Categories
Life

2014: Part 2

001_rev1.inddNew year, new start eh? Well, no; not really. 2015 has rolled over pretty much from where 2014 left off. 2014, Part 2 you might say.Which is to say deadlines, deadlines and assorted stresses and strains. Plus ça change and all that.

I break off from the word-mine only to apprise you of a couple of things of note. Of note, that is, to me but also, perhaps, to some of you fine folks out there in Readerville, too.

First up is this month’s most excellent issue of Bass Guitar Magazine. As well as the usual high-quality offerings from our team of crack writers there is my own humble contribution. I don’t usually make a song-and-dance about my BGM gig but this month is a little different. I recently had the pleasure – and it was indeed a pleasure – of talking to Squeeze bassist, John Bentley. An all round gent and top bloke, he had plenty to say about his latest solo offering plus sharing some great stories from his Squeeze days. One can become very bored, very quickly, talking to ego-tripping rock stars so John was a very refreshing change. Modest, cheerful and interesting he was a delight. Read all about it when the shelves are hit later this month.

Got my new book coming out on April 1st (a highly appropriate date, some might say, given the subject matter). For all sorts of reasons I can’t say too much about it at the moment but more info on this very soon.

I’m delighted to be published, once more, by Five Leaves Publications and if the new offering is only half as well-received as last year’s Look Back in Anger I shall be a very contented scribbler. I was truly thrilled by the response to and support for the book and I hope the new one hits the spot for you guys as well.

In other news I attended an exclusive invitation-only soirée this evening. The guest of honour was a very happy young lady who clearly had a blast. Security was understandably tight but I did manage to smuggle out a photograph of her beautiful self. From later on in the proceedings, when she was clearly in an advanced state of, ah, refreshment. Which I include here for your delectation.

Faecake

Which only leaves me needing to thank you all for your support and consistently-amusing correspondence, throughout last year, and to wish you and your loved ones a very Happy New Year for 2015.

Categories
Life

A Letter to My Granddaughter

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Dear Fae,

Well! That was a damn fine Christmas. My forty-seventh and your first.

Your granny and I were delighted and thrilled you had your first Christmas dinner with us. It was magical. Really. And an honour.

There were many wonderful moments but, for me, I’d pick two that stand out in particular. The first was the gift your Mum and Dad gave me on your behalf. I could say a lot about why and what it meant to me but I’ll tell you yourself when you’re older.

The other moment was dinner itself. There I was; the crusty auld patriarch (how did that happen?) at the head of my table. My eldest son, your Dad, was seated on my right, as is right and proper for the deputy head of the family (no need to tell yer granny I said that, by the way. It can be our secret ;-)), and you were sat between us in your chair, propped up on the stool.

You were only five-and-a-bit months old but, Christ lassie, you loved your grub! Your mum was carting you in and out of the kitchen an hour beforehand so your granny could feed you snippets of stuffing. You loved it and wolfed it down.

So anyway, there we were. Christmas day; me, you, your mum, dad, granny, uncle James and auntie Pod and her fella Daniel. Your auld man let me feed you your dinner and, sweetheart, it was pure magic. It really was. Having you there, part of the whole thing, scoffing your mash, stuffing, peas and gravy as I fed you spoonfuls at a time. I was as proud as punch.

I love you, Fae. Like you can’t imagine. It’s a granddad’s love and it’s very special indeed. You see, we granddads know stuff that non-granddads don’t. We’ve accumulated secrets and knowledge and special powers that others, who aren’t granddads, can only imagine.

As you know, your dad is the boss of you (at the moment ;-)) and as his dad I’m the boss of him. And because I’m his dad, as well as auntie Lorna’s and uncle James’s, I’ve accumulated special granddad knowledge. It’s not something I can go into here because we swear a special granddad oath not to divulge our secrets but, basically, we’re kinda like ninjas only waaay cooler and twice as effective (I’m currently training your dad in this special magic so that if you have little girls and boys of your own, he’ll have the granddad magic as well. When he and I disappear the second Friday of every month, that’s what we’re doing. We’re not really just having beers and a meal with Phil, Neil, Gav and Mick. That’s just our cover story. We have to keep the magic secret, you see).

