Des Dillon (2013 [2005]) singin I’m no a Billy he’s a Tim.

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This is a stage play, a successful stage play, so successful that my mate Sharpy went to see it and he doesn’t usually go to plays, but it’s about the Old Firm and bigotry, so that’s alright then, but reading a play and seeing a play are a bit like looking out the window at midnight and wondering how cold it is outside. I read the whole book in about an hour, which includes the review of Dillon’s other books (some of which I’ve read) and the afterblurb some guy telling us how good the play is.

                Two hate filled Old Firm fans are put in a prison cell and verbally lacerate each other while their teams assemble on the park. Under the microscope, Des Dillon plays out all their fears, paranoia, misconceptions and most significantly a loathing that has shaped their whole lives.

So it’s quite a simple set up. Prison cell. Harry, a 50-something turnkey refereeing and Tim and Billy (gettit? the names are suggestive of a particular allegiance) going at it hammer and tongs when Celtic are playing Rangers. Remember that game when Kyle Lafferty scored?  The Derry Pele equalised late in the game? Kinda? So do I. That’s the background noise. The gun on the table is that Tim has bet Celtic to win (or at least initially thinks he has) and Billy punted on the Gers. It’s all or nothing. All the cash they have in the world is on the outcome and if their bet doesn’t come up they do not pass Go, do not make bail and stay in jail. Early on, even without knowing specifically what Old Firm game it was, my money would have been on the draw. Both Tim and Billy will come out as losers.

When they swap shirts you know they’re fucked. Harry’s backstory involving a sick grandson and son that doesn’t speak to him is a long punt up the park. You know it’s going to be the real winner and the leveller. When someone tells you something is funny it usually isn’t. I’d need to see the show in the flesh.

One thing I am sure of is the idea that merging Celtic and Rangers into a kind of super team and letting the bigots support someone else, such as Hearts and Hibs and those teams merging, and so on, like the idea of the machine designed for perpetual motion and as the answer to sectarianism in Scotland, then it wouldn’t work.  But it doesn’t need to work. All it needs to be is funny. And it’s not my play.

My answer to eliminating sectarianism is simpler. No longer allow a statutory provision for priests or vicars to be consulted on education and school policies. All schools should be secular and local. No Catholic schools and no Protestant schools and no Muslim or Jewish schools, or Academies, or whatever you want to call them.  Withdraw government funding for all of these schools and put it in the one pot. People can spend their money in whatever way they want. And those richer members of society that want to create their own schools, or maintain schools that already exist to exclude those whose face does not fit, then that would be fine. But I’d take away their charitable status. Because they are not schools, but businesses, I’d also make them pay tax. Fuck the Pope and Fuck the Queen. That’s what I’d say. Bring kids together in nursery schools and secular schools and then football will become just a boy’s game. I’m sure hatred will find another shape. But that’d be a start.  Perhaps I’m singin from the wrong hymn sheet? Discuss.

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Des Dillon (2004) The Glasgow Dragon

I’m as repetitive as person with Alzheimer’s, but I think I may have picked this book up before and read the start of it. I really wanted to like this book, but didn’t get beyond page 40. We have the Triads: Tia Lo (the boss) his beautiful daughter Ming Fu. I could tell you who the other Triads are but really who cares. There’ll be another along shortly. And why do all daughters have to be beautiful? Why can’t she look like a banana? Well one reason is Bonzo in Chrisite Devlin’s crew wants to get inside her pants. That adds tension to the story line. Christie Devlin is hard as fuck. Possil. Ruckhill. Maryhill. All conquered by the time he’s 21. Married now to a posh bird that went to convent school (or something like that), with an English accent, who loves raw sex with her animal of a husband. She’s promised a house in Galloway as a love nest of a reward. That’s where eh, Des Dillon lives. And when Devlin’s crew arranges a meeting with the Triads in a casino to arrange a shipment of pure heroin, one of the croupiers is a ‘white-skinnned Scottish girl, long brown hair and straight shoulders’. That had me screaming offside. (Sorry, watching too much of Euro2016). But that’s an identikit of Connie who Manny marries in My Epileptic Lurcher and they go and live unhappily in Galloway. My guess is Devlin and this identikit will, because Dillon likes the Connie lookalike, get together later in the book. The Triads need to sort things out there end. Devlin has a hit list of who he needs to sort his end. Then the streets of Glasgow will be covered with snow. That’s the idea. But there’s one name on that list Devlin doesn’t know about. It’s all Chinese to me (yep, there are plays on the Chinky-winky jokes that us Glaswegians like more that prawn crackers) but I guess the path to Class-A drugs won’t run smoothly. The sad bit is I don’t really give a fuck. It’s a closed book.

