Parental Pride

Sign of my domestic times: Lewis the Lad is speaking longingly of home furnishings, hankering after comfy furniture and salivating over an armchair he can call his own. Ikea profits are about to rise in wake of his declaration that he ‘loves’ the Braehead store.

Lewis and Carrie – at T in the Park 2013

What has triggered this obvious very bad bout of nesting instinct?

The Lad has just landed himself a new job…

I really have tried to restrain myself. Honest. Because I really do know how tedious it can be, listening to other parents rave about their wains… But – unlucky for you – I have no self-control. I need to spill this parental pride before it kills me.

I was anxious about the Lad’s refusal to go study at Uni. With 9 Higher Grades he’d breezed into the course he’d originally applied for. Then his head was turned by what began as an 8 hr a week job with the big retailer Homebase. He loved the job. He began to thrive in the adult environment. He instinctively understood how to manage people and how to sell. He rejected the Uni offers and took up the Homebase offer of f/t training. Last year – at the age of 18 and within a year of starting – he was managing 15-20 people. This year he’s managing 46. His deft management skill – which comes from his belief in a respectful, largely democratic and listening workplace; the power of role-modelling ‘good behaviours’ and his commitment to ensuring that all that he does consistently demonstrates that he values others – have won him the respect of his staff and business success… His store consistently out-performs. He says this is because staff are valued and understand that their service is what drives profit and growth…

Ok ok the ‘business and profit and growth’ stuff – well, that’s strange medicine for this capitalist-suspicious household. But… parental pride has taken Robert and I on a bit of a journey…

His new job? After a 6-stage interview process he’s secured a management position with Waitrose. This – I now understand – is the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece of the retail trade. The John Lewis Partnership test prospective employees vigorously and comprehensively – ensuring that the people they employ are a ‘good fit’ for their partnership structure; that their own personal values are congruent with the business model and its values. His position gives him significant staff benefits (including a non-contributory pension scheme – something he just doesn’t quite yet appreciate the rarity and value of) and a pay rise together with annual bonus (amounting to 20% of his already good salary).

His current employers have offered him another promotion, a store manager’s post within 24 months and a significant pay rise – taking him above the Waitrose offer and well above his current salary.

He has managed to turn this down with a grace that has allowed the Divisional and Regional Managers to state that any time he wants to come back he’s just to call them…

I am genuinely proud of him. Robert is genuinely proud of him. I know what that old expression means: our hearts have  swollen with pride.

He is stubborn and driven but such fun to be around. He’s a BIG party and clubbing animal (ironically someone I’d have steered clear off at school) and will be off to Ibiza for the last 2 weeks in September. He enjoys his booze. He likes a laugh and is a prankster. But he is caring; thoughtful; insightful; mindful.

Just one last anecdote about my Lad:

Lewis suffered a slight stammer (over ‘d’ and ‘s’ words) whilst a toddler which disappeared for a few years only to return when he was 12. I took him to our family doctor who referred him to the Speech Therapist. The Therapist took him on his own for a few sessions. At the end of his 5th session she called me in to speak to me. By way of background – I was very ill at this time and had been gravely ill on many occasions. The kids were traumatised by ambulances and morphine and me writhing in pain and in hospital. The Therapist wanted to discuss ‘nest steps’ with me. She explained that there was a question that she asked every child referred to her: If you had one wish, what would you wish for?
She had just asked Lewis that question. His response had brought tears to her eyes she explained. He had said after a short pause to gather his thoughts: I’d wish that my Mum would get better and never need to feel pain or need medicine again.

She didn’t think he needed any more sessions with her. And she wanted me to know that I had a precious boy.

I knew that then and I know it now.

This is a blog for Lewis. And now I’m off to shout at him for blowing his nose on my tea towel.


A don’t speak like a Weegie.

A friend admitted, shortly after meeting me, that my accent was a ‘surprise’ to him – not what he’d ‘expected’ from what he knew of me.

I laughed at this. Not only because I was aware that whilst speaking to him my subconscious had tweaked my ‘Register'( so I was really speaking a less strongly accented version of my accent) but because our mutual friend – the person through whom we knew of one another – has always poked fun at my accent, calling me Weegie (a sometimes not so respectful diminutive for ‘Glaswegian’).
We are friends. So this baiting is ‘allowed’. On the basis that I give as good as I get. And also because this is what we Scots call ‘banter’. In fact it’s our default approach to friendship. You’re not relaxed with someone if you can’t ‘take the piss’; ‘rip’ one another; take and give a ‘good slagging’.

But, truthfully, accent is thorny. Accent is really not neutral. Accent brings bin bags full of social and cultural assumptions: of class; of region; of socio-economic status; of ethnicity and of religion. Accent is taken as a signifier – of power and wealth and intelligence (or their absence).

