Scotland’s Hot-Spots and Pot-Holes: A Wee Tour

What self-respecting whistle-stop tour of Scotland could begin with anything other than a picture of the Bronx?

It pretty much goes without saying – except for the fact that I’m currently saying it – that we’re all different. People are different; places are different. People are different because of places, and places are different because of people. Some places are good, some places are bad; some are happy, some are sad; some are absolutely beautiful, some are Kilmarnock. Vive la difference! Taking a stroll through the posher portions of Corstorphine doesn’t feel quite the same as a wee jog through the Bronx, for the simple reason that there are far, far fewer cunts in the Bronx.

You needn’t travel half-way around the world to see such stark contrasts between places. Look in the next city over, or the next town, or the next street. Small steps can reveal seismic shifts in mood, architecture, diversity and affluence.

Case in point. Grangemouth and Bridge of Allan. Two towns nary twenty miles apart, but strikingly different, I’m sure we’ll all agree. I live in the former, and couldn’t afford a house in the latter even if Bridge of Allan were to be razed to cinders by a 700-megaton nuclear strike.

Yes, Mr Andrew, I can see that this property’s caught your eye. At offers over £500,000, this cosy impact crater filled with thousands of irradiated skulls is something of a steal. A lot of people would give their eye-teeth to live here and, believe me, thanks to the fallout, a lot of people now literally have them.”

Grangemouth at night: Bladerunner meets Dante’s Inferno, via The Wire

Grangemouth is famous for sky-cancer, violence, drugs, drinking, destitution, pollution, prostitution, deprivation, and Kay Adams. Bridge of Allan is famous for being twinned with ‘Raised Walkway of Colin’, New Hampshire, USA.

Grangemouth’s town centre comprises mainly fast-food outlets and betting shops. Bridge of Allan’s high street boasts a rich blend of bespoke brands, shops and outlets, that only a cousin of the queen could afford to shop in. Both of the towns have charity shops. There’s a slight difference in number. Bridge of Allan has one; Grangemouth has 19,658. Each and every one of Grangemouth’s charity shops smells like the soup-splattered bloomers of an incontinent octogenarian grandmother (‘Today’s special is broccoli soup with a soupcon of piss”); they sell things like nicotine-stained doillies; microwave instruction manuals from 1983 (that have all been vandalised with crayon-drawn pictures of penises); and MC Hammer albums on cassette (that somebody’s taped over with the game ‘Horace Goes Skiing’ for the ZX Spectrum).

Bridge of Allan’s charity shop, on the other hand, is actually a boutique, darling. It’s called ‘Mrs Periwinkle’s Benevolence-themed Haberdashery for Those of High Breeding’, and it sells pre-loved harps and tiaras made from unicorn teeth.

There’s the bridge. Allan’s just behind that tree. No, not that tree, the one next to it.

Just in case you’re not getting the picture here, I’d like to draw your attention to Bridge of Allan’s chip shop, which has a sign in the window declaring it ‘Gluten Free’. Not even kicks to the head are gluten-free in Grangemouth. Last time I was in Bridge of Allan, I found  only one example of street-littering. The litter? A handful of mussel shells. Bridge of Allan couldn’t be any more genteel and middle-class if somebody knitted it a giant Pringle sweater, and drove it away in a fucking Volvo. Even the graffiti on the bus shelter is in Latin (I believe the bus shelter’s just been purchased for £500k by a Saudi sheik).

Still, one man’s palace is another man’s hovel. People from Dollar and Dunblane think of Bridge of Allan’s residents as ‘schemies’.

“Well, McKenzie, I heard that in Bridge of Allan they drive their children to cello recital… (whispers) in BMWs.”

“Oh, Florence, those fucking savages.”

Linlithgow: a traffic jam with some bunting.

Just along the road from Grangemouth is the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow. It’s a town that’s steeped in history, prestige and affluence, sure, but it’s also a town that is, paradoxically, something of a shite-hole. Linlithgow’s worst feature is the architectural atrocity known as The Vennel, a retail and housing development that I guess developers and council officials fifty-plus years ago thought would give a modern, even futuristic, sheen to the town, but which now, in the cold light of day, makes it look like the 1960s have thrown up over the 1750s. The single road that cuts through the middle of Linlithgow’s high-end high-street is permanently clogged with traffic, which makes a trip through the town feel like being stuck behind the funeral procession of the person you hated most in the world whilst running late for the first day in your new job as a ‘Punctuality Co-ordinator’ for Linlithgow Council.

The name Linlithgow means ‘place in the lake by the damp hollow.’ Historians believe that the ‘damp hollow’ being referred to here is Bo’ness, a town that was built to serve as Mary Queen of Scots’ toilet. Bo’ness is in the process of being regenerated, but, regrettably, it’s being regenerated into Colin Baker. To be fair to Bo’ness, despite the fact that its town centre has all the vibrancy and razzmatazz of 1930s Albania, and its annual children’s festival is an alcoholic apocalypse, Bo’ness is actually a perfectly fine place to find oneself (as long as you don’t use words like ‘oneself’ in the open, or they’ll kill you). It will probably never find its name included in Scotland’s unofficial roster of shame, alongside less-than-salubrious towns such as Methil, New Cumnock, Cumbernauld, parts of Paisley and, of course,…  

Cowdenbeath’s hottest tourist attraction

Cowdenbeath? Cowdenbeath? What sort of a name is Cowdenbeath? It sounds like the act of explaining a slaughterhouse to a stupid person.

“Cow… den wheelbarrow?”

“Nope.”

“Cow den horse?”

“Try again.”

“Cow den beef?”

“You got it, smarty-pants!”

