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Friday, 13 July 2018

Life Choice


I have two choices, he tells me.  I can spend the rest of my life in prison, or I can go free.
That’s no choice, I hear you say.  Well, it is slightly more complicated than it seems.  Let me explain.
I’m sitting in a cell.  An FBI guy is facing me, sitting on a chair.  I’m sitting on what passes for a bed, but is nothing more than a raised concrete platform with a really terrible, cheap foam mattress and a couple of sheets.

Apparently, after I was thrown out of the bar for singing, again, and being sick in the ashtray – again, these guys picked me up.


Everything up to the point in which the FBI got involved – last night - in my life, has been pretty normal.  I went to school, I had a shit time, I drank to forget, I got a shit job in an IT department in a paper company, I hate the people I work with, I drink to excess every weekend, I clean up on Sunday, and hit the nine to five hate-fest Monday to Friday.

I have no friends – my friends are the heroes I read about in comics, and the heroes I create in the comic strips I make and upload to a nerdy website for people like me.  Nothing extraordinary.  Well, except for one thing.  My comic strips are not about flying, caped, iron suit clad narcissists who fight women in cat suits or men who want to rule the world, no.  My heroes are people who live normal lives, in American suburbia, but are not American.  They are spies.  Not from one particular country, but from countries around the world, and they outwit and fight each other for secrets or to stop the rising tide of different menaces such as fascism, imperialism, corporations, dictators or apathy.  I get a lot of praise for these comics.  In fact my name, or comic creator name, Ozark, is pretty well known in my community.  Which is of course, online.  All my friends are online.  And that’s how I like it.  Meat friends are jerks.  They really don’t exist.  The wonder of this thing called the internet is that it has brought people like me together with people like me who also hate meat friends. 



I have no family.  Well, I do, but I haven’t seen them for twenty years.  We lost touch, on purpose which came as a relief to both parties, especially when I discovered drink, marijuana and bars and realised I didn’t have to put up with their crappy shitty small-town walnut sized brains.  By the way, in no part of this I will tell you I am nice.  I’m not.  I’m a jerk.  But hey, I like me.

I rarely have girlfriends.  At the moment I don’t have one.  The last one left me over a year ago and lives somewhere up state with her night class teacher.  I sometimes meet a girl in a bar, get drunk with her, sleep with her and never see her again.  In actual fact, that is a rare occurrence, but has happened. Once or twice.

It sounds really shit, doesn’t it?  The thing is, I love my life.  I love my days hiding behind my desk in work, barking at idiots who don’t know how to ctrl alt esc.  I love getting home and cooking something new, exotic and hot, and settling down in front of my screens and chatting to other avatars and comic fans.  I have a few plots of land in Second Life, and I game like the best fucker there is.  That best fucker is me… because I know most Triple A’s like the back of my hand.

None of this is prison material, right? 

Right. 

It isn’t. 

I’ve done nothing. 

I’m clean. 

Me, Ozark.  The only crime I have ever committed is to buy a second hand copy of the British comic 2000AD 1990’s “Sex Issue,” which is just bad and every nerd wants to pretend to forget, but all own.
Only, that’s not what I am being told.  I have a choice, I am told.  I can spend the rest of my life continuing to do all of these things, or I can spend a lot of it in prison… or something.  The something hasn’t been explained, but will be said,  he says, if I make my choice.

Its an easy choice, no? 

No.  It isn’t.

Ozark creates comics.  Ozark is me.  I script them, draw and colour them, and upload them for other creators and nerdy readers to pick them apart.  That’s what I thought I was sure of.  Its what I do sober, because if I ever attempt to write or draw drunk, I really can’t.

I thought I was sure of that part.  The drink part, well that’s the part I thought might be the difficulty, because I have been known to black out and wake up in all sorts of places.  Sleeping on top of walls, in doorways, in my bed… funnily enough never in the bed of anyone else.  Always my bed, or some shitty place I’ve managed to crawl in to on my way home from whatever bar has gotten tired of my whine, or rant or song.

Only it isn’t the drunk part of my life that has been the problem.  It has been the sober, creative part.  And that’s part of this strange deal. If I choose to walk free, I lose the creative comics part.  I won’t have the creativity to create the comics I have been creating for twenty years.  If I choose to go to jail, they will cease to exist.  They will literally be ripped from the internet and locked away, after they have been used as evidence against me, or something.

Apparently, he says,  I have been murdering people for twenty or so years.  This comes as a surprise to me.  I really don’t recall ever murdering anyone.  The bigger surprise is that there is a lot of stuff I can’t remember.  Years of stuff.  People, places and events.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they told me that I had some sort of mental illness that means I don’t remember short periods where I go out, hunt down some lonely asshole and rip them apart or something.  But no, that’s not the sort of crime I have committed.

Apparently, I have been a spy.  I have been living within a community of spies and I have been stealing American secrets and killing American spies, for a foreign country. 

This is news to me.  This FBI jerk across the room from me stares into my eyes and asks me, “What’s it going to be, boy?  Prison or freedom?”

This is a huge decision. 

I could lose everything I am.  Every memory I own now, will disappear.  And I will languish in a prison, or I can continue this existence and drink, draw and hate in the way I have come to love over the past lifetime.

