Catnip for our ancient lizard brains…

I’m old.

I am not knocking age because I know what the alternative is – I just know that I am old. I am old, not just because of the number of days I’ve clocked up or the ache in my knees when I climb the stairs or the fact that my eyes now need help if I’m to see 5 car lengths’ away. But because I remember a time when the world seemed like a relatively predictable place.

Predictable. Knowable.

Or maybe work-out-able.

In the sense that the world that I inhabited – the worldview I had internalised – gave me a frame of meaning for all entities (human or otherwise) and all action that I witnessed or was aware of or that I executed myself. It seemed immutable. Stable. Solid. ‘Meaning’ was something tangible – and I took it all for granted.

I’m not sure I can claim to inhabit that type of world any more. Or at least, I cannot claim to have the illusion that I inhabit that type of world.

I don’t want anyone to imagine that I simply accepted this generally ‘stable’ world. Or that I imagined that it was ‘fixed’ in some kind of good or admirable way. I didn’t. No. I was – in that pale anaemic ineffectual way that easily-spooked, everyday earnest people like me are – a ‘reformer’. Fighting the good fight. Banging the party political drum. Because what other way was there to effect change?

So I clearly thought that change was possible. In fact, not only that – I believed that it was desirable.

Now I realise that I just lacked the ability to understand – to work out – that change need not necessarily fit within the frame of meaning or worldview you’ve attached yourself to/been attached to.

Thing is – I remember a 3 channel television system. I remember when ‘the news’ was authoritative reporting of what we all accepted were ‘facts’ (objectively verifiable things that happened in real time and in the world). I remember black was black (and the darkest (non)colour known)- and that white was white. That Labour was (mainly) left wing – and that ‘we’ all seemed in agreement this meant it was pro-State provision of services and State intervention/regulation; pro-distribution of wealth (via a progressive taxation system) and – uncontroversially – supported by the Trade Union movement (from whence it had come). I remember when the Tories were the pro-business ‘right’ – still relatively biggish State – more patrician old money than laissez-faire liberalist. There were political bogey men – but they were still on the known political spectrum. Political discourse was characterised by familiar tropes. There were few women – anywhere – except in the kitchen or bedroom. Feminism was loud and fighting and the sexual ‘revolution’ had apparently all been about sex and having it anywhere anytime and it was all because of the pill.

I remember letters and pen friends. And the rationed landline telephone being something that only rang for emergencies – and a rare ‘after 6pm because it’s cheaper’ call from a boyfriend.

My undergraduate essays were fucking hand-written! The first typed ones were executed on a massive iron-cased 1950s typewriter that I couldn’t lift from my desk.

‘Computing’ was something treated as a specialist – and academically irrelevant – subject. For strange boys who were pale and white and skinny with spots and an inability to speak out loud.

Political scandals invariably involved sex – of the prostitutes or homosexuality or several in a bed variety – though these things only saw the light of day if the establishment had decided you were expendable.

Now.

Now.

Now we have an American President who speaks a mess of infantile gibberish and hate-stoking bile. And whose unpredictability and uncontrollable spite we are all at the mercy of. A man who courts the monsters of our world – whether domestic or global.

We have a rapid-fire virtual world that is catnip for our ancient lizard* brains – and we are drunk on it. Our senses are drunk on fake news. Infowars and Breitbart and all the myriad sites selling apocalyptic thuggery and misogyny and race-hate and homophobia and religious extremism – presenting opinion as fact. Playing our biases. Plucking our strings.

And oh how we sing.


I began this as an exercise in ‘thinking it all out’ – my own wordy (and very Western-centric) way of trying to make sense of what the hell is going on. Of trying to understand the shift at least in Western political culture – which I’ve certainly experienced as a rupture – and of how this fits with what I know of how we are designed.

I thought it was something about us that had changed.

When the truth is: we haven’t changed. Nothing has actually changed.

What is happening now differs only in scale from what was happening in 17th Century Restoration England when the printing press and playwrights were propounding political propaganda that manipulated the masses.

