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.

Carl MacDougall (2017) Someone Always Robs the Poor

someone always robs the poor.jpg

I was aware of Carl MacDougall in an oblique way. I hadn’t read any of his work, but knew him to be the editor of one of the classic Scottish texts The Devil and the Giro: The Scottish Short Story. When I found out the Scottish Book Trust had approached him and he had agreed to be my mentor for my second novel I was chuffed.

I googled him. This is his latest short-story collection, by the now defunct publishers Freight. I admit to a bias here. A hatred of what we’ve become. Mean minded and petty. In a word it’s about class and lack of it.  Tim Winton touches on it his essay ‘Using the C-word.’ Carl MacDougall gets it right here. Someone Always Robs the Poor. The theft has become more systematic since the nineteen-seventies when we lost the propaganda war and the advent of Thatcherism/ Reeganism, the growth of individualism and if it was going to end in farce it ends in Trumpism. Let’s hope it doesn’t end in apocalyptic tragedy.  Someone always robs the poor, but with the added element of hatred –it’s all their own fault- and we’re to blame for society’s ills.

Someone Always Robs the Poor is the second story in MacDougall’s collection. It begins with the narrator watching the pigs eat her book of fairy tales. They leave behind the feudalism of Poland, the coming genocide of Nazi Germany and their family has a golden to ticket to the promised land of America. Look at the title again.

All day my father stood at the back of the cart waving his hat, and when my mother told him to sit down, he said, I am waving goodbye to Poland. I am looking to see what I have to take with me.

The narrator’s father is an older man. He has purchased his wife, who is very beautiful, and kept her as his own. Hubris leads to nemesis in Leith, Edinburgh, which is not America as the father believes. The streets are not paved with gold, but the sweat of indentured labour.  Someone always robs the poor.

‘After the dance’ is not about romance, but rape and how it curdles a person and poisons families.

In Sunset Song, Chris Guthrie’s mother dies and his father almost kills himself working the land. He calls to her from his sickbed, she’s the flesh of his flesh and he wants her. In MacDougall’s story ‘Spitting it Out’ an old man gets out of his sickbed to go and visit his estranged daughter. She’s no right in the heid he says, with they accusations. But we know the story is as old as the bible.

‘Korsakoff’s Psychosis,’ alcohol in the blood, wet brain. You know the score. Last chance for sanity. Get off at this stop kind of story.  The narrator, like many of us, have been in the wards, been in the wars where there’s no winners, only losers and those that think they can drink the same as everybody else, or like they used to, when things were better. Amy Liptrot does a smashing job in The Outrun of sinking into the words and the ways we explain to ourselves how we need to drink because that’s how we reward ourselves, and when we’re down that’s just the thing for a pick-me-up. When we see a sunset, how the day is so much sunnier with a beer in our hand. Korsakoff is that Glasgow thing. We drink to be happy and we drink to be sad. Drink it our mentor and tormentor.

Carl MacDougall writes about violence, rape, incense and murder. I guess we’re singing from the same hymn sheets. We speak the same bastardin’ language.

In the preface to Scots The Language of the People, MacDougall uses the c-word. Class. ‘The educated classes struggled to rid themselves of “Scotticisms”’.   What was left was the dirt and people that roll in it. That’s me. I’m holding my hand up. It’s no surprise that Billy Connelly is quoted on the back leaf of Someone Always Robs the Poor, ‘Carl is a hero of mine…a great storyteller’.

I envy Carl MacDougall the breadth of his education, the depth of his reading. But the thing about books are they don’t care who you are. Anyone can turn the page and if they’ve got a wee notion, they can read and they too can learn.

I was thinking for example about fucking. You’ve probably heard of it. But more in the dialect sense. When I was writing about Jaz, for example, I wrote. You fuckin’ cunt. Then changed it to you fuckin cunt. The latter is closer to the style that Bernard MacLaverty uses in his short stories. Then one of the characters in Carl MacDougall’s stories says you fucken cunt. Oh, dearie, dearie, which one of us is right?

Well, it’s Carl MacDougall, obviously, because he knows better than most than language is a living thing. Bastard. If you turn to Scots the Language of the People, the section marked Tom Leonard – read on:

The poster for the Makars’ Society advertises a

GRAN MEETIN’

THE NICHT

TAE DECIDE THE

SPELLIN’

O’ THIS POSTER

And the admission price is Thritty pee (a heid).

This wasn’t the only anachronism in the language argument Tom Leonard spotted. On the publication of Six Glasgow Poems in 1969 he altered the argument and rules of engagement by introducing the urban voice and insisting it should be heard, transcribing living Glaswegian speech to prove that language is defined by class as much as by region or country and that working-class speech is as suitable a vehicle for poetry and serious thought as any other;

Tom Leonard: The Voyeur.

what’s your favourite word dearie

is it wee

I hope it’s wee

wee’s such a nice wee word

like a wee hairy dog

with two wee eyes

such a nice wee word to play with dearie

you can say it quickly

with a wee smile

and a wee glance to the side

or you can say it slowly dearie

with your mouth a wee bit open

and a wee sigh dearie

a wee sigh

put your wee head on my shoulder dearie

oh my

a great wee word

and Scottish

it makes you proud

 

 

 

Scottish Book Trust.

