Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Praise of Louis Armstrong

 


What is it about the music of this man that captivates me.  I've been reading a biogaphy of Louis recently and it has taken me on a journey through his life and music.  For a long time I've had the set of Hot Fives & Sevens recordings and that for a while seemed to be all I wanted to know of Louis Armstrong, that joyous, primitive but exquisite sound.  And I seemed to be thinking that everything after that was just that old hammy Hello Dolly/What a Wonderful World pop stuff.

Luckily I bought Terry Teachout's great book, and it took me deeper and allowed me to appreciate Satchmo's later ensemble work, especially with the All Stars.  The Town Hall concert in New York in 1949 was something of a rebirth for Armstrong and, after reading of the trauma that he went through when his lip split some years earlier, it's a joy to hear him here on top form physically and musically.

I'm not a musical expert.  I don't play an instrument or even sing well but I know what I like and I like  the simple joy, sorrow, pathos, excitement, and naked humanity that Louis Armstrong expresses in his instrument and his voice.  There's nothing more profoundly beautiful in the world than West End Blues from his Hot Fives & Sevens days or most anything on the Town Hall concert recordings.  Later there is the better quality recording of the All Stars at Boston Symphony Hall and the sheer good feeling coming from that is also terrific.

So that's what's enervating me at the moment.  How about you?

Sunday, August 07, 2011

I'm Back


It seems that I need to carry this on.  I have a need to record my way through life before I forget it all.  I'm just back from a very swift trip to Korea and while I was passing through Glasgow Airport I bought Any Human Heart by William Boyd.  It was an amazing read and by that I mean I read it almost without pause from Glasgow to Seoul, on the way to the hotel I was staying at overnight, in the hotel while I lay in bed, on the job I was attending, until it was all over.  I'll write more about it later when I have time to review my feelings for it.

Another book I have read recently is One Day by David Nicholls.
A lovely book about the enduring and sometimes quirky relationship between two people who meet a Edinburgh University in 1988, and then have what can only be called a love affair over the next twenty years.  More later.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A New Year - A New Beginning

2010 - It's a big number, and getting bigger every year funnily enough.  I finally shook off the post-festive lethargy today and got the bike out.  After a small adjustment I was quickly onboard and speeding towards the cut-off road to Loch Thom.  The roads were reasonable and I was soon turning down the B-road towards Dunrod Farm and the hills of my youth.  It was nice to be out again and testing my wind and muscles.  I'd forgotten the feeling of pushing, stretching and gasping for air but eventually I was in my stride and pushing uphill past the Shielhill Glean towards Loch Thom.

The day was quiet and traffic was almost nil, just one car coming the other way as I was getting near the loch and I only had the tinnitus in my ear for company.  That was irritating as the day was so tranquil and the scenery so still and frozen that it would have been nice to hear the quiet.  Anyway, pressing on past the loch there was only an idiot and his dog testing the ice to see how thick it was, by walking on it and seeing how far out he could go.  I felt sorry for his wife and young son watching him from beside the car, and the dog who didn't know any better, but for fuck's sake - what a tit!

All the way round the loch the road was intermittently snow-covered but no big problem.  It was just a great day to be out in the country - up there with the world to myself.  Sublime.  Pity I didn't have my camera with me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sixty - It's a Dangerous Age

I'm sixty this year, in fact in June past. It's the kind of number that makes one pause for thought. The usual topics come to mind; the flabbing body, the turkey neck, worries about the prostate (already realised in the case of my older brother), retirement, the older years if we live long enough or too long, mortality; What does it all mean? Is there a life after death? And so on. It takes up a lot of time this thinking and I don't have a lot of time. I'm too busy working or practicing golf or riding my bicycle, but working mostly.
Anyway what seems to occupy most of my thoughts, other than, strangely enough, sex, is religion and the spiritual. Recently I have taken to attending, when I'm able and not travelling or have other pressing commitments, the Tibetan Buddhist Centre in Glasgow. I go there on a Wednesday evening after work and spend an hour meditating. Well that's not strictly true. An hour meditating is beyond my capability, but it's an hour long class for beginners. And, incidentally, it's an introduction to Buddhism. I say incidentally because they are not in the least proselytising. They (and I've not met all that many of the regulars) seem a very nice bunch of people. I've occasionally attended a class given by a real monk (albeit he's from Dundee and not Lhasa). As religions go it seems, how shall I put it, the least dictating.

Apparently there is a stricture (maybe that's a bit strong as I can't see these nice people being strict in the way we would normally think) against alcohol, but they were recently giving a party to mark a new chapter in the running of the centre and the invitation definitely said BYOB which I'm sure means bring your own bottle. OK it doesn't specify what should be or not be in the bottle but if it wasn't optional surely they would say. The thing is due to being abroad on business I couldn't make it so I didn't find out. If anyone's got any helpful information on this I'll be glad to hear from you.
I'd previously been guided that Buddhism is not a religion as they don't deify a superior being, i.e. some god or God or Allah or the Duke of Edinburgh, but that it is mainly a way of life as set out be a living and long dead person, viz. the Buddha. This is complicated by the fact that they believe in a life after death which is hopeful but confusing. If anyone's got any helpful information on this I'll be glad to hear from you.
Good night and may your god go with you, as Dave Allen used to say.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why Not Give It A Go?

