Category Archives: Life

Eddie Truman: 1963 – 2016

hibsphotoSo the Calvinist Atheist has passed.

A rare case of a man deceased who needs no whitewashing. Whenever his “lover, comrade and friend”, his beloved “Feminist Avenger”, has to sit down and talk to someone about the ‘arrangements’ there will be no awkwardness, no embarrassment as imaginations are deployed; desperately searching for something nice, something worthwhile, to say. We need only tell the truth. A blunt – like him – plain recounting of the facts will be all the tribute required.

The integrity in the face of adversity; the wisdom to watch this Island’s most successful left project rise and then burn at the hands of… well… someone unfit to share his oxygen and yet not succumb to despair and an abandonment of the class he loved and for which he tirelessly fought.

The crabbit irascibility; the rapier-like humour that would often leave you gasping; the sheer force of character that saw him navigate foul, dangerous and treacherous waters with dignity and resolve.

And, for me, the enduring memory of that lanky frame, which dwarfed my own considerably smaller form and yes; considerably smaller character. Memories of texts swapped after a Hibs win or a H*ns defeat; of arranging hurried catch-ups in coffee shops and retail parks on the outskirts of Auld Reekie; all cobbled around which granddaughter was being picked up, dropped off or otherwise placed right at the centre of his universe.

Christ, he schooled me on the national question, Islamophobia waaaay before it was a thing and how to accurately assess the balance of class forces. But he saved his greatest gift till near the end. After near twenty-five years as friends and comrades, he welcomed me as a fellow grandfather. And that was undoubtedly an area where his expertise was unsurpassed. A flash of humour here, a seemingly off-hand remark there, all that wisdom, humanity and love distilled. I only had to reach out and take it. And I did.

As is always the case, he was different things to all of us. But this was the Eddie Truman I knew. And loved.

See you on the barricades, pal. I miss you.

Slàinte mhath.

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The Little Things

My curse is that I was just old enough to remember. Just old enough to let it mark me. Through to the bone. Forever. It both trapped and liberated me. And, for good or ill, I’ve never gotten over it. And not only do I think I never will, I long ago admitted that I don’t want to. It started on my 17th birthday and it ended on my 18th. To the very day.

I was just old enough to be full of romance, wind and piss and a heart-breaking, unshakeable black-and-white view of the world. Make of that what you will.

I’m into the second bottle now, so make whatever allowances a decent person would but Christ, I could and do, from time to time still; weep. It wasn’t just the power; the pride; the collective sense of us against them; but the little things. The smell of the Welfare on a Saturday night. Covers band in the Big Room. Dominoes in the bar with all the hard-talking, hard-drinking, best goddamn bar-room philosophers anyone ever met.

There was this Sunday dinner session, one time. The football lads rolled back in after their game. We were playing cards. Cuecan, I think it was. Fucking terrible game, if you ask me. But try shifting a bunch of miners from a time-honoured tradition like the choice of card game in the Welfare. But we’ve always played cue can.

So there’s me, Mog, Davey, Ronnie and Les at our usual table when young Gary bounced up. Nineteen, swaggering and grinning like life existed solely for his pleasure. Even by his usual standards he was unusually pleased with himself. Ronnie eyed him suspiciously. “What’re you looking so smug about?” he asked. Gary sipped his pint, smirked and said, “I’m moving in wi’ ahr Gert on Monday. We’ve gorra  place in ‘ucknall.”
“And that’s a cause for celebration, is it?” enquired Les.
“fuckin’ ell, is it ever! Can’t wait, mate. Gonna be ace. Fry-ups for brekker every day and blow-jobs on tap!” cackled the soft twat.
I choked on my pint and managed to splutter, “If you really think…” before a sharp and brutally-placed elbow buried itself in my ribs. I glared at the owner of the elbow, Mog, my father-in-law. “Shut it,” he growled. “No one warned us. Why should he get away easy with it?”
I smirked then.
See? The little things.

Like the blue chips under your dad’s skin and the confusing combo of uncompromising defiance but resigned humour that poured off him in waves. The freezing, bitter winter mornings and the squabbles we had about whose turn it was to get up five minutes before the others and haul the coal and kindling in from the bunker; so it was all ready for the auld man when he came down to fire it up.