Your poor parents have the worry, the heartache and the stress of keeping you safe and well, 24/7 365. They will have to be the bad cops when you need them to be – but most assuredly don’t want them to be – and there will be times when they do your nut in. But that’s their job. I’ve been there, as well. When your dad did my nut in!

But here’s the thing; your mum and dad love you and always will. They will cherish you and nurture you and protect you. Sometimes, though, maybe, you’ll find yourself in a place where it’s hard to call for your mum and dad. Maybe you’ll think you’ve done something bad. Perhaps you’ll think you’ll hurt them or disappoint them if you tell them what’s really going on in your life, at any particular moment. You won’t, you know. They love you more than they love anything in the whole world and you can always tell them anything you need to. But if you really feel you can’t…

Well, that’s where your granddad – and your granny – come in. Because of my special granddad ninja skills and magic – and your granny has these powers too – we can solve any problem you encounter. Really.  We can always make things better for you.

When you cross our threshold you will only ever find unconditional love. We are only there to help you, make you happy and make things better. Even if it might not always feel that way at the time.

You are a very special little girl and many people love you. None more than your besotted auld granddad. Just remember; as you grow up, wherever you are, whatever you do, whoever you become, you are never ever alone.

Your granny and I are always here for you. Always. Don’t ever forget that. And thank you for making my Christmas pure and unadulterated magic.

Love, granddad xxx

Xmas 2014

Categories
Culture Life

The Art and Science of Single Malt Whisky

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I’m sure you – like me – were appalled on reading whisky ‘expert’ Jim Murphy’s verdict that some upstart Japanese single malt is now, officially, the world’s finest single malt whisky. The idea that such a thing could ever originate from outwith the shores of Scotland is, like time-travel and invisibility cloaks, scientifically impossible.

Possibly even more appalling was the degree of presumption displayed by the Japanese distillers, Yamazaki, in labelling their potion ‘whisky.’ As all right-thinking people know, if it isn’t distilled among the bonny banks and braes of God’s Own Country then it’s bloody well ‘whiskey’ thank you very much. And I don’t give a tinker’s cuss what Wikipedia says to the contrary.

Apart from anything else, how can you take seriously something purporting to be single malt yet calling itself Yamazaki? It sounds like it should come with a 500cc engine and handlebars.

Sadly, while discussing with friends on Facebook this ridiculous and nonsensical development, it became apparent that genuine appreciation of the sacred uisge beatha is hampered by reverse snobbery, unsophisticated palettes and unforgivable ignorance. Here then, is a simply entry-level guide to the noble art of whisky and the etiquette required for its correct consumption and, thus, enjoyment.

 1. Scotland has four whisky regions (five, really, to true connoisseurs). Each with its own distinctive and highly individual character. They are the Islands; comprising Islay and Skye (although Islay should be considered the fifth region in its own right; such is the glory and towering majesty of its offerings), Highland, Speyside and Lowland.

2. Broadly speaking, whiskys from each region, while varying greatly from each other, will share strong core characteristics. Thus we can say Island malts are maritime and peaty. Highlands are smooth and floral, Speysides are sweet and delicate and Lowlands are light and fresh.

3. Of course that’s the general consensus. In reality, Islay single malts are the finest drinks ever created in the history of humanity. Laphroaig is the most complex and richly-favoured of them all. It is the undisputed King of single malts. Any who hold otherwise will be people of flexible morality, dubious virtue and questionable integrity. Ignore them.

4. Similarly, while Speyside produces the inarguably impressive The Glenlivet (it should always have ‘The’ to give it both its correct appellation and the respect it deserves) its produce tends toward the bland and sickly. The wearily ubiquitous Glenmorangie, for example, is commercialised nonsense. Adequate for grandmothers and the English but unfit to be taken in the company of men.

