As of the 30th of this month, I'll no longer be resident in Glasgow's leafy West End. No, I'll be an Edinburgher, swapping a flat a few steps from the River Kelvin, to one practically at the bottom of Arthur's Seat (I just typoed that as "Author's Seat", which isn't too bad a slip, at that).

The move has been a bit prolonged by other stuff going on, but I mostly finished up this weekend. I still have a metric shit-ton of boxes to unpack, but at least I have somewhere to unpack them to.

It's another tennament style flat, with a good big bay window and a side view on the Arthur's seat. At the front I overlook a Scottish Widows building and a lot of trees. The Commonwealth Pool is a few steps away, and I'm about a 10 minute walk from the Meadows.

It's a move that's been a long time coming, I suppose. I've been working in Edinburgh for about 5 years now, and the commute isn't getting any quicker. A lot of my socialising is getting done in this side of the country too, to the extent that I was getting home about once or twice a week.

I'm not underestimating the culture change. In fact, I'm overestimating it. I'm going from one student area to another, with the same spread of restaurants, pubs, and gig venues on my doorstep.

I'll miss the old place, it holds some very good memories. But it's also the place where a lot of stuff... just didn't work out.

If I want things to work out, I think I need a new place, that doesn't hold any memories for me.

Hey, ho, let's go...
Just back from a week on Islay, with a side-trip to Jura. As someone described it on the Facebook, "Eight Go Mad On An Island".

It was my fourth trip across to Islay, but my first as part of a group. We managed nine distilleries in 7 days (there are 8 opened on Islay, and Jura has another) and I was away on the 7 a.m. ferry back to the mainland.

The weather was most unlike Islay in September - nary a drop of rain, and a few days of fine sun. I may have had the finest dram of my life (a 23 year old Bruichladdich, lifted straight from the barrel) and had plenty more fine ones, with not a single bum note.

I owe NicNac (once of this parish) a vote of thanks for getting the trip up and running, as well as Suzanne and Aled for sharing the driving with her, and Jim and Neil for taking up the burden of dram tasting with me. Sean provided the single entendres (never has Nicky been so thoroughly looked after in the rimming department) and Patrick was the voice of quiet reason (except where the Northern Lights were involved).

There's too much to tell, I'm afraid. Standing outside our rented house in the pitch black, with the Milky Way strung out over our heads and the aurora flickering on the horizon. Taking the tiny ferry to Jura, through the white water Sound, with our little blue van. And the silly company, being silly.

That, my friends, was a week worth doing.
"Hello comrade! (We can still say that can't we?)
I'm going to break the habit of a lifetime and be brief.

This leadership election is nearly over, and it looks like it's down to a choice between Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham. "

And so on from someone signing themselves "John".

My reply:

"Hi Lord Prescott,

Sorry, you don't get to call me Comrade from the house of lords.
Enjoy, "
My Edinburgh Festival wound up (very tightly) this weekend with two shows on Friday, an outdoor gig in Glasgow on Saturday, a performance of Lanark on Sunday and the fireworks last night.

I’ll try and catch up on “The Elephant in the Room” (excellent, scary) “Live and Late” (chaotic, late) Paolo Nutini (wired to the moon, in great voice) and the fireworks (away off in the distance, beautiful) later, but what really occupied my thoughts was Lanark, and the post-performance conversations about it.

Here are some things I think it’s important to know about Lanark going in:

1.      It’s an adaption of a novel by Alistair Grey.
2.      Alistair Grey is a towering figure in 20th Century Scottish Fiction
3.      Lanark is widely acknowledged as one of, if not the, most important Scottish novels of the 20th Century
4.      The book is split between thinly disguised auto-biography, set in an other-dimensional analogue of Glasgow called Unthank, and even less thinly disguised auto-biography set in Glasgow itself
5.      The book deals extensively with the author’s delusion that he is in some way special, by way of his genius as an artist, but ultimately he is forced to concede that he’s more or less ordinary, and will live an ordinary life and die an ordinary death
6.      Most of the book reflects the author’s obsession with himself (a common trait in autobiography): his inadequacy as a father, his sexual failings, his illnesses, real and imagined, his success and lack of success with women and work and education.

Frankly, I loved the play. It was long, and rich, and dealt with the meat of the novel to my satisfaction. I think Alistair would like it and hate it, that it works as SF and as a biography, and that I’ll probably go and see it again, when it gets to Glasgow, because I thought the Edinburgh audience was a little… flat.

The fun and games started afterwards, with a conversation on the way through the Meadows, continued in a car trip back to where I was staying, and continued further (long after midnight) with the people I went to see it with.
Two of them, an old, old friend and the other a mid-twenties film student, stayed mostly quiet. One,  a mid-twenties playwright, had a lot to say.

What she knew about Lanark going in:
1.      It’s an adaption of a novel

And nothing else. So she went in on the back of four or five years of theatre studies (she picked up her masters this year) having spent half her life in or around theatre productions, and with absolutely no idea who Alistair Grey is, or what Lanark was about.

Her reaction?

