Black and Blue by Ian Rankin

Orion, 1997, 399 p including 2 p Afterword and 1 p Acknowledgements.

This novel appears in both the 100 best Scottish Books list and in the Herald’s “100” best Scottish Fiction Books.

 Black and Blue cover

It is the eighth of Rankin’s Rebus novels and sees Inspector John Rebus, banished to Craigmillar for various indiscretions, and investigating the suspicious death of Allan Mitchison, an oil worker who had made unfortunate connections. It is not long before Rebus is once more ruffling feathers, both of his superiors and of the criminal fraternity. His nose for the truth and the links he makes to a current serial killer nicknamed Johnny Bible (because of the similarities of his murders to the famous Bible John case of the 1960s) leads Rebus to Glasgow, Aberdeen, Shetland and an oil-rig in the North Sea. Meanwhile he is incidentally trying to deal with his over-fondness for alcohol and also being stalked by a TV crew looking into a possible miscarriage of justice from early in Rebus’s career. It’s all admirably well plotted and suitably twisted and turned. If a bit too much when Rebus himself is questioned for one of Johnny Bible’s murders.

Where it broke down for me was the interpolation into the story of “Bible John” himself, returned to Scotland from time spent in the US where he had married, now an executive in the oil business, not at all pleased that some upstart is stealing his thunder, and whose viewpoint we inhabit at the end of several of the chapters. I think my unease would have been the case even without the renewed interest in Bible John which struck between the writing of Black and Blue and its publication and the later possibility that Bible John was/is convicted killer Peter Tobin. To me it seemed Rankin portrays his “Bible John” as a more intelligent, even thoughtful, individual than he in fact was/is.

On Aberdeen’s dependence on oil money Rebus reflects that the oil won’t be there for ever. “Growing up in Fife Rebus had seen the same with coal: no one planned for the day it would run out. When it did hope ran out with it.” True as far as it goes. Except the coal didn’t run out: there’s still plenty coal under Fife or the Firth of Forth. It was government policy to shut mines – mostly to destroy workers’ rights and trade union influence.

Yes, it deals with one of the most high profile Scottish criminal cases of the twentieth century and has Tom Nairn’s dictum on the conditions for Scotland’s rebirth as a section quote but I can see no compelling reason why this book should be in a top one hundred.

Pedant’s corner:- halogen orange (of street lights? Sodium orange, yes,) there were a couple (was,) there were a few (was,) a team were (was,) – the text is littered with singular nouns followed by plural verbs – Geddes’ (appeared several times, yet once we had what I would prefer, Geddes’s,) there were dozens fit the description (fitted,) popadums (it’s usually poppadums,) Stevens’ (Stevens’s,) disks (even for computers the British English is still discs,) dishels, (???) thirty-five mils (mil; an abbreviation subsumes its plural, even when it’s written as it’s spoken,) ‘Laying low.’ (Lying low; but it was in dialogue and lying low appeared in text later,) Forres’ (Forres’s,) sat (sitting,) McIness’ (McIness’s.)

Where Do We Go From Here?

Under normal circumstances I would be welcoming the intention of David Cameron (known to this blog as Mr Irresponsible) to resign as Prime Minister of the UK as in my opinion he has been the worst incumbent of that office in its entire history (and there has been severe competition for that title.)

However; these are not normal circumstances. The prospect of either of the leading lights of the Vote Leave campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, succceeding him as PM is beyond nightmare. The direction in which the UK would travel under their auspices is not one I would find at all congenial. That Scotland may be given the chance of another vote on independence from the UK as a result of the EU referendum does not alter that conviction. I would not wish what would then be our nearest neighbour to be under their leadership. It is to be hoped the Conservative Party turns away from them and chooses someone else but quite who is actually up to the job is not evident.

