Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Clutha

There’s nothing I can add to the story of last night’s events at The Clutha that hasn’t already been said better and with more eloquence than I could hope to match.

The accident was random, horrible and surreal. The result was terrible. The response was magnificent, and continues to be.

I think all I can really do is talk a little bit about what The Clutha meant to me, to perhaps articulate why this incident has affected me, and so many others, so intimately.

First, a quote from my friend Esther Frain, posted earlier today on Facebook:

To those outside Glasgow who don't know, The Clutha was a really special wee pub full of artists, writers, musicians, poets and other performers. It was run and visited by warm and friendly folk with open minds who cared a lot about equality and community spirit and it was a place where women could socialise and feel safe. It wasn't just any old pub, it was one of the best in Glasgow.

Esther nailed it, right there. The Clutha is more than just a pub (although it is a very good pub), it is a haven. A hub. A home. Not a single person ever walked through its doors who wasn’t welcomed. They have no truck with pretension, no desire to be a ‘destination’, no need or reason to be anything other than what they are – a good place full of good people enjoying good music and good times. It is, and always was, a good place.

My own relationship with The Clutha happened in the 1990s. I was in my 20s, skinny, single, still had hair and played in a blues band. I even had a decent job and so had enough money to buy a drink now and then. It’s fair to say I was a confident boy, back then. Then I discovered The Clutha.

More specifically, I discovered the musicians who played there, mainly on Thursdays and Sundays. And every single one of them could blow me away with the merest flick of a fretboard. These guys were incredible. Bands like The Blues Poets, Doctor Cook and the Boners, The Hideaway Blues Band and many others swiftly taught me that I had no fucking reason to be confident at all.

If that had been all I learned, that would have been enough. But no. What actually happened was that every single one of them brought me into the fold. They let me jam with them. They gave me tips. They helped me understand that playing guitar is about more than technical ability, it’s about emotion, feel and, most importantly, grace. It’s about silence and the spaces between the notes, not just the notes themselves. They took the cocky little shit that I was and helped turn him into the slightly less cocky but much better musician I now, hopefully, am.

I was also single, skinny and still had hair, so I won’t pretend I didn’t learn plenty of other, non-music, lady-related lessons back in those days.

By that point I had been to three different Universities. Not one of them could hold a candle to The Clutha when it came to providing me with an education.

Just as there have been a handful of people who have made a massive difference in my life, so there has been a handful of places. The Clutha Vaults was one of them.

I truly hope we don’t need to talk about it in the past tense for too long.

If you're in the area, there's a benefit weekend planned for the New Year. Go here for details:

Get there if you can. Knowing the people of The Clutha, and the people of Glasgow in general, it'll be a hell of a party.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Yule Thank Me Later

Christmas Day - A Cut-Out-And-Keep Guide

When it comes to tackling the nightmare of undertakings and expectations December 25th forces upon us unasked, the biggest weapon in our arsenal is preparation. Just like decorating, job interviews and major crime, laying the ground work before the event can save all sorts of heartache and imprisonment later.

Unlike TK Maxx you don’t need to start in April, but by late November, four weeks ahead of the day itself, I’d suggest you take a few preliminary steps, and then work out a program to build on these as the countdown progresses. Below I detail a carefully -  scientifically, really - designed process that should solve a lot of your problems (not all of them obviously, I’m not a social worker).

Week One:

It’s vitally important that you start attuning your mind and body for the chaos ahead. There are four main areas where you’re going to need to train yourself up if catastrophe is to be avoided. Let’s take each in turn.

  1. Drinking

You should start, even at this early stage, to increase your tolerance for alcohol. It’s possibly the single most important part of this entire endeavour. How much you add here depends on your normal consumption levels. As a rough guide, increase your normal daily/weekly intake by at least 20%. If for some strange reason you normally drink no alcohol at all have three glasses of wine, two pints of the lager of your choice and a Drambuie. You choose when, but employers always find it hilarious when workers turn up drunk on a Monday.

  1. Eating

Anyone who goes on a diet in December is an idiot, obviously, but many people try to cut down on the calories in November in anticipation. This is a rookie mistake. What you need to do is go for the slow build. As with the drinking, this too depends on how greedy you are normally. The only way to find this out in any precise way is to do one of those food diary things for the first two-thirds of the year but I don’t recommend that personally, it’s the surest route to depression I’ve ever come across. Instead, just buy every ‘two-for-one’ deal your local supermarket is offering, apart from on fruit and veg. The trick here is to actually eat them all within the week rather than throwing them in the bin when they go out of date.

  1. Watching Crap Telly

You know it’s going to happen, there’s no point pretending otherwise. Rather than wait until the day itself and risk your brain melting out of your nasal passages, it’s best to take the ‘vaccine’ approach and expose yourself to controlled bursts of the virus so that a natural immunity is created. For this first week I’d suggest taking it slowly. Watch the first ten minutes of The Jeremy Kyle Show on the Tuesday, that’s more than enough for now.

  1. Arguing For No Reason

This one is the real downfall for many, albeit it’s generally caused by all or some of the above. Again, tolerance is the issue here. Depending on your circumstances you’ll know who you’re most likely to have a barney with. If you’re part of a couple, it’s them (and probably one or both of their parents). If you have kids it’s them and them (and probably one or both of your and their parents). If you’re single it’s whichever member of your family tends to point out that fact most often. If you don’t fall into any of those categories, it’s just that twat you’re related to or are forced to spend time with who annoys the hell out of you.
This one has to be handled delicately, but there are things you can do even in week one to pave the path. At this stage it’s all about passive aggression. If, for example, you’re likely to have a major blow-out with your partner on the big day, soften them up now by telling them they’re looking a bit tired these days. That way you’re making them begin to doubt themselves while sounding concerned. If it’s a parent or sibling, I’d suggest that don’t worry about it, I’m fine. You just get on with your stuff is a good route to travel at this early juncture. Remember, you’re just laying foundations at this stage. Kids are trickier, especially the younger ones. There are a couple of options here; it’s up to you to decide which works best for your brood. You could attempt the Santa only comes to good children thing, but to be honest that never works - they’ve got the attention span of a republican president, kids, they’re not the brightest. Far better is to start preparing them for disappointment early on. ‘Did you hear, Buzz Lightyear died! Woody’s terribly upset.’ Stuff like that.