A disapointing adaption, and a disapointing play. Three hours of self-indulgent whining, with no sympathetic characters. Practically no female presence except as mobile set-dressing. A second act which was too long, too repetitive, and sucked the life out of the chorus technique. No pay off for the journey. Didn’t focus on the interesting stuff – capitalism eating the poor, politics as celebrity, the relationship between place and self, in favour of a man proving that he was ordinary and would die ordinary.

I was shocked. Loudly and at length. I brought in Hamlet (“What do you want, more sword fights?”) the importance of the novel, the fact that an adaption of Lanark which doesn’t deal fully with Lanark would not be a fair adaption, and I argued that you didn’t need a pay off, or that understanding that we are all ordinary is a fair pay off in itself.

And She Would Not Budge.

Didn’t care that the book was… well, didn’t care that the book was anything. The book wasn’t on stage. What was on stage was an adaption, and it was a bad adaption, that made a bad play. Oh, some things worked, theatrically, but its spine, the sad life and undistinguished death of a middle aged white man, who imagines himself special, who wants to be a writer, or an artist, or a husband or a father, and who fails in a fairly dull way at all of these does not make a good play.

What doesn't worry me is that she’s wrong. By my lights. Plays about self-obsessed middle-aged men can obviously be successful. Obviously. Look at “Death Of A Salesman”. Look at the career of Woody Allen
What worries me is that my lights may be wrong. Maybe the days when the self-obsession of a middle aged man made for good story-telling are over. Maybe they should be. Hard thoughts, when you’re a middle-aged man…

(Also, being ranted at by a young, well informed writer who is passionate about her work and who can fight her corner as well as I can was great, thought provoking fun. I’m lucky to know her).

Anyway, I think that all makes Lanark the highlight of what has been my best festival to date.

A combination of Festival going and gigs which I booked a while ago have just swallowed the last three weeks.

There’s still a couple of weeks to go, but thought I’d better note down what I’ve seen so far, just so I don’t forget…

At the Kelvingrove Bandstand in Glasgow, I’ve been to see King Creosote, and then Echo And The Bunnymen.
The KC gig was a little bit magic. He was performing the soundtrack to “From Scotland With Love”, a documentary made up of black and white footage of Scotland ranging from Churchill’s tanks in George Square to jiving in the 60’s. There was something about the combination of a warm summer evening, darkness falling across the park and those flickering images of the past which was truly beautiful in parts. I left with a lump in my throat.

Echo was much more traditional gig, with the band in fine form. McCullough seemed sober, which can’t always be guaranteed, and glad to be there. I’d forgotten how much I knew of their back catalogue, the sound was good, and all in all it was a great night.
Festival going started with a band called “The Black Sorrows” at the Spiegletent in St Andrew’s Square. They are an Australian Blues band, with a lot of miles on the clock, and it showed in how tight they are. They put in a rocking set to a half full tent, an unexpected highlight for me being their cover of Willy DeVille’s “Storybook Love”, which as we all know is the end credits song for “The Princess Bride”. The gig started at 11, and went straight into a club night. The tunes were pretty good, but I had to be up early the next morning, so called it a night around 1.30.

Next two gigs were non-festival, but happened in Edinburgh anyway. I got into Idlewild in a back-arsed fashion, after seeing their lead singer Roddie Woomble do his solo stuff at two gigs last year. The band are a lot louder, a lot rockier, and the gig at the Assembly Rooms was a kind of homecoming for them. I’d accidentally got seated tickets in the balcony, but enjoyed the night enough that I’m planning on seeing them at the Barrowland in November.
And most recently, but not last, I saw Kasabian play the Edinburgh Corn Exchange last night. They are a festivals band these days, and this was a warm up gig for the V Festival. When I say warm, I mean it was smoking. Red-hot. Partly because the band were on very good form indeed. And partly because the place was packed from front to back. My usual gig preference is to be centre, about a third of the way back, and that’s where I settled. Two songs in, and I’d back peddled almost to the sound desk, due to a huge surge to the stage and some early pogo-ing. The mosh pit isn’t supposed to go that far back…
It was a young crowd, and the guys seemed mostly short, thin and muscular. Lots of tops off and beery hugs. I haven’t been around so much naked, sweaty man flesh since my last Mob meet at Tony’s Turkish Baths.

Next up is the book festival tomorrow afternoon, and then Adolf, a one-man show about you-know-who. Gigs still to come in August include Franz Ferdinand and Sparks (FFS) and Paolo Nutini. I’ve got tickets for Lanark (part of the official festival) which I’m quite excited about.
I still need to get tickets for The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppets Theatre Of Scotland, and there’s some talk of open-air cinema.

I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed August so much, and it’s not over yet. I’m really jealous of my Edinburgh chums at this time of year. It’s almost enough to make me want to…
I’ll get back to you on that one.


Aug. 17th, 2015 02:31 pm
That British Meme, because it’s lunch time. More or less.