And unlike gender and race and religion and disability there are none of the statutory prohibitions or moral, social or cultural controls inhibiting our prejudices.

A strong ‘regional’ or ethnic accent may inhibit access to at least some of ‘the professions’; prevent you from reaching the upper eschelons of the professions or limit the career doors that open to you. It may be the reason you didn’t get that flat you wanted to rent or that promotion. Though of course, this can cut both ways. I can think of a few situations where I wouldn’t want  to speak what used to be called ‘BBC English’ or ‘received pronunciation’ (RP) – doing a Social Work visit in an area of poverty and deprivation, for instance. 

To many (arguably middle class, educated, powerful) folk, my accent identifies me as ‘working class’. It may also lead them to conclude that I left the education system at 16 yrs old; that I am in low-waged employment; and that I am a West of Scotland protestant. But to the working class folk I was once properly part of, sometimes my accent distinguishes me as middle class and educated.

It wasn’t until I studied English Language during my first degree that I realised – in common with the vast majority – I had several speech ‘registers’ and that I would slip between them depending on my audience. At least two-thirds on my undergraduate course were the children of the middle classes – their birth accents were shaped by private schools and money. But two or three admitted that they adopted street and slang when they wanted to feel ‘cool’… Course Director and departmental head, Professor Samuels was just fascinated by language. Our lazy glottal stops, the out of place plosives and fricatives that many of our teachers had tried to eradicate, were signposts on a roadmap of accent and dialect to him. He opened our eyes to the beauty of our ability to slip between the heavily accented and often dialect-laden language we used with those who shared family or village or school and the smoother, less relaxed, more ‘formal’ language we might use, for example, with our University teachers. I remember that he was showing off speak to me and I’ll tell you where you come from and pin-pointed my Shotts origins right away. How much I resented this at the time.

At Uni I tended to keep my mouth shut. If I spoke more than twice during tutorials in 1st and 2nd year that would be generous.This was the self-conscious ‘ashamed and embarrassed’ phase. This phase would probably have happened anyway. If not about the way I spoke, it would’ve been about the size of my nose or my fat thighs or something.

Then I went through an angry phase.
It’s communication, stupid! Could you understand me? Yes. So shut the f* up!

All the time my Mother noticed the subtle language changes and ‘approved’. Which annoyed me even more for my brother and I had laughed at the way in which we were exhorted by our Mother and by school teachers to ‘speak properly’. We had laughed but acknowledge the damage it sometimes did us – bullied by peers if we adopted ‘proper English’  and thumped by Mother if we lapsed.

It is about our ability to communicate. But the way we speak communicates much more about us than the meaning of the words we say.

I was out on Friday night with two friends. Maisie’s is a comfortably rough wee local. I know most of the folk who drink in it and they know me – usually as ‘Megan’s Mum’ or ‘Lewis’ Mum’. I was talking to Meg – she was working behind the bar – when one guy interjected like he was accusing me: Wer dae ewe cum fae? Ewir no fae roon here.

Meg says I gave him a look that would’ve frozen his gonads before saying: Whit? Whit ewe talkin’ aboot? Whit the fuk his it tae dae wi’ ewe anywi? He shuffled off. She laughed. And we resumed our softer speech, fully-present vowels and consonant-richer language just different from the language he and I had used on one another.

Perhaps it’s the case that there’s a time and place for everything.

I’m aware that my own children fully enunciate many words whose vowels and consonants would run and blend in the language I grew up speaking. Though I’m also aware that they too change depending on their audience. Their language being part-cost of the membership of that particular friendship group – or simply related to their age.

As for my Mum and Dad – over the years their own language has slipped back into the sturdy nursery of their childhood. Stolidly Lanarkshire in pronunciation. They speak West Central Scottish and reveal their age in their continued use of dialect words and phrases.

Some of my favourites:

Duntit – meaning bumped into and bashed
thole – meaning ‘suffer stoically’ or ‘put up with’ or ‘endure’
‘away fur a wee daunder’ – meaning to go for a largely aimless wander somewhere
craitur – probably ‘creature’ but it’s more than that – it can refer to appearance as in ‘pair craitur’ (poor creature) and also to nature or personality (pejorative).
stoorie – meaning ‘dusty’ but so much more satisfying an adjective
reekin’ – meaning smells not good
sheuch meaning the street gutter
ingon  sounds like ingot – but means ‘onion’
dreichbest of all, this word refers to a grey damp washed-out drab day…

(I’ll attach a video of the words being spoken later?)

So, does it matter? How we speak? If we are understood? Or does the way we speak truly reveal us to our audience? Exposing us to prejudice and assumption – the most innocuous of which still revealing so much about the way in which our society works.

