We Are The Goon Squad & We’re Coming To Town

I have a confession to make, despite the fact I love buying music & I always have, I’ve always felt pretty indifferent to independent record shops. 
Now I’ve got some skin in this game, I’ve worked for a high street entertainment retailer for nearly 20 years. I’m the enemy, at least for many years I was perceived as the enemy. However, my indifference to indie record shops pre-dates that. As a teenager in the 90’s hanging around Glasgow city centre on a Saturday afternoon I had a feast of record shops to choose from – 3 HMVs, 2 Virgins, Tower & at least half a dozen indies within 10-15 minutes walk of each other. I’d quite often get round them all. My favourite was probably, at a push, Tower followed by Virgin on Union St because those two seemed to have the most interesting stuff – the imports & the extra things you wouldn’t find anywhere else, be that books or t-shirts or fanzines or whatever – they were also the biggest. I preferred a record shop that I could spend a good amount of time looking around at everything. 

I could say that the difference between the big chains & the indies was because of the old, cliched snobbish record shop attitude of sneering at customers was worse in the indie shops but, in my experience, that wasn’t true. If anything I found that attitude was more prevalent in the big chains (I especially found that with some of the people I worked with in my early days employed by a big chain). My issue was more that in the days when there were dozens of indie record shops in every city, & at least 1 or 2 in every town, so many of them were just plain rubbish. Often run by guys (always guys) who thought music peaked in the 70s & hadn’t bothered much to update their stock since. These guys in their ten years out-of-date leather jackets & tragic Marillion t-shirts  would sit there all day doing very little & any bold punter who dared to cross the threshold would be considered a nuisance. The shop would be a mess. The shelves half empty. The ambience would be brittle. Those type of indie shops were ten-a-penny. I encountered dozens of them over the years. 

Then through the 00’s they all started to close. Weeping words have been written in their thousands bemoaning the loss of the humble indie record shop. Top two reasons cited was always the internet & the big high street chains. No one ever said, “aye, but most of them were shite”. Well I did. I said that. Most of them were shite. I worked in a few different towns in the 00s where I was part of the big, evil Goliath dwarfing these plucky Davids. In almost all of those towns an indie competitor closed down during my time there. I swear to you, every single one of them only had themselves to blame. They were rubbish. When times got tough they did nothing to arrest their decline. They sat on their hands blaming the big brute round the corner & dreamt of the 70s. They all could have done more, they all could have offered something different to the high street chains, some of them did. 

The best indie record shops survived, they’re still going now. The ones that cared about what they were, loved what they did, treasured their customers. They are still out there dotted across the country (not the guy in Edinburgh though – fuck that guy). My indifference has carried on though I’m afraid. I’ve had staff discount for nearly 20 years so I’ve never had the chance to build up any love for the remaining indies in the intervening years. My desire for authenticity has never been strong enough to tempt me to pay full price. Record Store Day leaves me cold – I mean I’m right into the old-fashioned romanticism of profiteering on eBay as much as the next man but thus far I’ve managed to do without. Also I had a bad experience about a dozen years ago, I was in a (then) indie shop in Glasgow’s West End. I heard a song playing that I instantly loved but I didn’t know who it was, which isn’t something that happens to me very often in record shops, so I asked. The assistant looked at me like I’d just asked him who the Beatles were & huffily sneered at me that it was Sufjan Stevens – an artist that it’s unlikely my mother would know even now but then (pre-Illinoise) was virtually unknown with very little press coverage & almost zero radio play. I still adore Sufjan Stevens. I bought 3 of his then 4 albums in that shop that day – in some part out of spite for the arsehole sales assistant. I’ve never been in that shop again though. It set my indie shop indifference in stone. 

I’m not going to bother writing a long diatribe now proclaiming the merits of my own employer for the last 19 years – I sort of did that a few blogs ago – I’ll say this though, I’ve always taken exception to the notion that real music lovers can be found working in indie shops as opposed to the chain store staff. The vast majority of folk I’ve worked with over the years are real bona fide music (and film) lovers. Plus you won’t find any sneering (certainly not in my shop anyway). I said in my last blog that I despise musical snobbery, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the big mainstream blockbuster releases pay the bills & that allows there to be a business that can also sell the small, interesting releases by less mainstream artists. One Direction & Michael Buble & Adele put my boy’s presents under the Xmas tree year after year. Then I get to buy albums on Bella Union all year round. 

I’ll be honest, some of this is borne out of bitterness. I’d love to have a record shop of my very own. I’ll never have the finances to do it but it would be the very best of indie shops. I already manage as good a high street record shop as you could ever hope to frequent (and when people occasionally comment that it has the feel of an indie shop, that is my favourite compliment). I resent all those people who’ve wasted the opportunity over the years & I’m envious of the ones who’ve been successful. Maybe I’m a little jealous of the kudos they get too. Also, in general, I hate hipsters. So there’s that. 

Anyway, thanks for reading. Whatever you do, wherever you shop, buy music on a physical format (preferably vinyl, definitely vinyl – not for any audiophile sound quality bobbins, I don’t care about that – it’s just better). 

I will now sell 5 copies of The 3 EPs by The Beta Band. 


Let’s Dance For Fear Tonight Is All


“She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes

And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream
I wonder if she even knows what that word means

Well, it’s literally not that”

That’s my favourite lyric from one of my favourite albums of the year, I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty (toss up for No1 between that & Jamie XX so far). Music is not the air I breathe, literally. Possibly figuratively. I’m not even sure that music is my first love & the idea that it might be my last is a bit depressing. I do know that I could never love someone that didn’t love music. Music is exceptionally important to me. It is central to my life. It soundtracks my life. It’s biographical – a particular song can spark a memory better than almost anything else. It’s medicinal – I know the songs I can play that can shift my mood up or down. It would be a grim world without music. 

