Bowling on the NHS?

Following on the from my blog about the Hampden Bowling Club and their pre-eminent position as custodians of the world’s most important square of grass, I am keen to open a second front in defence of one of the triumvirate of great Scottish games that have been given to the world. To many, bowls is a merely a sport. A game which can be played, in order that a moderate amount of exercise may be taken. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where an egregious error is being committed. Many things weaved into the fabric of human society, have unintended consequences. We may think we can predict the outcome of anything that any human does, but we are incorrect.

I feel that we are missing a trick, in our keenness to ensure that people remain healthy and happy for as long as they are alive. The answer lies not in pills and potions, but in bowls and club pavilions. If there was a thread running through my observations of the start of the bowls season, it was a golden skein of simple happiness. At Hampden on that shining Saturday, friends greeted one another with pure warmth and laughter ran through the clubhouse, as the first tea and buns of the season was celebrated.

Note that I have not mentioned the game itself, for it is the gregarious nature of the club itself which underpins the beautiful benefits of the lawn game. It was clear that many members had been looking forward to this day for some time. 2015 had seemed to have provided nothing but rain, in the minds of us all. It was clear that many of the fifty-five members and their guests were there to imbibe the milk of human kindness. Their bodies were now unable to cope with the gentle demands of a reasonable sport, but they were bowlers all the same. Bowls gave them a reason to get up in the morning. It gave them a plan for the week. It gave them someone to talk to, in a life that infirmity and the death of loved ones had rendered solitary.

If I was in the Scottish Government, instead of prescriptions for people who were on the edge of giving up on life, I would pay the membership fees to their local bowling club. If I was a GP, the condition would be that my patients took their medicine at least three times a week. The minute the sun was over the clubhouse roof, I would be telling them to get out of the house and parked on a bench by the green. There, they could soak up the rays and engage in banter with their new pals in the community. The financial injection would save many clubs from closure and bring warmth to the lives of those, for whom a free prescription will never cure what ails them.


Who is More Socialist?


I am delighted to be living in a time when politics has become sexy again. This applies to Scotland, where we have a clear goal, based on pure principles. Although the first independence referendum was lost, hope is high when half the population of Scotland harbour an increasingly strong desire for self-determination. What then are we to make of the shenanigans in Europe over which political bloc the SNP can join?

Yesterday, the SNP asked to join the Socialist Group in the European Parliament. So far, so ordinary. The vote was passed in favour of the SNP, by 32 votes to 29. This is where reality veers off into the bushes and heads for the home where the ludicrous people live. I am guessing that few of us knew that parties already within the bloc have the right of veto on new entrants.

Up stepped three Lords from the Labour Party’s Council of Europe delegation to veto the inclusion of the representatives of the people of Scotland. Let us pause to understand the full ramifications. Three of the unelected members of an institutionally corrupt level of the British democratic process (stop laughing at the back) decided that a party which refuses, as a point of principle, to nominate people to an intentionally undemocratic chamber, was less socialist then they were.

In 1973, the satirist Tom Lehrer said that satire died, the moment Henry Kissinger was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. What would Tom say at this moment? A party which is dedicated to increasing the freedom of five million people and taking back some of the wealth the people created was refused entry to a social democratic grouping by a party that is now so far removed from its founding principles that a giraffe would dislocate its neck trying to see where Labour were going.

In the coming election, I hope that people who still maintain a race memory of what the Labour Party was when I was a child, finally admit that the party of the people is now led by Nicola Sturgeon. The Palm has passed to a new generation and that generation has joined the SNP.

Govan Heritage

On 7th August 1912, the Burgh of Govan was taken over by the City of Glasgow. Although it had been in existence in legend, since the sixth century, it had only been a burgh since 1864. Along with Partick and Pollokshaws, Govan disappeared into the gaping maw of the Dear Green Place.

Last Wednesday, I took a wander through a neighbourhood which surfaces in the consciousness of many non-Glaswegians, primarily as Sir Alex Ferguson’s birthplace. Yet, as one person pointed out to Sir John Ure Primrose, in the Burgh’s losing battle for independence, maybe Govan should have taken over Glasgow. Such was the concern then that the upstart Glasgow was getting ahead of itself.

