Great Scottish writers, Meg Henderson (1997) The Holy City.

I loved Meg Henderson’s memoir, Finding Peggy, which gave her a reading audience hoping for more, hoping for better. Ask me about the story and I wouldn’t be able to tell you very much. The leading character in The Holy City, Marion McLeod, around which much of the story of Clydebank winds is Finding Peggy feisty I’d tackled The Holy City before, but lost the plot with it and put it down. I picked it up again and put it down. I’m not sure why I took a grudge against the book.

After all, Meg Henderson is one of us, the working class. She writes sympathetically about the hard choices working men and women, in particular, had to make. The rise of Clydebank connected with shipbuilding and John Brown’s (the bowler-headed bastards as gaffers). Singers and its ongoing decline, the beauty parlour, for example, where Marion’s sister worked shows the effects after these industries that employed tens of thousands declined and shut down. We all know about Turner’s and the white mice that worked with asbestos. Jimmy Ryan who died at forty in 1963, but had a son with Marion. He was not an exception to the rule. Asbestosis was no respecter of the sexes. That’s what we’ve got Marion’s pal Sal Devlin, with her current buns for sex, but also fun with extra dollopings of kids. A drunkard that beat her but saw the light when a priest put one on his chin. These are stories I’m overly familiar with.  

Ernst Hemmingway’s much quoted remark from The Sun Also Rises about two ways to go bankrupt applies here: ‘gradually and then suddenly’. Marion McLeod also grows from the ashes gradually and then suddenly. Before the German bombers came over on a moonlight night on the 13th Mary 1941, was the phony war. Afterwards, thirteen-year-old Marion was no longer a child. Her dead mother spoke to her. Told her to keep going. A doughty adult emerges from the rubble (like Finding Peggy) and she leaves school at fourteen and goes to work (like many others). She gets married, not because she’s in love, but because she needs to take care of Davy Ryan. He too was under the rubble. He too understands. To take care of him, she needs to marry his older brother, Jimmy. He was damaged goods, what we now call post-traumatic-stress disorder from the war. He was in love with Marion’s older sister, Francis, but most men his age were too. She was a cracker. When the bombs fell, she was at the Dalmuir Masonic Temple, the 543 Club, which is now The Golden Friendship Club (courtesy of a couple of miracles worked by Jim McLaren). Her sister was never found. Marion remembered Marek, her sister’s Polish boyfriend, weeping by her bed.

Marion falls in love with Rab the Rhymer. The Boyles come from the Holy City too and speak the same language, lived much the same life. The same language as me and mine that swallows our g, but without the apologetic apostrophe. But she can’t marry him. Can’t be with him. She’s already married and a decent woman that’s made her bed and will lie in it.

‘Can Ah ask a favour?’ he said, his voice as agitated as his expression and the scars on his face bright red. ‘Is it a’ right if I stay here the night? Ah canny go hame,’ he hurried on, ‘Ah’m aff the morra. Ah’m no’ goin’ back tae the yard, an’ me and the big bastard will kill each ower if we stay under the same roof!’

Scars are skin deep, but love triumphs in the end. I hate happy endings, but it’s not too sweet to make you boke. I don’t know what my problem was originally with the Holy City and Meg Henderson’s classic. Maybe too near the bone. Maybe I needed to grow up a bit.

9/11: Inside the President’s War Room, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, produced and directed by Adam Wishart.

Hagiography (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) any biography that idealizes or idolizes its subject

Around 3000 United States citizens were killed in what has become known as 9/11. This is A Day in the Life of President George W. Bush.

A ticking clock. The rest is a history of good guys and bad guys, when 9/11 became shorthand for President George W. Bush can-do and holding a poster of Osman Bin Laden with a ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’. it. BBC and Apple take us back to that day with archive footage and all the Republican big hitters that were talking heads paying lip service to their former boss: Vice-President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Ironically, Inside the President’s War Room was bookmarked by BBC 1, News at 10 and the chaotic scenes of US troops evacuating Afghanistan citizens ringing Kabul airport. In the twenty year war over $2 trillion had been spent, around 16 500 members of the US armed forces had been killed (and around 500 members of the British armed forces) with approximately ten times that numbered severally injured. With the average cost of one soldier stationed in Afghanistan estimated at around $1 million a year. Taliban spokesmen on New at 10 said they’d made more territorial gains than twenty years ago.

Civilian casualties are more difficult to estimate. Women and children figuring highly in any estimates of 171 000 to 360 000 dead. Multiply by ten for those injured.  Multiply by whatever figure you like to take into account the casualty rate in Iraq.

11th September 2001. 9.03am, President George W. Bush, is in Florida, (he was once Governor).  If you’d asked him what 9/11 was, he’d have looked bemused. He has that innate ability. But he was smiling as he listened to a teacher going through a presentation in front of seven-year-old schoolchildren. An aide whispers in the President’s ear.

Anyone that has read Robert A. Caro’s account of the ascent of Lyndon B. Johnston to the Presidency knows what happens after 9/11 was predictable. An algorithmic version of George W. Bush—even with the wonky technology of 2001, with Air Force One, for example frequently losing contact with ground signals and having to swoop over cities to pick up satellite signals and news footage—would have saved time. It would have been difficult for even a charismatic genius of John F. Kennedy standing to do any different, not go to war, even though in the Cuban Missile Crisis with nuclear Armageddon at stake, he cut a deal. But that was with bigger fry. This was just men in robes with boxcutters.  Caro argued, ‘power corrupts, but it also reveals.’ In the case of the moron’s moron, Trump, for example, it reveals a malignant evil that has diminished, but not gone away. Trump would have loved a war. Caro’s advice stands good then as it does now. ‘Turn every page and do the maths.’ Going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq was the easy part. No US President could afford not to. We’re still counting the cost.

‘I’m comfortable with the decision I made,’ former President George W. Bush tells the camera.

(Greg Palast documents how Democrat Presidential candidate, Al Gore, won the 2000-1 election, but another unfamiliar word, like ‘9/11’, entered the lexicon – ‘chad’. Let’s not confuse this with the scare tactics of the moron’s moron Trump. An appeal to the Supreme Court called for a recount of the votes in Florida.

Fast forward, just as the US Supreme Court trashed women’s right to abortion in Texas and by extension, Jane Doe is dead. But that’s an aside for women’s rights not in Afghanistan were the bad guys are pictured with bulky robes and marked out as Muslim and, therefore, other, likely to take women’s rights back to the seventh-century.)

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises: ‘How did you go bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.’