I wrote in my last blog about Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes being my earliest musical memory & thinking about that got me thinking about music through my life so I’m afraid that means another blog. Another very early memory was my primary 1 class being taught to sing a couple of Beatles songs by my teacher’s son. He taught us Let It Be but I’m not sure of the other, possibly/probably Yellow Submarine. My parents had a load of vinyl albums & singles that included a few Beatles ones. I can remember playing them quite a bit. My love of The Beatles endures although I don’t actively listen to them so often – I’ve got every album, ep & single on CD plus a few on vinyl, the anthology box set on DVD & countless books, it’s fair to say The Beatles had as much of an impact on me as Bowie did. Like every kid at that time I taped the charts on a Sunday evening by sitting one of those 80s tape recorders next to the radio – finger hovering over the pause button to catch it just at the right time at the start & end of songs. For some reason, Ashford & Simpson’s Solid is the only song I remember taping. Plus I watched Top Of The Pops every week like everyone else did – it’s strange to think how limited the TV channel choice was then. The only album I remember my Mum buying when I was a kid was Now That’s What I Call Music 2. I played that a lot – without googling I remember it had Queen’s Radio Gaga, Nena’s 99 Red Balloons & McCartney’s Pipes of Peace on it. I remember my Dad buying a few LPs but he bought them all at once from Makro some time in 1985 I’d guess – Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms, Springsteen’s Born In The USA, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours & Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required. The original copies were rarely played though, they were recorded on to cassette to preserve them & those albums were the soundtrack to every car journey for a long time. To this day Rumours is my favourite album to listen to in a car (I’ve said it loads of times before, Rumours is 39 minutes of perfection). Incidentally, another car journey memory is 10CC’s I’m Not In Love – I’m guessing it wasn’t the only song on whatever cassette it was on but that’s the one I remember & I heard it a lot. 

So that’s my musical foundations, then I started to buy my own (or at least had it bought for me). The first actual album I owned was A-ha’s Hunting High & Low on cassette. Obviously I played that to death, Sun Always Shines On TV still stands up. If that was released in 1985 then there’s a bit of a gap before I remember buying anything else. The first single I ever bought was released in 1987. I am very proud to report that my first single was a Motown release. Yeah, that’s how cool a kid I was. Motown, baby! What was it? *drumroll* It was Respect Yourself by Bruce Willis (yes, that Bruce Willis). Stone. Cold. Classic. Bruce Willis recorded my second single too, Under The Boardwalk – got to No3 in the chart so I wasn’t alone. One of my great regrets is I never bought his album, I’d love to have it now & you can’t get it. I got my second album in 1987 too, Aztec Camera’s Love. It was over the next couple of years that I gradually started to buy more & more music, an affliction that continues to haunt me. 

I don’t buy into the idea of guilty pleasures. I feel no guilt about my tastes. Between 87 & 91 I was pretty stadium rock – Simple Minds, INXS & U2. Wet Wet Wet were in there somewhere too – ok, I’ll admit to a little guilt there – but I put that down to starting to like girls & they liked Wet Wet Wet. I was buying all the Now albums around that time too. Some time in that period I started going to the library with my Dad & getting tapes out (probably about 1989 because I remember getting Alice Cooper’s Trash). Around 90/91 the cool kids at school took over. I was never a cool kid but when I was 15 I desperately wanted to be a cool kid. There were about half a dozen or so boys in my year at high school that listened to cool music, knew about cool music & talked about cool music. They were talking about The Smiths, Joy Division, Dylan, Neil Young, The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, James, Happy Mondays & loads more. I wanted to be part of that. It’s probably not much of a leap to suggest that urge from when I was 14/15 has a lot to do with who I am & what I do now – I manage a record shop. One of the cool kids gave me a loan of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. That was a seminal moment for me. Screamadelica is my seminal album. It was so different, it was challenging, bits of rock, soul, dance, blues. It had an edge to it that I hadn’t heard before. That album opened my mind to everything. 

I couldn’t hear enough music after that. I couldn’t know enough about music. I wanted to hear everything – old & new. I was going to record shops every weekend. Around then I started buying NME, Melody Maker, Q & Vox. Vox magazine turned out to be important. It has long been defunct & it didn’t last long but there was an excellent issue with a best ever albums pull-out that listed the top 20 or so albums for each decade. That was my bible, my guide to all the classic albums I had to hear. Pink Floyd & The Doors made an early impression. I was giving blank tapes to the guy who drove the ice cream van down my street for a while until he’d done copies of all the Floyd albums for me. I got my first CD player for Xmas 91 & I started buying all The Doors CDs. I bought The Doors movie on video & for a while I watched it every single day after school. I became obsessed with Jim Morrison – poster on my wall, read his biography, wore a Doors t-shirt (God, I loved that t-shirt) – I idolised him, as I recommend all teenagers should – then later realise he was mostly just an alcoholic arsehole & not actually any kind of mystical shaman. I blew through everything around that time – Dylan, Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Velvet Underground, Neil Young, The Stooges, The Small Faces, The Who, Joy Division, all the great soul artists & the list goes on. And on.

