musings

Sandie Craigie, 1963…2005

Throughout the many years of our friendship and working relationship, I heard Sandie performing in public on numerous occasions. She was always electrifying. I once saw her perform at a Yellow Cafe event in an Edinburgh nightclub. The young audience wanted music and dancing, not poetry, and talked and laughed during the readings by other poets. Then Sandie entered the stage and told them all to ’shut the fuck up, and listen’. They did. And for ten minutes she held them enthralled, you could have heard a pin drop. And when she had finished, they gave her a standing ovation.

Before a reading Sandie would be in the toilet throwing up, and then she’d perform with such passion the hairs on the back of your neck tingled, or your sides ached with laughter, or she would bring a lump to your throat and tears to your eyes. Invariably she gave audiences something to talk about, and remember, for a very long time. She was an amazing artist, performer and friend. Her absence is all our loss.

***

Glasgow anecdote 1

A rare, gloriously hot day and I’m at the Trongate bus stop waiting for transport to work. Lots of people are waiting alongside me, including two, quite large, older women. The street is crowded with shoppers in summer gear.

Two young girls walk by, gabbing: both are small, exceedingly slim and scantily dressed. The wee blonde is saying to her pal, “Ah don’t take efter ma maw at aw, ah’ve got a really big backside.”

Everyone at the bus stop looks at her as she passes by, assessing the size of said backside, then exchange glances and wry smiles.

“Ah wish ma backside was as big as hers” says one of the older women, and we all laugh.

***

Glasgow anecdote 2

As usual, the late Saturday afternoon bus from the Trongate to Shettleston, was mobbed.  I found a seat on the upper deck. A man and his wee girl were seated in front of me. They were both eating rolls and chips, the wean, no more than seven years old, struggled to hold the roll in her tiny hands.  A few chips fell out of her roll, ‘look at the fuckin mess ye’r making’ her father snarled, ‘hawd it right’.  The wean looked nervous and tightened her grip of the roll, another chip fell.  ‘Fuckin dae whit ye’r telt’ he shouted at her, the wean was trembling now.  I wanted to say something to him but didn’t. I was astute enough to know that any interference from me would set him off, and contrary to helping the child, would only make matters worse for her and, potentially, her mother, when they got home.  I watched anxiously, other people were also shifting uncomfortably in their seats, and glancing over at them.  The wee girl was on the verge of tears and shaking, more chips fell out of her roll.  ‘For fuck’s sake’, he growled, ‘ye’r eating that like a fuckin hun, look at the state ae ye’. A tear rolled down the wean’s face. ‘Don’t fuckin start greeting’. A man in front of them looked round. ‘Whit are you looking at, eh, mind yer ain fuckin business’.  The man looked away.  Everyone held their breath.   When the pair disembarked along at Dennistoun, their was a collective sigh of relief.  I felt like shit.  I was heading to an overnight shift in a project full of young women who had been emotionally, physically and sexually abused. Several of them by their own fathers. What that wean would go through, had already been through in her short life, didn’t bear thinking about.  I wanted to weep.

***

Glasgow anecdote 3

On yet another Saturday bus to Shettleston I was seated upstairs.  Two teenage girls were directly in front of me.  They talked incessantly and, though I and the other passengers could not help but overhear their chatter about clothes and boys, I was paying little attention to what was being said. The bus approached Parkhead and stopped at traffic lights. On my right hand side was Parkhead cemetery which butted against the back of Celtic football stadium, nicknamed Paradise. There was clearly a game on, lots of parked cars and street vendors with Celtic flags and other paraphernalia. One of the girls said to her pal, ‘My granny’s in there’.  Sounding very surprised her friend asked which one, ‘Yer granny Paterson?’  ‘Naw, well no ma granny, ma ma’s granny, ma great-granny McBride.’  The friend was now flabbergasted. ‘Yer great-granny’s at Parkheid, watching the Celtic?’  ‘Naw, ya daft cunt, she’s no at Parkheid, she’s in the cemetery, she’s fuckin deid.’  They both fell about laughing.  The people in front of them were shaking with mirth and I could scarcely contain myself as it occurred to me that her great granny McBride might indeed be in in paradise.

***

Glasgow anecdote 4

Margaret’s father had died when she was a baby, and her mother’s family was mixed and had no time for sectarianism.  Her mother also had no time for the church and they only went to services for weddings, christenings and funerals.  They’d lived on the outskirts of Glasgow, in the village of Drumchapel during the war, and had then moved to Blackpool.  So Margaret’s knowledge of the Orange Lodge was very sketchy indeed.  All she really knew was that it was a religious organisation that held annual parades.  Willie came to Blackpool for work in 1947 and, before the year’s end, he asked Margaret to marry him.  After their engagement was announced, Margaret moved back to Glasgow to be near him, staying with her grandparents.