Des Dillon (2008) My Epileptic Lurcher

I went to Dalmuir library yesterday and got three books. Two by Des Dillon and one by Jeff Torrington. Ewan had mentioned Torrington in one of his posts. Although I know I’ve read his book, Swing Hammer Swing, like most books I read I can’t remember anything about it. Nothing. Well, the bit about it being set in Glasgow. Since hearing Des Dillon speak at Dalmuir library I thought he’s one of us and I better read something he wrote. When I got his books home I realised I had read something he’d written, Six Black Candles.  I suspect this was Des Dillon’s first book. Don’t ask me what it’s about. But I’m not daft. I can read the blurb at the back of the book. I read it years ago. Vaguely remember there was a drama on the telly. Not impressed by either. But I read My Epileptic Lurcher between the three matches of the Euros and enjoyed it.

Write what you know. That’s what they tell you. That’s right up there with advice about murdering your darlings. That’s why you get so many books about middle-class writers giving up journalism or leaving a cushy job to write and, horrors of horrors, finding they have a mental block. Think the smary Karl Ove Knausgaar, My Struggle, and the subtext I never thought I was going to make it as a writer, because people didn’t really understand me. I proved you doubters all wrong.  Fuck right off I say to that. But in Manny Riley the protagonist and narrator we have a guy that’s trying to write screenplays. He has a mental block because he’s mental, with anger issues, -‘I was so angry I was going to fling myself under a bus, or jump through a plate glass window’ – stymied not by his inability to produce ideas and finished projects but the real possibility nobody wants to read them. From the little I’ve picked up about Des Dillon he’s Manny right down to a tee. The gallus walk he could mimic, the working-class swagger, the anger issues and him telling us he’d turned BBC down for a £100 000 project because they had fucked up the independence debate. Integrity, that’s what it’s all about, integrity, he, and Donny the West Dunbartonshire Reading Champion (yes there is such a thing, such a person that exists outside comic books) told us that’s what being  a writer means. I remember thinking, fuck that, I’d have took the money. Here Manny Riley does take the money. It allows him to buy a house for the knockdown price of £20 000 and set up home in Dumfries with the love of his life Connie and their two dogs and a cat, in the supporting role. In the blurb on the front page Dillon writes, ‘Dogs love you…end of story’. But that’s just the beginning of the story.

            -Mummy, Mummy, I say and they go to Connie.

-Daddy, Daddy, she says, — Yum yum. Daddy’s got the biscuits, and they back they came.

There’s quite a lot of doggy talk. Some of that so bad you’ve got to look away. For example, a bit-sized morsel from the point of view of Bailey, the eponymous, epileptic lurcher:

Me flakken the Daddy he comes in from the alkies. Flakkens me flakkens me shouting he. The Daddy go on the cou and me go oof oof an flakken him. Big long paws on he chest an lickty lick his fay an bite his noy with teethy teethy no no. Nages Blongo goes like that for and Connooroo and gets toy an give toy to Daddy.

Connor is the name of another dog Manny and Connie have rescued. Blongo, you have probably guessed, is another pet name for Bailey, so called because of the colouring of the lurcher. But after reading that description of doggy love, if you are a bit callous like me, you’re probably thinking it would be best for all humanity and for literature if both dogs (and the cat) had a bolt through their head. But there you’d be wrong. For take out all the shite and this is an entertaining book about a working class bloke trying and failing to make a life as a writer, but perhaps succeeding after all.

Anger is a big part of his life, as if resentment. Manny has spent ten years in prison.  The chapters follow him picking up life and learning how to love someone else and something else and learning to love himself. It’s Odysseus in the bottom of a wine bottle. ‘Thanks to my ex-cellmate Paddy I’d not stopped drinking and I was living on my own in the pink cloud of early sobriety’. Paddy knows the score. He’s Manny’s AA sponsor and a gambling addict. He talks Manny into going to a casino with him because there’s a girl that works there that’s that bit special. It’s Connie. For Manny it’s love at first sight, but the odds of them getting together he figures in the thousands to one.

When they marry within four weeks and move to a flat away from the schemes and hassle to an unnamed Scottish island that had me thinking Rothesay, there life’s sorted. Only it isn’t. Neither of them drink and the dole pays the rent, so they’ve enough to get by, but rejection after rejection letters leave Manny full of resentment, which leads to anger, which leads to violence. After reading this I don’t think it was such a good idea to send those poor refugees to Rothesay. First there’s the resentment. People there hate outsiders. And they hate poor people. They hate people that don’t work and that falls into a zeitgeist need to hate others for the sake of social cohesion. Manny is not going to be anybody’s fucking scapegoat for fuckin anybody and neither is his fuckin dogs. Manny swears too much. He can’t help it. That’s the way he thinks. I like the way he thinks I like the way Dillon captures that animosity, the low level snipping of dog walkers getting up earlier and earlier to get their dogs out first and…fuck right off. It’s wearing, very wearing. But that gives Manny his first screenplay success. He’s commissioned by the BBC, well, not commissioned, commissioned, but his first draft is paid for, he’d given £40 000 to produce a shooting script for a series about a guy walking his dog in some out of the way place full of know-it-all arseholes that are quick to express an opinion, not just about dogs, but about life.