5. Ice in single malt whisky is not a matter of personal taste. It is wrong. Always. Its extreme temperature wrecks the balance of the whisky and chemically alters its taste. It numbs the palette, too, leading to an inability to actually taste, in all its complex magnificence, that which the Great Architect has seen fit to gift us. Single malt whisky should always be kept and taken at room temperature. Don’t be a peasant. Leave the ice in the freezer.

6. Water. Nowhere is there greater ignorance and reverse snobbery than on the question of water with one’s whisky. In many cases water can actually unlock the bouquet and release hitherto unknown wonders. As a very crude general rule, the higher ABV% of the whisky should dictate the ratio of water to whisky. I once had a superb Cadenhead’s bottling of a 12 year old Bowmore that clocked in at an eye-watering 74% ABV. Drinking it without water would have been utterly stupid and entirely pointless. Such high alcohol content serves only to numb and freeze the taste buds and palette and all that you will taste or smell will be the alcohol. A note of caution: water taken with single malt whisky should be of the lowest possible mineral content. Water with a high mineral content will act in much the same way as ice; it will ruin the balance and, again, chemically alter the whisky’s taste.

7. Our Celtic brothers and sisters from the Emerald Isle try their best, bless ’em, but that non-peaty, triple-distilled-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life juice they peddle is but a sorry apology for the mighty kings and queens of Alba. If you must drink whiskey then their blends are actually better. Jameson’s being particularly fine.

8. Another fallacy; the older a whisky is does not automatically mean it will be better. Some single malts mature very early. The Bowmore Legend, for example, carrying no age statement but widely understood to be only eight-years old, is a particularly apposite case here. The same point in reverse, I once had a 31 year-old Black Bowmore. It was, literally, black. As a result of stewing in oloroso sherry casks for three decades. I bought it for £175.00 and sold it a year or two later for £1050.00. It currently retails for circa £7,500.00 per bottle (yes, you read that correctly). Its rarity value is what commands such a price tag; not the quality of the whisky. Those who’ve tasted it tell me it’s virtually undrinkable.

9. There is such a thing as truly bad whisky. But remember; no whisky is even worse. Always.

10. Finally, few have so adequately captured the compelling power and eternal mystery of single malt whisky as the late great Campbell Armstrong. He deserves the last word here.

“The perfume, distilled perfection, bottled wonderment, magnetised him. He’d never seen liquid so golden and pure as that distilled from the cold clear waters of Speyside by Alchemists. Grapes made plump by the sun only gave you wine and what was that but a polite lubricant during a meal? A fine malt was something else. A triumph of nature; its drinkers were disciples, druids. Even the bloody names on the bottles were mystical incantations. Tamdhu. Tullibardine. Lagavulin. Strong Scots names that made Chateau This and Cabernet That decidedly unimpressive; effete little drinks for dilettantes.”

Categories
Life

A Love Supreme: Alloa Athletic and Me

Alloa 1There was never a time in my life when I decided to support Alloa Athletic. It certainly wasn’t a matter of familial tradition, given my auld man loathed ‘fitbaw’ and all my uncles – all of them – are Huns (don’t judge me). No, the mighty Wasps have been a part of my life for so long they may as well be part of my DNA. I simply can’t remember a time when I didn’t love Alloa Athletic.

After a spell in Alloa’s infamous ‘Bottom End’ my auld man got us a flit to the Hawkhill scheme and our house on Thistle Street was a scant few hundred yards from the hallowed ‘Recs’ (now horribly renamed the Indodrill Stadium). For as long as I can remember the Saturday afternoon roar of the crowd excited me to a degree that compared to nothing else in my pre-pubescent life. The hordes of black-and-gold-scarf-wearing men streaming down Thistle Street and along the Clackmannan Road thrilled me to bits. The fact that these ‘hordes’  totalled an average gate of around 450 in the mid-70s and the ‘roar of the crowd’ was little more than a semi-excited murmur was something I wouldn’t learn for a number of years.