I've had this blog blocked for some time now, nearly a year, and I think it may be time to dip my toe in the blogosphere again. What do you think?

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Good Ride

Taking a leaf from The Ill Man's book I wended my way down the coast yesterday - to Largs. I wasn't looking for antique football parks but. No, I was merely stravaigin' on the bike. In the old days when my older brothers were stalwarts of the local cycling club scene one of the main training runs was commonly known as the Kilbirnie Circle. Namely, Greenock to Largs, up the Hailey Brae towards Kilbirnie, on to Lochwinnoch - stop for a break - and up the south Renfrewshire hills towards Kilmacolm, bypassing Kilmacolm to enter Greenock's east end. All in all about 50 miles.

Not that I was in "training" mode, no I was, as previously mentioned, in stravaigin' mode. So no hurry, just a leisurely ride down the coast, nearly getting shoved into the hedge on the stretch between Wemyss Bay and Largs. This is not a bicycle friendly country as far as most of the roads are concerned and we have a long way to go to even approach continental Europe standards for provision of dedicated cycle paths. Anyway Largs was successfully achieved and in the traditional way of things I had a cup of tea and a scone at Nardini's at the Moorings. The old Nardini's seems a long way from re-opening.

As I was propping my bike up at the window on my way in these two other cyclists were just coming out and as one of them was remarking on my bike as the kind of touring bike he would like (i.e. the flat bars) we got chatting. They were doing a Land's End to John O'Groats run and were heading for Invereray. Their intended route was via Kilcreggan but I advised them the more logical way would be the Western Ferry to Dunoon and up Loch Eck side to Loch Fyne. So off they pedalled and I had my cuppa.

Next to Pencil Point:















Which some of you may know commemorates the Battle of Largs in 1263 when a load of teddy boys from Greenock were chucked out of the dancing at the Moorings and, in a febrile lather after listening to the hip sounds of the Henri Morrison Swingstars, set about a crowd of the locals outside of Macari's chippy.

Then up the excruciatingly long and steep Hailey Brae and the road to Kilbirnie. Not much to hang around in Kilbirnie for so onwards to Lochwinnoch and the lovely wee Junction Caffe where they very earnestly boast of their Fairtrade credentials. Anyway they serve good nosh in a lovely atmosphere. Lochwinnoch is nice and avoids the overly picture postcard look of many Scottish villages.

The next part of the journey is mainly just the long ride home. Lots of ups and downs and I enjoyed slip-streaming on the wheel of a club rider who passed me at a rate of knots, giving me good incentive to see if I could match him. I did stay on his wheel for a while but it was hard work and I wasn't disappointed to see him turn off for Kilmacolm as I headed on to Greenock.
Luckily the good weather held out and the final run in from high above the east end was exhilirating. A good two mile free-wheel downhill into the town centre. A lovely end to the day, well the hot bath afterwards was anyway.
By the way, my camera seems to have developed a tendency to give every picture a blue-ish hue. Anyone know why? It's a Canon PowerShot A630. Maybe it needs a technical looking over.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Gathering - A Lost Cause

I wasn't getting on well with reading The Gathering by Anne Enright. Somehow I've been too busy recently to do justice to it as it is a book which demands the reader's attention. I was working my way through it in a kind of haphazard fashion, with week-long gaps between reading sessions and then, with a quarter of the book to go, and just when I was really getting into it, I left the damn thing on a plane.

So I picked up The Outcast by Sadie Jones and I have finished that inside of a week. A fairly good read which did take a long time also to really engage with me. Ultimately though I don't feel it lived up to the blurbs. Richard and Judy's Book Club can go fuck itself.

At this moment I am sitting in Gothenburg Airport and Cold Light by John Harvey is on the table beside me. I don't know this author nor have I heard of his Resnick character, a morose English policeman, but I'm looking forward to finding out more. This book was first published in 1995 and references to Brian Clough as manager of Nottingham Forest (although he retired from the post in 1993) rather date it. Anyway a good story is a good story no matter what the setting.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gotenburg to Oslo - Done It - Bought The T-Shirt

We're back. Arriving at Prestwick on Friday to a heroes' welcome, the hero being my Scots-Italian buddy who, though suffering from Crohne's Disease which debilitates him sorely, overcame the odds to lead us in to Oslo on Wednesday night.

This was, I think, the greatest adventure of my life. We cycled from Gotenburg to Oslo in five days, taking one day of rest on the gorgeous island of Valon on Sweden's west coast archipeligo. I was so fortunate to have seven great guys for company and we have raised a pile of money for CHAS, children's hospice foundation which does great work with terminally ill kids and their families.


Do I feel good? You bet.


Please visit http://www.chas.org.uk/ to see the work that CHAS do, and remind yourself how luck you are.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's All Go


Well bugger me. It's been over a month since I last updated the blog so I'm feeling guilty not informing the world of my intricate little life.


Thing is my reading has taken a back seat while I am in training for a marathon charity cycle ride. Marathon is the word but it's not in Greece; it's from Gotenburg to Oslo, a distance of about 350 km.


So watch this space. We take off for Gotenburg on 22nd Aug. and we start the cycle on 23rd. I'll try and blog some pictures and stuff when I get back. Oh, and the charity we're supporting is CHAS (Childrens' Hospice Association Scotland).