Only apparently, I haven’t.  Because I am a spy.  I have murdered and stolen and had adventures that have seen me travel the world, prevent wars, start wars, and marry and have kids and drive amazing cars and boats and planes.  I have met rock stars, Presidents and Queens, and loved and made love to,  Presidents, Queens and Rock stars.

Just like my comics.  Only, my comics apparently really don’t exist.  They exist only in my head at this present moment in time.  Because this is what my Government gave me as a failsafe.  I’m programmed to become this person, this Ozark who I feel I have been all my life if I am caught.  All the memories I have, of this lifestyle I have grown to love – in the past 24 hours – has been pre-programmed and executed by me when the FBI were on my trail.  The comics I remember uploading are actually my life.  Coded.  I’ve literally been me for 24 hours, he says.

And the FBI are being kind.  They are offering me the chance to live on as Ozark, or hack my brain and reinstate my life, which will mean jail.

They don’t need me to suffer, he says.  The spy ring was smashed.  Others I knew, including my wife have made this choice, he says.  She will either go to jail or live whatever nondescript life that was pre-programmed into her head and set up by my government for her to live. And the American Government, who just want the spy ring stopped, have no problem with jerks living out boring, drunken, grey lives, he says.

Only I am the key.  If I wake up, all will be woken.  And all will go to jail for espionage.  My Government will disown me and the others, and we will be left with nothing only the memories of our real lives.  The colourful lives that are at this moment on pages in my head that say they are on the internet.

To live, or to be Ozark.  So he says.  Is there someone behind that glass laughing at me?

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Being Wrong...

Admitting you were wrong is pretty difficult, especially when society is so judgemental and in turn individuals at a personal level feel judged by friends, family and peers. So, I'm going to write a wee series of blogs on “when I've been wrong.” Please, judge me all you like. I'm 52 and know I've made mistakes. Many. I've said shit things, thought shit things, done shit things and been an unbearable shit to some people. Not all the time, I don't think, but I'm going to offer apologies to those I've hurt, or criticised when I have been wrong. I can't ask for forgiveness, and I suppose, on one level, I don't want it, because being wrong has helped me learn, because when people shout an alternative world view at you when you are shouting your view, it does sometimes register.

I perceive myself as politically left, and I think if anything, the political left should be about one thing- analysing society, and perhaps shifting their world view as well as others, in order to stop society sliding into a massive shit hole of creeping Conservative right wing inequalities. Challenging our own view should not be seen as confrontation, but should be welcomed. We should be open to it. The world can only get better if we keep an open mind to change both personally and societally.

Anyway, my first apology is not about politics, well, partly so, but only partly. Though that will come I'm sure. My first apology is about music, and at a guess as I write more of these, my apologies will be about other aspects and choices regarding music.

  • Paula, I wasn't wrong about Joy Division, but perhaps neither were you.-

Teenage boys can be introspective en extremis. I was no different to many others, and as I discovered music, I thought, “I'd love to share this feeling, this deep, emotion, with other people,” so the stereo was cranked up in the bedroom and when I went to Paula's house, I brought my Joy Division tapes with me. Unknown Pleasures on one side, with a few fillers like Japan’s “Night Porter, “ and then their other album, “Closer, “ on the other side with a few fillers like “Love will tear us apart,” “These Days,” and The Beatles “Let it Be,” sang by St Paul's boys choir.

Cheery, and what every girlfriend would love.

Paula wrote all over the cassette, “boring! Snore..!” and other less than enthusiastic words. Although she was of course wrong, it made me think that perhaps my perspective on music might not be everyone's. What touched me, didn't always register with other people's life experiences.

My music taste did develop, though Joy Division and New Order stayed with me. As I became more aware of what went on outside me, I began to love music that dealt with political themes. The Fun Boy Three, and “The More that I see,” about Northern Ireland, The Police “Invisible Sun,” about the same theme, and then stadium music that dealt with Steve Biko, Mandela, Martin Luther King, poverty, starvation etc became the big theme of the eighties and selfish, introspection was out. And I loved to find the roots of the music I loved, the influences etc, so I became a fan of New York punk, and in turn, the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Western US pre punk rock bands like The Doors. I loved the music that influenced my modern day heroes, Echo and the Bunnymen and other northern English bands; The Associates, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and other Scottish bands.

And here comes the main  apology.

  • I wasn't entirely right about The Cure, Sharon and Toby. I won't apologise for not worshipping the ground Morrissey soiled, but I will apologise for not fully appreciating Smith’s introspection, musical talent and actually laying out his problems on vinyl.

Morrissey did write some scathing political songs in the eighties, but his own reordering of his thoughts have now set him firmly in the category Rock against Racism was set up to counter. I bought The Smiths first album, and although I did like some tracks on it, that was it. The Smiths to me, created some good songs, sometimes in spite of Morrissey’s whiney, “look at me, I'm so your new Dylan, Byron hero thing that the artistic press seek every ten years or so.” Some amazing, sparing singles. Johnny Marr and the others made The Smiths. Morrissey in my opinion, made them unfollowable.

Smith, at a glance, seemed the same. And for me, again, there were songs I liked. But my mistake was I mistook his introspection and shyness as a Byronic feyness ala Morrissey. I appreciate now, I was wrong.