Trumps and Putins and Erdogans and Kim Jong Uns have come and gone before – and taken very many with them. But they have always existed.

The powerful – and power – has always existed to protect and nurture itself. That appears the ineluctable way we tick. How we are wired.

It’s just that our tools have grown more sophisticated.

The stakes are higher, whilst we are still just the same as we ever were – our neurophysiology no more sophisticated than it was 100 or 900 years ago or more and our conflict management skills at the mercy of a biological system that was designed for flight from predators with teeth or fight against resource-competitors.

So, here we stand,  forever condemned to see things as we are. Not as they really are (thanks Nin). Prisoners of our own peculiar psychological and neurophysiological design.

——————————-

I end this with a peculiar sense of what feels like useless academic relief – tempered by fear.

Relief, mainly, that I am not going mad – that there is a certain congruence and comprehensibility or logicality about the world as it is.

Fear – that the machinery we have created could now obliterate us.

For the rest, I retain enough of my old, bumbling, reforming instinct – the same instinct that will propel me to the marches and protests – operating as a distraction but also an articulation of my hope.

Hope that we will not succumb to the whims of mad men.

*I don’t actually believe the shit about the ‘lizard’ brain – but couldn’t find a better metaphor for the fact that we are no different (biologically, neurologically etc) from our ancient ancestors.

Overdue time for Change: Scottish Trade Unions and National Identity Politics…

I’ve started this sentence six times now –

So far, so good…

Or bad. Here goes.

I spent most of the last week at the annual gathering of Scottish Trade Unions.

Most of which are, in fact, the Scottish Regional Branches of UK Trade Unions.

This structural reality has, for many years, simply been treated as an irrelevant organisational fact. Something that admin and constitutional anoraks and pedants might bother themselves with.

Devolution didn’t dawn on the unions until well after the event. And now, national identity politics are a seriously vexed and thorny issue for trade unions operating in Scotland. Take from one who knows… it’s just not pukka to draw any attention at all to the inherent Unionist structures of the vast majority of TUs with a presence in Scotland.

Many have done their (belated) best to adapt to devolution and the devolved administrations and power has been (mostly, patchily) devolved to the Regional Branches (of which Scotland is just one within the UK). But the majority (certainly the largest – with the exception perhaps, of the PCS) are affiliated to a Unionist party (Labour). And anyway, they all view Scottish nationalism (to be fair, I know the claim would be that this would be true of any nationalism – except British…) as inimicable to the default and professed socialist internationalism of the wider Labour movement.

It never fails to bemuse me – and I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before – this invisibility of Britishness. That – and the fact that the majority of my vocal trade union colleagues seem entirely and totally unaware of the contradiction lying at the heart of many of their positions vis-a-vis ‘the evils of nationalism’: they are fine with ‘being British’ and entirely comfortable defending a British national identity and defending (this is the greatest irony for me) the power structures that accompany that identity – but that they hate, with a deep and dark fury, Scottish nationalism, seeking to libel any Scottish nationalist as an English-hating Nazi – and the antithesis of progressive liberal democracy and/or socialist internationalism.

So. According to this tortured logic, British nationalism can be internationalist. But Scottish can’t.

Only Scottish nationalists are stupid and parochial and xenophobic – penny-pinching, kilt-wearing English-hating alcoholics – living and breathing national stereotypes. But British nationalists aren’t.

British trade unionists can act in solidarity with sister trade unions around the world. But Scottish trade unionists can’t. Or they can’t, not if they support Scottish independence – if their Scottishness includes a vision of Scotland as an autonomous country, governing itself.

The fact that trade unionists who also happen to be Scottish currently find very effective ways to express their solidarity and provide support to our brothers and sisters worldwide – well, that’s just ignored.

And the fact that Britishness doesn’t appear to present any barrier to expressions of solidarity – well, that’s just ignored too.

Jeez.

