aldo. Anytime his

name came up in conversation aw ah wid git fae her

wis “I don’t know how you can be friends with him.

He’s a stain on society.” Ah mean, dinnae git me

wrong, she hinks Craig is a fanny tae but at least she’s

marked him doon as a loveable yin. 69

“Savin the Kids” ah laughed. “Wur talkin aboot

Aldo here, no fuckin Bono. He jist hus a strict zero

tolerance policy oan cunts stealin his customers.”

Which jist so happened tae state the sentiments

ae maist ae the folk here: ‘Hibee Til I Die’.

“Fur fuck sake” ah crack. “Is there anycunt in

Edinburgh who doesnae ken?!” [no exclamation mark after a question mark, you  can have your own language, but not punctuation.

“Aldo, take it easy man” ah say. “The fuckin

hing is finished noo, anywey.”

“Naw, mate. We’ve been cairyin that cunt since

primary. He’s alweys been a doughball. Dozy prick

nearly drooned dookin fur apples yin year. He’s been a

fuckin liability fae day yin.”

“Aw” says Aldo. Before he shouts acroass the

room tae the lassie: “Excuse me love?! kin yae move

oot ae the wey, eh? Ah’m tryin tae cloack a tidy burd

and yur blockin the view!”

Craig seems tae be in a state ae utter disbelief.

“That is her ya prick. Caroline?! Wur oor here,

hen!”

Aldo bursts intae a fit ae laughter.

“That’s her? Fuck me, Craigy son” he scoffs.

“Aw that snow really hus fucked up yur eyesight,

But Aldo hus decided he’s hayin none ae it. He’s

clearly grown tired ae ma depressed mood. And every

five or ten minutes he’s offerin me an E. He takes a

small yelly tablet fae his jean poacket. Huddin it up

intae the light. As if he wur apprasin a diamond.

“See this wee hing, eh? it’ll take awey aw yur

problems, Dougie.”

The pair ae us aw teary eyed and

moved. Well, try and live through ten year ae the

Tories ya middle class ersehole. That’ll gee yae suttin

tae really greet aboot.

These workin­class hero thoats disappear when

the voice comes in though. A female, familiar voice,

which isnae Justine.

“What the fuck are yur dain here?!” ah ask her,

in a terrified, panicked state.

Sheep without a Shepherd 85

Yae see ah come fae a corner ae

Edinburgh cawed Leith. A place that wisnae known fur

it’s vibrant art scene or welcomin personality. Insteed,

it’s moment in the spotlight came fae the exploits ae it’s

skagboays and high levels ae social deprivation. Ma

name’s Steven Scott, by the wey. Ah’m thirty year auld

and ah’ve hud maire dreams than opportunities.

Maire

kicks in the baws fae life than ah care tae remember,

tae.

Ma minutes and hours oan this planet wur

programmed tae be spent in some soul destroyin

callcentre fur a pittance oor minimum wage.

When ma faither wis a young man. Back when

he wis aboot ages wae me now. He worked doon at the

world famous Henry Robb shipyaird.

The shipyaird closed in ’84, likes. Efter ma dad

and his mates marched fae the gates. Aw the wey

acroass tae the auld state cinema in Great Junction

Street. A revolt which ultimately failed as a final stand

against the establishment. 87

huddin up a sign which read “Dinnae bring back the

thirties.”

Whether yae went

tae graft oan the shipyairds or doon the pits it gave yae

a life long sense ae camaraderie. Thatcher took that

birth right awey fae future generations.

tae. But only if yae wur willin tae die fur Queen

and capitalism “Here’s a rifle, son. Go oot and shoot

cunts”

watch ma dad slip awey wae lung cancer.

And then ah hud tae sit and watch ma mum go capma mum passed awey wae cardiac

arrest. 91

Ma weapon ae

choice wisnae a rifle or a chisel, it wis a library caird.

It suddenly dawned oan me that education is indeed

power. And there’s nuttin maire dangerous in this

country than a workin man wae a library caird who

isnae afraid tae use it.

“Mr Scott” it says. “We are delighted to inform

you, that you have an unconditional offer to study BSc

(Hons) Public Sociology at Queen Margaret University

in Musselburgh.”

The world really is ma

oyster. 93

Glory Hunter 95

Aldo wis never a supporter ae Leith Star and he wis

never yin fur keepin his thoats oan the matter tae

himsel. Then there wis me and Craig who huv follaed

thum religiously since we wur auld enough tae wipe

oor ain erses.

Especially,

since the majority ae thum are local lads and they

wid spend their weekends boozin doon at The

Carousel, jist like everyboady else. But when yur

talent’s bein cawed intae question by a six­fit two,

coked up, steroid induced mountain. 96

Fur oor big trip

oor tae face the dangerous Bonnyrigg Rose in the

Scottish Cup. This game is huge fur us, likes. As the

winner gits Clyde at haime in the nixt roond. And no

only that, but the match will be televised live oan

BBC Alba.

“Loast did they” he asked. Aw gloatin and

confident that this wis jist another glorious failure fur

the club. “Useless Motherfuckers.”

“Naw” ah telt him. “We fuckin won!!”

wearin a Leith

Star strip. And he kept mutterin the same words, oor,

and oor again “Wur in this taegether, lads”.

Honestly, it wis fuckin ootrageous. 100

Three supporter’s buses left fae

the Carousel at aroond quarter tae two. Bonnyrigg is a

wee workin class toon oan the ootskirts ae Edinburgh.

Listen,

the opium ae these posh cunts is the blood, sweat and

tears ae the workin class. And the opium ae the workin

class is anyhin that blanks oot the realisation ae kennin

wur a mere slave tae the capitalist machine.” 102

“Excuse me, pal?!” he shouts oor tae the barman,

who is busy servin customers.

“Ma Granny coulda hit that baw harder ya fat

usless cunt, git yur erse in gear!!”

“Well, it’s cos he’s goat four fuckin fingers, ya

thick cunt!!” 107

This cunt is actually makin sense

fur yince. It’s no like playin by the rules hus goat me

anywhere before. This win wid set the the club up fur a

gid few years tae come. And lit’s be honest. Huvin

morals isnae what it’s aw cracked up tae be. 108

“Fur fuck sake, Aldo.

Yae jist cawed him the Jimmy Saville ae Scottish fitbaw.

Yae even tried tae pin an unsolved murder oan him fae

five year ago. He’s no taken the bait, ah hink its oor

noo.” 109

Aldo’s masterplan tae fuck wae Bonnyrigg’s

keeper hus proved tae be nuttin shoart ae a

masterstroke. 111

“Ah’m standin here wae a supporter who hus

follaed his team through the gid times and the bad.

What’s yur name, sir?”

“Aldo” he answers aw gleefully.

“Well, Aldo. Why don’t you tell me how proud

you are ae these players? This is a great achievement

fur yur club.”

“Aye, that’s right, Jim” Aldo tells him. There’s nuttin like the feelin ae community

spirit. And kin ah tell ma missus suttin, who’s back at

haime watchin?”

“Sure.”

“We did it, baby! And you owe me ma hole

when ah git back!”

Ordinary Criminals 115

“Tommy, ah’ve goat suttin fur yae the dae” it

says.

Ah thoat tae masel as ah turned roond: “Please,

God, dinnae lit it be this cunt” ― but sure as shit ah

wis faced wae this gleeful Postman Pat.

“Aw, that’s great, Gary” ah sais.