My other gripe about Smith and his music persona, “The Cure,” was that he seemed to follow groups, and imitate them. I remember reading an interview with him in which he said his favourite track was Joy Division’s The Eternal. So, I started hearing The Eternal in everything he did, and his song The Walk, was quite obviously his take on New Order’s “Blue Monday.” Having said all of that, one of my favourite tapes I bought during the eighties was a “best of” The Cure’s early stuff. (I bought stuff on tape I thought was disposable - if I wanted a lasting copy, I bought vinyl and taped the vinyl). I wasn't wrong in his listening to good stuff and using some of the same techniques, but I was wrong to make this something to diss what was amazing stuff, almost entirely created by Smith himself. Smith, I realise, was a magpie. While his peers applied modern musical instrumentation to what they learned from The Velvet Underground, Bowie, The, Doors, The MC5, unlike his peers, he also picked out what he liked about what his peers were inventing.

Listen to Disintegration and you'll hear The Bunnymen, New, Order, Bowie, the anthemic stadium sound of the time, and even classical influences. But what is clear is it is about Smith, his disintegration, his depression,, his realisation that the joyous, self conscious, certain world he inhabited in his teens and twenties were coming to an end. Friendships and the need to be in a gang, were less certain, but love and commitment and respect were. His emotions, unlike so much that was “indie”at the time, are layed out on this amazing construction.

And mental health, addiction and depression created a joyous, anthemic,beautiful piece of work I had dismissed as a copy.

Toby says this is late night listening. Perhaps. But the current heatwave, the claustrophobia of the heat and slowing down of life, makes this apt, appropriate.

Unlike those who found it at the time, it will remind me of the incredible weather of summer 2018. My memories of 1989 are of The Doors, Australian rock and crashing my dad's car driving to meet Sharon, one of The Cure’s greatest fans.


Monday, 2 April 2018

Resilience.

This first appeared on Ungagged and was dramatised by Raiph on an episode of Ungagged Podcast (starts at 22mins 54 secs approx).

My teacher taught me to be more resilient today.  I fell and I cried, and I was embarrassed she saw me.  But my teacher said, “life can be like that.  Just pick yourself up again, and get on with it.”
It started out an ordinary day.  I had to get to school.  Da’ had come round to the flat last night.
My maw and da are not living in the same house.  Maw’s nerves are bad.  Da makes them bad.
Me and Iain had been out lookin’ for maw.  She goes out sometimes and forgets we can’t get in.  Somebody grassed and my da came round and hit the door through.  Maw was in the house after all, but she had had some of her medicine and hadn’t heard us. Da shouted at her that he couldn’t have the we’ans coming round to his in case he was reported to the social.  And maw flew at him with a bottle.

Iain gets all upset when they fly at each other.  I tell him to get behind the couch and get down.
Da caught the bottle on the arm, and telt her that if she did that again he’d cut her.  She said if he didn’t get the bleep out, she’d have the polis on tae him.  He jist said, “keep them we’ans aff the street at this time of night or I’ll have ye seen tae.”


He had her seen tae one night outside the flat.  That oul’ woman at 9b came out and pelted the guys with clothes pegs, like that could help.  But they ran away, and she brought maw into her house.  It was a really nice house.  Warm, with lights.  Maw was in some state.  And they guys had taken her bottle. After she was fixed up, maw and us went back to our flat and maw telt us never to speak to that nosey oul’ biddy again.

When da’ went back out of the flat, maw give me a leatherin.  “why the bleep did ye go to that bam,” she shouted.  I say bleep ‘cause I don’t like bad words.  Maw and da say them aw the time.  They fly like broken bottles across the street from their gobs when they see each other.  After she leathered me (I don’t cry, ‘cause that can make it worser), she telt me she was sorry and things were bad and that I was a pretty wee thing.  Her wee Norah.

Onyways, Iain and me, we went and slept on the same mattress in the other room.  We’ve a duvet each an’ we can share.

I don’t sleep all through the night.  Sometimes its ‘cause maw is singin’ and dancin’ after her medicine. Sometimes, its just ‘cause I’m listening out for da.
I woke just when the light was startin’ and I crept through to see where maw was.  She wasn’t in the flat.

Our flat isn’t warm.  It isn’t light. Sometimes people in school talk about when they get up out of bed and they get their breakfasts from their maw’s and they have a shower and stuff.  Our maw isnae like that.  We do get showers, especially when the social worker is coming.  But maw hasn’t been good in the past few weeks.  She gets the depression.

The water is cold, but I make Iain wash his oxters and face an’ hauns.  Iain is older than me, but he has special needs.  Or the depression.  They seem the same to me.

Our school Uniform isn’t in the flat.  An’ I know what maw has done.  She has done it before and promised not to.  The social will be roun’ later, because the only thing I have to go to school in is a pair of shorts and a vest.  Iain has a ripped pair of jeans and a power rangers pyjama top.  She mustn’t have been able to fit our welly boots into the plastic bag last night, or maybes people don’t want to buy wellies.  She calls it, “robbin’ Peter tae pay Paul.”  Paul must be the skinny man who she gets her medicine from.

When we are leaving, I leave the door on the latch.  Maw might not have remembered her key, and if she has a lot of medicine in somebody’s house, she might not be hame tae the morra.
The school isn’t too far.  I don’t know the time, but I know when the morning rolls are being delivered to Detsy’s, its near breakfast club time.