Week Two:

Now you’ve established the prime concerns it’s simply a case of building on them. It gets easier from this point. Week two is all about edging yourself closer to the monster you’re going to become, so it’s not such a surprise on the day itself when you realise you’ve transformed into a complete dick.

1.  Drinking

This week, as well as adding to your overall consumption, I’d suggest you pick an evening or afternoon when it will be highly inappropriate for you to be anything less than sober, and get drunk. Nothing too serious at this stage, it’s still early days. A parent teacher night or a foster carer risk assessment meeting would be fine.

2.  Eating

Fairly straightforward this week. As you do your weekly shopping simply check the nutritional information on each item you pick up and discard anything with a saturated fat level of less than 30%.

3.  Watching Crap Telly

One episode on the day of your choice of the following: The Jeremy Kyle Show; Trisha; Hollyoaks and anything that starts with The World’s Weirdest/Fattest/
Youngest/Oldest/Most Pathetic … on channel five.

4.  Arguing For No Reason

Partner - Tell them you had a really intense dream where you were gay or straight, whichever is the opposite of what they think you are.
Parents - Point out all of the scientific studies that have come to light in recent years that prove they basically abused you as a child by feeding you whatever they fed you (there’s data out there that’ll prove anything).
Siblings/Cousins/Friends - Be moody for no reason, and tell them to piss off when they ask what’s wrong.
Kids - Inform them, solemnly, that Facebook has had a big argument with Twitter and they’ve both gone offline for a month to think about things. Then unplug the wifi till they go to bed.

Week Three:

It’s time to get serious. Next week is going to be a dress rehearsal so this is your last chance to iron out any kinks in your approach.

1.  Drinking

You’re going to want to add a shot of whisky (or the spirit of your choice) to your morning coffee every day this week. Suggest pub lunches to your colleagues when you can, and drink precisely 2.85 more drinks that you would normally. As much as is possible, eat food cooked in wine every night for dinner. After dinner, drink that crap you brought back from Greece last year. The green stuff.

2.  Eating

As mentioned above, you’re looking at rich dinners this week (see how the categories are starting to merge?). Whether you go for beef and beer, steak and red wine, chicken and white wine, sausages and Buckfast or beans and vodka (surprisingly good), you’re going to want to have chips with it, and none of this oven chip nonsense. They’re the result of a bloody battle between the producers of deep fat fryers and oven salesmen. It was a hellish melee and there were casualties on both sides. What neither side want you to know is that it’s perfectly possible to pour some oil into the oven tray and get the best of both worlds.
Have anything you like for breakfast and lunch this week, as long as you fry it in clarified butter.

3.  Watching Crap Telly

This is going to be difficult, I won’t deny it. Quick but painful is the only way forward here. Repeat what you did in week two but add, and I apologise for this now, anything with the word Celebrity in the title. I know, I’m sorry. It’s for the greater good.

4.  Arguing For No Reason

Partner - Work this into conversation at some point: ‘I can’t believe where I could have been if I hadn’t met you’. Then elaborate in whatever way best fits your delusions about yourself.
Parents - Say this: ‘I know you told me before, but are you sure I’m not adopted?’
Siblings/Cousins/Friends - Just keep being moody. They won’t care much, to be fair.
Kids - ‘Santa’s just another way of saying Satan, if you look at it closely.’

Week Four:

This is where it all comes together. This is when you get to test out whether your preparations have worked. The day itself is going to be a Perfect Storm of the four areas we’ve been practising and it’s time for a full on rehearsal. Brace yourself (Saturday is best for this):

Get up at 6.30 in the morning, for no reason. Make everyone else in the household do the same. This will immediately foster an atmosphere of malice and resentment that will come in handy later. If you have kids, secretly break their favourite toys and remove any and all batteries from the house.
Begin drinking before lunchtime, and encourage all those of legal age in the household to do the same. If they refuse for some reason, simply add brandy to every cup of tea or coffee they have throughout the day.
Tell all children that they are not allowed to go out and meet friends or partake in any social activities, as you think you should have a ‘special’ family day. Then do absolutely nothing to make the day special in any way.
For dinner, order a ridiculously large Indian take away meal and try to time its arrival with the X Factor starting on telly. Make sure the whole family is watching and eating, and drinking. Ensure you have control of the remote, and change channel every time Simon Cowell is about to completely destroy the hopes and dreams of a naïve, talentless innocent. The arguing will take care of itself from this point on, but if you feel the anger levels insufficient, spill curry sauce on everyone’s clothes. And on the sofa, carpet and any other soft furnishings available. I recommend Chasni sauce for this one, as whatever that red stuff they put in it is, it never comes out.
If all goes to plan, the entire family will be in massive huffs by 8pm. You and your partner will be flinging ridiculous, entirely irrelevant insults at one another and contemplating separation, any children under nine will be crying, while older kids will have long since stormed to their rooms, only to remember that they still have no access to the internet and so can’t announce on their status bars that their parents are ‘totally unfair’. Ideally, you will have removed the sim cards from their mobile phones too, to ensure they can’t use them for communication with the outside world.

As you go to sleep on the sofa/in the bath, you should feel a deep satisfaction at your efforts over the past month. Congratulations, you’re ready for Christmas. Happy holidays.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Heart Attack and Whine

** this was originally posted as two separate articles. Then I took it down for some reason I can't remember. Now I'm putting it back up as one big one.

The three of you who take notice of such things will be aware that I haven’t exactly been prolific on the writing front of late.

The reasons for this are as numerous as they are tedious so I won’t be boring you with them. However, I feel it’s high time I re-entered the fray to at least a minimal degree. I need an easy place to start though, so figured I’d go back to the old ‘write what you know’ cliché and talk about something that happened to me last year and, as it turns out, has had a ridiculously massive impact on everything since.(Well, not everything. It didn’t give me back my hairline.) Check the title of this piece for a clue.