“Ah hope it’s gid news, Tommy” he tells me. 117

Accordin tae this glorified fish wrapper ma

Joabseekers Allowance hus been stoaped because ah

only managed tae apply fur fourteen joabs this week

instead ae the thirty these cunts wanted. Thirty joabs a

week? dinnae make me fuckin laugh, that’s maire the

Tories huv created since they miraculously goat intae

power.

Ah goat tae

ma appointment at the Joabcentre oan Commercial

Street fur half ten in the mornin. Ma advisor wisnae

meant tae be seein me til ten tae eleven

Yince yur in this place that invisible Britain yae

only hear whispers aboot or see oan a thirty second

BBC news bulletin becomes clear as water. Aye, we’re

aw ordinary criminals in this place that’s the yin hing

that bounds us aw taegether. 123

“Sally, have you got the

vouchers for the Edinburgh North East foodbank

there?”.

Ah must huv been standin aboot here fur at

least half an hour until ma name is finally cawed, “Mr

Cooper” a voice says.

Ah’m no messin likes, this wanker

looks like he’s yin cauld awey fae blowin his brains oot

. This [full stop on top line.]

Class Treason 129

Aldo and Craigy, are baith sat oan the vomit­worthy,

cream leather couch. Craigy looks sober, likes. But its

clear yae cannae say the same hing aboot, Aldo.

He then looks up at us aw teary eyed “Lads,

they’re the best runners ah’ve ever hud.”

Ah pause. Understandin what he meant but

hopin tae fuck ah wis in fact mistaken.

“Please tell me you’ve no goat thum droappin

oaff gear fur yae, Aldo?”

He smirks, pleased as you like. “Of course. Ah

git cheap labour and they git tae finally serve a purpose

in society. Everboady’s a winner.”

Yae could cut the atmosphere in the room wae a

knife. Ma hert’s still beatin like a Cherokee drum due

tae the rush ae adrenaline. Craig tries tae engage me in

conversation “Where the fuck hus Aldo goat tae?”

“That”s fuckin right” he barks. “Yur a middle

class wannabe. The dregs ae society.”

“Look in the fuckin mirror” he explains. “Since

yae goat wae her you’ve become a middle­class

wanker. Fur fuck sake, yae dress like a banker noo”

“She’s goat gid fashion sense, that’s aw. Only

makes sense tae git her advice.”

“Sure” he says, wae a grin. “Then there’s this

place?”

“What’s wrong wae it, likes?”

“It looks like a fuckin showroom.

Aldo continues oan wae his tirade. “A couple’s

night?” he tuts. “If ever there wis three words that

didnae belong taegether in the same sentence. Ah bet

yae went tae some posh theatre or suttin. Tae watch

some tart greetin fur an hour cos she’s loast her shoe”.

ootburst ah never really gave any ae this

any thoat. But as much as it pains me tae admit it, eh?

he’s actually goat a point.

Aldo wis speakin

sense and that ah really huv become a middle­class

prodigy withoot even realisin it.

From Wuhan to Leith 139.

Business hus plummeted cos ae this virus.

Ah’ve loast a lotae fuckin money, that’s fur sure. None

ae ma runners will pick up or droap oaff fur me in case

they catch it. Deep doon ah jist wish ah wis still dain

ma community service cos nuttin wid deter they

retards fae dain business. Thanks largely tae the fact

that none ae thum are playin wae a full deck.

Been buzzin oot ae ma nut maist ae the day.

Oan coke and heavy bevyin. Yae could argue it’s a

normal day fur me but ah hink it’s a mindset hing wae

the boredom n that, ken? Started oan the gear earlier

and ah’ve jist been chillin oot. Listenin tae a few tunes,

ever since. It’s no the same as bein doon The Carousel

Lost And Found.

ah’m surprised wae what ah

find inside. Insteed ae a white brick ae gold ah’m

huddin this tiny puppy in ma airms. And it’s starin at

me wae its huge baby seal eyes. Jesus, he looks at me.

Before he lits oot a tired yawn and he seems content.

Which astonishes me, tae be honest ­ seeins how he’s

jist been chucked oot a motor.

He’s lovin the attention tae. A proper

showman so he is. Lyin sprawled oot oan his back as he

takes in her beautiful Hollywood smile.

“He’s so cute” she squeals.

“Aye, he’s awrite” ah tell her.

“What’s his name?”

ah mean his name,

is…Bruce.”

Thank fuck ah’d watched Die Hard last night

Will yae look at this, eh? this wee hings a fanny

magnet. Ah mean, she’s practically goat her mooth

wrapped aroond ma cock as we speak.

He droaps doon oan the couch a depressed and

158

defeated dug. He stares up at me and gees me a soft

whimper. Ah try tae make him understand ah’m dain

this fur him:

“Listen, you’ll love it there and in nae time

you’ll be wae yur new family.

The drive up tae the ‘Paws Dog Sanctuary’ oan

the ootskirts ae the toon hus been hard fur aw

concerned.

“Aye, yae kin, mate” ah tell him. “Ah’ve broat

ma dug Bruce here tae be re­haimed.”

He smiles at me “You must be Mr Ali?

“Oh, god no” he tells me. “He’ll be a new

member of doggy heaven.”

“Lower yur fuckin voice, you!” ah scream. “He’s

goat a gid grasp ae English!”

“Bruce, dae yae ken that guy, eh? Talk tae me,

son?” He replies in barks which grow increasingly

louder. It’s a clear “Oh, ah ken that bastard, awright”

if ever there wis yin.

“Did you throw this dug fae oot that motor a

couple ae weeks back, daft cunt?”

He smirks knowingly, as if in appreciation ae a

cherished memory. “Oh, that?” he says. “That mut’s jist

lucky ma petrol wis oan the rid. Or he wid huv been

gone fur a swim doon the docks.”

“Bruce, son” ah say “cover yur eyes, pal. This is

gonnae be fuckin messy.”

And believe me, eh? It wis.

Funny Money

Fur Dalhousie Castle is

almost certainly yin ae the plushest venues in the hale

ae Scotland’s central belt.

So, yae kin imagine ma surprise when ma

beautifully decorated invite droapped through the

letterboax. Especially when yae consider this particular

delivery wis sent fae someboady who lives oan sixty

quid a week dole money.

Ah instantly felt obliged tae share the excitin

news wae wee Brucie. Who wis busy enjoyin his

mornin munch.

“Brucie, son” ah said “Yur uncle Craigy is huvin

an enagement pairty”

The little man’s steyin wae Mrs Henderson fae

acroass the wey. Ah couldnae ask Christina tae look

efter him since we hud finished oan such unpleasant

terms. She hates ma guts. But ah’ll no bore yae wae the

details.

distinctive lack ae talent

walkin up and doon the room. In fact, tae be honest

wae yae. Ah’ve no seen this many dugs assembled in

yin place since ah watched a hunner and yin

dalmatians in the 90’s. A reality which is as depressin

as it is demoralisin. Cos ah came along here wae much

enthusiasm and high hopes ae pullin. And that’s

exactly why ah pit oan ma best Ben Sherman shirt.

cloack the unlucky

bride standin there, as well. She’s the lassie wae the

animal print ootfit. Lookin every bit as if she’s a blond

beehive awey fae winnin a Lily Savage lookalike comp.

Ah’m startin tae question whether ah should git

up oaff ma erse and go in search ae the elusive, Dougie.

An unwanted physical approach

which startles me tae ma core.

“Awrite, Aldo” whispers a monstrous, ugly

voice, direct in ma ear.

And as ah turn tae reveal the soonds identity ah

see that it’s a vile lookin boay who’s wearin an equally

mignin burgundy cap. He’s also sportin a jaundice

coloured zippy which jist aboot pits him oan a par wae

Dougie fur the maist overstated fashion sense at this

bash.