When we got to the school, Charlie the breakfast club guy, said, “Youse must be freezin’!” and he gets us uniforms, socks and trainers.  People in the school give them in when they are too wee for them.  He lets me choose, and I choose the ones that look the oldest, so maw won’t try an’ sell them again.

Breakfast club is great… walking in here, into this big new building, with its big hall and light and warm and things to do is like sunrise.  It’s like when I had a torch and I was able to light our room one night when it was scarey.  This place is the only place my forehead doesn’t feel tight.  Sometimes I feel so happy here, I get a bit out of control, and the teachers shout at me.  But its not like da’ or maw shouting.  Its safe shouting.

One of the times I do feel bad is when people are getting points for bringing in their homework.  I never have mines done.  I cant do it.  I don’t have time. You don’t get told off for not doing it, but its like one of maws slaps when Kylie Loft gets points.  She’s horrible.  She wouldn’t give me a share of her big bag of Doritos last Tuesday, even when she gave Maisie, Tina and Mohammed some when we were playin’ tig, because she says, “Norah never shares anythin’.” I wish I did have some stuff to share.  I feel bad when its my birthday and’ the teacher sings happy birthday.  Because I never have a cake or sweets to give the class.

Our teacher is nice.  But I wish she’d stop giving points for things my maw and da’ can’t do, like best costume on World book Day, or for wearing all your school uniform, or for healthy snacks or home learning projects.  I don’t mind people getting points I suppose.  But all them projects are mostly done by people’s maws.  Their maw hasn’t got the health my maw has.  I can never get points.  And that’s like a punch in the stomach sometimes.

The school dinners are the best.  I pretend I hate them like Tina does.  I know Tina loves them like me.  Where do you get food like that?  Its all different colours!  Things you just don’t get normally in the chippy or outta tin. Mr Singh behind the counter likes me.  He gives me extra stuff and winks.

Onyways, after lunch, it was gonna be circle time.  I like afternoons an aw, but I get a wee bit sad because I know its nearly time for home, and I knew it would be cold, and I knew my maw wouldn’t be there.  And sometimes I get angry at my friends because they haven’t Iain to look after, or maw to clean or da’ to hide from. And on the way up the stair to class, I tripped and I fell and I didn’t want to get up.  And I wanted Mrs Madigan, the classroom assistant to pick me up and give me a wee cuddle and tell me things would be awright.  Mrs Madigan says, we have a jar that you have inside you that should be filled with cuddles and love, and when you feel sad, you can use one of the cuddles and pieces of love from your jar to help you keep going.

But our teacher came back just before Mrs Madigan and told me to get up and taught me resilience.
Resilience is when you pick yourself up and brush yourself down and start all over again.  So my teacher says.

I count the cuddles and love going in to my jar.  I don’t have much in there, but when I get them, I clamp the lid down tight and remember and remember them. Because I know that one day Iain and me might need them.

Weesht For Indy – Not…

This article first appeared on Ungagged

I am part of a political group that agrees to disagree on pretty much all of the razors of political analysis that cause splits, tantrums and forked tongued statements.  Ungagged is a website and political podcast that has pretty much every left view somewhere in its archive, said by people ranging from Trotskyists, Tankies, Blairites, Anarchists, Greens, Nationalists – all from the left spectrum of politics.

We respect the fact that others going to sometimes say, organise or promote an aspect of left politics we don’t agree with on the podcast, or written on the website.  And the fact that quite a few of us are from different parts of the world with different experiences, or different parts of Britain and Ireland, with different experiences, or different parts of Scotland with different experiences, informs us, rather than divides us.

My political background is as complex as anyone’s, but to summarise it, I was brought up in Northern Ireland in a protestant/unionist community and found myself at odds with that community.  I read literature and had experiences in Northern Ireland that convinced me the UK was not conducive to equality – in any way or aspect – and when i moved to Scotland I became involved with left and pro-independence politics.  I was a member of the SSP EC in the late 2000’s; co-opted again during indyref, and elected again onto the EC, twice. I left the SSP in late 2015.

I don’t see independence as a tactic.  I don’t see independence as being about my identity.  I don’t see independence as an income stream. I see independence as a way to break a state that at present is reinventing its imperialist past as somehow glorious – a state that is “dripping with blood from head to foot.” A state that is a key block, still even in its weakened state, in the curtain wall of capitalism.  A wall that hems in the poor and working class, while the rich and corporate world can fly free, borne on wings built with our bones, fueled by our blood and fed to obesity while we starve.

So…

There is an attitude in the Yes movement at present of, “disagreement is not healthy,” or “don’t challenge people – we are all on the same side.” I loathe that. That is nonsense, and designed to shut down debate, just as those on the left who prevaricate and hide the analysis they share within their particular cult shut down debate.

In order to come to agreement as to what sort of Scotland we are fighting for, we have to disagree, hone our arguments etc. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.  And both those who tell us to shoosh for Indy, and those who hide their true analysis and hide behind their moderately successful tactic of the past independence referendum are, mistakenly in my opinion, really doing their best to stop education through engagement.  They are building walls to a synthesis of feet on the streets, together, during the next campaign.

“Shoosh for indy,” seems to be the order of the day, not “unite the diversity,” though many of those telling us to wheest cry, “why is the movement not as accepting of difference as it was between 2011-14?” and,  “Why cant we all just raise a flag of truce and deliver a saltire to each door?”

