Great Scottish Writers, Douglas Stuart (2022) Young Mungo.

The same, but different. Most writers write the same book again and again. (I do that too). Publishers like that. It’s an easy sell, especially if your debut novel won the Booker Prize. Different characters, different haircuts, the same predicaments, with much the same outcomes. Write what you know. Young Mungo (Hamilton-Buchanan) is Shuggie Bain.

A rundown housing estate in the Dennistoun, East End of Glasgow (of course) after Thatcher destroyed the mining community, helped shut down many of the shipyards and what she thought of as lame-duck industries that made things. The workshop of the world has moved to China. Mr Campbell batters his wife after Celtic unexpectedly beat Rangers 2—1  and end their 45 game unbeaten run. John Collins and Andy Payton scored. Mark Hateley got a goal back near the end. The game took place in the 92/93 season. A meaningless fixture, but not for Mrs Campbell. She’s a good neighbour. (‘Her ankles were chalky blue from bad circulation.’) She looks out for Young Mungo and his sister, Jodie, but not their eldest brother, Ha-Ha, who’s gone feral at eighteen, and has already fathered a child with a fifteen-year-old girl. His mother was also pregnant at fifteen with him

Nobody looks after Ha-Ha, but he’s determined to make a man of Mungo. He’s too soft, too girly, and it’s bad for his reputation.

The cautionary tales lives at the bottom of the close. Poor-Wee-Chickie can only walk his dog early morning when the kids aren’t hanging about ‘the Paki shop’ to harass him for walking funny, talking funny, for being a wee poof. He’s seven or eight bolts on his door, but follows the world through his net curtains.

Young Mungo is fifteen going on sixteen. His sister Jodie is a year older than him, and mother’s Mungo. Somebody’s got to do it. Hers is a secondary storyline. The narrative switches to her point of view. Mr Gillespie, the Modern Studies teacher, is grooming and  fucking her over and has been since she’s been fifteen. (Like mother like daughter, but she doesn’t like sex with the paedophile, she endures it.) But he’s promised her great things. He’s promised to get her into Glasgow Uni and out of the East End and into the West End of Glasgow where English people live. 

Murdo joked with James Jamieson that he could rent his doo hut out for £45 a week to a single mother with three wains. James lives across the back from Murdo, but they’re worlds apart. It’s not so much what light through yonder window breaks, but whose arms and legs will be broken, rather than whose heart. Shakespearian rivalry. Gang warfare between the Montague’s and Capulet’s. Bernstein’s and Sondheim’s early musical scripts rivalry rang between Catholics and Jewish gangs in a musical called West End Story set in New York. East End story in Glasgow is the old I’m not a Billy, you’re a Tim. Catholic Bhoyston, an unconquered country linked by the bright lights and a narrow motorway bridge.

  James is a Catholic. He lives in Dennistoun. He’s got to provide his own bright lights, but also to keep them muted. His da is a widower who works in the rigs. He might even get him a job on the rigs when he too is sixteen. But he’s worried about him. He’s caught him out when the phone bill came in and it was astronomical—chat lines, which would have been something to be proud of, but GAY chat lines. His da wants him to sort it and fast. James has his own plans to run away. His dreams are Young Mungo’s dreams. They could run away together. But James tells him, he’s too scared. Too tied in with what his ma wants and needs. He’ll be there for her like Poor-wee-Chickie was for his ma. And he’s still there.

Mungo, like Shuggie Bain’s ma, like Douglas Stuart’s ma, was an alcoholic. Any notion of her bringing the wains up was purely accidental. Ha-Ha had that figured before he could reach out of his crib and chib somebody. He’d a keen grip on the Dennistoun reality of life being poor, brutal and then you die. Every man for himself. His ma wasn’t against him, but neither was she for him. She was too busy getting drunk and having fun. With sober interludes when she went to AA meetings. The promise of hope was the promise of failure. Mungo, like Shuggie Bain, tries to protect his ma.

But there’s a sense of jeopardy that was missing from Shuggie Bain. What kind of ma, the police asked Mo-Maw—without getting a reasonable answer—gave her wee boy to two men from an AA meeting, she’s just met and didn’t know, to take him for a fishing trip up North? They might be paedophiles. They were paedophiles not long released from Barlinnie Prison. It’s not far. James and Mungo cycle to it. For big families in the scheme, it provides alternative accommodation. What type of mother is Maureen, Mo-Maw?

