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

Strange Times: A Personal Reflection

These are surely strange revulsive times.

If there ever were before, there are no safe assumptions to make now. Because the assumed solid ground of shared meaning has become a squelching phenomenological quicksand.

The change manifests in scenes otherwise fundamental to family life: I cannot sit easily in a room with some erstwhile loved ones – without knowing that there has been a shift that dislocates. For either there is contrived avoidance of any mention of the European Union or of the refugee crisis or of the tanking of the pound or of a certain court case, or there is fighting and screaming and a visceral incomprehension and hating.

They are patently, obviously, and with self-proclaimed certainty, the same as they have ever been. It’s just that their xenophobia and racism and fear of the other and innate wall-building nationalism have been given a visibility, a vehicle and a mainstream voice.  And I am really seeing them now.

We have not had this conversation before. I say to myself that’s because the need had never arisen.

But I know – and I am willing myself to be honest here, though it doesn’t reflect well on me – that it’s because I didn’t want to examine the racism of family or friends. Or the reactionary and parochial insularity. I didn’t want to be repelled by my own kin. These kind folk. People who would sacrifice their lives for their family. But who are filled with an ugly unthinking suspicion; who blithely buy into the Brexit myths and are filled with a race-fear big as a murderous and bloody stain. Where is the congruence there? Can I love the man yet hate the sin?

So, yes, I feel as though I am living in a revulsive time.

A time, apparently, for the smashing of shibboleths.

A tearing of the veil. And with it, the revelation that the veil was made by the Emperor’s new weavers anyway.

I thought I’d understood the rules. I’ve worked hard to comprehend this worldview I’ve inhabited for so long. But it turns out I’ve been viewing the world through a kaleidoscope – and it has just been twisted.

I suppose, if you consider the past 30 years, there’s a certain inevitability about where we are now as a country.

It is closely aligned to the curse of being an island nation (and however disunited we may be, we share this much: that we inhabit an island) that our default outlook is that of the most superior of islander nations. It’s the island mentality that jet-propelled the overwhelming sense of superior nationhood that created the Empire. We islanders feel no real sense of connection to mainlanders and therefore no real sense of obligation to get along. But we do feel different – different better. We are not team-players. Though we will always be happy to lead. 

So we see WWs I and II as our victories. Victories against those folk over there. We’ve been fed a jingoistic tabloid diet of comprehensive British superiority. Superiority to cheese-eating surrender monkeys and the fascist hun and to petty regulations and rules made by unelected civil servants. Our writers (though only those solely English writers) are vastly superior to the legions of those who (otherwise lauded) write in languages that are not English. Our constitution (entirely unwritten and a shambolic mess) is held up as a global beacon of democratic light. Our Monarchy is preferred to those dodgy foreign alternatives of Republic and Presidency. Our utterly risible voting system praised for its delivery of ‘strong government’. Our power and might – as evidenced by our superior military is paraded abroad on foreign soil and in arms sales. And witness our extraordinary (all the more so because it is innate) sense of decency that means we don’t need a Bill of Rights – in fact, any human rights at all. We still refer to Nelson and Trafalgar, for fuck sake!

The devolution-design that was delivered following pressure from member nations prepared the ground for increasing tension within ‘the Kingdom’. There was the short-sighted arrogance that rejected a Federal structure and preferred devolved ‘administrations’ (dismissed derogatively as Toon Cooncils) – with Westminister perceived by the English as their Parliament but with UK-wide bolt-ons. This ensured there would be grumblings when Northern Irish or Welsh or Scottish MPs voted on matters that were (at least in direct effect if not in financial impact) English matters. And when the centre doled out the cash.

Cameron and Osborne’s ideological pursuit of economic austerity – designed to undermine the welfare state and to prepare the ground for privatisation of those public services so far held to be sacrosanct (NHS) – heightened social tensions and increased the sense of (largely white and predominantly working class) indigenous grievance. This grievance was fanned by the anti-EU authoritarian right-wingers from UKIP (UK Independence Party) – who followed the usual authoritarian right wing model of ‘blame it on the immigrant’ whilst at the same time capitalising on the power vacuum created by the meltdown of the centre (Liberal Democrats) and left (Labour).

As UKIP began to pose an increasingly credible (but primarily very English) electoral threat – directly threatening the Conservatives in their Southern English heartlands – the formerly maverick and formerly sidelined fringe nutters amongst the Tories seized their opportunity and began to foment trouble.