Like years after he’d died coming across an old and faded ‘Coal Not Dole’ badge, all greasy and dusty, at the back of a kitchen drawer. Complete with his dried blood still crusted into it. From Orgreave. Thirty-somehing years before. And it still moving you to tears of sadness and anger.

Like polishing his ‘Loyal To The Last’ badge – the medal of honour for working class warriors – with the reverence veterans of ancient conflicts bring to their medals and ribbons.

Like staggering home pissed on a Saturday night, kebab in hand, and – just for a second – a brief panic that, somehow, you’ve got lost. Because the headstocks have vanished. And then remembering that they aren’t there anymore. That they haven’t been there since 1993 when Michael fucking Heseltine closed us down.

Like picking up your eighteen year-old daughter and two of her pals from their shift at Sports Direct and listening to them going on about how badly they’re treated. Feeling the rage building as you interrupt and almost shout, “Join a bloody union, then. Get protected and fight the bastards!” The confusion, the disorientation, the feeling that you’re an alien in an alien land when one of them responds, in all seriousness, “what’s a union, then?”

Like wishing, with all your heart, like you’ve never wished for anything before as much as you do now, that you could wind it back to the start; that you could go back and lose all over again. Because even losing is better than not fighting at all.

See? The little things…

Charity Begins at Home

refswelcome“Charity begins at home, mate. We gotta look after our own first.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, mate. We’ve got our own homeless people to worry about. Our own kids in poverty who need help and look at all the foodbanks we’ve got! Who’s helping all the people who can’t afford food?”

“Er, the people who opened all the foodbanks in the first place?”

“Don’t be a twat, H. You know what I mean.”

“Aye, I think I do. Let’s see if I’ve got this right… you think before any help is offered to Libyan, Iraqi and/or Syrian refugees, we ought to help all those British people suffering deprivation and all their kids who are mired in poverty and can’t afford three decent squares a day?”

Exactly, H!”

“There’s just one problem with that… you reckon no one needs to be unemployed; they choose to be. It’s a lifestyle choice. You said that. You reckon we should cut benefits even more because  most unemployed people are just ‘playing the system,’ your words; not mine. You refuse to believe disabled people are dying via sanctions, you think they’re just taking the piss and sponging off the tax-payer. You also reckon food-banks create a demand for food, just by existing in the first place. What was it you said, a month or two back, when we discussed this very thing? Oh, I remember. You said, ‘If someone offers free stuff there will always be folks queuing up to take it just because it’s there to be had.’ That was your take.”

“So what? I’m not wrong.”

“You are because it isn’t an either/or choice. Both could and should be done and not via charity, either. And where, then, exactly, does your charity begin? Where and how does this ‘helping our own’ manifest itself in your life? You think every deprived person is a scrounger, fiddler and chancer; living a life of Riley ripping off us decent hardworking people. You even told me, quite proudly, that the reason you voted Tory for the first time ever, back in May, was because they were going to roll out more cuts and ‘hit the lazy fuckers where it hurts them most; right in their benefits-scrounging bollocks.’ You said all that. So, to sum up, you don’t want to help anyone. You don’t think anyone deserves or needs help. Either here or oversees. In fact, your contribution to helping ‘our own’ i.e. white, non-Muslim folks, revolves around posting bullshit Britain First memes on social media, comprised of outright lies and made-up ‘facts.’ You are, in fact, a hypocrite and a racist. That’s the nature of your charity!”

“Fuck off! I’m not racist but…”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

A Conversation

3turkey

 

“I voted Conservative, to be honest.”

“What??”

She got all defensive then. Like they do.

“Listen, “ I said. “You’re a single mum. In a council house. Living on benefits. With a disabled boyfriend!”

“Don’t say that!” she cried. Visibly cringing. She was a cut-above, you see. She was ‘better’ than that. This wasn’t how she saw herself at all. Most definitely not.

“They hate people like you, for fuck’s sake! They loathe and despise you! The bedroom tax, sanctions of the disabled, ATOS, the list goes on!. Could you even be more a turkey voting for Xmas?”

“They’re only after the scroungers!” she protested. “The chavs and the scum. People who deliberately fiddle the system and refuse to work.”