Let’s rewind a tad. In January of last year I started a new job. It was a wonderful challenge (or as wonderful as they get in my line of work) – an inspiring opportunity in a brand new role for a large organisation that would involve working all over Scotland helping to spread, instil, enforce and devise the values, working methods and standards that have driven every aspect of my work to date in the field of Social Care. To say I was a bit excited would be like saying George Osborne is ever so slightly cuntish.

For five months it was everything I expected and hoped it would be. There were drawbacks, certainly, almost all of them involving the M8. But the job was a good ‘un – I met with, learned from, managed, was managed by and worked alongside and for some of the finest people it’s been my pleasure and privilege to encounter. But I’ll be honest, it was tiring. Long days, lots of driving, heavy workloads and not a huge amount of rest. Especially when you factor in my already inherent insomnia and consequent laziness/inertia/apathy/inability-to-just-chill-the-fuck-out-at-weekends.

There are other factors which, in the interests of fairness and full disclosure, should be noted at this point – I smoked, didn’t exercise enough (by which I mean ‘at all’), enjoyed a wine or two of an evening and was not unfamiliar with the menu at KFC. Stuff like that. Oh yeah, there is also a pretty massive history of important-organ-that-does-the-blood-pumping-thing problems in my family.

Back to the story:

Come Spring time it’s fair to say I was working hard. I was busy. I was, I admit it, a bit knackered. Jake was staying with my parents Monday to Friday because I couldn’t give him the time he needed. (Jake is my dog, but if he had been my gay lover he’d probably still have ended up staying at my mum’s).

I was also in a band. We were trying to get some gigs going and rehearsing as often as we could. Then, for some reason I don’t quite recall, I ended up in another band. This one was temporary though, and just involved twice-weekly rehearsals aimed at doing a gig in April. Which was fine. Two bands – not an issue.
I was keeping it all together, no problem.

In March, one of the best friends I’ve ever had phoned me on my mobile. This guy was one of those people you have in your life whom you view as more than a friend. He was one of my ‘mentors’. I’ve had exactly two of them in my life. Thing is, though, he rarely phoned me. We didn’t see one another all that often at that stage – our actual friendship had happened many years previously, back when we both had hair. Being an ignorant twat, I let it go to voicemail because I couldn’t be arsed talking. I figured he was just phoning to say he was in a pub nearby and wanted me to go and get rat-arsed with him, and I was too tired to go out that night. The tone of his message suggested otherwise. I conquered my innate inability to give a fuck and called him back.

He’d battled, and beat, cancer three years before. Cancer obviously wasn’t happy about the defeat, and this time it was mad. Fuck.

Still busy, still working, still rehearsing, still knackered.

Being an insomniac of some repute, I’m well versed in the many and varied things that wake you up of a night. The central heating kicking in – so common it’s hardly worth mentioning. A fox half-a-mile away sounding a bit sad – pfff. Jake farting in my face – hideously familiar. My own snoring – most nights. My dreaming brain deciding Percival the Giant Prawn really needs me to understand why the only way he can prevent global genocide via virus-infected broccoli is to kick me off a cliff into an ocean of orange cauliflower – that’s just Wednesday. Most Fridays I’m Jesus.

Chest pain was a new one, though.

Late March or early April I’d guess, I woke up at 3am with a sore chest. Interesting, I thought. It wasn’t excruciating. Uncomfortable, more than anything. I had to sit up for a bit, and lower my head, to get it under control. I didn’t know why I had to do these things but my body did, apparently. Beyond that I paid it no heed. It went away after a while and I went back to not sleeping as I challenged Percival to an arm wrestle 
(prawns are shite at arm-wrestling).

That second band did the gig on a Saturday in April. It was brilliant, tremendous fun. My other, usual band, had a gig the next night too, on the Sunday. There were parties and fun, there was drinking and chaos. Life was good. That night, that Sunday night, I woke up with the pain again. 4am, roughly.

I still didn’t think it was my heart. The pain was deep, rumbling and coarse. Heart pain was supposed to be sharp. It should be like a knife in my, well … heart. This pain was the opposite of acute. It trembled as it troubled. It mined my entire chest, not slightly to the left as I imagined heart pain should. My left arm felt fine. Nothing was shooting anywhere. I decided it was fine. I just needed a wee walk about. I had a wee walk about. It went away, eventually. I re-joined Percival and the foxes.

I imagine you might be thinking – what a fucking idiot, of course it’s your heart! But no. One of the men I admired most in my life had just been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. I had intermittent chest pain. Obviously I assumed I had, if anything, lung cancer.

It had become clear that he was going to die. That invincible, monolithic creature that was him, that statement of life was going to leave us soon. If he was going then of course I was going too. I don’t believe in God and I don’t believe in symmetry and I don’t believe in fate and I don’t believe in any wishy-washy bollocky bullshit about meaning or  spiritual redemption. But, for a time there, I did believe that it was my job to accompany him on whatever journey he was about to take, whether I wanted to or not. Not that I was happy about it. I can’t imagine he’d have been too thrilled, either.

A couple of weeks go by and I forget all that nonsense.

Still working, still busy, still knackered, still eating chicken burgers.

Another Sunday. Shit seems to happen on a Sunday for some reason (I wrote a song about that, once). We’re in May now.

The big fella is in hospital at this stage. He’ll get out again as it turns out, but we don’t expect that at the time. The visit is fun. He’s as angry as ever and, as he lies on the hospital bed in his boxer shorts, skinnier than he’s ever been or ever should be, he chooses to spend his limited time and energy on making us feel better; on making us laugh; on making everyone but him feel okay. I’m there with T, who cares even more than I do because she knows how to. She’s devastated, like she was always going to be. I’m luckier than her – I know how to not give a shit. I’ve practised.

T and I head for home. I’m driving and I drop her off. She’s not worth a fuck at this point. I’m doing surprisingly well, I think.

I’m supposed to be going out that night. Got friends doing stuff in public who need my support. By the time I eat something and allow reality in, I can’t be bothered. Fuck my friends, I think. I’m thinking about my friend.

