David Moyes

So, the poisoned chalice got him in the end.

It was always going to be a difficult task taking over from Sralex.

It wasn’t made any easier by the fact that the players he was left with were either getting on a bit or not up to it. Sralex has a lot to do with that. (United’s poor season does have the effect of making him look irreplaceable though. The uncharitable might say his choice of Moyes was always designed with that in mind.)

Those same players also seem not to have put the requisite effort in; they let Moyes down badly. It doesn’t matter if they didn’t see eye to eye with him or disagreed with what he was asking them to do. If you’re employed you’re supposed to do what your boss says. Footballers should not be above that commonplace expectation. Lots of people are faced with new bosses coming in and changing things – for better or worse. The employees just have to get on with it.

When Matt Busby “retired” – also leaving behind an ageing team – the exact same thing happened. (Busby took over the reigns again temporarily when his successor was deemed lacking. I can’t see Sralex doing the same.) It took United years, decades, to get back to winning the league. They even fell out of the top division for a season during that time.

In retrospect Moyes should not have taken the job. Someone with experience of winning things at the highest level might perhaps have got more out of the players. Is anyone of that stamp going to want the job right now?

Dumbarton 0-3 Queen of the South

SPFL Tier 2, The Rock, 19/4/14.

Since I was at Eastercon I wasn’t at this game. It looks like the promotion play off is out the window for sure now, especially since we play the top two in the last two games.

Mind you, it would be nice to beat Dundee on their own patch in the last game.

If both Livingston and Raith drop any points over the next two weekends fifth place is assured, which would be a magnificent achievement. Since they play each other on May 3rd that’s quite likely.

Cloud Howe by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

In “A Scots Quair” Hutchinson, 1966, 156 p. First published 1932. The cover shown is of a Canongate edition.

Cloud Howe cover

Cloud Howe takes up the story of Chris Guthrie from Sunset Song at the point where her new husband, Minister Robert Colquohoun (strange spelling that, Colquhoun is more usual,) is about to try for the vacant post in the parish of Segget, still in the Mearns and not far away from the Kinraddie of the earlier book. Segget is a divided community, not to mention class ridden and status conscious, with the folks in the old part of town despising the spinners who work in the jute mills. Robert’s self-imposed mission there is to improve Segget. On their first walk in Segget Robert, gassed in the Great War, is horrified by Segget’s War Memorial, an angel set on a block of stone, “like a constipated calf.”

The story unfolds over the 1920s, covering almost incidentally the growth of socialism – and its first betrayal – the (lack of) industrial relations, the grinding poverty, the insensitivity of the rich. The narrative voice is not straightforward, shifting, but not obtrusively, back and forth from a tight focus on Chris – or on occasion someone else – to an unnamed kirkgoer of a conservative bent (small and large C.) Gibbon captures the smugness of that holier than thou voice perfectly, “The English aye needed the Scots at their head, right holy and smart at the same time,” is one of the milder observations. Also well captured is its hypocrisy, “You’d seen it all in the People’s Journal, what the coarse tinks did in Russia with women – man they fair had a time with the women, would you say ‘twould be easy to get a job there?”

Segget is replete with characters and nicknames. Ag Moultrie, prone to outbursts of weeping is known as the Roarer and Greeter, the mayor’s resemblance to a monkey has him dubbed Hairy Hogg. Old Leslie at the Smiddy is prone to reminisce, “I mind when I was a loon in Garvock.”

If Kinraddie thrived on gossip then Segget gloats in it. The morning after the Segget Show a farmer and his wife are delighted to come upon two couples “in such a like way” in their barn. “They’d be able to tell the story about them all the years they lived on Earth; and make it a titbit in Hell forbye.” It doesn’t take long after the Colquohouns arrival for tales detrimental to Chris to start to circulate – even before Robert attempts to change Segget for the better. Chris is damned either way. If she speaks in Scots she is common, if in English she is putting on airs.

Cloud Howe also begins to focus on Chris’s son Ewan, who is four times referred to in the text as grey granite. Ewan sees nothing wrong with either nakedness or sex and doesn’t take nonsense from anyone. When confronted by Ag Moultrie with a piece of gossip about himself he replies, “I’m sorry I don’t know what you’ve heard, Miss Moultrie, but no doubt Segget soon will. Good Morning.”

It struck me that when a farmer’s wife says she’s heard of Chris from her son, “he lived in London and wrote horrible books,” might be Gibbon referring to himself. I remember reading somewhere that Chris is intended as a metaphor for Scotland. Gibbon foregrounds this twice; once when the local toff Mowatt, meets Chris and, “was to say later he felt he was stared at by Scotland herself,” and secondly when Robert refers to her as Chris Caledonia. I’m not quite sure whether the narrative is enough to sustain the metaphor.

