Writings, photos, politics and rants... *Original content - may not be reproduced without my consent.*

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Every School Year Should be a Mr Hull Year...

Im glad schools and teachers are changing. I now know no *mean* teachers. We all do our best to ensure children in our care are happy, comfortable and want to be there.
{P4 gave me a love of art...} 


I have lots of memories of teachers beating me, kicking me, pulling my hair, drumming on the side of my head with their knuckles, lifting me by the ear, or the hair at the side of my head. I have memories of being humiliated by teachers. I've seen children humiliated during my teaching career... And I used to protect children from one old git (who thankfully doesn't teach anymore ) who used to scream at them (i used to usher them out of the classroom-or into the playground if I knew she was on her way).

I have never forgotten humiliations from people who really should never have been allowed near children. One incident sticks in my mind. I actually liked the teacher, she was "safe." 

Anyway, I sat at a table with very  upper working class/middle class children - other teachers children, a police officers child, a business owners child...

Teachers love to set challenges, sometimes not really understanding the crushing effect of that challenge on those who never can meet it. She set a challenge of a really difficult sum I knew my friends would get- one I really could not get near to achieving. I knew another embarrassing, humiliating time was firmly set in my future, so, I "switched off," as I always tended to do in the face of more crushing, embarrassing evidence of my stupidity. I didn't take part. I froze.

When it was time to reveal the answer, my table, to a person, got it right. The teacher , in order to heighten the humiliation (she probably just didn't think , or care about humiliation, lets be honest), asked all of those who got it right to raise their hand. Like the rest of the table, I raised my hand, but shut my jotter. The teacher then singled me out, knowing perfectly well I hadn't got it, as she knew I really found number work difficult. She asked to see the sum. Not only that, but to show it to the class. I flipped through my jotter and told her I had lost the page. She was really angry with me for my pretence, and I remember the heat of my burning embarrassment as she humiliated me in front of the class. At least she didn't hit, bang my head with her knuckles, pull my hair, break a ruler over my hand, slipper me, cane me or throw a, wooden duster at me. 

I was seven.
And as I say, she wasnt the worst... She was "safe," ie. She didnt physically abuse - this was a thing... Children in those days knew the hitters, the sadists and those who were safe- it was part of our conversation, especially at the start of a new school year. 

Other humiliations were centred around my reading, PE, my inability to remember the alphabet, times, tables etc. And I suffered physical abuse because of my inability to concentrate or recite things we learned by rote. Some humiliations and pain were expected. The ones that stand out were by teachers I trusted, including the one above. And this brings me to today. All teachers should be trusted by children. Careless talk, raised voices and humiliating feedback causes long term anxiety and has a mental health impact. Our behaviours and anxieties are absorbed as lessons, without the benchmarks, "I can" statements, on display. 

I'm glad to say my son enjoyed school. He had a very different experience from me. We can as teachers make mistakes, but we do our best to get to the bottom of behaviours and to help children see failure as a positive learning experience either about the skill, or themselves. My son is confident regarding his knowledge and skills (though the present work market, created by ten years of the failure of austerity politics , and now covid, are denting that a tad).

Teaching children that if they really want to, they can do something and watching them try and try without feeling embarrassed, is incredibly satisfying and actually quite emotional. I know no teacher who doesn't feel the same nowadays. 

First
Attempt
In
Learning.

And we teach children to recognise that everyone has different positive attributes. And I know that the absolute imperative for all teachers, are children who have a life long love of learning ... Something i didnt properly discover until i was in my late teens /early twenties. Or what I should say, I had all my life , but formal education was almost buried because of the absolute fear I had for school thanks to some god awful people who nowadays would be jailed.

(Primary school for me, was totally saved by the "safe" teachers- P2 Mrs Cunningham, who was kind and fun; P4, Mrs Russell, gave me a love of art; P6, Mr Hull, who made learning fun and school a place I wanted to be - a teacher I really will never forget as he made me feel like I was a valued part of a little community, and P7, Mr Carlton whose stories about driving tanks etc, were just damn interesting).

Children really should not fear school. School for many, is a haven. I love seeing children having a totally different experience of school than I did. Every year should be a safe teacher year.

Every year should be a welcoming, valuing, Mr Hull year.

All behaviour is communication, and that is a, two way street. The children's behaviour communicates their happiness, fears, anxiety... As does ours. Only, our behaviour also teaches children behaviour. Cold, unkind, anxiety driven behaviours designed to control, teach children the same anxiety driven behaviours we picked up from our childhood. We need to try to ensure those mental health impacting behaviours are driven out of the front line of education, into history. Society will benefit massively from that. And there are huge hurdles to overcome to get there.
It's incredible that there were actual debates and disagreements over the legislation that outlawed some of the abuse meted out in schools, just in the way there has been debate over the last twenty years over outlawing physical abuse meted out by parents. Children really are the last in the line when we talk about Equalities. Threats, screaming teachers and humiliation really must be the next front... The next inequality we tackle within our school communities. But to really do that, we must look again at the expectations we have of young kids... The expectations we have on teachers ticking through schemes of work, and the abuse of power meted out by adult managers on staff, because of pressures they are under. Anxiety driven abuse must be stopped. And to do that, education really must no longer be an exercise in time and motion study, or a place of "control." 

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Blue Peter, Uncle Bulgaria, and selling stuff to kids...

Someone posted this picture of their collection of Blue Peter Annuals on Facebook today. 

Nowadays, I'm definately more interested in old comics and musical and cultural and personal vomiting on social media, than today's very broken politics (though, I'm not completely divorced from the political bubbles and commentary on events). 

