No, I wasn’t hallucinating…

Surreal moment in Maisie’s – the tiniest and oldest Lanark pub – last-night. Had me almost sure I’d overdone the relaxation a little – and vowing never again…

Into the throng of rough-palmed drunken sweaty 40+ men, strode three black amazons wearing nowt but calf-high, strappy 6″ heeled sandals; gold lame bikini tops; and the teeniest tiniest weeniest lycra micro-mini skirts.

One was pregnant and holding the hand of the smallest white local man I’ve ever seen, looking down onto the top of his head as she spoke to him. He in turn stroked her tummy with the air of a besotted proprietor.

Bringing up the rear was a tiny white woman – no taller than my 9 yr old – and with the emaciated frame of a schedule 1 drug connoisseur. She was relatively nun-like in her choice of clothing: sequinned vest top and hot pants.

The tallest of the amazonian proportioned women approached the bar – and lo, the bustling throng of men parted as though she were brandishing some god-like staff. One little man – 70 yr old Tommy, retired farm labourer – stood mesmerised by the long, gleaming and glossy thighs that were so tantalising close to him, his bottom jaw sagging, his eyes wide.

As she stretched across the bar for the ordered drinks (sambuca shots and pints) the lycra hem of her teeny tiny micra-mini skirt began to roll up over her majestic and substantial globed buttocks. She pulled it down. She stretched out for the drinks. The hem rolled. She pulled it back down.

And so went the rest of the night.

Now, Maisie’s is generally very full of bums and complete arses. But I can sincerely say that nothing compares to my experience last-night!

Cosla and Pay Freeze Imposition

With UNISON, Unite and the GMB having rejected their initial three year Pay Offer (1%, 0% and 0.5%) COSLA moved on Friday to impose an even poorer 2 year pay freeze (0.65% and 0%) on local authority workers.

Even now – with all that I know of budget cuts and redundancies – Cosla’s behaviour shocks me. It strikes as calculating and vicious.
I say calculating because, having thought about the situation over the weekend (and having thought about its implications for other public sector workers), I don’t believe that the implications of this cynical and aggressive tactic haven’t been carefully thought out.
So, why impose this reduced offer? Is it Cosla calling the bluff of the unions? Are they gambling on lack of public support for any industrial action? Or gambling on a lack of stomach for the fight amongst union members?
I think it’s all three…
  • Cosla gamble on the effect which the pro-public sector cuts hegemony (which has been fostered, first by the last Labour Westminster government and then by the current Condem government) has upon their own employee group as well as the general public. They won’t be blind to the general acceptance (even amongst their own, largely depoliticised employee group) of the ‘shared pain’ messages which have been emanating from all corners.
  • Cosla gamble on an assessment of union leadership which places that leadership to the left of their membership. Cosla will also be aware that behind the public anti-cuts campaigns being run by the unions there is no unanimity as to union tactic. In effect Cosla gamble on a lack of strategic planning by the unions. By striking whilst the iron is hot, Cosla gain the ‘upper hand’ … the unions are forced to ‘react’.
  • It is in Cosla’s interests to manufacture a confrontation with their employee group now – as opposed to waiting til later… When the severity of the cuts bite the likelihood that public anger and sympathy with both union campaigns and employee action will increase.
The unions have indicated they will be balloting their members on industrial action.
It remains to be seen whether – as the papers are predicting this weekend – Scotland will face a winter of disruption to vital public services.

Peculiar couple of days.

The lad – who really does need his wings clipped and for whom the clipping of said wings will commence on Sunday evening (when he’s returned from partying at Creamfields*) – went to the Motherwell game on Thursday night with his pals and his Dad (who also had middle and youngest boy with him). Lad slunk off after the miserable game – ostensibly ‘to collect Stuart’s stuff for tomorrow’s journey’ (Stuart was staying in New Lanark for the night) – but in reality he launched himself on a tour of the Lanark pubs (or the only two who allow football colours).

At 1am, when he and Stuart had decided to leave the increasingly menacing atmosphere of ‘Images’ (oh God I have shouted enough to wake the New Lanark dead in the old graveyard at the top of the hill as this pub is the pits aka odious in extremis – replete with pole-dancing upstairs) they were jumped by one of the menacers. Lad anticipated the punch which was aiming for Stuart and stepped in to block it. The punch caught him off balance (or so he says) and down he went – cracking his elbow on the road. Next thing he knew a very large policeman was elevating him by the chest of his shirt and slamming him against a wall.

Lad is full of teenage bravado – but scrape the surface and there’s a well brought up, polite wee boy – one who has respect for policemen and no reason to fear or be suspicious of them.

The short of it? Well, Lad was sent on his way home pronto – where he slunk in and worried the rest of the night about what had happened to Stuart, but was either too drunk or adrenalin-buzzed or plain scared to wake me up to attend to his elbow. And Stuart and the menacer were huckled away to the station, handcuffed and (in Stuart’s case at least) subdued.