Take care and see you soon. By the way - do you like my new bike?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Why Don't You All Fuck Off!

And think for yourselves. The number of people googling "show how attributes traditionally associated with masculinity and femininity are contrasted in Pygmalion" or Medea or whatever and reaching my pathetic little blog has reached ridiculous heights. I swear if it wasn't for something what I wrote over two years ago, which was a load of old shite by the way, then I would have no hits at all.

So, stop googling and trying to blag a pass off of other buggers efforts by cutting and pasting and start doing some real research. Talking about a load of old shite, it used to be if you googled that that I was second in the hit parade. No longer, I'm glad to say. Anyway that's what I get for not heeding the advice of someone whose name escapes me; don't blog your OU efforts as it's against OU rules. So be careful out there. Now, fuck off.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Fragment

I remember ....

I remember a time around 1965 when I was on a bus with my first real girlfriend. We were sixteen and had spent this Friday night at the movies. I guess the time was around half past ten or so when we boarded the bus at the town's main bus station, elegantly situated next to the abbatoir. This was a time when few people of my acquaintance owned a car and bus travel was not just a convenience, it was one of life's basic necessities. The bus station had a row of about eight stances, the closest one to the abbatoir door being Grieve Road, then Braeside, Fancyfarm, Larkfield, Branchton and so on, these being Greenock's outlying council housing schemes.

At that time of night, in my memory it's autumn and chilly, the bus shelters were packed inside with queues of hopeful passengers tailing outside and usually on a Friday night a one-legged man would be playing the clarinet on the traffic island opposite. In those days the pubs shut at ten o'clock so he could usually count on a generous audience as the crowds waited for the buses home. He played the kind of tunes popular to the over forties of that era, people who had experienced war and rationing and who worked and endured and got through things together.

After a while our bus arrived and we rushed on and secured a seat upstairs not far from the back. Of course upstairs was the smoking area and the atmosphere was a fug of cigarette smoke, beery breath, Soir de Paris, and Old Spice. There was a group of older men and women at the back of the bus and some of them were neigbours of my girlfriend. There was a bit of friendly banter directed towards us and generally a bit of taking the mickey out of me for being shy and gauche with my first real girlfriend.

As the bus trundled through town's dark streets the crowd upstairs began singing. The song took over and soon almost everyone upstairs was happily belting out an old classic called Dear Hearts And Gentle People It was one of those scenes which seemed, just for a fleeting moment as other passengers joined in the song, to capture the feeling of a community full of hope and love for each other. I know that I am idealising something which, even as I was experiencing it, was changing. Post-war deprivation had developed into the relative prosperity of the fifties and early sixties and for a while there was a kind of stability and comfort in full employment and affordable housing. Greenock's shipyards, sugar refineries and mills were booming. There was a promising future ahead for the young people on that bus, or so it seemed.

I miss them, those dear hearts and gentle people who lived and loved in my home town all those years ago. I miss the factories and the shipyards and wee men in bunnets and tackety boots, who worked in hard trades like moulder and boilermaker and welder and shipwright. That's what people had back then; work and self-respect. Because the promising future slowly evaporated as the yards, mills and sugar refineries closed down and twenty years after that Friday night bus journey the destination posted on the front of that bus had become a byword for deprivation and drug dependent hopelessness.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Masculinity & Femininity

There must be a new OU session starting. I'm getting a lot of hits from Google searches from "Masculinity & Feminity - Pygmalion - Medea" and such like. So there's a lot of visits to my previous page

I'm sorry it hasn't been too illuminating for you eager students, but nice to have you visit all the same. As Garrison Keillor says -Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Nuala O'Faolain

I've just begun to re-read Are You Somebody by Nuala O'Faolain. I loved this book and was sad when I read that Ms. O'Faolain had died (obituary).

It is a book of searing honesty and pathos, and I'm re-reading it partly as a result of a converstaion I had with the writer . He was telling me that, after a long run of writing science fiction which had attracted no real audience, he had decided to write a memoir. Well, I thought it would be a brilliant memoir as he has lead the most fantastic, not say bizarre, life. The gist, he explained, was how he had arrived at the place he is now, i.e. a tent on Loch Lomond-side.

Anyway, not to pre-empt The Writer's memoir, I loved Ms. Faolain's book because of her ability to bear her soul on the page. She was hurtful to no-one, except perhaps herself, although that would probably be inevitable, re-visiting as she was many painful memories. I believe it was, ultimately, cathartic and redeeming.

I hope The Writer reads the book and takes it to heart , like I did.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

End of Intermission

Hello again. I've not been away, I've just been blogging lazy. You know how it goes, you just can't get past that feeling of ennui, and it's just too much effort to open the laptop and log in. It happens to the best bloggers and goodness knows I'm far from the best.

I've edited the list of books read and it's not very impressive, is it. Anyway fuck it, I enjoyed them. Except Island of Terrible Friends by Bill Strutton. This book was published in the 1961 when the World War II was fresh in people's minds and there was a market for memoirs and biographies of the great war heroes. I remember as a boy being an avid reader of the biographies of war heroes like Leonard Cheshire VC and others. Anyway this book was the story of a surgeon, Major James Rickett,based on Island Vis off the coast of then Yugoslavia during the latter part of the war when the Yugoslave partisans, backed by units of allied troops, used Vis as a base for harrying the Germans on the adjacent islands of Brac, Hvar, and Korcula as well as the mainland around Split.