On the evidence of my one short trip there, filtered through the focal point of its local Co-op supermarket, Cowdenbeath IS a slaughterhouse; a slaughterhouse of the soul. It’s Slaughterhouse 1, 2, 3, 4 AND 5. Take the ‘laughter’ out of the ‘slaughterhouse’, and what are you left with? S-house. And that’s short for shit-house. Cow-incidence? I think not. Walking through the Cowdenbeath Co-op was like walking through the final level of a zombie FPS. Driving down its high street led me to believe that someone, somewhere is making an awful lot of money from the sale of plywood window-boards.

Still. There are worse places…

Imagine if Irvine Welsh made a film set amongst the Orcs of Tolkein’s Middle Earth, starring Jeremy Kyle as himself. You’ve just imagined Alloa. The tagline of Clackmannanshire, the town’s parent district, is ‘More Than You Imagine’; Alloa’s tagline is ‘It Really Is Just As Shit As It Looks, I’m Afraid.’ In fact, it’s even shitter than it looks. The bleakness and hopelessness of the place is somehow bigger on the inside, and the deeper you plod towards its centre, the more pronounced the effects become, like some haunted TARDIS controlled by the ghosts of Nazis. God seems to have taken great care when creating most of the places on earth; when he made Alloa he just poured a bucket of tattoos and limps over Central Scotland. I’ve never been so depressed and afraid walking through a town, and I’m from Grangemouth, remember? The last – and only time – I visited I took my son to a Manhattan-themed cafe for lunch. The Manhattan theme was an ill-fit, like lingerie on a corpse. If it resembled Manhattan at all, it was a Manhattan that King Kong had thumped and shat over. 

That’s not Alloa’s only incongruous (or Kingkonggruous, if you like) association. I find it cruel indeed that Alloa’s name is only one altered emphasis away from being a Hawaiian greeting, when Alloa is to Hawaii what Donald Trump’s ballsack is to … well, Hawaii. The impression conjured by that assocation with the South Pacific makes Alloa seem even worse by comparison. If you do receive a garland around your neck to mark your arrival in Alloa it’s more likely to be made of a burning tyre than lei. Please feel free to make your own joke about the wisdom of looking for a lei in Alloa.  

Throughout the course of this piece of writing I’ve catalogued a smattering of towns and highlighted some of the differences between them; all filtered, of course, through my own biases and prejudices, and written very much with tongue planted firmly in cheek (except for the bits about each of the towns I’ve mentioned – I meant every word). But do you know who else holds ideas about the differences that exist between places? Who not only knows about these differences, but can quantify them to the billionth decimal place, and will almost certainly use this data to take over the entire universe?

Asda.

That’s right. Asda. If you’re ever on the road and find yourself pin-balling between motorway service stations and retail parks, visit a broad sample of Asdas and have a good look at the things they sell. There are standards and staples, sure, products you’ll find in every Asda up and down the country, but sometimes the goods on the shelves – or the absence of particular goods – can speak volumes about the town in which you find yourself. Sometimes the look and feel of an Asda – the features it has – lets you know just what the retail giant’s evil overlords think of your town, or the town you’re in.    

The picture above is of Asda in Robroyston, and shows the police clearing up after the daily 11:30 murder. This Asda is bigger and boasts more mod-cons than its Grangemouth cousin, but inside it’s a green-and-grey carnival of lumpy people, whose faces have been morphed into masks of despair by the onslaught of life. This Asda makes the one in Grangemouth seem like a Monte Carlo Mardi Gras. Asda Robroyston does special deals on packs of razor blades, spades, body bags, and allows you to buy as much fucking paracetemol as you like.

Never mind the Office of National Statistics. There’s no better way to take the socio-economic pulse of the local area than a stroll through your local Asda. What’s that you’ve picked up there? Ah, a cumin and broccoli risotto sprinkled with shredded hundred-pound notes. I don’t know exactly where you are, but it’s probably not Fauldhouse, right? Have a look around the George department, why don’t you, try on some of the clothes. Are you wearing a £1.99 T-shirt with a picture of Tweety Pie on it, and cow-print leggings? Goooooooooood morning, Cambuslang!    

A trip round Asda in Bearsden will make you feel like a pauper, even if you’re a chartered accountant from Queensferry called Gerald. The place is big, and fresh, and clean. The cafe has mood lighting, for Christ’s sake. It looks like a trendy Scandinavian vodka bar. The check-out staff are all part-time astrophysicists. The people who shop there are unfailingly beautiful, and those who aren’t are at least immaculately turned out. No small wonder, since the clothes on sale in the George department wouldn’t look out of place in downtown Milan.

See below for a picture of Asda Bearsden.

Asda Bearsden

These big supermarkets hold data that could swing elections, and help governments address such over-arching global and societal problems as inequality, poverty and hunger. That they use their power to sell me £3 jeans and Pepperamis is almost unconscionable. Anyway, I can’t hang around here all day.

I’m off to Asda in Ayr to get myself a chocolate-flavoured brick of lard sandwich and a sub-machine gun.

Trench

This is a short story I wrote a few years ago THAT NO FUCKER WILL PUBLISH EVEN THOUGH MY CREATIVE WRITING TUTOR GAVE ME 98 MOTHER FUCKING PER CENT!! WHAT, DOES SHE KNOW NOTHING, IS SHE A FUCKING IDIOT OR SOMETHING? But I’m not bitter about that in the slightest. I’ll just publish it here, so it can be read by those who matter. All five of you. This story hopefully proves there’s a heart behind all of the quadruple amputee jokes I do.