I had some of the earlier, 1970's Blue Peter books. They, like Look and Learn, and the Magpie annual, were superb kids books, arriving on Christmas day, full of photos of the previous year in kids BBC telly/cultural history, and of things to make and do. Their arrival, was a small event in the massive one of a Christmas day full of Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville (christ, what were they doing to us?), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Top of the Pops, Doctor Who, Morecombe and Wise, Mike Yarwood, Christmas dinner at nanny and granda's , with my great great aunts Emily and Martha with their false teeth sitting beside them, visits to Granny and Granda in Tullylish, and my cousins Ian and Brenda and Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Jackie. 
{the brilliant, Mike Yarwood...

{Emily and Martha, teeth hidden, being photobombed by my Christmas TV tie-in Uncle Bulgaria...

The main toys would be visually stroked and played with and the Annuals, Beano, Warlord, Look and Learn, etc, were night time reading on the bedroom floor, in the landing light cast across the floor through the crack from the partially open door. 

Every Blue Peter annual marked something culturally new, not least the change in the programme's personnel.

Its strange looking back at them, and remembering those change of personnel. Val leaving; the dogs dying; the gorgeous, "modern" Lesley Judd; the hybernating tortoise;  vandals in the garden; Percy Thrower getting his gold Blue Peter badge; Bring and buy sales; Totalisers; Christmas coathanger candle decirations; loo roll Tracy Island; John Noakes doing mad, impossibly brave things and Peter Duncan appearing naked on stage in the Opera House Belfast, and me and my friends laughing at the Paisleyites demonstrating outside as we queued up... Blue Peter, indirectly helping me challenge parts of my community that there was a fear around challenging- and moving from childhood to adulthood. This event is virtually impossible to find references to on the Internet, and Duncans tackle never made it into any annual, but it was an event that had many people of my generation lining up to push through, kick back at, the fascist intimidation from religious, sectarian zealots who were determined to keep culture under a kind of 17th century lock and key. An event my friends and I went on to replicate when we cleared Portadown Town Hall of Paisleyite protestors during a masterbation scene in our interpretation as Acting Strange Theatre Company, of "Once a Catholic." 

{Lesley Judd... Kids TV Purdy

{seeing Peter Duncan's tackle from the front row of the Belfast Opera House with Paisley's followers bellowing in froathing fascism outside, was two fingers at childhood and at those who lived around us who wanted us to live in the 17th century

Blue Peter cultural landmarks in my early, pre-internet life, that really today would be seen as meaningless (the equivalent Duncan nude controversies probably on par with YouTubers selling dodgy stuff or saying something fascist). 


{How many young people nowadays notices a new Blue Peter (or any TV) presenter? Pre-Internet, all of these names made it into our popular culture...

These landmarks were I suppose, because childrens TV was such a small, almost afterthought aspect of general life, disseminated via TV and in particular, the BBC; but its smallness was massive to us. 
It was something that adults didn't sit and watch with us as they were making the dinner or negotiating bombscares on the way home in the Belfast rush hour. John Craven's Newsround, then Blue Peter and then some other "decent, relaxing" programme like a cartoon, or Grange Hill, then Roobarb and Custard... A perfect hour (Play School and Jackanory were never my thing after the age of five or six...) It was "watercooler" culture that united us, that was created for us... Even if it was just the post teatime, "Magpie is better than posh Blue, Peter," snash up the tree at the end of our road. 
Changes in Blue Peter teams and the events; {Cambodia bring and buy sales all over the uk, for  example, a political event that really would not pass the odd "BBC balance" test that our current hegemonic gate keepers use to allow fascists like little nazi Farage on our screens shouting at, dehumanising and demonising refugees who are endangering their lives to escape war, poverty, and imprisoned lives}; had a much bigger, but subjectively similar impact of new editions of a top ranking computer game nowadays. 

Every segment of kids tv, and early evening family viewing from 4pm-9pm were cultural events, the likes of which we dont have any more. Like the slightly later in life indie music and teenage gangs /style in the eighties. 

Is the world like that now? 

Will kids remember as cultural landmarks in their lives, every new design of the football skips sold at them bi-annually? or new iPhone? or the new "set" design their favourite youtuber lounges or dances and sells across?

Kids TV was not designed to sell toys in those days. We werent seen as a market. And in fact, there was a huge debate about advertising toys during kids programmes. Unlike today, when the programme is one long advert. I did have a Monkeys car, A Sooty puppet and a Pluto puppet, a Starskey and Hutch and Kojak car (hardly kids tv), a bionic man and a Fonz... All offshoots of telly programmes, rather than products designed to be characters in formulaic episodes. 

These Blue Peter annuals represent a time when kids tv wasn't sold at us... But was there to entertain and educate. Nowadays, teaching in school, children talk of the brand or the computer game... All parts of a marketing strategy that takes precedence over the cultural phenomena. Marketing that creates forgettable phenomena. 

I think the cultural world we have created for our kids is really not as safe or healthy as the world we left behind in the seventies (though the physical world is, undoubtedly safer). Todays indoor, broadcasted culture has much more going on, but most of it is a sales pitch... creating markets. Not caring or nurturing. It is a world in which kids cultural phenomena are more about selling stuff, and rarely about helping victims of despotic regimes, or cleaning pigeon shit from atop Nelson's Column, swinging on old ropes. 

Greta Thunberg is an exception, but one that was disapeared when covid-19 came to town, and kids are now obsessing over the £100 Burberry mask they desperately need. 

These annuals are superb markers of a time we wanted to create a better world, but ended up with trainer envy, advertising billboards on our kids chests and kids scared of the outside.

Do you think they mark a better time?

Overall, I don't think the times were better (kids, after all were tortured in schools physically and mentally, and many stressed homes were no better... Some of that has changed... At least, there are legislative protections to childhood now) ... But I feel the media has changed from one that delivered a service for kids, and now uses them as marketing subjects... And unlike the tv ratings prompting spin off toys, the incredible power of the social media algorithms are selling sometimes harmful activities and  objects to children whose innocence is stripped away in different, harmful ways than ours was.