I strongly disagree with some people who want independence, or those who at this juncture feel it is “a good tactic.” I strongly agree with some others.

Some I disagree with, I would trust with my life. Some who seem to “agree with me,” I really trust no more than crocodiles resting just below the water.

And this attitude is coming from all sides. If you criticise the ultra nationalists careering around social media, expect to be trolled. Raise points about people making money (rather than raising funds for expenses) from independence, and you are a traitor. And criticise some of the left “analysis” and you are accused of all sorts.  Let’s not, however class all of those we disagree with in the same category. For example, I have recently seen criticism of Darren McGarvey after his interview with Owen Jones. I don’t entirely agree with Darren, but I totally respect the guy (I honestly went from a position were I didn’t rate him, to once having met him, perhaps “getting him,” to now feeling, as a teacher concerned with ACES, the guy is pretty cool). He is absolutely honest in what he is saying… Which is where I get annoyed by some other folk who write about or speak about, independence or social change or socialism -their hiding behind words and “analysis,” as if those words and analysis are objective and self evident. Hiding behind analysis as “objective,” is deceiving (and in some cases this is exactly what the writers and speakers intend). All analysis is subjective. Darren never pretends his writing or words are anything other than his opinion or experience.

The pretence at objectivity from left individuals and small organisations is breathtaking.  And the pretence that what some of them are doing is for the common good is just damned depressing.  The narcissism of some just makes me want to run as far away from some of the left in the independence movement, but Scotland an the independence media being so small, they seem to be everywhere.

The great thing about the Yes movement between 2011 and 2014 is that it was allowed to shift and expand and then it took on a life outside the original Yes Scotland “diversity plan.” After September ‘14, there were statements and manifestos drawn up in our name, without our input; read out in halls and we were all expected to cheer.

I am a democratic radical socialist. And I am not part of a cadre or vanguard or group with vested interests in how the campaign takes shape and is run. I have always, within the movement and when I was in a political party, spoke my mind and called out dishonesty and worse.

I, like many, have views about what should happen post indyref. And I, like many, have views on how we should as campaigners and activists, be represented in the press, and on political bodies growing up within the movement. And at the moment there are far too many self appointed spokespeople for me. Few of whom speak for a movement of butterflies, and a majority of whom seem to want to stick the butterflies in boxes and tell them to shoosh for unity etc. while they tell us what to think.

To argue, to disagree and to call out tactics and vanguards and manels and pyramid schemes seems to cause great ire.

The people who do are the ones I trust.

Monday, 15 January 2018

If you, if you could return... Don't let it burn... Don't let it fade...

We careered along the one track road, towards Glen Columbkille, singing at the top of our lungs. The booze and smoke from the night before still buzzing in our heads.

“Do you have to let it linger…”

The wild colonial boy, and the Star of the County Down, so Leo had called us. And Leo, with his accordion, knew because he was Leo father of Clannad and Enya, he was an Irish hero.

And so was she, Dolores O'Riordan… At This part of Irish history, where the shame, guilt and cultural genocide that had been foisted on us; the freeze… Out in the cold off the west of Europe, had begun to thaw...fall away, and the Irish were trending in the analogue world before social media. 


We'd met Julia Roberts on a beautiful coastal road, as we passed a film set on the road that the Garda said was probably the road he wouldn't take after giving us directions this way. Apparently she was escaping the press after her recent celebrity break up; and my cuz and I knew life was always going to be as carefree as this… Until it wasn't.

It was 1994. Ian had come over for my sisters wedding… The double wedding. This year, we’d do a road trip. His visit last year had coincided with that other huge confidence building project, U2 and their Zooropa tour. Before Bono and the lads had been caught tax dodging… We’d sang, “Lemon,” all the way down in the Dublin train, all five of us, across the border drinking tins of lager. We'd seen Courtney Love, Frances Bean and her doomed poet as we drank overpriced beer from plastic cups, and we'd lost Gareth, who then spent the night in hospital in the crowd surge as Bono came on stage. When we arrived back on the train into war divided  Lurgan, the army had chased us as our car had been parked in the wrong place. A misunderstanding we laughed about at the end of a gun.

This year, peace, it seemed, was breaking out. Kissy noises were being made by the evil men and their politics of death. And it was good to be Irish.

The fields of rocks glided past the car, and I knew I was on the right track. Rocks, dead saints, carved rocks and a sense of belonging to this mad, ancient, poor land.
“Oh I thought the world of you… “

Ireland, much loved by America, had begun the task of setting aside the guns and bombs. A task that would take a few more years, but peace, confidence and aye, love was in the air.

“You've got me wrapped around your fingerrrr,” and she did. And I was happy. For a while.

“I'm glad you are driving,” my cousin said. “I'd have had us over a hedge, “ and he sparked up another and passed it to me.

Dolores sang, we sang, laughed, smoked and drank and laughed again with people we knew for a few drinks or a toke or two, friends for life in our memories.

And with her ethereal voice as the soundtrack, Ireland really never seemed so beautiful.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

A Gift Comes Calling...


As the scientists looked at each other in disbelief, outside their Lower Withington building across the street, Corey stood up, turned his head from side to side, stretched and took his first tentative steps in the 31 years he had been on planet earth.