All locations in the story are a blend of different places, but anyone from Falkirk reading this may be interested to know (but probably won’t be) that the park at the beginning of the story is based on the top park in Wallacestone (apart from the water), and the industrial town in which most of the action takes place is modeled on none other than my dearly beloved Grangemouth.

Trench is a The Road-esque tale of a grandfather trying to do right by his grandson in a time of great horror. Excuse the shite formatting; this site’s not conducive to the smooth and proper publication of fiction.

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Trench

by Jamie Andrew

The old man gave the boy a gentle shove; the swing’s chains creaked.

‘Higher, grandpa,’ said the boy. ‘Higher.’

      His muscles stiffened with the effort, issuing a few creaks of their own. He moved just in time to avoid the back-swing and a pair of boots in his chest.

‘I can nearly see past the town!’

‘Not so loud,’ said the old man, drawing out and lighting a cigarette.

      The boy propelled himself ever higher into the blank and cloudless sky; normally it would have been alive with jets cutting white scars across its marine canvas.

‘I’m going… to jump…’ said the boy, wrestling himself higher still, ‘…and jump… over…’

‘Take it easy, now,’ said the old man.

‘…the whole… town…’

      He landed on the grass, his supple little legs soaking up the impact as if he’d done nothing more than step off a kerb. Fearless. Or oblivious. It amounted to the same thing.

      The boy tumbled and somersaulted over the grass; and ran like a greyhound around the rusting relic of a roundabout in the centre of the park.

      ‘Come to my side,’ said the old man firmly, moving hurriedly past the gently rocking swing to reach him. He too felt like a relic: his body ached. He’d outgrown the world, or it him. There was nothing more he now wished except to see his grandson safe.

‘We’ll need to get going, son.’

      It was crazy to have taken him there by himself, especially given what he was carrying. He guessed the play-park visit was as dangerous as it was selfish. But if this was to be the last day their last day together then he wanted something with which to remember the boy, and a memory for the boy to hold on to that didn’t weigh heavy with sorrow or infection.

      His wife would have given him hell for this, but owing to the trifle of hard and soft contrasts stacked inside her large heart loved him more because of it. The old man allowed himself a smile.

      Twigs snapped. He hadn’t seen them coming. Two men stood on the opposite bank of the stream that fringed the park, a hundred yards away or less. The town had been in quarantine for only days (was it ten? twelve?), but the men’s grimy, ragged clothes looked like they’d been worn through an apocalypse. Dark and dirt sat on their faces, and seemed reflected in their glazed eyes. Many unsavoury things, especially natures, had been brought to the surface since the sealing of the town and the removal of law enforcement; like rats after a flood.

      ‘By my side,’ the old man barked. The boy did as he was told, slowly and without panic. The old man softly placed his leathery hand atop the boy’s head, then trod out his cigarette on the grass.

      The old man stood a silent statue. The men stared; wolves that smiled.

      ‘Are you sick, old man?’ hissed one of them, the taller and more toothless of the two.

      ‘Want us to take care of the boy?’ croaked the other, the fatter one, his voice blending into a rackety cough, which in turn became a rasping laugh.

      They wore their illnesses like tattoos. Bruise-like legions and weeping sores peppered their faces.

‘Well?’

      The old man replied by way of opening his jacket and drawing out his Webley Mk IV revolver; a souvenir from his war years trading bullets in the deserts and trenches.

      ‘This gun’s killed worthier and less deserving than you,’ said the old man, steadily raising his gun level with the taller one’s chest. His mouth felt dry, and his words scratched like flesh against gravel as they worked up his throat. The water rationing had done it. And the cigarettes, his long-departed wife would’ve reminded him. ‘Don’t make me prove that this old thing still works.’

He felt the boy push against his right leg, thread an arm above and around his calf.

      ‘Your old thing stopped working years ago,’ rasped the fat man, which caused the tall one to cackle like he’d a lungful of wasps. ‘We’ll teach the boy what he’s missing out on.’

      The gun-shot made the boy jump. It made the men jump too: blasted the smiles from their faces. But they didn’t leave. The old man felt the boy’s hands clamp tightly around his leg.

‘The next two bullets will cure you of your sickness, gentlemen, I can guarantee you that.’

      His hand trembled, but only because adrenalin had become more and more a stranger to his bloodstream since the beginning of his bus-pass days.

      The men stared. The old man stared back at them. Whether it was the gun itself or the look in its owner’s eyes that repelled them, within seconds they were gone; vanished back into the dense fronds and bushes from which they’d slithered.

The old man led his grandson through the streets. Most of the windows in the blocks flanking them were smashed, and people’s possessions lay strewn on the grass and pavements like carcasses. Wardrobes, clothes, chairs, televisions. All smashed and broken. Derelict and spilling out. The old man caught the scent of smoke from a nearby fire.

      He watched the boy surveying the destruction, a look of fascination relaxing his delicate features. The old man’s chest tightened. His hip felt like it had been sculpted from granite. He squeezed the nape of the boy’s neck then reached up to ruffle his shaggy mop of hair.

‘Will we get sick, grandpa?’ the boy asked, looking up at him.

‘We’ll be fine, son.’

      For some reason the disease, whatever it was, had spared the very old and the very young: two groups of people contagion usually fell and fed upon with unrelenting ferocity.

      There was a medical unit in the town square where people were taken once they became sick, or died. Its reek made the town smell like a hospital that had caught fire. The healthy and symptomless could submit themselves to the unit’s care voluntarily, but rumours persisted that those who entered it never returned. Nor did they seem to win their freedom beyond the makeshift razor-wire fences and military sentry posts that bordered the town.