I was going to call David Cameron’s decision to cave in to the bullies’ demands for a referendum a catastrophic misjudgement, but I don’t think he made a judgement at all. Everything in his political life so far has gone his way and he thought that situation would continue. But he is a weak man and has reaped his reward. The verdict of history will be harsh.

And what will happen to that southern neighbour when the promised £350 million a week for the NHS doesn’t appear, when immigration stubbornly refuses to fall, when visas are required to travel to the EU, when jobs fail to be created and employment conditions worsen further, when the anger and resentment which Vote Leave has stoked but whose underlying causes they will neither address nor ameliorate, bursts out? Against whom will that anger be directed and in what form? Anyone who looks different? Who sounds different?

What happens to the fragile peace process in Northern Ireland?

How encouraging will this be to right wingers across Europe? What if the Front National wins power in France and starts to discriminate against Muslims – which they surely will, or worse – enraging those with a grudge against “Europe” even more. You can be sure the likes of ISIS/Da’esh will not make a distinction between French Crusaders and British ones.

The immediate future is going to be immensely troubling. This has no simple outcome. The EU cannot afford to be easy-going on the negotiations which have to take place for a UK withdrawal. If they were it would only provide encouragement to any other country which might think of leaving. In any case what incentive would it have to be lenient to a country which has just slapped it in the face. Divorce proceeding are notorious for their acrimony.

As for the main advocate of the UK leaving the EU these past twenty odd years, Nigel Farage. There is now no reason for his party to exist or for him to appear on television ever again – a consummation devoutly to be wished. There is only one phrase fit for him. Il faut cultiver son jardin.

The Price of Sovereignty

This is where division in and, in the UK’s case, from Europe leads:-

Graves and Memorial Cross, Tyne Cot Cemetery
Tyne Cot Cemetery, Zonnebeeke, Belgium

German War Graves, Langemark, Belgium
Langemark War Cemetery, Langemark-Poelkapelle, Belgium

Rainbow Over Dysart Harbour

Stitch of two photos to get the whole rainbow in. It’s actually a double rainbow.

Rainbow Over Dysart Harbour

The Just City by Jo Walton

Corsair, 2015, 368 p including iv p Thanks and Notes.

 The Just City cover

The God Apollo cannot understand why Daphne prayed to Artemis to turn her into a tree rather than mate with him. As a result he resolves to become mortal for a while in order to learn about volition and equal significance (ie according to others their right to self-determination.) His half-sister Athene suggests he go to Kallisti, the part of the Mediterranean island of Thera which will be destroyed when the volcano erupts, where some people are attempting to set up a society based on Plato’s Republic. Here, overseen by masters (Plato-loving scholars drawn from throughout human history – not all of whom are men, despite their title) are brought ten-year old children bought from slave markets to be moulded by Plato’s rules with the intent that they strive to be their best selves and so produce philosopher kings – people who truly understand the truth, agree on what it is, and pursue it – either of the children themselves, from whom the contents of the Republic are to be withheld until they are fifty, or their offspring. Robots from our future do all the work of maintenance and food production. All the children and most masters have their original names replaced, even Cicero. Into this so called Just City after five years comes Sokrates – the only master there who had not in some way requested it. He, of course, questions everything, including the robots.

The narrative is divided into three viewpoints: that of Apollo, incarnated on Kallisti as Pytheas; a slave girl, Simmea; and Maia, a woman born in nineteenth century Harrogate. Between the three this gives Walton the opportunity to discuss not only Plato’s ideas but also issues of free will, the rights of individuals and the nature of sentience. In the midst of this she has Sokrates inquire, “‘If you pursue happiness….. do you get closer to it or further away?’” and Athene, in human form as Septima, “‘most women might as well not exist for all the contribution most of us get to make to history.’”

