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

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


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

Being Neil Scott...

It was really interesting to watch Gail Porter's documentary on mental health (Being Gail Porter) and the Luke Chadwick stuff regarding being mocked on telly by Nick Hancock and his sporting comedy sidekicks all of those years ago. I admire how they've spoken about the mental anguish they suffered. The Gail Porter documentary was really interesting as you saw how crushed she was at the time, by the mockery of Mark Lamarr. She almost crumbles into a defensive fold on the desk in front of her. 

I have always hated that kind of humour. And I say that as someone who has been the brunt of it, and as someone who even if I didn't deliver it, I certainly laughed along. That's not to say I haven't mocked people... And I won't make excuses for it, I have, but it has never, as far as I remember, been about their appearance. It is usually about behaviour, pomposity, arrogance (all of which I'm sure this media magnifies more than is actual, because of the delivery method, and on my part, the love of writing). And I am impatient with people.

Having been the brunt, and witnessed the almost complete appreciation of the mockery by the crowd, the mob, I wanted acceptance. So acerbic mockery of others thoughts, "style," beliefs etc, became a thing. I love satire, and comedy that bursts balloons, challenges hierarchy and politics. And I thought that's what I did. But I'm sure for some it was hurtful and unkind.

And I'm sorry.

It was a defense mechanism created in the furnace that was a school in a system that threw every social and mental problem into one building after a verbal reasoning test at 11. In the years when the solution was, "just toughen up." 

Cruel comedy really isn't my thing. I loathe it, and when a comedian resorts to cruelty, it totally turns me off them. Buzzcocks and  They Think it's all Over, were great programmes when they stuck to laughing at eighties hairstyles, or daft trends etc, or own goals, bad golf shots etc, but mocking how people looked; who they were etc, and actually the sexism in those programmes, were awful, cringey to watch. I hate Graham Norton's mockery, or Mock the Week when it becomes mock a person for being. 

It really does take years to recover from bullying... The stages of recovery are recognisable to me.. People laugh loudest when the pain is concentrated on someone else for a change; addictive personalities seek other realities and confidence through chemicals, and then, if the person is lucky they get to a point of realisation, a part of their lives when they say, "well this is me. Like it or lump it." And they actively walk away from others being mocked (though the subtleties in this, and just how naturally and quickly this can be injected into conversations can throw you). I've long admired the people who can just walk away from mockery without laughing. I'm not sure who it was, but on TV relatively recently someone said, and I paraphrase, "ah, mockery. I don't do that,"when confronted by another politicians mockery of their political leader). And I've tried really hard to make that calmly walking away, part of me. A sign of disapproval that just hopefully is subtle enough to show that, and quiet enough not to be lecturing. It isn't easy. In fact it really can really isolate you. But, you do feel better to have not been part of it... And to have made a point. I'm not perfect. I do fall. A lifetime of defense is really difficult to strip away.

I'll fall, fail...  I'm imperfect. And I apologise for that. But I'll do my best. 

Those doing the mocking are the ones to pity, I realise now. They are insecure. They worry how they look, sound and come across. They worry about their place in pecking orders.

Gail Porter doesn't any more (but has been terribly effected by her earlier life). Luke Chadwick seems confident, happy, but it must have been eating him up inside to have to say something yesterday.

I don't anymore (but it itches now and again). School was hellish. Its a long time ago. But it shaped me... In a way I hope other children really don't have to be shaped.

This is me. 

Saturday, 9 May 2020

A Smile, from Forty Years Ago

One of my obsessions as a young person, and into my twenties, was photography. The art of the darkroom. Getting that perfect picture. I had my camera stolen in Prague on a trip through Europe in the early nineties and only briefly went back to it when my son was little, to record his every day adventures... 

I have enjoyed having a wee camera on my phone, and sometimes still experiment with light and form (I love finding "lines," and horizons and trying to record them).

I wouldn't have a clue where to start with a good, basic, digital camera (with capabilities on par with 35mm slr's of the past) - any advice welcome... And as for photoshop and "processing" digital photographs, I really would have no clue... Again, advice welcome.

Yesterday a couple of ex-school friends and I were Facebook messaging about conflicting memories of high school (40 years in between really is going to mean we have very different recollections).

A few of us in the school were given darkroom lessons from one of the art teachers. 

I used this to take photos for my art portfolio and for my final art composition. "Snaps" were rare, as the whole process of taking a photo was expensive, from film to paper, so lots of the negatives I have are a bit rubbish and abstract. But after this discovery, perhaps going through them again would be a good lockdown activity. 

One of my friends, Roy, had in the past referred to an incident in school that at first I didn't remember... But now it has hazily come back to me. Roy and I were comic readers. One of the comics had a section in it where their target audience, pubescent boys, sent photos of their most attractive teacher, and these pics were published in a kind of beauty pageant (this is a sign of the times, one that looking back is absolutely incredible... Who in that comic's staff thought that this was acceptable?). I can't recall which comic it was. At first I thought, Krazy Comic or Cheeky Weekly. But I'm more inclined to Action or Speed now. Anyone recall?

Anyway, it was decided between us, we'd ask Miss McKee, our Geography teacher, if I could take a picture and send it. She consented. The pic of her outside her Geography room, room 16, a space that doesn't exist as it was demolished, is below. 
This picture is Miss Mckee, smiling at the nervousness, cheek and slight idiocy of young teenagers, from circa 1981. Roy found it amongst stuff he has kept from school. 