They both loved dancing and Willie bought two tickets for a dinner-dance at his local Lodge.  A naturally shy person, Margaret was nervous about meeting all his friends and was waiting anxiously in her coat, hat and gloves, when he arrived to escort her to the dance.  At the cloakroom near the doors into the main hall, Willie helped her off with her coat.  She asked him if she looked all right and he replied honestly, ‘you look lovely’.  She did. She was wearing a new evening dress in taffeta with a full skirt and petticoats that she had made herself.  Margaret was no great beauty but she had excellent fashion sense.  She was too excited to notice that Willie was stifling a grin as they entered the hall.

Inside, several men came forward to greet Willie and be introduced to Margaret.  He was a popular man who was still a bachelor at the age of twenty-six, so everyone was keen to meet his bride to be and take stock of the woman who had won Willie’s heart.  After a few minutes they took their seats at one of the long tables.  Margaret felt very self-conscious, everyone seemed to be looking at her. The soup was served, and then the main course.  During the meal she found her eyes returning again and again to the elaborate banner propped up on the stage.  Dying of curiosity, she asked Willie, ‘Who’s the man in the white wig on that big white horse?’  To her surprise, everyone around them began to splutter and choke on their food.  Willie was also laughing.  He composed himself and explained, ‘That’s King Billy, King William of Orange’.  In her head Margaret wondered who the hell King Billy was when he was at home but she just said, ‘Oh, I see’ and continued eating.

The meal over, the tables were cleared, the band set up and the dancing began.  At the end of the evening, as they walked home, Willie asked if she had enjoyed herself.  ‘Yes, I did’, she replied, ‘but I seemed to be getting a lot of very strange looks’. ‘That would be because of the dress.’  Thinking that maybe she’d been showing too much cleavage or something she was slightly alarmed, ‘What’s wrong with my dress?’ ‘It’s lovely Margaret, it really is’, he replied, ‘but maybe next time we go to an Orange dance you’ll remember not to wear green.’

*****

Glasgow anecdote 5

When we were children, my brothers and I were members of the Juvenile section of the Orange Lodge.  Our nearest Lodge was in Dalmornock, just to the east of Brigton Cross, and a five minute tram ride from our home in the Calton.  Without any real understanding of the origins of  the Orange Order, or what it was about, we joined because it was part of family tradition on my father’s side.  At such a young age we were not cognisant of the dark undercurrent of sectarianism that blighted our city, or aware of the violence it could generate.

In truth, the monthly Lodge meetings were incredibly dull.  After the minutes of the last meeting were read, and announcements about upcoming Church parades made, there would be Bible readings and other boring stuff before we reached the good part, the orange squash and biscuits served up by the adults at the end of the night.  There was an Elim Church in Green Street that also employed such bribery, enticing us in with the thrill of watching cartoons shown on a sometimes faulty projector, followed by orange squash and biscuits, but this only came after the sermon and bible reading.  Many adults have no qualms about using such tactics to propagandise their beliefs to impressionable children.

In the case of the Lodge, a further attraction was the excitement of marching behind the flute band and the regalia: the sashes, the banners, the bowler hats and white gloves worn by senior Lodge members who acted as stewards .  The Sunday church parades were sedate, with everyone expected to be on their best behaviour.  Both adults and juveniles would parade a circuitous route through the district before arriving at the church that was no more than a five minute walk from where we started.  The pipe band played hymn tunes and the band leader would walk ahead with the utmost decorum, using the mace only to direct us left or right, or call us to a halt.  However, the Orange Walks were another matter altogether and these days out were the highlight of the year.  The adult Walk was on the twelfth of July, or the closest Saturday to it, the juvenile Walk was one week earlier

I remember one year we only went to Glasgow Green after parading through the city centre, another time the destination was Queen’s Park.  But the best days were when we traveled out of the city to smaller towns in the West of Scotland, Lanark comes to mind, as does Saltcoats.

‘there was one who knew me when

our childish feet splashed along Saltcoats sands’       (one who knew me)

Adults and juveniles assembled outside the Lodge premises early on the morning of the Walk.  The flute band, already in party mood, playing tunes, some of the men taking surreptitious swigs from bottles of beer behind the backs of the the ever zealous stewards.  Once aboard the coaches we left the city behind, a rare excursion we children all looked forward to.  Arriving at our destination we’d meet up with dozens of other Lodges and bands that came from all over Scotland.  There were hundreds upon hundreds of people and, after a great deal of milling around we would assemble behind our respective banners and march through the town to the local park.  That is when the real fun began.  After being issued with our purvey,(a brown paper bag containing a roll with cheese or spam, an apple, a caramel wafer and a carton of juice), we were free to roam for a few hours.  A favourite pastime was to join one of the circles of people watching various band leaders show off their skills.  One by one the men would step into the centre of the circle, dance around a bit then toss the mace as high as they could.  The most adept would make the mace tumble and twist on the way down before catching it skillfully in one hand.  These men were cheered loudly.  Any man who dropped the mace was met with good natured howls of derision, and leave the arena with a red face.