Stuart – for the crime of self-defence (a crime witnessed by the policemen and by lots of cctv) – was fined, a nice £40 police fine ‘for engaging in a stand-up fight in the street which amounted to a breach of the peace’.

First I knew of any of this? When my mobile started beeping at 8am…

So started my Friday: shouting and insulting my lad and his pal at 8 oclock in the morning…

I suppose you’d forgive me if I say I thought nothing else could make my morning worse. However I should know better than to jinx my day by making that arrogant assumption.

The baby – who is now 7 years and really not a baby at all (but it comforts me to think of her as such – and occasionally suits her) – decided, at 8.45am that she no longer wished to attend school.

Have you ever tried to get a child who has absolutely decided that she will not move, to move?

Initial tactics: grab and man handle into car; shout and order; remonstrate; lift bodily – didn’t work.

I was starting to despair. The school bell had gone. I was rapidly losing any chance of making the planned 10 oclock meeting. I sat down in the kitchen and sighed, taking stock. Then asked her for a cuddle. When she had calmed I asked her why she didn’t want to go (probably where I should have started all along).

Turns out that the wee soul is being ‘bullied’. She described stepping in to protect another child and, since that incident, the bully had decided my baby was fair game.

I half-jokingly said ‘just deck her, honey, like you deck your brothers’ – and she looked at me horrified, saying ‘Mum that would be a bad thing to do’. Oh God (why do I use that expression when I am an atheist!). She is absolutely right – and only doing as she was raised to do.

Anyway I took her to school and went in to speak to my friend, Margaret (Heidie) – just a quiet word to nip the distress in the bud.

Baby was ok when I got home last night – no more bullying that day.

Just wonder how lad is. Bet his elbow’s still sore.

* www.creamfields.com

Bye Annie…

Annie McS – a woman who had such a strong formative influence on me – died yesterday. Very suddenly. A brain haemorrhage.

Annie was my friend, Karl’s, mother.
And Annie was the first to show me that life didn’t need to be a two-up two-down cooncil hoose; a dead-end job; a man who spent every Friday in the pub ‘with the boys’; a life of cleaning and hoovering and shopping and cooking.
I remember my mother, asking, shocked, Isnae that the wummin that wears nae knickers? when I said that I’d been speaking to Annie when I’d gone for Karl.
I’ve thought of that question over the years and have decided that it reveals a whole lot about my mother and the constrained life she’d led up til then.
I never did ask whether she wore knickers but Annie was different.
She was English and middle-class in an unremittingly bleak Scottish working -class town. She was a hippy – wearing the cheesecloth and the maxi skirts; tacking flags of Che Guevera over the windows of her sitting-room; refusing to entertain a television; pasting posters of the la revolucion and of socialist protest over the walls of her tumbledown victorian semi home. She served up vegetarian food in a town which knew only square sausage stovies and mince n tatties. She enrolled for – and finished – an OU degree despite having two young kids. She divorced and then got hitched to a younger Shotts man – but was (for a short time at least) a single parent (shock horror).
I remember the haven of her sitting-room circa mid-80s. Blue beanbag chairs; a wine cream and blue Wilton carpet; a dappled adult-sized rocking horse in the large bay window; walls covered in book cases which were full of tomes on child-rearing and psychology and primary education; and a large upright piano which she would play. And no television.
It was she who talked Mike Watts (the principal oboeist for the SNO and principal with the baroque Telemann Ensemble) into taking our little recorder group every Thursday night. He actually came to Shotts! To take five amateurs through a selection of baroque recorder music – I’ve still got my alto recorder…
I was in the grips of ‘rebellion’ against the constraints of Shotts (I apologise for the genteel version of rebellion I’m giving you). I was just discovering feminism – and at the time was confused by the apparent message it was giving me that the economic world was more important than the personal, domestic world – that I had to forgo children as that way feminine weakness lay and embrace the workplace…
So it was probably most ‘shocking’ of all to that early feminist-me, that she was the first woman I ever saw breastfeed her three youngest kids. After having given birth to them all at home with no pain relief.
To men the former no doubt sounds like a bizarre and rather meaningless observation – but Annie’s example quite literally changed my world-view. And her example was the strongest one I carried both as a young pregnant woman and as a professional worker.
Annie taught me – by example -that women could be nurturing as well as academically engaged and economically active. That women mattered. But more – that it was important that I both recognise and value the difference between a man and a woman’s experience of the world – the difference did not mean that one experience of the world was more valid than the other… It was in the act of valuing one above the other that madness lay.
I still despair that women do not have a voice in society. That our voice is only heard insofar as it accords with the male-set agenda.
From the drop in women politicians in the Uk, to the failure to fund and support home birthing and midwife-led small units; from the domestic violence statistics to the fact that government cuts will disproportionately hit women (the lowest paid workers in our workforce). From Art to Literature to Politics to everyday life, a woman’s voice is either absent or goes unheard, ignored.
Oh Annie. I am sorry you have gone. But you leave behind a rich legacy of memories and influences.

some days…

Maybe not the best weekend.

