Val Doonican

Yet another voice from my young past has been extinguished.

Val Doonican was always determinedly old-fashioned and was probably more famous for Irish novelty songs, wearing woolly jumpers and singing while reclining in a chair than for ruffling the charts but he had a good crooner’s voice and five top ten hits between 1964 and 1967.

Doonican’s biggest was What Would I Be – a no 2 – and his cover of Bob Lind’s Elusive Butterfly reached No 5 in the UK charts – as, curiously, did Lind’s own version.

Val Doonican: Elusive Butterfly

Michael Valentine “Val” Doonican: 3/2/1927 – 1/7/2015. So it goes.

Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi

One World Classics, 2008, 158 p.

 Young Adam cover

Another from the list of 100 best Scottish Books. This one was first published in 1954 and amended in 1961.

Young Adam is structured in three sections. In the first we find narrator Jim working on a canal barge on the morning he and bargee Leslie fish a woman’s body from the River Clyde. The day’s events help trigger in Jim a desire for Leslie’s wife Ella. The remainder of this part dwells on the course of the resultant affair. Only once does Jim reminisce on a former girlfriend, Cathie, in an account of their first meeting.

Part two throws in a twist at its outset. Jim was present when the girl whose body he had helped retrieve fell into the water. This revelation immediately calls into question Jim’s motives and veracity. Moreover it was in fact Cathie, whom he claims to have met by chance on the fateful night. That he had ever known her is something he does not mention to the police. Plus he had taken pains to remove the fact of his presence from the scene. Later, he recounts a previous incident in which he had attacked Cathie, yet says they drifted apart a few weeks after. Then too there is his casual treatment of Ella who, the affair having been revealed, expects him to marry her. Her sister Gwendoline is more perceptive but still is not averse to having sex with him herself. Jim’s eye for women – he frequently dwells on their states of dress or, quite often, partial undress – thus becomes a signpost to his possible guilt.

Part three sees Jim attend the murder trial of the entirely innocent man the police have arrested in connection with Cathie’s death. (Only Leslie has been called as a witness.) Jim sends the judge a letter stating his knowledge of the facts of the case but knows it will make no difference.

As is usual with these things it is better to leave Stewart Home’s introduction till after reading the novel. In it he says that in his writing Trocchi was forging a new kind of novel and is important as a proto-postmodernist. Irvine Welsh has called Trocchi “the George Best of Scottish literature.” Whether this is because of his talent or that his compulsions undermined it (or both) is not vouchsafed. The introduction also tells us Young Adam was first published under a pseudonym as a “dirty book.” While there are sex scenes in this edition there is little to justify that tag to modern readers, nothing truly graphic (though Trocchi did write pornography for his 1950s publisher.)

Pedant’s corner:- velours is nowadays more often velour, wains (weans) plus four instances of missing punctuation.

Friday on my Mind 122: Fly Away Bird

The reason I was googling The Left Banke last week was because I finally stumbled across an embeddable file of the version of Walk Away Renee that I actually bought. The one by The Truth.

The B-side, Fly Away Bird, is fairly stripped down.

The Truth: Fly Away Bird

Just for completeness here’s the A-side. There’s much more production on this.

The Truth: Walk Away Renee

Chris Squire

I wasn’t much into Yes – not at all in fact – but Chris Squire, their bassist who died recently, seems to have been their main driving force; and they were famous purveyors of Prog Rock.

Christopher Russell Edward “Chris” Squire: 4/3/1948 – 27/6/2015. So it goes.

Other Stories and other stories by Ali Smith

Granta, 1999, 177 p.

Other stories and other stories cover

It used to be that, in a saleable short story, one thing happened. Nowadays, perhaps nothing does; or then again several things may happen but the connection between them is obscure. Smith’s stories seem to glide along from thought to thought, full of acute observation, surface sheen unrippled by such vulgar concerns. Her signature style is to tell a story told by way of other stories. As with part of this collection’s overall title, apart from their first words the individual stories’ titles are not capitalised. All their title pages are adorned by a wiring diagram for a three pin electric plug. Only The theme is power bears any significant mention of electrical equipment. Unlike subsequent Smith books the right hand margin here is justified. Smith’s Scottish origins are betrayed only by one or two references.

