Aidan Martin (2020) Euphoric Recall

‘My name is Aidan and I am an addict.’

So what, you might say. You probably know the trajectory that follows.

You’ve got Damian Barr, who grew up near Ravenscraig steelworks, a solid working-class town. Him being gay wasn’t his fault—or even a fault—but being a fucking Tory, Maggie & Me, was just a step too far.

Deborah Orr, Motherwell: A Girlhood, which just about sums it up.

You’ve got Kerry Hudson’s whimsical, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (fiction) and Lowborn (factual) that deals with what it means to be working-class poor.

Meg Henderson’s wonderful Finding Peggy, but a bit before Hudson’s time.  

Darren McGarvey, with his Poverty Safari.

Janice Galloway’s autobiographies This is Not About Me and All Made Up are my clear favourites.

She mentored Graeme Armstrong and The Young Team, the story of Azzy and Airdrie, if you’re fucking asking, and it’s told in dialect.  

Scottish actor and comedian, Jane Godley, described as Nicola Sturgeon’s alter-ego (before she fucked up and went a bit too far and behaved like a politician—grabbing the money). Handstands in the Dark: A True Story of Growing Up and Survival, which told a tale of incest and marrying into a gangster’s family in the East End of Glasgow was, to my thinking, underrated before clicking on to Amazon to find over 2000 five-star ratings, which shows I was deluding myself, but not as much as Sturgeon.

We can even fling in Alan Bisset, Boyracers, which tries to do the impossible and make Falkirk cool.

And if we’re stretching it, Maggie O’Farrell  I Am I Am I Am, seven brushes with death. She’s from Northern Ireland, but kinda Scottish.

The real daddy of fictionalised memoir, Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart and Shuggie Bain. A gay boy growing up in Glasgow’s housing estates and watching his mother slide under the couch with drink, while drowning, but claiming to be simply waving and doing her hair.

What does Aidan Martin add to this amorphous list, or, in other words, what kind of story can a guy in his late twenties tell us that we’ve not already heard?  In terms of markets, what’s his Unique Selling Point?

Livingston isn’t very cool, which is a good starting point.

First chapter, ‘Groomed’. He’s standing outside McDonalds. ‘Heart racing.’ I don’t like heart racing, because it’s clichéd city.  But we know what he’s talking about. He’s not there to have a Big Mac and chips. It’s in the chapter title. He’s fifteen and meeting an older man, with a North English accent, who calls himself Derek.

White-van man is a world of disappointment, but he’s organised. He’s got a room in a hotel booked and a cover story. He’s brought a bottle of Buckfast for Aidan, because that’s what you do. Fantasy is never reality.

‘Escapism,’ Sexual addiction, alcohol addiction, drug addiction.    

 ‘You’re fuckin’ dead, after class…

‘Truth be told I wasn’t as violent as the lads I was always fighting. Some of them seemed at ease taking it to the next level. But the idea of jumping on someone’s head or stabbing them felt sickening to me. Survival was day to day.’

Plotting of beginning, middle and end is quite straight forward. Aidan is suicidal, but the reader knows that if he’s written a book he can’t be much good at killing himself. The writer’s job isn’t to make things simpler, but more complex.  

Grandpa dead. Grandma deteriorating fast with depression and diagnosed as bipolar. His wee brother, ‘DJ was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma one of the rarest soft tissue cancers in the world’.   

Bargaining with yourself. ‘Money was getting tight, so we started on the cheaper drugs too. Back on the eccies, speed and valies. We had a few attempts at crystal meth, and I found myself smoking an unknown stuff from foil.’

Aidan had yet to hit his rock bottom, in Alcohol and Drug Anon language. But he’d a Higher Power looking out for him. This is shown in graphic form.

 ‘I self-harmed with knives…some otherworldly force flung the knives out of my hand.

All I can say is I know it truly happened.’

The reader knows Aidan is going to make it. But he’s honest about it. His relapses were to do with a lack of humility. I’ve heard the same story in so many forms. My brother, for example, telling me he was just going to have a few pints. Aye, we knew, what that meant. Deep down, so did he.

We’re in the world of repetition. Even the language becomes boring and clichéd. Recovery is slow. Aidan at 25 is at West Lothian College. He will have relapses. He will find himself. The reader knows that. God help us, if I start quoting Rumi and Leonard Cohen, We’re all broken. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

I’m a reading addict. The pleasure of recognition lies not in revelation—although that has its place—but in resonance.  

‘I am grateful to be clean.’

Hallelujah has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with a clean heart that cries out. Read on.

Darren McGarvey (2017) Poverty Safari.

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Darren McGarvey was talking about his book in Dalmuir library on Wednesday. He spoke with passion, without notes, for over an hour. That takes some doing. I said to him  I knew before I’d read his book I’d probably agree with what he was saying. He’s one of us. There is different names for it. He calls it ‘the underclass’. It’s in the title. Poverty Safari: Understanding the anger of Britain’s underclass. Words matter.

