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 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.


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?


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.


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.


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).


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.