                         OoooOoooO


[By the way, in trying to find references to the play Peter Duncan was in during the 1980s I've mentioned here, I came across this quote from him. 

"I grew up with it (the Troubles)," he says. "I followed it and was always trying to understand what was going on as a young man. It wasn't called the Troubles for nothing, it did trouble people. I suppose I had sympathy for those who seemed more oppressed than the other. I didn't always like what the British state did. I was understanding of Protestants and Catholics and why they did what they did.

Each time I'd come back and see the change, how different it was," he adds. "Protestants and Catholics have been to the forefront of bringing kids up sharing (their future) and not living in a bubble. That is powerful motivation for not going back in the wrong direction and creating a divide between people."] 

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Letter to Tharg...

2000AD in School


Dear Tharg the Inquisitor of Thales 1,2 and 3, Master of the Timelines, 

Back in '77 I saw the adverts on terrestrial TV, for your mighty organ. In fact, if I remember the adverts correctly, your mighty organ was erected in central London after an intergalactic journey to seed the world with pan-galactic thrills to blow our minds. 

{This letter was letter of the week, this week - wb 31.9.2020!}

I was a late comer, though was filled in by my best mate, who supplied me with the sensual experiences I needed to become whole. He gave me his first few Progs, and that was me hooked. Until I read Halo Jones, after which I found it difficult, at the time to rise to any subsequent attempted thrills as her escape from the drudge of working class life, came to an end. As a working class boy, wanting to escape, I was desperately disappointed not to know if she had totally escaped that GenX like humdrum existence. Nowadays I see it as a reflection of inequality that plagues working class existence. Struggle, mental illness, addiction, used, abused, forgotten. You never totally escape the Hoop, the housing scheme, the projects, the estate. A classic that should be in every high school library. 


I  went into the world without the Prog, for many years … weaving an unsteady path through life, low paid jobs, addictions and then eventually throwing myself into debt to educate myself, becoming a teacher. My venturing out, led me to a kind of escape, but one I hoped would help other young people escape. I think the unfinished Jones should perhaps remain unfinished … Escape is never total. 

In early 2015, I found myself off work on a long term sickness. Stuck at home, with only daytime TV and a bit of beard trimming, I decided to take a stroll through Glasgow, and stumbled upon Forbidden Planet (other great comic outlets are available, though I've yet to find a more friendly, knowledgeable and interesting staff). And there, I came across a whole section dedicated to 2000AD and its past, and of course, The Meg. And there, during that illness, I reintroduced myself to the world's greatest comic. I've almost caught up on all of the stories that have become mainstays, and on some Dredd stories etc. And it has been a brilliant five years doing so. I've also delved into other brilliant stories created by some of those who made their initial career inroads on your pages. Comics are well and truly embedded back into my life, the bedrock of which is 2000AD and the Meg. 

I now run a Comic Club in my school - using some old 2000AD stories, and the Regened issues as the start off point for many of our sessions. One of your brilliant Art Droids, Rufus Dayglo, sent us books for our graphic novel collection, as did the brilliant people of Rebellion (I am @clydewon on Twitter). So I want to thank you all for that. 

I was a "late reader," who only gained the skills to read when my mum introduced me to comics in desperation. Comics were my reading rescue. And 2000AD was a huge part of that, leading me to seek out Harry Harrison, and many other SciFi writers as a young teenager. And Comic Club has already given an outlet to both reluctant readers and children who love imaginative drawing and story creation. 


I'm hoping to try to do something re Comic Club in the coming weeks again, but covid-19 is getting in the way, even though here in Scotland, we are back to school. I'm going to try a work around and create videos teachers can use in their classrooms (I think that is something Rebellion and your good self should consider during these times- videos for kids re skills, story's, story creation, art etc, and with nods to comic activities of the past). 

The Prog at the moment is absolutely amazing. I am, like many, totally engrossed by The Out. Everything Abnett and Harrison do is just so interesting, exciting and beautifully done. Sinister Dexter really never, ever should be retired - their strips, are fun and clever. And Dredd, and the Dredd universe is just brilliant. I don't think that universe can ever be fully explored. 

I am so glad I rediscovered the Prog. I really hope, Rebellion continue from strength to strength … The release of so much back catalogue and reworking  of superb British comic stories has been amazing. 


And thankyou Tharg, for being present in my life on and off and on again, since I was 11. I hope in another forty years, a pupil of mine will send a letter to you, telling you how you had an influence in their lives since their old teacher introduced comics, 2000AD and you to them. 


Forever in your debt, 


Neil Scott

Glasgow 




Saturday, 8 August 2020

Scott's Beano and Warlord, please...

As some here know, I'm a comics fan. I wouldn't call myself a comics buff, or collector, but I really enjoyed comics as a child, and love the comics aimed at an older age group nowadays. 

I refound comics in 2015. I had had a really difficult start to that year, and was off work for a few months, and decided to re-engage with 2000AD, one of my old batch of comics I'd bought in the late seventies and early eighties. I don't think young people born from the early nineties onwards appreciate the impact comics had on us, and on society. They really were our "internet," some having facts as well as entertainment - war, science, amazing animals, car facts (in comics like, Bullet, Speed) etc. Analogue YouTube.

Some were "banned" by the Government (For example, Action Comic was phenomenal... Both my cousin Ian and I had the Hook Jaw teeshirt - free iron on transfers were all the rage! ) and the funnies were superb... Krazy comic and Cheeky Weekly being absolutely outstanding (and they have a group on a Facebook Monster Fun & Krazy Comic Fan Site) - my school mate Roy and I were big fans.