This Quiet House

This house is quiet tonight. I’m tucked into an ill-lit corner on the 4th floor and I feel its size – all of its large dark emptiness lying heavy on my mind. 

The clumsy stairwell is shrouded. I heard a cat jump onto a wooden floor. But it was muffled in this dark silence. The blackness of the tiny-paned windows reflect a fractured pale glow from the old table lamp.
The kids are asleep on the floor above. Evan is shattered and grumpy after shifting loaded pallets at Homebase all night – and he’s still got school in the morning. Ana went off in a rage after I said her hair was greasy (but I washed it last night wailed she). I heard her sobbing with anger for a while but it’s stopped now. Jamie is quiet in his self-contained usual-ness. I hear nothing from his corner of the 5th floor. 
I think Robert is working on the 2nd floor. Sifting through policy documents and mission statements and audit results and improvement plans. He’ll be there til the wee sma’ hours. At least until 2am.
Meg phoned when it was light to say she’ll be back tomorrow and that the flat-share viewing in Glasgow went well, she’ll decide on a rental by the end of the week. As she described the room she’d rent and the furniture she’d need and the diy repairs and paint required, my vision wandered out over the valley across the rooftops of Long Row and Double Row to the woods and fields of the other side.
My Row – New Lanark – though my house is at the very bottom of this photo
and because of the slope, benefits from an additional floor.
 I let myself imagine I was that crow circling effortless on the currents above the river. I love Meg. She was so full of excitement about this room and this flat. She was so sure it would be big – high ceilings, big rooms. I started to say that I knew that street, that I had friends who lived that end when I was at Uni, that my brother had stayed in the Street adjoining, that the flats were all ex-Corporation flats and modestly sized. But I stopped myself. I understand – it’s a sore realisation – that I make myself unpopular with my own children. I know this as a baleful but permanent reality. So full I am, with all this experience and unwelcome knowledge  that bursts bubbles and dreams. Better that I haud ma wheesht from time to time.
Long Row on the lhs of the photo with the gable end of my home in the top rhs
Louis will be navigating the velvet darkness of Ayrshire, probably passing the Louden Hill as I type. It’s a dangerous road he travels and when all’s said and done, he’s a 19 yr old lad behind the wheel of a ton of speeding metal. He hit a deer last month. Well – technically the deer hit him, running splat into the side of his car. But I worry. Like every parent, I know.   
So the house is quiet. And I see this silent empty darkness of it as the beginning of a different time in this house that has been all noise and happening. All things pass.

Oh! I’m going to L’Ampolla!

Skyscanner – I love you.

I kid myself that I’d have trawled the cheapo flight sites, searching for the travel holy grail: conveniently timed flights for the price of 6 bottles of plonk –  for any more than an hour. So, you have saved me hundreds of pounds and a frustrating hour’s web-search.

Putting my dates and then a generic UK to Spain into the search bar – and there it was: row upon row of £39 return flights from here to there…

We’re off on holiday. Again. 12th – 19th October.

Spain, of course. Again. Tho this time further North – the Costa Dorada, to a little place called L’Ampolla on the Ebro Delta.

Beach just down from the Apt – L’Ampolla, gateway to the Baix Ebre

And because it’s only an hour from Barcelona we’ll get a chance to gasp at the Sagrada Familia again and wonder at Las Ramblas and worship at Camp Nou…

We’ve rented a fine apartment 100m from the beach. The car is hired. Evan, Jamie, Ana, Robert and I cannae wait.

Until then they have school to attend; lessons to learn. Except they are already talking about travelling and what they’ll see and do. Ana’s mildly concerned about the cats – but only mildly. Evan’s slightly worried his passport won’t be renewed in time – but only slightly. Jamie’s sang froid is impressive. Robert knows he’ll need the break because he’s frazzled already and working flat out for an inspection.

As for me – I’ve clients to be advised and represented. Tribunals to prepare for. Professional folk to liaise with. Conferences to attend and speeches to deliver. And that was filling me with a sense of dismay. Except now I’ve something to look forward to…and strangely it’s made me enjoy work more.

‘I wish an egging upon you’! OR Jumping on the media bandwagon… and now feeling bad.

Milliband was ‘egged’.

Anti-‘THEM’ protester, Dean Porter, had Ed’s aides scrambling for cover whilst their boss took one for the ruling elite.

My conscience is a bit unclean. Is it really possible that I might have wished this egging upon him? I mean, there he was, getting it on with ordinary voters (just like I cursed that he should). Trying his best to listen (and to counter media accusations and in-house counter-spinning that he’s invisible; that Labour is invisible ) and understand and get the Labour message across. In other words looking like a plonker. When whizz, bang! His nice suit jacket’s looking ruined.