The book begins with The May After. Mungo is wearing his cagoule and he’s going fishing with an older man, St Christopher. He’s an alcoholic with a room, one of 300 in the Great Eastern Hotel. Gallowgate was wiry, tattooed and younger, and he keeps the old guy in line. Mungo hadn’t strayed far from the half-dozen tenements he’d be born in. Scotland was a foreign country.

‘The men lumbered in the sunshine. They were weighed down with armfuls of plastic bags, a satchel filled with fishing tackle, and a camping rucksack. Mungo could hear them complain of their thirst. He had known them only an hour, but they had mentioned it several times already. They seemed always to be thirsty. “Ah’m gasping for a guid drink,” said the elder of the two.’

Working-class characters like Mungo talk in the Scottish dialect. This interests me, in particular, because I’m trying to get a feel for it on the page.

Poor-Wee-Chickie, for example, talking about ‘doohuts’ and James’s da. ‘He lives there, doesn’t he? I used to ride the mornin’ bus to work wi his father. He was a miserable big batstard. Didnae have the time of day for anybody. Wouldnae smile at ye if you bought him a new set of teeth.’

There’s a trade-off here (and other parts of the book) with dialect, which is always an approximation. For consistency, ‘wouldnae smile at ye if you bought,’ would read ‘wouldnae smile at ye if ye bought’.

Glasgow humour injects humanity into the characters. Parts don’t need to add up, because in community living they don’t either. Gallowgate, for example, likes talking on the pay phone to random people he’s never met. It’s a useful skill for a sociopath and convicted paedophile. But in Shuggie Bain, his ma also loved to chat on the phone. It was how she kept in touch with the world. Her trait became his trait. Same but different.

I could use terms like this is a more rounded work than Shuggie Bain, but I can’t really be arsed to remember if it is. In both of Stuart’s novels life is breeched and broken. The leading narrator tries, and fails, to sellotape a palatable future together with his mother, but there is no sticking point. Only a continued sense of failure. There’s more a sense of danger to Young Mungo. And that adds to the frisson of the follow-up novel. The truth is I just like it better. Read on.         

Prejudice and Pride: The People’s History of LGBTQ Britain, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, director James Giles.

download.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0578x02/prejudice-and-pride-the-peoples-history-of-lgbtq-britain-series-1-episode-1

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08zn99q/prejudice-and-pride-the-peoples-history-of-lgbtq-britain-series-1-episode-2

Presenters Susan Calaman and Stephen K Amos take us viewers through 50 years of LGBTQ history from before and after the (partial) decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people (quite a mouthful) could no longer be prosecuted for being LGBTQ.  But as we see here it was a bit like the Hays Code in Motion Pictures. Gay men had to have sex behind closed doors with other consenting men, and they had to be 21, or look older than your dad. They couldn’t put one foot on the floor or being seen to be enjoying themselves. They couldn’t join the armed forces or they’d soon by forcibly ejected.

I know you’re not meant to find that funny, but I thought of my old man, Dessy and his mate Jimmy Mac. They were boys, young men, that saw their army  pals die during the Second World War in the Gothic Line. They were mirror images of each other’s prejudices. But Jimmy confided to my da, one drunken night, that his son was a poof.

Dessy shook his head and told Jimmy, ‘we cannae have that. You’ll need to have a word wae ‘im’.

Homosexuals are marginalised in our society. As we become less tolerant, in other societies, more conservative, homosexuals can be stoned to death.  LGBTQ  ask all of those rich, white men, who make the rules a simple –existential- question: who are we? And more importantly, why do we need to pretend?

One of the characters in the novel I’m writing, Bruno, mirrors those ideas. He name-checks Peter Tatchell in an argument about adoption (which reminds me I’ve probably spelt his name wrong).

With nowhere else to go, even after the 1967 Act, one homosexual man admitted, cottaging, was easier and even fun. He pulled out a map of London and showed viewers the route he drove in his Ford Cortina. Those were largely happy memories for him.  George Michael was also caught having sex in a public toilet in the United States, which for a multimillionaire seems a rather queer thing to do, or maybe not.

The AIDS epidemic that hit America and was imported into Britain had a devastating effect. ‘God’s wrath,’  ‘Gay plague,’ and I think it was Tebbit that described it as a ‘cesspool of their own making.’ Thatcher, or course, tried to ban gays from being gay, local authorities and schools in particular from promoting homosexuality. Just the same as Prime Minister David Cameron held up a list of people, living off the state, and having the wrong kind of children, poor children, to demonise and publicly excoriate, we have here the controversial schoolbook that kicked it all off, Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin.  Whisper it, Eric and Martin are men, homosexuals! They probably went to Heaven nightclub in London, which was meant to be rocking and the place to be. Kenny Everett went there, which was probably a good reason for going somewhere else. Each to their own.