Reasons aside, this picture, for me, is remarkable. It really does bring me back to that time. And even to that room. And to my "hobby," which did at times, supplement my income (though the local newspaper would only pay me in film rolls as I wasn't part of the NUJ... Principled times!)

Advice welcome, for the questions above. And for the first time ever, this is Miss McKee (later, Mrs Hanna), published to a wider audience, though a much smaller one than comics during that golden age of printed art and weekly stories.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

The Associates... Those First Impressions...

I went through an "Associates" phase (again) this time last year (and the bones of what I've written here comes from a Facebook post during a phase of  Associates in 2018...). In fact I go through an Associates phase most years. And I've been doing a Lockdown video search of all I can find of theirs today. I may be in the early stages of Associates phase 2020. This has been going on since late that Friday night, watching BA Robertson on my black and white "portable telly" in my bedroom. 

The singles, Party Fears Two and Club Country are two songs that I would rank in amongst my top ten tracks. Musically innovative, vocally wild, these tracks really should be a go to for new bands wanting to break norms. 

I don't know what would have helped Mackenzie - saved him from the tragedy of his torch song of a short life... Out of all of the musicians I liked, his inability to at times, use that amazing talent to take on the world-win the world for those of us on the outside- frustrated me as a music loving, Sounds, NME reading pretentious teenager a lot, but I "got" him (I never met him... what I mean is, I "got" /understood his nervousness, his stage fright, his distracting/talking to hide it. 

His hiding. 

His uncontrollable self destruction. His need for perfection, but messy organisation... ). 

He was, is, a huge loss to music. 

We can really only imagine where his voice would have taken us had he not have found living too hard. 

Party Fears Two and Club Country, at the time for me, were laden with the promise of music way far away from the predictable  Duran Duran on a boat, or Spandau Ballet working until they were muscle bound. Laden with a glamour away from Banbridge. The songs were absolutely incredible chunks of modernity, sung at us in delight; in a wild, extravagant, exuberant blast of Dundonian North Sea wind on a balmy, hot summers day. Lyrics that I nodded to, and was completely baffled by at the same time (most of the nodding was to Club Country; a song about exclusion, and that video of people like me, invading that sacred, monied, place). 

I remember just totally and utterly and absolutely falling for this band, a band (or duo) of mavericks, around the same time as discovering The Mighty Wah! Wylie, another madly talented, frustrating person to be a fan of... These people seemed like kindred  spirits. (Imagine the vocal-off a duet between Mackenzie and Wylie would have been?) 

The story of another maverick... Pete Wylie

The songs released as singles after Club Country were at times, in my unimportant, untalented opinion, not the best choices- sometimes Mackenzie's in order to give them, the executives--the finger; sometimes his record company's in order to find something they could make money on. There were so many amazing, original tracks they could have raked it in with -or astounded with- from Sulk and loads of the latter stuff, including the reignition of the original relationship with Rankine. Music that really did take you somewhere. Jazz influenced, soaring pieces of innovative, indefinable music. 

I remember seeing lead Bunnyman Ian McCullough in a bookshop in Glasgow telling an audience that he as much as told WEA (the same record company the Associates were on) to fuck off when the big cheese summoned him to his New York office and told him to go record something like Neil Diamond. Unfortunately WEA seemed to wanted Dundonian Mackenzie to be Burt Bacharach. He was much too clever and wiley to be trapped.  He and Rankine were too talented, too original, too non-standard, to fit the holes pop stars must be squeezed through to create the pop star sculpture that raked in the dollar. 

The first time I saw the Associates was on a wee black and white telly in my bedroom on Friday Night, Saturday Morning, hosted by BA Robertson, who grated on me (I remember my school pals, Alex Adamson and Roy Wilson - or at least Roy's big brother? - liked Robertson's songs when we were at school (circa 1980-81). I liked Bang Bang, but there was nothing else he did that didn't seem like it was created for cash... Or something). 

Friday Night, Saturday Morning... That first impression... 

Anyway, they (Mackenzie and Rankine) performed two tracks that just blew me away... "Skipping" and "Party Fears Two."  I hadn't realised that it was their first time on telly (read, "The Glamour Chase," about Billy Mackenzie's life... A superb book that really does describe a time, the total madness and the incredible investment the record company placed in The Associates project. I can't imagine a record company giving today's talent such room to develop). 

I remember talking to mates about this amazing thing I had witnessed on my telly... Noone seemed to be as blown away by what they had seen as I was. What a voice! What incredible tunes! And they looked weird... Different... Alternative... Way out of the humdrum - which was important to me living in that working class, mid-Ulster town that denied culture beyond sport. I always liked weird, anarchic... Something that punched through the monotony. 

I remember hearing Kites for the first time (after I had heard PFT, Skipping and Club Country) . It stunned me. One of those, "this is the future of music," things. The Associates really were not two track wonders... Though listening to the radio nowadays you'd be mistaken for thinking that. 

I remember seeing Mackenzie interviewed in Dundee, by Leslie Ash, for The Tube. I could tell that this guy was a kidder. You can't kid a kidder. In the end, the kidder catches himself on, or not, I suppose.

The Associates were like other bands I liked--the future, but today. In the early eighties, The Associates, Heaven 17, Japan, Joy Division, New Order, early The Smiths, Fun Boy Three, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Human League, Ultravox, Altered Images, Echo and the Bunnymen, Julian Cope, Pete Wylie and the Mighty Wah, early The Cure, Siouxie and the Banshees... And others, seemed to point to where the eighties should go... Where good music would go... But then kind of didn't, for the most part. That early eighties post punk, rejection of two chord punk - an innovative, amazing diverse, melodic"indie" movement (or at the time more likely to be referred to as "alternative" music) that seemed to emanate from Scotland and the North of England should have stormed across the world. But I suppose the profit taking chase of glamour and fashion meant the diversity of the mavericks, regardless of how many of them there were, could not be monetized as a sellable movement, like "New Romantics" and I suppose, "goths" could.