1. Marmite—love or hate?
2. Marmalade—thick cut or thin cut?
3. Porridge—made with milk or water?
Half milk, half water, with milk on top.
4. Do you like salt, sugar or honey on your porridge?
Salt and milk – I don’t hold with the sweet porridge heresy.
5. Loose tea or teabags?
6. Where on your door is your letterbox?
On the outside door to the flat, central, about three feet up.
7. What's your favourite curry?
Mother India’s chilli garlic chicken if eating there, lamb rogan josh anywhere else.
8. What age is the place where you live?
No idea, but the street name changed before 1940.
9. Where do the folks running your local corner shop come from?
Glasgow. I haven’t asked where their parents are from.
10. Instant or fresh coffee?
11. How far are you from the sea?
About 25 miles from the Irish Sea, 5 miles or so to the Firth of Clyde.
12. Have you travelled via Eurostar?
13. If you were going to travel abroad, where's the nearest country to you?
England by road, Northern Island by sea.
14. If you're female (or possible even some males) do you carry a handbag?
Are we counting sporrans?.
15. Do you have a garden? What do you like growing?
Yes, and the garden and I have a deal. It doesn’t manage programmes, and I don’t grow plants.
16. Full cream, semi skimmed or skimmed?
17. Which London terminal would you travel into if going to the capital?
Euston or Kings Cross (or, more accurately, Waverley. Unless I was getting off at Haymarket).
18. Is there a local greasy spoon where you live?
19. Do you keep Euros in the house?
There always seem to be a few around, and some dollars and Czech Crowns.
20. Does your home town have a Latin, Gaelic or Welsh alternative.
Yes, but no one uses it.
21. Do you have a well known local artist or author?
Too many to count.
22. Do you have a favourite Corrie character?
I have never watched Coronation Street.
23. Are your kitchen sink taps separate or a mixer?
24. Do you have a favourite brand of blended tea?
The broken orange pekoe from Fortnum and Mason.
25. What's in your attic if you have one?
Books. Lots and lots of books.
26. If you go out for a cream tea, what jam do you like on your scone?
27. Talking of scones—scon or scown? Jam or cream first?
Scon, jam first.
28. Barth or bath?
29. Carstle or castle?
30. What flavour of crisps do you favour?
Ready salted.
31. If you go to the chippie, what do you like with your chips?
32. Take away, take out or carry out?
Carry out.
33. If you have one, what colour is your wheelie bin?
34. What colour skips does your local skip hire use?
Too many to count.
35. Do you celebrate Guy Fawkes?
I celebrate the attempt, not the failure.
36. Dettol or TCP?
37. Do you have a bidet in the bathroom?
38. Do you prefer courgettes or aubergines?
I like the colour of aubergines.
39. In the 'real world', do you have friends of other nationalities? Which nationalities?
Irish, American, Canadian, Australian, Finnish, German, English, Czech, Indian.
40. Do you have a holy book of any sort in the house?
A Koran, the King James Bible and the Bible in Scots, Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny.
41. Do you prefer a hankie or tissues?
42. Are you a fan of crumpets? What do you like on them?
Yes, with butter.
43. Doorbell, knocker or both?
44. Do you own a car? What sort?
I lease a BMW
45. What sort of pants do you guys prefer? Y fronts or boxers?
46. Anyone still a fan of suspenders?
Most British males of a certain age.
47. Do you have a favourite quote from the bard?
Ah wad some power the giftie gie us, tae see irsels as ithers see us. Oh, wait, you mean that other Bard?.
48. Do you like toasted muffins?
There’s nuffin like a muffin.
49. Do you think a traditional trifle should contain jelly?
Of course.
50. Do you attend regular religious worship? Of what kind?
No. I did enjoy the Quaker meetings I went to, but not enough to feel I needed to continue. 
It’s been a time, hasn’t it?

Since I last posted, I’ve been off for two weeks holiday in Spain, recorded two episodes of a TV quiz show, sneaked in a weekend in Paris, and now the Edinburgh Festival is starting to swing.

Spain was fantastic. I was on the improbably named Tropical Coast, south of Granada, in a villa just outside Salobrena, high enough in the hills to get the occasional cooling breeze. The weather co-operated, sticking pretty close to 30 degrees every day, with clouds being rare enough to cause comment (there was one morning when the hot air out of Africa hit the slightly cooler shore and caused a haar that Edinburgh would be proud of).

The downside, if I can call it that, of all the sun was a distinct lack of enthusiasm for moving away from the pool. I did manage to see the Alhambra (heaven for anyone interested in Moorish Spain, and Islamic architecture in general) the caves at Nerja (I kept expecting Peter Capaldi to leap out from behind a stalactite, brandishing a sonic screwdriver) and a jaunt up to the local ski resort, which does an excellent turn out of season as a mountain biking centre.

I flew back in just before midnight on Saturday, and on Sunday at noon got a call to say I was needed on set at the BBC’s impressive Glasgow site. Four hours later I was one of fifteen people recording (REDACTED), a quiz show with Sandi Toksvig as the host. I had a return engagement the next morning. I’m not allowed to blog about it at the moment, but suffice to say that it was a lot of fun and an interesting experience.

Tuesday was back to work, and straight into some interesting work.

The next weekend I had the pleasure of arranging a very short notice trip to Paris, which went off very well indeed. Lots of walking, my favourite Monet exhibition, and great food.

And now I’m back, and starting to get sucked into the Edinburgh Festival. Friends are going off to something very cultural tonight, and I’m going to try to meet up with then after seeing Ant-Man (finally). You can take the boy out of the Merry Marvel Marching Society, but you can’t take the MMMS out of the boy.

A very mixed weekend, where I hid from the sun in the cinema, and avoided the rain in a clubhouse....