My gran knitted me the traditional Alloa bar scarf of back-and-gold and on match days I’d wear it hanging around at the end of our path, soaking up the atmosphere, vainly trying to be all nonchalant, as the local hard-men and their equally hard kids, similarly bedecked, would saunter by and cry out “awright there, wee man? Ye no’ comin’ doon the game then?” I’d casually explain I was waiting for a pal. It was easier than the derision which would inevitably have accompanied the truth; that my folks wouldn’t let my nine year-old self anywhere near a football ground in the hooligan-infested seventies.

At age ten, Kenneth Greenhill and I pulled the time-honoured childhood blag – I’m at his and he’s at mine – on our respective parents. The pre-internet age, no mobile ‘phones and with only about three landlines on my scheme and a similar number on the Mar Policies – Kenny’s scheme – meant we were pretty safe. So off we went. Handing over our forty pence and clicking through the turnstiles, trembling with excitement. The noise, the colour, the spectacle; the experience was enormous. All of which I’d many years later realise, after visits to Parkhead and Ibrox, was nothing of the sort. But then, my love was requited. We were joined.

The following season the old boy over the road, ‘Mr. Mac’ had a son signed to the Wasps and he kindly offered to take me to the home games. My folks grudgingly agreed to see how that went. It just couldn’t get better than that. And it didn’t…

Then came the second broken heart of my young life. The first being Eleanor McGill kissing Gary McPhail at the primary seven Christmas party. It was 1978 and we were on the march with Ally’s Army. The entire nation had gone mental. Scotland had already won the world cup before we even set foot on Argentinean soil. If you weren’t there, you simply can’t imagine. It was insane. You’ll recall how it ended though and as I sat there, after Archie scored that goal and it simply not being enough, tears streaming down my eleven year-old cheeks, the auld yin cheerily remarked, “you think that’s bad? Next week we’re flitting to England!” He wasn’t joking.

If life hitherto had contained challenges, they were as nothing to the tribulation of those first three years in Nottingham. A stranger in a strange land, the odd kid with the weird accent, with no fresh rolls from Williamson’s bakers next to the Recs of a Sunday morning, no square slice from Aitken’s, no Ochil Hills, no cousins, no pals, no tablet and, even more devastatingly, no Alloa Athletic. The 5.00pm results on the BBC and no match report in England-oriented Sunday papers were as good as it got. And that wasn’t any good at all. Relief efforts from family came in the form of the Alloa Advertiser posted down every now and then, so some connection to my own true love could be maintained. But the fag-end of the seventies and the early eighties were our wilderness years; the period when our star-crossed relationship was defined by the estrangement enforced by insurmountable distance. When love threatened to tear us apart.

Grimly, I hung on, spurning the would-be temptresses of Nottingham Forest, Derby County and Notts County. By then I’d made a few pals. They urged me to move on. To get over it and find a new love. But I couldn’t. While my brother would eagerly lap up any game on TV, English football meant nothing to me then. Without a dog in the fight, it seemed remote. Disconnected. Forest in those days, under Brian Clough, were on the cusp of their golden years with European glory winking sexily just over the horizon. I remained unmoved. We love who we love, right? We don’t choose that love. It just is.

Adulthood, money and, crucially, a driving license meant our relationship finally moved seriously to the next level. The ups and downs that followed were easily absorbed, given the previous challenges we’d met and conquered together. 620-mile round-trips via plane train and automobile were taken in my stride.

Like the time my best pal – or ‘ma big neebur’ as we used to say in Alloa – Stiobhan and I made a weeknight roundtrip visit to Ibrox for a cup tie. Stiobhan, a hulking Welshman, committed republican and equally committed Celtic fan, considered several hundred miles behind the wheel of his Mini small beer for the remote chance of seeing his pal’s wee diddy team inflict a humiliating blow on the Evil Empire.

I was working in a dyehouse at the time and my shift finished at 2.00pm. He picked me up and we drove the 320 miles there, saw the game, had a curry and a couple of drinks and then drove straight home. Arriving back at work in Nottingham at 5.30am, just in time for my next shift. We figured we’d sleep when we were dead.

Looking for parking in Glasgow’s south side, it became apparent we’d need to ask for directions. Stiobhan, worried his obviously Welsh accent might still be mistaken for English, instructed me to do the talking. Which I did. Slipping instinctively into the patois of my youth. He needn’t have worried. After all, at Ibrox, only an orange sash, a bowler hat or a Union Jack would receive a warmer reception than an English accent.