When the children reach the age of sixteen a system of temporary marriages, whose participants should appear to be randomly selected for each other but really to ensure only the most fit reproduce, is instituted. Human nature being what it is, some couples pair up outside this system, against the rules, and sneak off to do what couples do. Simmea adheres strictly to the rules but Pythea, who is attracted by her mind (she is flat-faced, flat chested and buck-toothed) in the end wants her for himself, as does Kebes, who resents the whole process in Kallisti as being no better than the slavery the children were removed from.

Walton also portrays incidents which underline the thrust of her novel and the arguments it makes. Some of these are perhaps just a little too programmatic. For example, Maia is raped by Ikaros, though he doesn’t understand his actions as rape. Plato wrote that defective babies or those of defective parents should be exposed – a common practice in the classical world. Despite her misgivings, Maia does expose a hare-lipped child.

The Just City is interesting, thought-stirring stuff. Unfortunately, after a public dialogue between Sokrates and Athene, the novel stops rather than concludes. There is a sequel though, The Philosopher Kings, which I shall search out.

Pedant’s corner:- there were a whole host of reasons (there was a host,) the Tech Committee have decided (has decided,) a full stop at the end of a question, to extend this out to everyone (no “out”,) somebody who had never showed cowardice (shown,) said as got dressed (as he got dressed,) Creusa (Kreusa,) ‘we can fix it would be much better’ (fix it it would be,) had rarely seem him (seen,) the crowd were making (the crowd was.)
Walton employs k where c is usually written in English for Greek names, hence Patroklus and Sokrates, but still uses the c in the phrase Socratic dialogues, she also in her note on pronunciation at the end says “ch” is a hard sound as in Bach or loch; in my experience Scots do not pronounce loch – nor Bach come to that – in such a way.

The Birks Cinema, Aberfeldy

This wonderful Art Deco cinema in Aberfeldy, Perthshire (or Perth and Kinross as it has now become is perhaps not what you expect to see in a small town in the middle of Scotland. Still in use as a cinema (plus cafe and bar.) The Birks (birches) is a local beauty spot/steep valley.

The Birks Cinema, Aberfeldy from Right

Entrance. Like the rest of the cinema (refurbished quite recently I believe) the glazing isn’t original:-

The Birks Cinema, Aberfeldy, Entrance

View from left:-

The Birks Cinema, Aberfeldy

Side aspect:-

The Birks Cinema, Aberfeldy, side view from rear

Mr Irresponsible’s Greatest Folly

Mr Irresponsible, aka Call me Dave, otherwise known as the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron Esquire, has a lot of idiocies to his name. But surely the largest of these is his utterly obtuse decision to give in to the bullying of his Conservative cohorts and the threat of UKIP to his voting base by first promising and then granting them a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.

Instead of lancing the boil (he warned his party not to continue to bang on about Europe) his indulgence of their obsession has now unleashed a tide of xenophobia and intolerance, egged on by those who knowingly encourage a false belief that the troubles experienced by various communities up and down the UK are as a result of external forces (the EU,) so-called lack of control (again the EU) or immigrants (supposedly the EU but there are more migrants into the UK from outwith the EU than from inside it – and many Britons living and working in the countries of the EU) rather than the banking crash and the policies his Government has followed ever since its election in 2010. (I know its first five years were in coalition but really it was a Conservative Government in all but name.)

This tide has been growing for years – stoked up by spurious newspaper stories of EU “impositions” and “red tape” and the simplicities of people who claim that the country’s problems have one solution – and has now taken the form of a vicious and intemperate “Vote Leave” campaign which has peddled all sorts of what may be politely called inaccuracies but are in fact downright lies and often strayed close to, if not over, the border of racism.

I know the “Remain” campaign has also given apocalyptic warnings of the consequences of a leave vote, but it has not been whipping up fear of others, nor blatantly arousing expectations which will not (cannot) be fulfilled. Against whom will the anger the “Leave” campaigners have stoked be directed when things do not get better? (Either “in” or “out”, ditching austerity is not on their or David Cameron’s agenda.)