Then came The Smiths. I went all-in with my moody teenager phase (a phase that must be due to end any day now) & I absolutely fitted the Smiths fan cliche. Awkward, unhappy teenager writing diabolical, pathetic poetry in his bedroom. Morrissey spoke to me. He sang about what I was feeling. There is no one I’ve seen live in concert more times than I’ve seen Morrissey (14, I think). I don’t connect in quite the way I used to but Morrissey & The Smiths have had a more of an influence on me than I’d ever care to admit & they’ll be in my life forever. Every awkward, unhappy teenager needs a Smiths or some variant thereof.

Next stage was Britpop. Definitely Maybe, Parklife & His n’ Hers were released in 1994. I turned 18 that year. It couldn’t have been better timing. A scene I could be a part of exploded just as I was old enough to be a part of it. I went to my first festival that year – the first T In The Park. Blur, Pulp & Oasis all played plus I got to see Primal Scream for the first time. I was going out every Saturday night to an indie disco playing indie classics & all the very latest Britpop singles as they came along. I was listening to The Evening Session on Radio 1 every night. I finished high school & started university where I pissed about doing not very much except playing pool & putting money in the jukebox (I didn’t like Uni very much, I don’t have many fond memories but my favourite was me & a couple of mates putting on Elvis’ American Trilogy on the jukebox every lunchtime in the cafeteria & watching the reaction of the other bemused students – such a tune!). I had the absolute time of my life in 94 & 95. No worries. No responsibility. Frequently going to gigs. I was one of the cool kids, for a little while anyway. 

Summer 96, I needed a part time job. The only job I wanted was in a record shop. I sent a letter to every record shop in Glasgow city centre asking about vacancies. Virgin offered me one shift to do a stock count – pricks, I’m glad they’re dead. As luck would have it, HMV in Argyle St invited me for an interview & the rest, as they say, is history. Naturally, I have heard a 1000 different things via working for HMV that I may never have heard otherwise. In my first couple of months I was listening to Belle & Sebastian, Underworld, DJ Shadow & Wu-Tang Clan for the first time due to the folk I was working with. My professional life has involved my passion for music ever since. 

These days I mostly like to listen to new music. I enjoy hearing things I haven’t heard before. There’s always the odd album I love thrown in too – today it was The Velvet Underground’s Loaded. Currently I have a self-imposed ban on music I know brings my mood down – I haven’t listened to Nick Cave in 6 months & I miss him. Early in the summer I was living in Ibiza in my head as all I was listening to was dance/electronica/house/EDM (whatever you want to call it – I work in a record shop & I don’t know). I’ve long suspected that my natural happy place is sat on a beach at sunrise in Ibiza being blissfully euphoric but I’ve never been to test this theory out. More recently I’ve been listening to the new Foals & Ryan Adams albums a lot as well as dabbling with the Apple Music suggested playlists. I highly recommend BBC 6music as a way to hear the best new music. I’m really looking forward to the new John Grant album on Friday. Music remains central to my life. There have been days when it’s been the only thing that’s kept me going – not literally. I’ve grown to hate music snobbery. Listen to everything. Everything has it’s place. There’s great music being made all the time & so much great music out there I’ve not heard yet. I’d hate to think there’s another song out there that makes me feel the way I do when I listen to Heroes & I’ve not heard it yet. 

Thanks for reading, my intention is to stick with a music theme with my blogs for a while. I may do my all-time top 10 albums next (if I can decide what they are). 

Now watch this, everything I love about music is contained herein:

I’m happy, hope you’re happy too

I literally don’t remember the time before I was conscious of David Bowie. My earliest musical memory, in fact one of my very earliest memories of anything, was Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes video on Top Of The Pops. It’s still an odd video to watch now so I suppose it must have been sufficiently mind-blowing for it to make a lasting impression on 4 year old me. I’ve looked it up, Abba, ELO, The Village People & Ultravox also appeared on that week’s show, none of whom made a similar impact funnily enough. Bowie has just been there ever since. It’s been a slow ascent however to where he sits in my affections now. Basically there’s Bowie, then there’s everyone else (you’ve all clocked that my blog titles are all Bowie lyrics, haven’t you?)

I’m fairly sure that the first Bowie song I was fascinated by was Space Oddity. As a sci-fi/space loving kid the story of Major Tom caught my attention. In a pleasing parallel, my boy was instantly hooked the first time he ever heard Starman for identical reasons (until recently if you asked him what his favourite song was that was his instant reply – it seems to have been usurped by Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication of late, I’m learning you have to let your children make their own mistakes). 

A few years later when I was just into my teens I got the Changesbowie compilation from the library & recorded it on to cassette. That was later replaced by the Singles Collection on CD (a CD I’ve now passed on to the boy) & Bowie just continued to be there among a load of 60s & 70s artists I listened to constantly in my teens – Beatles, Doors, Led Zeppelin, Dylan, etc. Then around about 16 I discovered The Smiths, Morrissey was my king – a position he held for a number of years. 

Confession time now. In 1995, Bowie toured supported by Morrissey. It was very much my intention to go to the Glasgow date. Morrissey pulled out of the tour the day before in Aberdeen. I didn’t go. Unbelievable folly. Possibly even worse, Bowie played The Barrowlands (THE BARROWLANDS!!!) in 1997, I was offered a ticket on the day of the gig. I declined. My life is basically just filling in the time between moments of idiocy. Thankfully, I did finally see Bowie live in Manchester in 2002. In truth, I’m more grateful for that now than I was at the time. I had been buying his albums piece by piece for a few years by that time but it was still a fairly casual acquaintance. I would never have made the effort to go if it wasn’t for my girlfriend at the time. I have much to be grateful to her for (and I am). That Bowie gig is very near the top of the list. As Bowie says “All you gave, You gave for free, I gave nothing in return” except that ticket signed by Mike Joyce. Thank you – you know who you are. 