“Dae ah fuckin ken you?” ah ask

“Nah” he says. “But…”

Ah stoap him midsentence “Well, ah dinnae

hink that needs tae change” ah say. Before ah wave him

awey like the bad smell he is.

Dougie responds wae a playful smile.

“So” he says, leanin forward. “Ah wis meanin

tae ask. What happened between you and Christina?

Ah thoat yae might go the distance?”

“That’s personal stuff, mate” ah tell him

“Widnae be right discussin it wae yae at a piss up. It

wis true love, me and her.”

Ma emotions git the better ae me and the pain ae

losin ma yin true love sets oaff the waterworks. Ah

bang ma fist oan the table “Ah cannae even say it”

“What did she dae, mate?” squeals Dougie.

“She wis a fuckin Tory” ah tell him, whist

greetin hard intae the tablecloth.

“A Tory?” he says “Ah dinnae fuckin believe

you sometimes, Aldo”

“Ah kept seein that Theressa May cunts puss,

when we shagged. Sometimes ah couldnae even git it

up”

“Jesus” he says “That’s fucked up, Aldo”

“Well, it’s the fuckin truth” ah tell him.

Fur a brief moment we sit back in oor comfy

seats. Enjoyin the company as what we are. Two auld

generational mates. Nae naggin burds tae contaminate

the unspoken bond we share, either. Although he does

enjoy the company ae his missus, eh?

“Dougie, Aldo, what are you two dain here?”

it’s Sally, eh? a plump lassie wae a surprisin fizzy

personality. Her dress code resembles suttin yae wid

find doon Leith docks.

“That useless motherfucker” she announces tae

us. “He left us wae no a pot tae piss in. Ah hud the

choice ae pittin Peter in care or lookin efter him. Easiest

fuckin decision in ma life”

“So, what happened?” ah ask fakin fur the sake

ae fake interest. “Wur the social full?”

Dougie gazes acroass tae me “She means keepin

him wis the easy choice.”

“Really?” ah says. Starin at her aw shocked, n

that.

“Of course, that’s what ah meant. Cheeky

bastard” she cracks.

“That’s, Leanne” She says “Marco’s sister. She’s

goat nae self­respect that lassie. Shags anyhing.”

“Eh, ah’m here tae see ma mate, Craig

Robertson” ah tell her “He wis broat in earlier.”

Even his fuckin eyes are jist lifeless slits. He’s clearly in

a bad wey.

“What the fuck happened!?” ah roar. 179

Dougie instantly springs up fae his seat. Lookin

absolutely shattered and pathetic “It wis the great

white”

Ah pause fur a second “A great white did this?”

pointin tae Craigy’s unrecognisable puss. “Wis he at

Portabelly beach, or suttin?”.

Dougie explodes “Are you stoned, or what?!” he

screams “No an actual fuckin shark” he says, almost at

a murmur “It wis Mikey Hood”

“The loan shark?” ah ask.

“Fur fuck sake, Aldo. Aye” his teeth grindin

taegether as his temper escalates.

“How dae yae ken that?” ah say.

“Caroline filled me in oan how Craig came intae aw

that money fur the pairty”

“Right, and?” ah growl.

“He’s been passin funny money aboot. And the

daft cunt wis pumpin five grand worth ae notes

through Mikey’s clubs.

“Ah’m gonnae be seein that

bastard, Mikey. Real soon”

“Yae cannae” Dougie says, aw frantically.

“How the fuck no?” ah ask him.

“He said if you goat involved, or the polis. Then

this wid seem like a friendly warnin.”

“Listen, ah’ll square him up wae what Craigy’s

due. If that pits this shit tae bed. And Craigy will pull

through, eh? stronger than ever”

Ah kin feel the relief in his voice “You’re a gid

mate, Aldo” he tells me.

Ah noad in agreement. “Craigy kin dae some

chores fur me. Yince he’s back up oan his feet. What’s

the docaturs sayin?”

Ah’m riddled wae guilt. Hence ma offer tae pey the

five bags tae clear the debt. Still, better tae keep his SOS

call quiet fae Dougie.

And

ah’ve goat it oan gid authority that he’s in a boozer oot

Granton wey cawed ‘The Highlander’. No jist himself

though. He’s goat his muscle wae him tae. There

should be nae maire violence though. Oan accoont ae

no wantin tae make hings worse fur Craig ah’m gonnae

pey the cunt oaff and jist leave it at that. By the time ah

make ma wey back in the room. Suttin’s evidently

ratteld Dougie’s cage yince maire.

The

Highlander is a notorious boozer in Edinburgh and it’s

a name that rings oot far and wide. It doesnae take us

long tae arrive there. Largely oan accoont ae the traffic

no bein that bad. Ah git the driver tae park aroond the

corner fae the pub and as soon as ah jump oot the rains

starts hammerin doon. This pub kindae takes me back

tae Saughton, likes. Wae it’s run doon appearance and

steel bars acroass it’s windaes.

Ah slam it doon oan the bar “What’s this?”

Mikey asks puffed up.

“That’s five grand” ah tell him “That’s Craigy

square wae yae, right?”

“Okay” he says, quietly.

“So, we’re gid?” ah ask him.

Tae which he smiles and taps oan the envelope

“The debt’s been peyed, aye. We’re cool”

A chorus ae laughter erupts fae him and his

entourage. And they’re too much in love wae

thumselves tae even notice what ah dae nixt. Ah walk

up tae the front door and begin boltin the place up.

As ah walk up back taewards they’m Mikey’s

still grinnin awey tae himsel. And he jist cannae fuckin

wait tae bait me some maire “Look aroond yae” he

says. Gesturin tae his five goons. “You might be a crazy

fuck, Aldo. But you’re oot gunned here, ah’m afraid”

“Lads!” ah shout. Ma eyes dinnae flicker fae

their direction. The hale place seems tae stand up in

unison. Instantly sendin the bar staff cowerin fur cover.

“Dinnae mind they’m” ah tell him, noaddin

behind me. “They’re only here tae make sure you cunts

suffer”

Takeover 185

That wis

until ah came acroass this auld photo ae me and

Craigy. A snap taken before we embarked oan oor first

day there. We looked like a pair ae scared fuckin

rabbits. Ah came acroass the hing while ah wis helpin

the missus tae clear oot the attic.

That wis until ma faither decided tae inject

himself intae the conversation.

“Son” he said, while lowerin his newspaper.

“Jist remember, eh? snitches git stiches.”

“Joe!” ma mum snapped. “Leave the laddie

alain.”

“Ah’m jist sayin” he tells her “Naeboady likes a

grass.”

“Well” ma mum quips. “That school is different

fae when you wur there.”

Then a welcomed distraction appeared

ootae naewhere. In the form ae a knock at the front

door. It wis ma saviour, Craigy.

infamous Ainslie Park. A

proper school ae hard knocks. The buildin auld and run

doon. A neglected concrete Victorian memory.

Miss Robertson wandered in. And she wis

accompanied by a young skinny Asian boay who

looked shy and extremely timid.

She then gestured tae the mysterious

south Asian boay.

“I have someone I would like you all to meet.

This is Aldo and his family recently moved to the area.

He’ll be joining the class today and I expect that you

will all make him feel welcome.”

“Listen up” he announced. “Every Friday ah

want a quid fae every yin ae you’s. And dinnae go

runnin tae yur mummy and daddies and start tellin

tales. Or tae that bitch in heat who jist left the room. Cos

ah will find yaise. And believe me. It willnae be poetic.”