Sulk was a brilliant, brooding, melancholy album. A friend with money taped it for me. I played it to death, and then rather than buy it, I got it from the library and taped it again (I've since bought it on vinyl and downloaded it from official channels...)..

For many years, the only  album of the Associates I owned on vinyl, "Wild and Lonely," which is gorgeous... superb. I have managed to catch up and own as much on vinyl I've been able to find, and have downloaded as much as I can from official sources. And I wish I could go through all of that collection here. But I've chosen two very different tracks that you might not have heard before, to hopefully start you off on a bit of a discovery session. 

Anyway, have a listen to these and wonder why you don't hear more of The Associates, beyond (the admittedly difficult to surpass) Party Fears Two and Club Country.

This track is extraordinary in many ways, including the fact Mackenzie takes a vocal backseat. There are versions on YouTube of him singing this live... Go find them. But this was what was released in 1981...

Video HERE (don't click on the picture) 

The track below is on the post Rankine album, "Perhaps," which again I blagged a tape from somewhere,way back then. This is soaring pop, a bit less "alternative," but I love Mackenzie's vocal on it. 

Video HERE (don't click on picture). 

Wednesday, 29 April 2020


I've reached the stage where I don't care about TV, fashion, film, music and many political and  cultural references, every bit as much as I couldn't give a frig about using my knife and fork correctly, years ago. I find those who do care about these things talk in  snobbery infested riddles in order to feel superior (being on the left, the references to left bibles and tracts is at times, over whelming. I read, absorb but never commit to a reference library section of my brain!).
{picture on a wall in an Irish restaurant. I do my very best to be this. And snobbishness goes both ways. Extremes of "authenticity" are present in all classes. Be who you are. And understand why others are who they are... None is more superior than the other.}

And yip, popular culture has its snobs. Every bit as much as high culture does, only with less power and more envy towards those on the ladder above them, kicking down. Equality should be our goal... Not the victory of one set of cultural cues over another. That is sometimes lost in the left. 

Its consciously excluding, and says more about those who do it to feel they are superior to those who don't get the reference. 

"The true snob never rests; there is always a higher goal to attain, and there are, by the same token, always more and more people to look down upon." - Russell Lynes.

I agree with Lynes here, but with the proviso, that those in working and middle class cultural reference hell (because it is a hell always feeling that you must put others down to retain your "superior position") really never get beyond their middle manager-esque, "I know about something you don't" position. And most certainly look like wankers to those outside the cultural bubble they have placed themselves within. They really are the "comic guy" character from the Simpsons, trapped in their own snobbery and ghettoised by their belief their knowledge of popular culture or 19th - early 20th century political tract libraries,  means the world of people around them laughing along at their witty references are truly laughing "along," and not "at," in almost disbelief. 

And their knowledge of a standard English, created for cultural genocide and for a common codified literature across Empire, squashes original thought, like Orwell's Newspeak. How many pedagogists truly understand that? 

I don't believe in any kind of artistic snobbery or musical snobbery. You know, to me, the sexiest and the most spiritual words ever uttered in rock and roll are wop babaloo balop bam boom. - Sinead O'connor... [I add to this, political, telly, film, language and fashion (which should be obvious enough to those who meet me!)] 

I deserted the world and sought solitude because I became tired of rendering courtesy to those multitudes who believe that humility is a sort of weakness, and mercy a kind of cowardice, and snobbery a form of strength. - Khalil Gibran.

I ain't going in to solitude... But just doing the best I can in the ways I've learned how to.

Though self isolation,  social distancing and engagement is difficult when avenues of communication and expression between people are cut off by a hierarchy of culture reference, criticism of speech, grammar and punctuation. 

(By the way, snobbery ISN'T criticising conspiracy theorist references, opinion and media. That's a different thing completely. That is shouting out the fact that peer assessed information, journalism, and data is infinitely superior to self interested liars, cheats, fame seekers and Nazis. Being anti nazi or pro science is NOT snobbery...) 

Am I being an inverted snob in stating this?

Well, I don't begrudge anyone what they enjoy. If people enjoy high art, cool. If people enjoy standard English, knock yourself out. But I can enjoy high cultural reference without discounting mass entertainment or cutting off informal communication.


Youse Ken wit ahm getting at? 

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Where do I go to make a difference?

I wrote this on a twitter thread, as an exercise in trying to think... Vomiting stuff out and trying to see if that helps me come to some sort of conclusion. It is a process that this I suppose, begins. 

I want to help make a difference. 

For years, I saw that as helping lead local political activity through the then groundbreaking, SSP (from 2002-2015). 

I brought together over 1000 activists world wide back in the noughties to fight the spread of fascism in the new virtual 

We managed to dent the french Front National's election activity in the late noughties, & made headlines across the world. We organised a huge online strike (IBM Italy, that led to the resignation of its CEO); and we raised a lot of money for feminist left groups across the 
world, including RAWA in Afghanistan. 

I helped raise £20000 for Haiti by pulling together folk on the then emergent Twitter platform. 

I was the SSP social media and online coordinator during #indyref and brought hundreds of new members to that party during that time by creating 
a team who represented views across the party. 