Given his virtual retirement in 2007, & the seemingly remote possibility of him ever performing live again, I am especially pleased about that 2002 gig. It is in the intervening years that my love of Bowie has truly grown. I couldn’t pinpoint why. It’s Bowie’s music I return to again & again. He interests me more than any other artist. I find there is more depth to his back catalogue than anyone else, more variety, more to discover on repeated listening. Plus, of course, there are the songs I have simply never tired of listening to. I could listen to Moonage Daydream & Heroes every single day for the rest of my life & never tire of hearing them. Both of those songs still have a physical, emotional effect on me every time I hear them. Those are my absolute top two but there are three of four dozen more that sit just behind them, Life on Mars, Space Oddity, Ashes To Ashes, Be My Wife, Five Years, Changes, Sound & Vision, Rock & Roll Suicide, Lets Dance, Slow Burn, Rebel Rebel – that’s just the first dozen. 

Then there’s the man himself, effortlessly cool. For decades! Ok, there’s been the odd slip (fascist salute, Lords Prayer at Wembley, drum n bass, Tin Machine) but mostly no one has maintained the profile & image that he has AND continued to make music that stands up to their earlier work. He has remained relevant all the way through (he’s occasionally flirted with irrelevance but it soon passed). At this moment in time there is no musician in the world that could command as much attention at the drop of a hat. His withdrawal from the media & public life has seen the world’s fascination with him rise to a level that I’d say maybe even surpasses the height of Ziggy. No one else has done that without being dead. 

So today I bought my long cherished Five Years box set. I now, finally, own Bowie’s first five years of work on vinyl. It is as satisfying as I dreamed it would be. I’ve been picking up a few Bowie albums on vinyl at record fairs for a while now (none of them his early albums) but to own & get to play these mint brand new copies is a beautiful thing. They are like a treasure to me & I will treat them accordingly. 

I shall go now & have a coffee in my Bowie mug. The anticipation for the second box set starts here. I’d expect that’ll contain Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station To Station, Low, Heroes, Lodger & another 2 live albums. That’s just obscene. The man is a genius. And my hero. 

I laughed and shook his hand, and made my way back home

I’d like to think I’m savvy enough to see through media agendas. More than that, I know I am. I know which are the right wing papers & which are not. I know who the journalist/activists are. I know who the rabble-rousing journalists are. I know when journalists are chasing a story for salacious reasons & when they are trying to get to the bottom of something that is genuinely in the public interest. I’m not completely beyond influence, no one is, but ultimately I think for myself, I form my own opinions. 
Here’s my opinion on Jeremy Corbyn’s first few days as Labour leader: they have been a dismal, miserable failure. I say that as a sceptical & concerned Labour Party member who didn’t vote for Mr Corbyn but who is willing to keep an open mind, who is willing to listen, but I’m not hearing anything. A couple of half-arsed, lousy speeches, a generic email & a few secondhand tweets ain’t going to do it. A couple of print interviews with supportive, soft-shoeing journalists ain’t going to do it. I want him on my TV. I want to see & hear him state his case & stand his ground preferably opposite as hard-hitting an interviewer as possible (but at this point if he just chose to go round to Russell fucking Brand’s house I’d take it). 

The thing is, I don’t for a second deny the huge victory Mr Corbyn recorded on Saturday, I see that he has, at this point, a sizeable mandate within the Labour Party but part of the arithmetic seems to be passing with little comment. If the party, as reported, now has 600k members, supporters & affiliates then 350k of them didn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn. Now most of those may well be Labour votes that can be taken for granted but they won’t all necessarily be overly enthusiastic about getting out to campaign. Some of those that voted Corbyn may well have overdosed on the kool aid & be under the illusion the hope & goodness will now see him stroll into Downing St as the nation is spontaneously swept up by his hope-y euphoria but most know that it’s the longest of long shots & to even get close he’ll need to mobilise as many of that 600k as possible to create an enormous army of activists nationwide. Undoubtedly there’s a hell of a lot of unconverted that feel like I do right now. 

It is actually getting to the point where I am getting angry at not seeing & hearing more. Talking to the media, particularly the broadcast media, is not a matter of dancing to someone else’s tune – it’s about communicating. Communicating directly with those you need to hear what you have to say. The 2020 General Election is not decided. It won’t be decided this week but the seeds could be grown one way or another. Corbyn can’t win all the votes he needs this week but he could at least start trying to win the full support of the people who’ll help him get some of those votes. Right now I’m sitting on my hands for the next 5 years but that needn’t be the case. Blind faith, however, ain’t my thing. 

I’ve read that Mr Corbyn genuinely thinks that he doesn’t need to play the media game. He thinks town hall meetings & social media will do the trick for him. Perhaps that’s not his but how would I know?! He’s done zero to suggest otherwise. If he does think that then he’s dead wrong. In particular the impact of social media is massively overvalued. It’s a huge echo chamber where people convince themselves that everyone agrees with them. It won’t do. He needs to get into people’s living rooms. Now. 

Something that has occurred to me in the last couple of weeks is that I’ve never felt the need to absolutely define where I stand on the left wing spectrum within the Labour Party before. I felt that I’d swayed a little left, a little right over the years, it didn’t matter because the Labour Party was a broad church that shared a common cause. The polarising nature of recent weeks has eaten away at just how certain I am of that last sentence. For the record, and not surprisingly, I see myself as a moderate, more Brownite than Blairite. I don’t necessarily think the true Corbynites would like to purge me from the party. Yet. Our new leader has the responsibility of uniting the Labour Party as one. In theory, I’m willing to meet him halfway but, right now, he’s not even taking the time to say hello. 