Craig chips in “The hardest boay

at the school. Far as ah ken, mate. Is a laddie called

Mark Thompson. Him and his mates deal green, n aw.

But he’s a right horrible bastard.”

“Soonds like a kindred spirit. Ah’ll need tae

meet him tae set up some new hoose rules.”

“Dougie, son” he said. “C’moan oot, mate.

There’s money tae be made.”

“Aldo” ah said quietly. “How did yae git ma

address? Ah ken fur a fact ah never telt yae it.”

“School records never lie, mate” he said, wae a

grin.

“He’s ma new mate fae school, mum” ah telt her

“His name’s, Aldo.”

She wis walkin oan water wae his compliments.

He hit aw the markers, likes. Everyhing fae her hair

style. Tae how she could pass as ma sister. He even hud

ma dad eating ootae the palm ae his hand. Laughin at

ma faither’s terrible patter and he even insisted oan

dain the dishes. Jist his wey ae shamin me in front ae

ma folks. And the nixt words oot ae ma dads mooth left

me paralysed

“Ah wish ah hud a son, like you, Aldo” he said.

“Aye, but ah pit the bin oot last night dad” ah

uttered.

“Aye, the wrong fuckin bin, though.

“Dinnae you go swallowin yur tongue, Markie. Ah’ve

been meanin tae huv a catch up wae yae. Listen, eh?

you work fur me now. A fag gits selt fur fifty pence in

the playgroond? ah want ma cut. Ah’m a reasonable

man. Caw it a hunner per cent. Your reign ae terror

ends theday. And mines hus jist begun. Spread the

fuckin word.”

Ah realised that

naeboady at the school wid even dare try and mess wae

us ever again wae Aldo by oor side. It wis the first day

ae a friendship that wid stand the test ae time. And that

day wis truly yin tae remember.

Elizabeth Strout (2016) Olive Kitteridge


Having read (and reviewed) Olive, Again, Anything is Possible and My Name is Lucy Barton in the last few months, Olive Kitteridge is the best Elizabeth Strout novel I’ve read. Some authors, most authors—myself included—tend to write the same story again and again. Different haircuts, shiny shoes, but the same characters appearing again, renewed. From writer to reader there needs to be an emotional resonance that translates into a feeling of rightness. Olive Kitteridge feels right to me.

In other words I liked Olive Kitteridge in a way I didn’t particularly like those other books. It’s not that I disliked them. They were agreeable enough to me, but it was more of a feeling of so what? No particular, dazzle.  I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.

I don’t classify myself as a writer. Writing is a verb, rather than a noun for me. If you write, you’re a writer. If you don’t you’re not. In the same way that Angela O’Meara, in the story ‘The Piano Player’, four times a week plonks herself down at the piano in the Warehouse Bar and Grill and tries to get inside the music, I try and get inside words and write stuff most folk don’t read, apart from the locals in my ABCtales gang hut. Angela is a background noise to most folk in the town. A familiar figure that needs to be drunk so her nerves don’t show. With her red hair and slim figure, she was beautiful once, and in the right light is beautiful still. Her talent is innate. Her fingers need to be busy. She produced music, but isn’t going anywhere or coming from anywhere, but in the process she’s picked up a married man that loved her so much, couldn’t live without her, but somehow managed for twenty-odd years to do just that. One day Angela picks up the phone and phones him at home and simply says, she can’t do it anymore. She goes back to playing the piano. Life in her small—fictional—town goes on without her. There’s a pretty much perfect feeling of what is and what if to the story that seems true.

Olive Kitteridge, the local maths teachers with her big voice and big frame and size ten shoes, was someone most kids were scared of. As in the other novels (or collections of short stories) she does not feature in some of the stories, other than as a walk-on character. Support act to the main storyline.

In ‘Incoming Tide,’ for example, Kevin Coulson returns to his childhood home and parks near the marina looking out at the sailboats and shifting tide. He’s also been watching a childhood friend, a pretty girl, Patty Howe, with a kind of yearning that reaches towards the past. Then Olive Kitteridge is just there, in ways she often just is, a marker like the lighthouse, staring through the windscreen.

Mrs. Kitteridge. Holy shit. She looked exactly the same as she had in the classroom in the seventh grade, the forthright, high-cheekboned expression; her hair was still dark. He had liked her; not everyone had.

The story pivots on what Kevin tells Mrs.Kittiridge—he’s a doctor now, but no longer practices medicine—‘That’s pretty impressive,’ Olive tells him.

She is a woman given to plain speaking. That’s part of her attraction to the reader. She tells it like it is. The woman her son Christopher marries, for example, she recognises as intelligent enough, she’s also a doctor, but mean. Her son’s next wife, Ann, who she goes to visit in New York, has already fathered two kids to different men, and she’s bigger than Olive, which she’s not used to, but also essentially, dumb. But there’s another quality Olive recognises that should never be dismissed, kindness.  Ann is kind.

Olive isn’t so sure she is kind, but the reader knows better. Olive thinks herself as ‘cut from the same piece of bad cloth’ as Jim O’Casey, whom she would have had an affair with and would have left her husband, Henry, and her son, had O’Casey asked. But he never did. So she never did either. But it allowed her to better understand her husband’s requited love for mouse-like Denise who worked hand-in-fist in the pharmacy with him. Nothing sexual happened. As nothing sexual happened with O’Casey. Just an understanding that there’s no understanding love.

Perhaps that’s one of the attractions of Kitteridge’s books. Nothing sexual does happen. Incest, rape, arson and murder does take place, but it’s always off-scream and safely in the past.

Olive recalls she was 44 years old when she didn’t have the affair with O’Casey, didn’t run away with him—because he never asked. He drove into a tree shortly afterwards and was aged 53. Olive grows older with each story in the book. As do her characters. In New York visiting her son and Ann and their brood of children, the older Olive, aged 72, realises that it would have been such a mistake to leave Henry. But she still would have, because she thought she knew best.

Olive is 74, and her husband Henry is dead, when she meets Jack Kennison. She goes a walk in the morning to pass the time, to kill time and hopes it won’t add to her lifespan of misery when she stumbles over him.

‘Jack Kennison stared out at the river. ‘I was walking. I saw the bench and felt tired. I don’t sleep well. So I sat down and started to feel dizzy. I put my legs between my knees and the next thing I knew I was lying on the ground, with some woman squacking at me, “Are you dead?”

Olive’s face became warm. “You seem less dead every minute,’ she said. “Do you think you can walk?”

“…My wife died in December,” he said.

Olive watched the river. “Then you’re in hell,” she said.

“I’m in hell.”

Loneliness and a sense of the purposelessness of Olive’s life give her insight and increased compassion for others, like it, or not, including, ‘flub-a-dub’ Jack Kennison. He taught at Harvard and is an outsider to their coast town. She suspects, he shamefacedly, voted for Trump, whom she quickly categorises as a ‘moron’ with his piggy eyes and less sense than road kill. Even Reagan, that old faker, had more sense than Trump. These are asides, Kennison is in the same kind of pain she suffers. The perfect meet-greet, might not make the perfect elderly couple, but there’s an inevitability about it. No apple-pie endings, but I like that too.  

I like Olive Kitteridge, she’s one of those woman you kinda know. I guess that’s the attraction. Nostalgia. What we have lost. What is to come, the seven ages of old age. Hell. We might even find love.   