By 7pm, the chest pain is getting silly. When it doesn’t go away after two hours I decide to go to the hospital to get my lung cancer diagnosed.

I log in at the desk and take a seat. I thought a Sunday night would be quiet in Emergency. Got that wrong. Seats filled with sadness and triage soaked in blood. I barely register.

By 11, I’m worrying about work. I need to be at the arse end of the M8 by 9am. Even if they take me now it’s going to me a minimum of two hours before they tell me I’m a hypochondriac wanker and let me go. The pain has eased. It’ll be fine. It’s just lung shit, a day or two isn’t going to make any difference. I run away.

Monday – get through it. Big boss accuses me of having man-flu. Giggle like a dick.

Tuesday – As it happens, I’m  in a GP surgery in Edinburgh when the pain returns. Actually that’s not true, it started when I was still in the office but by that point I was kinda used to it so didn’t pay much heed. I’m at the GP surgery supporting someone when it gets really bad. I may have mentioned earlier that I’m a fucking idiot, so instead of getting myself checked out by all the doctors who are RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF ME, I go outside and phone my own surgery in Glasgow. When I mention chest pains the receptionist (in Glasgow, not the one RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME) tells me in no uncertain terms to get my arse to a hospital. I still think I only have lung cancer so am not too worried, but her tone makes me accept I should probably get seen to.

The thought process of an idiot-

This might be something a bit worrying. There’s a chance I’ll end up in hospital overnight. I’m in Edinburgh. If they keep me in, my parents are going to have to do the M8 at night. I have no books with me. Fuck it, I’m going back to Glasgow.

I know, I’m not proud.

So I drive the fifty miles back to Glasgow on the M8, bastard child of a thousand motorway nightmares, clutching my chest all the way. I barely manage two cigarettes the entire journey.

Still thinking ahead like a twat, I stop at home to pick up something to read in anticipation of the long emergency room wait. I’m kind of hunched over by this stage, what with the pain and the weakness and the out-of-breathness.

Still, I have the wherewithal to park near to the hospital but not anywhere I might get a ticket in the morning if they do keep me in. I’m a smart idiot that way.

I check in once again, sheepishly admitting I’d been there two nights previously but ran away. I thought they might hold this against me and say I was banned or something, but no.

I’m pleasantly surprised to see someone I know in the waiting area. Her wee one has hurt an arm and is awaiting ointment and lollipops. It’s nice to have someone to chat to as I, I later learn, turn a very peculiar shade of grey.

The triage nurse isn’t too worried looking. She takes some measurements. She’s concentrating on heart-related things. I try to intimate that it’s actually lung cancer by doing a few coughs but she doesn’t take the hint. I don’t want to appear patronising by telling her how to do her job, so I leave it. They’ll figure it out eventually.

Smiling serenely, she asks me to hold on for a moment while she goes and does something or other in a different room. She comes back with a friend and they tell me I’m being shifted up the corridor a bit so a doctor can have a poke around. They don’t even let me walk (health and safety), instead pushing me all the way there on the bed thingy. Whee!

Next thing I know there are about forty people in what I believe are known as ‘scrubs’ running about attaching things to me and shoving stuff down my throat and into some veins while removing blood from others, asking all sorts of heart type questions. I roll my eyes ruefully, marvelling at their inability to recognise a simple case of fucked-up lungs. The NHS isn’t what it used to be, if it ever was. I answer the questions, of course. I’m conditioned for obedience and compliance, it’s the catholic in me. I get the expected shaky-heads and tut-tuts when I admit I’m a smoker. There are several surprised and interested glances between the various clever folk in the room when I recite my family’s coronary chronicles. It explains a lot, apparently. Not this fucking lung cancer it doesn’t, I think but don’t say.

The madness dies down and everyone goes for a cup of tea. I get vroomed along to a holding-pen of a ward, full of other confused people who only came in to get out of the rain and ended up trapped by drips and, in a couple of instances, handcuffs. In my case, I’m literally glued to one of those machines with the wavy lines and beeps that you see on telly. For the second time that evening I see a familiar face. One of the nurses on duty is a friend of a friend. She nips over to say hello. She asks what’s wrong, and I tell her it’s my lungs. She nods in a curious way before wishing me luck and returning to her chores.

You know how you’re not allowed to use mobile phones in hospital? Turns out that’s bollocks. Everyone is at it. I figure I might as well join in and make a couple of calls. Family first, of course.  I go with chest infection as my explanation of choice, not wanting to invoke the ‘c’ word on the off-chance I might be wrong, unlikely as it is. I mention the heart stuff the doctors have been going on about as an aside. I explain that I’m in for the night and ask that any visitors bring along some toiletries, pyjamas, food and a toothbrush, having realised I hadn’t been quite as thorough in my forward-planning as I thought. My parents are dispatched. No one else can be bothered at this time of night. Not for a chest infection.

I then phone my two bosses. The peripatetic nature of my job means that I always have at least two bosses – the one who’s my boss all the time, and the area manager I happen to be working for, for however long I happen to be in their area working. I explain that I won’t be in tomorrow. I may even be off for a couple of days, depending. I’ll keep them posted.

I’m moved to a General Ward, whatever that is. It’s huge. Picture one of those optical illusions where the corridor appears to go on forever. It’s exactly like that. My parents arrive, and they bring a sandwich. It is the best sandwich in the world. My parents are beautiful people who have the terrible luck of having to deal with the likes of me on a regular basis. I again choose to keep the cancer issue from them, they’re clearly stressed enough as it is (I’m not sure why). Chest infection, I reiterate. It’s a chest infection. Given that it’s after 9pm by now, no doctors come along to ruin the illusion I’ve so masterfully created.

Weary and resigned, they leave after an hour. They need to learn not to give so much of a fuck, I reflect as they go. It’ll be the death of them.

A wee while later, one of the clever people who’d been fussing about and tutting at me earlier comes to see me. There are test results. Here we go, I think. How stupid do you feel now!