Had I been in any doubt about which way I would vote in Thursday’s referendum the “Vote Leave” television broadcast claiming that the £350 million pounds a week of the UK’s contribution to the EU budget (a large part of which promptly gets sent back anyway) would – in a leave future – be spent on the NHS instead would have made my mind up. These guys have no intention of spending money on the NHS; they want rid of it. They want to privatise everything that moves (and everything that doesn’t.) The worse thing, though, was the highlighting of five Balkan countries said to be on the point of entry into the EU (none of which actually are any time soon) plus Turkey: Turkey! which has been moving ever further away from meeting accession criteria under its present government) and then a series of arrows, leaping, Dad’s Army style, over to Britain. As if every inhabitant of those countries would immediately up sticks and come to the UK as soon as they were given the opportunity. Some may, most will not.

Then there was “Vote Leave”‘s pamphlet – delivered by post – which handily showed Turkey as having borders with Syria and Iraq. Are Syria and Iraq applying for EU membership? I don’t think so. What possible purpose can their inclusion on this map have? (Except to stoke up fears of people from there coming through Turkey – and riding the arrows to Britain.) Well, they’re doing that anyway, as “Leave” well knows and plays on. Yet in their circumstances so would I – and so would every leave campaigner.

The circumstances under which this vote is taking place, the Eurozone under strain, a refugee crisis, a war on Europe’s margins (two if you include Turkey in Europe which geographically part of it is,) render its timing more than unfortunate. It is potentially disastrous.

I really fear that a leave vote will see other countries (but emphatically not those who border Russia) seek to leave the EU. These may even include France if the Front National wins power.

In that case there will certainly be unresolved tensions between France and Germany – and we know where that has led in the past.

What the leave campaigners don’t seem to have grasped, or have deliberately ignored, is that the EU was set up (as the European Coal and Steel Community, then the Common Market) precisely so that France and Germany would never go to war again. That is emphatically in the UK’s national interest, and may be at risk. The writer of this letter to the Guardian knows what is at stake.

Whatever the result on Thursday the passions this referendum seems to have inflamed, at least in England – there has been almost no sign of it taking place at all in the way of posters and window stickers round where I live – will not be stilled easily.

Ypres War Memorial

Is situated on Coomansstraat just beyond the Cloth Hall, the road leading to the square dominated by Saint Martin’s Cathedral.

Ypres War Memorial

It is dedicated to all citzens of Ypres killed in the World Wars 1914-18 and 1939-45.

Ypres War Memorial Dedication

It lies within a small memorial garden:-

Ypres War Memorial

Just to the left of the main Memorial as you look at it is this one to the members of the Belgian Field Artillery incorporated into the British Army from 17/5/1915 to 17/5/1917 (when the unit was disbanded) who died in the defence of the Ypres Salient:-

Ypres War Memorial Separate Plaque

Fixtures

The league fixtures for next season have come out.

It might seem ridiculous given Hearts and Rangers have gone from this division but every year it just looks harder.

I don’t like the fact we’re facing Dunfermline at their place for the first game. They ought to be on a high after promotion. Mind you, what sort of form either side might be in after the League Cup section games is anyone’s guess. Their group looks reasonably tough.

Not Friday on my Mind 40: RIP Paul McDowell

As I said before The Temperance Seven were one of my elder brother’s favourites back in the Trad Jazz boom. This week I learned their laid back singer Paul McDowell has passed away. His vocal style led to the nickname Whispering Paul.

I already featured their hits which my brother bought in the post linked to above, so here are the B-sides.

(That Parlophone label really takes me back.)

The Temperance Seven: Charley My Boy (B-side of You’re Driving Me Crazy)

The Temperance Seven: Sugar (B-side of Pasadena)

The Temperance Seven: Chili Bom Bom (B-side of Hard Hearted Hannah)

“Whispering” Paul McDowell: 15/8/ 1931 – 2/5/ 2016. So it goes.

free hit counter script