Christmas Poem – A Communist Scottish Granpa’s Contribution…

My old Granpa recited this every Xmas. Hed be unco fu, be bouncing one of the multitude of wains on his knee, every now and then removing his black NHS-framed glasses to wipe the sweat from his brow – for the room would be heaving and every pot in the small house would be bubbling…

I warn you – it is long. It is political. He also did a funny version – but my Mum and I cannot remember how it went…(apologies)… 

It might help you to know that he was a founder member of the Wishaw Young Communists….

And despite the contribution…. HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU!


Battles of the Sexes

The Committee was 18 strong. There were three women appointees (including me) – the other two were, respectively, a District Council elected representative and a retired Social Work Assistant/now Labour Party activist. The men were all, without exception, elected representatives – with the Committee Office Holders being drawn from the Strathclyde Regional Council reps. They were all (with two exceptions)  Labour Party members, but, young as I was, it surprised me to discover that status was very important to them – and Regional reps were clearly considered of greater significance than District Council reps…

I knew Jackie, the ex Social Work Assistant, well. I was the local Party Chair and she was the Treasurer. But she was more than that to me – even at that stage. A whirlwind of force and fury and anger against “the establishment”, against “privilege” and poverty and inequality. Self-taught. life-battered. Ex-Trade union Steward who was active in the Plessey sit-in (here). Vociferous proponent of the under-dog – prisoners and abused and neglected children in particular. She would rapidly become a second mother to me. Helping me cope with the demands of my 2nd child whom I found initially difficult to parent and to bond with.

The gender imbalance was typical of politics and public service of that time. The 90s saw the introduction of One-member-one-vote (Omov – though the electoral college rules water that down) and  latterly women-only shortlists for the Labour Party (under John Smith) – but “equality” was a concept viewed with very deep suspicion in the 80s and 90s West of Scotland (in truth, it still is).

This is an area that the Swinging 60s completely bypassed. An area where 50s attitudes, particularly in relation to the divisions between the sexes, reigned supreme – where, in 1985, my school taxi-driver felt comfortable enough to seriously and at-length give me chapter and verse as to why it was a “waste of time educating lassies because they would only give it all up to have wains”…

I lost count of the number of fights I witnessed and joined, attempting to shift the attitudes of the cabals of Party misogynists who would be up in arms about their preferred male candidate being sidelined in preference to a “stupid wee lassie ootsider wi nae experience”… It always amazed me that many women supported these men. And at a time when women reps were as rare as hens teeth.

Vera, the other woman member, was one of those women. She and I never did see eye-to-eye.

(to be continued)

Committee Business

There was more chair-shifting and shrinking. A florid sweaty man to my left wrung his hands. The very small elderly Chairman, (a man with pretty eyelashes under rimless glasses) laughed with a forced, high jollity –

Haha! now then, now then, we don’t want any “outrageous assertions”. Haha, we all know you Ken. But the Governor has been kind enough to explain just how the service has changed from your days. (and at this the Chair paused, to nod and smile at the Governor). Then he added more quietly And I will be grateful if you would remember that I’m Chairman here – we are not in the Social work Committee now. 

Ken smiled very graciously and said You are all fools if you believe there has been any change for the better.

Business moved on. I had stopped note-taking. 
It was clear the scene that had been long in the making. That at the very least it involved a history of personal and political antipathy. I had that spine-shiver that intrigue always provoked. I was studying  Ken with real interest now. Clearly he had been in the Service. But for how long and in what capacity? What did he do now that involved the Regions Social Work Committee?
There was a break for tea and biscuits. A prisoner, small dark and elderly wheeled in the trolley. He bobbed his head to left and right acknowledging the Committee members who were indulgently praising the quality of the tea. One said not long now then Alec. Eh? Not long at all. Eh? The sweaty florid man chipped in, with a laugh least you’ll be able to make tea out there when you go! and continued to laugh at his own words   as he looked around the room for appreciation.

