Recent Reading. The Pure Land by Alan Spence.

Alan Spence writes interestingly on aspects of Scottish Life that few others have explored.  His 1998 novel, Way to Go is a hilarious comedy set in a funeral parlour in Glasgow in which the owner ha reluctantly inherited the business from his father and decides to make a go of it by being “alternative”.  It’s a great read.

This 2006 novel is a far bigger book in its scope and theme.

It charts the industrialisation of Japan from the eyes of an Aberdonian entrepreneur, Thomas Glover, who inspired both Madame Butterfly and Miss Saigon; and whilst focusing on his rags to riches to rags to riches story brings in three further generations of the family briefly.

It is set principally in Nagasaki opening, as it does, in the aftermath of the second nuclear explosion in the home of a rich man that sits on a hillside shielded from the worst effects of the explosion but not of the after effects.

It then takes us back to 1850’s Aberdeen where a gallous and up for it freshman is dispatched by his engineering company to “The Pure Land” to help run its fledgling office.

Away from the prying eyes of his bosses and officialdom Glover gradually build an illicit business in trading first cotton and silk, then tea before moving gradually through munitions, ships, mining and heavy engineering.

Along the way he regularly enjoys the pleasures of the Japanese womenfolk, Whisky and Saki and inadvertently starts a revolution (which is wonderful for business.)

The man is a hustler, a rogue, a mercenary and all round troublemaker but Spence focuses on the human side of his character and at very few points in this grand novel do we ever lose our like of his fundamentally caring and genial humanity.

Whilst the novel feels a little heavy handed at the start we gradually find ourselves being drawn into the huge scale of its storytelling and ultimately it becomes an intriguing historical reference point and a great story of empire building and its implications on the people around the Trump’s, Murdoch’s and Hughes’ of this world.

According to his website Spence has long been passionate about the spiritual culture of Japan. He has recently been exploring the work of the Zen Master Hakuin, (1685 – 1786), who was one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism.

Overall, very likeable and another good shout from Spence.  Nice man too.  I met him a few years ago and enjoyed his take on things.  For those of you that know it he runs the Sri Chimnoy Centre in Edinburgh.


Recent reading Cormac McCarthy – The Sunset Limited

A novel, in dramatic form is how the publisher’s describe this 2006 two header.  It’s a play right.

It’s also (another) polemic on religion and puts up a white middle class and suicidal university professor against a black ex junkie and con who has only just saved the disillusioned Prof from death on the tracks at a commuter train station just as The Sunset Limited (get it?) comes thundering through at 80 mph.

The pair repair to Black’s flat and debate the meaning of life.

Is Black God’s angel?  We never get to know.

White is representative of the aetheistic world.  Not amoral in any way and not judged particularly but striking in his dismissal of religion.

McCarthy’s recent books delve deep into spiritual territory and make one feel that underneath it all he could be a fundamentalist christian, but in fact, in a  recent interview in the Washington Post he spills the beans on his religious leanings (he was brought up an Irish Catholic but says religion was not a huge part of his childhood).

“I have a great sympathy for the spiritual view of life, and I think that it’s meaningful. But am I a spiritual person? I would like to be. Not that I am thinking about some afterlife that I want to go to, but just in terms of being a better person. I have friends at the Institute. They’re just really bright guys who do really difficult work solving difficult problems, who say, “It’s really more important to be good than it is to be smart.” And I agree it is more important to be good than it is to be smart. That is all I can offer you.”

So no clues there as to why there is such a sustained religious undercurrent to his work; perhaps it’s an age thing (McCarthy would have been 70 when he wrote this) and No Country for Old men (another book about avenging angels – The devil) and The Road (which could not be more nihilistic or meaning of life/spirituality if it tried.) were also written in his 70’s.

But is it any good?

Thought provoking?  To a point.

Subtle?  Nope.

Must read?  Indeed not.  But it’ll pass a couple of hours better than some of the shit that gets to print.


Gil Scott-Heron. The Cremation will not be televised

The music world lost one of its greatest and most influential exponents at the age of only 62 last night.

Gil was known variously as the Godfather of Rap AND the Godfather of hip hop.

I knew him (not personally of course) as a poet, a visionary political voice in the mould of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King – although he was more “street” than them.

As a teenager my love of Heron was huge.  He sat perfectly alongside the punk sound of the UK because he WAS a punk.

Check out the lyrics to his most famous song.

You will not be able to stay home, brother. You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.

You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip, Skip out for beer during commercials, Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.

The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John Mitchell,

General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.

The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the  Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.

The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.

The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.

The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run, or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.

NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32 or report from 29 districts.

The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers in the instant replay.

There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.

There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville Junction will no longer be so damned relevant,

and women will not care if Dick finally gets down with Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day.

The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock news and no pictures of hairy armed women liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.

The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb, Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.

The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.

You will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.

The revolution will not go better with Coke.

The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.

The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised.

The revolution will be no re-run brothers;

The revolution will be live.

But GSH was no one song artist.  Johannesburg, Winter in America, ome is Where the Hatred is, Grandma’s Hands…all classics.

And then last year.  Fuck me, did he not bring out one of 2010’s seminal albums in “I’m New Here”.  So good was it in fact that Jamie T remixed it and it was released again as “We’re new here.”

The world is a lesser place my friends.

By the way, did you know his dad, The Black Arrow, was Celtic’s first black Football player?  Well, you do now.

Gill Heron. The Black Arrow.