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.         

John Burrowes (2005) Irish: The Remarkable Saga of a Nation and a City.

I qualify for an Irish passport. My Da was born in Belfast, but lived his life in Glasgow, and fought in the second world war for Britain. When he married my mum, he moved to Clydebank. John Burrowes is telling us something we already know—many of us have much the same story.

How many? Most folk find statistic boring. My Da was born in 1923. The Irish Free State was formed in 1921, with the six counties still part of Britain. Susan McKay 2021 writes, Protestants outnumbered Catholics by a ratio of about two to one in Northern Ireland… A hundred years later almost half the population is Catholic, there are fewer Protestant than Catholic schoolchildren, and the only cohort of the population to which Protestant are in a significant majority are the over-60s. Demographics tell their own story of No Surrender being outflanked by other means.  

The story of Northern Ireland is one of betrayal. The colonisation of Ireland by the English was piecemeal and ‘plantations’ were established in the North, with the richest land for Protestant immigrant settlers loyal to the Crown. Oliver Cromwell, ‘The Great Protector’s’ troops were ruthless in killing men, women and children who opposed his forces. The best Irish estates went to his followers. We all know about William of Orange, but few people acknowledge that he had the backing and blessing of the Pope at the time at the Battle of the Boyne.

This is all background stuff from sources outside Burrowes’ ‘saga of a nation and a city.’ But when we talk about Glasgow we need to speak of the Irish Holocaust.

‘The Great Famine of 1845-51 was to inflict on the Irish misery and degradation so abject that in proportionate terms it was unequalled anywhere else in the world. More than two million were wiped from the face of the land, either dying from starvation or fever, and fleeing to whatever country would accept them.’  

The Great Replacement Theory sprouting from the lips of the moron’s moron Trump and his ilk has its roots in eugenics and religion. You’ll find it in the triumphalism of little Englanders who hark back to the age when Britain was a superpower with a controlling and hegemonic interest in most nations. We were the industrial workshop of the world. Britain made over ninety percent of the shipping with Glasgow at its hub. Trains were exported to these nascent and newly industrialising nations faster than we could build them or lay track. Glasgow was one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, outstripping London. The English gentleman was regarded as the apex of civilisation, worth several foreigners. At the base of the eugenic triangle were Negroes and Irishmen, regarded as workshy and of the lowest intelligence, unable to work machinery without supervision.

Burrowes quotes from Fredrick Engels the father of Communism.

‘Those Irishman who emigrate for fourpence on the deck of a steamship on which they are often packed like cattle, insinuate themselves everywhere. The worst dwellings are good enough for them; their clothing causes them little trouble as long as they are held together by a single thread; shoes they know not; their food consists of potatoes and potatoes only; whatever they earn beyond their needs they spend on drink. What does such a race want with higher wages? …Drink is the only thing which makes the Irishman’s life worth having…’

The Church of Scotland also promulgated hatred and division, regarding the Roman Catholic Irish as a pestilence an ‘Alien Race’ from which the best of Glasgow, the Flower of Scotland emigrated to avoid.

‘the great exodus of the Scottish race was going on,’ Reverend Mair declared to the General Assembly in Edinburgh.

‘Their places were taken by a people of a different race and a different faith, and Scotland was divided into two camps – Scottish and Irish.

In the great Glasgow conurbation there were now at least 450 000 Irish, almost every fourth person. In some areas, it was every third person. The figures speak for themselves. In 1881 there was some 327 000 of the Irish population in Scotland. In the year the report was compiled in 1921, there was 600 000…the Irish population had increased by 30 percent, but the Scottish population had only gone up six percent. Thousands fewer Scottish children were on the educational rolls…

The moron’s moron came out with the same crap. Burrowes points out,  Reverend Mair’s made up his own facts, which sounds familiar (you can have your own opinion, but not your own facts). The fertility of the Scots and Irish were broadly similar, unlike in Northern Ireland, nowadays, for example. And representatives from the Church of Scotland, at the General Assembly in 2002, in a report labelled, ‘Secteranism,’ apologised for their distortions and lies.

Lies cost lives. Many of the passengers packed together on the deck of the overcrowded ship,  Londonderry, fleeing famine on 1st December 1848, for example, thought they had escaped certain death. Many of them travelling from Sligo to Glasgow. Atlantic-gale-force winds and waves, and the engines struggled to cope. 200 passengers on the deck, including children were forced into the hold—for their own safety. Fearing flooding, hatches were closed. Screams and shouts encouraged a ship’s officer to cover the entrance and exit of the hold with tarpaulin to keep down the din and to keep it watertight. The noise stopped as the passengers suffocated. Because of the storm the ship changed course towards Londonderry. Steam and the stench of death rose out of the hold. No survivors. Cattle were better treated, because they had value.

The creation of Celtic in 1888 by Brother Wilfred in the East End of Glasgow is covered here. He modelled the new club on the success of Edinburgh’s Hibernian. Much of the ground being cleared by volunteers. Many of the players being nicked from Hibernian, who played a friendly against the newly formed club to help raise funds, which more fans attended than the Scottish Cup Final. The rivalry with Rangers was a slow burner. But it’s still burning. I still hate those bastards

In ‘Billy Boys and Tim Malloys,’ Burrowes describes the gang killing of James Dalziel (Razzle Dazzle) a runner and collector for illegal bookmaker, Pat Donnachy, and one of the best dancers in the area. The Briggait Boys from the Gallowgate invaded the Parlour Dance Hall, where Razzle Dazzle led his gang, The Parlour Boys. This was the era of No Mean City.

Billy Fullerton of the ‘Brig’ton Billy Boys’ was the kind of true blue commemorated in football chants. He worked for Tommy Gilmour, bookmaker, boxing promoter and manager, who also happened to be Catholic. Fullerton died penniless, in a single end, his funeral attended by tens of thousands, including Tommy Gilmour.

Marching season commemorating the Orange Order parading through Glasgow to remind Catholics who was in charge still goes on. It’s happening now. But whisper it, the poison has begun to seep away. Burrowes reminds of us a time when tens of thousands of Catholics and Protestants rampaged through Partick, meeting their Catholic brethren in street combat, which brought Glasgow to a standstill with rioting. A mate reminded me of the time he used to ease open his window on Kilbowie Road and fire stink bombs with a sling into the throng below. Members of flute bands now are joke figures. We no longer choke on our Cornflakes but snigger as they pass. The school system that educates Catholics and Protestants separately, however, continues. The joke is on us. No one has the political courage in secular Scotland to tackle this historical anachronism.  

John Burrowes gives an idiosyncratic and entertaining look at our past. What remains are the areas of urban poverty he names such as Calton and the Gallowgate. These areas where life expectancy is around ten year’s less than richer areas such as Bearsden. Round up the usual suspects. Whatever index you choose, we lose. Catholics and Protestants having the wrong kinds of children, poor children. In some things we’re number one and remain much the same. Glasgow’s miles better. Fuck off.