Though Nothing Will Drive Them Away


At this moment, I have never felt so disillusioned & detached from politics & The Labour Party in my adult life (actually, in truth, since I was about 12 years old). In all honesty, I’m actually quite enjoying the detachment. I’ve not been on Twitter much for the last 6 weeks & I’ve not been slavishly following every political development as they happen, it’s been good for my general frame of mind & mental health I think. However one current story hasn’t escaped my attention so I’m very temporarily breaking my sabbatical from commenting on politics to write this blog. I’m not going to get into any arguments or pointless online debates, this is just what I think, I’m not telling anyone else what to think, I’m not campaigning on anyone’s behalf. I’m just getting it off my chest then I’ll go back to binge watching Portlandia & sending silly pictures to my son on Snapchat.

I’ve had huge gripes in the last few years with Labour partly because I felt that winning had become the only focus & that beliefs, principles & ideology were a bit of an afterthought. 

This current “mania” appears to me to be leaping to the other end of the scale. 

I’ve not been moved or inspired by Jeremy Corbyn. Perhaps his idealistic approach mirrors some of the things I believe fundamentally but what good is that if he can’t win a general election. I firmly believe that he can’t. Survey after survey (such as ttp://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/19/britain-uncovered-survey-attitudes-beliefs-britons-2015 from earlier this year) will tell you that the UK is pretty much split politically 3 ways – roughly 33% describe themselves broadly as left wing, 33% describe themselves as right wing, 33% describe themselves as somewhere in the middle. No one can win an election from too far left & no one can win from too far right because the mass majority ultimately see themselves somewhere around the centre. Pragmatism is key. 

On the morning after the last General Election I was devastated because my feeling was that the city I live in, similar to so many places in UK needed a Labour govt to turn round its decline (a decline I’m seeing more tangibly every day even in subtle ways – increased litter & graffiti is something I’m noticing more now because there are simply less people employed to do anything about it). My view is a Corbyn-led Labour would mean the chances of places like Hull getting the Labour govt it needs in 2020 will be greatly reduced if not completely decimated. 

It has raised in my mind a pertinent question – what is more important, fundamental belief or winning? The answer for me isn’t a sexy one but it’s probably, I think, the right one. It’s somewhere in between. I felt at the time of Labour’s election defeat that what it needed was a leader that could unify the party, take a pragmatic approach that recognised the wide-ranging left spectrum of the Labour movement & ensure it was a strong opposition, ensure the party didn’t split down the middle, bring voters back on board & defeat the Tories in 2020. Unfortunately that looks unlikely to happen, not just because of Corbyn but because none of the other 3 candidates appear to fit that description either – a little more on them later. 

What I see instead is relatively comfortable middle class Labour people throwing their lot in with Corbyn’s socialist dream. People whose lives aren’t actually materially effected very much by whichever stripe of government are in power, who can afford to go “fuck it, let’s just be principled opposition naysayers, not like we’ve got anything to lose”. They’ll still get their holiday abroad once or twice a year, they’ll still have a nice car, they’ll still be able to have a glass of wine with friends after a one-off showing of the latest Mike Leigh film in a quirky venue, they’ll still be able to agonise over just how free-range the chicken they are eating is, they can still own the first 3 Coldplay albums but now hate Coldplay while perversely they think Radiohead got rubbish after their third album. I know I’m being unfair. I know for some people it’s a genuine vote of principle. For others though, a lot of others, it’s a vote borne out of naivety, or at the very least wilful short-sightedness. They are the ones that will bang on about “hope”, that word is now my most hated in the English language. It is used almost exclusively by those self-same relatively comfortable middle-class people like they’re living in a township during apartheid-era South Africa rather than relative Western comfort in one of the richest countries in the world. “Hope Over Fear” – fuck off. And “Change” can do one as well. Meaningless platitudes have replaced political conversation & debate. “Hope” doesn’t pay the bills. “Hope” doesn’t tackle poverty. “Hope” doesn’t improve public services. “Hope” doesn’t bring down unemployment. “Hope” doesn’t heal the sick. 

I live in a working class housing estate in Hull, my street could never be described as affluent, in the 10 houses around me, including mine, there are only 3 that have someone in full-time employment, including me. It may surprise you that none of them are talking about Jeremy Corbyn, none of them see him as the great white hope, in fact I’m not sure this leadership election has registered with many of them at all (next door are lib-dems to be fair). This isn’t about the working class & what’s best for them. This is about those with little at stake feeling good about themselves. Fuck the consequences. 

I get it though. People feel disenfranchised by politics. They want to be inspired. They want something & someone to believe in. I do too. I really wish I could tell you who that was, where they are & where you can vote for them. I have no idea. So maybe you should all vote for Corbyn. I do see 2 up-sides to that, 1 fatuous & 1 not. First one, I’d personally find it interesting, possibly entertaining, to see him as leader. I’ve no doubt it would be a wonderful mess. Second one, if the Labour Party didn’t split then it would at least force it into a recognisable & solid middle ground between centre-left & far left. That maybe wouldn’t be a bad thing but it’d likely be 10 years for it to settle down & possibly make a positive impact. I personally don’t want to wait 10 years for a Labour govt. I suspect I won’t have a choice. 

I want a political leader I can believe in, a leader that I can support & get behind. I don’t want a glorified protestor. However, the other contenders…….