Frankly it was a poor read. I learned almost nothing about Major Rickett other than what he did, and that he was a brave and professional surgeon and soldier. The author treats his subjects with a superficiality that is deeply frustrating and one wonders why, when (as stated in the acknowledgement) he was greatly assisted by Dr. Rickett and his wife, he never got past recording events to ask about the lives behind them. Nevertheless it was in other ways instructive in its descriptions of the occupation of Vis by the partisans and their allies and the bravery of their actions in the the campaign to defeat the Nazis in Yogoslavia is reflected in some measure in the book. About the inhabitants of Vis, i.e. the native islanders I learned nothing at all, which is a pity as that is what I'd learn a little more of when I bought it.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwen

I enjoyed this book. It was short and pacey and an enjoyable read from start to finish. I see it is described as a novella, which is probably right.

It was odd in some respects as, although it was seriously written it seemed, to me anyhow, not to quite get to the point. It describes the sexually repressed Florence and her hopeful and patient husband, Edward on their wedding night. Florence, for reasons which are never even touched on, finds the thought of sex repellant.

At the start of the book the author has a laugh at the expense of the sex education manuals prevalent in post-war Britain. This is sharply described with quotes such as;
Not long before he enters her ... or, now, at last he enters her ...
Florence asks herself ... Was she obliged on the night to transform herself for Edward into a kind of portal or drawing room through which he might process?

But the lightheartedness is mixed with fear and anxiety as we come to realise that the marriage of these two people who love each other so much is doomed. From their stilted conversation at dinner, while two awkward boys keep po-faces as they serve from a trolley in the corridor, to the farcical and disastrous end of their attempt at love-making takes one hundred pages or about two thirds of the book.

Without the quality of writing and the tender sympathy that McEwen brings to it, it could have turned out cloying and embarassing but the blurb writers have it correct. It is "exquisitely crafted", but as I said at the beginning, I wonder if he has avoided something darker. By that I mean the reason behind Florence's fear and loathing of even the thought of the sex act.

What can it be? There is an unspoken suggestion - no, not even something as strong as a suggestion, something much more ephemeral - of an unhealthy relationship with her father. Her mother is described as a driven politically aware, career-minded woman with little time for her daughter, whereas her father was a "business man" who took her on holidays "just the two of them" hiking in the Alps, the Pyrenees. Maybe I'm reading too much into that but I do feel that McEwen has ducked the issue.

I bought the book off of the best-seller shelf at Menzies as I'm a sucker for a blurb. Maybe I'll try Atonement, I don't know. Meanwhile I'm now reading Island Of Terrible Friends by Bill Strutton. This is the true story of a British army surgeon who set up a field hospital on the island of Vis during World War II. I visited Vis a couple of times during my sojourn in Croatia between 2004 and 2006. I was captivated by the place and its history so the places are very real to me although the events are not. I can relate though to Strutton's desciption of some of the residents and partisans. Anyway, more about that when I've finished it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Then We Came To The End - Joshua Ferris

I gave up on The Third Woman - by Mark Burnell. It was too convoluted for my tired brain. So now I'm on to Then We Came To The End - by Jushua Ferris. I might have given up on this too but my resolve has kept me with it and I believe that it is being rewarded. It's been a slow start but we're into the substance of the book now and I'm beginning to enjoy it more.

Part of it's strength, for me. is that it is a book about a set of characters completely outside of my experience - it's set in a Chicago advertising agency - and I feel I'm being drawn in. Hopefully the effort of sticking with it to now will be rewarded.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Truth

I'll just have to be open with you. My last post, Crime Story, is not fiction. It actually happened. Not exactly as I portrayed it but essentially yes, two cops did apprehend me outside the Daily Record print works in Hope Street in...let's think...must have been 1967. And it was about one or two in the morning, but I wasn't thinking about getting a lift in the paper delivery van to take me back down the road; I didn't know you could do that at that time, I found out about that a year or two later, and her and me did get a lift from Glasgow to Greenock, after we'd hitched up from London, in the very van. But that's another story.

So there I was, gazing in the window at the old printing machinery when these two cops came up to me and said 'What were you doing in that doorway, son'? It was the night that I met Billy Connelly . Well I say I met him, a friend of mine was trying to persuade him to help him to set up a folk gig in Ardrossan. My friend knew him and was hoping that Billy's rising celebrity (this was long before he first appeared on Parkinson by the way) would be just the thing to give the project a boost. I was just kind of hanging around on the fringes of the group looking, I hoped, part of this cool scene.

We were in the Tunnel Bar which was built into the railway arches near to the old St. Enoch station, Howard Street or thereabouts if you know Glasgow. The place was mobbed with hippy, folky types who had all decanted from the regular folk-scene haunt of the Scotia Bar on Stockwell Street. There had been some kind of falling oot with the landlord of the Scotia and the folkies had all walked out in a huff and took over the Tunnel Bar. So there we were, guitars, banjoes, melodeons, penny whistles, all Aran jumpers and wispy beards, giving it laldy with our non-conformist "folksongs". It was all very progressive, and more than a touch precious.