Discovering Forbidden Planet Glasgow in 2015, was a godsend. The staff there are superb... They offer advice on authors and series, and i discovered Lemire, Ennis (both) and Gaiman, amongst others, through them. Forbidden Planet was one of those mythical, cult like places you saw a little advert for in comics, when I was little. Friends who had been lucky to go to London and visit spoke of it as an Aladdins cave of wonders for comic lovers... And nowadays, this wonderful luxury is right on my doorstep (well, 3/4 on the bicycle, 25 mins in the car). 

Someone in a Facebook group asked tge grouo (a Warlord Comic Group) earlier, "did you read Warlord or Battle?" I read both. (in the same group, the amazing comic artist PJ Holden described them as the Tiswas/Swap Shop of the comic world - which is a great description. Or the Blue Peter/Magpie... references only fifty somethingsxwill get nowadays, I suppose!) I started with Warlord, though.  Warlord had that extra interactive dimension of code messages, and other friends, who were agents. Me and my mate Clark Davidson used to keep files on people (other  kids) in Banbridge, Co Down, and do training exercises, like jump off his garage roof, camp out and spy on people... We graduated to Bullet, a comic that was meant to be about a more up to date spy, with a pack you could send away forwith an up to date pendant... 
{modern, '70's Fireball (Bullet) secret agent} 

My mother was a cleaner in the local town hall, and I once caused an investigation after messages, both coded and uncoded were found in one of the offices... I had hid them behind town maps etc they had on the office walls Apparently they thought they might be terrorist related ...

"Scott's Beano and Warlord," were the original  order I got every week from Cheryls Shop on the, Newry Road, on my way home from school in the early-mid 70's, and later from Walshes in the town. Though the order evolved into a bundle including Krazy, Plug, Monster Fun, Cheeky Weekly, Battle, 2000AD, Action, Speed and "The War Papers," and many others. To afford this bundle, I went in to mum's work on a Tuesday and Friday evening and cleaned out the ashtrays, emptied the office bins, swept and mopped the downstairs floors and the stairs, and polished the tables and ashtrays. It was all worth it.
Comics were, and are, a brilliant escape. I hated school... I feared school, and I have memories of sitting on a stool in our kitchen devouring Warlord. I'd do a "quick read" at lunch time... A welcome break from the pressures of dodging bullies, adult and child, then Back to school, and then a more detailed read that evening.

I used to copy some of the art... Comics, were an art lesson as well as what brought on my reading. 

I now run a comic club in the Glasgow Primary School where I teach. Comic artist Rufus Dayglo and the publishers Rebellion Comics have helped me stock the shelves with graphic novels. I'm up for buying batches of comics (cheap... Condition isnt a big concern) to bind and to give the kids a flavour of what we had pre-internet. I'm hoping to give comic club members a Warlord style Comic Club wallet this year and membership booklet and badges they had a competition to design during lockdown (I have to source cheap wallets, and need to have a think of what I'll put in the little booklet). - For those who don't know, by decoding a message and sending a 25p postal order, you became a Warlord Secret Agent, receiving a badge, a plastic wallet, code book and ID card. It was great to discover a Warlord Facebook group earlier! 

I've already been teaching the children about codes during lockdown, and made little videos with coded messages at the end (we are back to school here next week, so I'll hopefully be met with decoded messages and I'll be giving out prizes). I'm on twitter as @clydewon... So any comic fans who'd like to help, please give us a follow!

Comics were what made me want to learn to read... I was a late learner.. Dick and Dora really didn't do it for me. Blocks of text, really don't suggest a hidden world to kids. Single page, non-challenging pics and little sentences, didn't do it for me. Little boxes showing naughtiness, and expressions of every emotion, made me want to enter their worlds. Wanting to know what Korky the Cat, Dennis, Roger the Dodger, Peter Flint, Union Jack Jackson etc were saying engaged me, and my reengagement with comics, and graphic novels were a way to re-interest me in reading in 2015...anxiety and depression, got in the way of my ability to concentrate on novels, or books of any kind for a few months. (Forty five years after they engaged me as a new reader , they helped to rebuilt a broken one)... And I really do see the difference the comic club has made to some of the children in our school.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Catcher in the Rye - Holden lives again.

I fixed this little book. I thought it deserved a few more years. It was printed in 1967. I've had it since 1997/8-ish. 
A wee bit of book glue and book tape, and hopefully, it might last another twenty years.
Back in 1997-8 I worked as a Shelter Shops manager. Books came in that were beyond selling. Some I felt sorry for or wanted to read, so rather than dump, I took home. 
This one, I wanted to reread, which I did in 1999 and then reread again, three weeks ago. 
I had repaired it with sellotape back then, which yellowed and came away. The repair this time was with book industry stuff, so hopefully it'll last until 2040 when I might revisit. 

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Joy Division? I've Earned That Teeshirt...

Someone, somewhere on fb said yesterday, "you know people who wear Joy Division teeshirts have never listened to Joy Division."

I had to let that person know that I knew every JD musical release intimately, and have done, since 1980/81. 
I know a lot of Ramones, and enjoy the Ramones, but have never identified with them enough to buy the trendy teeshirt.

It felt quite personal, this slight, as I was sitting wearing one of my two Joy Division teeshirts when I read it (and have been saving people from Covid-19 by wearing my Unknown Pleasures mask, which I thought was more witty than many will ever realise). 