No one had ever wanted Corey, not even his mother, who had abandoned him on the steps of the Cathedral, just a mile or so away from the spot he sat every day in his wheelchair, begging for change. On the run up to Christmas people felt guilty. Those people who walked past him trying not to meet his eye, as he said, “Have a good day.” He could afford to eat something most days.

His usual day would be like nothing these people had ever experienced. His Christmas would usually be a fight for food, a bottle or two and a fusty mattress in a spike (he called it that name, laughing, because the others in the dosshouse had no idea what he was on about), and middle class liberals assuaging the guilt they had for voting for less tax and a massive “defence” budget, served food on their once a year penance; food the local supermarket usually threw into the skip that his hungry, misshapen bones wouldn’t let him reach.

It had been reported as a rock, around 400 metres by forty, “Oumuamua,” “The Messenger,” and it had shot past earth, steady, silent and faster than anything that had ever been recorded in the solar system. And the scientists heard the warming, comfortingly embracing noise in disbelief, as everyone did.

Report of "Alien Spacecrft," December 2017 HERE

Corey wasn’t the only life changed when the signal enveloped the earth. Opaque eyes saw colour and faces for the first time and cacophony, orchestra and whispers vibrated auditory ossicles newly formed in old ears.

Jessica, whose life support had been switched off while her family wept around her hospital bed in Belfast, suddenly sat up and laughed. She was 97 years old, and wanted to dance and no one, not even those expecting her demise were going to stop her.

Five year old Michelle clicked her knees back into place and the screams of her mother stopped as she emerged from under the fifteen year old Ford Escort, driven by the suddenly sober Iain MacHick who hadn’t seen her run onto the road to try to catch her pink rubber bouncy ball. MacHick cried, and was glad he would never need alcohol again to feel equal to the task of living. Michelle had learned not to run onto the road. Her mother glared at MacHick, took her child by the bloodied, but uncut hand and walked away from death.

All over the world, sickness, illness, inabilities and disability disappeared.

John, who had always wanted to examine the stars ever since he first watched Power Rangers twenty-five years before this moment, cried as he read the message on his screen. It had affirmed the message in his head. The knowledge he had regained. The lost feeling, he had lived with all his life, a background noise that everyone had fought, grabbed, self-medicated and stolen for, to muffle. Screens across the world were carrying the same affirmation of what everyone all at once knew. The knowledge they would gain later had yet to filter to them and TV producers and directors puzzled over who had intercepted their signals and minds.

Tina and Kodi pointed at the interactive smart board in Mr Kumar’s class. Mr Kumar was explaining how to use a speech bubble, when the board seemed to switch itself on.

Most of the class of eight-year olds could read the message when it first flickered onto the screen. And then they all could, even Demi, who had never been able to read her own name.

Demi knew it was a Christmas Gift. A Gift from Santa, who Jack had said that morning didn’t exist. She knew he did and he had given her the gift of reading by switching on a part of her brain that she had until now, not explored.

No one panicked, and everyone in shops laughed at the stupidity of the money they no longer needed.

Debts disappeared as they all knew, suddenly, how ridiculous the notion that people owned things.

The world started to feed itself and heal, and the hoarders and those who had accrued billions of everything were forgiven as prisoners were. They had not known what they were doing. They had been forced into a system that really was absurd, sick and had nearly killed the world by mistake.

People rushed to ensure no belly was empty. The horror of the old system hit everyone at once and they became free.

And the message that came with the cure, the first contact, the reawakening, the resetting of Earth became a message they all understood from the second the long cigar shaped craft enveloped their senses as it sped through space towards other galaxies long forgotten and left in the cold.

“Welcome back to the Universe. Sorry we took so long.”

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Why Tracey Ulmann, Blackpool and I Ruined Utopia

 This is an article I composed originally as a piece for Ungagged.  The podcast it is part of is this one (details and timings are on the website)


Utopias we want to build are always, of course, something much better than what we are part of at present. And part of is the key. Not marching in time with. Not a cog. But an active participant. Alive. Human.

When I was a child, my utopia was Blackpool. We went there for our holidays for quite a few years in a row. I anticipated and spoke about Blackpool months in advance of going, like I did Christmas when I arrived home. Blackpool was a break from school, a break from the streets, a chance to do stuff with my English cousin. I loved the journey to get there, Larne, Stranraer, and a bone shaking drive in our VW beetle through Dumfriesshire and then a couple of nights in the lake district, the beach, the tower, the piers and the pleasure beach. The confusion of it all. The crowds, all out for good times. Families together, not trying to fit in a life around must do and routines.

All innocent, 1970’s pre-Thatcherite fun. A childhood utopia, something away from the mundane, for 10 days every year.

I was full of imagination. I made up worlds, written, drawn and with my mates on riverbanks, in fields, around the housing estates and at the top and bottom of trees, and hills, and wasteland. We were lucky, we lived on the edge of the countryside, within view of the magical world of Narnia – well, the place that inspired CS Lewis Narnia – the Mourne Mountains. And we visited Narnia and its coast – the county down coast - regularly. And I still do. A utopia of natural beauty.

And most of the people of Narnia and its surrounds are wonderful… but to borrow a phrase , wherever you go, hell is other people. Utopia is always ruined by others interacting within it in a way you feel you don’t- and some never seem to appreciate the utopia you see.