(follow link for background info re Ken)
(to be continued again…)

A wee bit for the CV

At the age of 24 close political contacts ensured my appointment to the local H.M.Prison Visiting Committee. Corruption? Nepotism? Of course it was.

I had just had my first child and had begun the law degree. The Committee appeared to ask very little of me but seemed a good CV bet. There was nothing more in it for me than that. I gave the shift little thought.

I was the youngest Committee member by at least 35 years. The combo of gender and age meant that I was quickly appointed to the paid position of Committee Clerk. A  lowly unattractive admin position – but one which I shortly realised was the real power behind the Chairs illusory throne.

The then Prison Governor was a bastard of a man. Ex-military. Dictatorial. Capriciously and gratuitously bullying. Misogynistic. loved by the old Officers and respected by prisoners habituated to a hard unbending institutional violence. He was due to retire within the year but had the offer of a contractual extension – he had reigned over the Prison for an unusual trouble-free twenty two months.

He despised the Committee do-gooders. Displaying contempt in late arrivals to meetings. In eye-rolling  dismissals. In hard stares. I watched that first day. He fixed his gaze on each emerging source of irritation – and simply stared potential dissent down. Big grown men – leaders in their own fields – cowered, shifted in their seats, ahemed, and then back-tracked.

As the Agenda stuttered and faltered, Governor would distribute a short typed report. Speak to it. And, finishing it, would raise his gaze, looking over his half-moon glasses to fix the company with a stare which dared response.

I remember that first meeting. The tense silence. Eyes looking to the table top. One cough. Then another. Men seeming to shrink in their seats.

All, in fact, but one man. A big tall craggy attractive man in his 60s who had caught my attention earlier. A man with a twinkle in his eye. I remember him catching my bemused stare,winking at me, then turning to the Governor to say, with a slow, deliberate nonchalance, that acted like a slap, Now, George…You and I both know that that’s not quite true…is it?

(to be continued)

A first love

We were together when I was 14. You, 3 years older – dark and serious, the brightest in your year, capped for the Scottish under 21s football team, reading William Blake, listening to the old pre-Collins Genesis.  A moral young man, struggling with fundamental religion, a family history of suicide and a Mother who suffered severest depressions.

I would never have looked at you. You headed that league of senior kids who appeared in corridors dressed in blazers trimmed with the prefects red ribbon of authority. You were firm but fair to us wee ones. Even though we were cheeky bastards who decried your puny authority. 
I was occasionally rude to you. I had just opened the mansion marked sexuality and was loitering in the doorway. Flexing a power that appeared – to my 14 yr old self – simultaneously hilarious, exhilarating and just a bit alarming. Discovering that a male gaze held momentarily and then dropped and then held again briefly seemed to mesmorise even the coolest seniors. That a school skirt always benefited from the upward turn of the waistband. That boys appeared to be fascinated by the bad girls but ultimately favoured the good – so, the trick was to blend both…
I flirted my way to higher sales on the market stalls I worked, learning the hard way just how far I could take the game before it became serious – and the buyer thought hed bought more than a pair of shoes. I worked the hamburger van every weekend in Muirhouse, the toughest Motherwell estate, charming the approved school boys and the hardest of girls buzzed on glue and the lifer out on licence who stole the big onion knife from the counter. I rode the waltzer and laughed harsh teenage laughs and was spun by the fairground lads. I learned to survive a hard life – the type of life my mother and father despaired of and warned against, wanting better for me.
Poverty and necessity made me tougher than you. But my intelligence was more than a match for yours. Free music lessons from a woman convinced of my musical genius (I was good but – in the end – lazy and just not good enough) meant I was more familiar with Faure than pop – a fact I had to learn to hide. A skill with the English language meant that my achievements were most often compared to your previous achievements – you in turn being compared to R (an older former pupil and school dux whom I would meet much later).
You started to smile at me. Study me. Blush when you saw me. I was aware but not that interested. You were just a bit wet. And anyway, it was not the done thing – a senior with a junior – and you stood for the done thing.