Here’s what I think about them. On Jay-Z’s magnificent Blueprint album there’s a song called Takeover. It’s a diss song about Nas when they were feuding. The whole rap tears strips off Nas then there’s the last line, “And all you other cats throwing shots at Jigga / You only get half a bar – fuck y’all n*****”. That’s pretty much what I think about the other three. I suppose Corbyn is at least worth passing comment on. 

So, as it stands, the likelihood is that I won’t vote for any of them. I love the Labour Party, the Labour movement. I love what it stands for. I love it’s history. It’s about more than how it is today or what it’s been in the last 5 years. As a movement it is the strongest advocate for left wing progressive politics, for social justice, for fairness but by necessity it’s members cover the whole spectrum of the left. My view is that anyone who thinks Labour should nail it’s colours to an extreme left pure socialism mast is wrong, never mind that those politics are unrepresentative of two-thirds of the country, they’re unrepresentative of the Labour Party as a whole. “By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”, those words mean everything to me. I carry them with me in my wallet every day on my Labour membership card. That means standing together, solidarity. I worry about that solidarity right now. I worry about what division in the Labour Party would mean for the country & particularly those on the bottom rung of society. 

The blindingly obvious thing to remember is that you can stand for anything you like. You can have as much conviction as you want. If you can’t convince enough people, if you can’t win the votes, if you can’t win power then none of it means a damn thing. 
Finally, links to two articles that I read today that I found pertinent & interesting,

This http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/08/why-did-labour-lose

And this http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/environment/naive-young-grouse-excited-about-the-grouse-season-2012081337954

Look Out Your Window I Can See His Light

Today marks the 10th anniversary since the passing of William Steele, my Granda. At the time, ahead of his funeral, my mother asked me if there was anything I would like to contribute to the eulogy at his funeral & I declined. My feelings then were that my memories of my Granda were mine & I didn’t feel like sharing them. I still feel a little like that now & I’ve never wanted to talk about him with my family or with anyone who knew him. I don’t think I ever will. I think that I don’t want anyone else’s point of view of him. He was my Granda & I want my memories of him to stay exactly as they are. However, it feels important to me to mark the anniversary of his death & so I wanted to write down & share some of those memories. I still think about him all the time, I still miss him. 

Mostly my Granda came to ours for Sunday dinner every other week. He would always bring me sweets (I always think of my Granda when I spot a Lion Bar in a shop – that was a favourite for a while) & he would never leave without giving me a few quid even though on a state pension I’m not sure he could always afford it. I don’t think he ever tired of reciting his funny songs & rhymes about wee short shirts & Jeannie Beastie. He liked to joke, he liked to make me laugh & he’d make himself laugh – a hoarse, throaty laugh that was all his own. We’d have Sunday dinner, we’d watch Scotsport & then I’d be bored to tears as we watched Sunday evening TV – Antiques Roadshow & Last Of The Summer Wine mostly. There are so many things in life that we miss as time passes & would love to do over again but I’d give anything to have one more of those Sundays. 

My Granda used to look after me from time to time, particularly during school holidays, & my dad’s Uncle James lived with him for a while. I remember a couple of days out they took me on very fondly, one was to the ABC cinema to see Star Trek 2: The Wrath Of Khan (because of this it will forever remain one of my favourite films) & the other was to catch minnows in jam jars at Victoria Park. The second one sticks in the mind because catching minnows was not what I was led to believe was the reason for going out that day. The two of them had mischievously convinced me that there was a street entirely made of chocolate in Glasgow & they were taking me to see it. I was about 6 at the time & although I think I remember being initially sceptical by the time I got in the car to go see it I had fully bought into it. There was no street of chocolate.

My Granda had a fair bit of mischief & devilment in him. He loved music & he loved to play it loud in his 11th floor flat. He was a sucker for a sentimental ballad & he loved listening to Daniel O’Donnell & the like. He loved songs that told a story & from that he loved Irish Rebel songs despite nominally being from the other side of that divide. I often wonder what some of his neighbours thought of his song choices played at ear-splitting volume given that his 11th floor flat was in Ibrox only a few hundred yards from the stadium. Another example of mischief would be the time we fired matchsticks from an air pistol at pigeons from the 11th floor. I’m relieved to say we didn’t hit any. 

He was an inherently decent & morale man. He had a soft spot for waifs & strays. I think he would have offered his help to anyone he thought might need it. Similarly I remember Chi-Chi the cat, literally a stray I think he found wondering outside his flats. I know that the UK was declared rabies-free over a hundred years ago but that cat was about as close to rabid as it’s possible to be. My Granda, however, chose to take it in & look after it. Mostly it was fine, as long as you kept your distance. I probably shouldn’t say that he’d occasionally entertain me by telling me it was a flying cat & throwing it across the room but there we are, it was a different time.

It always amused me that he never liked Edinburgh. He saw it as unlucky. I think this was because every time he’d driven to Edinburgh his car had broken down.  He came out with us for a day out to Edinburgh once. First we got lost & had to stop & ask for directions. My Granda rolled down the window to ask someone who, naturally, was foreign & had less idea than us but I think that moment sticks in my mind because I don’t think in the short exchange the passer-by seemed any more foreign than my Granda, resolutely Glaswegian & sort of appeared to me a duck out of water whenever he crossed the city lines. Then on the way home, of course, we broke down. 