I picked my dad up early on Saturday morning, for our annual round of golf at his club. Cowglen has an invitational tournament, where guests play with whoever they like. At one end of the spectrum, this means a lot of scratch golfers turning up for the day, and winning the tournament with ridiculous scores (when I left on Saturday, the best round in was a 63) and at the other a lot of father and son pairings hacking their way around ahd having a chance to catch up. My dad and I were quite happy with the 79 we turned in. I played reasonably well for a once a year golfer.

After quenching my thirst I left my dad to quench his more comprehensively, and headed over to Edinburgh. I had an excellent Thai meal, and then into the Cameo for a late night showing of Taxi Driver. I'd never seen the movie on the big screen before, and only had hazy memories from a TV showing a couple of decades back.

The new print is pristine, while remaining scuzzy, and it's a genuinely disturbing movie, still. I found myself rejecting the ending, in the same way I rejected the ending of Birdman this year, and that's always a sign that it's stirred up something in me. Highly recommended, if you get the chance to see it.

Yesterday was a lazy morning, followed by an afternoon showing of "Going Clear", a documentary on Scientology. The first half or so is a recap of the cult from L. Ron's detrmination to creat a religion, since that's where the money is, to the takover in the 80's by his "children" (a purer breed) and the abuses, financial and physical, which have gone on since then.

To be honest, I didn't learn that much new about the history, and the nasty nature of the punishment beatings and intimidation didn't surprise me. I did notice that they steered clear of any talk of sexual abuse. This might be partly explained by the frequent fades to a white screen with statements from the "church" denying any allegations, including one BEFORE the opening titles. They must have thrown quite a scare into the movie makers to get those on screen.

What makes it worth the price of admission is the straight talking to camera by ex-members of the cult. Their reaction on reaching Level 8, and being given the secret documents with Scientology's creation myth is priceless, and much the same as my own when reading it way back in the 70's. If you haven't come across it, it's Space Opera, and bad Space Opera at that. The footage of Hubbard himself shows what I can only describe as Issac Asimov's evil twin.

Blinking out of the showing sometime before six, I got together the makings of a tapas dinner, which went over well with friends.

This is my last working week, before heading off to the Spanish hills for a fortnight and, to be honest, I just can't wait.
When the funeral lunch ended, it seemed natural to say "Everyone back to mine". Not everyone, of course, but my brother and sister, their partners, a nephew, two neices and one of their partner's, and of course my Mum and her husband (that only looks funny written down - normally it's "Mum and Billy", which gets us past all of that step-father stuff). I ran around buying booze and soft drinks and snacks, and found out that I'd only over-catered on the soft-drinks front. It was a good night - much chat, much drinking, and the now-traditional moment when someone realises I've served them beer that went out of date two years ago (who knew that beer went out of date?).

Everyone was gone by not long after midnight - my mum was last out, after we sang Happy Birthday to her, and she did a bit of light tidying. No, seriously.

Her birthday celebration proper was on the Saturday night, a splendid Italian meal with a slightly expanded cast, and then back to her hotel for a few drinks. It was mostly West-End based, so I walked, putting a bit of a dent in my over-indulgences. Which were modest.

Mostly modest.

Modest compared to the following Friday.

Friday was that rarest of things these days, an LJ meet up. The occasion was N's visit to Edinburgh, but also in attendance were people who's LJ handles rarely get a run out these days, such as [ profile] psychochicken and [ profile] zantic, compulsive scribblers danieldwilliam and rhythmaning, and an unplanned but delightful meeting with ms_chatelaine, in town doing something creative or cultural or both.

We started on the Royal Mile, taking up the back corner of a pub which sold lots of whisky, native Scottish food (I had steak and ale pie (or "fake pie" as N described it) and much Haggi was slain by the others). After quaffing some beers and wine, we made our way across to the other side of Princes Street (stopping en route at the Halfway House, a small but perfectly formed pub on the Waverly Steps, and possibly my favourite spot of the evening) where we settled in the Cafe Royal, another place for beer and it turned out wine.

Dan then found us a cocktail bar, which met with mixed reviews. I actually really liked it, since it had a great view out across the Gardens to the old town,  but it was short on beer and long on cocktails, which is a bit of a bugger if you don't like cocktails. Which I do.

On again, to (I think) the Electric Circus, which was having a Hip Hop night and not, as it should have had, an Eighties Night. After showing the children how to boogie, there was time for another beery pub (I may have been saying things like "Why do they have so many beery pubs? Couldn't they just have one big one?" loudly by now) and then staggering off to our various beds. As I say, propably the most I've over-indulged in a good long time, but I woke up feeling remarkably chipper for so little sleep. Yes, N, you can come back again.

Next: Idol Worshipping in Glasgow....
It’s been a while from my last update, a couple of weeks in fact, and stuff has happened. (I’m tempted to leave it at that, but that would be a pretty short entry, wouldn’t it?).
We gave my wee Gran a good send off. My sister came up from Portsmouth with her family, and cousins and second cousins and collateral ascendants and descendants I never knew I had appeared too.
The funeral was at Saint Mungo’s chapel in Townhead, which stands like an island in an inland sea of modern buildings. The slum tenements which surrounded it have been swept away, replaced by more modern slums which are in turn being replaced by student accommodation, light industrial workshops, car showrooms, and the motorway that cuts through the old neighbourhood, carrying traffic and life through it and only dumping the heaviest of silts in the old backwater.