Caitlin Moran (2012) How To Be a Woman.

caitlin moran.jpg

How To Be a Woman has Caitlin Moran on the front cover surrounded by a proscenium arch of accolades. ‘Galaxy Book Awards Book of the Year.’ ‘Funniest Book of the Year,’ Evening Standard. ‘The book EVERY woman should read,’ Grazia. Well, I’m at a disadvantage here because I’ve read it and I’m a guy, or at least like to think so. I’m normal that way, obviously when you’re lying in bed, you’ve had sex with someone you don’t know very well, and she leaves her diary and Cosmopolitan lying about you read the diary first and the magazine later, because when she come back from the toilet she’ll be pissed off at you reading her diary. This is that diary. And it took her 36 years to live and six months to write the 312 pages, with a bit of help from friends and family.

But for me it’s strangely familiar. Most folk on ABCtales also know Sooz, who published her diary there, a year block at a time and that would be about 100 000 words. The term more honest than was good for her applied to Sooz. She told you about her father raping her, her husband’s grandmother stealing her son and bringing him up as her own, her life in a home and in a Women’s Aid hostel,  the many disasters of everyday life as a caring district nurse and trying to bring up a son that other kids bully. It would take me 312 pages just to scratch parts of her life, but let’s just say it was interesting. Is interesting. Her diaries are out there, but some troll she hooked up with set out to destroy her and her writing. He largely succeeded. Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman is the success story she never had but deserved.

Let’s look at Moran’s prescription in the postscript.

‘Anyway, by sixteen, I had a new idea. I didn’t want to be a princess. Princes were dull. It was all about the artists instead…I wanted to be a muse… WRITE A SONG ABOUT A GOBBY BIRD! WRITE A SONG ABOUT MEEEEEEEEE YOU FUCK!

‘18th birthday, not a muse, not a princess…Just “being” me isn’t enough. I’m going to have to do something, instead…Simply being honest about who we really are is half the battle.’

‘I don’t want men to go away. I don’t want men to stop what they’re doing. What I want, instead, are some radical market forces…I want women to have more of the world, not just because it would be fairer, but because it would be better.’

There is nothing Caitlin Moran writes about that I disagree with. She is particularly good on ‘I am Fat’. Fat is functional in the way that other vices are not. People that think of lunch while eating breakfast and snacking in between breakfast and lunch because the world is such a boring place to be and hey, Marlon Brando was fat and it never did him any harm. But there’s a hierarchy of addictions, just the same as there is a hierarchy of HIV sufferers, those that get the virus from contaminated blood products deserve to live, all other AID sufferers can rot in hell. In the same way she contrasts ROCK’ N’ROLL (she has an addiction to capital letters for emphasis) and the Stones.

‘Imagine’ she says, ‘if instead of taking herion – Keef had started overeating and got really fat instead. If he’d really got into spaghetti bolognese, say, or kept coming on stage holding foot-long Subway Meatballs.’ Instead of being a junkie he was a fattie. My guess is a fat stone cannot roll. They’d get rid of him sharpish. It reminds me a bit of a character in one of Jane Godley’s sketches, shouting ‘c’mere ya fat cunt to a mentor yeh’.

I also like Moran’s take on women that spend thousands of pounds on plastic bodies and faces. The world would be a so much better place if somebody instead of saying I’ve spent £500 on botox for my forehead, said I’ve taken £500 out of the cash machine and gave it that wee guy sitting on the park bench. You should have seen his smile. I’m still waiting for a Scottish Socialist Republican Scotland. Dream on. I like How To Be a Woman, but whisper it I watched three minutes of Raised by Wolves and it aged me, you know how much botox that’s going to cost me?

 

 

critique of (ABCtales) story: war to end all wars.

In a world of mud, colour was a low deceit and became his eyes, his legs and his feet tapping out messages to his body in the trenches. Bright colours such as red, orange and even blue were starbursts and new-born memories. Rail by rail, sleeper by sleeper the slow climb east or west, the locomotive found its way through craggy hills and mountain. Steppes washed red and orange by the flickering light of the day and nightfall falling like a stone and covering hay racks and stone houses, with their quaint roofs, and leaving behind the drift of wood smoke and the scent of passing history. A town glided past and on the bend birch forests turned blue and the air, higher up, tasted cleaner and crisper.

Commentary, setting the scene: first paragraph. I was trying to seize the reader and hint at the narrator being blind. In my head that was already an established truth. I wasn’t sure about low deceit. Here I was trying to link in with the ducking and diving of the trenches. But mostly, you write first and think of why you did something later. That’s called giving what you write an alibi. The question here is low deceit, or should it be simplified as low deceit? Similarly, Bright colours such as red, orange and even blue were starbursts and new-born memories. Juxtaposing trenches with train is tied in with the idea of climbing.  I’m not sure that applies. If I was writing about the killing fields around Verdun, it  is flat country. Hedging my bets with east or west. I’d need to look at that again. Be more honest. Craggy hills. Not sure craggy does anything, but impede the progress of the sentence? Craggy hills. Then the follow on mountains. A sameness, one a synonym for the other, but may aid the idea of movement? Steppes sounds pretty good, it suggests climbing, or even falling. The problem here is steppes are usually associated with the East and in particular, I’d guess, Russia. Washed red has connotations of blood. I’d probably get away with orange, the colours of change. Nightfall falling- like a stone- hits all the cliché buttons as it goes down. Hay racks and stone houses are at best a  guess. This shows I don’t know what I’m talking about with the idea of ‘quaint roofs’. The drift of wood smoke tied in with the journey and also history does work.  

Each station they stopped red-capped guards stood in attendance, a hammer ringing up out of the tobacco fug and rowdy song: so We’re here because we’re here because we’re here, and the relief of being somewhere else, anywhere else, anywhere else, away from the shells and the shrapnel and the sucking stinging mud filled with ghosts of friends and rats feasting on the finest, and overblown lice on the warm-blooded seams of sentient leftovers, and the pitter-patter of machine guns. The wheel tapper walked close to the line, tapped out the cheerful beat of the evening, and the order of nothing falling apart.  Everything in order. The rattle and shuttle of bodies defying gravity and moving on shuggling in the aisles and tilting in the compartment, and in the dining car, officers looking up from their hands of hearts over diamonds, alert, before sinking back into worn cards and playful bickering. Rubber followed rubber. The laughed as small sums of money changed hands, not lives, not in the way the most meaningless choice at the front could. Wax polish and the smell of the promised leg of lamb hung in the air, perhaps with a carafe of pinot blanch to follow and they licked dry lips. Laughed because they could, because they were here because they were here because they were here.

Red-capped guards continues the theme of colour, rising from the mud (I just thought of that, so it must be true). But the truth is I don’t know if i) guards were posted on the line ii) if they wore red caps, or iii) what they were supposed to be doing. I quite like the idea of a hammer ringing out the wheels and the wheels getting checked, wheel by wheel, by a wheel-tapper employed to do such a job because although it plays at normality it is ridiculous. Soldiers on leave are coming from a place where every minute of every day they died, yet, away from the front a parental ideal of care springs into action. I tried to show this with the anthem and rats feeding on the finest. A motif which recurs at the end of the paragraph.  

‘Won’t be long now,’ someone said. He turned his head towards the Glaswegian accent.

The movement from the general to the particular, a focusing in works here. The accent is Glaswegian, so back in familiar territory for me.

‘Where are we?’ he asked one of the orderlies. He shifted closer to the window, his body squeezed into a hard seat in a third-class compartment. The kind that his mother used to take him on when they went doon the water to Rothesay, with all the other families from the streets surrounding them at the Glasgow Fair. His mother, sitting opposite,  kept an eye on him far better than any medic, a black, winged hat buried her ears, wearing her best grey dress pinned with a large cairngorm brooch, a necklet of fur, some fox rubbed up the wrong way, her lips moving silently as she mouthed: ‘Hurry up. Hurry up. Hurry up’. Fearful of being sick and disgracing herself. George knew how she felt. His wee brother had cheered when he was called up and his wee sister had cried.

