Creative Commons License

Saturday 29 December 2018

Quotes Worth Saving (25): Andrew Greig, "Excellent advice."

Part of the reason I've been compiling this list of interesting quotes from books (and so forth) is that there's a particular thrill in coming across something and saying to yourself, "yes, that's how I feel about that too!" A bit of validation I suppose that someone else shares your thoughts. Not many of them however have been quite on the nose as this from Andrew Greig's memoir about the folk music scene in the 1960s in Scotland and, in particular, the Incredible String Band. Former ISB member Mike Heron writes the first 100 pages or so, detailing his teenage years and starting the band. Greig then continues the tale with his own story of his attempted band and finding his own way in the world.

Andrew Greig
You Know What You Could Be
riverrun, London: 2017
'In the Footsteps of the Heron'

Sufism, Maoism, Divine Light, the Maharishi, TM, the Hare Krishnas, Scientology, anarchism, psychoanalysis, life-coaching and, in younger days, the Seaside Summer Mission - there has been much on offer in my lifetime. I have felt the pull of them all. Who does not wish to be saved, to be made whole? Who would not want to shed this burden? 
But even the less preposterous precepts of humanism, Buddhism, the Quakers that my mother joined in her later years - in the end I've turned away from entirely signing up to any of them. Anthea Joseph was opinionated, loyal, generous and darkly troubled, but on this she was right. You must not hand over the burden of yourself to anyone else, not even to your beloved if you're fortunate enough to have one. 
There's a handwritten sign by the A82 on the way to Fort William: Bag your own manure. Excellent advice.

I have also investigated many avenues of thought and routes of potential escape; mysticism, Hermeticism, Taoism, Zen, and others more close to home. However, I've never quite managed to fully commit myself to one cause and for some time I wondered if this was a failing on my part. That this certain unwillingness was in fact a fear of dedication. In the end, I think I would always eschew duty to any one meta-narrative for the responsibility of continued striving. It is better, I would say, to commit one's self to being an always unfinished work in search of, rather than a devotee to any one thing in particular.

Happy New Year to all.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Words on Wednesday: Norman MacCaig 'The White Bird' 1973

The White Bird
Norman MacCaig
Phoenix Living Poets
Chatto and Windus with The Hogarth Press
ISBN 0 7011 1918 7


I open the second volume
of a rose
and find it says, word for word,
the same as the first one.

The waves of the sea
annoy me, they bore me;
why aren’t they divided
in paragraphs?

I look at the night
and make nothing of it –
those black pages
with no print.

But I love the gothic script
of pinetrees and
on the pond the light’s
fancy italics.

And the cherry tree’s petals –
they make
a sweet lyric, I appreciate
their dying fall.

But it’s strange, girl, how I come back
from the library of everything
to stare and stare at
the closed book of you.

When will you open to me
and show me the meaning of all
the hard words
in the lexicon of love?


So green's my colour, though my country is
Gray stone, gray water.
(I hate a man who calls a country his.)

I watch red minds absolved from bodies go
In my gray weather,
Will-o'-the-wisping, fading as they glow.

Or bodies hulking hugely through the air
Mindlessly wander,
Shagging with browns and blues the grayness there.

Sometimes the bold sun, happening to pass by,
Blushes, just pinker,
The stone, the water and the drowning sky.

What's that to a man whose helpless knowledge is
Green is his colour?
(I hate a man who calls a colour his.)

So, like a bird that, perking up his song,
Denies it's winter,
I say green, green, green, green: and get along.


The mountains fold and move.
I'm not quite lost. The thing that troubles me
Is that the easiest way out
Is not the one that's easiest to see.

I know just where you are.
But how to get there when lochs change their place
And the familiar track
Squirms like an adder into the heather bushes?

I curse my sense: and speak
Into the mist: Stay where you are, please stay -
I've got my compass yet.
It'll get me to you, if not by the easiest way,


I'll save the longest and best from this collection 'Inward Bound' for another day/year.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Words on Wednesday: Norman MacCaig 'Rings on a Tree' 1968

I recently 'discovered' poet Norman MacCaig in typically circuitous fashion. I was recommended Andrew Greig's excellent memoir/homage/meditation 'At the Loch of the Green Corrie' (2010) which I would also recommend to you dear reader.