I’m tired of the lazy – and ugly – name-calling. I am tired of the failure of the Labour movement to take a long hard look at the Scottish situation. And I fear (because this is roughly where my own politics lie – though I’d be more Kropotkin anarchist…) that the movement’s failure to account for and to consider and take seriously, the views of the thousands of Scottish trade union members who are also Scottish Independence supporters (if not SNP supporters and members) will simply lead to even further marginalisation of ‘the left’.

No, the SNP are not ‘socialist’. They are Scottish managerial class politicians. Inheritors of a Blairite ‘third way’ (that they’d never acknowledge as Blairite!). But they have successfully cornered the market in credible representation of the hopes and aspirations of a majority of the Scottish electorate – and will likely occupy that position for at least as long as the Tories and Labour remain toxic to Scots (another generation?). And with the pending destruction of Labour on the 8th June it is surely essential that trade unionists in Scotland look a long hard look at their current positions re Independence.

Part of that requires their open recognition of the silent nationalism that has informed them until now – it requires them to bring (from out of that darkness that’s been born of a stubborn refusal to challenge a whole long worldview) the background nationalism that has underpinned their own internal structures since their inception.

And change is hard. It is painful. I understand that this process will not be easy. But this change is necessary.

It is necessary that there is a recognition of the contradictory nature of many of the arguments presented by pro-unionists – and it is contradictory to assert that nationalism is an evil when it calls itself ‘Scottish’ – but somehow it is benign; it is the natural order of national identity when it calls itself ‘British’.

‘British’ simply is not the simple inviolable and constant god-given fact of how and what we are (those of us who qualify as British, that is). And it is time to question its status as the ‘given’ – as the accepted and natural way things ‘just are’ and ‘always ought to be’.

As an Independence proponent I’m regularly excoriated for what pro-British pro-Union politicians refer to as my nationalists’ divisive, grievance politics. I am cheaply trolled as a ‘Nazi’. I am castigated as a single-issue, Independence-obsessed, cult member. And my assertion of a Scottish identity is felt as a repugnant, viscerally repulsive, subversive and reactionary act – an act that seeks to undermine the British State and/or ‘all that is held dear’ (I am struggling here folks – we have Brexit and May and vicious austerity and food banks – what is ‘dear’ about that?) and/or ‘dreams of international socialism’ (eh? you’ve been dreaming British dreams of that for a very very long time…spare me the ‘one more class push’ arguments).

In a week when a disabled man’s welfare benefits were withdrawn and he was told (by the fucking Government agency responsible for the fucking mistake) to go to a food bank FFS; when May hides in a hut in a Scottish forest speaking to an audience of enforced reluctants and some party faithfuls, avoiding all possibility of scrutiny and challenge; when she tells a BBC journo that there are ‘many complex reasons’ why nurses (who are in work!) are using food banks and fucking gets away with that despicable and callous and disingenuous response (try fucking POVERTY you fucking sack of shit); when my son attends a home care client who has been sitting in his own shit for hours and whose food cupboards are fucking bare (this has worried me for the longest time and I am proud of the job that my young son has done – and will continue to do because his heart is the largest kindest and most compassionate I have ever had the privilege to know) – ohhhhhh… what the fuck has this country come to.

It is time for change.

It is time for change.

It is fucking overdue time for change.

Life begins at nearly 50…

As a bit of an addendum to the post of bile (below) I did do one great good thing this weekend… I went to see Sparks and Goldfrapp at the O2 Academy with Meg.

Her treat for me.

Grub at the CCA followed by a taxi dash across the river to the music.

For a whole glorious evening I was mellow and smiling and happy.

And fucking blown away standing in front of the big amps letting the waves rip right through me, taking breath and vibrating heart.

Proof that I can be rehabilitated…

Though proof too that dancing like a maniac for 5 solid hours will guarantee I will jigger my back.

Had to work hard not to walk like a baboon after I made the mistake of standing still for too long in the taxi rank at Central Station.