      He’d heard the stories. People had tried to escape. Others had simply tried to climb or walk out, refusing to believe that in our golden age of human rights a civilised government had the authority to pen them against their will. All had been shot. It was said that a middle-aged man had scrabbled a few feet up one of the fences before a far-off sniper’s bullet had pounded through the fabric of his suit, leaving a raw, bloody wound through his chest. The next day his body was gone.

      They always came like phantoms in the night – in full bio-suits, he’d heard – to retrieve the terminally sick and the dead. It mattered little whether or not the tales were true. They stopped people trying to escape.

‘Grandpa, look,’ said the boy, squeezing his hand.

      The old man turned to see three young lads shuffle out from the entrance to a block of flats. They stood and stared from the opposite side of the street, each of them wearing police hats too big for their heads. One of them clutched a kitchen knife, which drooped menacingly from his grip like a pendulous limb.

‘What do they want?’ asked the boy, staring back at them.

      It still unnerved the old man how quickly the veneer of society could crack and peel. He recalled the words uttered long ago by a commanding officer: ‘The road to Hell isn’t just paved with good intentions, sergeant: its slabs are cemented by the blood of Samaritans.’

      ‘Keep walking, son,’ said the old man, focusing on the sensation of the pistol that rested against his heart.

      They weren’t far from the fence. As they passed by the local pub, its elderly landlord – an acquaintance of the old man – was standing on the pavement outside. The landlord leaned on the butt of a shotgun that was doubling as his walking stick; he called them over.

      Even though the old man knew he was a few years younger than the landlord, he felt twenty years’ younger by comparison. A life of free booze and second-hand smoke had produced a face barely one step ahead of the mortician’s easel. His barman’s apron was spotted with dark-red and brown stains, which made him look more like an over-enthusiastic butcher than a bar tender.

‘Look over to the east,’ said the landlord.

      The old man looked out towards the town square. He couldn’t see the square itself, but behind the rows of streets and factories he watched the first of the military helicopters rise to the sky. The boy looked up at him. He smiled back as best he could.

‘Where are they going?’ asked the boy.

      The sky thundered with an orchestra of blades and engines, its music reassuring the old man that this course of action was the right one. Once the helicopters had climbed high enough above the buildings, they dipped their noses and swarmed off towards the horizon like giant insects.

‘Can I pour you a pint?’

‘Maybe later,’ said the old man.

The landlord’s eyes were fixed on the empty sky. ‘Last orders.’

*****

The soldier waited for them by the hole in the chain-link fence. He wore a balaclava, only his glazed, blood-tinged eyes visible. The last time the old man had seen him the soldier had been proud and erect. Now he hunched and twitched like a vagabond, his uniform ripped and smeared with dirt.

‘Keep the boy well back from me,’ rasped the soldier. ‘Do you have it?’

      The old man reached into another of his pockets and withdrew two thick rolls of bank notes.

      Throughout the long, happy years with his wife he’d maintained the illusion of every Wednesday strolling to the square with their bank book, even though their savings had been locked in a chest in the attic. She wouldn’t have approved. Until today.

      The old man held out the rolls for the boy, who received them with a look of puzzlement.

      ‘You give one of these to your mum, and the other to the nice lady who’s waiting at the other side of that field.’

      The old man nodded towards the hole and its jagged fringes. In the field beyond, tall blades of grass swayed in the breeze like waves on an ocean. The ground dipped downwards after about five hundred yards, above which green mop-heads of trees were visible. No sign of the military, or the road, or the soldier’s wife that would drive him to safety. The boy would be running across no-man’s-land.

‘Aren’t you coming, grandpa?’

      The old man bent down to place his palm on the boy’s cheek, and looked at him; really looked at him. In those shimmering blue eyes he could see his wife, his daughter. In the heat of the boy’s skin he could feel the future.

      ‘I’m coming later, son,’ he whispered, ‘I’m too old to be running through fields.’

      ‘Keep low in the grass and don’t stop running until you reach my wife’s car. It’s red.’

      The soldier wrenched an envelope from his jacket and threw it down at the mouth of the hole.

‘Give her this letter,’ he said, his head hanging earthward like a scarecrow’s.

      The old man looked down at the boy. He’d thought about writing a letter to his daughter, but affairs of the heart had always been his wife’s department. Besides, those clear blue eyes looking up at her would be the only message she’d need. He bent down to clasp the boy’s tiny hands in one of his, and kissed him on the head.

‘Your gran and I love you very much.’

*****

The automated message boomed from the loudspeakers the old man knew were bolted like chain-guns to the town’s many sentry pillars.

‘Citizens. Proceed to your homes. Remain indoors.’

      He stood on the small balcony of his top-floor flat and looked past the town. He lit his last cigarette. A few minutes later the first group of bombers appeared over the horizon. From that distance they looked like a flock of birds, swift and silent. When they whistled, he closed his eyes; his grandson on his lap, his wife by his side.

      Maybe the bombers would follow the boy; but today, the old sergeant’s blood had cemented something no disease could curdle, nor government extinguish.

The Rain in June Falls Mostly on the Toon: Grangemouth Gala Day 2012

We just don’t do carnivals, fairs or fetes with as much aplomb or on the same grand scale as the Americans. Maybe it would help if we smiled occasionally, but we’re genetically incapable of such a facial contortion. We Scots would only smile if God proved his existence once and for all by a) reaching a thumb from Dover to Berwick and squashing the English like woodlice, and then b) rounding off the miracle by replacing the North Sea with heroin.

Or, at a pinch, we’d smile if there was a special episode of ‘You’ve Been Framed’ in which each and every video featured David Cameron being stabbed in the balls by a different angry dwarf in a kilt.

