Book Week Scotland, Karen Campbell (2019) The Sounds of the Hours, presented in Parkhall library.

Long story. I was in Dalmuir library yesterday. For some reason I wanted to check out Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Diaries.

As you know Gramsci was leader of the Italian Communist Party.  Gramsci writes about how capitalism mutates and appropriates art and literature to establish a cultural hegemony. If that sounds pretty long-winded it’s probably because I don’t understand it either. Gramsci did. And it’s increasingly relevant today. The working class (that includes me) lost the propaganda war. What’s normal, just seems so.

Gramsci was imprisoned when Benito Mussolini’s blackshirts marched on Rome, which is the kind of lie Gramsci would recognise as myth making. Mussolini who wore a bowler hat and spats when taking flying lessons and petted a lion club in his lap, while his driver chauffeured him around the streets of Rome is a leader who sounds vaguely familiar. His switch from supporting the Communist Party to supporting Fascism also resonates with leaders whose only ideology is self-glorification.

Fascism shorn of its spats and bowler hats and lassez-faire disguise sounds to me just capitalism with added imperialism. Making Italy great again, by invading Ethiopia.   Making Germany great again by Anschluss and Lebensraum and seizing the lands of the lesser nations to give the German people breathing space.

Volksfuhrer, Adolf Hitler, demanded Jews and Communists be kept apart and concentrated in camps, caged as Trump cages refugees and immigrant children.

Business leaders’ demands of the fascist leaders were deregulation and a cutting of red tape.  Deregulation = no regulation.

Work makes you free. Himmler’s SS were paid a fixed fee by employers such as Volkswagon for them to provide labour. The SS provided food and accommodation and took a fee, in much the same way Sports Direct Workers or Amazon workers are not employed directly be the company. Zero-hour contracts, mandatory.

Short story. The Prison Diaries wasn’t in Dalmuir library.  Library staff said they’d purchase a copy, even though it’s been long out of print. There’s something beautiful in that.

I noticed there was a leaflet for an author, sponsored by Book Scotland, who was selling her book The Sound of the Hours in Parkhall library.

I couldn’t be arsed going and it was cold outside. But I’d been there. I’d did a gig 2016, Book Scotland, Dalmuir Library, when I was a writer, trying to sell my book Lily Poole (West Dunbartonshire library book of the week).  I decided to go to Parkhall and show solidarity with my fellow worker.

Karen Campbell was great. She talked about her journey as a writer. The Sound of the Hours was her seventh book, but her first historical novel. There were things I can relate to, her setting was often Glasgow, and her having been an ex-cop, but admittedly, not a very good one–write what you know –  she’d wrote detective novels. She also wrote about immigrants and the homeless.

The Sound of the Hours was a harder sell. It was set during the Second World War in Italy, but the Glaswegian part of Italy. Barga. You’ve probably spotted the contradiction. She told me things I was vaguely familiar with, how immigrants from the poorer Southern regions had come here to work, mainly to sell ice-cream and chips to the Scottish working class. A niche market and culture.

They were immigrants like my Da from Ireland, standing outside shipyard gates waiting for that call.

My hand was first up when she asked if we’d any questions. I said, ‘My Da, when he was drunk would always shout about the Gothic Line. That we should get on the blower to Paki.’ Paki I explained, was an Italian and was called Paki because he had black hair. I guess we could say those were more innocent times, but I’d be lying.

‘Was the place she was writing about anywhere near the Gothic Line?’ I asked her ‘Because that’s were my dad served in the army and watched his pals die’.


Barga was the Gothic line. Italy is mountainous. The Germans when they’d freed Mussolini from his hilltop prison split Italy like the Brexit vote. She said she’d thought about having the word Gothic line in her title. I was a step ahead of her here. That would have put her in the wrong camp, with Dracula and co.