I played school concerts – solos with my flute. And at one you turned up, selling tickets on the door. You spoke to me to say how good my playing was – an easy piece I said. You asked how I was getting home. Could you walk with me? And I laughed and said but we live at opposite ends of the town. You quietly responded Oh I just thought…and tailed off into silence.

looking back I did not make it easy for you. It took – so you said – several weeks to woo me. But I know it was months.
In the end we were inseperable. We became two sides of the same coin. We spoke the others thoughts aloud. Had a closeness of spirit that liberated and empowered. Without you – without Us – I would be less than I am.
It has been over 25 years and I mourn your loss still today.

Girls Night Out

My pal-of-the-messy-divorce and I managed a “Girls pre-Xmas night out” in Leeds last night. I am suffering…mildly, but definitely suffering, having belatedly investigated the reason why we are warned never to mix the grape and the barley… (Oh! but that wine was divine – and the whisky! Smooth and rich – an icy fire begging to be savoured).

I made it to Marton-cum-Grafton (gorgeous wee Yorkshire village where she is currently living) in a record 2hrs and 34 mins – despite snow at Beattock Summit, a ten mile stretch of densest fog over the A66 and an average speed (50mph) section on the M1 roadworks after Scotch Corner. The old Passat did the ton, eating up road, lunging forward ever faster with the lightest touch on the pedal – yet, strangely, delivering an impressive 43.6mpg (ok ok, it can do much better than that – but it would involve killing the speed)… It might look a wee bit scruffy now (scratch on rear bumper from an idiot driving a Chelsea Tractor – aka a 4×4) and it needs cleaning on the inside. But it is a dependable beast of a turbo diesel.

Of course I am a faithless shallow besom. Which means… that I promptly ditched the Passat to climb into my pals Audi TT.

And this is when the real fun began.

The M62 passed in a blur of muscular car-power.

The QPark staff handed us free handmade chocolate as we parked.

Then the Leeds Malmaisons dark glamour embraced us – sultry, Stygian, obliquely hinting at debauchery… excess… secrets… Interior metalwork intrigues with a style that nods to Gaudi. Upholstery whispers, insistent, touch me, stroke me, caress me… Walls are densest navy. The intricate metal-worked wall lights echo the designed metalwork beauty of the entrance.

Reception staff were attentive, recognising us from our visit just a couple of weeks ago.

We had a room upgrade. And that was a good thing. Linen to die for. Vast bed. LCD screen, surround-sound. Champagne mini-bar and luxury snacks. A huge en suite that dwarfed my bathroom at home… Malmaisons own fragrant toiletries…

We cracked open the red wine. And took precious wonderful child-free time to adorn ourselves.

I had a wee panic when I thought the black leather jeans I had bought (but not actually tried on for lack of time…never a good idea) were going to be too tight. But no! They were perfect. Ahhhhh. Heaven… Then the silk t-shirt, the crystal-pleated cobalt blue satin scarf, the new earrings, my Fornarina boots… (yip I am shallow… fashion fascinates me…I take pleasure from new shapes, from textures, and colours…)

My pal has a stunning sense of style. She has a dark and dramatic, arresting beauty. She turns heads. And she looked painfully good in a simple satin shift teamed with astonishing, chunky, faceted and gleaming jet necklaces.

The taxi turned up on time. Just as we had finished that night out cigarette.

We met up with some others. Began laughing. Drank some more. Hunted out the best bars. Danced for hours and hours and hours. And at 3.20am we ate a big bag of fat chips with mayonnaise on the hilarious and inebriated walk back to the Mal.

I am old enough to know that funny, happy, on-top-of-the-world nights like last night rarely occur when you plan and rely upon them to happen. But it all came together last night. We were the right people in the best of places and at the perfect time.

We are now beginning to plan for the next time!

My memory sucks…

BG has just reminded me that I promised The Lad a prawn cocktail, roast lamb and all the trimmings and carrot cake dinner tonight as a belated birthday treat.

Tonight. Oh my god! In four hours time. A dinner for 12. And I haven’t even started.

I need to get to the butchers, the fruit n veg shop and the fish-mongers.

I need to get off this laptop!