Thatcher’s wrath was worse than God’s wrath. At least God doesn’t drone on about leaving a better society. Emmm maybe He does. This documentaries not Calvinistic doom and gloom, and I told you so.

The legacy of LGBTQ was played out in Brookside, East Enders and Queer as Folk. Even Catholic Ireland voted to allow civil marriages of persons of the same gender. God bless us all, equally, apart from the Tory’s.  That’s nothing to do with gender. It’s to do with a lack of class. I’m sure God doesn’t give a flying fuck what we do with our squiggly bits, and neither do I. But if you’re a Tory, you’re scum to me. And you can go and fuck yourself. We’ve all got our prejudices. There’s mine out there. Why should we pretend?

Damian Barr (2013) Maggie & Me

 

 

 

Louis Theroux: Transgender Kids, BBC 2 9pm

transgender

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05qkzt2/louis-theroux-transgender-kids

Louis Theroux used to write books. He’s moved into the far more lucrative market of documenting those in our society that don’t quite fit in. He writes the scripts for these programmes. Has his own crew. Puts it together like a jigsaw. A novel approach. I get the feeling Louis doesn’t quite fit in either. An alien presence among those we hold at arm’s length and treat as alien.

Let’s look at the squirm factor. By far the worst came near the end of the programme. Dr Crane, the surgeon that carried out trans-surgery in his San Francisco clinic talked about the cost of different procedures like a gung-ho general. He made me squirm. But it was one of his success stories that made me want to look the other way. She had been a he. That doesn’t bother me. I don’t care what people do with their fiddly bits. Not that she had any fiddly bits left, apart from her eyebrows. They kept beetling about whilst she looked on as her partner answered questions from Louis. Up and down they went. Left and right they went. Possessed by free will they would have turned into a wiggy world and I feared for mankind. It might have been the type of questions Louis was asking that set them dancing. He hesitates and then hesitates some more and then jumps right in and talks like a kindergarten teacher addressing a class of five-year olds. Using words such as ‘top bits’ and ‘bottom bits’. He acted like a fanny.

Around fifty-percent of transgender people think about or attempt suicide. There is a cost and it’s not just financial. If adults want to make changes to their bodies that’s fine. But the ethics of medicine is guided by the epigram: above all do no harm. I’d cite the tragic case of David Peter Reimer whose penis was accidentally burnt off in a medical procedure when a baby and, on the advice of psychologist John Money, advocating a particular theory, brought up as a female and used as a test subject.

For any good story you need the beginning the middle and the end. You get those that are sure. Such as those with beetle eyebrows. You get the ones that are not so sure. We see a prepubescent Cole who sometimes dresses as Crystal and talks about growing up and marrying as a man and having a family. His mum Joy supports his/her choice. His dad Eric is more ambivalent. He wants a son. Often it was the parents in this programme I felt most sorry for.

Eduardo and Kacey made the difficult transition in supporting their son Sebastian’s metamorphosis into Camille. Here’s where the squirm factor struck again. Camille is about seven. She shows Louis into her room. It’s girly as you’d expect. Then she asks him to play a game. Louis, being Louis looks like a stick of wood with specs. He politely declines. Camille turns on the music and apes some girly pop star and it’s like kiddy porn. All the stupid half hints as sexual fulfilment and a child flinging her face about like a wobble board. I didn’t like it, but my thoughts were Camille wants to be that women, that particular pop star (I don’t know which one) therefore to attain that goal she needs to be a women. Perhaps she’ll grow out of it. Above all do no harm.

Louis visits a group of medics who take children through body dysmorphia or wrong body transition. He is told that children from the age of two or three can show a consistency that suggests they are wrongly gendered. One test is the he/she test. Which pronoun the boy/girl used is indicative of what exactly I’m not sure. I’m not sure about lots of things.

Let’s go back to good old Alfred Kinsey for answers. We’re all fucked up. And he would counter Larkin’s suggestion that it was your mum and dad’s that fuck you up.  He suggested that 37%  of males had some form of homosexual experience and one in ten of the population are homosexual. There are around nine million Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender in America. A third more than the population of Scotland. To suggest that gender is fixed and identity can be cured by medical treatment and intervention at such an early age seems be repeating the failure of John Money’s experiment – and for many of the same reasons. What’s the hurry? We’ll find out who we are at different points in our life. Do no harm and no harm to wait.