In these pages I read about the author's connection to this spindly spiky Edinburgh schoolmaster, poet and sometime fisherman, Norman MacCaig, who was one of the explosive set of Scottish poets from the middle to later half of the last century, a group that included such legendary figures as; Edwin Morgan, Sorley MacLean, Sydney Goodsir Smith, Iain Crichton Smith, George MacKay Brown, Hugh MacDiarmid, and others, some of whom I'll be writing about at a later date.

Knowing that my local public library and employer has a reasonable collection of 20th Century Scottish poetry I investigated the reserve and choose this collection to start with based purely on the name, Rings on a Tree (1968). Here are a few from that collection.

Rings on a Tree
Norman MacCaig
The Phoenix Living Poets
Chatto and Windus with the Hogarth Press
SBN 7012 0304 8


Can you keep it so,
cool tree, making a blue cage
for an obstreperous population? -
for a congregation of mediaeval scholars
quarrelling in several languages? -
for busybodies marketing
in the bazaar of green leaves? -
for clockwork fossils that can't be still even
when the Spring runs down?
No tree, no blue cage can contain
that restlessness.  They whirr off
and sow themselves in a scattered handful
on the grass - and are
bustling monks
tilling their green precincts.

Crossing the Border

I sit with my back to the engine, watching
the landscape pouring away out of my eyes.
I think I know where I'm going and have
some choice in the matter.
I think, too, that this was a country
of bog-trotters, moss-troopers,
fired ricks and roof-trees in the black night — glinting
on tossed horns and red blades.
I think of lives
bubbling into the harsh grass.
What difference now?
I sit with my back to the future, watching
time pouring away into the past. I sit, being helplessly
lugged backwards
through the Debatable Lands of history, listening
to the execrations, the scattered cries, the
falling of roof-trees
in the lamentable dark.


Because I see the world poisoned
by cant and brutal self-seeking,
must I be silent about
the useless waterlily, the dunnock's nest
in the hedgeback?

Because I am fifty-six years old
must I love, if I love at all,
only ideas -- not people, but only
the idea of people?

Because there is work to do, to steady
a world jarred off balance,
must a man meet only a fellow-worker
and never a man?

There are more meanings than those
in text books of economics
and a part of the worst slum
is the moon rising over it
and eyes weeping and
mouths laughing.

Sunday 9 December 2018

Sports on Sunday: Football Lads

Yesterday, 'my team', Chelsea beat Manchester City 2-0 at Stamford Bridge. During the match Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling reported that there was racist abuse directed at him from among the home supporters. That this is not surprising to me is much to do with the history of Chelsea's support, a portion of whom have been long acknowledged as violent racists. Indeed, like many firms, for them this is a badge of honour.

It has been a recent fantasy that since 1990 the 'bad old days' of hooliganism had been expunged from football. That it had instead been replaced with a family-friendly inclusive and modern way of supporting teams and following the game. Something that meant that 'being a fan' was paying for a Sky Sports subscription, rather than actually attending matches and experiencing the game itself. A more distant and impersonal attachment to sport, something that allowed for a global reach, that was more like marketing a brand, and was to many something that started to feel plastic and hollow. Football support, that is watching and not playing, is about the crowd and belonging. This is something that Bill Buford recognised.

'Among the Thugs' (1990) by Bill Buford captures a certain restless self-destructive energy that describes the society of the hooligan. A willing giving of the self to the crowd, to throw away individuality into a nihilistic ecstasy of frenzied togetherness. The wish to belong, to be part of something, and to feel that you are special in that. What makes you worthy is ironically that you have given up your personality for membership of the crowd, you have ceased being singular and are now part of a collective. That this collective is dedicated to violence is bizarre, irrational, even utterly foolish, but more than the collective wish to enjoy music or sport or be together in some ideological spirit, instead the hooligan embraces their outsider otherness, their wilful destructive hate. It is more enlivening, more thrilling, more real, because it is so anti-conventional. A line has been crossed. It is this 'line' that Buford seeks to describe in other crowd behaviours; the Yugoslav protest turned violent, the football crowd pushing themselves to cross the street, and in doing so make a physical sign that they have transgressed the rules of normalcy and that now, anarchy rules, the mob rules. Standard practice is being, temporarily, abandoned in favour of; self-abnegation, public destruction, social disorder, and the joy, the thrill, the excitement of violence. Whether an individual participant threw a punch or not, they were there when it all "went off."