I’d just call it working class. There’s no under about it. The benchmark is The Ragged Trousered Philantrhopist a book set in the early twentieth century but with many lessons that are still relevant today, perhaps more so, with all the flag waving at the royal wedding yesterday.

I read his book on Thursday. I’ve made some notes which some might call a review. I’m a reader, which, of course, gives you superpowers. The most powerful pieces of Darren’s book are the stories about himself and his family. His mum was an alcoholic who died aged 36 when Darren was 17. They lived in Pollock. Darren no longer lives in Pollock.

If he gets married £30 million of public money will not be spent on security for his wedding. Millions more on cleaning up Pollock before and afterwards.

Darren asks is in what ways are the old me different from the new me? Robert Burns in his address To A Louse nailed the posturing of the middle classes.  O Jeany, dinna toss your head/ An’ set your beauties a’ abread!/… O wad some Power the giftie gie us /To see oursels as ithers see us!/ It wad frae mony a blunder free us, /An’ foolish notion:

Knowing yourself is a religious calling. I’m quite attached to such foolish notions. And I certainly don’t know myself, but through reading I get to know others better.  I’m biased. I like calling Tory scum. I’m quoting Nye Bevan, but nothing much has changed.

Chapter 30, ‘The Metamorphosis’:

 I never got sober, at least for any length of time, until I admitted to myself that many of the predicaments in my adult life were of my own making. This, of course, is another taboo subject on the left. The idea of taking personal responsibility wherever you can and that is an important virtue in life.

Let’s look at AA’s Big Book and the (moral) premise made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

  • Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  • Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Saul on the road to Damascus became blind. Something like scales fell from his eyes. Darren has taken a moral inventory, and having taken the mote out of his eye thinks he can see clearly. I don’t believe personal responsibility is taboo on the left or right. I do believe that the Tory scum sell fear and sow disorder. The only monopoly they acknowledge is the monopoly they have on virtue. And I’m with Blaise Pascal on ‘the only shame is to have is none.’ Look at Grenfell tower and weep as the Tory leader and Tory scum at the Royal boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea council scuttle away from responsibility and play the blame game.

One of the vices Darren admits too is junk food. I watched kids in the playground running about yesterday. One of them was a fat kid waddling about chasing his friend. It made me sad. I felt sorry for the boy and others like him. But far more dangerous is junk ideas. Unthinking with other’s thoughts.

By now, I’ve hopefully established that one of the biggest problems we face as a society is stress; how is shapes us as individuals, families and communities; how it directs the thinking that drives our behaviour and things we do to manage it; and how these coping strategies impact our families and communities. Stress is the connective tissue between social problems such as addiction, violence and chronic illnesses as well as the crises in our public services. I’ve even argued that stress even plays a part in shaping the tone and substance of our political debate and subsequent direction of our society.

Poverty is not about a lack of money. Eh, aye it is Darren. That’s the message Jeremy Corbyn is selling.  The default setting for Tory scum is it’s not only about money. It’s their fault. Those people are not one of us.  George Osborne picks on those outliers, people like Darrren’s family to peddle the idea that resources are wasted on them. They create caricatures and peddle them as propaganda that are fed back to us by the media as the truth. We self-mutilate with these lies.

Show me the money. £50 million of public money paid to rich kids in Grammar schools. And as Thomas Piketty showed gathering historical data this is a worldwide trend of money moving from the poorest to the richest citizen at an increasing rate, most notably, in the richest nations of the world. Britain is a good place to live if you’re rich.

The idea of banning McDonalds or modifying my own lifestyle and taking personal responsibility reminds me of a conversation I had with someone that was on a macrobiotic diet. He tried to convince me that if Hitler had been on a macrobiotic diet the Second World War wouldn’t have happened. Stress and a poor diet were synonyms for each other. They changed the world.

A wee story. Wullie, a successful business man, with the big house and a mobile home worth the price of a house thinks people in Drumchapel and Ferguslie Park are lazy bastards that don’t want to work. He can say that because he was brought up in Ferguslie and moved to Drumchapel. Both areas are poor by any measure, but he is now relatively rich. Lived experience trumps the paper tigers we put on the page to fight our rhetorical battles. This is Wullie and Darren’s strength.

Darren’s message is the personal is political. A throwback to the counterculture of flower power and the sixties. Yes, it’s true. Undeniably so. But let’s not forget people who hold the big stick and take delight in beating you with it for your own good belong to one class and we belong to another. They have won the propaganda war. We have lost most of the post-war gains that were made up until around the mid-seventies and they have gone back to the ways of the rich. The billionaies. Oligarchs. The 1%. The upperclass.  We the working class are being fucked over good and proper (no excuse for the language) and they want us to smile and say thank you. Fuck you, I say. Fuck you, Maggie Thatcher and all Tory scum. That’s personal. That’s political.  Moral inventory, let them make amends for the damage they have wrought on people like me with their foodbanks and hatred of us and I’ll change my point of view.   More chance of a camel passing through the eye of a needle. It’s not impossible, but highly unlikely.