But there’s tension, the kind of tension needed for any good story, in that Manny needs to go to London to network and do all the kind of wanky things to make himself a big shot and have a real chance of being a writing success and just at that point he needs to do that Blongo has his first epileptic fit and it seems like the dog is going to die. Manny has a choice: stay in London or fly home. He does the latter, which leads to resentment with Connie. Blongo’s fits escalate. Manny starts to resent losing sleep. Resnts losing Connie and having to pander and revolve their life around a dog that refuses to get better. This is familiar territory with anyone with someone chronically sick in their family.  There’s no answer. That’s the way of life. But the beauty is in the telling. Dillon makes that work. He shows integrity.

Des Dillon at Dalmuir Library, 2pm.

Last Saturday, when I was in Dalmuir Library, Gregor Fisher was doing a gig at 7pm. It was sold out. Tickets only. But let’s put this into perspective. Dalmuir Library is not the Albert Hall. Sold out means about thirty hard plastic chairs filled by wee woman with blue rinse and bookish leanings. A stocky wee guy with a bit of the blue rinse about him was setting up the microphone, practicing saying one-two, one-two. I didn’t want to tell him that it gets harder as you get older because I was sure he’d learned that himself. I just let him get on with it.

Today I learned that wee guy was called Donny O’Rourke and he’s the dedicated reading champion of West Dunbartonshire libraries or something like that. It sounds a bit like Batman, but with books, instead of Robins. He was master of ceremonies and did the introductions for an old pal of his – Des Dillon. I didn’t know a lot about Des Dillon. I can remember Ann Marie at a film and television course making a face which meant he’s not really one of us, because he’d left early, written a play called Singin I’m No a Billy He’s a Tim.  Ann Marie probably won’t remember me either. And if she does I’m sure she’ll make the same scrunched up face. I left the course early too, never to amount to much. True, of course. But there you go. The next time I heard of Des Dillon was when I bumped into Sharpie. He told me he’d been to a play. Obviously, if you come from Dalmiur that’s not the sort of thing you admit to. You can say things like I stuck the heid on the wife, but even though it was her fault, it was a total accident. People will nod their head in recognition. Or the dog fell out the windae, but it wasnae my fault. It wasnae my turn to take him out. There’s three storeys in that one story, but going to the theatre. Fuck off. But then Sharpie explained he went with Jackie and it was her idea. That makes it kinda OK. Then Sharpie explained it was funny. One guy  jaked up wakes up in the cells and turns round and the guy sharing his cell is a Billy boy. He’s a Tim, a Taig, a potato muncher and the Sons of William and he go to it and gie it laldy. I’ve never seen it, but that’s my kinda play.

Des is a wee guy, brought up Coatbridge and the first thing he told us was he was proud of his Da, because he was 72 and went to the gym, so he could scrap, and he’d battered the guy upstairs from him that was 53. Then he told us he was here to read poetry. That’s hard for a guy to say. Especially, a working-class guy.  He played it down by telling his audience about how he’d posted some of it on Facebook and forced his fourth wife to read it. Yeh, fourth wife. We got that old story about when you’re first married and you have sex and you put a pea in the jar on the mantelpiece… and later in life when your libido fails and you take a pea out there’ll be always be something left in the jar. Multiply that by four and that’s a lot of jars. That’s a lot of mantle pieces. And Des was good at that. Telling that’s where story telling in Coatbridge begun. Elbow on the mantelpiece telling the story of who did what to whom – and that wan had a shotgun. And then there’s the drink. Des is AA, been non-toxic for 30 years. I guess he was too busy getting married. But we know about that. Then there’s the language of deference. How we are talked down to because we don’t speak Received Pronunciation. Discriminated against. Des said he turned down a contract with the BBC, a ten-part adaptation of one of his books that would have netted him upwards of £100 000 because of the BBC’s coverage of the Independence Referendum. Des is part of the 45%. Vocal in the ways that those above us with power fuck up the working class. I know all that. But it was good to hear it verbalised. Des is one of us.

Poetry wise, Des was a bit nervous. He rattled through his poems. One about Lena Zavaroni, Mamma He’s Making Eye’s at Me, and how full of the wine he sang outside his sweetheart’s house of his true love. There was a sonnet and he talked about the diamond shape of verse and how restrictions can make the poem, but I can’t remember what it was about. Coffee and tables were set up, but I nipped away. I’m not sure about poetry, but I am sure I like Des Dillon. One of us that has given voice to the violence done to our language and the poor by the gatekeepers of society. Who benefits? That’s the question Des leaves his audience with. Post your answer in poetry and give voice to working-class culture. Let’s give insurrection voice and  bring the tanks back to George Square.