This is a kind of interlude linking past and present. The reactions of brother and sister tie the varying responses together and give a notion of home.

His fingers traced the bandage around his head, covering his eyes. They’d shaved his head on one side, minor bleeding, no lasting damage. Poked and prodded by one of the doctors. A light shined in his eyes. Then he’d slept for a very long time. Woke up somewhere unfamiliar. The smell of disinfectant and the groans of other men helped him realise he was in hospital. And that was all he had hoped for, all he dreamed of.  Felt a body filling the space, leaning over him.

‘You have to go back to your regiment,’ a voiced tolled in an upper-class English accent. ‘Royal Scots, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, sir,’ he said, sitting up square in his bed and trying to salute.

‘Good man,’ he said. ‘I see you’ve got a medal for gallantry.’

‘Yes, sir.’

He heard an intake of breath, slide of his shoes as he stepped to one side, fingers drumming impatiently on a piece of paper. The doctor acted like he was deaf and dumb as well as blind, with his instructions to the orderly to ‘get him up and get him moving, as quickly as possible’.

That was when he first heard the word ‘malingerer’.

This episode was the way the story played out in my head. My intentions were to juxtapose the way that soldiers from working-class backgrounds, in particular, were tortured by those of a different class in the belief that would make a man of them and cure them. But the story didn’t quite work out that way.  

They walked slowly arm in arm, giving the others plenty of time to climb onto waiting buses and trains and leave them behind. The whistles and hissing of trains, the shouted greeting of other passengers meeting loved ones. An amputee beside them swung himself sideways and forward with the aid of crutches. He tilted his head and shifted his weight onto his good leg.

They would be best modified by giving the orderly some kind of descriptive presence. That way the linkage of past and present would seem more real. Arm-in-arm. The bustle of the station is alluded to in the next sentence. The problem with the amputee isn’t who he is or what he does, but a logistical one. There’s a shift in point of view. Who is seeing him? Especially if George is blind.

‘George, is that you?’ he called over his shoulder. ‘It’s Frank. Frank Lodge, we were together at Verdun.’

George had been with tens of thousands of others, on paper part of a centripetal force attacking a hill. A worm’s eye view of the trenches separated the men from the boys. Shivering boys who had soiled themselves, standing beside you, blown up. Men buried alive, some unearthing themselves, only to die later. Rank decaying body parts shovelled into bags. Left out in the open. Bayoneting and shooting of prisoners because the only way to survive was to remain alive. Gas drifting and men vomiting up their burnt lungs, the only cure a bullet. Fields of mud, vast cemeteries without end.  He turned sightless, some plangent note in the voice calling him back.

Worm’s eye view is clichéd. The idea of starting with shivering boys and then in the next sentence allowing them to be referred to as men works, but perhaps some or all of it should be moved to the opening passage, second paragraph, and tied in with the pitter-patter of machine guns.

‘We met at the delousing station, shared a half of whiskey before going on leave.’ There was a pleading tone to his voice. ‘Remember?’

I wasn’t sure how much whiskey the men at the front had, but I remembered reading how the Germans, when they raided the trenches were astonished how much food and booze was on the other side.

‘Aye,’ said George, trying to sound convincing. But then it came to him, a man with hardly any hair and a nose so long it appeared no just on his face but on different time zones. Now it had come to meet him as he felt the man’s arms around his neck as his crutch fell and he awkwardly hugged his head. ‘Frank, sorry mate, I just can’t see you.’

Hardly any hair, i.e. balding or some variant, shorten. His nose being on different time zones – attempt at Glasgow humour.  

The orderly bent down and picked up the crutch, he positioned the pad under Frank’s oxter and the crutch in an upright and steady position, allowing him to move his foot and let it take his weight.

‘Cheers pal,’ Frank said to the orderly. ‘Going home to meet the wife.’ His voice seesawed up and down. ‘Never thought I’d be able to say that.’

The orderly appears again here. A third body between George and Frank. The case for the orderly to have some kind of descriptive tag so he stands out is clear.

‘You’ve got a wife?’ George sounded surprised.

‘Aye, she couldnae resist me.’ The smile was slow in coming. ‘Just thought I’d say hello. We used to talk about you, you know, how you got transferred and then the terrible day. If you’re numbers up, it’s up.  All dead – apart from you, of course.’ He bit his lip and nodded, even though the other man couldn’t see it. ‘Keep in touch.’ He steadied his crutch, but before striking out, reached out to embrace George once more.

Bit muddled here. Leading the reader into flannel land. how you got transferred and then the terrible day.

George flinched at the touch, but then he stepped inside the crutches, and placing his arm around his friend’s powerful shoulders, swaying and supporting his weight, he felt his unshaved cheek press briefly against his own.  ‘Take care of yourself.’ George felt his eyes moisten beneath the bandages.

Need to re-order or rewrite sentence so the whose unshaved cheek is being pressed against flesh is clear.

‘You too,’ said Frank.

George waited until he could hear the tap and swing of the crutch as he took the first step and moved away.

ABCtales goes to the wall

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I’ll be sorry to see the end of ABCtales.com. Most folk will not of heard of it, or be that interested. In theory there’s almost 120 000 stories (poetry counts as a story) online, written by almost 20 000 writers. That works out at six stories per writer. But if you believe that you’ll probably believe some of the unbelievable shit I’ve written over the last eight years. It helps if you have no idea what moderation is. My normal day consisted of writing pages and pages of stories so fast I didn’t read them, or understand them, but I did publish them online. I’d push that button and wait for my brilliance to be uncovered. At that stage ABCtales had been online about eight years and only 40 000 stories had been published, 32 326 of them mine.  Other writers were kind

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Ewan, of soon-to-be-released Gibbous House, was an ABCtales editor. I didn’t know what an editor was, and I’m still not sure, but I did know an editor could give your work the magical glow of a red cherry. The equivalent would be when you were in primary 1 and the teacher pressed a gold star onto your jotter. It shone so bright you’d become blinded by the glory and pee yourself. Other dafties without gold stars were to be sneered at. Silver stars were OK for other people and bronze stars, well, you might as well wear a dunce hat and call yourself Noel Behan, who couldn’t put his shoes on without getting his left foot mixed up with his right. Ewan tentatively suggested writing in sentences now and again. My argument that it was bound to happen by the logic of numbers, letters and random full stops on the page, went unchallenged, but he  was the first editor to cherry-pick my work. That was a mistake, because then I upped productivity tenfold and produced even more stories. Ewan couldn’t keep up, had a nervous breakdown and went to live offline near a donkeyless track in Spain.

I joined ABCtales around the same time as Claudine Lazar. Her online name was insertponceyfrenchnamehere, (‘wrong day-go back’ motif) yeh, smartass type. You probably think I hated her and you’d be right if not write, or so it is written in biblical language. Her stories of London life 1974 and 1978 were far better than any stories I was mass producing. Then she was made an editor. So I had to kid on I liked her. That ruse has worked well right up to the present day. She even attended my book launch. I picked her up at Glasgow Airport, but she didn’t recognise me at first because she’s never met me and I’m much bigger and have more byte than onscreen. She had to light a cigarette immediately. The air in Scotland is so clear and clean it choked her smog-filled London lungs. I had to wind up the windows in my van to create a decompression chamber. When my eyes started to smart so I couldn’t see, then we could drive to the venue. I missed the turnoff, of course, but kept on the right lane (almost).  She was everything I hoped for, never bought a drink all night and tried to diddle the taxi fare. In other words, typical Londoner.