Yet.

And then some upset the utopia, ever so slightly, with their want to exploit what draws people there. And you judge, so you are in that room Sartre created. You are part of the torture.

So, what is utopia? Is it just these personal places we yearn for? These places we can be happy?

As political beings, we are always searching for it. And as social beings, utopias are not solitary things, so I suggest, we can only really find utopia in our lifetimes, as somewhere we like to be with people we trust and want to be with.

Build any physical utopia, and it will be undermined and exploited by people with different reactions and interactions with your creation. A political utopia in my opinion, is not a bright summer day watching the ocean for the rest of our lives.

I started writing this piece with the video of They Don’t Know About Us, by Tracy Ullman in my mind.



Weird when I’m supposed to be talking about utopias. But the video is about the utopia that the character who Tracy plays is aiming for in her working class, 1970’s disco night out, teenaged world. It makes me cry every time I watch the bloody thing! Her utopia isn’t realised, only in her dream. I remember my aunt Jean loved the video – she and others in my family laughed in recognition of Tracy’s reality versus her dream. Working class people did these things – and still do. Because they live in their hope, or disappointment at the reality of our proto-utopia, and Tracy’s character ends up exactly where lots of people they knew, did. And still do. In the reality of walking down that supermarket aisle in your fluffy slippers, not caring about your appearance, your whole being about others, and feeling you are failing because of the system you live in isn’t anyone’s idea of utopia – and certainly does not support you.

Well, this world is utopia for a small percentage of people who control all its resources and political narratives. They don’t understand us. They don’t know about us.

Why that song? Why that video? Well, it sits well with four other songs I love that kind of explain my idea that the golden citadel we all think we are struggling for is a hard struggle against ourselves, and not just “them. “ At least those of us struggling with this capitalist rat race. Three songs enhanced by their videos, one not at all.

Three of the song videos are by the Manic Street Preachers. A band I put up there in my top ten. And a band I have never seen live because of the bloody awful capitalist ticket system we endure every time tickets are released…

Video 1:


The first one to watch, Show me wonder… The utopia of the dance, the young woman putting on her late seventies/ early eighties make up to go to the club and the young guy with his mates all going to the same place (a miners welfare somewhere in Wales), the whole atmosphere of the dance, which I remember really well, as it would have been part of the mix of the types of places I week ended in.

Live music, a hooley and a coort (what young people did at the end of the night with someone they had fallen deeply in love with during the dancing). That’s what was a successful night in those days, and I’m sure for many a teenager nowadays it isn’t THAT different. Different destinations and drugs, but largely the same night. The utopia of the weekend after a week’s graft. Increasingly in our world, the weekend is becoming a minorities luxury yet again.

And the working men’s club (not being sexist here – that’s what they were called!) as the centre of the community. It’s a joyous place, a joyous, beautifully executed video with a wonderful story.

Video 2:



The second video, Anthem for a lost cause then starts in the early eighties, with the beginning of the end of what was a sort of utopia for many of us. A world in which we marched together, we struck for a better world. We weekended together. We learned and loved together. There was equality in the UK like there had never been seen in the history of the country, ever. And we see Thatcher’s destruction beginning with the miners’ strike. We hear a woman’s voice say, “no one in this country is going to be starved back to work.” Defiant. Strong. And we watch as the woman in the story from the previous video finds her voice and stands and fights. I won’t spoil the story. That’s not the whole thing. Watch it.

And then we forgot. We had forgotten the pre-war conditions – and the equality we first found in death, destruction, and grief in World War One, that led to our welfare state and National Health Service-free and accessed easily by all.


Video 3:



And we were defeated. And the third Manics video, Rewind the Film, sung by Richards Hawley, shows the same miners welfare social club as it stands now, almost deserted. Tatty. Almost without hope. A place out of time in our increasingly gentrified town centres. A place for those who had dreams to still come together, amongst the decay of what Thatcher and her successors forced on us, though the weaknesses the Tories recognised. Through the cracks in our solidarity. And through their forgetting again that those with less than them are people too. The video shows a community, not without hope. But weak, old.

The forth song is one whose lyrics are remembered in Show Me Wonder, the first Manics video I asked you to watch. “Heaven is a place, were nothing ever happens…”

The Talking Heads song, “Heaven.”



A song that is designed and written to express that being trapped in a utopia can be hell. A song that recalls Sartres words in context. Hell is other people trapped in the same room you are. I really love that Talking Heads song. As a lover of dystopian fiction, books like, This perfect Day by Ira Levin, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, The Machine Stops by EM Forster, and of course, Huxley’s Brave New World, that song sums them all up.

We almost achieved an equality. But then came along punk, coinciding with the dissatisfaction theThatcherite media threw at us. We were young, and told we could be different. We didn’t have to be our boring parents. We yearned from a utopia away from working class sameness.

Rebellion from sameness.

A sameness, a golden age, we all as working class people, hark back to. A golden era we fondly remember, even through the propagandised the Winter of Discontent tries to stamp on. A discontent the working class mostly only felt as the aristocratic empire failed us.