Anyway the whole scene going, it seems, was not going down too well with some of the Tunnel Bar regulars because, as the night was drawing to a close with a final chorus of The Wild Rover or whatever and the barman was shouting last orders (this was the time by the way when the pubs in Scotland shut at ten o'clock so at ten to ten they would clatter a bell or flash the lights just to be sure you got the message), there was what I can only describe as carnage brought down on our hippy heads. The barman, who must have been in on the thing, flashed the lights but paused in the task and for a longish period - it was maybe only thirty seconds but it seemed like a fucking eternity - he kept the lights off and, while it was pitch dark, apart from the glow from the few illuminated beer signs, a hail of empty glass tumblers were flung across the room in our direction. It was fucking mayhem. Women were screaming, I was fucking screaming, glass was smashing off the walls behind us and it was total panic. I dived under a table and mercifully the lights came on and it stopped.

When I stood up there were these two guys, that it was only two came as a shock, but there they stood, between us and the door, a beer tumbler in each hand. 'C'mon ya bastards!' Fuck only knows what it was about us that annoyed them but they were determined to make their point. Maybe they just took exception to the long-haired flower children taking over their pub. I mean the place was the kind of tip that you almost had to be thrown into but it was their territory and here were these fuckers with mandolins cluttering up the place and singing depressing dirges about the highland clearances. Come to think of it they could have had a point.

I can't exactly recall how we got out of there, but we somehow ducked out past the nutters and found ourselves on the street, a rough dozen or so, and it seemed that miraculously nobody was seriously hurt. Some cuts and grazes and guitars rattling with broken glass inside them. Anyway there we were, timmed out into the street but relatively unscathed. This guy was waxing on about how this was just another manifestation of conformist society's inability to tolerate the new free-thinking, free-loving generation. 'They don't like our long hair, man' he said to me but, glancing at my prematurely thinning pate and short back and sides, he hesitated and said 'Or our clothes'. And then he said 'Are you going to the party?' Well I wasn't but I was now. I looked around but the friends I had come with had disappeared, maybe they were still in the pub.. ach, fuck it. So we dived in to the St. Enoch subway station and headed for the west end.

And that was how I ended up in a flat somewhere in Glasgow's west end, having blagged my way in to this party. It was great, I'd finally made it, in with the in-crowd. And the women! I was in heaven and the beer was free. I kind of lost touch with the people from the pub and was beginning to fear I was looking conspicuous when this girl grabbed - I mean it, she really grabbed - me and pulled me into a cupboard. Without preamble we were necking (you remember the term?) furiously. She was the loveliest creature and she had picked me! But before we could take things a stage further the door opened and this guy, who apparently owned the flat and who was getting a little pissed off about all these gate-crashers drinking his beer, told us to desist our filthy goings on and get out. It transpired that the girl was a gate-crasher too so we had to go.

There we were out on the street with libidos on the boil and nowhere to go. She (I don't remember her name, I don't even know if I asked what it was) was a nurse and she shared a flat with another nurse who was at home and that, apparently, put the flat out of bounds. Maybe her flatmate wasn't the free-thinker my companion was, anyway look here; we're in the region of Kelvingrove and here's a gap in the fence which leads us to a dark path down through the trees beside the River Kelvin. It was a fairly mild and dry night and.. ach we were young and randy, even if it had really been a night of smirr and freezing cold I still think we'd have given it a go. Anyway not much later we re-emerged, her with grass on her arse and me with grass on my knees and elbows.

She gave me her phone number and I gave her mine and we promised to keep in touch, and I bummed the cost of a taxi from her to get back to Central Station and she told me sweetly how she knew what it was like to be financially embarrassed. That was the first time I had ever heard that euphemism and it would forever remind me of that moment, long after I had forgotten almost everything about the girl who said it. We kissed goodbye and I rode the taxi back to the Central Station.

I stood looking up at the destination board and I could see that the last train to Gourock had left twenty minutes ago. Well you know the rest. Oh aye, the body. When the polis man gave it a shove with his boot an old drunk woman emerged from under the pile of rags that was covering her and mumbled 'Fuck ye waant? Lay's alane'.
'Right, son. Make yerself scarce' said the cop. So I did.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Crime Story

I stood looking up at the destination board and I could see that the last train to Gourock had left twenty minutes ago. I tried looking at my watch again and then looking up again at the board but the facts refused to change. The train was still gone and I was still stuck in Glasgow Central with an expired day-return ticket and no money in my wallet.

I looked around me at the other people on the station concourse. Some lucky ones had grabbed a seat on one of the few benches that British Rail had deigned to provide. They obviously didn’t want to encourage the dossers. I leaned against a pillar and waited. I didn’t know what I was waiting on, inspiration maybe. What the hell was I going to do all night? Where would I go? And how was I going to get home in the morning with only a dud ticket to my name? I waited patiently but answer came there none.

The platform information above me was gradually petering out. A few last minute lucky travellers rushed past to board the final trains out of the station. The concourse was virtually empty now and the floor sweeping machines were out brushing up the days detritus. The transport police were now beginning to appear in numbers for the final clearout of the drunks and dossers. I thought I’d better make a move before I was lifted and headed out of the station towards Hope Street. As I passed the Central Hotel the revolving door threw out a group of young people, three couples, about my age, affluent and handsome, laughing and kissing as they fell into taxis, oblivious of the rest of the world, insulated from the cold. I hated them.