But it raises the question of whether an online friend is a friend. I doubt it. My offline friends aren’t even my friends. The affection I hold for my ABCtales crew is personal. It’s in the words they write. The experiences they create and share. The poetry of their live shaped by the frailty of normality. It helps if you’re nosey and want to know everything, as I do. I’m a reader first and a writer zzzecond. I’ll miss all these guys because they have become part of my life. You know Sooz made me laugh because her live was so shit and grounded in a reality that didn’t exist. And anybody that can write poetry, or even spell it, well, that’s special and you have telekinetic powers to move people. You know who you are. All I can say is wow and thanks for the help you’ve given me over the years.  Most online writers max out at two years, I’ve served eight years. I’d give more or do more.

ABCtales needs around £20 000 per annum to break even. It takes in about a quarter of that in dribs and drabs. I sometimes shipped the odd £20 the sites way, which made me feel like Moses with the Ten Commandments, overflowing with righteousness. The truth is in the numbers. £20 per annum. I pay £3 per week for The Observer. £156 per annum. A pint of beer costs £3 and I drink one of those every six months. I’m guilty as the next man. Some ABCtalers have proposed a subscription. The problem is it would start costing money to chase those that don’t pay and what exactly would you threaten them with? But it’s more fundamental than that. When I joined ABCtales it was free.  I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but I was sure I wasn’t going to be ripped off. In a word I was scared. Scared my writing was shit (it was and still is). And scared I’d be diddled and it was all a big internet scam. The expectation of readers is books and online stuff will be free and that creates a pressure. Footfall or clicks to sites that charge will be close to non-existent and the existing membership of ABCtales will not be renewed. No new writers mean death to a writing site. Simple economics has killed us. I’ll miss my old online gang hut. I’ll miss my old gang. What to do now? God knows.

Prostitution and Lily Poole.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356

I like to read and I like to write. One is the engine of the other. When you’re writing fast, with dash, you just fling words down, and hope for the best. Lily Poole was a serial on ABCtales. Bang, bang, bang, around 2000 words a day. It wasn’t called Lily Poole then, I’d given it the working tag, ‘School Photos’. First-draft stuff.  Let’s not call it a novel, but a collection of words pointing in a particular direction. There was no Lily Poole, but there was a little girl that fell down in the snow. She didn’t say much, in fact, didn’t say anything other than ‘big people don’t understand’. There’s a truth in that which is hard to pin down. And yeh, a little boy I once took to school when he kept slipping in the snow, did use those very words. Nowadays kids go to school in a flotilla of cars, and if you took a kid’s hand you didn’t know, well, it wouldn’t be the school bell, but alarm bells that would be ringing.

In later drafts of the story, I gave the little girl a name Lily. And in later, later drafts, I gave her a surname Poole. Her backstory plays a part in the plot. I like to be realistic, but it did seem farfetched.  Then later when the novel has been published you read something that makes truth of fiction.

You read in Robert A. Douglas (2012, p115) ‘The Investigative Journalist and His Cause’ and the trial of William Stead, a cause celebrity, in Victorian London.

‘In order to facilitate a heightened sense of  verisimilitude, he “bought” a thirteen-year-old girl [Eliza Armstrong] under the pseudonym, Lily for five pounds by negotiating with a former procuress, who, in turn, made the arrangements with the child’s mother…The midwife certifies her virginity, she is taken to a brothel, undressed, put in bed and chloroformed. She awakes to find a strange man in her room.’

A starved and working-class girl of thirteen of the Victorian era would not be prepubescent. Physically, she would be a child, a little girl. Lily does indeed live and breathe, her time has gone, but sometimes the past does haunt us in unexpected ways and at unexpected moments.

Saturday Night Fever on a Tuesday

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You can see the shell of the La Scala from Second Avenue. I can’t remember the first X-rated movie I went to see there, but you can bet the fear on my face was real enough as I got to the turn at the top of the stairs and I expected the woman taking the tickes to eye me up and say, ‘Nah, son you look about fifteen’. Which would be about right, even though I did have a proper suit jacket on and open-necked collar to somehow make me look older, the more mature kind of man that wanted to see Saturday Night Fever.

My mate Burnsie went all the way with the white suit and black shirt, aka, John Travolta. I wasn’t that stupid or that daring. In a rare sighting you might have seen me falling out of the emergency door of a moving bus in Ramelton, somewhere in Donegal, with a white-jacketed jounce, and giving  it skid marks in all the wrong places, but let’s face it that’s what drink does to you. That’s Saturday Night Fever on a Tuesday or Wednesday or whatever the hell day it was. Now Nik Cohen has come clean and said Saturday Night Fever didn’t exist. In fact he just made it all up. I need to re-think my whole life and my propensity to wear parachute material for all the wrong reasons.

My first stop was the off sales. Only then could I think myself into Night Fever falsetto. Then I read Nik Cohen’s story which was the truth of Vincent and his crew’s hand gliding and foot finding. Published in ‘New York’ magazine  7th June 1976 it inspired  those in the disco scene to cut their balls off and dance, dance, prance and with the right kind of parted hair and with the right kind of clobber to take a bullfighter’s stance. Inspired Hollywood to go after the next blockbuster that would gross almost $300 million at the box office in 1976, and me to fall off a moving bus, while swearing it wasn’t really my fault.

I do a lot of reading for a little known group called ABCtalers. A weird bunch that insist we never meet anywhere but on the page. ‘Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night’ by Nik Cohen.  No cherry for you Nik. I’ve nothing against making things up. I do it all the time and imagine I could rattle something like this off in a few hours. But ‘Tribal Rites’ is so damn boring it makes you glad you’re not fifteen anymore and not a proper writer. New York that prestigious capital of magazines and books must have been a simpler place in those days.  Or I’m simpler. I no longer fling myself from buses. There, I’ve done it. Admitted it was my fault and not the feckin drivers. Like Nik I feel better for it. I’m a fraud.

 

 

Christine Hamill (2016) The Best Medicine

 

the best medicine.jpgI can hear my partner, Mary, yakking on the phone downstairs, talking to her Auntie Mary about another Auntie- Eleanor who is dying. ‘She did have a bit of fear…’ she’s talking about her Granny, not her Auntie Eleanor, but the story is familiar, the same one. The Big C.

‘Apparently one in three people get cancer,’ Philip Wright, the thirteen-year old narrator tells the reader. That’s a 50/50 chance. That’s a joke. Jokes don’t have to be funny, but that doesn’t stop you being very trying. ‘I just wanted things to be normal. I wanted Mum to be normal. I knew she could never ‘unhave’ cancer , but…’

The structure of the book is before the but—with the usual school-boy concerns, homework and hanging out with his best friend Ang, being bullied by the Yeti, getting his specs broken, being in love with the ‘Goddess’ Lucy and getting detention, even though it wasn’t his fault—and after the but. It would also come under the letter B for Breast, but not Mum knows best because she’s being acting very strangely. Baking wholemeal buns. Tidying up the mess before there’s a mess. Ordering the cutlery drawer. And locking herself in the toilet and bursting in tears at the drop of a hat. Or the drop of her hair.  Or Harry Hill, a bit like Hara Kristna, but with big open-necked-shirt collars ‘our very own Harry Hill Appreciation Society’. That’s what Philip does, writes letters to Harry Hill asking for his advice, because laughter is the best medicine   ‘Even if Mum could write a guide and leave it – “An A—Z of Philip”’.  Christine Hamill did both of those things on ABCtales.