Anomalous and incongruent (in the context of ‘strong government’ and first past the post UK) Coalition government had stretched the thin skin of British democracy to its limits. Believing they could not hold their party together or win a General Election without pacifying their rabid right wing, Cameron et al decided they would put party over country by pledging to hold a Referendum on EU membership.

Cue the massed reactionary forces of the far right British press. Cue the populist calls to ‘take your country back’. The mawkish ‘queen and country’ sentimentality. The backward-looking invocation of Empire and Greatness.

And then cue the attacks. Attacks on immigrants and those perceived to be immigrants. Attacks on folk heard speaking another language. Attacks that resulted in deaths. Cue the islamophobia and the linking of EU-exit to an increased ability to protect ourselves against islamist terrorists – terrorists who were seen on every street. Cue the denigration of anyone daring to question or challenge the received right wing orthodoxy that the EU was the evil empire or that foreigners were the problem. Denouncements range from cries of ‘Traitor’ to ‘Enemies of the People’ and are then followed up by threats of violence and then of real death (think Jo Cox MP; think Arkadiusz Jóźwik).

Yesterday we reached a fresh new nadir with the death threats against those who had dared to take their cause to Court and against those judges who had found in the plaintiffs’ favour. And yet the heinous attacks on the legitimate judgement of our independent Judiciary have found tacit support in both formal governmental silence – and off the record succour and support.

There is nothing good will come of where we are. Some principled folk still exist – but begin to deselect themselves and soon their voices will be lost. I may not agree with the position he took during the EU Referendum but Steven Phillips – a Brexiter by virtue of his belief that the EU undermined ‘Parliamentary sovereignty’ – resigned yesterday because he no longer wanted to be associated with what ‘Tory’ was rapidly coming to signify. The rest are just too power hungry and status driven to rock that boat – and they will keep their mouths shut while their formerly extremist (and in the cases of some, formerly discredited and allegedly corrupt) sidelined colleagues become the new mainstream political norm.

Labour, having disintegrated as a credible and effective political force in the aftermath of internal disruption and external media propaganda and the LibDems having borne the blame for perceived Coalition failures both remain completely neutered as a political force. If they don’t completely split, it’ll be a decade at least before Labour become electable again – and the LibDems are an irrelevance.

No comfort can be derived from the current Labour Party and their embrace of Brexit. I suspect their MPs will ultimately (regardless of latest flip-flopping from Corbyn regarding voting down Art 50) be whipped into voting with the government – for fear of pissing off even further the folk they previously took for granted as their core vote. Anyone who was working class could have told them that there was a rich and fertile seam of xenophobia that could be mined amongst their own class – but there’s so many layers of failure on Labour’s side, not least that they have made too many assumptions and latterly wouldn’t know a working class voter supposing they’d to identify themselves.

And then there’s the global patterns to be discerned.

Hungary; Turkey; Poland; the US… dominoes falling to the hard authoritarian right.

Erdogan is a dictator. Brutally suppressing dissent. Then we have Victor ‘migrants are poison’ Orban fomenting EU divisions with his far right anti-abortionist hardline conservative Polish pal Kaczynski and the Czech Republic’s Sobotka (egged on by the hassle his former ‘socialist’ (aye right) President pal Zeman has caused him domestically.

And then we have Trump – the ‘weaselheaded fucknugget’; ‘witless fucking cocksplatt’; ‘touped fucktrumpet’; ‘tiny-fingered, cheeto-faced, ferret-wearing shitgibbon’; ‘bloviating fleshbag’ …(ah jeez we Scots have a glorious way with words).

Trump.

What to say.

Maybe only this: that he is reprehensible but that the people managing his campaign and providing support and endorsing this monster – they are even worse. And that I think the man will win.

I am frightened.

I am afraid that no good can come of any of this. That whilst power for power’s sake is the sole motivation for the sickening lot of politicians who strut the national and global stage then the shift will be ever more to the political right. And that whilst our media here in the UK is a conduit for hardline English nationalism and for racism and xenophobia and hate speech, then we are being propelled fast towards the breakdown in democracy itself.

So whilst May and her current bloviating Brexiter Ministers and her tabloid paymasters fan the flames of xenophobia and hate they create a monster that is likely to overwhelm and destroy even them.