God’s gift. A woman just back from a holiday in Greece is left “gifts” by a cat. One of them she lays on the window sill to see if it survives. The ending could be a fictional interpretation of the Schrödinger’s Cat illustration.
The hanging girl. After having had a feeling of being followed, Pauline has started to see images of a girl about to be hanged. She comforts her, and takes her home. Her life is consumed by her.
Blank card. A woman receives a delivery of flowers, but the card is blank. Her partner has not sent them.
More than one story is… more than one story. A middle-aged man and a woman who lives two or so doors down think about instances from their pasts.
Small deaths. A couple’s house, the whole town, is invaded by insects.
Virtual. A woman visiting an old family friend in hospital is fascinated by the young girl in the bed opposite who is suffering from anorexia. They make a connection through a virtual pet.
Okay so far. A couple on a touring holiday wonder about a young girl who seemed to be travelling on the same train unaccompanied and tell each other storles of their young childhoods.
Miracle Survivors. Another disjointed tale which jumps from the story of a mysterious man rescued from a deep snow drift and who tells the fortunes of the nurses who look after him to two teenage girls twenty years later spending New Year in and dialling up horoscopes on the telephone of the newsagent’s they’d entered illicitly.
The theme is power is related by one of two teenage girls at a London bus stop who are offered a place for the night by a seemingly kindly woman who then, along with a man, follows their bus journey in a car. Earlier in her childhood a man had exposed himself to her and got beaten up by her father and neighbours. Around the same time someone dobbed her shopkeeper father in to the tax authorities. In adulthood, she still trusts her lover.
Instructions for pictures of heaven. A woman looks at faces, car registrations and clouds from the sunny side of the road. Gayle, who works in a travel agent’s, does two good deeds. 16 excerpts from Margie’s life, 13 of which are captions for photographs. Finally, a set of instructions for faking pictures of heaven.
Kasia’s mother’s mother’s story A religious woman whose husband has died, steals a wooden cross from a church and places it in her home as an aid to survival.
A story of love A couple in bed, unable to sleep, tell each other stories. A year slides by while they do so.

In The hanging girl a game of famous last words is underway. Sadly, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance,” does not feature. (Even if John Sedgwick’s actual last words, uttered only seconds later, were, “All right, my man; go to your place.”) Also, in Okay so far, in a game of “who is dead” (Ginger Rogers will never die she lives forever, she’s an immortal) Nena – of ninety-nine red balloons fame – is said to be in Purgatory. Harsh; but fair?

Pedant’s corner:- weasly (weaselly?) back and fore (back and forth x6!!! Is back and fore some kind of Invernesian usage unknown to the rest of the English speaking world?) had showed (shown,) 4/ (abbreviation for four shillings: 4/- was the usual short form.)

Scotland’s Art Deco Heritage 33: Cardross

I was over in the West twice recently and happened to pass through Cardross. (The locals pronounce the name with the emphasis on the first syllable.) The second time I stopped to photograph Cardross Golf Club’s Clubhouse as it’s in the deco style. My eldest brother used to play golf here in his young days.

From car park. Showing entrance and main building:-

Cardross Golf Club Clubhouse from car park

The Art Deco style is evident here in the semi-circular canopy above the entrance. Note also the curved window behind facing the golf course itself and the flat roofs:-

Cardross Golf Club, Clubhouse Entrance

Side view. You can see two semi-circular elements here plus more flat-roofs:-

Cardross Golf Club Sideview

The frontage onto the golf course itself has no fewer than four glazed curved elements:-

Cardross Golf Club

The Hope That Kills Us edited by Adrian Searle

An anthology of Scottish football fiction. Polygon, 2003, 191 p.

 The Hope That Kills Us cover

From Stuart Cosgrove’s foreword, with its tag of “Anybody who says he disnae like football is a lyin’ bastard,” – a quote from the final story – to that final tale this book is an examination in prose of Scotland’s contradictory love affair with the Beautiful Game – an affair at times not beautiful and not a game. The tendency of Scots to see anything and everything through the filter of football is evident from the contents.

This paperback edition contains additions (by Brian Hennigan and Bernard McLaverty) to the original hardback contents. Each story’s title page is illustrated by photographs taken by Paul Thorburn of different sets of goalposts from round Scotland. Occasional double page photos, overlaid with quotations from the stories, intersperse the book.

As is usual for anthologies and might be expected from the range of contributors the stories are varied in tone and style. The relevance of football to some of them is a bit dubious, though.