I was one of four local Yes organisers working as a team to inform East Dunbartonshire about the myriad of ideas from across that movement. 

I was an organiser locally of the, Radical Independence Campaign and helped organise huge local meetings during &after the referendum from 2011-2018. 

Also locally, we organised minibuses to Faslane & brought musicians & performers to the peace camp, helping reinvigorate it as it reached 30+ years old. And we launched local campaigns that saved schools, bus services, housing etc. 

We also supported actions across Scotland via money, & activity. And recently, I brought together activists who launched a "who is Jo Swinson" campaign that helped oust one of the Tory/Lib Dem's most right wing Ministers (and recent leader of Lib Dems). 

I created @_Ungagged & did my best, alongside some amazing socialists, Anarchists, labourites, communists, Trotskyists, etc to give sensible left voices excluded from polite publication and platforms, a place to share ideas (& we still do). 

Please keep submitting material to Ungagged... It is still a great source for left thought.

Inequality keeps me awake at night. Tory bullying, murderous capitalism, neo imperialism & fascism that permeates our society makes my blood boil.

Have any of these things changed the world? I'm not sure. I feel they have helped change some material circumstances and helped some people in to activism.

But Im at a bit of a standstill.

I'm toying with joining @theSNP
but not sure if it's right for me, as I feel I'd get bogged down in debates with right wingers; conspiracy theorists and people some refer to as "da's" (a kinder label than gammon?). 

I loathe any kind of injustice, and that includes any pretence of democracy when people are playing imperfect systems to their advantage.

I would love to make a difference in Education outside the classroom, as I feel in Scotland, it needs a total redesign (tick boxes, snobbery, middle class assumptions and old fashioned elitism still runs rampant, though voices 
like, @wosdec keep me sane). 

But my inability to refrain from calling out stuff ensures I have no route through management 😂

Anyway, this is me sounding off. I suppose a reflection many are going through during this lockdown period. And one also brought on after my father's death a few weeks ago.

 I'm needing direction. I have ten years left in my working life. I know I need a new direction there. I find the left frustrating, stagnant, and full of conspiracy theory, spite and people who are only too willing to exploit ignorance for the short term gain of their sect rather than build activism and education. 

I want to avoid those draining, pointless debates.

Ideas welcome. Tweets to me re actions in solidarity with others, also welcome.


Saturday, 18 April 2020


I wrote this on my Facebook page a week ago.

"I've struggled since February. I've felt like someone ill, hurt, and the thoughts, regrets, wheels in my head really don't stop. Ive struggled, tried, to get back "in the game."

I kind of feel foolish now, that I thought I'd be able to go back to some sort of normality a fortnight after dad died. 

The best way I can describe how it's been is like someone wounded trying to stand up, but continually falling to the ground as my legs give way once again.

But today, I've pushed myself up again. I've walked the dog, had breakfast, caught up with the news, washed dishes and I'm about to go out cycling.

I watched or read something in which Michael Rosen drew himself grieving the death of his son. He drew a smiling face... Because that is the face he presented to the world. Here's mine."

Imagine there's no bastards

I grew up in a very divided place. My high school, the "state" school (or protestant school), was not a place I liked to be. I was an A pupil most of the way through, until it mattered (the last year and a half or so), when literally battered, bruised, I gave up on studying and just wanted out of this place I never felt safe in.

The people who kicked, punched and threw me through windows summed up all I grew to hate. They had a way of wearing their school uniform that I made sure I did the opposite of (big knots in ties, big collared top shirt button open, metal tipped brogues, nazi badges, uvf badges - my tight knotted ties were turned around and made skinny, with the fat part tucked into my small collared shirt, top button resolutely closed, soft moccasins or black trainers, a hatred for all paramilitary and  no respect to the point of piss taking of any "protestant" marching, militaryish like organisations like the Orange Order ).

The year following High School and its failures, I went to the local Technical School. The English teacher, who was from across the border--someone foreign and from outside this place I was in that seemed to crush and drain - - was great--she really encouraged my writing, but I was in that kind of teenaged thing where I had no confidence and rejected any enthusiasm for any aspect of me, from adults. She still managed to squeeze A's out of me. 

It was a year of stretching my wings, of discovering the world, dying my hair, experimenting with clothes, drinking, and for the first time in years, not having that awful, physically painful stress that comes with having to turn up to a place where you are going to leave feeling mentally (and at times physically) tortured (a feeling that was to return in many a work place I ended up in). It was, when I look back, a time when I was free. 

One class I went to, in one of those temporary outdoor hut like things that became  permanent classrooms in Thatcher's draining of the things that mattered; was taken by a long haired bloke, who I know went on to work at an outdoor pursuits centre. I really can't remember what his class was. I do remember him being like no other teacher I had had. He was this happy, free, and interesting bloke who seemed to be enthusiastic about what he was teaching and I remember thinking to myself within the framework I had been squeezed into "should he be saying that?"

My classmates were a real mixture. Catholics and prods, and all of the teenaged uniforms were represented, from a ska loving bloke from near Newry, to Shill (that was his nick name- his name was David Topping), a wild guy from Lurgan who rather than being scared of, I got on with really well (he shared a dislike for the poseurs who had been rejected from the Grammar school to join us, and had the same rebellion going on in what he wore, dying his hair and his preference to be playing pool, drinking beer and shouting at the world). Shill died the following year, taking a heart attack while having his appendix removed. 18 years old. 