Yes, the Americans like a good smile. If the Grangemouth Gala Day was held in California, USA, (which would be rather unlikely, I’m forced to admit) it would be a non-stop, 24-hour, noisy orgasm of vim, streamers, colour, mariachi bands and pomp, featuring half-naked back-flipping pom-pom girls – with smiles so blinding they could down aircraft – jiggling their breasts with the enthusiasm of a force 4 earthquake. There would be a 50ft-tall animatronic Mickey Mouse shooting fireworks out of its bell-end into the hungry, gaping mouth of a robot Pluto, as sixteen million children wept with joy. And somewhere, somehow, there would be guys in red bell-boy jackets playing trumpets on the backs of motorbikes – upside down and through their arses.

This year, in Grangemouth, Scotland, the Grangemouth Gala Day looked like… well, it looked like exactly what it was: a procession of miserable cunts in anoraks shuffling through the rain in search of the most suitable cliff for an act of mass suicide. It looked like there’d been a delivery of crepe paper and face-paints to a funeral march. If you haven’t visited Grangemouth before and find yourself wondering what it looks like, have a gander at the drug-riddled communities in HBO’s ‘The Wire’, but imagine that everybody’s white.

So What is the Gala Day?

Well, it’s technically a Children’s Day, which makes me a bit of a cock for slating it. It’s not really meant to be enjoyed by the likes of me, childless interloper that I am. What’ll I be doing next? Telling you how shit I found the latest episode of Sesame Street because it wasn’t nearly as good as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?

The galas themselves started off as annual celebrations for miners and mining communities, but the focus of the celebrations was shifted for the following wonderful reason:

In the late Nineteenth century, some Miners’ Gala Days were given over to children in order to reduce drunkenness.

Resources for Learning in Scotland website

And we all know how successful a strategy that turned out to be. Here’s the zinger:

Gun Terror of Oilman 

A teenage thug pointed a gun at the head of a man who told him off for breaking bottles in a kids’ play area.

Gary Martin told 45-year-old oil rig worker Jim Kelly: ‘You’re dead.’

But Mr Kelly grappled Martin to the ground and got the air pistol off him, Falkirk Sheriff Court heard yesterday.

The terror attack happened on Grangemouth Gala Day in June.

Lawyer Andy Bryson said Martin was ‘exceedingly drunk’ at the gala day.
www.thefreelibrary.com

Ah, yes. The only flaw in that plan was that by 2012 all of the children would be alcoholics, too. Alcohol does indeed still play a huge part in the Grangemouth Gala Day. Like they say of the 1960s: if you can remember what happened, then you weren’t actually there. Grangemouth has other things in common with the 1960s, in that it’s full of incredibly racist people with shite haircuts taking drugs and having unfussy sex with strangers.

(actually, a joke I used to tell on-stage about Grangemouth is that it’s a lot like Amsterdam: in that it’s completely flat, and filled with drugs and whores.)

So What Happens ‘an That?

No smart alec remarks: this arch is pretty fucking cool. And The Muppets was the only TV show that made me shut up as a child.

What happens is this: each year a ‘royal family’ is assembled from one of the local primary schools, a different school having the honour of doing this each year until it’s back to the start of the cycle again. Kids at the year’s chosen school are then asked if they’d like to volunteer themselves to be one of the gala’s persons of special significance. Those who do are then whittled down by their schoolmates by means of a popularity contest, until each of the main roles are filled: Queen, Ladies in Waiting, Paiges, a Flower Queen etc.

The girl elected Queen (Republicans take note) then has the arduous task of selecting just one of her classmates to be sealed inside a BMW and slammed into a wall by a drunk driver. OK, I made that bit up.

There’s no King of the Gala Day, but one lucky boy does get to be the Prince, whose role it is to follow the Queen around muttering increasingly unhelpful racist remarks. OK, I made that bit up, too. But they should introduce that role. It’d be so easy to find viable candidates amongst the people of Grangemouth.

Dustbin Beaver is actually slang for a Grangemouth girl.

The parents of ‘the royals’ then have to spend £80 million trillion pounds building an arch display over their homes. If they’re poor, they simply steal the necessary materials, or just selotape bits of A4 paper that read: ‘ALL HAYL THE QUEAN’ to their windows. Some of the displays are incredible. You know, fairy-tale castles, enchanted forests, 1940s cinemas. And some of them are shit.

On the day itself – where it’s usually raining despite the event taking place towards the end of June – trucks filled with children (that makes it sound like a pogrom: no concentration camps are involved), and floats prepared by other schools and local businesses, and pipe bands, and brass bands, and veterans, and such like, all form a long procession through the streets, before arriving in the central park for the crowning ceremony. And, as we’ve already established, lots of people get drunk.

Oh, and there are lots of flags everywhere. Or bunting, as they call it. Which sounds to me a little too much like a sex act. And a jolly good one at that.

In closing, as I’ve already stated, it’s actually a grand day out for the folks of Grangemouth, especially for those with relatives taking part in the procession. And some of the arches have been super-awesome in this and previous years, as you’ll see from the pictures below. (OK, part of this, like with the Skinflats article, is life-insurance, but I mean it, too, honest!) Actually, my niece was in the procession this year, and she was awesome, so get that roond ye.

GALLERY

Graceland in Grangemouth, circa 2008.