There are three buildings which survive: the Chapel, Martyr’s School across the road (designed in part by Charles Rennie Mackintosh) and on the other side of the Motorway feeder roads the old Royal Infirmary, three wings of dark, dark stone. Behind that, and beside it, are Glasgow Cathedral, and behind that the vast City Of The Dead, Glasgow Necropolis, shrouding the hills that lead down into Dennistoun.
Birth, schooling, death and internment, all in a square mile or so. And my Gran was born, went to school, got married, raised her children, buried her husband and died in that square mile.
Did I mention that it’s an area which depresses me? I did my bit trying to revitalise it by serving on the board of the Townhead Village Hall for a couple of years, but it felt like putting sticking plasters on cancer… Ach, maybe that’s just funeral thinking.
The service was as Catholic as I get these days. The coffin was carried into the chapel on Thursday night, by me and three others. Damn, it was heavy. The priest welcomed it in, blessed it, and we left it lying in front of the altar overnight, sprinkled with holy water, wafted with incense. I thought she looked lonely.
Friday morning was the full funeral mass experience. Singing was as bad as ever, I took communion (never turn down a free blessing) and there was sort of an extended cut bonus – a decade of the rosary before we carried out the coffin (six of us, this time, which was a relief – that oak is heavy). On the way out I noticed the stained glass at the back of the chapel for the first time. Worth a trip back.
Then off to the crematorium, and another mini service. Much to my dismay we didn’t get “I Belong To Glasgow” but it all went off well enough. The priest closed it off with some words I can’t remember, and then we all went to lunch.
The lunch actually stands as a bit of a comedy epilogue. It was in a place called the Bankroll, ostensibly named for the fact that it’s a converted bank, rumoured to be a black pun on its function as a money laundry for local gangsters. Why else would it be a cash only establishment? Anyway, the fare was hearty, the drink free (yup, I got free sugar-free Irn-Bru) and the company… strange. This is where I was told that I was a dead ringer for two relatives I’d never met (one of them dead) and hugged by various middle aged women. What is it about women my age, that they all seem to be middle-aged? Can’t work that one out at all.
Hmm. For a catch up post, this hasn’t taken me very far, has it? If I have time I’ll write about the party we had back at my place that night, and how it took us from the wake to my Mum’s 70th, and maybe I’ll even bring things relatively up to date with details of the splendid night I had last Friday with LJ friends old and new.
For now, though, hello and goodbye, as always.
My wee Gran passed away last Thursday, peacefully in her sleep, a couple of months shy of her 95th birthday.
All of the old clichés apply (there’s a reason why they become clichés): she had a long life, she was delighted with her family, and in the end, the end was a blessing. Her Alzheimer’s was not going to get any better, and though her health was good (the doctor said he couldn’t use his old standby of “heart failure” on the death certificate, because her heart was as strong as a horse’s) she was growing frailer each month.
She lived on her own, well into her eighties, and the Alzheimer’s was the reason she went into a care home – she left the cooker on a time too many, and liked to walk the length of the town. It was her decision to go into the home – my mum assumed she’d move in with her, but she was too used to her own space, I guess.
She only ever had two children, my mum and her brother Thomas, who died young in a motor-bike accident. From three grandchildren she ended up with six great-grandchildren.
She died maybe a mile from where she was born. We’ll be taking her to the church she was christened in on Thursday, and she’ll have a mass on Friday.
At the crematorium she’ll have two songs – the one she loved to hear my Granda sign (“I’ll Take You Home, Kathleen”) and the one she always said was her favourite (“I Belong To Glasgow”).
She didn’t have an easy life, when she was younger. My Grandad joined the AA before I was born, and he never drank in my memory, but he had good reasons for stopping. He was in the army when they married (he deserted to marry her, and served his time in the Glasshouse for it) but he did come home from the war. He died twenty five years ago, and she never stopped missing him.
At the end, I can say she lived a life of quiet decency, and she’s left fond memories.

Bye, Gran. 
As ever, when bad or sad things happen I turn to books for comfort.

Thanks to the popularity of the new Mad Max movie, it's the one which ends:

"The following spring, on the day of its unveiling in Boston Common, when it was discovered that someone had scrawled obscene words on the statue of Hell Tanner, no one thought to 'ask the logical candidate why he had done it, and the next day it was too late, because he had cut out without leaving a forwarding address. Several cars were reported stolen that day, and one was never seen again in Boston.

So they re-veiled his statue, bigger than life, astride a great bronze Harley, and they cleaned him up for hoped for posterity. But coming upon the Common, the winds still break about him, and the heavens still throw garbage."

The novella called Damnation Alley came out in the late 1960's, after Roger Zelazny had read Hunter S. Thompson's book about the Hell's Angels, and he was in the mood to write something short and violent. It tells the story of Hell Tanner, who lost his place in the world when his biker gang was wiped out in the Three Days of nuclear madness which destroyed the world, really, and left America as two coastal strips separated by a wilderness of radiation and mutants, wild winds and rains of boulders and fish, and who gained a bit of it back by riding Damnation Alley from coast to coast, from LA to Boston, carrying a cargo of plague medicine between the last two bastions of civilisation in the Americas.