And yes, I’ve had a heart attack. Of course I’ve had a heart attack. I’d been in a GP surgery in Edinburgh having a heart attack, and I’d driven fifty miles home having a heart attack. I’d stopped at home for a book and a phone charger while having a heart attack. I’d carefully parked my car somewhere safe as I had a heart attack. I chatted away to a mate as I turned grey due to the heart attack I was having. My heart has, indeed, attacked me, the bastard. I hate being wrong.

As an added bonus it turns out my blood sugar levels are somewhere north of John O’Groats, and almost certainly have been for some time. Years, most likely. There’s actually a reason I’ve been so fucking knackered for ages and it’s not just laziness. Type 2 Diabetes, yay!

I’m quickly transferred upstairs to the coronary care unit, which is brilliant. I have my own room and everything. I’m still stuck to the beepy machine on one side and some weird looking insulin pump on the other, plus I have plastic mini-guns sticking out of my arms all over the place and so am forced to lie on my back, which means I have no chance of sleeping as I always sleep on my side, but at least it’s quiet. Apart from all the beeping. They skoosh stuff under my tongue and, when that doesn’t take the pain away, they fill me with morphine. Result!

I’ve never been happier. Stoned out my nut and don’t have cancer. It doesn’t get better than that.

You learn a few things when you’re in a high-dependency ward unable to sleep and pumped to the gills with high-class narcotics. The main thing you learn is why they should have maintained the ban on mobile phones in hospitals. Being twatted out my tree, I obviously started posting to Facebook. At 4am, I was happily conversing with the planet about my situation. I’m not ashamed to say I have FB friends from all over the world. I don’t actually know any of them, obviously, but that means nothing. People in America, Australia, Spain, France, Switzerland and Asia knew I’d had a heart attack and were wonderfully sympathetic and concerned. We had a right laugh. Unfortunately, most of my actual family and friends in Glasgow didn’t know yet, what with them being asleep and such. Apart from the couple of insomniac cousins who are stupid enough to follow me on Facebook, of course. And they soon spread the word, next morning. So, from 7am onwards, my mum was getting umpteen phone calls from concerned distant relatives who now knew far more about my condition than she did. This didn’t go down too well. Oops.

Anyhoo, things proceeded as they do in such circumstances. A scan showed that a section of my heart was inflamed, which was why the pain wasn’t playing fair and going away with all the drugs. This was temporary though. The seventeen gallons of insulin they’d pumped into me had only just managed to start reducing the blood sugar levels, which suggested I’d be on tablets for a while.

On my third day, they sent me to a fancy new hospital in Clydebank where they do all the heart stuff. Fellow Scots will know about this place. It opened a few years ago as an Oil-Industry funded private hospital for the rich folk. Being in Scotland, no rich folk appeared and the NHS snagged it for a tenner. State of the fucking art, it is. I was excited. Without wishing to deride, the food in the first place was two degrees from shite. I mean, you’re in a coronary care unit, having had a bloody heart attack, and what’s on the menu? Stodgy cottage pie; stodgy ‘chicken a la king’; stodgy stew; and pizza. Christ. I’d heard good things about this Clydebank place. Hotel quality food. Verging on butler levels of service. Cool!

I got there too late for dinner, obviously. They gave me a tuna sandwich, which was nice enough I suppose, if a bit dry.

There was a wee bit of confusion as to whether they would do my angiogram that night or the next morning. I was voting for next morning as that would mean I’d definitely be there for lunch. Turned out the bloody consultant fella was working late and he took me in that night. Bastard.

He came in for a chat first. He did the by now traditional shaky head and tut-tut about the smoking and the surprised look about the family history. He asked if I was nervous about the procedure, stating I could get a cheeky wee Valium if I was. I said I was. He laughed and said no I wasn’t. I think he may have been Satan.

Sans Valium, it all happened. They strapped me to what in an earlier age would have been a torture table. It had separate bits sticking out to strap my arms to and everything. Long story short, they stuck things through my wrist into my heart, and I watched it happen on TV. There were monitors all over the place. It was fascinatingly terrifying or terrifyingly fascinating, I’m not sure which. It would have been much more pleasant with a Valium in me, I know that much. I had, as expected, blocked arteries. Seriously blocked. Blocked in the same way I’m blocked from my ex-girlfriend’s Facebook feed and geographic vicinity. Court-ordered blocked. Shit was not getting through.

Thankfully it seems arterial restraining orders are easier to overturn than the legal variety. ‘Stents’ is the medical term. ‘Wee tubes’ is the vernacular. I now have either two or three of them in me. I honestly can’t remember which. Anyway, I’m bionic.

What, ten years ago, would have been major heart surgery resulted in a tiny wound on my right wrist and a prescription to not pick at it for a few days. Mental. They kicked me out before lunch the next day, the swines.

I was duly chauffeured from the hospital by one very good friend (and editor) who had driven all the way up from England for the privilege, while another far better friend than I deserve (and singer) spent what must have been a hell of a time cleaning my flat alongside T in preparation for my triumphant homecoming. Meanwhile my mum and dad were laying on what can only be described as a banquet of breads, coldcuts and salads to celebrate my release. Jake was licking the memory of his balls and sleeping, but he’s getting on so I wasn’t offended.

Being Scottish (apart from The Editor, but she’s from the North so it still counts), no one said anything profound or especially meaningful over lunch, but I got the distinct impression they were all glad I wasn’t dead, which was nice.
And so to the recovery. I’d remembered to phone my bosses back and let them know it was going to be more than a couple days. The minimum was four to six weeks, it seemed. For me it ended up being nine.
Weakness is an unsettling thing. I’ve never been anything close to a ‘strong’ man. Shit at sports, never had a proper fight, would rather miss a date with an angel than run for a bus. But I’ve never felt weak before. Unfit, yes. Weak, not so much.  My childhood fantasies of being Spider-Man or Bruce Lee had never completely left me. I was sure, if it came to it, that I could kick fuck out of Batman at a push. Yet here I was struggling up the stairs to my flat.