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And, of course, this happens at the Grangemouth Gala Day shows every year, and must be shared with the world:

BEHOLD… COBO! Urban dance legend of Grangemouth! Enjoy the video…

watch?v=x_pcZctvizQ

Blakey the Jakey: A Modern Scottish Fairytale – Pt 4

The story so far: Blakey is having a bad day. He’s been kicked out of his mum’s house, lost all of his money, and missed out on a chance to exploit a genie. Things are looking bleak for Blake for him. Still, at least he’s not part of the Seven Little Wasters’ crew. What a bunch of bawbags they are. Blakey’s last resort is to fall upon the mercy of his grandmother, and that’s where he’s heading now… with a mounting sense of trepidation. You’ll understand why in a minute or so. She’s a ‘character’, and we know what it means when we describe someone in those terms: that they’re fucking mental.

Catch up with Part 1: http://www.jamieandrew-withhands.com/2012/06/10/btjp1/

Catch up with Part 2: http://www.jamieandrew-withhands.com/2012/06/14/btjp2/

Catch up with Part 3: http://www.jamieandrew-withhands.com/2012/06/22/btjp3/

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Grandma’s council house was the only property in the street that was still decked out with Christmas fairy-lights – in March. They stayed flashing and pulsing three hundred and sixty five days a year. It was always Christmas time at grandma’s.

Wooden animals, painted bright and bold, were planted like trees in the over-grown grass. A pink flamingo, leg cocked, sat in the centre of the lawn, surrounded by cheeky monkeys, laughing lions and timid tigers. Little bonzai trees, at the foot of the hedge, lined the inside perimeter of the grass. Red balloons, at least fifteen of them, bounced and floated everywhere. On the front door, a varnished, oval plaque proclaimed, ‘Number 89. Gingerbread House. Catch Me If You Can – You Scum.’

Blake shook his head at the tacky display and gave a furtive glance around as he approached the door. Blake never liked admitting the blood connection between him and Grandma. She could be a tough old bitch but…

‘This yin’s aboot ready fur the nuthoose,’ he scowled, kicking a balloon out of his way.

Blake rapped loudly and quickly on the door, jamming the buzzer with his free hand at the same time. A jet of pressure cascaded down from his shoulders to his toes. He had to get in and out of public view, or he felt like he’d explode.

‘Come oan, come oan!’

Beep! Beep!

Blake heard the sounds of hip-hop hammering the air. He turned around to see a gleaming red hatchback sports car parked on the road outside of his grandma’s gate. The seven little wasters were piled in the front and back, bottles of Buckfast clasped in each of their hands. A large man with a blue turban sat in the driver’s seat – with a very unhappy look on his face.

‘Ho, Blakey boy! Is zat yer girlfriend’s hoose?’

Laughter.

‘Ho, ho! Wait till we tell orra boys in oor street! They’ll pish themsel’s!’

‘Ah didnae ken there wiz a Disney World in this toon!’

Shrill whoops of laughter.

‘Whose yer girlfriend: Minnie Moose?’

Whoop, whoop!

‘Well, cannae hang aroond. We’re aff tae London, go tae Stringfellas an that.’

‘Aye, an Soho! Get wee Harry’s end away!’

‘Ma end’s away, ye cheeky bastard.’

‘Settle, Harry, wankin’ disnae coont, pal!’

‘KILL ME, PLEASE. MAKE IT QUICK.’

Ho, ho. Whoop! Whoop! It was becoming like an episode of Rikki Lake written by Irvine Welsh.

‘Aye, we’ve goat a million poonds, ya dancer!’

A bottle of Buckfast came spinning from the back seat of the car towards Blake.

‘Catch.’

Blake did, firmly between his two hands.

‘Least we can dae.’

‘Noo ye can get pished up and sook yer granny’s baws!’

The car screeched away. Blakey fired off a few salvos of expletives, but the seven little fuckers were too far away to be hit by them.

The door to Grandma’s house opened and Blake shoved his way in before daylight had a chance to cast its revelatory spotlight upon Grandma. The door slammed shut behind him. Before him, fat arms extended and proportionately fat lips pouted.

‘Come gee yer Grannie a big kiss, Blakey.’

‘Eh…nut. Ah dinnae think so.’

She snatched the Buckfast from his hands and kissed it instead.

‘Hey, whit are ye…,’ Blake began to protest.

‘Dinnae start shit, Blakey, or ye’ll be through that wa’.’

Blake let out a sigh of defeat, shrugged his shoulders, and then laid his rucksack by the door. Blake’s grandma placed the Buckfast on the kitchen counter and then returned to the hall.

‘Dinnae mention it, gran.’

Blake’s gran wore a criminally short skirt, orange nylon tights, stilt-like high heel shoes, a floral patterned boob tube, and her face contained enough make-up to allow a clown to feel natural. This might have been acceptable attire if, for one, they had both lived in an alternative universe (or San Francisco); for second, if grandma had been younger; for third, if she didn’t have tattoos encrusting half of her body, a large scar cascading down her cheek, and biceps to make a post-spinach Popeye sweat; and, most importantly, fourthly: if grandma had been a woman. A fat cigar was jammed into the left side of grandma’s mouth, dripping hot ash onto the carpet and sending plumes of acrid smoke up Blake’s nostrils.

‘Get ben that kitchen and get the tea on or I’ll gee ye a fisting ye’ll never forget.’

Grandma burst through into her living room leaving Blake, ashen white, to deal with the tea.

The kitchen door was slightly ajar and Blake could hear voices drifting through as he filled the kettle with water.

‘My, grandma, what big hands you have.’

‘Aye, a’ the better tae grab ye with!’

‘My, grandma, what a big mouth you have.’

‘Aye, a’ the better tae plluggg mummble gobbo shlurp en floosre…’

‘Ho, grandma, mind thay big teeth on ma jed, will ye?’

‘Mmmmm mmmm mmmm mmmmm.’