It was a fast, nasty ride, full of shotgun pellets and stilletos knives, and Hell made it all the way, when better men died,  because his reflexes were just that little bit faster, his muscles that little bit more ready to deal death. And as ever, your reward for doing a dirty job is to do it again. The first time, in a novel expanded from the novella. Zelazny preferred the shorter work, but then again, as he says, no one has to stay up all night and read the damn thing, and if it hadn't been written there probably wouldn't have been the movie version, which sent Tanner through the Alley yet again (or a version of that Hell's Angel, who'd been worked over in Hollywood's back rooms, and came out as Jan Michelle Vincent).

And if the movie hadn't happend, Judge Dredd wouldn't have been sent into a very similar car to carry medicine across the Cursed Earth, and, IMHO, Max Rockatansky might well have stayed at home.

It's a lovely story, sudden violence shot through with poetry, partly because Uncle Roger couldn't write any other way, and partly because he knew how to sell a book. Do yourself a favour, ignore the movie and get a hold of either the novel or the novella. Because after all:

"Something big and batlike swooped through the tunnel of his lights and was gone. He ignored its passage. Five minutes later it made a second pass, this time much closer, and he fired a magnesium flare. A black shape, perhaps forty feet across, was illuminated, and he gave it two five-second bursts from the fifty-calibers, and it fell to the ground and did not return again.

To the squares, this was Damnation Alley. To Hell Tanner, this was still the parking lot. He'd been this way thirty-two times, and so far as he was concerned, the Alley started in the place that had once been called Colorado."

He deserves your company...

Well it looks like the diagnosis and treatment for my Mum were spot on. She started perking up and was much less confused from Tuesday onwards, and after two weeks on intravenous anti-virals, she was discharged on Saturday, with another week’s worth of tablets, and some industrial strength pain-killers.
It’s a big relief. I think what was scaring me most was her confusion, and the worries that there might be brain damage. Well there’s no sign of it, and the prognosis is that there should be no lasting impact. She is going to have painful headaches, though, for anything up to another month. She says the pain is manageable, which is one of the ways in which my mum is tougher than I am.
Of course, she was only out for a couple of days when my Gran took poorly, and she practically had to move into her nursing home.
Last night I got the “your cat’s on the roof” call from my brother. My Gran’s doctors had “made her comfortable” and she was “sleeping peacefully”. My mum warned us off until she’d been examined this morning, but the clear implication was that that wasn’t going to happen.
I should know better. Apparently this morning she had two energy drinks and was off to the loo. The doctors were “pleasantly surprised”. The woman is 95, and I think she’ll see out her century…
So thank you all for the kind thoughts: they’ve helped keep me rooted which so much has been going on.
Given the good news about my Mum and Gran, I’ve allowed myself to be talked into flying down to London on Thursday, and back on Friday to see a Brandon Flowers gig. Sorry to London chums (you know who you are) that it’s not a longer visit, but I promise to be down again soon. 
He asked for a an update on the election. Or rather, he said "What the hell's happened over there?"

Christ, where do I start?
So first of all, Scotland.
The SNP polled 44% at Holyrood elections in 2011 under PR they got a narrow majority in the Scottish Parliament. The Yes vote was around 45% last September - in a yes/no vote, that was a loss. The SNP polled around 50% last night - under First Past The Post, that gave them 56 out of 59 seats. I don't see this as a huge change in Scottish views, just a continuation of the results from 2011.
But if you make the comparison with the 2010 General Election, then you come up with some crazy, crazy swings from Labour to the SNP. A 20% swing was disappointing. 30% commonplace, and the largest, in Glasgow North East, which is my old constituency, was 39%, which actually broke the BBC's swingometer. Labour are down to one seat, as are the Tories and the LDs. The big scalps were being taken almost contnually - both Alexanders, Charles Kennedy, Jim Murphy, Margaret Curran... Any Scottish MP you've ever heard of. Amazing as this was, it was pretty much in line with polling, which showed around 50 SNP seats. All of these were pledged to vote with Labour against a Tory Queen's Speech, so so far so good.
But then there was England.... Labour, to put it kindly, failed to launch. They made no impact on seats they had to win, and lost some big names (Ed Balls being the biggest). The LD vote collapsed, switching mostly to the Tories (much to my surprise). UKIP were a damp squib.
So in one way this was a fairly typical result, seen from Scotland. As in 79, 83, 87, 92 and 2010 we vote against the Tories and get a Tory government based on English votes. It's actually atypical, in that the Tory majority is a very narrow one - they will just break 330 seats, I think, and face the 1992 scenario of a narrow majority and back bench rumblings.
it's early days to say how this will play out. I think the SNP will be offered additional powers for Scotland, to try to take them off the board. It's a little counter-intuitive that the Tories will offer Scotland independence in all but name, but the name is all that's really important to the Tories. So long as England, sorry, the Union, is preserved, they will be fine. That offer will be a poisoned chalice, of course, but might have to be taken anyway.
Labour will fall into their usual "we must be more pure", "we must reach out to the right" squabble. At the moment, they are mostly blaming the SNP for them losing in England - the argument is that wavering voters in England dashed into the Tories arms to save them from a putative Labour/SNP coalition.
Is that true? I wouldn't like to think so, but the fears were fanned by David Cameron, and stoked furiously by the right wing press - so maybe there's truth in it.
I was up till about 5, and back up around 9, so my analysis may be less than astute right now....
Well that’s not quite entirely true.
Some elements might be slightly inaccurate.
Oh, ok, it’s a lie…

Things are very busy indeed.