Lots of lovely people had given me lots of lovely advice before I left hospital. The main thing being to give up smoking, obviously. Pace yourself, was the other big one. It’ll take a while, don’t worry. Start slow, build it up. You’ll be back to normal in no time. You have a dog? Perfect! Etc

They were absolutely right. It took a while. A long while, or so it felt. I was 41-years-old and could barely walk the length of my hall. Day three back at home I ventured out to the shop for, I don’t know, a reason to go out.  I forgot my keys and got locked out. Had to sit on the wall outside the flat, panting like a geriatric dog with asthma as I waited for my sister to arrive with my spare keys. Never have I felt like such a pathetic twat.

I am, and certainly was then, extremely lucky. I know some stunning people. I have friends, very good friends, and a family I would battle the gods to protect. They all managed to prevent me falling into an entirely possible state of christ-I’m-uselessness. My family are my family and know that (I hope). My friends, four of you in particular, know who you are (I also hope).

I’d never previously been aware of my internal organs. They’re just there, doing whatever they do in the background. Now though, my heart was my new best friend. I could feel its every beat. I knew if it wasn’t happy, I knew when it was tired. I sensed its anger and understood when it needed some space. We were simpatico. My heart had gone from being a lazy concept used by writers to represent why I was shite at relationships to a solid, weighted ball of terror crouched in the centre of my chest threatening death if I burped too vigorously.  It was all very strange.

But yes, slowly but slowly I got stronger. Within mere weeks I was able to walk Jake quarter of the way round Queens Park with only the mildest nausea and debilitation.

The big fella was out of hospital and enjoying life as best he could. We arranged to go for a pint to catch up. He needed a walking stick by now and we approached the pub from opposite directions at, coincidentally, the same time. I was too scared to attempt anything faster than a weak shuffle and he was still mastering the stick thing. The moment would have benefited from some Sergio Leone music to emphasise how cool and menacing we looked.

We had a laugh as always. T was there, as was the big man’s fiancé. They had a wedding planned a couple of weeks hence and no force on this green earth was going to stop him being there for it. Cancer could go fuck itself if it thought it had a hope of keeping this man from marrying this woman. I’ve never witnessed anything as certain as that conviction in those eyes. They still bickered like fuck, but that was just them.

Physically, we were roughly similar that night. He was weak and so was I, both of us still acclimatising to being less than we were. It added an extra element of poignancy to an already weighted evening. Well, it did in retrospect. At the time neither of us gave a shit, we were just glad of a pint. Still, the unexpected ‘shared burden’ of ill-health was something I briefly revelled in. I’d never come close to equalling him in anything before.

Shamefully, it wasn’t until I got home that reality struck. I was going to get stronger. I was recovering. Him, not so much.

I know you’re wondering, and yes, I stopped smoking. Obviously it wasn’t an option in the hospital and once I got out I was too weak to go to the shop. I got patches and one of those electric cigarette things that look, feel and taste almost exactly like something that isn’t a cigarette. It wasn’t that bad actually, stopping. It’s amazing how fearing your chest might explode at any second is enough to take your mind off the fags.
For those first few weeks I was doing all sorts of strange and alien things. I ate salads. I had breakfast. I think I may even have had a bit of fish at one point. There I was eating well, walking the dog, not smoking, taking all the pills. Couldn’t ask for more really. Then the phone went.

They’d mentioned something about Rehabilitation Classes while I was drugged out of my skull on morphine but I hadn’t paid much attention. Apparently the time had come.

Exercise has always scared the shite out of me. I think it’s a Scottish thing. P.E. ruined an otherwise healthy report card every year at school. I was the only guy in Holyrood Secondary’s history whose time on the cross country run actually increased over the course of the eight-week block (once out of sight of the teacher I went to the shop for a single cigarette and a match – 12p in those halcyon days). But here I was forcibly enlisted in a ten-week NHS mandated twice-weekly hour of cardiovascular torture. Fuck. One of the ways I’ve avoided physical exertion over the years is by deliberately not owning the appropriate clothing or equipment. ‘Fancy a game of football, Danny?’ ‘Sorry, no trainers.’ ‘Want to come swimming?’ ‘Sorry, no trunks.’ ‘Badminton?’ ‘Sorry, no shorts/sweatshirts/tracksuit/sandshoes/racket/inkling of enthusiasm.’ ‘Coming jogging?’ ‘Away and fuck yourself.’ That sort of thing. But this was happening whether I liked it or not, so I walked (yes, walked!) into town with a friend/pushy-sadist and bought twenty-five quid’s worth of god awful ‘sports’ gear out of Primark. I felt truly sick, and it had nothing to do with the walk. I knew there and then that I was betraying something vital. An ideal, a belief, an honest-to-god principle; one of the basic fundamental strictures upon which I’d built my entire philosophy of life to that point. I didn’t know what this tenet actually was I’d so hideously violated, but I was sure it was important. I had three coffees and a couple of beers, after which I forgot what I was worried about.

Now I am, sadly, not a young man any more. However I am relatively youthful by the standards of the myocardial infarction community. My first session in the rehab class was sobering (which was probably a good thing, I was pretty drunk). It was me, 41 years-old and only slightly chubby, and 15 octogenarians who should never, I mean never, have been allowed to wear shorts.

The two annoyingly young physiotherapists ran me through the routine – ten minutes on the bike followed by what was basically really bad line-dancing for another ten minutes, followed by a circuit of the room stopping at eight exercise points where we were to carry out various mysterious movements involving lunges and wee dumbells for two minutes at a time, rounded off with another bit of doing the hokey-cokey. All very straightforward yet highly embarrassing, just as I expected. A previously hidden competitive side to my personality suddenly emerged. I was going to run rings round these old fuckers!

I’m at an age where it’s hard to gauge which is more mortifying – having my back patted gently as I hyperventilate by an attractive girl twenty years my junior or by four ladies and a stroke victim forty years my senior wearing shorts. To be fair, since they were all doing it at the same time and I was so busy trying not to die, I didn’t have time to come to a firm conclusion.

I went back three times before accepting that I’d rather have another heart attack. (Yes, Dad. I lied.)