Its the second time in recent years I've felt uncomfortable in a JD teeshirt... The previous time was when the recent, awful Spielberg nonsense had a main character in one on the big screen. I knew that JD had reached that iconic, Primark line moment. JD was no longer the cult following, alternative icon it was when I was cutting about without a care in the world (nah. A jd fan ALWAYS was care worn...). 
I've had a JD teeshirt of one sort or another, since the mid eighties. In the very early eighties, I painted my own. I was never a "bands" or any messaging teeshirt kind of person, though I had a few political (green messaging, pre-green party), daft teeshirts (I remember a Daffy Duck one) and my JD teeshirt. I wore a lot of proper shirts, though, in the early eighties. I was quite well dressed. Fashionable at times. Outlandish in that eighties way, at other times. That changed when I left work in the early nineties to go to uni, and embraced the scruffy, crustyish clothing of that time, because of lack of income more than anything. 
In the 2000's I took to socialist and left anarchist  political message teeshirts. Nowadays my teeshirts aren't political. I'm wearing a Basquiat vs Warhol one today. Anyway, that's not what I wanted to say here. What I wanted to say was that in the early eighties I loved Joy Division and New Order for a number of reasons.

--Music, absolutely... I had never heard anything so layered, so atmospheric, so descriptive, in my young life. And New Order were brilliant for dancing around my bedroom to, like nothing else I listened to.
--Better still, none of my friends "got" Joy Division. My girlfriends all through the eighties , hated JD, with the exception of two; one an art student and another who preferred The Cure... One girlfriend graffittied a tape I'd transferred my vinyl to with "Boring!" "Depressing!" etc, And my mates, with the exception of three I can think of, thought JD were awful. I persuaded one mate to go to a New Order concert , and that changed his mind about them, and another Girlfriend bought tickets for us to see them in Wembley Arena, though I dont remember what she thought of them. 
--The image that went with JD and early NO was superb. We fans wore long coats, and all black, though we were def not Goths. It was deeper than that. We were wearing all of the cares of the modern world in our black eighties beatnik non-fashion and carefully coiffed messy gelled hair.
Pretentious, crumbling post- industrial Johnny Cash's. 

--And importantly, JD were anti capitalist, in a way. The thing about them was, they _made_ themselves inaccessible... They were so contrary to what pop/rock stardom was supposed to be... So it seemed (though I've learned there were tensions over all of this in the band). They didnt make videos unless it was just them playing live (this changed, to my disapointment in the mid eighties... "sell out" was a thing we really didn't want our intellectually important bands to do), nor did they add the name of the group or album to the covers. And as New Order, they famously made losses on their biggest selling single, Blue Monday because of how elaborate the tools were to cut the cover.
I have never wore clothes "labels." In the eighties, we  saw that as selling out. Cheap. Watching that change in the nineties was really odd. Teenagers and footballers and sports people becoming billboards. I still think labels and huge logos on clothes are awful... And when I bought a pair of Vans (black) in a sale a few years back, I made a point in school about labels not defining us, and to the horror of my class, cut off the Van labels. There then followed a debate as to whether they were still Vans, if I was now wearing Vans or were they just a pair of deck shoes etc..?
I dont mind wearing some statements of who I am... Bands , art, and pretentious statements from Paris 1968, Herbie the VW, Buzz Aldrin, Yuri Gargarin,  John Lennon, The Associates (a long sleeved shirt I designed myself), The Velvet Underground, Echo and the Bunnymen ... amongst others, are things I enjoy and cover my torso with. I'll never be a corporate billboard .. But I think the corporations should feel a tiny bit relieved about that.
This list of my acceptable, wearable printed things will change. I think I might always have a JD tee, though. 

I seem to have lost a few of my JD and New Order Vinyl over the years (lent out, left behind in moves etc) and toy with the idea of re-buying. But there is something about how commercial the new releasing of that material is, that puts me off. 

I have memories wrapped up in Joy Division tracks, image, books (the first of which I bought in Virgin Record shop, in London circa 1982, and is little more than photocopies of old newspaper cuttings, which I read inside and out, over and over during the eighties - band history was important... Though more life events than the techy stuff people seem to go for nowadays) and sleeve art. I grew into an adult with Joy Division and New Order. I dont listen to them every day, or week for that matter... Sometimes they arent included on playlists. But they are there . And I sometimes fatten up and over indulge in all they have recorded. I have favourite tracks, but thats neither here nor there ... As that changes sometimes. 

 So... Teenagers and young people... I might be a sad old, droning fifty-something man for many reasons (not least for the fact I still wear teeshirts), but I feel I wear a Joy Division teeshirt legitimately.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Scottish Left Forum

Scottish Left Forum is a Facebook group that until late 2019, had in excess of a thousand members. It has lost nearly 200 members in the past six or so months.


I'm writing this truly wanting answers. Scottish Left Forum was set up by me, to give the left a platform in which we could discuss outwith the constrains of party leaderships. It was as a result of what I saw as a looming collapse of the left I was part of, ie a Left that created a grown up space where we could put in to action activism leading to campaigns leading to real policy that changed lives, by, at the time, driving the ruling Labour Party in Scotland, leftwards in the Scottish Parliament. 

That Left, post 2015, has indeed collapsed into factions ranging from small to tiny, and the non factional left are either on the SNP, Greens, the ever decreasing Scottish Labour party, or are without political home. The vast majority of the left in Scotland are not part of the small cultish hangovers of the 20th century Trotskyist, Maoist or Stalinist groups. 

I am not an admin. I stood down as it was one thing too many for me during the period after my father died on Jan 31st.

The slf timeline at present, really does not reflect its original remit. And a number of people have expressed that they don't feel safe or welcome there. The two post limit, introduced after an influx of multi posting CPB'rs, has not factored in the prolific posting of a few cpb, swp and cwi enthusiasts. I've tried in the limited way I can at present, to try to counter the cpb, cwi, swp etc awful posts. A cursory glance at posts over th past two days shows posts praising Assadism; out and out Chinese government propaganda and an swp advert for one of their many public meetings. The posting of people who have been promoting totalitarian regimes is worrying. This really does not represent the left. At all. 