Btw – that taxi rank? Ha! If you want to know Glasgow just stand in the rank outside Central Station. All Glaswegian life is there. Three tory boy wankers in front risking being gubbed, trying to goad a response to (really very ill-judged and likely dangerous given their location) Indyref ‘banter’; couple of wido lesbians who were so pissed and just wanted to take selfies with us all in; auld white Scottish jakie guy wi’ an amp on a trolley blaring oot ‘One woman one cry’; a lassie who was bare-legged (in -3 degree chill) and a rare Trumpian orange colour (the Glaswegian tan requires falling asleep on your sunbed) and a pile of roaring drunk laddies with two auld women pretending to be 18.

If only they’d cop on to the fact that life begins at nearly 50…

Outraged of NL – and not even fucking 50 yet.

Maybe it’s age.

Maybe I have always been ‘like this’. Though I think it’s down to Brexit and to Trump and to the beginning again of the Indyref nazi-name calling – and the fact I am just wired and angry and looking to deflect.

Whatever – I am become less and less tolerant and more and more judgemental and angry – angrier than I have ever been before in my life (except maybe when I was going through puberty – but that’s another story).

Anyway – mostly I get up in the morning growling. And spoil for a reason to pick someone off or put someone down (literally and metaphorically – and hopefully before midday).

I have become ‘Outraged of NL’. And I’m not even fucking 50 yet.

Yesterday my crotchety sneeringness led to me leaving a sneering (yip, it really was ‘sneering’ – I definitely recognise it now as sneering) comment on a wishy-washy ‘oh woe is me’ whiney, self-indulgent Guardian article by a woman who fucking claimed her experience of childbirth ‘was akin to surviving war’.

Oh ffs.

She’s not been through a war (we readers of that sad sack article know she hasn’t). How can she fucking say  something like that? How can a supposedly reputable paper print that offensive crap – whilst at the same fucking time carry articles about Syrian’s being murdered by the 1000s in Mosul accompanied by pictures of bleeding traumatised toddlers and wee tots and Mammies screaming and auld folk crushed.

If she’d just said something along the lines: my labour was hellish; full of blood, pish and shit; and I nearly died during it and I feel traumatised by the very memory of it. Maybe then I’d have understood – and I’d have felt sorrow for her. And that vague old mother remembrance, of how the first birth is a strange and powerful ordeal of the flesh and of the spirit, would have surfaced and I’d have felt bonded and all profound and pained for her. But I’d have known it was a transformation that was necessary and essential – that birth is life in extremis and that it would be very odd indeed if it didn’t dislocate and disrupt – effectively tear your life in two: marking before and after.

But she went too fucking far. She said (I’m quoting): “I am probably fairly typical of my generation of women: I married quite late and started a family late. I had had a lot of years of being an individual. I had all sorts of notions about independence: I thought my ability to think independently and solve problems was my primary asset. Combine this with a profound ignorance of children and babies and, indeed, most aspects of a woman’s traditional role, and it is plain I was ill-prepared for what awaited me.” and then, (cardinal sin as far as I was concerned yesterday – and today too it seems, as I’m beginning to feel that peculiar rush of blood to my head-feeling that presages raging incomprehension) “I had a dangerously well-developed sense of self. It is this basic identity that new motherhood would destroy.

And then the comments section rapidly filled with equally whiney ‘no one told me it was going to be as hard as this’ and ‘no one told me I would disappear and it would all be about baby and I would lose my Self‘ women who should know fucking better.

Fucking lumping suffering jeeeesus.

This woman is an adult. It was as an adult she made a choice to have a child.

What did she fucking think was going to happen? Did she think she was taking delivery of a fucking puppy?

She says “but I had no notion of simply being a vessel”.

That tragic sentence is how she describes being pregnant. She felt she was just a carrier – a vessel. How fucking sad is that. That she was unable to recognise her pregnant self as her Self with a bit extra – a bit extra that she had actively chosen. The bit extra that she had purposely set out to carry. 