One of my favourite memories was when I was older, my 22nd birthday I think, I was working on Sauchiehall St, unexpected my Granda came in to the shop with a card & a present for me. He’d done that sort of thing before, travelling through by bus to ours unannounced for birthdays, but I was still a bit surprised & really chuffed. I was grown up, I didn’t expect any special attention but there he was. That sums up how he made me feel I suppose. As his grandson I always felt like I was the most important person in the world to him. When I was a teenager, I’d go out more on a Sunday when he was there or I’d spend more time in my room & less time with him & the rest of my family but I always felt he would be there anyway, regardless. He made me feel special & I really miss that. If anyone wonders why I have no great regard for my birthday anymore then that is why – the last person to think that it was important, that it mattered, was my Granda & without him it means less to me. I mostly feel the same about Christmas. It still means something because of Wills & I enjoy that but right through my 20s whenever anyone asked if I was looking forward to Christmas my automatic reply was “I’m looking forward to seeing my Granda” because he came to ours for Christmas every year. Again, without him, there’s always been something missing for me. Same goes for New Year. He’d come with my aunt & my cousins every year to be our first foot. If they arrived too early they’d sit in the car park until after the bells before coming in. He was the best first foot. 

There are lots of little things I remember. 

He loved a bet, horses & dogs. Rarely referred to the bookies shop, it was always “the club”. He used to walk a greyhound. It won a big race at Ashfield & my Granda gave me the winners’ dog jacket he got for winning. I don’t know where that jacket is now but I hope it’s somewhere hidden away at my parents. He’d never buy a lottery ticket though – he wasn’t impressed with the payout compared to the odds. 

He hated waste. He’d never leave any food on his plate. He’d pick up things like old hoovers that were dumped in the street in case anyone could get some use out of them. I remember he painted our back doorstep red because he had some paint left in a pot. It looked odd but I loved it – one day I will paint my doorstep red. 

I was never certain whether he genuinely did it on purpose or not but there was a spell where he always seemed to wear a royal blue jumper when he visited. He said he wore it just for me, to wind me up because I was a Celtic fan. I think he probably paid more attention to football just so he could talk to me about it. When his flats got free access in satellite tv’s early days, and before the Internet, he’d phone up to see if I wanted a Celtic game recorded. 

He always looked great in photographs. Whenever anyone pointed a camera he’d just say “Yes” & the picture would turn out with him & a great smile. I wish I had inherited that talent. 

He’d always go out to get the first edition of tomorrow’s paper the night before. I don’t think I ever knew why, just his routine I guess but it’s a quirk that makes me smile now. As did his habit of buttering rolls on the bottom without cutting them open – his reasoning was the ingredients were the same so it made no difference where the butter was. And he swore by washing his hair with washing up liquid – as far as he was concerned it was all just soap. Perhaps he had a point because as far as I remember he only really started to get some grey hair in the last year of his life. He thought he had a scam going with the insurance companies, those free Parker pens they gave away when you rang up for a quote – he almost had as many of them as he had bookies pens! Sent to him but addressed to his many aliases, Misters Peele, Keele, Teele, Beele, Neele, etc. And he wrote poetry (with those sneakily acquired pens I’d have thought) under the magnificent nom de plume of Rab The Ranter. 

I suppose it was what would be described as a short illness before he died. The first signs I remember were on Christmas Day the year before. He complained that he had a bad back & he obviously wasn’t quite himself. He went to the doctor’s & was admitted to hospital shortly after. They didn’t know what was wrong with him at first. I’m fairly sure he was on the orthopaedic ward. I remember him telling me about some poor souls that he’d seen on the ward & saying to him “that’s not you” & he wasn’t as poorly as them. Soon after we found out he was. He had cancer & it was already too far gone. 

My parents were amazing looking after him in those last few months. They both took extended leave from work & did everything they possibly could for him. Naturally it was horrible to see him so ill. Whenever I visited him he did his best to be his old self but sometimes he was just too tired or in too much pain. One of the last times I saw him was my birthday. He had written my birthday card himself although I know that would have been difficult for him. I still treasure that card. 

The last time I saw him was at the hospice. He was asleep & I could see that he didn’t have long left. He wouldn’t have known I was there. I’ve always regretted that I never spoke to him. I wish I’d told him I love him. I think he knew. I hope he knew. He died early the next morning. 

I grew up with the best grandparents anyone could wish for. I had my Granda on my dad’s side plus I had my Gran, Granda, Great Gran & Great Granda on my mum’s side (I even have feint memories of my other great grandparents on my mum’s side). They were all still around until I was an adult. They were all amazing. I should feel lucky. Of course, me being me, I don’t. I feel cheated. My Granda Steele was 78, my Granda Barrie died a few years later, he was 79. My Great Grandparents both lived into their 90s. I feel like I was cheated out of about a dozen years with each of my Grandas. Not to mention my Gran Steele who died before I was 2. I know I’m not alone, we all have loved ones we’ve lost. We all have to deal with grief. Life goes on as they say. I was lucky. My life was richer for having known them even though it’s poorer for their loss. 

It took me a long time to deal with my Granda dying. I’m not sure we ever fully come to terms with the loss of someone that means so much. The feeling is always there. “Imagine” by John Lennon was played at his funeral, I’ve never been able to listen to it since. It saddens me that he never got to meet his great grandson. They would have loved each other to pieces. It was very important to me that my boy shared his name. 

10 years. It’s hard to believe it has been so long. I wish there was something more profound I could say but really all I have is I love him & I miss him. He really was the loveliest man you could hope to meet. Kind, gentle & unassuming. He’s in my thoughts today. 

Love you Granda. Sleep well. 