I say this as someone guilty of giving these people a platform. The biggest mistake the SSP made was giving these groups the fertile ground in which to prosper again, and the results of their opportunism continues to marr Scottish politics. 

I feel slf is in its present form, unfit for purpose, and rather than being a place where the left is safe to chat about campaigns etc, it has become a place for those who are defending abuses of power that extend all the way in to the Tory Party via support for Putin, and to fascism by way of, for example, the Chinese government treatment of the Uighur people and Hong Kong protestors (fascism also, of course, has links to Putinism). 

I cannot in all conscience walk away from slf during this absolutely crucial period  when totalitarianism and fascism are/is on the ascendant. This might seem  catastrophising, but I feel allowing groups happy to clap fascists and right wing Brexit and who are daily posting articles that approve the Chinese Government's dreadful human rights record , and treatment of anti authoritarian protestors in Hong Kong, and Putin's homophobic and fascistic governance and alliance with the murderer Assad, to post with impunity, is not what anti fascists in the present hegemony should be doing. 

I propose either, inviting new, non-factional admins /moderators to help the present admins; new rules on posting that will somehow address the bias towards the tiny pro totalitarian sects; or closure of slf (slf pretty much acts as a mailing list for these groups now- which was not it's purpose). 

At the very least we need to talk about SLF.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Catcher in the Rye... Redux

I've always liked the book Catcher in the Rye. The first time I read it, I just thought of Holden Caulfield as a whinger, who had just fucked up and was delaying getting a bollocking from his da'. Readings later in life revealed much more... At different times, I've thought he was narcissistic, selfish, nasty, or depressed etc. My first reading as a young person, totally missed the catcher bit. And although I loved the descriptions of night time, jazz dripping 50's New York, I didn't get the significance of it. I preferred John Updike. 

Back circa 1997, I worked for Shelter as a deputy manager. We'd have books donated, and in the shops I helped manage I loved to rifle through them, to help stock the shelves with decent quality stuff that would shift.

Books that were tatty or falling apart would be chucked. Sent to recycling (we got money for paper and cloth (rejected clothes etc). But now, and again I'd "rescue" one or two of the tatty, dead books and take them home if I thought they'd be interesting. I rescued a 1967 copy of Catcher in the Rye and sellotaped it together and reread it in 1999 and thought Holden was right about much in the world. His hate of the phoney and his acceptance that he should perhaps become phoney to protect his sisters innocence... and giving in in the end to all he had rebelled against, hit me as true as I emerged from my rebellion in my mid-late twenties University madness, into fatherhood.
His ultimate catcher in the rye story of taking the hit for Pheobe.

And then I reread it 21 years later (yesterday and today), and I realised that I hadn't thought before that Holden was actually suffering trauma... The trauma of his brother dying, the trauma of his friend killing himself because of being bullied, the trauma of being in boarding school, the trauma of the cold, phoney world he lived in.

I found this time reading Catcher in the Rye was much more touching than ever before. Understanding better that strange twilight time in life we go through, being able to see the falseness, phoniness around us, and trying to find a path away away from it.

And seeing how, rather than my first few simpler readings of it, ie. thinking how much of a whiney  arse Holden is... - on the contrary... - he is a tragic, kind, damaged, abused figure. Someone with an inner dialogue that is at once trying to figure out how to navigate a shitty few years in his life, and wanting to protect his sister, and catch Pheobe... and the other innocents.

I really enjoyed meeting Holden Caulfield again.

I'd really love to rescue this wee copy as it is in a dreadful state now. Anyone know anything about rebinding books?

Monday, 6 July 2020

Death of the pub?

I gave up pubs eight years ago along with the drink. I used to love them. I've been in a few, sober, during that time. I feel uncomfortable in most of them. I feel uncomfortable amongst drunk people who feel it is their right to say and do what they wouldn't say or do without alcohol. I was not innocent in using that crutch, myself.

But I really do miss good pubs, and the great craic, I had in quite a few. 
{In a pub nr Stirling circa 1994/5}

Pubs are rooms that have a small, dangerous, amount of people who are self medicating trauma and abuse, whether that be personal or societal. They can be awful places. Wetherspoons is the most recent phenomena that has taken advantage of people who are self medicating. I've been in a few of those both drinking and sober, and I've found them to be the opposite of the intimate, friendly places pubs used to be. There are a few, here in Glasgow and in Edinburgh, that retain the atmosphere of a welcoming place for  interesting chat. A few. 
{Pubs were part of my life from an early age...} 

One of my favourite writers about pubs, is Jeffrey Barnard. His love for his local, The Coach and Horses, was legendary, to the point were after a couple of failed moves out of London, he settled in a flat close to his favourite place. But then, his drinking pals were Tom Baker, Frances Bacon, Brendan Behan, John Le Mesurier amongst others (and amongst interesting, damaged in many ways, people who were far from famous). The craic, as we used to say after a good night's drinking and chat and tears and  laughter was, "90."
{Impressing the girls in a pub in Gran Canaria, circa 1987}

The pubs I liked, as a young person, really were the places of craic and the acceptance of a huge range of difference. People might think that is odd coming from someone who was brought up and lived in segregated Northern Ireland ... But there were many pubs like that there. The whole "golden mile" in Belfast was like that. Even some pubs in my mid ulster Town were like that. Pubs and clubs were melting pots of unionist, Loyalist, nationalist and republican (though they had their exclusionary premises too). And I pub crawled all over Ireland, throughout Europe (one such crawl was over a period of a month, through eleven countries, culminating on a beach in Corfu...), and throughout Scotland and parts of England. My adventures in pubs rarely met with violence anywhere I went (except one time in the mid - late eighties when a "friend" initiated a street riot in San Antonio, Ibiza and I was punched to the ground by an English "squaddie," busting my nose...), and a few times when I've defended girlfriends, girl friends and once poured my pint over a friend because he kept sipping from it. I have had the resulting souvenir broken tooth, unfixed, ever since. But I have never left the house for the pub or club relishing the thought of a fight. Ever. 
{Whistle Binkies, circa 1993/4}