Did she really go around the whole 9 months feeling like she had mentally and emotionally checked out? Was her sense of Self so monumental – but so fragile –that it couldn’t flex and grow? Was she so attached to who she was that she couldn’t bear to change? Did she really think that having a child was a bit like maintaining a hair colour and style – all outward but no inward growth? Ah jeez. I could cry for her. For all that she missed and lost.

Maybe the pregnancy was the very first time it hadn’t all been about her. The very first time she’d had to experience that very adult thing of compromising or being selfless or of sacrificing a bit of what you wanted, to do something for someone else. I don’t know.

But does she realise just how fucking insulting she sounds? Does she think the rest of us didn’t also have a well-developed sense of self? That we somehow didn’t know who we were. That we had no – or a weak – sense of Self?

Were we little more than empty vessels, pre-birth, to her? Devoid of personality or of wit or of intelligence and ambition?

It is this that she has failed to comprehend (presumably because she does not understand that this is important or perhaps that it exists at all): that we also had a flexibility – an ability to adapt to change. I think it’s called resilience now. In HR speak.

I do not doubt that she had PND or PTSD. From her description, she experienced birth as a violation – as a profound disturbance – a rupture in the fabric of her conception of life and living. And that’d be enough (on top of the chemical and pre-existing social cocktail) to tip her over into illness.

I wish that her experience had been otherwise. I am sorry for her and the baby and her partner that this was her fate. And I will lend my voice to campaigns for greater antenatal support.

In terms of her search for reasons as to why this had been her psychological post-birth reality – it’s clear that she suspects that it is related in some way to her age; her lack of familiarity with babies or mothers; her very well-developed sense of self and her conception of a pregnant woman as simply a vessel (presumably without personality or free will).

My sadness is that she speaks of babies and mothers with barely concealed career woman contempt. She really doesn’t like those women who were telling her to throw away her books – wtf? Did they really say that, eh? Truthfully? Did they say it in that laughing, knowing way that my mother and granny said ‘oh ye’ll have nae brain for books and learning when the baby comes’ (because it was true, for at least a short time and at least for me – I did have sod all ability to concentrate afterwards for a little while). Or is this just  poetic licence – another melodramatic and self-indulgent literary exaggeration designed to underline – if we hadn’t already got it – that she was a rarefied creature, singularly unsuited to becoming a vessel

I suspect that she has some inkling that the lack of support and the lack of mental preparation and the failure to flex – even just a bit – didn’t help her cope with either the traumatic birth or its aftermath.

Birth is not – unless you are my pal Jill who gave birth, aged 18 yrs, to a 10lb boy after a 1 hour labour and brought him up very largely on her own – birth is rarely pretty. Or easy.

The first birth is a trial. An ordeal. One that generally will take you beyond limits you didn’t know you could survive.

My own first felt like a violation. I was utterly completely not in control.  I was not in the driving seat. I was a passenger and my body was doing this pain to me.

I was scared – terrified – and then exhausted and asking to die.

Under no circumstances did I want to put my hand down there to feel the baby’s head. I wanted to cry and I wanted my Mammy.

This was grown-up stuff and I was just a wee lassie and I was angry with Robert. Towards the end I bit him, drawing blood, as I was pethidined oot ma nut; had a foetal scalp clip line up my vj and was lying on my side to help ‘undistress’ the baby. She emerged blue and limp and I couldn’t have given a shit. I just wanted to cry and sleep.

I swear I got pregnant with my 2nd partly to prove to myself that birth didn’t need to be like that. And that I could perfect the technique. But by the 2nd the passageway is carved. It’s never going to be the same. So even though he presented with his brow – and managed to separate my pubic symphisis – it just wasn’t as sore or as long as the first. The fifth dropped out (I was standing) onto my Dad. No ‘skill’ involved there. (That was a bit of a surprise. For us all. Cos we thought I’d plenty of time for Da and Ma to take the wee ones and leave the house).