‘My, grandma, what’s this huge thing? What an absolutely massive big, fat, hard co…’

The screeching whistle of the boiling kettle never did announce itself at a more appropriate moment. Blake kicked the kitchen door firmly shut and tried to stymie his third panic attack of the week.

Grandma eventually entered the kitchen, adjusting her bra and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Blake could hear the front door as it slammed shut. A set of lipstick-stained teeth grinned at Blake.

‘Just seeing yer grandpa off,’ stated Grandma in her deep, husky voice. Grandma whipped a tenner out of her bra and shoved it into Blake’s hand. ‘Take that, son, yer grandpa owed me that fir a job ah did fir him last week.’

Blake gagged back a faint dribble of vomit.

Blake’s grandpa was also a man. His grandpa visited his grandma six to seven times a day, six days a week and managed to be a completely different man each time.

‘So whit can ah dae fir ye, Blakey, son? Ye only ever visit yer poor grandma when yer hiding fae ma sister or efter something. So which yin is it?’

‘Baith, grandma. Baith.’

‘Ah’ll bet it’s money.’

‘Aye, grandma. Jist a loan, ken?’

‘It’s no for drugs is it, Blakey?’ she asked, issuing a cold stare.

‘Naw, gran, naw.’

‘Right,’ she nodded, satisfied, ’cause there’s nae need fir that. You shid huv the gid sense to deal so ye can get them for free, ken?’

‘Aye, gran.’

‘Gid boy. Noo, get they teas, ye wee cunt, an let’s go ben the living room.’

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CONCLUDES NEXT WEEK.

Skinflats and the Magic Torch

The bonnie village of Skinflats.

Skinflats is actually quite a nice wee village, and I’m not just saying that incase some of its residents read this article. Well, OK, there’s a little of that. Have you seen some of the people who live there? Big leg-o’-lamb arms, match-strike chins and shotgun licences. (hack punchline alert) And that’s just the women! Do you know what Salmand Rushdie’s agent said to him when he was writing ‘The Satanic Verses’?

‘Say what you like about Mohammed, mate, but for fuck’s sake don’t slag off Skinflats.’

‘You aint from around here, are ya, boy?’

The village is surrounded by acres of fields (or, to give them their local name: the burial grounds). Those fields are to the people of Skinflats what the empty desert is to the mobsters of Las Vegas. Many a fingerless hand and a brutally disembodied boaby sleeps with the bushes up them thar fields. So, if it’s all the same with you, I’ll just say nice things. I want to be Robert de Niro in this movie; let some other daft cunt be Joe Pesci.

What I will say is this: I had the pleasure of working in Skinflat’s local shop many, many years ago, and found the village to be a lot like Brookside Close. But with slightly more laughs. And a lot more hidden corpses.

Skinflats, though, eh? What a name. It sounds like the sort of place lost hillwalkers stumble across in the dead of night, tragically unaware that its inhabitants are all horrifically disfigured mutant cannibal serial killers who live in tents made from human flesh. The sort of place whose name you’d never expect to utter without the accompaniment of terrifying, Castle-Dracula-style thunder claps. The sort of place that would make an estate agent say: ‘Well, congratulations on your land purchase. I hope Skinflats proves to be a lucrative location for your new motel, Mr Bates.’

David Beckham was so distressed when Seb Cole told him he had to go to Skinflats, that he started to morph into Bruce Forsyth.

So what was I doing there? Taking a walk down memory lane? Admiring the scenery? Scoring drugs? No, it was Olympic Torch day. The flame had been to Stirling and Falkirk that morning, and was about to be carried through Skinflats on its way to Fife and Edinburgh. The people of Skinflats were overjoyed to be having their ten minutes of fame.

‘This’ll put Skinflats on the map,’ I heard someone say. No. No it won’t. An air strike would put Skinflats on the map. Tomorrow, they won’t even be talking about this in Bo’ness, much less London. Even in fifty years time when some plucky lad who got the day off school to see the flame pass through the village tries to remember the splendour of the day, he won’t be able to differentiate this real memory from the sixteen-thousand acid flashbacks also housed in his brain. ‘I’m sure it was a zombie Colonel Gaddafi running down the street with that flame. Just as the air strike hit.’

Anyway, maybe he can just re-read this blog and it’ll all come flooding back to him. The day was nice and bright and sunny, and the whole village was bustling with people waving flags, cracking jokes, and smiling and laughing, and generally having an awesome time. I dunno; maybe they were just drunk.

Normally if you saw a guy carrying a flaming torch through Skinflats, you’d expect the rest of the villagers to be right behind him with pitchforks shouting, ‘Burn the monster!’ Or, at the very least: ‘The Sun says there’s a paedo living somewhere within a fifty-mile radius. Let’s burn the fucker who moved into number 27 last week, just incase! Anyway, he said ‘hello’ to my daughter this morning, and that’s how it starts!’

But this day was different. Even the convoy of police bikes was greeted with warm, uproarious cheers. This struck me as odd. Like George Bush being carried through Baghdad by way of a jovial mass crowd-surf. Usually the arrival of police vehicles in Skinflats causes a mass exodus, or at the very least turns the village into a fortress: with every snib on every door clicking shut, and those behind the doors jamming them up with tables and wardrobes, and blacking out the windows, like they’re preparing to survive to the end of a zombie film.

The bike cops clearly thought they were the star attraction, as they gunned it down the street giving a series of wacky waves and salutes. One cop even gave a rolling five slap down a line of children’s hands. You might be cheering now, kids, but that’s the cunt who’ll be arresting you for cocaine possession in eight to ten years – which, coincidentally, will also be your sentence.