I remember a guy, who was really just a follower of the poseurs, trying to take the piss out of me. I remember thinking that I was never going to allow anyone to treat me in the way some of the fuckers treated me in the High  School. One of the classes I took was "Surveying." I remember being out on the local hockey club pitch, me and my mate, Thomas (Tam) Moore, and the eejit trying to take the piss in some way. I remember my eclectic dress sense, long overcoats, double breasted denim jacket, punk teeshirts, boxer boots, and my hair dyed burgundy, shaved up the sides, long, bushy, gel Spiked in places on top, was a target. Anyway, I remember summoning up bravado, walking up to this guy who was acting hard, and pushing the surveying pole I was holding into the grass between his feet and levered it up into his balls. I'm not sure what I said to him and his poseur leaders, but I never had any bother with him again. 

And although I had of course heard the song and loved it, and owned a copy (Lennon had died just two years before), I had never actually read the lyrics of the song before. And there they were on the hippys temporary classroom wall, defiantly challenging all around me in this place where religion burned people from their homes, tore people apart, ripped them from life and art was strangled. Reading those lyrics in full and understanding them felt like as much of a revolutionary act as breaking bullies and  sitting beside my best friend of that year, a Catholic. 

"Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You, you may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You, you may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will live as one"
Video HERE

Friday, 3 April 2020

Get Out the Choons

I'm on a Facebook group, where people post music videos, albums and playlists. Please, jump on board HERE.

This is my latest post... 

All Tomorrow's Parties... 

Back in the early eighties, I read, avidly, as if it was the most important thing in the world, the music press, which came in the form of newspaper like publications, giving it a precious gravity, before you read the words.

I had favourite songs, and some bands, and a huge big poster of Debbie Harry on my bedroom wall, wearing a tee-shirt that said, "Andy Warhol's Bad."

I didn't know anyone in my hometown who talked about music, art, or cultural things. I knew people who had favourite bands, and later in the eighties, I found other people who loved innovative music, art, and discussing pretentious, pseudo-intellectual, political, important stuff over litres of booze, and packets of fags, all night.

But, at that time in the early eighties, my guides were the writings of music critics who wrote dense, and absolutely crucial, reviews and views of music that is still important to me. Layers of cultural and political meaning far beyond the original intent were piled on to these pop songs; the semiology of a line, the use of a particular sound, wrapped up in the constructed image of the musicians, analysed, explained and exploded into black and white by writers vomiting their entire rainbow coloured  Collins dictionary on to the page.

And I learned about Warhol, The Factory, The Velvet Underground and that Banana cover, because indie bands, post punk bands, the alternative scene-- all had connections that led back to the stuttering, fey, manufactured Andy. And I loved everything about it.

Living in a Troubles locked down mid-Ulster town, where the most important thing in the world was to fit in, I couldn't. I didn't. I dressed, and acted, in the early to late eighties, at times, relatively outrageously. I had wild hair which I at times dyed, and shaved at the sides of my head and grew into a curly mass, and conditioned with Lenor fabric conditioner. And threw together clothes in combinations that probably reflected the madness within.

But the music of the "alternative scene," as it was known then, screamed, whined, barked, and weaved out of my tape deck and record player.

And The Velvet Underground albums were sought-after, in amazing Belfast record shops and ordered in my Library.

None of my friends "got" them, until eventually a few years later I fell in with other people on the edge. And we'd discuss them, and played them, Bowie, The Doors, Roxy Music, Japan, Joy Division, jazz music, JaMC, long overtures, and lots of sixties pop and psychedelia, into the wee small hours.

Pretentious, moi?


(click HERE, not the pic) 

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Cody and Neil... Covid Diaries... 4

On my parents wedding dding anniversary, nd on the lack of ventilators. Click HERE (Not on the picture)

Monday, 30 March 2020

Covid Country... the Cody and Neil Diaries pt3

Cody and Neil in CodyCar... (For video, click HERE, not on pic). 

Friday, 27 March 2020

Covid Vlog 2...

Covid Vlog 2... Click HERE... Not on the picture. 

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Clapping the NHS Overworked and Underpaid Heroes...

... and my Covid-19 #BuildBackBetter Vlog number 1

The public came out tonight and stood at their well meaning doors and clapped, applauded, cheered, sent up fireworks for, sang for, etc etc the NHS staff and "key workers." Damn it, it brought a tear to my eye. 

My wife (nhs consultant) , and her sister (nurse) response, "clap. Huh. Maybe next election you'll all vote for a political party that gives a shit."

The claps are little recompense for frontline workers on shit pay, and in grave danger.

Society needs a real shake up. We need to #BuildBackBetter after this is all over. And that rebuild needs to start now through discussion and the sharing of ideas.

It really comes as little surprise that some people don't seem to understand that one person's health is dependent on everyone else's. A lesson learned during the genocide that is called the Irish Famine, when disease caused by the starving, dying, wandering poor jumped classes and killed thousands of the middle classes and upper classes.

A lesson that was learned during the recruiting for the Boer war, when our working class soldiers were found to be malnourished.

A lesson learned during the cholera outbreaks in Victorian Glasgow, leading to the creation of the engineering feat of the waterworks that syhons off millions of gallons a week of water from Loch Katrine.

A lesson that was learned during the flu epidemic following World War One, and a lesson learned after World War Two, when enough was enough and our NHS was created.

But a lesson flushed down an idealogical floo bent right by the idiocy of Thatcherite greedy individualism and resulting in the incredible underfunding of our NHS and the murderous decision by Boris' cabinet not to invest in pandemic response in February, and instead aim to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of pensioners and Ill folk.