I crossed Gordon Street and walked up Hope Street with no plan of where to go, just knowing that I had to keep walking to keep warm. By this time it was about one o’clock, the streets were quiet and the rain began to fall. When I say it began to fall that would suggest it was subject to gravity. That would be normal rain. This wasn’t normal rain, it was smirr. People who are not from Scotland would perhaps call it Scotch Mist but people from this part of Scotland anyway call it by the name that describes both how it looks and how it feels, smirr. Rather than just fall to the ground and get out of your way, smirr hangs around and tries its best to be friends with you. No matter that you hurry on past to get out of its damp grip it just won’t take the hint. It persists, enveloping, infiltrating your clothing until you’re just a heap of wet rags with water running off your nose. But I wasn’t that wet yet although I soon would be if I didn’t find somewhere to go, out of the smirr.

I crossed Hope Street and wandered back down towards the station. A drunk man was leaning against a building, his body at and angle of forty five degrees, his chin slumped on his chest as he contemplated the colourful circle of vomit he had just created on the pavement. He looked up at me as I passed as if he wanted to share the wonder of the moment with me. I hurried on before we had the opportunity to become acquainted. A little bit lower down Hope Street I came to the offices of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail. I paused in front of one of the large plate glass windows, gazing hypnotically at the printing machinery churning out the early edition of the Mail. As I paused there it suddenly stuck me. What an idiot! The newspaper van. I remembered some guys at work telling how they skived a lift off the paper van after they’d missed the last train home. It would be leaving in an hour or so, dropping off the papers in Greenock by about five o’clock. Maybe I’d get lucky.

I turned away from the window to look for some access to the rear of the building, to where I guessed the loading dock would be, when suddenly my arms were pinned to my sides and I was pushed forcibly back against the plate glass.
‘What were you doing in that doorway, son?’
Two big guys in plain clothes, somehow it was obvious to me that they were policemen, held onto me.
‘What doorway?’ I said. ‘I wasn’t in any doorway.’ I stifled the instinct to cry out for my mammy.
‘Aye ye wirr! The other cop snarled into my face. ‘Let’s go and have a wee look.’

The two cops marched me back up the street, each keeping a firm grip of a wrist and an elbow. We came to a doorway. A less than salubrious old red sandstone office building. Above the arched entrance a faded gilt sign - Waterloo Chambers. The doors into the building were set back from the street inside a deep unlit entrance. In the gloom I could see, lying on the tiled floor, a body.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

What An Accolade!

If you type "old shite" into Google, West Coast Ramblings comes second. How good is that!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Star Called Henry - Roddy Doyle

I’ve just finished A Star Called Henry. What a cracking read; the narrative just fairly gallops along and the imagery is so clever and engaging. I felt as if I was being swept along in a torrent of language, imagery.. testosterone. The pace is tremendous.

Our hero, Henry, is the son of Melody and Henry Smart. Henry Sr. is a one-legged whorehouse bouncer and part-time assassin for one of Dublin’s power-mongers. Melody is a broken woman, laid low by the loss of too many babies and a life of grinding poverty. The life of grinding poverty is a little at odds with the fact that Henry Sr. is never out of work but we take it as read.

The story takes us from Dublin at the turn of the twentieth century and starts with young Henry’s imagined tale of his maternal grandmother’s early days in the city:-

She might have walked from Roscommon or Clare, pushed on by the stench of the blight, walked across the country till she saw the stone-eating smoke that lay over the piled, sagging fever-nests that made our beautiful city, walked in along the river, deeper and deeper, into the filth and shit, the noise and the money. A young country girl, never kissed, never touched, she was scared, she was thrilled. She turned around and back around and saw the four corners of hell. Her heart cried for Leitrim but her tits sang for Dublin. She got down on her back and yelled at the sailors to form a queue. Frenchmen, Danes, Chinamen, the Yanks. I don’t know. A young girl, a waif, just a child, aching for food. She’d left her family dead in a ditch, their chops green with grass juice, their bellies set to explode in the noonday sun. I don’t know any of this. She might have been…

Henry conspires to imagine the legend of his parents and grandparents backgrounds while, simultaneously constructing the legend of himself. His story sweeps through Ireland’s fight for independence, and crucially the events of the occupation of Dublin’s GPO during the 1916 Easter Uprising. Henry is “there” fighting alongside, and rutting lustily in the basement at the height of the battle, with his old schoolteacher, the feisty Miss O’Shea.

Doyle places Henry at the heart of these historical events and we can view them and the major players, Michael Collins, Joseph Plunkett, Patrick Pearse etc., through the prism of Henry’s “eye-witness”. This allows Doyle to impose his own interpretation on these historical events, the main players, and their consequences and this becomes especially important when the novels characters provide their own justification for engaging in some terrible and murderous acts. I was especially taken by Henry’s fellow rebel, Jack Dalton, when he and Henry were discussing the outcome of their “struggle”.

- It’ll soon be over, I said.
- I will in its hole, said Jack. – You don’t honestly think that, do you?
- It had crossed my mind, I said;.
- Uncross it then, he said. – We haven’t a hope, man. Am I depressing you at all?
- No.
- Good. We cannot win and winning is not our intention. What we have to do, all we can do, is keep them at it until it becomes unbearable. To provoke them and make them mad. We need reprisals and innocent victims and outrages, and we need them to give them to us. To keep at them until the costs are so heavy they’ll decide to go. But we’ll never beat them.