Two Weeks later.

She’s sobbing now.

“What’s up?”

“I don’t know what we’re going to do!” She cried some more.

Got caught by the Bedroom  Tax, see? And then there was the overpayment of Tax Credits that they’ve suddenly demanded back.

“They can’t do this! We’re decent people! We’re not scroungers and fiddlers!”

And, to be fair, they weren’t.

But then they never are, are they?

It’s always someone else…

Fae the Bookworm

faebook4Books are, obviously, important. Very important. They are the staff of life. From the time my auld man taught me to read I’ve been hooked. And as well as finishing at least one or two books every week without fail, I write the things myself now.

Even more important to me, though, than books is my granddaughter. So it was perfectly natural for me to want to share the thing I love most, with the child I love most. I’ve been buying Fae books since she was about three months old. Too young, right? After all, she isn’t going to have a clue what they are or what to do with them. Well, maybe…

My dad always had a thing about not assuming what kids could and couldn’t take in, at any given age. His reasoning was no one could possibly know what a child could or couldn’t understand so best to expose them to as much as possible and see what sticks. That has always seemed like a sensible approach, to me. No baby-talk for the auld man; he spoke to me using exactly the same words he would use with an adult. Consequently, I recall when in primary 5 positively unnerving my teacher when I told her the longest word I knew was antidisestablishmentarianism and that I could spell it accurately, too. The advantages and benefits of literacy and an extensive vocabulary are so many and so apparent as to render entirely redundant the need to argue for them.

Of course, not everyone enjoys reading, words, language, books etc. It’s also very important, I think, not to force your likes and dislikes onto children; to try and turn them into your own mini-me. Fae might well turn out to be one of those people who doesn’t care for books. But I doubt it, on the evidence so far.

From about five months, when she was hurtling around in a walker, she’d point to the top shelf of one of my bookcases where her small collection was stored, indicating that she wanted them. I’d bring them down and she’d perch happily on my lap as I’d read to her. Often, she’d take them from me and just turn them over, turn the pages as best she could and examine them closely, looking at the front and back covers. It seemed that she viewed them as simply different toys. Which was fine by me. If she viewed books as toys, as things to play with, then, I reasoned, she was associating books with fun. With pleasure. As an enjoyable way to spend one’s time. That’s got to be a good thing.

I soon cleared one of my floor-level shelves for her books so she could access them herself, any time she wanted. And now, every time she visits, without fail, she’ll head for her shelf and stagger over to me with one of her books. And then repeat the trip until I have all of them, spread all over my lap and the arms of my chair. At which point she’ll hold her arms out to me, demanding I lift her up into my chair. Whereupon we read and lose ourselves in her books.

Objective peer-reviewed studies have shown her to be the most intelligent child in the entire span of recorded human history and I reckon she’s got the book-bug. And while it’s gratifying to be able to give my granddaughter anything that makes her happy, it’s as nothing to the sheer joy she gives back to me, a thousand-fold, every time she clambers on to my lap with a book.

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Happy Birthday, Fae Iris Paterson

faebirthGood morning, gorgeous. You’re now one year old. And what a year it’s been. Easily one of the happiest of my life and, judging from your near-permanent smile, a pretty good one for you too. If this granddad has anything to do with things that situation will be a constant.

I want to share a couple of things with you. A bit of background, if you like. Some context into which you can place yourself, on this, the glorious anniversary of your birth (church bells peeled and trumpets just sounded as I wrote that, by the way).

You’ll hear things about me, as you grow older. You’ll hear about how grumpy, how hard-line and angry your granddad used to be. And while you’ll struggle to reconcile that with the soft-as-grease bag of doting blubbering goo you know, it is true.

You see, being a parent, as distinct from a grandparent, is one of the toughest jobs anyone can ever do. When your auld man was born your G-maw and I didn’t have a pot to piss in nor a window from which to throw it. The first four years of his life unfolded against a backdrop of grinding poverty. While we always shielded him from the material effects of that deprivation – he always had nice clothes, a full belly and a warm bed, not to mention lots of toys and books – we couldn’t do much about the less tangible effects.Faebirth2

We lived on a run-down estate with some great neighbours, many of them also young parents struggling to make ends meet and give their children a good life. Sadly, it was our bad luck to live opposite a drug dealer and the used syringes outside the front door were the least of our worries. There was the constant noise and slamming door as his customers and – we’ll call them – business associates came and went. Your dad was cooped up in the flat until one of us could go outside and watch him like a hawk. No private garden in that residential paradise, you see.

