Recent reading. Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan.


Richard Brautigan was one of the beat generation writers. He failed to have the impact of Ginsberg and Kerouac but many rate him higher.  Certainly, if you’ve read Kerouac you’ll realise he’s pretty dull and his reputation significantly overshadows his talent. (IMHO).

The consequence of Brautigan’s far less lauded writing career, that spans 10 novels and 10 volumes of poetry, was his suicide in 1984.

However, rather like a diluted version of John William’s Stoner success Brautigan has been rediscovered by a later generation.  This time at the hands of the rather wonderful Canongate Books‘ ‘The Canons” imprint.

Sombrero Fallout is trendily prefaced by Jarvis Cocker in a slightly gushy recollection of how the author impacted his younger life before, in around 200 pages, the story unfolds.

In fact it’s a story within a story.

The main protagonist, a humourless but highly acknowledged American humourist, aborts the task of writing his latest piece after only one page because he is in a state of distress having recently broken up with his beautiful Japanese girlfriend and is nearing hysteria.

Consigned to the waste bin the story of a Sombero that has fallen from the sky starts to write itself.

The novel flips, chapter by chapter, between the writer’s spiral into obsession about his ex-lover, her contrasting reaction, and the increasingly ridiculous consequences of the Sombrero’s completely inexplicable arrival into a small American town of some 11,000 inhabitants.

I am reminded in part of the whimsy of Ivor Cutler as I read this.

It has Gilliamesque/Pythonesque qualities too.

And, taken as a whole, it is highly reminiscent of the central section of Perfume by Patrick Susskind.

But it’s just too silly to love.  Too sixth form.  Too stoned possibly.

One word sums this short novel up.  Odd.


Recent reading. Scotland: A Graphic History.


Not being much of a historian I find it difficult to contextualise the history of Scotland and the details of the relationship with England and the Union.

This is a wonderful antidote.  Jeff Fallow’s short, sweet but hugely compelling read tells you all you ever needed to know about Scottish history in under an hour.

And don’t worry, it’s not a political treatise.  It doesn’t promulgate Independence.  (OK, well only  a little.)

This is an important read for anyone interested in creativity and Scottish Independence.


Unstated.  Writers on Scottish Independence.

Creative Scotland is to be congratulated for supporting the publication of this collection of 27 essays on the issues surrounding Scottish Independence and self determination, published by Word Power Books in 2012 and edited by Scott Hames.

All 27  writers are based in Scotland, but not all are Scottish.  In the process some take swipes at Creative Scotland (in fairness the book was written during their dark times) but the body has chosen to publish with these criticisms intact.  I respect that.

It includes mighty voices like Jo Clifford, Janice Galloway, James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, and Christopher Whyte.

It could not be described in any way as a light read and not all views concur, in fact far from it.  But one thing shines brightly throughout.  The value of self determination and the importance of uncensored artistic views go hand in hand.

It also supports my view then, but one that is rapidly diminishing, that the quality of the debate is poor.  This was most certainly the case in 2012 but I believe the quality has significantly increased.  Not on the front lines in our national media that mostly support Better Together and base their slanging matches on factual dispute, but in the online community most notably in the pages of BellaCaledonia that is represented here by Mike Small.

One passage in his essay says much.  He derides the negative campaigning of Better Together…

“Whilst the will may be there for a positive case for the Union, it remains elusive.  It oscillates from the banal to the ridiculous…Would you move house in a Hurricane? asked one dark tweet…The very institutions that could hold Britain together as an idea have been picked apart, privatised, sold off or dismantled by two decades of neo-liberal politicians who can hardly now appeal to the NHS, The Post Office or a common media voice as indicators of a common future, never mind a shared past.  The lesson for the No campaign team: if you place so little value in these institutions then don’t rely on them to tell your political story…A fractured, discredited print media, a London government that appears like a throwback to the Edwardian era and the catastrophic failure of the Labour party to create a political narrative are combining.”

Magi Gibson uses a, possibly obvious, but brilliant nonetheless, metaphor of a woman in an unloving marriage with a husband she doesn’t love or respect to illustrate the argument.

Janice Galloway harks back to the recent root of our discontent…

“The awful nineties ‘greed is good’ years when the North in general became the Conservative Party’s petri dish were a caustic reminder of our increasing inconsequentiality to just about any Westminster-based party.”

Margaret Elphinsone concludes her contribution by saying “It [post Independence Scotland] needs to know itself, which means being honest, and being ready to listen to all its different voices.  And I think it needs to be psychologically independent, or it won’t be able to anything for itself at all.”

Jo Clifford’s scathing summation is this.  “Can we really not find just a tiny bit of courage?  Does it really make sense to stay attached to England?  To a  failing state governed in the interest of the City of London with its tiny coterie of obscenely wealthy bullies, thieves and robbers?  A state hopelessly stuck in dreams of past glory, forever trying to ‘punch above its weight’, humiliatingly stuck in a self-deluding ‘special relationship’ with its colonial master, incapable of creating any positive vision of its future?”

Sure, it’s leftward leaning, but an articulate, open-eyed, intelligent left.

But then, you show me an artist that leans right and you’ll have to take me to London.

Scotland can become an open-eyed, articulate, intelligent left wing country if we vote Yes and then govern with responsibility under a likely Labour leadership.