I justify my own anecdote by virtue of the fact that the writer’s was personal anecdote too. I didn’t refer to my own experiences in the comment I posted. I observed that the writer sounded self-pitying and the whole piece self-indulgent. That she was insulting to other women in her barely concealed contempt for those who didn’t ‘go mad’ after birth. That her own observations re sense of self and her attitude to motherhood as likely not being protective, were probably correct. I got a sense of sneering from her writing. And a sense of whiney entitlement.

Ok. It likely sounded patronising.

And I wasn’t being ‘a sister’.

I was judging. I was unsupportive. We sisters are meant to support and validate and love.

According to the hate-email (my first!) I received, I was ‘a fucking monster who should fucking die agonisingly and over a 48 hour torture trip’ for my lack of ’empathy’. (I sent back: ‘Hahahahaha. Your profile looks so cool. But hey! You really are a fucking cunt :-)’).

Jeez. How low I have sunk.

To respond. To the hate mail. And to be ‘triggered’ by the article.

Who actually gives a shit. (Me obviously).

Anyway, I hate my current level of flaky anger that manifests as this sneering superiority.

I wonder if an Independent Scotland will be the cure.

In the meantime I am keeping taking my iron tablets (anaemia is a shitbag) and trying to dodge the diabetic bullet by changing diet and exercising… though it looks as though it’ll be a combo of my low tolerance threshold for ‘stuff’ on social media/the papers/politics and my high BP that actually finally ‘does’ for me…

There’s just no end to this shit.

And I thought 2016 was a fairly shitty year…

On the domestic front, familial illness takes its toll on them – and on us/me.

Emergency surgery for Mum just days before Christmas strangely knocked the stuffing out of me.

Said like that I just seem determined to confirm that this is all about me – that I am a selfish bastard… but whilst Mum is home, she is clearly still recovering and whilst I am grateful that she is home and that she is recovering (as opposed to being cold and dead and mouldering or just plain old ash) I feel pretty much betrayed by the cosmos.

I thought we had an agreement, Cosmos, that you’d lay off us for a wee while. But no. Boom. It’s 2.30am on a December morning and I’m falling out of bed to answer an insistent ringing that ends with me driving Dad and following an ambulance to Accident & Emergency at our local General Hospital.

I thought she was going to die.

It was all so sudden and unexpected – and I thought: this is how it happens – this is how you lose your Mum – to some bastard opportune complication in the middle of the night in a grubby, over-populated General Hospital A&E, whose Portering staff seem never to have heard of simple fucking human decency and where the wee young nurse tending to her can’t work out (from simple fucking observation) that your Mother is truly ill and that fucking paracetamol and a poorly inserted IV drip just don’t fucking cut it.

It all came good in the end.

My Mother is losing internal organs and bits at a rate of knots. But you’d never really know. Not looking at her anyway.

Except – every bit she loses, she is just a wee bit reduced. And me/the rest of us are fucking knackered.

This shit hurts.

It is sore.

And it is the gift that just doesn’t know when to stop giving…

Because now we have Dad – and his metastasis.

And – because the world just doesn’t fucking stop just because you happen to be having a shit time – we (the global ‘we’) have Trump.

And – as if that isn’t enough – not sufficient unto the day – we have the whole fucking fascist-Bannon thing.

And fascists crying over not being called ‘Alt-Right’ – and about the unfairness of liberal-type folks criticising and campaigning against the poor Alt-Right’s fascist, racist, white supremacist worldview, and just being, plain and simple, ghastly and intolerant. I mean – just how much cognitive dissonance does one liberal need to live with to profess to be tolerant but to not, in actual fact, be able to tolerate folk who are intolerant…?

I’ve started to think of Dad’s skin metastasis as a cutaneous malignancy called Bannon the 1st.

Though at least Dad has had Bannon the 1st excised.

I’ve started praying (this agnostic liberal is hedging her bets) that Bannon (that wife-beating; woman-hating; anti-semitic fascist stain – that malignancy) will also be excised.

Before the rest of us are atomised.