We cannot turn the other cheek. We cannot simply hide behind our own front doors. To do nothing is a choice. It is not a good choice. To do nothing is to collude – it is to be guilty ‘art and part’.

And part of that fight back must be the naming of the enemy – identification and then analysis of what must be repelled.

Part of that fightback is the calm challenge of the dearest of family and friends – the refusal to accept ugly, lazy thinking and repetition of tabloid propaganda – the facing up of the ‘enemy’ in the eyes of the people you love.

Reaching a Perfect Equilibrium…

(a post in which I demonstrate it is perfectly possible to talk yourself out of being a miserable cow)

It’s tattie howking time. Time when most of Scotland’s weans worked the fields, getting the tattie harvest in.

Now just the school October week (or fortnight if you’re further ‘up North’).

Raging PMT time for me. Not good.

We are all (R and the two school age-ers) ‘at home’. Mostly irritating and hating on one another. Rattling about, getting in one another’s way. R and I duplicating tasks – aka ‘unpicking the other’s work’. Small differences magnified by boredom. He folds the towels ‘untidily’. I am caught re-folding. He pointedly empties the (well) out of date food from the fridge. I pointedly ignore the implied: look at the waste! again! We argue about where we might go for a couple of overnights. And end with ‘we can go day trips’ – knowing that it’s highly likely, given this weekend’s form, that we’ll reach the week’s end having done nothing except squabble and sigh and just feel weighed down by inertia.

I fucking hate the way in which, over the years, we’ve acquiesced to this pattern of being-together-ness.

But then, I fucking hate the way that if I don’t make plans and book everything then nothing would ever actually happen.

And then, of course, I fucking hate the way I am just expected to absorb the sighs of this is the place you booked? Oh. Right… And the way that if someone else did organise things I’d feel crotchety and nit-picky and do the rolling eyes thing… (I’ve done it. I know. And I am a miserable cow for doing it. I know.)

I am conditioned in this precise way: I am a bit of a control freak but one who is destined never to enjoy the fruits of her control-freakery because I too often waste time trying to second guess and mind read – ultimately filling silences with my imaginings: he/she/they hate/s what I’ve organised. he/she/they are pissed off. he/she /they…  Getting knotted up. Latterly just swallowing down rage, anger, any emotion in fact – because I am also conditioned not to do confrontation on behalf of myself. On behalf of others? Oh yes. I can make money out of doing that. Nae bother there.

Mind you…

Sometimes, just sometimes – and I admit this because to omit it would be to allow the PMT-ness of this week to turn me into a big bit of a miserabilist fibber – sometimes, I also manage to reach a perfect state of equilibrium…

Like when I watch the kitten go mad at the 5th floor window, trying to reach the bats.

Or walk to Cora Linn. In fact, just walk. Anywhere in this Valley.

And – despite the squabbling and shit – when I’m with the people I love…

So.

Because it has made me smile thinking of them and because I was suddenly happy thinking of the walks we’ve done this last month or so and because the cats are chasing one another like mad things and making me laugh (right this minute, out loud) here are a few of my favourite photos…

 

Clockwise from top left:

1) Me, Megan and a photobombing Ana in Hannover (July 2016)

2) The smiling felled tree trunk on the Clyde Walkway (Sept 2016)

3) Cora Linn – taken from the high viewing platform on the Clyde Walkway (Sept 2016)

4) Evan and Ana – my walking companions, same day as 3)

5) Megan – from Clyde Walkway looking onto New Lanark (our house is on the Row on the far top left)

6) Milo the kitten

7) Robert, Megan and Ana in Braunschweig July 2016

8) The path into our village – Mum and Dad stay under the bell tower (building on the left of the photo) (Sept 2016)

9) The giant Evan with Mum – walking back from Lanark Loch – Tinto Hill in the back ground. Sept 2016

10) Megan and Ana – New Lanark (August 2016)

 

 

 

 

The last 1st year award ceremony – at least for the foreseeable future.

I am falling to bits.

My left ear drum is perforated. And by the feel of it my right one is no far behind.

My ankle’s also playing up. Surprising me every unpredictable now-and-again by just buckling – like it was remotely controlled by malevolent clowns.