In the intervening century, Govan has been submerged by the tsunami of the industrial history of the West of Scotland. It has been unfairly lumped with Glasgow, when it has stories of its own, in spades. The Ordnance Survey maps of the 1890s show Glasgow and Govan meeting in a thin ribbon of development along the Paisley Road. The area south of Cessnock Dock on the Govan Road is still fairly blank. Govan was clearly its own urban centre that did not need the embrace of its younger, but faster growing sibling.

Look northwest on the old maps and you see that Govan is thriving. The shipbuilding yards are spreading, Govan Old Church sits enjoying its second millennium and Water Row looks down on the Govan Ferry bringing thousands of workers to their business. The freight railway line runs through the streets until it is welcomed into the Fairfield Works. The silk factory is still there, waiting to be swallowed up by a later expansion of Fairfields. That much of this story is unknown to most people, is a problem that is being enthusiastically addressed.

Govanites are proud of their Burgh and have been making strenuous efforts to spread the word. I strongly recommend that you take a wee afternoon trip to improve your mind. Why don’t you start at the Underground Station, which is in the throes of an impressive redevelopment? Head west until you reach the church of St Constantine: the Old Parish Church, wherein lies some of the most impressive grave monuments in Britain. Volunteers, of a decidedly cheery and welcoming nature are there to help you with any questions, although there is more than enough information to be read by the independent visitor. Once you have had your fill of Celtic and Viking history, gird your loins for the 300 meter trot down the road to the Fairfield Heritage Centre, housed in the offices of the Fairfield Shipbuilding Yard.

There is clearly a secret production line somewhere in Harmony Row, churning out cheerful and welcoming Govanites in the still of the night. Yet again, you are looked after like a pet pig, by the volunteers who have dedicated their afternoons to explaining the history of shipbuilding in Govan. I finished my sojourn with a trip to admire the statues in Elder Park: in particular of John Elder himself, cuddling his compound engine. His engineering excellence gave Govan a maritime advantage, that the world took many decades to best.

My journey ended in the Elder Park Library: a fine building from the drawing board of John James Burnet. It was opened in 1903 by Andrew Carnegie even though it wasn’t a Carnegie Library. Yum Yums were the prize, as I returned to the Underground although, in my experience the No. 13 Cafe across from Greggs is definitely a place for the less time constrained flâneur.

Rangers Crisis Part 1

On October 24th, 2009, I started a new thread on Kerrydale Street (a Celtic fans’ forum for those who don’t know). It was entitled ‘Media Scandal Bias’ and my opening post was as follows:

“On Radio Scotland live Walter No Surname admits that the Bank have taken over the club, he is buying no-one and they’re waiting to see who can buy the Club. Yet this is ignored and the phone in goes on about the general ‘Old Firm’ issues of the poor standard of the game. Maybe I’ll wake up and this nightmare of bias will end…”

Now, little could anyone know where we would all be this Friday 13th April 2012. Rangers on the brink of liquidation and the media in Scotland accused of a blanket disregard for their prime directive which surely is to uncover truths others would prefer hidden. Not only that, but the SFA are presided over by someone who is deeply implicated in the issue of EBTs and the SPL seem hell bent on returning a new version of Rangers to their long held place in Scottish football, without the benefit of justice having been served.

I’m still proud of my second past on that thread two and a half years ago, so here it is again:

“There are two Rangers teams: the blameless 1872-88 lot who helped Celtic get going and the Frankenstein’s monster created by Sir John Ure Primrose to defeat the forces of Popery, Home Rule and Republicanism. It is the latter who have remained unmolested by the media for the last 100 years because they, those who governed us and the media had the same ideals.

The situation is now much less homogenous. The Labour Party is full of Unionists. The SNP want to break up the Union. What’s a decent Brit walking down the Paisley Road to do? Who can they believe? What can they understand or hope for when the very ground on which they walk is crumbling beneath them?