I’ll give him this: well recovered Ed, that was impressively cool handling. In fact, anyone would think this had happened to you before. Oh. Yes. That’s right. It has.

I do feel dirty though.

I spend a lifetime smelling political and media bullshit a mile off – and then just fall for it.

Thing is, what came first here? Was it Labour and Milliband who failed us big, or did our right-leaning media talk it all up? Chicken or egg?

A Rant: Are all politicians arrogant incompetent tossers?

NewsThump (aka NewsArse) couldn’t make it up…

I can only imagine* the ad that Chris Bryant responded to when he decided Politics-was-him.

Gold-plated Pension, Blank-cheque Expenses, Job for Life – with Endless Additional Earning Opportunities    

Are you an…
Arrogant Tosser? Gross Incompetent? Stranger to ‘the truth’?

Have you…
Never held a job since your Uni gap year spent telecanvassing for your Political Party of choice?

Does your
facile face conceal a banal mind with a mastery of the glib?

Then step this way…

The stench from the rotting corpse of the UK body politic interrupted my commute. Again.

Labour. This is what it has come to. An incoherent Incompetent, pre-releasing inaccurate extracts from a speech, the central argument of which he couldn’t even get right. Bryant, if you had any integrity or insight you’d resign – because, let’s face it, your boss won’t have the testicles to sack you. A Representative? You? Oh no. You don’t speak for me or, for that matter, anyone that I know. Your arrogance, the complete absence of intellectual ability, your astounding inarticulacy – you are what is wrong with today’s Labour Party.

Why didn’t you do your research for fuck sake? Why hadn’t you practiced the argument before setting yourself loose on national media? Why. oh why. did you then perform that egregious volte face, folding like some dodgy, gerry-built, foundation-less hoose, under the pressure of Tesco and of Next? They had indulged in nasty employment practices. They continue to indulge in nasty (if legal) employment practices, exploiting immigrant labour via employment agencies; offering re-employment to previous local staff, but on lower salaries. But no. You weren’t referring to Tesco or Next. You didn’t mean to infer they did this.

As I listened to the Radio interview my incredulity rapidly morphed into fury before resolving into a dyspeptic despair.

You have allowed the Tories to write the script: all that look at the mess we’re in – and it was caused by Labour crap.

Fight back!! Don’t accept this. Don’t preface every argument with ‘We’re sorry. We know we got this wrong when we were in power’. You are doing the Tories’ job for them ffs.

When you do talk policies make sure the language is clear and plain. We don’t need you to show how high your blue-stockings go, Ed. Naebody but you and yer high-falutin’ pals get the co-operative socialist stuff.
And tell Balls to get his head out of his arse – we don’t need him name-dropping (Greenspan on Twitter – get a grip). We need him fighting our corner. Not talking himself into an international economics job after politics.

You need to take the campaign out there. Speak to people. But make sure you take a real person with you to do the translating. A couple of easy wins. That’s what you need. Not own-goals a la Bryant and immigration speeches.

But no. Labour is a headless corpse. The only life a few maggots squirming under flabby skin.

After two years of this unspeakabe piss-poor Coalition. Of Government mistake after mistake. Reversals and inaccuracies. Un-mandated policy decisions and changes. Labour ups and dies.

Ed Milliband never was a Leader. The self-serving spite and misguided reasoning of the unions (Unite the Union and McLuskey in particular) have delivered us a pup.

An ineffective communicator would have difficulty enough where there was a political message to convey – but there’s no message. And he’s not the man to create it. He doesn’t know or understand his constituency. There is no connection with those who might vote for him and his party. There’s no articulation of clear credible goals. No coherent policies. No Manifesto for political action. No energy. No intelligence. No direction.

And whilst Scottish politicians happily co-exist on the same amoeba-level as their UK counterparts, the temptation to vote Yes becomes irresistible. What does Westminster and the UK offer, but more of the above? A Scottish Parliament has the advantage that it’s accessible – our democracy is closer, more readily influenced.

‘Testicles sit nicely in their mouths’

The ‘Ball Cutter’… courtesy of The Telegraph…

Swedish men told to beware testicle-munching fish. Pacu
“The pacu is not normally dangerous to people but it has quite a serious bite, there have been incidents in other countries, such as Papua New Guinea where some men have had their testicles bitten off,” Henrik Carl, a fish expert at the Danish museum, said.
“They bite because they’re hungry, and testicles sit nicely in their mouth,” he told The Local.
“And its mouth is not so big, so of course it normally eats nuts, fruit, and small fish, but human testicles are just a natural target. It’s not normal to get your testicles bitten off, of course, but it can happen, especially now in Sweden.”
Sometimes real life is stranger than fiction. Wonder if the fish pictured is female?