Some English pubs are about an odd national identity. Drinking culture in most of England really was and probably still is, quite different from Irish drinking culture. A lot of it  is exclusionary. In the eighties, I visited London a lot... I found brilliant, and inclusive pubs there (including a visit to The Coach and Horses, in order to experience the "grumpiest Landlord in London"). And in Wiltshire, when I lived there, I found great ones there (I remember a brilliant one, The Bell, in Westbury, where the landlords had superb tales of a year long search across North America for a then reclusive Leonard Cohen). Outside those places, I find English pubs bedecked in Union flags, like some of those here in Scotland that reside near to orange lodges. Exclusionary, suspicious places. Places of machismo and threat. 
{Pubs that built character...} 

I think the only pubs you can feel safe in nowadays are those who have extortionate prices. Class exclusionary. So, I feel that this speaks to the abuse the working classes have undergone in the past thirty - forty years, and to the death of the old, fun, comfortable pub.

This weekend, England, Tim Martin (owner of the pub chain Wetherspoons, a chain a friend describes as "Macdonalds for alcoholics"), Boris Johnston etc, did more to kill off the pub than the coronavirus did.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Smokin'...

Just don't do it.

(BFI short film about kids smoking HERE in 1970... I tried my first in 1977). 

I tried smoking at school, at 11 years old... 

Actually, I tried it out of school. I remember the thrill of going to the wee shop near Granville Gardens, Thompson's, with Micky Neeson and Mark Anderson and his brother David Anderson, who'd have been about six... We deemed him too young to smoke with the 11 year olds, and buying "singles." It was a big thing.

It became a defence mechanism (which, I suppose, it remained being). One of the people I feared in school (who once through me down a flight of concrete stairs) was one of the smokers. I used to "Stay in" with him, by having a feyg with him (not often) on the way home from school. 

My school smoking was more effect than actual. I'm sure I didn't inhale. That came later.

{Pass the Ash... Circa 1993/94} 

I had an on off relationship with cigarettes throughout my late teens and into my late twenties. When I exercised, when I cycled or ran, I didn't smoke. When I drank, I did sometimes, and sometimes a lot. It was a social thing. An affectation that was highly addictive. 

Another one of those things to hide behind. 

A disguise. 

Incredible really. I remember even when I did it, I thought it was a strange act.

Now, I loathe the very smell of cigarettes, pipes, cigars or vapes.

It really is interesting, though, how society has went from a huge acceptance of these things, to pretty much a total rejection, when I look back at pubs with air blue with smoke (I thought stopping smoking would spoil the atmosphere of my favourite pubs... I was right... We could all see each other). Restaurants and other public spaces were absolutely littered with cigarette butts.

I don't judge anyone still "in to" these things, that are still addicted to these awful, stonking, carcinogenic things. Not at all. Because there were times that feygs were enjoyable... Drinking into the wee small hours in the Downshire, Tom Barney's or at some party or another. And at uni, the roll ups were part of the uniform.

But, I'm glad I don't smoke now. And I'm glad public health has won the argument with Big Tobacco here, at least. (This isn't true for other countries at all).

I remember when the Berlin Wall came down, about a year and a bit later, Ian Mooney and I were there, and Marlborough were giving free feygs out. They were also massively cheaper in East Berlin. The East Berlin and former Soviet block feygs were like smoking horse dung from a horse that ate only cow dung. A few years later, when in Stuttgart, this giving out of free feygs was still happening (I was there visiting a friend, Paula Harkness). We were given a pack each as we sat in a restaurant. Legitimised pushers, pulling in new addicts. This practise still happens across the world... And the cheap/free feygs are aimed at young people.

{Smokin' shirt... Circa 1990} 

Like most things I've given up, I couldn't justify giving these corporations my money any longer. I've often wondered about people on the left who boycott certain corporations, but who continue to feed the profits of these massive organisations who target children and young people in the 2/3 world in order to create addicts for their foul, fatal product.

Anyway, anyone trying to give this drug up, you have my total admiration. Its a struggle, but you will get there, even if its a long journey with some set backs on the way.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Shamrock Class Clash

This album  won't be to everyone's taste... And up until the time I bought it, I didn't think it would be mine. I was Mr Alternative at the time, after all.

But it comes with two related stories.


In late summer 1984, I met a girl. I met her by chance. And I fell for her in that flat out, all encompassing way you do when you are a teenager.

I remember we were in The Coach front bar. The Coach was, at the time, one of the biggest nightclubs in Europe and the front bar is where me and my mates met most weekends at the time.

The weekend routine would be, a few cans of beer outside somewhere, then meet up in Coach bar, and then maybe "up the back" to the night club, or on to other pubs, "The Belmont," which was a hotel and had another nightclub; The Downshire for a lock in or Circus Circus for late night bring your own clubbing (and "The Circus" had at that time, a live band area).

Anyway, I don't remember why we all stayed in the Front Bar that night, whether the club was too packed or the craic was too good, but I do remember where we sat, which wasn't where we normally did. And Nigel, a mate, had brought with him his stunningly beautiful neighbour, Allison. Its 36 years ago and I still remember the white dress she was wearing. 

I remember even better, that she was funny, she was witty, clever and she seemed to find me funny, laughing uproariously at my sarcasm. I remember the bar was packed. And I remember she sat on my knee because there were no seats. 

When she had to leave, we promised to meet up the following week, and boy, did I look forward to that.