Please, add your responses, ideas, responses to Ungagged 's request for covid-19 vlogs, and #BuildBackBetter ideas...
Have a wee swatch at my short video. Click HERE, not the picture. 

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Werner Heubeck and my Da': Working Class Heroes of Northern Ireland.

I'm very thankful for men like this one, who during the Northern Irish troubles, kept bread on the table and did so under threat from "all" sides, and I'm remembering ordinary workers who felt fear and were maimed or killed by terrorists during that time, while doing ordinary jobs. And I'm remembering some of my own fear. 

His name is Werner Wolfgang Heubeck. A man who kept the public transport in Northern Ireland running, and went on to the front line to do so, carrying bombs off buses.

I just watched a BBC Northern ireland documentary about him and the heroic people, whose jobs were to do no more than drive buses. It brought back lots of memories from the time. 

(On the Frontline, Buses on the Frontline: www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04gvjd6 via @BBCiPlayer) 

But the biggest memory that came back, was sparked by an interview with Werner's son. He told of his worries as a child of his father at work. A worry I had, especially when I was old enough to  realise what was happening in Northern Ireland, and the realisation quite young, at how the terror organisations and political players cared little for ordinary peoples lives... especially if their ordinary lives could be exploited, or got in the way of some political goal. Bus drivers such as Harry Bradshaw and Sydney Agnew who lost their lives, due to nothing more than working to ensure their families could afford food, electricity, heating and a home (please Google these people. Heroes of the Troubles really were not the politicians and flag wavers. Heroes were those who struggled on for their families). 

[ From 


Tuesday 10 May 1977

Harry Bradshaw (46), a Protestant civilian, was shot dead by Loyalist paramilitaries as he drove a bus on the Crumlin Road, Belfast. He was killed because he was working during the United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) strike.

Sydney Agnew 

(from Wikipedia 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Sydney_Agnew)  ] 

My father was one of many thousands of unsung heroes of the Troubles. When I realised he worked as a joiner, as a foreman, on building sites in areas that almost daily appeared on news bulletins, I became scared for his life. 

My dad drove a bright yellow Farrans (construction company) Transit van too and from Belfast, from Banbridge, every day. He drove through many different areas, across borders (peace lines), collecting and leaving off workers on the way. Dad was well respected, and liked by those he worked with. One of those people he drove too and from work ended up in jail, and when my dad passed away earlier this year, we found letters from jail from the man, who praised his friendship.

Dad really had little interest in sectarian division. He worked on both the Shankill and Falls and other places as equally as divided and religiously ghettoised. And we had to change our phone number to "x" directory, because of the threats made to him when he had to pull people up, from "all sides," for their work.

On one occasion, a young worker, who he'd asked to redo something he'd not done well, told him he was now a marked man. A "we know, where ye live" speech, one that folk say in jest nowadays, but one that was a dreadful threat coming from someone who could well be a player. Dad was like many ordinary people in Ireland, in the situation of having to do the firm's dirty, dangerous work, and hand over the "protection money" to the paramilitaries. So on this occasion, when doing so, he reported the threat to the IRA commander who picked up the money. The commander told dad not to worry, as he and the other construction workers were, "building houses for the people."

The young guy came to work the next day and apologised to dad.

On another occasion, in a Loyalist area, on handing over the money, a well known Loyalist terrorist opened his jacket, to reveal a gun. My dad said, "Oh... What have I done?" (Oh how fucked up society was when workers were so much on tenter hooks that they had to watch their step in case of some perceived insult to fanatical sensibilities).

The terrorist, laughing, opened up the other side of his jacket to reveal a bottle of whiskey... A present for dad, and said, "Only joking Bobbie!"

When the terrorists drove off, dad went in to the site office, opened the bottle and took a few swigs of the calming spirit. Some joke. 

There are a few stories I could tell about my dad, and the threats he and his ordinary work gangs suffered.

I worked with him as a labourer on occasions. I witnessed the hand over of the cash a few times. And I visited terrorist HQ's with him on occasions as well. And I remember driving through "peace lines" and past cordoned off crime scenes and devastated bombed out homes and work places.

And I remember the laughter and the crack in that van... I remember in the early eighties long conversations about electronic music with a young joiner and I remember the shouts and whoops of the men in the back of the van as dad raced the newly built Delorean cars as they were tested along the M1.

And I remember as a young boy, watching the 5.45 news, to see if Belfast featured, as mum cooked the dinner. I felt then, worried sick for my dad. But I held it, crushingly inside.  I'd tell mum, "Dad might be late, because there is a [bomb/shooting/incident/riot etc] in Belfast." And I'd stand behind our living room curtains, anxiously watching the road for a sign of that yellow van. And I remember the elation I felt when my dad returned home, and sat in the kitchen with his plate of spuds, radio on and unfurled Belfast Telegraph.

I worried so, so much, about my dad all my life. In more recent years, about his health.

But how do we heal a generation of grown ups who were put through mental torture by idealogues who targetted, or disregarded ordinary workers?

My dad, although he would never show it, worried about what was going on: look up Kingsmill Massacre and Teebane, and other incidents that targeted ordinary workers for putting bread on the tables of their children, to understand why.

Like quite a few people who lived through this horror, this terror, this fear in Northern Ireland, I resolved not to let it get in my way. I had friends who were from all corners of our broken society. I partied across peace lines and drank with UDR men in their bases, and Sinn Fein members in student digs in various areas of Belfast. 