The opener is The Thing About Brazil by Allan Spence. On a trip to Brazil, Andrew remembers his dad and their visits to Ibrox, takes in a Flamengo-Palmeiras game at the Maracanã and, later, has his own moment of football glory on Ipanema beach.
In A Belfast Memory by Bernard McLaverty a Belfast man remembers the time that “Charlie Tully called” and the discussion that ensued on the shameful demise of Belfast Celtic.
Linda Cracknell’s The Match is only incidentally about football. A woman is taking a holiday in the Carribean on her own since her husband wouldn’t miss a vital European match. (It could have been any obsession really but I suppose football is the most plausible.)
In This Is My Story, This Is My Song by Laura Hird some Hearts-supporting friends gather for the funeral of one of their number, killed in a van crash. Supporting Hearts is the biggest thing in the lives all of them.
Iain Maloney’s Football Scarves and Richard Kimble tells of a boy’s experience of his first match – a Cup Final – interspersed with his Dad’s reminiscences of how the ending of the TV show The Fugitive, gripping much of the nation at the time, was announced over the tannoy at a night game.
The Hand of God Squad by Gordon Legge is the tale of two (moderate) drinking pals, the hotels they drink in, the Englishman who first of all befriends them then joins in their trips away with the Tartan Army (complete with kilts.) All tied up with the sad end to the qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup.
In The Cherrypicker by Jim Carruthers the narrator’s grandfather was a Cherrypicker, so he is slightly disappointed both that no-one famous turned up at the old man’s funeral and at the absence of missives from Liverpool in his effects. Years later, on seeing Glenbuck, he cannot credit the team’s name.
Nae Cunt Said Anyhin by Andrew C Ferguson is narrated in a very broad Fife Scots. It is the story of Tam Johnston and the gift of sublime football talent the fairies passed on to him; a gift almost useless because Tam likes the drink too much (“George Best oan a budget”) and even though he gets to play for Scotland they’re “so shite even Tam cannae make a difference. Couldnae score on Loveboat.”
Billy Cornwall’s Jesus Saves has Wee Davy thrust into a game against older heavier boys, where he imagines himself as Kenny Dalglish.
Heatherstone’s Question by Des Dillon is another not really about football, even if two neighbours in Galloway do support different halves of the Old Firm. Rather, it is about neighbourliness, and reticence.
Alan Bissett’s A Minute’s Silence charts the friendship and rivalry between two boys that sours when they attend different schools and start to support different teams (you know the two.) About sectarianism and how it is not engrained, but learned.
In Denise Mina’s The Bigot a criminal has scheduled the divvy-up from a job for the day of an Old-Firm game. Again, the football content here is really incidental. Revenge, it seems, is a dish best served not only cold but well-planned.
Sufisticated Football by Suhayl Saadi has a man “lying in the cells at the dark bottom of the Old Partick Police Station” being visited by the ghost of Allegro Akbar, a celebrated football coach. Illuminated with words from Urdu and Arabic – ghosht = meat = the ball, pyar = love, and ishq = perfection (as in Zidane, Hampden, 15th May 2002) – illustrating the philosophy of football.
The Tomintoul Deliverance by Brian Hennigan is the humorous story of how Loch Muick triumphed over the ancient enemy Athletico Tomintoul – despite not having played them for years and a season spent losing heavily to the likes of Dynamo Fochabers and Sporting Kilwhinnie (not to mention Unsporting Kilwhinnie) – mainly through managerial exhortation by cliché. A flavour of the tone is given by the sentence, “It was at times reminiscent of the film Zulu, particularly when the Tomintoul attack set fire to the thatched roof of our goal.”
The Last Man in Scotland Who Doesn’t Like Football by Colin Clark tells the story of “Pasty” Hastie, who doesn’t like football so got a hard time at school. The affliction goes on to haunt his adult life.

Pedant’s corner:- non sequitar (sequitur,) sprung (sprang,) its (it’s,) Billy McNeil (Billy McNeill,) “Better tae have to hoopsthough eh?” (the hoops makes more sense,) Queens Park (Queen’s Park,) “Where’s the excitement I that?” (in that, surely?) Thursday through the Saturday (that “through” is USian usage,) what we what we, was was, students’s, allen key (Allan key,) “’And you’ll have you got yourselves kitted out?’” epitomy (epitome,) gets the heads shaved (get,) Robert Prosineski (that’s how it’s pronounced but it’s spelled Prosinecki,) a missing quotation mark, were (where,) alter x 2 (altar – both times,) a few slice of bread (slices,) one and other (one another,) wanes (weans,) Ranger’s (Rangers’,) sliver shelving units (silver?) ranger top (Rangers top,) sleak (sleek,) viscose (viscous,) threw (thrown,) soccer (soccer!!!!) miniscule (minuscule,) deosil (usually deasil,) snuck (sneaked,) nine items or less (ought to be fewer, of course, but it’s a straight quote from a supermarket sign,) a question mark after what wasn’t a question, lead (led.)

Morton Up First

I see from the club’s website that Sons first game of the new season will be away to Morton. The game is scheduled for Saturday 26th July; less than a month away.

Unlike the last two seasons we haven’t been drawn against Stranraer. I had half expected us to get St Mirren since Ian Murray has gone to manage there.

The second round is due on 19th or 20th August. I don’t suppose we’ll be interested in that one.

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

Jonathan Cape, 2008, 359 p.