You'll note here that the innocent victims and the outrages are to be given to the rebels by the Brits and I wonder if Doyle has the airbrush out here. Otherwise that is as good a rationale for terrorism as you’re likely to come across anywhere and Doyle, through Henry, continues to make the point when Henry is engaged in training of his guerrilla fighters in Ireland’s far west.

This is a great book. A great read with everything you would want in a story - love, romance, sex, war, grief, and finally redemption. Doyle has a way with narrative, and this story, unlike some of his others, is mainly narrative with less dialogue than we expect of him. The novel is written in the first person with Henry Smart as the narrator. I like the style of Doyle’s books whereby he eschews quotation marks in dialogue in favour of just a simple – at the beginning of the line to show us the character is speaking. It makes the process simple and, I think, contributes to the pace of the story.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Reading

I've been visiting one of my favourite blogs more often recently and I have to say it really is staggering how kimbofo does it. She keeps up not just Reading Matters but two other blogs as well, to an exceptional standard, as well as holding down a job and apparently being gifted in many other ways. She's an inspiration and I'm saying that because she has inspired me to get off my fat arse (well, my pert and attractive arse actually) and get some serious reading done.

Now kimbofo has apparently got through on average more than a book a week for the whole of 2007. I know I can't do that but.. maybe I can manage a book a fortnight. I know some of you may think it a philistine kind of excercise, to just crank out pages as if they were something in a mass production process (Come to think of it, that's just what they are most of them) but I feel that if I don't get down to it in that kind of way then I'll never get anywhere.

My problem is not my schedule or my work or anything else; it's me. So having identified the problem I'm doing something about it. I remember I once posted some (whisper it) New Year's resolutions on this here blog but I can't find the fucker so I must have thought it too embarassing and deleted it. Anyhoo, I'm not making "resolutions" this year, I'm just trying to catch up.

So I've given myself a start. It's still a day or so to go before 2008 actually (and it seems, improbably) arrives and I've got a good start into A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle. This comes hot on the heels (by my standards) of Paula Spencer which I picked up at a ludicrously high price when I was stuck in Gothenburg airport with not even a newspaper to read. That was just excellent; I think I finished it just as we were landing at Glasgow. I was amazed at how immersed I was in the thing.

So there you are, readers. That's the plan. Am I not just precious?

Friday, December 28, 2007

This I Know

The only person who ever made me unhappy - was me.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Well Give Me That Old Time Religion

I see he's converted to my old religion. Praise the Lord again. In that way of speaking he has when he's taking a long time to get to the point he said, of sending troops to Iraq:-

"In the end, there is a judgement that, I think if you have faith about these things, you realise that judgement is made by other people... and if you believe in God, it's made by God as well."


I mean, it's pathetic. He might as well have said, "A big boy made me do it and ran away." Other people of course being GWB. The man's just spineless.


Image taken from:- www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/tony-blair-2-halo.jpg




Saturday, December 22, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Winter

I hate winter. That's to say I hate the winters I normally have to endure - I mean just cold wet, miserable weather - if there is a snowfall it is usually a one day thing quickly followed by rain and slush. I just hate it, the mud, glaur and shittyness of it. But I do like real winter, you know the kind of winter you get if you're lucky enough to live somewhere like ... New York. Now that's a good winter. Freezing cold enough to stop the trains and snowfalls that smother the whole state.

Have you ever experienced that magical moment when you get up in the morning and you look out of the window, and the snow is just fucking car-deep. There's that glorious light refelecting off of the new snow and if you're really lucky it's still coming down in lumps. You leap with tingling anticipation to the TV and the announcer is announcing in drama-laden tones that the trains are off. Yippee! Quickly check the cupboards - food enough, coffee to brew, bread to toast, fridge full of goodies. A whole day - a whole glorious day ahead of doing nothing but looking out of the window at the gorgeous streetscape, brewing coffee and reading. Bliss.
It's happened to me only a couple of times, three at most; twice when I was living in Hoboken and once was in Riga in Latvia one October about ten years ago. I was staying in a hotel then in the old city centre looking out onto streets devoid of trolley cars and people struggling to get to anywhere, and I just sat at the window and smiled like I had won the lottery. I think it's the cosy, trapped inside, back to the womb, kind of feeling that I really like. It's a feeling best experienced, in my opinion, alone.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Back And Hopeful

I thought it was time to get back to the blog. I hope you haven't all deserted me although, as you've been unable to read this blog for so long, I'll be surprised - not to say flabbergasted - if anybody comes along to read it at all.

Never mind there comes a time when a man has to do etc. etc. And I need to something other than work and sleep. I've been away from the blogosphere for so long now I'm sure that a so much has moved on and left me behind. It's good to see my old friend Lingo Slinger is going on from strength to strength. She always satisfies.

So here we are... Looking forward to Christmas? Well we're getting all set and hopefully it will be a peaceful and loving festival. I'm very ambivalent about Christmas. On the one hand I hate the commercialisation of it (although I'm not at all religious so why should I care), but I do like the togetherness of it and the hope that comes up within me that differences can be put aside and families can be ... one.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Dreams

I suppose I'm like too many other people who believe they lead unique lives and have such an interesting story to tell. The point of this blog, at one time, was to tell some of the stories which are inside my head. Trouble is making that journey from my head onto the screen. I have spent more years than I care to think about travelling and, in the course of that you cannot fail to rack up experiences, good and bad, forgettable and unforgettable, memories warm and cringe inducing.