Every year, when we returned to the East End, we disembarked from the coaches in a side street west of Brigton Cross.  Then we’d march behind the band along London Road, through the Cross and on to our hall in Dalmarnock.  We always stopped at the Cross for ten minutes or so while the band, most of them drunk by now, would play even louder, dancing around and generally giving it laldy.  If  I’d considered why we always did this I would have assumed that, in an area of  narrow streets, Brigton Cross was a focal point of the community, a large intersection where five thoroughfares met.  A location where there was space to have a bit of a party.  In 1963, when I was ten years old, I learned the real reason.  Apparently a number of catholic families lived in the tenements overlooking the Cross and this lengthy stop was a deliberate provocation on the part of the band and the adults who followed the Walk.

We stopped at the Cross as usual, the band first playing The Sash, with the throngs of people on the pavements joining in.  Then the band launched into a triumphalist rendition of The Billy Boys.

hullo, hullo, we are the Billy Boys

hullo, hullo, you’ll know us by our noise

we’re up to our knees in Fenian blood

surrender or you’ll die

for we are the Brigton Billy Boys

Fuck the Pope!

Suddenly all hell broke loose.  There was a loud crash as a glass bottle shattered on the road beside the band.  It had been thrown from a tenement window.  More missiles followed.  Men were cursing, women were screaming, ‘There’s weans here, for fuck sake watch the weans’.  Some band members returned fire with their own bottles and I know at least one window was broken before we were rushed into a side street.  As we were herded away from the fray I noticed one man who had blood streaming down his face from a head wound.  My own head was birling, we were all in shock and many frightened children were in tears.  I remember thinking ‘why are adults attacking weans?’.  Of course they were not attacking us.  None of us were hurt, none of the missiles landed anywhere near us, the adults in the band were the target.

After calming everyone down, the stewards who had led us away instructed those of us who lived nearby to go  straight home.  I don’t remember what my brothers and I said to each other as we made our way back to Claythorn Street but I know that that day marked the start of my disillusionment with the attitudes of my community.  Within three years I had left both the Church and the Lodge, having decided that I was an atheist.  I am an atheist still.

*****

Repose

In the airport lounge, exhausted after more than sixteen hours of hard driving, I see an attractive young woman, pregnant, looking good in her expensive, glamorous, maternity wear.

By chance we are seated together on the flight. I’m feeling drawn and drained, old and plain, whilst she glows and is that ‘perfect picture’ of health.

A few hours later she is asleep, her head lolling in ungainly fashion, mouth hanging open, breathing loud and deep. I smile, remembering that in repose, we are all changelings.

***

Ramadan

What lessons might be learned from the rules of behaviour that apply during Ramadan?

There are many individuals and cultures that would advocate fasting for the benefit of one’s physical and mental health. Periodically resting and cleansing the internal organs over a period of time, days or weeks, may well be beneficial. However, abstaining from food and drink between certain hours of the day and then guzzling all that one can during the remaining hours, is illogical and of no obvious benefit.

Perhaps the act of denying oneself food and drink during certain hours of the day is intended to concentrate the mind on prayer and meditation. But prudent amounts of food and water would better equip one for contemplation: a hungry, thirsty individual will be more inclined to distraction. The hours of prayer, between sunrise and sunset, are a man-made construct rendering abstinence, especially in the hot climes of many Muslim countries, an experience more akin to penance than devotion.

And if there is a lesson to be learned from abstaining from sexual intercourse during the month of Ramadan, it is obscure indeed. If there is a God that created humans as beings who thrive on mutual affection and require sexual coupling to reproduce, how can sexual intimacy be unclean? What can possibly be considered impure about two people who love each other sharing such intimacy? As with fasting, celibacy voluntarily embarked upon is quite different from following a set of arbitrary regulations.

All religions use ritual to focus the mind. Meditation and contemplation may be enhanced by deliberate preparation: emptying the mind of hubris through ritual. And yet, here is the rub, it must surely be up to each individual to ascertain what most suits themselves. It does no harm to acquaint oneself with communally held ideas and practices. But when the method of communing with the divine is proscribed, and unreasonable demands are made of the individual to follow certain rules of behaviour at arbitrarily set times of the day or year, it becomes dogma.

If religious practice is intended to uplift the individual and thus society, and to extol such virtues as compassion and respect for others, the failing of most religions is their descent into dogmatic, social control.

***

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s