scottish book trust.jpg

Writing is the easy part. That’s what I tell folk. That’s when I learn what I think. And others think about me. Reading is the engine of writing. I’ve had a long love affair with books, with bouts of promiscuity. As I get older I find time not reading is time wasted.  Selling yourself, well, that’s the hard part. Not many folk know about Scottish Book Trust. It’s a national charity.  Until I started writing a few years ago I hadn’t heard of it either. Here’s what they do, they encourage children and adults to read books. http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/about/what-we-do. They link it with that buzz word, wellbeing. Whisper it, the key factor is class. Literacy rates in Scotland (and elsewhere) have been falling and this is linked to the gap between rich and poor. The earlier you get kids to read the better quality life they will have. The postcode lottery of what school you attend, whether, for example, Drumchapel High or Bearsden Academy a mile or two away, but on a different planet, determines life chances. Reading is the one thing we can get right, but we’re getting it wrong. The gap remains and has grown in recent years, despite much bluster. The Scottish Book Trust tells us it gave one million free books away last year. They organise festivals and supports authors. I’m a supporter of the charity work of the Scottish Book Trust. I attend most of their festivals in West Dunbartonshire libraries and write about the authors on my blogs. And last year, I gave a reading in West Dunbartonshire’s Dalmuir library of my debut novel Lily Poole (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356).  In a way I’ve worked for the charity for free. It’s win-win, as I get free publicity. My debut novel was novel of the week in West Dunbartonshire libraries. That’s as good as it gets. Most debut novels get published and are pulped within a week. Mine is no different. But for me, books are holy things. To be a published author is a big thing and to be on library shelves next to other novelists that’s a blessing.

My gripe with Scottish Book Trust is I’ve found they’re not to be trusted, don’t acknowledge me as a published author, even though I’ve appeared at one of their festivals as a published author. They can’t deny that I’m Scottish, I’m guess it may be a matter of number of books sold. The underlying question is quality. They don’t want to acknowledge a numpty like me as an author or the whole edifice of Scottish Book Trust will crack and fall to the ground. They may be right.

I’m a big fan of the Scottish Book Trust and have been trying to join them for years, but I fear it’s easier for a Catholic to join the Masons. Over the years I’ve applied for mentoring, the New Writer’s Award and later the Next Chapter Award. The first time I got an email back saying we enjoyed reading your application I thought it was true. After ten or twelve emails saying the same thing you recognise that no they didnae, it’s junk mail. Published authors can apply for inclusion in the Live Literature Database. It makes such applications easier.  BBC Script room, in comparison, are a lot better at that sort of thing. Over the same period I’ve been longlisted twice. They tell you for example, you got an A, but not A-plus for your attempt and your thirty pages script got a full read through. And they give you numbers, out of 13 000 scripts submitted, you were in the top 10%, perhaps even 1%,  but they don’t say we enjoyed reading your script, because they didnae, that’s their job.

To be honest I don’t really think of myself as a writer either. You probably wonder why I keep bothering the Scottish Book Trust with my lame efforts. Simple, they offer a gateway to writers that have been where I am, that will read my work and give an honest critique, point the way forward. That saves me time. Saving time and money, that’s what it’s all about. Unfortunately the Scottish Book Trust enjoyed reading my novel, but they didnae, I don’t exist.  Yet I persist.  Writing is a strange beast.

Gail Honeyman (2016) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

eleanor oliphant.jpg

This book has not been officially release yet. I was lucky enough to buy a copy at West Dunbartonshire Festival of Words at Parkhall library on Monday night. Gail Honeyman was doing her first gig. Ahhhh, that’s nice. She seemed very nice and self-assured. It was the usual format of someone asking her questions about the book and Gail reading two short excerpts from the book. And later questions from the audience.  She read, first page, first paragraph:

When people ask me what I do – taxi drivers, dental hygienists – I tell them I work in an office. In almost nine years, no one’s ever asked what kind of office, or what sort of job I do there. I can’t decide whether that’s because I fit perfectly with the idea of what an office worker looks like, or whether people here the phrase work in an office and automatically fill in the blanks themselves –

First-person narrative for almost four hundred pages can be hard work. I must admit that if I’d picked this book up on spec and read a bit I’d have put it down again before the second chapter. A simple tale of boy meets girl isn’t really my thing. It does help the boy is a figment of Eleanor Oliphant’s imagination. He exists, but doesn’t know she exists. The other boy, Raymond, that works in IT, is the kind of anorak that anoraks avoid. Eleanor and Raymond seem a good match, but Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine in her own company. Other people are the problem. Will they? Won’t they?  I’ve only read to page 70, but I take it Eleanor’s mum, who plays a big part in the book, is a controlling Myra Hindley type figure that set out to destroy her daughter and largely succeeded, and may yet have the last snarl. Eleanor is weird, even by Glasgow standards. I’m sure Eleanor and her mum set themselves apart, by being different, and this proves to be the point. As a child, Eleanor does not watch telly and doesn’t know what an oven chip is. There was a bit of brouhaha at the reading about not giving too much away. Oh, no, I may be indicted, but it’s all there on the first page for the reader.

I’m nearly thirty years old now and I’ve been working here since I was twenty-one. Bob, the owner, took me on not long after the office opened. I suppose he felt sorry for me. I had a degree in Classics and on work experience to speak of, and I turned up for the interview with a black eye, a couple of missing teeth and a broken arm.

A budding author in the front row of the Parkhall gig asked Gail about agents and getting published. Like Gail she had won the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award. Like Gail she wanted to create a buzz, have her book reviewed, sold internationally, be optioned by Reese Witherspoon’s company, with possibly Witherspoon playing the part of Oliphant. Yep. That’s a good question. I’d quite like to know the answer to that one too.