ABCtales is a kind of online gang hut for people with too much time and even worse literary ass-perversions. B is for Breast Cancer got my vote for book of the year. It offered advice for cancer sufferers and useful tips on topics as diverse as how to keep your head and lose your hair. When it was published it was a runaway success for older people that couldn’t walk very fast or very far. I’m sorry to say I’m in that cohort group. But positive thinking. Think yourself younger.

The Harry Hill Appreciation Society was the bastard child of the A-Z. A book for YA. Young Adults. A kind of fictional Wright what you know. Although Philip Wright isn’t sure about that idea. As he find out on his journey from childish understanding to childish understanding the best medicine, of the Harry Hill, kind is love and laughter. As long as no one dies in the process. Spoiler here. Nobody does.  And the boy gets the Goddess.

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Why book selling doesn’t work!

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Warning, I’m going to try and sell you something. It’s billed as ‘the best new writing from ABCtales’. Who decides what’s best? That’s a question that is often difficult to answer. Certainly, Stephen Thom, who wrote story of the year is here. And Alex Graves who wins poems of the year, every year, is included. My work is also in, but I’d guess that’s because I’ll have a book out later this year in which ABCtales act as my agent and get a fee. I’m glad about that. Although it costs nothing to join ABCtales, or to publish your work online, the expense of running the site is met by Tony Cook, chief cook and bottle washer. Every year I pay around £40 to ABCtales because I know it’s not free and I can afford it. Mr Cook will probably pop up here and say no you don’t – in the eight years you’ve been here you’ve paid six shillings and two pence. But listen, I’ve got an active imagination and no real interest in Facebook, I do like stringing a few sentences together and passing them off as original prose. And I get a buzz when someone reads it and comments. Without a reader the circuit of writing is not complete. ABCtales gives me that opportunity. It gives you that opportunity. But I’m not stupid. I know whatever I’ve written will be forgotten quicker that a photo of last night’s dinner. That doesn’t bother me. There’s no glory in what you’ve written, but what you’ve still to write. Even then, I’ve no illusions, ABCtales is gang hut in hyperspace few folk know about and fewer still cares?

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Well, I care, because it’s my gang hut and my turf. And John Wilks who edited this slim volume also cares. He offered up his time and expertise to get this published. Publishing is the easy part. We all know that now. There’s an extract from Joe Lawrence’s East End Butcher Boy here and it’s better than anything published by Unbound, and I include my own work in that. The difficult part is selling something. I know that and Laurie knows that and Ewan knows that and Tony knows that. And I’d add that Scratch (Peter) who has also written a novel on ABCtales, although he’s not included in this volume, also knows that. It’s only when you actually go and try and sell something that you realise how difficult it actually is. It’s not like that Kevin Coster film Field of Dreams, when you build that baseball diamond, ‘they will come’. No they fucking willnae.  Ask Richard Penny,  who has a story here ‘The Tipping Point’, but who also published a sister volume,  My Baby Shot Me Down which included the works of some my favourite writers on ABCtales, including Rachael Smart, Claudine Lazar and ‘Katherine Black’ (Harpie). And really if you’re going to publish the best of ABCtales you’ve to have something from Maggy van Eijk. Why stop there? What about Philip Sidney who is also not included in this volume and to my mind merits inclusion (I love this for example,  http://www.abctales.com/story/philip-sidney/triptych-1-mass). But I don’t really think it matters that those other names aren’t there. That’s editor’s choice. I’ve been there with A Celtic Anthology, which I co-edited with Kevin McCallum (Old Pesky on ABCtales). I could rattle off another few anthologies I’ve been involved in. It’s that gang-hut mentality that makes you part of a group, and your mum and your sister and their brother might buy a copy. And then you become invisible. Christopher Isherwood’s narrator in The Berlin Novels jokes about selling eight copies of his poetry before fleeing England for Berlin. Funnily enough that’s the number of copies John Wilks claimed to have sold so far. I can name a few buyers. Joe Lawrence, Claudine Lazar, Ewan Lawrie and myself. That’s 50% of the buyers. And it’s pathetic. Thirty of those published in the volume haven’t bothered buying a copy. Whatever the opposite of resounding success this is the opposite.  Build the field and they will come? Just because you get ABCtales for nothing, doesn’t mean it costs nothing. Put something back (if you can afford it). There’s some good stuff here. I can’t claim any credit for that. At least think about it.

http://www.best-book-price.co.uk/Product-266239/1326510258-Abctales.html

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/1326510258/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1_olp?ie=UTF8&qid=1453034710&sr=8-1&keywords=abctales

A good short story for Christmas?

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/dec/20/the-tennis-church-sophie-hannah-short-story

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What makes a good short story? I asked the writers and reader on ABCtales that question. You might want to have a go at answering it yourself. This story is in the public domain and I’ve read it, so I’ve used it as an example. There are no right or wrong answers. You might think you could make a better job of it yourself. Go ahead. That’s what I always think. I’m stupid that way.  I remember, a few years ago, reading two contributors to ABCtales having the don’t worry about the grammar or spelling conversation, because the editors will sort all that out for you, when you sell it for a million quid. Some people don’t live on the same planet as me. I don’t think I’ll ever make a million quid from my writing. If I make ten quid, I’m ecstatic. My writing is a search for readers, there’s a sense of ego involved, of course, because I’m not a robot, which ironically is not the future of writing, because the software is already here and writing articles in sports, business and politics.

Quill software, for example, can collect data across a range of fields, perform statistical and financial modelling and produce reports quicker than you can say oh, fuck, I wish I had that when I was copying Joe Block’s work at college. Instant A* grade every time. And the CIA and Google are using it to collect and transform bit patterns into coherent structures and reports. Writing novels takes a whole different skill set – dream on. Ten minutes, using similar software for the equivalent of a 100 000 word novel. Short stories, grammatically correct, and conforming to different genres, produced quicker than I can pick my nose.

I don’t imagine I can write like Sophie Hannah, who wrote the short story The Tennis Church (follow the link above) but neither do I think I can write like Peter or Claudine or Ewan or Sooz or Rachel, or any number of writers on ABCtales, or those writing general fiction. We like to think, or I like to think, we are unique, our words or stories are like fingerprints. You could read a bit of writing and nod with recognition and say that’s Claudine – even if she disguised her work. That’s a Charles Dickens’s story. That’s Agatha Christie. But if Sophie Hannah can resurrect Inspector Poirot, as she has done with The Monogram and as she is doing with Closed Casket then it would be foolish to believe software will not soon be able to perform the same function. Val McDermid’s reworking of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey could take software such as Quill a few minutes.

There’s always the feel the quality argument. You do get a few folk that spend tens of thousands of pound on sound systems for music. They argue the quality is so much better. I’m sure we’ll get the same pattern emerging with the written word. Journalism is a closing door. Factual works will follow. Fiction writing and writers like to think their idiosyncratic take on life and skill set will lead to openings. For the very few, the 1%, that will remain true, the rest of us hacks—a number worldwide that keeps growing, competing for even fewer resources and openings—are pretty much fucked in terms of hoping to get an audience of over fifty reads. I like to think I’ll keep on writing because it’s a habit and how I make sense of the world. It’s too easy to let my increased understanding of the written word slip away, but all things change. The only certainty is mass immiseration or the poor and the poverty of chances and choices of those born recently. At least I’ve had a life of sorts. Bah humbug! Read on.