Because I don’t think that petitions are going to cut it.

So. What did he die of?

2d86a-johnphillipspeggyphillipsjeanphillips

And I’d ask ‘What did they die of, Grandpa?’

And he would say – he would always say – Well, hen, it’s just like this (and he would pause there, for the greater effect) his heart… jist. stoaped.  beatin’. 

And then he would look at me. Dead straight in the eye. Serious-faced like and say:

Ye know hen – thur’s folk dying the day that huv never died afore.

Then he’d nod and look sagely at some distant point before eventually walking off.

Only then would I splutter and start.

He reeked of fags. Wee thin roll-ups. The hoose was clean – mostly – but after she’d died it was just a hoose – wi’ a bit a a ghost of her. He slittered thin grey fag ash on his black troosers – that were hitched up wi’ a worn black leather belt – other times wi’ braces. Sometimes he’d fall asleep and burn the pleather moquette of the settee she’d been so proud of.  Other times he’d stare into the nicotined wall in front of him, like it was a dark maw.

He’d boil tripe. The stench hitting you as you reached the front door step. And make soup from ham houghs. On Saturday mornings he’d fry bacon, removing mine when it was just turned and frazzling his, til it was crisp and burnt. And make porridge with all milk and salt – just for me.

He was this implacable, immoveable, unrufflable calm. This dense core of knowingness. His were the eyes of an old soul.

grandpa-phillips

He was as close to the Taoist Kao as I’ve ever met. I remember reading Salinger’s version out loud to him.

Duke Mu of Chin said to Po Lo: “You are now advanced in years. Is there any member of your family whom I could employ to look for horses in your stead?” Po Lo replied: “A good horse can be picked out by its general build and appearance. But the superlative horse-one that raises no dust and leaves no tracks-is something evanescent and fleeting, elusive as thin air. The talents of my sons lie on a lower plane altogether; they can tell a good horse when they see one, but they cannot tell a superlative horse. I have a friend, however, one Chiu-fang Kao, a hawker of fuel and vegetables, who in things appertaining to horses is nowise my inferior. Pray see him.” 

Duke Mu did so, and subsequently dispatched him on the quest for a steed. Three months later, he returned with the news that he had found one. “It is now in Shach’iu” he added. “What kind of a horse is it?” asked the Duke. “Oh, it is a dun-colored mare,” was the reply. However, someone being sent to fetch it, the animal turned out to be a coal-black stallion! Much displeased, the Duke sent for Po Lo. “That friend of yours,” he said, “whom I commissioned to look for a horse, has made a fine mess of it. Why, he cannot even distinguish a beast’s color or sex! What on earth can he know about horses?” Po Lo heaved a sigh of satisfaction. “Has he really got as far as that?” he cried. “Ah, then he is worth ten thousand of me put together. There is no comparison between us. What Kao keeps in view is the spiritual mechanism. In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details; intent on the inward qualities, he loses sight of the external. He sees what he wants to see, and not what he does not want to see. He looks at the things he ought to look at, and neglects those that need not be looked at. So clever a judge of horses is Kao, that he has it in him to judge something better than horses.”

When the horse arrived, it turned out indeed to be a superlative animal. (Franny and Zooey. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982.)

Sometime weeks later he pointed out the window at his neighbour: whit’s that horse dae’in oot there?

But he wasn’t Kao and his knowingness was a wearying weight to him.One he anaesthetised with whisky and beer and talk. And a routine he substituted for living. The bus tae Wishy toon. The Jehovahs and the Mormons in for a gab. The dugs. The bookie’s. Gettin’ a wee bit fu’. Noo mind – a drunk man aye tells the truth he’d say, pished and telling me he loved me.

He made me sing Don’t cry for me Argentina and he called me a dirty bitch when I stoated in drunk and couldnae make it to the upstairs toilet. But he didn’t clipe – not for a while anyway – not until I was too old for my mother to have a go at. He hated confrontation that much.