The highs and lows have been many. The nail-biting ’98 league-winning season, for example. When my wife had given birth to our youngest son just two days before the last game of the season. Which my eldest son and I still attended. Obviously. Then the time our goal machine, Willie Irvine, a prison officer in his day job, threw crucial fixtures into doubt when he was taken hostage by a prisoner at Glenochil jail. Or when Martin Cameron – butcher’s boy by weekdays, the black and gold Ronaldo on Saturdays – was out for three games because a frozen cow had fallen on his toe. Or something. And who can forget the glory of gubbing the hated Stirling Albion 7 – 0?

And so all the way up to this season where already relegation is a distinct possibility but has provided a win against Hibs and the hated Huns pushed to a draw. We sail those storm-tossed seas of fate, smiling together and will continue to do so. Till death do us part. Ours is a love supreme.

Categories
Life Politics & Current Affairs

Black Dog

black dog

Following the death of Robin Williams, it’s been truly moving to see the outpouring of compassion, empathy and understanding with regard to depression.

I clearly underestimated the well-informed nature and generosity of spirit of the average person in the street.

Which is nice because now we can all look forward to an immediate cessation of the attacks on and sanctions of ‘benefit scroungers’ suffering from exactly the same condition, right?

Categories
Life

Matters of Life and Death

It’s been a while and I’m sorry about that, folks. Sorry, too, for the lack of reply to the emails, over the last few months. I will be replying to each and every one, over time.

I’ve been very busy since the book came out on March 1st, via Five Leaves Publications. I think I can speak for my publisher, Ross Bradshaw, as well as for myself, when I say we’ve been chuffed to bits with the response. The first edition was gone in a couple of weeks and the second took a battering, too, very quickly. I was overwhelmed at its reception. People really seem to love it and the dozens of emails from readers made worthwhile every single second of terror, self-doubt, excessive drinking, alienated family, unwanted weight-gain and sheer panic that comprised the writing of the bloody thing.

Reviews have been, without exception, excellent and it’s a buzz to have the critics as well as the readers respond so positively to my work. I can only say thank you; you’re all wonderful people.

The promo work was a great deal of exhausting fun. Talks, signings, lectures at literary festivals, trade union events, bookshops and appearances on TV and radio. One particularly mental scheduling clash sticks in  my mind; after speaking as a guest of North Ayrshire Unison, on a Friday night, I crawled from hotel bed at 3.00am to drive to Derbyshire to attend a very special event for a close friend.

I’ve also been very fortunate to receive outstanding support from people like Seumas Milne and Paul Mason. Seumas, with whom I had the honour of appearing at the excellent Five Leaves 30th anniversary strike celebrations, on my adopted home-turf of Nottingham, wrote a very generous endorsement-line for the front cover and Paul Mason, who is surely now one of the UK’s very best broadcast-journalists, wrote a moving afterword.

On a more personal note, I recently became a grandfather after my eldest son, Adam, and his partner, Katy, blessed us with the arrival of Fae Iris Paterson. To say I’m smitten is understating the case by some considerable distance. Fae’s arrival also underscored what has been a year of births and deaths. Beginnings and endings. The joy of her arrival contrasted with the horror of so many Palestinian deaths, many of whom have also been children. 2014, so far, a bitter-sweet symphony and no mistake.

So, as you can see, with one thing and another, the last few months have been busy, eventful but very enjoyable. Thanks to everyone who stuck with me during that time and for the support of some of the best readers an author could possibly have.

Apart from the bread-and-butter day-job commissions of a musical nature, I’ve had most of the summer off before I start the next book in the autumn. I’ll be spending as much of the down-time as possible with my granddaughter and getting involved in the various pro-Gaza and pro-Palestine campaigns that have, sadly, become vitally necessary over the last few weeks and about which you’ll be reading much more on this blog.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, folks, and remember; use the hashtag #SupportGaza when you Tweet.