And I crossed all borders. 

When I look back, I wonder if I hadn't have left Northern Ireland in 1993, would I have become collateral at the hands of some idealogue or other from either side (the murder of two friends, a Catholic and a protestant in Poyntzpass was carried out by someone who drank in the same company I did, a mixed crowd of Banbridge catholics and protestants).

Education, as always, is the key, to stamp out ignorant hatred that leads to "the enemy" being a bus driver or joiner earning a wage in order to raise a family.

This is why I support, whole heartedly Stephen Travers (Twitter @MiamiShowband) in his drive to create a space for Truth and Reconciliation in Newry, County Down. (@TaR_Platform). 

I wasn't shot, I wasn't blown up, but like many children of the Troubles, there was an impact that stays with me through what I experienced both emotionally and physically (I was threatened and attacked a few times for being in the "wrong place," and for saying the wrong thing to the wrong people).

My dad and our family suffered loss through the troubles, as did thousands of people. But we all suffered fear. Everyone in Northern Ireland, across our visible and invisible borders. And some people, ordinary people, heading out to ordinary workplaces, suffered fear because their jobs crossed the indiscriminate paths of gunmen who could at any time, pronounce them as collateral, or collaborators.

Remembering Werner Heubeck & Bobbie Scott. 

"Noone has a monopoly on suffering or loss."

Monday, 2 March 2020

It's time for justice.

A few years ago I wrote this about The, Miami Showband Massacre and that awful event has featured quite a bit in my writing over the years. 

I just watched the Netflix documentary "The Miami Showband Massacre." I recommend anyone with an interest in justice and peace, regardless of political allegiance or belief, to watch. And please follow Stephen Travers, who is one of the survivors of the terrorist attack, on twitter (@MiamiShowband).  The documentary can be found here.  

As a Banbridge man, and one who loves the town and its people across the political and religious divides, I feel the town council, churches and civic organisations (the council twitter is @abcb_council) should have a memorial to The Miami, who were attacked after a gig in The Castle Ballroom in the town, and to the civilians killed from the town during the Troubles. 

I was nine years old when this dreadful massacre happened. It was a time when I began to notice the abnormality of the society I lived in. I began to notice and realise the abnormality of things like "bomb sales," road blocks, closed towns, security in shops etc, and started to take an interest in the News. My best friend was a Catholic, from a family who owned a business and his sister discovered an incendiary device in their shop. Local policemen, business people and friends of my family were caught up in dreadful incidents, and later in that year, and my dad's cousin, who had been brought up almost as a brother to him, was killed in a pub in Gilford, a bomb that I heard as I was staying with my grandparents two miles away. We had been sitting by the fire with my aunt Marjorie, who was telling us about a car accident someone they knew had been in, when there was a distant, echoing, vibrating boom. I remember saying, "It sounds like thats another car crash." 
{images, Copyright Victor Patterson, 54 Dorchester Park, Belfast, UK, BT9 6RJ

In order for real justice to be seen to be done, for all of those innocents caught up in the dreadful "event" in our history that is given the odd name, "The Troubles," there needs to be openess, and honesty. And the organisation Truth and Reconciliation Platform (TaRP - @TaR_Platform on Twitter) has been set up to do that.

I spent a lot of time socialising in Newry as a young man, drinking, going to the cinema, eating out, and on stage as part of Banbridge Choral Society and Acting Strange Theatre Company. And I got to know the new Newry during December and January as my late father was looked after by the great medical staff in Daisy Hill Hospital.

 It is fantastic to learn that The Truth and Reconciliation Platform are planning to open a TaR Centre, but need funds. I feel that families who were caught up in this war, those bereaved and people who were targetted or who just people from Banbridge should get involved in this. The TaRP motto is, "No side has a monopoly on suffering or loss." And a centre like  this in Newry would really go a long way to give peace to people carrying horrors of the past in their every day being. Please follow Stephen Travers on twitter (@MiamiShowband) to find out how you can help with this wonderful, absolutely necessary project. And please visit the TaRP website and watch the Netflix documentary. 

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Clive Cussler, The Titanic and how Reading Strategies brought me to Greenland.. ish

My eyes were transfixed. The Titanic had broken the surface, bow first, and then they'd boarded. But the heroes had been tricked both by the Soviets and by the past... 
This movie had just made real, something I had fantasised about, and something Clive Cussler's words had lovingly described to me just a few years back.  

Dirk Pitt® (who didn't look like what I thought he'd look like), standing on the sodden deck of the once lost ship, the ship being the real reason I came to see the movie of a book I'd read four times said, "You want to talk about distress? We have Navy weather forcasting a force -12 storm, we have Russians looking down our throats and we are on a ship that never learned to do anything but sink. That’s distress!” - and they were left to the storm and the Soviets and the Titanic looked as if it was to be lost again... 

Exciting stuff, though for me, not exciting enough. 

For me, the most exciting thing was the artifact under Pitt's feet. The big, Iron relic from the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha'n age. An age when rich, white, English posh people's lives were oh so much more valuable than the rest (has much really changed?) and the Director had concentrated on perhaps the most boring aspect of the story for me... The cold War, damp squib fight for what was buried somewhere below the dripping, rusting decks in a safe. 

I wanted a tour of the ship! (James Cameron, in his post wreck rediscovery movie, didn't disappoint in that way years later). 

But there it was, the reason I had come to the Iveagh Cinema. And I was hugely disappointed. I had been excited to see this, but the movie didn't deliver for another, huge reason. All of the technical wizardry of Hollywood had only delivered a special effect, not the still lost Titanic, not in the way reading Cussler's book had. 