The cobbles directly outside the front door did for it back in January. (Well, a combo of the cobbles and the Cos platform/flatforms that I love but which have been a ‘challenge’ to wear..). And now the min 10000 steps per day fund-raiser have sealed the deal. I am hobbling.

Add to that this overwhelming peri-menopausal fatigue that just wipes me out – but which refuses to allow me to actually sleep – and I am one sad sorry mess.

I’m off work today – ostensibly to attend Ana’s school prize-giving – but I think I’d have been off anyway.

Prize-givings don’t much help fatigue. Droning Headteacher presenters spouting cliched worthy-tudes; score upon score of wee ‘good’ wains trotting up to shake-handedly receive their award or certificate or trophy – all re-establishing that deadly somnambulant rhythm of school. Or what I associate with school.

The only thing that kept me awake was the ever so slightly out of tune and out of synch school band – and the ‘Young Singer of the Year’ (ditto).

It’s aye the same. I remember from my time and from all the older kids. Though I’ve managed to avoid attending the vast majority of school shows and award ceremonies and end of terms brouhahas.

I wonder if I should have made more effort. I wonder. But not for long.

I think Jamie best captured all my hypocrisy and the mess of internal contradictions and mental contortions when   – on discovering that he’d won some subject prizes for 4th year (he’s 16 – there are formal qualifications involved) and not actually told us until it was all over – he exclaimed ‘It’s all shit anyway. Why’d ye need a prize for jist doing yer work?’

He then had a right go at me for signing up to actually graduate in person. How much’s that gonnae cost? A right waste ae money that’ll be. Whit dye need a ‘gown’ fur? Do ye no believe them that ye’ve passed? Yer jist an elitist, you. Ye ur.

I wittered about ‘celebration’ and about how the meal I’d organised for everyone was to say thanks to them for putting up with my deadline panics and crabbitness… He just looked at me – like I was daft. A look that said: don’t act it, you actually believe in all this academic pat-on-the-back stuff and you like swanning aboot in a ridiculous gownie cos it makes you feel better than everyone else – just tell the truth Mother.

He scares me, that one.

His so-often jaundiced-sounding vision is really a lithic scalpel cutting through all our bullshit.

He is way brighter than any of us in this house. And that doesn’t much happen to me – that I find someone way brighter than me – someone who can (and has) beaten me in an argument, with his first bloody sentence – someone whose verbal dexterity and mental acuity can thoroughly and absolutely blast me out the park. Ana and Evan frequently end their arguments with him with either violence or the loudest screamingest I hate him!!! Mind you, sometimes so do I…

Anyway, back to Ana.

She wasn’t for telling us about the ceremony either. She doesn’t much like learning. And she absolutely despises reading (oh deepest painful sorrow of mine). She’d rather be making. But – despite her efforts – she’s reasonably academically smart. And, disaster of disasters – for someone who doesn’t want to be known as ‘brainy’ – she is also competitive. So, the discovery that Jamie only got 98% in Maths whilst she got 100% was likely the highlight of her year.

So why did I go when I’ve got this cob on about award ceremonies and the sausage factory madness of our educational over-emphasis upon the academic?

I decided to go because… well, because she is a wee star. Because I am really proud of her – not for the Maths thing or the Merit award – those are incidental to it all, to how I feel about her. She is uncomplaining happy good company on the rainiest of days. She is the child who has unflinchingly accompanied me on every 10km walk. Geeing me up when I am a bit slumped. The child who asks for little or nothing. But the one who absolutely shines when your gaze is upon her – when you are showing her just how much you love and are proud of her.

I don’t give a shit about certificates. And to tell the truth I worry about what their existence does to the kids who just miss out – or whose skills are people and social as opposed to books and learning but who never do get the recognition and praise they deserve.

But tonight I’ll have my own award to give her. One that tells her how fantastic and funny and caring and loving and generous and sporty and spikey she is – and how much we love the whole Ana-package.

 

But how would you know happiness if you’d never known misery?

It’s nearly enough to make me never want to go on holiday again – the spike in misery that signals return to work. A mean – if a didn’t stop working there’d just be this eternal, low level disgruntlement. Not this wee smiling holiday happiness that gets the big Glasgow kiss of reality.

A jist feel trauchled. Trammeled. Tuckered.