Adam Smith’s capitalist creed is ultimately heartless and always devours its own. Tonight the invisible hand of the market has emerald Fenian fingers and I for one am sniggering quietly to myself.”

I will return to this theme, as it is a defining moment in Scottish football. How this crisis is solved will point the way to the sort of society Scotland is going to be in the coming half century. And it’s just about football. Funny that.

More Thoughts on the New Museum of Transport

First thought is that I need to visit again when it isn’t packed with visitors there for the same reason as myself: to gawp at the new architecture. What would I have designed with limited money? I guess I would have worked on the idea that all objects deserve to be seen from the middle distance and close up, thus satisfying the casual visitor enjoying the experience and the expert who has travelled specifically to see their favourite object. When I worked in the Museum of Transport back in the 90s, I used to wander around the cars looking for inspiration for building the Football Museum. The temperature and humidity control was difficult because the Kelvin Hall was just not built to cope with the environmental demands of a museum, but at least you could scrutinise the objects very easily. If a car is to be lifted up, then I suggest no more than a metre. The four year I took around did not have much to enjoy but that’s a separate debate. At that age they’re focussed on the next shop stop.

The basic need is for the visitor to look at an object that is on the ground. I would have spent less on the aesthetics of the building and more on ensuring the public could see what was in their collection. I believe it is possible to produce reasonable design to a tight margin: for example the new Aldi stores in Scotland are functional but likeable. Maybe that’s from the sublime to the ridiculous for some, but the rigours of commerce do make the Aldi owners concentrate on the only thing that matters: showing off their produce to the customer.

Maybe as the Museum matures someone will stick some light rail rail down along the quay, to run a tram the 500 metres from the Museum to the Heliport. It should not be beyond the wit of the city fathers to take it as close to Exhibition Centre Station as possible or to even run it out along the old Caledonian Line towards Yoker. Now that would make it a museum worth visiting.

Ace McTastic: What Genre Is It?

I have an unhealthy love of rhetorical questions, but the rule should be that both the inquisitor and the audience have a reasonable mutual idea as to the answer. In this I have to say I am struggling. When I had my flash of light on the Albert Drive railway bridge, all I knew was that I had a brilliant idea around the character of amusingly surreal chum Annie Mac. The skeleton of the narrative was easily fleshed out and though I kept changing elements until the final page was concluded, I always knew what I was writing.

Less easy was the question of genre. At first I had it pegged as a children’s tale and indeed the vocabulary suits the average twelve year old. However, it is not just a children’s tale, because there is a nod towards the alternative history genre. Not exactly a ‘Man in the High Castle’ but I purposely sought to change Glasgow to a place in my mind where its nineteenth century brilliance had continued and burgeoned further. This confusion has led to me trying to understand my own tale as a children’s book based on an alternative history for Glasgow and a satire on some of the mistakes that society has made in the last century. Maybe I’ve fallen between a forest of stools, but it was immense fun to write.

The New Museum of Transport/Riverside Museum

The MOT is certainly an impressive sight, anchored at the confluence of the Kelvin and the Clyde on the site of the old Pointhouse Inn and Bowling Green. In a doff of the hat to the past, you can even catch the phoenix of the Govan Ferry to get to the Museum, though the single fare of £1.50 for an adult is certainly not redolent of yesteryear.

With the destruction of most of the buildings on the north bank of the Clyde, the Zaha Hadid design rules its section of the riverscape. If the mark of a good building is its visual distinctiveness, then the Riverside Museum is unlikely to be mistaken for any of Scotland’s other landmarks. However, the critical criterion for a museum is to show off its collection to maximum effect and utility and it is here where my optimism falters. Having been responsible for the Scottish Football Museum, I am all too aware of the core need to stick objects in cases so that visitors can peer at them. Therefore, though the placing of vintage cars ten metres up a wall may be a coup de theatre, it prevents me or anyone else from examining them.