So does anybody want to know? That's not the correct question, is it? The question is; have I got the talent to communicate? That's the nub. That story below there - the one about me and Allie nicking the Good Companions tent and taking it off to Blairgowrie berry picking. That was the start of a great wee adventure for two boys. It was, for me at least, one of those defining experiences of childhood which, even now over forty years later, I can still recall with a clarity that startles me. I can remember so many of those small things that separately don't amount to much but strung together could make an interesting narrative, if only I could.

In those days there was not the proliferation of street lights that we have now and, when you looked across the Clyde from Greenock to Helensburgh you could clearly see the main street leading out of Helensburgh. The street lighting over much of the town did not make much of an impression to a watcher across the river but Sinclair Street with its bright yellow lighting stood out tracing a path from the coastline north and east towards Loch Lomond. For a boy with a fascination for maps this was intriguing. Like a life size map was laid out in front of me, drawing me in, leading me towards the distant hills.

Much of my life has been like that, looking from where I am wondering what it is like somewhere else. It's an itch I like to keep scratching. Or at least I would like to. Anyway, here we were disembarking from the Gourock to Helensburgh ferry and making our way with high hopes and blissful naivety towards Sinclair Street and the road north to Loch Lomond, Crianlarich, Lochearnhead, St. Fillan's, Crieff, Perth and, finally, Blairgowrie. It's not a great distance, maybe just over a hundred miles; you could drive it in a couple of hours. But for us it was like embarking on a safari or a trek to India. I don't remember discussing it with my mother, but I suppose I must have. I guess she thought that as I was going with Allie then itwould be OK. He was a sensible boy, a year older than me and with an air of maturity beyond his fifteen years.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ramblings

I've been contributing here so infrequently I think some of you (my fondly imagined regular audience) may think I've given up altogether. Well here I am; back again. I don't often comment on current affairs but one or two items just got my goat recently and, while the last thing that I want to sound like is yet another why-oh-why merchant, I would like to express myself. It's what a blog is for after all.

I'm not going to refer, except very briefly, to events at Virginia Tech. What can anyone say about that, other than how inevitable it was that the crazies of the US gun lobby would come out and declare that such an event would not have been as bad if the campus had not been decreed to be a gun free environment. So that's what they want is it? A world where it is the norm for everyone learning or teaching or working at a university is armed with a gun?

No, it's not that event which has, well depressed me really. If something is almost guaranteed to upset me it is cruelty to children. And this past week we've had the sight of four odious slags avoiding a jail sentence after being foung guilty of cruelty against two toddlers in their "care" who they forced to fight each other, until the little boy and girl were so upset they tried to get away. But these slime were so entertained by what the kids were going through they goaded them on as if they were directing a dog-fight.

That they were not sent to jail is a scandal. The judge should think shame on himself. They"did not pose a danger to the public". The man is a fucking cretin. They sure posed a danger to the children they were supposed to be looking after, and they should be properly punished for it.

And now this. Oh I know there are cruelties and misery being heaped upon children the world over every minute of every day but sometimes something happens that brings it into sharp focus. The fat slags of North Prospect, Plymouth have more in common than they might think with the Taliban.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Lawrence Donegan

Maybe I should start a Lawrence Donegan fan club. Only of his books though; I'm no great fan of his weekend scribblings for the Herald. I've just finished No News At Throat Lake which is just a great read. I'm not surpised as Four Iron In The Soul was just the absolute definition of unputdownable. Maybe I'm overdoing the hyperbole but I think the man is the master of making the prosaic memorable. It's been a good number of years since I read Four Iron In The Soul, nine or more in fact, but the pleasant memory lingers on. I also read California Dreaming and, although I didn't think it had the depth that Four Iron had, it too was an unfailingly good read.

I love non-fiction of the class that Donegan can produce. Although he is not a travel writer in the same way that you could describe Paul Theroux or Eric Newby, in my humble opinion he is their equal in the art of human study. I see, looking at the fly-leaf, that he wrote Throat Lake in 1999 and I wonder at his lack of such good product since. Am I being unfair? I see there is something called Quiet Please about marshalling at the Ryder Cup. It's not brilliantly reviewed on Amazon but if I can find a second hand copy I'll be happy to read it.
My real point here is that I wonder if there are other readers out there who think that Donegan is under-achieving? Let me know; in fact, Lawrence, please pitch in. You're too good to be languishing in whatever place you are just now. I love your writing and I need more.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Grass Is Riz

Isn't it great! The clocks have sprung forward and by some miracle of time and arithmetic it's still light when it's nearly eight thirty at night. So last night I bounded home and dragged the golf clubs out, and me and the big fella had a five hole tournament. He won at the last hole, but who cares - it was great. Summer is almost on us.

It's so long since I posted on this blog I'm feeling guilty. Somehow I've been running out of the energy and, as I'm doing this at work, I'm getting whiplash looking round for people coming at me from behind to discover me on the blog. Anyway, I'm here and I'm energised so the blog is not yet totally moribund. I'm back and I'm busy.