Germany was familiar enough to feel like ‘real life’. If I’m honest, the red brick was more English than my home. But there was a straightforwardness that felt honest and refreshing. Aside from my shame that I have no German – felt intensely when forced to ask in fucking English (not Scots – but that is a whole other ragin’ big rammie I’ve been having with my thrawn 4th wain – something that I need to write out at another time) if they could speak English (of course they could ffs – only us island English-speaking folk think bilingualism is a waste of our valuable time) – the interactions were genuine. Folk went out of their way to be kind and thoughtful. They were curious. They asked where we came from. They loved the accent. But then, M says it’s the accent that secured her the Tindr conquests – she was seen as exotic. And that makes me laugh so loud. Us! Exotic! No way!

Who would want to leave a city (Hannover) where the streets are clean and ordinary folk just use ordinary bikes as a means of transport (not a fucking specialist sport involving showing off and lycra and ludicrous arse-padding)? Where public transport actually takes you where you want to go – and does it easily, smoothly, without fuss, trusting you to have bought your ticket? Where the Rathaus looks like this  (and we walked to it most days we were there – and sat on the grass in front and ooohed and aaahed over baby ducks and soaked up the sun)? And the Sprengel simply exists? And the Maschsee – ahhhh, the Maschsee…in the sun and with the Festival in full throw and the long beautiful walk around its perimeter…

I drove to Hamburg – and was overwhelmed by its size and the beauty of it and the diversity of its people and the political marches and demonstrations and the canals! The canals! Who’d have thought a city could have so many waterways – without being called Venice. Plus the shopping and the city style (peculiarly mainly of the men) made Meg and me salivate. They had a Cos store. A huge beautiful Cos store. And it was sale time in the Cos store.

I drove to Lüneburg (exquisite) and Celle (compact and bijoux and pretty) and Goslar (ahhhh Goslar…nestled down in the Hartz mountains like a Nicolas Roeg set from a flashback scene in The Witches) and Braunschweig (with the pretty rebuilt ‘old town’) and Bückeburg with its castle and…

If this is the product of a mindful, very conscious repentance then that repentance has worked. It continues to work. For folk my age there is the ever present memory of a Nazi past. It’s in the names of the towns we visited and loved. It’s in the quiet, solemn unsentimental dignity of the Bergen-Belsen memorial. It’s in the occasional Rathaus architecture; the Nazi art of the fackelträger and it’s in the guilt (yes, guilt) that the clearly rebuilt cities trigger with memories of the (surely illegal) carpet firebombing aimed at obliterating German culture.

Dresden is a city still suffering reconstruction. Gap sites advertise allied bombing raids – and Communist poverty and underinvestment. Leipzig looks more affluent – but is nowhere near as wealthy looking as Hamburg or Hannover.

In Leipzig we stayed at the Steigenberger  in a Junior Suite that was so luxurious we didn’t want to leave. In Dresden we were in the Bayerischer Hof. In between we were in a variety of airbnbs. Some feeling more familiar than others. So in Praha 4 (familiar) we had almost-Glaswegian corporation concrete – with burnt out Ford Ka parked outside. And in Hannover we had upper-middleclass Jugendstil.

We were wined and dined by M’s flatmate’s parents. We ate out every night – sampling every conceivable cuisine. We enjoyed (loved) the wheat beer. We walked everywhere – and couldn’t believe the Eilenreide – oh lucky lucky Hanoverians…

Yes. It was a good summer.

So why the fuck am I surprised to be feeling like I’ve one big fat dark holiday hangover? You’d need to be one masochistic nutjob to be wholly happy to be back here. With the immersion in the never-ending misery of folks’ problems and the legal solution seeking that accompanies it. And the litany of family funerals and new cancers.

Dad goes in on Thursday for his skin cancer op. He’ll be fine. I think. I hope. I don’t know. But he better be. Be fine.

Evan’s going to drive him – Dad wants ‘no fuss’.

I’m worried about Mum. Though she’ll be fine too. I know she will.

In the meantime I’ve identified the big hoose I want for my 50th next year – and I’ve sent the booking request for 3 nights in June. It sleeps 16. My whole beautiful mad infuriating family can come. They’ve all said they will be there. The kids and my Maw n Paw and my Bro and sister-in-law and their two wee ones. And a couple of the kids’ partners.

Best present ever – to have us all together: fighting and laughing and being really really noisy all together. I’m wishing my life away – but I really am looking forward to it.