Work has settled down from the weekly visits to Inverness. I might still have to do the odd single day visit, but no extended stays (that might change, in the summer, but for now I’m mostly in Edinburgh). That makes life a lot simpler for me, or at least it would if I weren’t…

Currently house-sitting for a friend. She’s off in Chicago, leaving a dog, two and a bit cats, and a lot of birds and squirrels to be looked after. She lives out in the country (well, by my standards) but within 10 miles of my office. So the commute is cut down, though the pre-work routine is quite a bit more extensive (feed two and a bit cats, give dog three types of medicine and food, fill bird and squirrel feeders). At night things get quiet. Maybe too quiet – I’m used to a bit more going on at night. Still, after the first week of two I’m starting to like it and settle into a routine, or at least I would be except…

My mum is in hospital. She was on holiday, and started getting really bad headaches half way through. The local doctor was giving her injections (which she later found out were Tramadol!) but no diagnosis. My brother picked her up from the airport on Saturday, and took her straight to the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow. After a couple of days of tests, during which possibilities like meningitis and aneurism were thrown about, they’ve settled on shingles in her head. Which sounds better by comparison, but is actually pretty horrific in terms of pain. So she’s going to spend two weeks in bed having anti-virals and pain killers pumped into her at Gartnavel hospital, which is only five minutes from my Glasgow flat. It’s a place of ill-omen for me, since it contains the Beatson cancer centre, and it’s where my friend Bill’s sister got her diagnosis. It’s also harder for her husband to get to, since he doesn’t drive. So she’s very upset, and in a lot of pain, and that puts a lot of things in perspective for me, especially since…

The General Election is coming up on Thursday (in case you haven’t noticed).  I haven’t said a lot about this, here, but it’s been on my mind a lot. For one thing, I won’t be voting Labour, breaking the voting pattern of every GE since I was able to vote, back in 1983. I’ve decided to vote SNP, along with a lot of other Labour voters. There’s a lot of reasons for this – I voted SNP in the last Holyrood election, based on their record in government, and they’ve done well in this term too. I voted Yes in the referendum, which maintaining my Labour Party membership, with the intention of being part of the Scottish Labour Party after independence. That vote was lost, and (to coin a phrase) in the past it must remain. But I was shocked by Labour’s behaviour in the referendum campaign. Not just the relentless negativity which had failed them so badly in the 2011 Holyrood elections, but an actual hostility to policies like nuclear disarmament and land reform, things that brought me into the party in the first place.

Hmm. This post is growing, and will grow further… I’ll cut it short here, for those who aren’t interested in North British politics, and post a new one this afternoon…
Remember I said that I'd bought five extra days of holiday this year? Well that's two of them I've used for funerals.

Uncle George was 65, and had a history of heart problems. And kidney, liver, circulation and lung problems.

So his death wasn't totally unexpected, but it was surprisingly sudden.

The funeral was on Friday, and I took my Dad and his wife up in the car. I'd originally intended to stay in Aberdeen on Friday night, and join in what I expected to be a boozy wake, full of family recriminations, more out of duty than pleasure. My dad surprised me, though, by saying that he wanted to come back down after the tea, so I cancelled my hotel room and was actually back in Glasgow not much after seven.

The funeral was... Well, all funerals are the same, all are different. The crematorium was much the same. The rapid-fire patter of a minister who'd never met George was depressingly similar. I'd never seen a floral tribute in the shape of a Rangers FC top before, though, or sung "The Old Rugged Cross" in a service. I had problems not using my pub singer voice, and I know that George would have apreciated that.

The family were well behaved at the tea, afterwards. I managed to get a photo of my dad with his two surviving brothers and sisters (there were originall seven in the family, one of whom died at 14 and another in her early 40's).

Something about the day gave me a migraine, which I battled through to get the folks back to Glasgow.

It wasn't a great day, and I was left feeling empty, that a family can come together in a far away place, and only carry cliches and common-places to swap with each other.

I need a wedding to go to, I think, or better yet a Christening.
It's been a busy week.

My friend Bill was here last Saturday, en route to Dumfries for the funeral of his sister. I put him up, and our talk was mostly of 1970's comics, the state of the fantasy novel, and politics. We watched a few episodes of Justified, and we didn't talk much about Angela, dead of cancer three days after he 47th birthday.

On Sunday I dropped Bill at the train station, and then went off to watch Britain play the US in the Davis Cup. What this amounted to, mostly, was seeing Andy Murray in the flesh for the first time, and realising why he's won two Grand Slams and two Olympic Medals. It's not just his physical presence. His opponent, John Isner, is around six foot 10, and more imposing. Or his fitness - I don't doubt that Isner is as fit. It's the combination of his ability and his ability to solve for the man on the other side of the net. You could see that he had an overall strategy to deal with someone who serves at 140 mph, and that he adjusted that strategy on a game by game, rally by rally, shot by shot basis. Awesome.