I worked for a local newspaper, at the time, and the pay was barely subsistence-level scratchings. I’d eat once every twenty-four hours so we could save the good food for your dad. I’d get up every morning and load up the deep fat fryer with processed junk from Farm Foods and that’d be it until 6.30am the next day. When I got paid each month G-maw would pay the bills and then we’d scrape by on a tenner a week family allowance until the next pay-day.

Of course things improved, over the years, but often it felt like exchanging one kind of jail for another. When your uncle James was born, for example – by which time Auntie Lorna had also arrived – I was working twelve-hour shifts, six days a week in a textile factory. On the seventh day, I’d do two eight-hour shifts so I could manage the transition from backshift to dayshift.

G-maw brought our three kids up virtually single-handed, as well as squeezing in cleaning and nursing gigs when she could get them. Whenever I was around, your auld man experienced a stressed and angry father; more concerned with discipline and right and wrong than allowing himself to reveal the love he had for his children.

For all that, he and I are great pals and always have been. Despite a laid-back attitude that renders him almost horizontal, on occasions, and a sense of humour and level of maturity more commonly found on an episode of Bo Selecta, he’s a great son and a father who is avoiding the mistakes I made.

Aye, your poor auld dad got the rough end of the stick. Our first child and all the stress, worry and insecurity that inexperienced parents go through, was his lot in life. A long time ago now, of course, and these days we’ve got the extra quid or two, nearly twenty-five years of hard-learned lessons and the relaxed and confident demeanour of Vietnam veterans. North Vietnamese veterans, of course.

Which brings us to you. A year ago today, when your dad handed you to me and I first laid eyes upon you, it felt like a damn had burst. Tears poured from my eyes and I knew, right then and there, that something had changed inside me forever. I could actually feel the anger and frustration of all those hard years washing away.

You’ve changed me for the better, kid, and I love you with all my heart and soul. I don’t have the worry that your mum and dad do. I’ve done my hard-time at the parental coalface and now I can just indulge myself, and you, and enjoy every second we spend together. And, oh boy, I do. 10574286_10152566064602114_7986575462980402822_n (2)

They say one of the best things about being a grandparent is that you can give the kids back to the parents when you’ve had enough. Well, that’s a feeling we’ve yet to experience; we never want to give you back. In fact, I thought we ought to give you your own front door key but G-maw pointed out that you can’t actually reach the lock yet. Maybe next year then.

Have a brilliant birthday, Fae. But more importantly have a brilliant life and never forget; G-maw and I are always in your corner, right or wrong. While ever I have breath in my body I am there for you. No matter where you might find yourself, no matter what troubles you face, you are never alone. Hugs, advice, love, time, grub, a few quid when you need it and dragons slaying. That’s a granddad’s job. And I love my job 😉

Happy birthday, sweetheart xxx

Turkish Delight

Stopped at a nearby garage/convenience store this morning.

At the counter two customers – 50ish white men, complete with beer guts and crap tattoos – discuss the recent events in Tunisia.  Lots of hang them-shoot them-flog them-bomb-the-bastards rhetoric.

Meanwhile the Turkish proprietor keeps an admirably blank and neutral face.

I pay for my petrol and as I turn to leave one of them says to the other: “I’d never go on holiday to a fucking shitty Muslim country anyway. You never know what’s gonna kick off!”

Well, you know me; I do my best but I’m weak. I can’t help myself. So…

…I chip in with “Damn right, pal. Me neither”

He responds eagerly. “Yeah? Nice one, mate!”

“Absolutely,” I continue. “Who wants to spend their holiday worrying about the Yanks bombing the shit out of you and your kids? Mind you, if all your kind have a similar view, at least I’d be guaranteed a bigot-free holiday zone so you know; swings and roundabouts, eh?”

Silence.

As I leave I catch the faintest trace of a smirk on the proprietor’s face.