Other things happened during those weeks that I won’t go into here. Moods were swung all over the place. I contemplated mortality. I contemplated spirituality. I contemplated buying a new telly. I got a book royalty cheque that was just large enough to decide the telly issue. I figured out how to stuff an iPad full of illegally downloaded comics (haven’t read a proper book since). Some personal stuff occurred that I definitely won’t go into here, and once again my friends and family got me through it. They really are a lovely bunch of coconuts.

The most important event of the period, however, was the marriage of the big fella to his ever-loving, ever-forgiving fiancé. It’s difficult to say you love another man without sounding either too PC or slightly gay, neither of which is my intention, but so far as it’s possible I loved this big fuckwit. He was, however, something of a cunt now and then. He could be hard going. I’d worked for him in the past and he was definitely a better friend than he was a boss. He was also a very good boss. His fiancé had put up with a lot from him at times. She had also caused him no end of bother so it all evened out. Cancer is a killer, no doubt, but it failed entirely to kill the love between these two.

The wedding was a joy. He needed a walking stick to get about now, but his speech was hilarious and he lasted longer than I did on the drink. She was the stunner she always has been, turned up to eleven. The food, the music, the venue, it was all incredible. And they got it all for next to nothing. Cancer chancing bastards.

I had to go home early, being still something of a weakened shadow of my former idiot. I learned a lot that day, though. I learned that these two people had a better group of friends than I knew existed. I learned that it’s possible to look any hardship in the eyes and tell it to fuck right off. I learned that, with the right people beside you, you can face anything. I learned that nothing is so bad you can’t make a joke about it. I learned for the first time that a man I had known for over twenty years was a brilliant singer. I learned that a wee lassie from Liverpool is the strongest person I’ve ever met. I learned that if you give a man a goal, a real worthwhile goal, he will defy the universe itself to reach it. I learned that absolutely nothing in this life is more important than respecting the people in it and remembering that none of us are here for long.

I learned that today is more precious than tomorrow.

Nine weeks sounds like a long time, until you’re off work for nine weeks then have to go back. Then it’s a very short time. My employers, and specifically my two main bosses, were wonderful about the whole thing. They’d kept in touch throughout, but not in that ‘are you at it?’ way. Genuine concern and real support was the order of the day. Not everyone who works in Social Care actually cares very much, but these folk definitely did.

I won’t lie though. The thought of going back scared the shite of me. Despite knowing the truth of the thing; despite being fully aware of the actual causes - the family history, the smoking, the less than ideal relationship with the chippy – despite all of that, a large part of my brain associated the heart attack directly with work. It happened while I was at work. I had been over-tired and a touch too high on the stress-scale due to work at the time. Ergo, work had tried to kill me.

But, needs must. The main need being a wage. Having been there less than a year my sick pay entitlement wasn’t all it might have been (in retrospect the new telly wasn’t the wisest move).

My boss and I negotiated a reduced hours comeback and it was actually fine. The work I had been doing earlier in the year had moved on and I was placed in a couple of new areas. Different issues, different people, different challenges, different chippies. Still on the fucking M8 mind.

I spent a couple of weeks in various area offices not doing very much. Mostly admin. Easy enough. I struggled with the mornings, right enough. Never been close, mornings and me. By March I’d just about got used to getting to Edinburgh by 9am Monday to Friday. I won’t go into detail about that battle, it was a personal thing, but I’d triumphed in the end. Suffice to say it involved alarm clocks in the kitchen and the careful placements of treats between the bedroom and shower. After nine weeks though, I was back to ground-zero. I wasn’t even going to Edinburgh anymore. Half the time I didn’t need to start till 10am in Glasgow or one of its outlying territories. Still late most days.

Another Sunday. T and I go to visit the big fella and his wife. He isn’t so big now. He can’t do the stairs and is camped out in a hospital bed in his living room. The MacMillan nurses have taken over the bulk of his medical care. He isn’t eating much. Can’t, really. Tubes and drips. The blanket falls to the side at one point and his thigh is thinner than my arm. He notices me noticing, calls me a fat cunt and offers me a mint Aero. T and his missus go to the shop for something or other and I sit with him for a while, just me and him. We don’t say much. He can’t and, as it turns out, neither can I. We watch Andy Murray finally win a tennis match on the telly. Like Murray, he’s in and out. I offer a sip of water, a mouthful of pureed pineapple. He refuses. He winks. ‘Time to go,’ he whispers.

Poetry dictates that he should die there and then, but of course he doesn’t. His wife and T come back and we spend another hour or so trying to be strong for each other, none of us sure who is doing whom the favour. T and I go home knowing nothing. No premonitions, no fatalistic pronouncements. Just a shitload of sadness that our friend is approaching the end of his life.

I’m in the area office in Airdrie the next day. Airdrie is a lovely place, with a Greggs and a Subway and everything. I’m there to support the other managers because they’re short staffed and in a bit of shit. Turns out there’s bugger all I can do to help because what they actually need is staff, not another manager.

At 3pm I get a text from the big chap’s wife. That’s him gone. Peaceful, quiet and gone. Left the building. Fuck.

I walk out of the office and go directly to the newsagent. The first cigarette is glorious. I get in my car and head for home, forgetting I’m still on the clock. The next nineteen cigarettes are meaningless. I smoke them anyway.

For a couple of months I was sent all over the place with work. I was making some inroads with a team in Livingston (fucking M8), then I was moved unexpectedly to Cumbernauld, and Kilmarnock, and Helensburgh. It was all good. Lots of work to be done. Important work. Worthwhile work. Challenging but rewarding work. The exact work I’d signed up for. The precise job I’d been so excited to get at the start of the year. My bosses were still brilliant. I was still working with lovely people. There was not a thing about my job about which I had any cause to complain.

And I was miserable.

Mornings? Fuck mornings. I couldn’t get up. I pretended I was still going to those bloody rehab classes so I could get a long lie twice a week. I made up meetings. I faked car breakdowns. I regressed to a schoolboy in my pathetic attempts to excuse my poor timekeeping. I think I did actually blame Jake a few times (not for eating my homework obviously - I said he’d vomited on my review notes).

