…And Sometimes The News Is Bad

My wee Gran passed away last Thursday, peacefully in her sleep, a couple of months shy of her 95th birthday.
All of the old clichés apply (there’s a reason why they become clichés): she had a long life, she was delighted with her family, and in the end, the end was a blessing. Her Alzheimer’s was not going to get any better, and though her health was good (the doctor said he couldn’t use his old standby of “heart failure” on the death certificate, because her heart was as strong as a horse’s) she was growing frailer each month.
She lived on her own, well into her eighties, and the Alzheimer’s was the reason she went into a care home – she left the cooker on a time too many, and liked to walk the length of the town. It was her decision to go into the home – my mum assumed she’d move in with her, but she was too used to her own space, I guess.
She only ever had two children, my mum and her brother Thomas, who died young in a motor-bike accident. From three grandchildren she ended up with six great-grandchildren.
She died maybe a mile from where she was born. We’ll be taking her to the church she was christened in on Thursday, and she’ll have a mass on Friday.
At the crematorium she’ll have two songs – the one she loved to hear my Granda sign (“I’ll Take You Home, Kathleen”) and the one she always said was her favourite (“I Belong To Glasgow”).
She didn’t have an easy life, when she was younger. My Grandad joined the AA before I was born, and he never drank in my memory, but he had good reasons for stopping. He was in the army when they married (he deserted to marry her, and served his time in the Glasshouse for it) but he did come home from the war. He died twenty five years ago, and she never stopped missing him.
At the end, I can say she lived a life of quiet decency, and she’s left fond memories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He deserves your company...

Sometimes the news is good...

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


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

Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But The Rent

Well that’s not quite entirely true.
Some elements might be slightly inaccurate.
Oh, ok, it’s a lie…

Things are very busy indeed.

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

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

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

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

Hmm. This post is growing, and will grow further… I’ll cut it short here, for those who aren’t interested in North British politics, and post a new one this afternoon…
 

Comings and Goings

Remember I said that I'd bought five extra days of holiday this year? Well that's two of them I've used for funerals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You all play well together when I'm away, you hear?

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Last night I went off to the cinema on my own, to see Kingsman.

I had mixed feelings about the movie before going in.

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

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

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

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

Oh, and I’ve seen a few articles saying that the movie is an admission that the working class need aristocrats to save them – given that the body count includes just about every example of the elite, chosen few, I think this is a bit of a muddled conclusion. 

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Yesterday and Today

I worked from home on Monday and Tuesday, because I had to be fitted for a heart monitor, wear it for 24 hours, and then go and hand it back (I could have gone in yesterday and then came back to Glasgow, but I wasn't allowed to shower, which makes me feel not very office-like).

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

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

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

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

I have two nights in Inverness, and then a very busy weekend of friends, tennis, and a funeral. But that will keep till further entries - if I'm going to make this a regular thing again, then I'll need to keep some stuff in reserve...
As I mentioned a few entries ago, I've thought of the last year as a liminal one, where I've been caught between the dead past and the unknowable future.

Well, this weekend I got a new phone (nothing exciting, a replacement for a faulty old one) and part of the getting up and running part was my Mac automatically uploading everything from my photo stream for the last twelve months (iPhone shots, that is),

A quick skim through them showed me that I'd been in Prague, gone on two bike tours in the Hebrides (lots of shots of ferries), been to London twice and Ibiza in between, had many lovely visitors, and been a grateful visitor, gone to a lot of gigs and a music festival (on Tiree, my first visit there) seen lots of good things (and the odd stinker) at the Festival, had a great birthday celebration (celebrations, actually) been to Switzerland and France (twice) been to the Commonwealth Games, voted and campaigned in an Independence referendum, seen one of my oldest friends get married, visited a vinyard for the first time...

Not bad, really, for a quiet year, and all brought back to me by those pictures.

Maybe I should take a picture a day, or even start up one of those blog things.

Nah, it would never catch on...