Mid-teens I stayed with him every weekend. I worked the hamburger van until the wee hours and then walked home, lettin’ maself in wi’ ma key and rolling onto the settee he’d piled wi covers. ‘Oor Iain’ wis never in and his bed was seldom slept in – but his room was boggin and anyway he’d have killed me if I’d gone in there. So I had the settee.

Time is a bastard. 8th December 1989. He’s nearly 27 years dead. He died the day before his birthday. And I just cannot remember enough.

How fucking frail is our memory? I want to recall whole conversations – not just the repeated catchphrases. I want to inhale deeply and smell the sweat and soup and stale fag smell of that wee house. And I want to hear the trim phone ring in all its avocado-coloured glory.

But anyway. That’s the nature of it. We live. We die. In between we accumulate: pride; love; regret; shame. More largely, perspectives. The benefits of hindsight. 

Now I see his death as a giving up-ness. The result of an accretion of loss. Of her. Of purpose. Of really being needed. He moved to the periphery – the edge of our vision. Joined the ranks of the elderly occasionally visited. Cared for and loved, more in absence and from a distance.

He became superfluous – eventually even to himself.

 

So. What did he die of?

I know what he would say.

Crock of Cocks

I’m shit at political commentary or analysis. I once turned down a Labour Party nomination – on the grounds that I was shit at keeping calm and anyway didn’t think I was old enough or knew enough to be an MSP or MP.

I’ve not improved with age. I’m worse. Now that I know and have experienced more, I think I really understand now, just how much there is, that I really don’t understand.

Anyway. I’m sick of reading the ham-analysis of the US election. Or the working-class blaming that’s going on. I’m repulsed by the white supremacists and the Breitbart misogynists and climate change deniers now populating the most powerful House in the world.

I am frightened to venture onto social media platforms – because I know I will pick at the scab and read the comments sections and then get so fucking angry I’ll pace the house for the rest of the day. I’ve been incoherent with this burning rage so many times this week that I’ve ended up scaring Jamie – though I hope he’s learned that there are some things it’s just plain unsafe to play devil’s advocate with in this house.

This will sound like another idiotic comment (because yes, it’s the money stupid!) but this is just another thing that I don’t get about Trump’s success. That someone who knows so little – and has so few talents – should have this implacable, impregnable belief that he is ‘awesome’, ‘wonderful’, ‘just great, truly great’.

He’s the type of kid we all tried to avoid but were often in thrall to. You know the one – the one who’d have a tantrum if he didn’t get his own way; the one whose parents thought parenting was about how many toys you had; the one who blackmailed quiet, brainy kids and threatened to ‘tell everyone to fall out with you if you don’t give me the answers’ (yip, this happened to me… you can tell, can’t you…); the one whose self-confidence was so misplaced as to be pathological… malignant, malevolent, manipulating…

He’s the boss at work whose unpredictability and need to have his ego stroked means staff turnover in his section is sky high. He’s the person who is only interested in your praise or your usefulness to him.

I can’t comprehend how someone who is otherwise, at best, a consummate mediocrity can have so little insight as to think they are ‘the best’ ‘better than the best’. Shee-itttt… if Daddy hadn’t left him millions is there any chance he’d have achieved anything very much at all

My mother still says ‘don’t draw attention to your faults, talk about your positives’ and ‘you can do anything you put your mind to – you’re your only limit’. But that was tempered by ‘not everything’s about you’… and I was regularly decried as ‘selfish’ if I overstepped the mark…

Trump was never exposed to self-doubt. Or to criticism. Not even the ‘constructive’ stuff.

He could’ve done with some.

He could have done with a lot of it.

His (sadly, regrettably) Scottish Mother clearly didn’t like Rabbie Burns…

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

(from his poem ‘To a Louse’ – written in 1786 ‘on seeing one on a Lady’s Bonnet, At Church)

Anyway… Ana came to the rescue last night with her anti-bullying poster for school. I’m not sure it’s what the teacher intended or expects but I love it.

ana-anti-bully-poster