We don’t judge a book by its cover. She admitted her cover was of the Friday night coup d’état from Bloomsbury order. I’m reminded of Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy in Truth & Beauty: A Friendship discussing how a bad cover can kill your book. And many of my readers reminded me the best part of my book was the cover. So I’m up to speed on the cover issue and she admitted on the foreground it’s got hanging branches with lemons. That fruit doesn’t grow anywhere near Barga, or Italy, generally.  A bland, blue-greenish cover is a bitter lemon for any author to swallow.

Luckily, I was already hooked. I bought a copy…Having read the first few chapters…well, that’s another story. Let’s just say I wouldn’t have, usually, have picked this type of book. Read on.     

Dispatches, The Secrets of Sport Direct, Channel 4, 8pm

mike ashley

Reporter Harry Wallop goes undercover to investigate Sports Direct, and its owner Mike Ashley, listed as the twenty-third richest man in Britain, with an estimated fortune of £3.5 billion.  I must admit a conflict of interests here. I own three-supersized Sports Direct mugs. Indirectly, I’ve contributed to Ashley’s fortune.

The first half hour (or excluding adverts, twenty minutes) of the programme was hokum. Wallop found that it didn’t matter what Sports Direct store he went to he could purchase the same goods for the same price. Sports Direct were using a marketing trick of saying the shop, for example, in Glasgow, was about to close and everything must go. Whisper it. It wasn’t about to close. And the discounts weren’t really discounts. Sports Direct products were just cheaper than most anywhere else. A consumer lawyer was brought in to bang on about consumer rights.

The next half hour (twenty minutes) was more interesting. Mike Ashley owns Newcastle United football club and he also owns just under ten percent of Rangers football club. This allows him to promote Sports Direct at no cost and he owns all merchandising rights. Those were estimated at £3.4 million from Newcastle United in the last financial year. Figures for Rangers were not available, but not only does he own the merchandising rights for all goods sold by the club shop, he also owns the rights to the mascot, Broxi Bear, and there are rumours that Ibrox stadium and Murray Park have been put up for collateral for the loans he has made to a club he has never visited. Mike Ashley does not need to explain himself. Newcastle and Rangers football clubs are small beer in Ashley’s business empire.

The secret of Sports Direct success is quite simple. Economies of scale with horizontal and vertical integration.  Ashley bought sports companies such as Dunlop. That gave him license to manufacture goods with that imprint. Sport Direct doesn’t just sell goods. It also manufactures them in China and ships them over to shops in Britain. This cuts out the middle man. It also allows the company to employ a ‘just in time’ system in which the appropriate discounted goods appears in all the shops at the same time. Mike Ashley has total control of buying and selling his products.

Mike Ashley also has total control of the workers involved in manufacturing and selling his goods. An estimated three-quarters of his 14 500 British employees are on zero-hours contracts and this is why he was asked to appear before the House of Commons, select committee. Keith Hallawell, a former high-ranking police officer, and chairman of Sports Direct appeared in his place. Zero-hour contracts give employers the flexibility to employ workers when and where they are needed. That’s the official jargon.

Zero-hours contracts are a legal and immoral way of screwing workers into the ground. Minimum wage is maximum wage. Workers are employed on a day to day basis. They do not know how few or how many hours they are expected to work. What workers do know is they will be expected to work flat out. An undercover reporter working in Sports Direct Shirebrook’s plant, which employs over 5000 workers, was told he wasn’t working fast enough. He was also told he was near the bottom of some spurious league table that monitored workers’ output and he was likely to be sacked if that continued. An atmosphere of fear added to by supervisors spreading company propaganda that some worker had been sacked on the spot for not working hard enough.

But of course these workers on zero-hour contracts aren’t directly employed by Sports Direct. They are employed by two agencies—that cancer in our society—set up to keep workers from having any rights. Sports Direct are not directly responsible for its workers. They are directly responsible for its profit and they are directly responsible to Mike Ashley. Mike Ashley is responsible to Mike Ashley. He’s doing very well for himself. A model businessman running a model business.