The long term will prove the designers right or wrong, but I am always nervous when a museum’s display shouts so loudly that it deafens the story the institution is trying to tell. If the medium obscures the message, you need a new message.

The Scottish Catholic Observer

Sectarianism and Anti Irish Racism is an obsession with me. I only noticed it when I moved to Glasgow. Having been born in England, no-one cared that I was from an Irish family. Only when the Troubles (what a cracking example of litotes, kids) were at their height was there any real friction, if one excluded the pervasiveness of the Irish Joke. Hell, everyone who wasn’t a WASP was getting it tight in those days: why should we be left out?

So, when the Celtic sites noticed the piece by Kevin McKenna, I had a look and decided to put something up that I hope you will feel is possible. Most of it, without the introduction – is below.

“Currently I teach in a Catholic Secondary School – which is by far the best educational institution I have ever enjoyed the pleasure of working in. Having taught in C of E schools, non-denom, primary and secondary over the last thirty years, I know for a fact that Catholic schools are superior houses of education.

I admire and strongly support the moral drivers of the Catholic sector. In this I mean core values of respect for others and for oneself, understanding of a clear set of life goals and clear discipline which allows all to thrive. These ideals should be supported by all schools. They are ideals through which we can all attain long term personal fulfilment, even if we might debate in other fora, the existence of a supreme being.

On the subject of sectarianism: I despise this term, as it is used to lump bigots with innocents. The problem is one of anti Catholic and anti Irish bigotry. I have yet to meet an anti Protestant bigot – as I have yet to meet a Catholic who is concerned with any other religion. They are too busy getting on with their own lives. Until society takes on these facts, Catholic schools will still be subject to obtuse comments by those whose opinions are formed in the stygian gloom of total ignorance and stupidity.

Please don’t assume non Catholics are against you: I too can recognise an attempted cultural and religious pogrom when I see one.”

Ace McTastic and the Blackguard BeeBaw by Gedboy

The idea for Ace McTastic came to me one evening on the Bridge over the railway by the Tramway. In a flash I knew what I had to do. By a great piece of luck, my writing was helped by the SFA kicking me into touch in the February of 2004. This gave me the time to sit in the Tramway every afternoon for the best part of a year nursing one cup of coffee and typing away on my beloved MacBook. The story was quickly roughed out and a fitting denouement provided which would allow for the second and final part. The as yet unwritten ‘Ace McTastic Meets the Pugalizers’. I am immensely proud of my first born. Though I have gone back a hundred times to amend the grammar and improve the set pieces, I have never altered the core of the story.

The last years have been more prosaic. Six rejections, five years out to write and research ‘Played in Glasgow’ and now I have to do the MLitt without which I will be jobless and itinerant. I hope that someone will notice the book on Authonomy but if not I shall keep on going until my genius is accepted as a mundane fact.

You think I’m joking?

Which Team Do I Support?

When I was a child, Springhill School playground was opposite the Dell, the old home of Southampton FC.  Having been born in Milton Rd, 300 yards up from the ground, it was not unexpected that I would develop a certain regard for the men in red and white stripes. My father, on his way back from his Saturday shift helping build Marchwood Power Station looked in at the Third Division team and started following them. He had grown up following Cork in both GAA codes, so his devotion to the new ‘blood and bandage’ was reasonable. I feel sorry for the youngsters of today who don’t have the chance of trooping down to their local ground to watch their reserves play as they wait for news of the big team playing away. I learnt to love football by playing on the terraces with my sisters until I crossed that invisible line which divides the football fan from lesser mortals who have nothing to believe in and therefore nothing to live for.

There was a fault line however, for at my father’s knee it was explained that Celtic were ‘our team’ because they were the team of the poor Irish. He never saw Celtic play in the flesh. He never went north of Northampton, as far as I’m aware. It didn’t matter, for Celtic were and remain ‘more than a team’. Following Celtic in the 60s was difficult, given the technology of the time. Apart from the scores and that dalliance with the Big Cup, the English press weren’t interested. My move to Manchester to work in 1981 made me closer. Paradise was achieved in 1993 when I moved north permanently.