Time Takes A Cigarette, Puts It In Your Mouth

I’ve never had a problem being open about depression. My depression. I’d hesitate to use words like ‘battle’ or ‘struggle’ because I’m not sure it has ever really felt like that. It is just there. It’s always there, sometimes it’s in the foreground & sometimes it’s in the background but it’s forever present. I suppose I’m comfortable with the word ‘manage’. I manage my depression, not always successfully but mostly enough to let me function day-to-day. 

I don’t really understand what depression is. I’ve tried to read up on it innumerable times over the years but science isn’t really my thing. I’ve never been overly interested in the inner workings of things, the details bore me. It’s like I know that dozens of special effects people put together Blade Runner or Star Wars by doing hundreds of tiny things but I have zero interest in knowing what those tiny things were. I can see the end product. So depression is possibly caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain or it could even just be a state of mind, I don’t know. I just know that it is. 

I was 32 when I first went to see a doctor about depression. I can’t remember when I first thought it was something that applied to me. In hindsight though I know that it is something that has been there since my late-teens/early 20s, maybe earlier. Through my 20s I just thought of myself as a moody bastard. I possibly even thought that was something I wanted to be, that was who I was so I embraced it. It reached a point though where I realised that there was something more going on than a sullen teenage cliche refusing to grow up. I realised that my state of mind was having a material impact on my quality of life. Relationships, friendships, my job, my ability to just enjoy myself were all effected by my moods. The first couple of times I talked out loud to someone about the thoughts in my head their reaction told me that maybe not everyone thought the same way or had the same thoughts. I’m not inclined to go into what those thoughts were/are right now but highlights would be death/inferiority/anxiety/impending doom/insecurity. So I decided that maybe it was worth seeking help. Maybe my life could be better. I started taking anti-depressants & I went for some counselling. Both helped in their own way. They helped me manage. Neither was a cure. I don’t think there is a cure. As above, depression just is. 

It still is now. It manifests itself in various ways, at different times it brings different friends. Anxiety is the one I hate the most – a day or a week can be ruined after an attack of anxiety which almost always starts based on nothing at all but attracts every possible worry about everything. I could also easily do without the daily routine of trying to convince myself there’s a point to getting out of bed in the morning. Again I’m not in the mood to delve further into the darker recesses of my mind but safe to say some days are dark even when the sun is shining. 

So the point of writing all this, I think there’s a point, is that I’ve never felt uncomfortable talking about how I feel. I’ve never felt any shame about depression. I’ve always known it was common & I’ve always known it was more than just “feeling down”. It has never needed an invitation & it has never needed any kind of cataclysmic event to set it off but, my god, it loves an event to cling to. And so to my recent “event”. 

It’s over 2 weeks now since I was burgled. I’m not sure I can overstate what sort of impact it has had on me. An impact that I am still struggling to come to terms with. I spent the first week in shock, no doubt about that. I have no idea how I kept functioning & did all the things I had to do in the aftermath that week. It was a week later, last weekend, when the emotional impact of it all hit me. I took a few days off work last week just to give myself a break. It was helpful to be away from work but at the same time it only served to put a self-imposed time limit on me to feel better. I don’t feel better. 

I feel depressed. I feel wholly consumed by anxiety. I feel lost. On top of all that though I feel shame. I feel shame & humiliation. As I said, I’ve never felt uncomfortable about talking about how I feel but I do feel uncomfortable with how I’m feeling right now.  I feel ashamed about feeling ashamed. Paradoxically I’m being open about it here but it is hard to admit. I’ve read about people feeling the sense of violation into their personal space being the worst part of a break-in rather than the loss of things but I’d say that hasn’t really been the issue for me. I don’t want to be seen on my street. I don’t want to see my neighbours. I want to be inside with my curtains closed. When I walk to the shop at the end of the street I feel like I’m wearing a sign round my neck that says “victim”. That’s the key, I feel like a victim. Of course I am but I don’t remember the last time I felt like this. I’m not comfortable with it. I feel small & afraid. I don’t like it. 

And then we’re back to the anxiety. Always back to the anxiety. It’s paralysing. I’ve spent 99% of the last 2 weeks worrying about being burgled again. I get anxious thinking about leaving the house never mind actually leaving the house. I’ve installed a camera in my living room that I can check via my phone during the day to take away the fear of what I might find when I get home but there’s still the fear when I check it that there might be someone in my house. I’m getting a house alarm installed on Friday, I’m hoping that will help stop me worrying so much.

There have been positives in the last couple of weeks though. People. Some of you reading this. There are people that I will never be able to thank enough for what they’ve done for me in the last 2 weeks. I’m not sure how I would have gotten through without Laura, Steve, Anne, Keith & my parents. Thank you all. I really needed you. Plus Gaz & David, thank you, there couldn’t be a better time to reaffirm friendships. Thank you to Natalie – talking to you always helps. Thank you to Claire for caring (or at least pretending to). Thank you to Clare, for listening, always listening to my neverending shit. And thank you to everyone who has sent a message or written something on Facebook. A major impact of depression is it can be very isolating. I naturally isolate myself & I can’t help it, I’ve always been a terrible penpal. It has been good to know that I’m not actually alone in the world. I needed that. 

So here we are now, I’m not better. I’m down. I’m depressed. I’m thinking about going to the doctors & going back on anti-depressants but I’d rather not. I’m thinking about ringing Victim Support. I’m thinking about counselling. I’ll decide about them all in the next few days. I’m not convinced any of them offer a shortcut to feeling better. I think, like everything else, it’s just going to take time. I hope so.