As in Sunset Song Gibbon once again asserts that the Scots have never really BELIEVED in God. All that is real is the land. “Only the sky and the seasons endured, slow in their change.” The author’s eye and ear for rural and village life is acute. I have no doubt that this is how it was in the Mearns a hundred years ago.

One curio. The phrase, “leave me to twitter,” reads a little differently nowadays from the way Gibbon intended.

Reelin’ In the Years 83: Fox on the Run

I’ve not had one from The Sweet for a while.

This was the first of their hits that they’d written themselves.

Sweet: Fox on the Run

BSFA Awards Booklet 2013

A welcome innovation this year was the inclusion in the booklet of pieces to do with the Award for non-fiction. The nominees here were:-

“Sleeps with Monsters” by Liz Bourke. Two extracts from Bourke’s blog for tor.com are included. One is about fantasy, the other gaming.

“Going Forth by Night” by John J Johnston. A discussion on the history of Mummies in literature from the introduction to Unearthed, an anthology published in partnership with The Egypt Exploration Society.

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer. The Awards booklet contained an extract from the book’s first chapter.

As usual the booklet contains all the nominees for the short story award.

I have already reviewed Spin by Nina Allan, TTA Press.

Selkie Stories are for Losers by Sofia Samatar, Strange Horizons, January 2013.

A girl who works in a restaurant has a host of selkie stories which she says always end in the same way, except she will never tell one. Of course; she does. A story about the faces we present to the world, the masks we hide behind and how we yearn to be our true selves.

Saga’s Children by E J Swift, The Lowest Heaven, Pandemonium, (Jurassic London)

Saga was the most famous astronaut in the Solar System before, and after, she took off into the unknown from the surface of Ceres and was never heard from again. (There is an explosion here due to “unstable gases released by drilling.” No mention of the necessary oxygen though.) The lives of her three children, who up till a few days before that moment had not realised they had siblings, are irreparably marked by her single-mindedness.

Boat in Shadows, Crossing by Tori Truslow, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, no 113, Jan 2013.
A tale of infatuation and betrayal with indeterminate gendered folk, and houses that are alive in a city of canals. More fantasy than SF.

Hmmm. I would say that two and a half out of these four stories are more fantastical in nature than SF.

The winners will be announced on Sunday evening during Eastercon.

Satellite 4 (Eastercon)

This year’s Eastercon – the annual British Science Fiction Convention – is being held under the name Satellite 4 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Glasgow from 18th to 21st April.

It’s a while since the event has been in Scotland so I’ve not attended for a few years. I’ll be going this year though.

In fact I’m even going to be on two panels. My schedule is below.

Eastercon is a great way to meet people whom you haven’t seen since last the last Eastercon you graced with your presence, and others you’ve not met before. It has always served to enthuse me about SF again.

Good practice in editing and reviewing
Sunday 18:00 – 19:00

Has steampunk gone off the boil?
Monday 13:00 – 14:00

Lucius Shepard and Margo MacDonald

Due to my house move I missed commemorating at the times the demise of both Margo MacDonald, former SNP MP and independent MSP, and writer Lucius Shepard.

It says a lot for the esteem in which MacDonald was held by the wider public that she was able to gain a seat in the Scottish Parliament on the list system as an independent.

In recent years her campaign for the right to assisted dying (she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease) was carried out with a dignity which ensured that her views and comments commanded respect.

Luius Shepard’s fiction is elusive to pigeonhole, morphing from Science Fiction to fantasy and bordering on magic realism. He was always readable, though, and intelligent.

Margo MacDonald, 19/4/1943 – 4/4/2014, Lucius Shepard, 21/8/1943 – 18/3/2014. So it goes.

Raith Rovers 1-3 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 2, Stark’s Park, 12/4/14

Straight away as the teams came out I noticed their keeper was wearing an all orange number which nearly matched our away strip. It was about ten minutes in before it was changed for a black top. A woman Sons supporter shouted out, “what about the shorts?” Ooh-er, missus. (The shorts were changed for black ones during half time.)

This was a comprehensive win. We had six efforts on target to Raith’s two before we scored. The goal had been coming and Mark Gilhaney’s first time drive when the ball came out to him was a fully deserved result for our endeavours up to then. Jamie Ewings had two excellent saves – one from a defensive header for which he had little time to react but still diverted on to the bar – in the first half.

Our second was a great individual goal from Mitch Megginson, slaloming through their defence before slotting it past the keeper. Does Mitch score ordinary goals?

A comfortable enough first half. I know Raith were missing several midfielders for one reason or another but you can only play the team you’re up against; and we did, rather well.

The third came when Colin Rhyming Slang – who had a good game overall – reacted quickly to the break of the ball in the box to knock it in at the near post.