At the time, I had started to work in an Accountants Office in Bow Street, Lisburn, as a trainee auditor. I hated the job, and spent my time at the start, staring out of the window. The week after being stood up I happened to look out of the window, and there coming out of a shoe shop opposite the office was Allison and who I thought must be her sister (it turned out it was her mum, which on retelling gave me huge brownie points!) 

I rushed out of the office, and down the stairs, and searched Bow Street for her… But there was no sign. I had to tell the staff in the office why, and they (all women), thought it was "lovely."

That weekend, I was probably the first person in the bar. And I waited. My mates showed up. 

And I waited. 

And eventually, I remember Nigel walked in. My heart leapt. But no Allison. I had to be casual about it, and asked Nigel, "Allison not here, then?" 

"No, she's went sailing in the Mediterranean. Her dad has a yacht there." 

I remember this being really odd. I'd never met anyone with a yacht. The people I was brought up amongst didn't sail.

I was determined I was going to meet this girl again. So I remember phoning Nigel during the week  (phoning in those days, as a working class family, was a big thing… Not the casual thing nowadays.) I said to him he had to bring his neighbour to the Coach again. 

The following week, he did. And she and I laughed, danced, slowdanced, and kissed and arranged to meet the next day in Lurgan, where she lived and I was introduced to her family, and we all got on brilliantly. And so started a wonderful summer. A teenaged, happy, romance. 

Allison, Centre. Her friend Rachel on right, Nigel on left{Allison, centre. Her friend Rachel on her right, Nigel on her left} 

We had real fun… Joyous times. I discovered Dublin, Cork and London with her. And food and wine and (laughably now), fashion. 

Allison was of money. And I met her shortly before Stainsby Girls came out… a song Chris Rea wrote about his "posh" wife. And at first, the novelty of her being from a different class, was more than bearable, (especially when her mum and dad trusted me with their cars, a Mercedes and a soft top Black Golf GTI, which of course, I loved to drive).

But she went to public school in England, and then went to Finishing School in London, leaving for months on end, letters being our only connection. And all of these things, including my own feelings of inadequacy regarding money, position etc as I began to realise just how wide the social gap was, really played on my mind. Add to this, times, when I suffered empty, grey, bouts of indescribable depression. Indescribable, because I really had no idea what it was and why I was suffering it. 

After around three years, I had to walk away, which at the time really crushed me. The clincher being one day a family member spoke about "them," and threatening to close the family factory because of union demands. "Them," as in the people who worked in the factory they owned. And it was the last straw for this, burgeoning mini Marxist. I was a "them." I worked in a factory. I was a union member. I loathed the Thatcherism that was destroying my community and work places. Our summer romance, that lasted three years, was over. 

The summer after I met her, during our absolute obsession with each other, Nigel and I decided to do the summer cycle the Belfast--Dublin and back Maracycle organised by a peace organisation, "Cooperation North,"  a two day 202 mile round trip. 

The Maracycle had started the year before, and I had watched as the 2000 participants had cycled down the newish bypass that ran behind our house. I knew I had to try this. I was a runner at the time, running half marathons and ten milers etc. I was, after an awful time at High School in many ways, trying to prove myself and trying to break out of the chains I felt pulling on, pushing on, and filling my mind with what I can describe as grey, hopelessness. 

I wanted to prove to the world I wasn't the person I had had hammered into me I was, by psychopath pupils and a teaching staff that were fighting fires all of the time. The education in Northern Ireland meant all of the social problems went in to Banbridge Intermediate /Secondary /High School (the three names it had when I was there) and the middle class, confident children went to the Grammar school. We were sifted by the awful verbal reasoning tests; the 11plus. I hadn't passed, and it meant four years of learning how to dodge having the fuck kicked out of me. I was shit at PE, because PE consisted mostly of football, which I was taught to hate.

But when I left school, I took up running, and got on my bike. 

Nigel and, I began to practise for the cycle, and one Saturday night, we decided that the next day we'd do a big cycle, around the County Down Coast. 

The next morning, I sat and waited and waited, and eventually, two hours late, Nigel pulled up in his car. He was sorry he was late, but he'd went to the all night party I had turned down because I wanted to cycle. 

Nigel was hung over… And wanted to "just do a short run," which annoyed me as I had planned to cycle at least 70 miles. So, I suggested we cycled to Newry and back, which is about 15 miles, away. Nigel agreed. 

It was a beautiful morning, and the run to Newry, mostly down hill or flat, was wonderful. We stopped at a junction in the town, and I convinced Nigel to cycle on to Carlingford in the Irish Republic as it was "just around the corner." The road to Carlingford, along the, Newry Canal, and then along the sea shore of Carlingford Lough, is a little hillier and the sun was blazing down on us. At every corner I had to urge the hung over Nigel on, saying, "just a few more corners, and we are there." He pushed on, slowly, and eventually I said, "we are nearly there. I'll meet you at the castle..," and cycled on.

About two minutes later, I heard a clatter. I turned and cycled back around the corner to find Nigel lying at the side of the road, collapsed in exhaustion (or dehydrated due to hangover!) 

I persuaded him back on to his saddle, and a few minutes later, we were freewheeling down into the beautiful medieval village. We cycled on to the old pier and sat, legs dangling over the edge, glugging our water, and munching our Mars bars (which were what amounted to energy bars in the mid eighties!) and stretched out in the sun, and listened to the new Chris Rea album, with the title he came up with as a tribute to Ireland, as it languidly, calmingly soundtracked that memory forever from a car parked nearby; my head full of romance, and my want to prove I was a not what had been hammered in to me in parquet floored classrooms and "play" grounds. 

Nb, I pushed Nigel on, and home the long way, round the coast and then the hilly back road home from Newry… He thanked me later...

{Nigel and I on completion of Maracycle 1985
Play the, album on YouTube HERE