Because Cussler, like me, loved the ship. Loved the stories of the ship. Loved the atmosphere on that ship. Loved the glimpse into another world, a world of class, that we were told was disappearing in the seventies. 

And I learned in those facts, that movies were rarely as good as books. 
When I was little, I was fascinated by the Titanic. Children can become totally obsessed by events or stories or other aspects of our world. My childhood was a '70's completely analogue life... with the exception of TV (it's odd to describe TV as analogue), so the only dramatised Titanic film I'd seen until I had read Cussler's love story to the ship, when it was shown on telly, was the wonderful  "A Night to Remember." It had the impact on me that I suppose, Cameron's "Titanic" had on audiences much later. And a year before the release of the movie, a TV movie, watched with the family, at my parents feet (I usually sat on the floor watching telly) "SOS Titanic," had added colour to the beautiful machine (and drama and flesh to the accounts of people I knew from various factual accounts, for example, Lawrence Beesley's). 
My Grandmother told me of a visiting storyteller who had taught her and her class a poem about the ship, which she recited to me (and painstakingly wrote out for me... I wish I still had that). Both her and my grandad were about the age I was when I became obsessed by the ship, when it was being built alongside the Olympic, and set sail for the bottom of the ocean. She knew of someone who had been on it, a friend of a friend. And I felt through her, I was connected to the ship. 

The real wreck of the Titanic was as yet still undiscovered, and not only did I seek books on the known Titanic; survivor accounts, photo books etc, but I sought out books that surmised the whereabouts of the wreck, the state of the wreck, and newspaper articles that told of millionaires who were going to build Titanic replicas, conspiracy theories about the Titanic etc.

And then Clive Cussler entered my life. I listened to a "Home Service" radio report about his book, Raise the Titanic in 1976/77 and had to buy it to add to my collection of clippings from newspapers, xeroxed pages from library books, my Revell plastic model of the ship I had saved for and painstakingly built and painted and books bought in Eason's in Newtownards Shopping Centre and Walshes in Banbridge. I was 11. The Internet had yet to be invented and  computers were scifi monsters. But I had more than the contents of the Titanic wikipedia page at my fingertips and buzzing around my head. 
I had been a reluctant reader until I was in P3/4. But I saw the value in reading. I saw it was important, so I became determined to read around the age of six/seven, but hated the grinding torture of "Dick and Dora," whose adventures were like a rainy, boring Sunday, forced to eat leather fried meat and tomato sauce whipped potatoes. 
But then mum started buying me comics (and cooking lasagne!). The Beano, The Dandy, Topper, Shiver and Shake... There were loads of brilliant, funny comics in my newsagent, renewed every Wednesday  or Thursday. And then war comics, Warlord, Battle, Victor etc... They were where I really learned my reading. I remember at six or seven being unable to read the speech bubbles, but being bloody determined to find out about what these characters were saying. And quite quickly, I saw sense in using the reading strategies my teachers screamed at me, and hit and pulled my hair, taking out their own mental torture on this odd, annoying, chatty boy. The fear of God really didn't help me read, stay quiet or count, etc. But reading became an escape from their torture. 

The first book I read was one given to me by my Anglican Sunday School on Children's Sunday, about the Donkey that had brought Jesus to Jerusalem before his arrest. And I remember the pride in that. I read the last page as I sat on a rainy Saturday morning, waiting in the car for dad, who had called in to a car garage for something. When he came back, I remember telling him, "I've read a book!" And he said, "That's good," and we drove home. I remember thinking that this reaction really wasn't what you'd expect for such a feat... A whole book! But the subdued, anticlimactic reaction didn't put me off. I wanted to read more stories, and find out more stuff... Stuff I wanted to know, not just the stuff that was stripped of all excitement and turned into a workbook or xeroxed literature exercise in school.

And I found Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt® and NUMA, and the oceans, and adventures across the globe (I've still not visited Reykjavik, or Greenland, two places described by Cussler that made huge impressions on my mind), and I discovered global politics, nuclear weapons and a happy place to go between Bond movies that was modern, and imaginative and to my young mind, serious and exciting  literature.

I read the first seven Dirk Pitt® books, but by the seventh, I became an undirected, uneducated, unschooled (I left school with a couple of O levels, a bit of luck and a lot of help in getting my first jobs!) literary snob, realising that these novels that had gripped me as a child and as a young teenager, were not classical literature and I haven't read a Cussler novel since, but always smile inside when I see his books on shelves in airport bookshops. These books that made me feel like a grown up reader (it was difficult to explain the excitement of Watership Down to my friends, but my enthusiasm for Cussler dragged them along to the cinema to see that Belfast Liner cut the surface), taught me the excitement of the world outside my small place in County Down, and taught me how exciting reading really was.

I stopped being snobbish about reading quite a while ago... I read almost any genre, good and bad. And just a few weeks ago I promised myself I would revisit the brilliant Cussler, an old friend and one that really entertained and made me happy as a child and teen. Entertainment and a talent to entertain are genius. Escapism and fun are massively valuable beyond the tortuosly worthy novels I sometimes crawl through in order to feel some benefit from the effort. Like a diet of watery soup and vitamins, cold baths and a regimented exercise regime. 

Cussler's talent was wonderful, imaginative, uncomplicated, happy entertainment through his obvious enthusiasm. And his enthusiasm brought me the world of literature. 

I was sad to read of his death.