Whatever drive I’d had before the heart attack had disappeared, and I didn’t know why. I wasn’t doing a good job, and the job I wasn’t doing wasn’t appealing to me anymore. No one was winning.

So anyway. Way back in Season 1 of this epistle I mentioned that having a heart attack led to some pretty big changes (see, there was an arc plot). The biggest of them was that I chucked my job.

I didn’t look for a new job. I didn’t decide to change careers. I didn’t take up training to be a deep-sea dolphin fondler. I just chucked my job. I let the words ‘fuck it’ get into my head and acted accordingly.
Life should be about now, not tomorrow. If the last year had taught me anything it was that I wasn’t guaranteed to be around for much longer, and spending my days knackered and stressed was no way to live. Money wasn’t everything, happiness was much more important. I could be happy with less, as long as my inner life had more.

I was, essentially, a fucking idiot.

Or at least that’s how it felt for a while there.

I had such grand plans. I was scheming like a schemey thing. I’ve had this business/community project idea in my head for ages – I would do that. I had a band – I would make money from that. I would teach guitar (shudder) and make cash from that. I would do sessional work to keep me going in the meantime. I would write again. It all sounded brilliant in my head.

Of course the reality turned out to be a bit trickier. It seems you still need to pay rent and bills. Who knew? Plus there was that car loan. And the dog to feed. And me to feed. And the fact that having to stay in every night, hungry and cold, and not being able to even go and have a pint with your mates is a bit rubbish.
And the worst, worst thing – having to admit you fucked up and rely on the kindness of others to see you through. Friends and family. Especially family. There is no version of the phrase ‘thank you’ that’s powerful enough.

But, things can change.

I’ve moved to a cheaper but still nice flat (nicer, actually). The sessional work is coming in at a decent rate. Things are starting to look up on the band front. I’ve got leaflets printed for the guitar teaching (shudder). The M8 is out of my life for the foreseeable future so I sold the car, giving me a small amount of capital to keep me going for a while. I only have to get up early a maximum of three days a week.
The business idea continues to percolate in the background and I still have brilliant friends and a family for whom I would cheerily pick a fight with Odin himself. I might even write something other than a self-serving blog one of these days.

If you fancy helping out, buy a book or book a lesson. Come and see the band. Or, you know, just give me money.

So yeah. Bit of a year.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Scratch is having a wee promo to itself over at Bookbub:

Scratch that itch here. It's cheap, cheerful and guaranteed germ free.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lone Star Highway

Ewwwww. It's a dreadful story. I read about the first 20 pages and wanted to take a shower. Don't bother......

This books is tagged under humor, humorous and laugh and cry. I'm sorry, but I don't find the humor in suicide or the aftermath a family goes through. This was definitely not what I expected the book to be. I got about 5% into it and quit. Just FYI, it's not a "humorous" book. Buyer beware.

im stunned by the reviews!
this was a contender for worst book ive ever read.
the writing style was mundane and tedious and the characters were painful to come across.
the only good thing i got from it was that i will not download books to my kindle just because they are free.
in fairness to the author it was in a similar vein to "one day" and that pile of nonsense sold millions.

This book is complete dross. It's written like a 14 year old boy's late English essay and feels like its received as much attention from the writer. It's no wonder people worry about the future of the written word when books like this are given the time of day. Garbage.

A friend of mine is about to have her first book published and, while excited, one of the things she’s most nervous about is the prospect of getting the inevitable ‘bad’ reviews. And they are inevitable.

Whenever we discuss it, she gets all trepidatious and I get all hahahahahaha. I love one-starrers, they’re brilliant. The four above are my definite favourites (although that last one was a two-star, in the interests of full disclosure).

I’ve been lucky enough to receive a fair few positive reviews to counterbalance these beauties, and I imagine that if I only received reviews like this it would make me have a serious think about this writing lark, just as it should.

If the majority of reviews say that you’re a pile of shite and should never be allowed near a keyboard without adult supervision and an active adjective filter then yes, you may have something to consider with regards to the wisdom of inflicting your hobby on the public, absolutely. That doesn’t mean you should give up your hobby, of course. Just maybe keep it to yourself for a while longer.   

However, even the most stunningly adequate offerings (which is the best most of us can hope for, let’s face it) are going to eventually find readers who would find it preferable if we’d had our fingers bitten off by a rabid priest in early childhood rather than remain digit-endowed until we learned to type. To them, we really are that bad.

And that’s the thing. They’re not lying; they’re not evil; they’re not on a one I-fucking-hate-you-personally-so-much-that-I-want-to-destroy-your-dreams person mission. They’re not even thick, or illiterate, or, you know, daft. They just didn't like it, that’s all.

That’s okay.

I hate all sorts of things that other people like or find value in. Football, religion, Simon Cowell, haggis, mornings, that smell Jake makes sometimes, doing dishes, mornings, seafood, Tories, people who pretend not to be Tories but really are, prevailing economic theory, mornings, reality anything, people who pretend not to be Nazis but really are, bus fares, conversation, advert breaks, jazz (shudder), working, changing guitar strings, mornings, small talk, not having a dishwasher, exercise, Hollyoaks, people with energy, people with enthusiasm, people generally, oven chips.

I’d give every one of those things a fucking terrible review if I was of a mind to. It just so happens that Amazon doesn’t have such a facility and I don’t have the desire to express my hatred all that much.

And lots of people would disagree. It’s one of life’s wonders. We can all disagree like fuck about stuff and still not kill each other with bombs and knives and readily available guns etc. If we so choose.

I’m choosing to make a stand, here and now. I promise I will not stab Simon Cowell in the eye with a bomb made of guns, just because he’s a cunt. I forgive him.

There. Sorted.

Be still. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Scratch has been listed as an awesome indie on Awesome Indies. Which is awesome.

Go here to witness the awesomeness

Saturday, June 9, 2012

BigAl's Books and Pals: Author Interview: Danny Gillan

BigAl's Books and Pals: Author Interview: Danny Gillan: " So many Scottish, and particularly Glaswegian, authors feel compelled to write gritty crime thrillers or gangland tales full of grit...