Joe Kennedy's 'Games Without Frontiers' (2016) also points to another development in this resurgent hooligan attitude in football. That it is the working-class man's game and that the behaviours that they, the ultras, engage in are those that are 'true' to the authentic British male's experience. This experience rejects the hollow and plastic commodification of the game, but it also rejects the perceived middle-class gentrification of what is 'theirs' in another way. It labels the social improvements (as I would see it) of anti-racism, anti-misogyny, anti-homophobia (in short, anti-bigotry) as itself being unauthentic to the British working-class. A nonsense that effectively denies the fact that any working-class person could ever be anti-racist (f.e.) without being either a class traitor or a fake. So, something that started being about rejecting commercialisation of sport is now about the definition of what 'real' British maleness is, or at least, this is what the politicisation leads towards. And what counts as 'real' is the anti-feminist, anti-Islam, anti-immigration agenda of the far-right, which portrays itself as the 'real' voice of the working-class.

Racially abusing a black player on the other team therefore is, in this mindset, merely a case of a 'bit of banter', as it wasn't directed at all black players on both sides, it was just 'part of the game', just a bit of ridiculing the opposition and what if the middle-class PC SJW snowflakes don't like the language used, it's 'only words'.

Something that Buford also highlighted in his book was the attempted politicisation of these football firms in the 1980s by the National Front. He describes attending a gathering at a remote country pub that was organised by Nick Griffin. Then of the NF but who would later lead the British National Party to their, thankful, demise after a modicum of political success. However, although the BNP has dissolved back into the shadows. The people involved and, more importantly, their ideas did not.The attempts to hold influence over various different football firms coalesced into the English Defence League, which was founded in 2009 with 'Tommy Robinson' soon becoming the group's leader.

The Football Lads Alliance was founded in 2017, but represents only the most recent part of this ongoing politicisation of football fans, or more expansively, of the white working-class male. That this has also come on the rising tide of nationalism and of anti-Islamic feeling in Britain is no surprise. It was no surprise, because this has always been their intent. Our contemporary Nick Griffin, 'Tommy Robinson' is today participating in the Brexit betrayal march in London and like the attention parasite he is, this has particularly prescient timing. The ongoing 'yellow vest' riots in Paris (to which many in the far-right have added their support), and planned for only two days before a major vote on the future of Brexit in parliament. This march represents another attempt to infest one cause, Ukip's obsessive "Will of the people" hard Brexit, with the opinions and attitudes of the far-right.

Let's bring this back to the original case, which I see has now already turned into a 'one bad fan' story and carries with it the ubiquitous allegedly. It is also unhelpfully tinged by the excessive reporting on Raheem Sterling, who is a somewhat controversial figure in football, in that he seems to have opinions and the ability to articulate them (and he's black). Of course, it will be a simple enough matter to dismiss this as one rare occurrence and not in the 'true spirit' of the everyday fan. Well, of course, this is the case, it is not as if the far-right's opinion of the British working-class is in fact true. Worryingly though many other (non-working-class) people seem to buy into this depiction and (f.e.) blame Brexit on this stereotyped view of the thuggish racist working-class, something aided no doubt by sensationalist media coverage.

Certainly the attitudes and behaviours of many 'everyday' football fans don't help their case in the public eye, but then this is confusing an ebullient, albeit aggressive, atmosphere at football matches with something inherently dangerous. Much like the conservatives reaction to punk, or rock n' roll, or anything that seems counter-cultural (to them). In short, it is partly motivated by a fear of the working-class, something that only helps strengthen the far-right's attempts to show that they, the white working-class men, are the 'real victims' or other such falsehoods to gain recruits to their agenda of hate.