The Enchantress of Florence cover

A foreigner turns up to the court of the Mughal Emperor, Akbar, at Fatehpur Sikri with a claim to be related to him and a tale to tell to justify it. The foreigner has called himself variously Uccello di Firenze, Mogor dell’ Amore (the Mughal of love) and Niccolò Vespucci. So begins this typical piece of Rushdian flamboyance.

Containing elements of fable, fairy tale and Rushdie’s usual dose of magic realism (among other things Akbar has managed to conjure up for himself an imaginary – and therefore perfect – wife) there is nevertheless something about the treatment that does not quite hit the mark. Rushdie has always been fond of digression, word games and allusions (in this case, for example, take the mercenaries Otho, Botho, Clotho and D’Artagnan) but it has to be said; in amongst the showing here, there is a lot of telling. As if to underline this there is a list of works consulted for research given in a bibliography.

Yet, as the author notes, “The untruth of untrue stories could sometimes be of service in the real world.” That is what fiction is for after all. But then again, “Those sceptics who by virtue of their sour temperament resist a supernatural account of events may prefer more conventional explanations.” Indeed.

It might seem, too, that in a novel entitled The Enchantress of Florence that the woman concerned could be expected to appear in the narrative somewhat earlier than two-thirds of the way through but while this is her story it is also the story of Akbar, of the Florence of the Medici (and the monk Giralomo,) and of three friends from that city, Antonino Argalia, last of the condottieri, Niccolò – ‘il Machia’ – Machiavelli (yes, that Machiavelli) and Agostino Vespucci (cousin to Amerigo.) It is also the tale of why the Mughal court had to leave Fatehpur Sikri.

The enchantress is Qara Köz, “Lady Black Eyes,” Akbar’s Great Aunt, sister of Babar the first Mughal, eliminated from the family history when she rejected a return from capture. Her enchantments seem to lie in the ability to entrance men, if only for a while. Her destiny is to pass through the hands of a warlord, to the Safavid Shah Ismail, to Antonino Argalia and finally to the New World with Agostino Vespucci. She has a companion, her mirror in all respects (bar one.) Yet she is an absence in the book, an emptiness around which Rushdie weaves his tale of folly, wisdom, hope and loss. Akbar is at the heart of it, a ruler wise to his surroundings and to the machinations of the power hungry. There is a barbed inversion of insular Western conceptions when Akbar muses that, “The lands of the West were exotic and surreal to a degree incomprehensible to the humdrum people of the East.”

A noteworthy aspect of this edition is that it is endowed with beautiful endpapers picturing at the front a detail from The Building of Fatehpur Sikri Palace from the Akbamama and at the rear from the Carta della Catena showing a panorama of Florence.

Pedant’s corner:- A 16th century Scottish pirate may well have been carrying letters of marque or even diplomatic credentials from Queen Elizabeth (of England) but I doubt he would treasure a locket containing her portrait. Equally he may have boasted of climbing all Scotland’s Munros but not in those terms. They were not named as such for a further three centuries. “I’d keeped her locked up” (keep,) rowboat.

Blameless? I Don’t Think So

In an article in Friday’s Guardian, Nicholas Tucker put forward the thesis that “naughty” words could be got away with in more innocent days.

The trigger for this was the change of name of one of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons from Titty to Tatty in a new BBC adaptation of the books, Titty being of course too (err…) tittersome for these days.

He mentions the innocent use in bygone times of “intercourse,” “screw”, “ejaculate” and, in the case of Dr Seuss, “Boners.”

However, the quotation he gives for his next example “cock” – as in a fairground giant cockerel which a maiden aunt of Just William mounts on a merry-go-round – undermines his thesis as the text goes on to say, “It seemed to give her a joy that all her blameless life had so far failed to produce.”

For what is the purpose of that word “blameless”? It seems to me to be present precisely to signal exactly that knowledge which Tucker claims to be absent. Otherwise why include it? If the point was the one Tucker is making then the phrasing, “a joy that all her life so far had failed to produce,” would make it far more effectively, and poignantly.

Tucker then uses the same word to describe Just William’s author, Richmal Crompton, saying she was a blameless ex-classics teacher. But are not the classics – of which she therefore must have had extensive knowledge – full of instances of sexual mayhem? (The Rape of the Sabine Women for one. In case this may be thought to be an egregious example unlikely to be mentioned in school, this incident was one of those encountered by the good lady in her Latin class.)

Tucker says a similar fairground cockerel also appears in an Angela Thirkell story and adduces for her innocence of any double entendre that she was a distinctly snobbish granddaughter of the pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. As if artists (and particularly the pre-Raphaelites) were entirely free of sexual knowledge and/or shenanigans. Moreover a glance at Thirkell’s life story might suggest rather a lack of innocence.

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