A breakout from the room of the working class certainties. Away from the working mans clubs, away from the doing the same job your forefather did all their lives. And we the working class, loved punk. Punk became post punk and yuppies and dayglo and Blair and Cameron and now May and Boris and Brexit. Back then, our rebellion was sitting with Mohicans on St Pauls Cathedral steps, and squatting and dressing differently in our grandads long coats with lacquered hair with no other way to rebel until Thatcherism kicked in and kicked the working class out of our certainties…

Now my generations new, tory driven rebellion is fucking with their children and grandchildrens future. More bloody tories and brexit. Boris’s carefully constructed messy hair, I’m sure, harks back to the days we took hours to make our hair look different.

The present revisiting of the 1980’s is almost laughable. People pick out records of hope – most of which are made up of bland, meaningless lyrics, don dayglo and legwarmers and tell us “this is the eighties.”

The eighties for me was the busting of a kind of utopia. A place and time when jobs were jobs for life. When taxes meant that we had real affordable homes, decent reasonably priced communications, gas, electricity, travel etc and surpluses that went back into the creation of jobs, and better things. I worked in a factory on the eighties, and every few months, we saw more of our union power eroded, and our pay and conditions chipped away.

My eighties were the discordant post punk era. An era when people wrote, moaned and whined about the dystopian nature of every day being like Sunday, and Huxley was pushed aside and Orwell was waved in our face as Thatcher and her mob along with the left, told us that that is where our social democracy would lead to.

Our proto-Huxleyan state began to crack when some were told they were better than others, and looking around them they began to wonder why their taxes were paying for things for their neighbours, they didn’t yet or never would need.

They moved from the council estate after buying their council home and selling it for a big profit, and went on to vote tory in their misguided individualist, mortgaged, Pimms soaked, Lady Di hairstyle, big shoulder pad, Dynasty anger.

How to dismantle a welfare state. Convince the middle class they are being ripped off by helping those in need.

And we the young helped Thatcher dismantle what had taken 200 hundred years to create… a state in which working class and poor people experienced an equality never before or since seen on these islands. We huffed and puffed about bringing the state down.

And Thatcher loved us for it.

We created our Thatcherite indie music labels, most perversely anti-Thatcherite in the art they produced, but financially living in her handbag. But perhaps the music some of them left gives us cause for a pause to think over the philosophies the singing pseuds poured over to write their lyrics. And the working class fightback lyrics of others. And the increased beats per minute in the real indie scene in secret fields and hangars, not the AEIOU’s and D I S C O’s of the selling of plastic to people seeking their utopia in new designer lagers and nightclubs.

We railed against her, in our comedy – some of those who made their money on anti-thatch humour are now the supporters of the Eddie Izzard Blairite bunch who will chip away at the left that the labour party and British politics need so badly.

I could speak, ashamed, for hours about how the utopia, the golden citadel that the pre-1945 generations fought for was destroyed by my generation. I could speak for hours on how many who listen to this will deny they were part of it, but we were very much part of it whether we knew it or not.

But that’s for another time.

But lets say, Utopia was betrayed by the 1980’s before it was allowed to take shape properly. Not to say that in lots of respects, the proto-utopia social democratic UK was not hugely flawed-and beginning to fail just as equality was being reached. It was. In many ways – including the fact it was still reliant on the labours of the empire… the poverty of most of the rest of the world, a desperate world others were baring arms to try to destroy in Cuba, Angola, Bolivia and many other places.

And our destruction was reliant on the discovery of Scottish oil, now a commodity that like coal, will become much too expensive to take out of the ground.

So. What is utopia?

Well, as a reader of science fiction, dystopian nightmares and utopian dreams I have a few favourites, including those I listed before. I love Edward Bellamy’s 19th century book, Looking Backward. A book that spawned more socialist societies across the world than Marx ever did. A novel so hopeful that socialism was going to be a middle class utopia, it seems quaint nowadays. But a novel that predicted much that has happened, like the supermarket, the debit card, radio, and much more. If middle class lefties nowadays wrote a novel set in a utopian left-wing world a hundred years hence, I know it would be full of the horrors Bellamy described in his present day Boston, because the levels of poverty and homelessness, as always when Tories are in control, is shameful. The book would, like Bellamy‘s, be full of their middle-class presumptions of what utopia would be like and THEIR wants.

So, back to Tracy and Blackpool. Ullmans video has her dreaming of her utopia at the end of the video, a utopia that is based in her characters working class world, inside a small car with Paul McCartney. A dream far from her character’s reality.

I revisited Blackpool in recent years, and it is far from the 1970’s utopia of my childhood where we could be set free by our parents amongst the flashing lights and sounds of screams of laughter.

The reality of our new world, summed up by these videos and by way of these novelists don’t perhaps offer much hope.

Maybe. But they all have one thing in common. They all seek something better for more than the person in the video or book (with the exception of Tracy’s character, who is trapped, but still dreaming for her own Paul).

And my dream? My dream is that I live to see a time when we have a society not far from the imperfect, perfect society envisaged by Iain M Banks. A Culture exploring ourselves and the stars, in which we have individual care, and long productive interesting lives. And the ability to become Tamara Bunke, Tanya the spy, inserting ourselves into worlds yet to change, with the exciting danger that that brings.

Utopias should be exciting.

And Utopians should never forget.

Our utopia shouldn’t let us forget that we are all equal and we should all be looking out for each other, or they’ll still be building statues to Thatcher while people freeze to death on our streets and children starve.