I will be writing more about Stephen Yaxley-Lennon AKA 'Tommy Robinson' and the recent soft coup of Ukip and the general 'crowd behaviour' dynamic of many online communities, but this story felt like it needed an immediate response and it's been a subject on my mind for some time.

P.S. Although this should really have been titled 'Secular Sunday: Football Lads' I couldn't resist.

Both are recommended reading.

Friday 7 December 2018

Foodie Fridays: Butternut Squash Pasta

I suppose I could speak about the reasons for nearly deleting my blog (again) but instead let's just breeze over that and talk about one of my staple foods, as it's tailor made for this time of year, because I don't know where you are, but at the moment in Scotland it's definitely winter and despite my desire to continue to eat healthily (see some of my previous years winter salads, some healthier than other) sometimes you just need a bit of comfort.

& this meal is the physical manifestation of comfort!

I've given up on measurements, go by the eye and stomach of the chef.


  • 1+ Butternut Squash
  • Some Mushrooms, closed caps like chestnuts are best
  • Rosemary, fresh or dried
  • Mascapone
  • Something "green and fresh" (this is a JJ addition and can include; peppers, courgettes, spinach etc.)
  • More cheese, Parmesan or the closest approximation
  • Pasta (conchiglie is our #1 choice, but anything that 'holds sauce')
  • Olive Oil
  • Roasting Tin of a 'certain size' (i.e. it must hold everything)

Modus Operandi:

  • Pre-heat oven to around 200c/fan180c/gas6/400f
  • Peel, deseed and chop the squash into whatever consitutes bite-sized chunks for you.
  • Roll the squash about in the roasting tin with some oil and rosemary.
  • Roast it!
  • After about 25 minutes add your mushrooms (chopped) and diced peppers/courgette (if using)
  • At this point also:
  • Boil a pan of salted water and cook the pasta, don't drain it yet!
  • Once the mushrooms and squash (and others) have had another 15 minutes take out.
  • Place on the hob, still in pan, add a ladle or two of the pasta water.
  • Add the mascapone and heat on the hob while stirring.
  • Drain pasta and add (and add spinach if using).
  • Serve with plenty of ground black pepper and parmesan grated on the top.

Good with a rocket and tomato salad, garlic bread, and a good cold white wine.

There is presently no photographic representation, because it doesn't last long enough to get a snap!

Does not contain...

Sunday 2 December 2018

Songs on Sunday: Maxïmo Park

The 2005 debut album by Maxïmo Park 'A Certain Trigger' was an exceptional piece of British Indie Rock. It was more of a shock for me, because at the time I was mostly listening to Electronica, Ambient and Techno, indeed, I probably only heard Maxïmo Park because they were signed on Warp Records.

I'm slightly upset that a number of previous YouTube video I've shared have since been deleted, leaving me with an ugly empty grey box, but I'm hopeful that this video (posted by the band) is less likely to be removed.

Warp Records are a music label that mostly focuses upon electronic music, so everyone was slightly surprised when they signed this post-punk slightly abrasive Newcastle indie rock band. There's not much I can say about the album other than it was my most listened to album for 2005 and for a considerable period after that as well.

However, although I continued to appreciate the excellent lyricism of the next two albums; 'Our Earthly Pleasures' (2007) and 'Quicken the Heart' (2009) they weren't reaching me in the same way and I drifted out of contact with the band.

Very recently, last week, I made an arbitrary decision to update the music on my smartphone and came across Maxïmo Park on my hard drive storage (which contains a great deal of not listened to and not watched films that makes me feel occasionally strangely guilty).

Listening to the first three albums I was surprised to discover that I found the later albums (particularity 'Quicken the Heart') were much more musically interesting to me than my old favourite 'Certain Trigger'. Although I would definitely still consider their debut a thing of real beauty, now I found I was more able to appreciate the subtlety and the word play more.

Intrigued (and aware the band were still around) I looked them up. Starting with their most recent album, the excellent 'Risk to Exist' (2017) and working back.

I feel strangely smug as if I've 'discovered' something, which is of course ridiculous. It's not like they were in hiding or anything. I suppose I'm just pleased that I've reconnected, albeit in a different way, with something that I appreciated so much before and to find it's not the same, it's better.