On Monday I took the day off work and drove to Dumfries for the funeral. It was and wasn't what I expected. As I mentioned to a friend, I've been at more funerals for people who took their own lives, than for people my age who died of natural causes. Something felt un-natural about this, that Angela, who was alive and funny and worried and very much here in November is now gone. Apparently she met her death with... well, she managed it. She negotiated the package deal for the funeral and meal afterwards, and scripted the service. Peter Gabriel, ELO, Martha and The Muffins and Rod Stewart played her out. There were quotes from Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" and Alan Moore's "DR and Quinch" (when asked what she'd like to do to her cancer she apparently said, "A kiss on the lips may be quite Continental, but thermo-nuclear weaponry is a girl's best friend"). I spent a couple of hours with Bill and the family afterwards, talking about, oh, a lot of things, in the same function room where my friend Jackie's wedding dinner was a few months ago.

On Tuesday I was up at five to drive to Inverness, and a meeting at ten. Tuesday and Wednesday were fine - the two pieces of work I'm occupied with there should both wrap up at the end of this month, which is a good thing. I've done enough living in hotels for the moment. Mostly the problem is that I put my life on hold when I'm away, and there's not enough time to reboot it when I get home.

I drove back on Thursday afternoon, which was my birthday and the day Terry Pratchet died. Lots more thinking, and many miles of road to do it on. I got back in time for dinner with the person I wanted to spend my birthday with, and that was good.

On Friday I actually got to sleep in my own bed, and was home in time for a walk around the West End in the dusk, which let me know that the days are getting longer.

Saturday I had coffee with two old friends, and then spent the rest of the day watching rugby on TV, eating some very good Bolagnese, and catching up with "Better Call Saul". A friend and I talked through where she is, and where I am, and how sometimes things take a while to work out.

Today I went over to my mum's for lunch, and a catch up. She's having some health problems, and has an operation scheduled for the 11th of May. We didn't talk about that much.

And tonight, Sunday, I watched an episode of Justified, played a little on-line chess, and now I'm putting off packing for this week's jaunt to Inverness tomorrow.

One reason for the comprehensive update is that I'm going to take a little break from LJ. ust a couple of weeks, which makes me wonder why I even mention it. I've been gone longer without making a thing of it. I'm also dropping off Twitter and Facebook for a couple of weeks - I might mention it there, or not. At any rate, anyone who needs to contact me knows how to do that, so I'm not out of contact or anything.

You all play well together when I'm away, you hear?
Last night I went off to the cinema on my own, to see Kingsman.

I had mixed feelings about the movie before going in.

I’ve largely avoided Mark Millar since the nasty taste left in my mouth by the last page of Wanted. The overt message that he can take your money for fulfilling your power fantasies (oh, ok, that he can feck you up the *rse and you’ll be happy about it) didn’t really sit well with me. That means I didn’t actually get to read the rape scene in Kick Ass 2, so I can only be outraged about that by proxy.

On the other hand, Kingsman is a comic book adaption with an interesting cast and premise, so I wanted to see it.

Having seen the movie, I’m still ambivalent. There are lots of good things about it – it’s funny in spots, it has some gripping scenes (the sky-diving sequence in particular) and some excellent dialogue. There are also some bad things in there – a clumsy anal sex joke, a gratuitous lisp, Mark Strong’s ludicrous accent – but they don’t spoil the movie.

What I do think spoils it is a failure in tone, which reminded my painfully of Casino Royale (no, not the Daniel Craig version, the one with David Niven). The writers and director are far too canny for this to have been accidental, but it makes the climax an uncomfortable stab at hard-boiled farce, which didn’t come off for me.

Oh, and I’ve seen a few articles saying that the movie is an admission that the working class need aristocrats to save them – given that the body count includes just about every example of the elite, chosen few, I think this is a bit of a muddled conclusion. 
I worked from home on Monday and Tuesday, because I had to be fitted for a heart monitor, wear it for 24 hours, and then go and hand it back (I could have gone in yesterday and then came back to Glasgow, but I wasn't allowed to shower, which makes me feel not very office-like).

The heart monitor is to check for palpitations. My resting heart rate seems to be between 100 and 110 BPM. I think that's high, though I've been told by my GP that the normal range is 60-140 BPM, which feels like a very wide range to me. Anyway, I got a quick EKG and then the monitor fitted.

Last night was a quick drink at The Chip, and then on to lasagne at Little Italy. Why did no one tell me that they sell food, and not just coffee and exquisite cakes? They have exactly the kind of lasagne I've been craving for weeks (and do take away, too).

It was an early night, because I was up at 5 to drive to Inverness this morning. I can tell we're getting closer to Spring, because I had the most beautiful sunrise, rosey light on the snowy mountains, around 7 o'clock. Not so long ago the drive was done entirely in darkness, and I can't tell you how much those mountains lift my heart.

Deep in work now (well, actually at lunch, but you know what I mean).

I have two nights in Inverness, and then a very busy weekend of friends, tennis, and a funeral. But that will keep till further entries - if I'm going to make this a regular thing again, then I'll need to keep some stuff in reserve...



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