The friend who most disappoints me disappointed me again – at least there is a certain consistency.

And I suspect my pancreas has lurched another step nearer incineration (that’s what they do with the decrepit bits that have given up on us, isn’t it?). For a change this isn’t because I’ve breached the medically imposed purdah of nil alcohol. Narry a drop has passed my lips for a wee while (well, since last Friday when I went to level one (the least worst one) alcohol hell – though I did up inhalation of noxious substances). I just feel unwell. And I think the insulin cells have joined the enzyme cells in their slide toward obsolescence. The symptoms bore even me so I’ll stop here.
Anyway. Not a good weekend. Aside from the pancreas and the disappointing friend I had to spend two hours by the kiddie football pitch (oh how I hate football) early on Saturday morning. Then I had to do the weekly shop (which does not include the daily 3 litre milk bill) – £162.86 which just underlines how mad I was to have so many children. Then I just harrumphed my way through the rest of the day. Being crabbie and losing patience with the wee ones who had rediscovered water pistols and who were merrily soaking each other and all else within their vicinity.
Today I escaped to the wee cafe lad runs at the weekend. It overlooks the church and high street. I sat with the observer magazine, a coffee and a bit of caramel shortbread and watched the Lanark world go by. Just when I thought I had reached equilibrium – a nice balance beginning to assert itself – I was joined by the sad Ginger and his companion. Ginger resides in supported accommodation – his mental health issues requiring supervision. On a good day Ginger taxes my patience – though I understand and try my best. Today I just didn’t have the energy to respond with the appropriate response (one which doesn’t inflame him and have him shouting; one which requires vigilance and thought on the part of me). His racism started to grate; his loud insistence that I answer, and now, began to overwhelm me. So, I packed up and left.
I went up to the loch and sat on the far side, watching the swans feeding and then the fishermen who were setting up their wee shelters and their complicated rod sensors.
I sat and brooded on my friend; on my health; on the coming week which I really don’t much feel up to. And then I decided to write that mental list of ‘reasons to be grateful’ – a pretty clichéd technique I know – but one which can at least force me to remember that it’s not all bad.
I’ll let you know if it works.

Volte face…

A ‘perk’: ‘perquisites which are privileges granted to employees…’

I said I considered the travelling a perk…maybe not right at the moment I don’t. I am shattered. Unaccountably tired – a full day of meetings and a 200 mile trip don’t usually do that to me. But I ended up stopping at Aviemore (mmm a bit like a Highland Blackpool with the addition of North Face and Fat Face shops) and then again, just about an hour later, at the odious House of Bruar.
I ‘allowed’ myself to stop because, I reasoned, I had to make several calls. Really it was because I was starting to nod off at the wheel.
I’d tried chain-smoking (not clever or good – particularly when the air conditioning was so strong that it blew the ash in my eye, temporarily blinding me and having me head straight for the verge); eating my body weight in midget gems; blasting the ipod at 40, almost deafening myself with an old Elbow track; and then singing along…
I blame the new car. It’s dull. It is – absolutely – the worst car I have ever driven – and that includes the old Yugo and the even older Lada (work of communist art that used to go on fire – the electrics were a bit frazzled…). It is unremittingly middle-aged. It has boring engine. It speaks to you – telling you where the speed cameras are (I ask you! where is the fun in that!) and it beep beeps its unhappiness when you exceed the speed limit. It has lights that come on automatically. It senses rain and wipes the windows. It has a deathly silent cabin and is too too smooth. Never buy a Renault.
I want my shoogly Spacewagon back – with it’s about-to-go clutch and leaky sump. Its peculiar sweaty odour and its super-fast 2.4GDi engine…

Strathpeffer

I consider it a perk…this duty to work Scotland-wide…

In fact it’s gotten to the stage that I cannot imagine returning to a job which confines me, static, chained to an office desk 9-5…
I enjoyed the drive. Broken at Perth for a working lunch with a colleague and then straight up the A9, over the Kessock Bridge and into Strathpeffer (sounds insignificant said like that – but it’s a fair journey)…
Have to admit to bewilderment when I arrived. This teeny wee Highland village of monstrous huge Victorian Hotels (I wish wish wish I had a camera with me!!).
The literature in my room explains the ‘Spa’ origins of the town. Puts the huge hotels into context.
I’m in a modest B&B. Craigvar. Large Victorian house. Lovely landlady – who made me a coffee when I got in and sat and chatted. Comfortable room. Free wifi and as much coffee and buscuits as I can consume…
If it weren’t for the meeting tomorrow I really could convince myself this wasn’t work!