Their goal followed on from a passage of play notable for the most blatant handball I’ve ever seen, the ball being knocked down by the Raith attacker from about head height as he was on the run. How the ref, two linos and the fourth official between them could not see it is beyond me. The ensuing corner came back out to their player who curled it in well thus ruining our potential first away clean sheet of the season. But the corner should not have been.

Raith had a bit of a flurry after that but any chance they had of more goals was ruined when their defender was given a straight red for denying Garry Fleming a clear goalscoring opportunity and the game kind of petered out after that.

Curiously for the second straight game at Stark’s Park Jordan Kirkpatrick had to leave injured.

There is now not even the arithmetical possibility of a relegation play-off. Fourth place is possible but will be difficult, fifth would still be a remarkable achievement.

Edited to add:- Chris Turner did a lot of quiet, unobtrusive stuff in the game allowing the other midfielders to get on with playing on the front foot.

Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

Penguin, 2000, 333 p + xlvi p of introduction and select bibliography, 10 p of Notes on the Text and 9 p of Variants in different editions. First published 1934.

Tender is the Night cover

Maybe it was due to my impending house removal but I just couldn’t get into this one at all. Alternatively it may be because initially I found the characters flighty and tedious, the dialogue curious. The novel is structured into three books and that too was part of the problem. Book 1 is set on the French Riviera where Dick Diver and his wealthy wife Nicole play host to a succession of vapid individuals. Their idyll is interrupted when nascent film star Rosemary Hoyt turns up at the resort with her mother and Dick is taken with her. In this section a duel between minor characters occurs – for no good reason I could see – and a body is found in a hotel bedroom with no apparent consequences.

However, things picked up in Book II where the narration flashed back to the first meeting of Dick and Nicole when he was a psychologist and she a patient. It immediately occurred to me that this would have been a better place to start the book as the situation and the characters are more interesting. In the notes at the end I discovered this was a revision that Fitzgerald had intended to make for future editions before his death and from 1948 till this Penguin edition the novel did appear with that altered structure.

By Book III the Divers’ marriage disintegrates as Dick takes to drink and Nicole becomes more and more independent.

There were a few bon mots. “A man is vulnerable only in his pride, but delicate as Humpty Dumpty once that is meddled with.” “Doctors, chauffeurs, and Protestant clergymen could never smell of liquor.” “Women marry all their husband’s talents and naturally afterwards are not so impressed with them as they keep up the pretence of being.”

The book’s provenance in the 1920s was apparent in the use of the words negro and nigger and there was a reference to a “gone coon” whatever that was. (A dead duck according to Wikipedia.)

At one point another character says to Dick, “But remember what George the Third said, that if Grant was drunk he wished he would bite the other generals.” Wouldn’t it have been Lincoln who said that? Fitzgerald has also given a band with a Scottish pianist the name The Ragtime College Jazzes of Edinboro. I think not. The repetition in the sentence, “Their fortunes had something to do with a bank in Milan that had something to do with the Warren fortunes,” struck me as clumsy. There was also filagree for filigree.

I did not read the (46 page!) introduction till after the novel and am glad of that as it gave away much of the novel’s driving force. It was also very Marxist in its interpretation, stating that the book was actually about a shift in economic structure from accumulation to reproduction.

Wiki says the Modern Library ranked Tender is the Night as 28th in its hundred best English language novels of the early twentieth century. Evidently there’s something in there but I’m afraid it passed me by.

The Culture Collider

The Culture Collider

Writers’ Bloc’s latest show is in connection with the Edinburgh Science Festival.

THE CULTURE COLLIDER will be switched on at the Red Lecture Theatre, Summerhall, on Sunday 13 April from 8.00pm.

I’ve been out of the loop on this due to my house move so this notice is a bit late.

Here’s the blurb:-

The Writers’ Bloc laboratory of writers brings an evening’s tales of science and surprises to detonate the cultural divide, an exploration of weird science and stranger arts.

Experiment dangerously with:

* An investment queen of the City obsessed with appearances. Will she live happily ever after?
* A musician who refuses recordings — a long playing career?
* Environmental self sufficiency — is it literally a dead end?

From literary travellers of strange worlds in deep space, to ghostly doings that defy rational explanation, and high-tech culinary labs where eating becomes a surprisingly emotional experience.

Discover the results of dodgy methodologies and dubious motives. Join Writers’ Bloc as it studies two cultures in one Petri dish.

Writers appearing at The Culture Collider will include:
Andrew C. Ferguson, Gavin Inglis, Halsted M. Bernard, Stuart Wallace, Hannu Rajaniemi, Stefan Pearson and Bram E. Gieben.

Plus your host for the evening, Andrew J. Wilson.

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