The best thing about the torch coming through Skinflats was the traffic chaos that preceded its arrival. A long jam of angry, self-conscious people all trapped in their cars, whilst a whole village peered at them. They must have felt like they’d gone for a day out at the safari park, and broken down in the lion enclosure. I tried to stare at as many of them as possible.

The Cunta-Cola truck.

It wasn’t long before a procession of yellow Olympic vehicles came trundling through the village. Lots of cars that looked like New York taxis. And the Coca Cola truck, of course, with a gang of reps walking beside it handing out free bottles of cola. Principles be damned: it was a hot day and I was thirsty. That freebie was gubbed. I know McDonalds sponsor the Olympics, too, and was a little annoyed that they hadn’t sent a truck laden with free beefburgers. Bank of Scotland had a truck in the procession, too, with some English cunt on its open top-deck dancing like a dick to shitty pop music. No free money getting handed out, I noticed.

Nice choice of sponsors for an international sporting event: Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Bank of Scotland. ‘Hey, kids. You’re all going to be fat bastards with diabetes and no pensions. LET’S FUCKING CELEBRATE!’

Eventually the guy with the flaming torch got off of his little yellow bus, jogged for about 100 metres, everybody cheered, and then he got back on his bus again, the lazy bastard. And I’m glad I was there to see it. One day I’ll be telling my grandkids about this. Telling them how shit it was. The free Cola was good, though.

This is the best picture I could manage!

* sincere apologies to the people of Skinflats. I love you all, you know I was only having a laugh (ie, please don’t kill me – I’m trying to put you on the map!).

** Note to foreign readers of the site, especially Americans. Skinflats genuinely is a lovely village, and also the birthplace of William Wallace, so do come visit if you’re flying in to Edinburgh. Thanks, Jamie.

Blakey the Jakey: a Modern Scottish Fairytale – Pt 1

‘You did whit, Blakey?’

‘I sold the car, maw.’

A sharp slap echoed across his hollow cheeks.

‘Whit did ye sell the Escort fur, ye wee bugger?’

‘Fur a load ay magic beans, maw.’

Another slap clapped across Blake’s already stinging cheek.

‘I didnae ask whit ye goat fur it, ah said whit did you sell it fur!’

‘Fur money, maw. This guy at the market said he’d gee us loads ay money fur it.’ A sliver of snotters sniffed their way back up Blake’s nostrils and a grazed knuckle rose to sweep away a clove of tears. ‘Yer aye sayin’ yer efter a holiday, ah thought I wid get ye the money for yin, cheer ye up, like.’

Whoosh. Slap. Oyah!

‘Cheer me up? Whit holiday am ah gonnae git wae magic bloody beans, ye wee toley? And noo I’ve no goat a car!’

Blake’s mother slumped her plump frame into a chair and began to sob her woes out over the kitchen table. Blake felt helpless. He sunk a clammy palm onto her shoulder. Sensing his guilt and sadness, she rammed her elbow into his stomach.

‘Bugger aff!’ she wept.

‘But, maw,’ whined Blake, glad that the elbow hadn’t sunk any lower, ‘we kin sell the Magic Beans. Guy at the market says we kin make a killin’, like.’

The sobs clicked off. ‘The only killin’ around here’ll be dun by me, ye wee tyke,’ she spat, ‘An ah could caw ye worse than that, the way am feelin’ the noo, ye wee useless cunt!’

Blake reached into the pocket of his jeans and took out the small, clear plastic pouch containing the beans. He waggled them in front of his mother’s face.

‘Let’s sell them, maw, let’s sell the hings. Ah’ll get the money back, promise ah wull.’

Blake’s mother shot to her feet, grabbed the packet of beans, stormed over to the open window and tossed them down onto the grass below. She pirouetted in a whirlwind of rage to face his downcast head, and laid down upon it a demand for exile.

‘First thing the morra’s mornin’, you’re oot o this hoose, or ah’ll bloody fling you oot the windae!’

***

And so, as the moon revolved into its night-time slot, knocking the sun down below the horizon, the nocturnal denizens of Grangemouth scurried out from the back of supermarkets, from bus shelters, from alley ways and from play-parks, to gather in the flickering lamp-lit streets like zombies from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

As if driven by some deep, buried instinct, they found the packet of Magic Beans lying in the grass at the foot of Blakey’s flat. A circle of baseball caps peered down, before a cygnet-ringed hand scooped them up and held them aloft. A cry of feral triumph whooped into the air.

In the morning, the magic beans were missing: presumed gubbed.

Outside the kitchen window, twelve baseball caps saluted skyward from the grass, attached to twelve bleary bodies in varying states of consciousness. A ghetto blaster, powered by a length of extension cable, bang-thud-jerked its techno-menace over the still-sleepy street.

A lone ‘dancer’ – the term applying loosely – shuddered violently to the beat of the bass-line, a carnival of jutting, punching limbs. His pupils shifted from big to small, like some demented camera lens, and sweat lashed his exposed skin.

‘They beans are magic, sir!’ he exclaimed with ecstasy, lost in the dance.

The kitchen window of the Blake household flew open on its hinges and the curler-clad head of Blake’s mum burst out.

‘Ho, John Travolta!’ she yelled to the ‘dancer’, ‘Shut that bloody racket aff, wake up that pile a’ deed ducks on ma gress an’ bugger aff the lot o’ ye!’

The slam of the window acted as a gunshot to the frightened herd of ravers. Twelve sets of heels pelted down the street, ‘John Travolta’ dancing after them as fast as he could. The wail of an encroaching police siren only encouraged him to dance harder.

‘Tha’s magic, sir!’ he exclaimed, ‘Ah didnae ken they’d released that tune yet!’

One of the fleeing mob ran back and dragged him kicking and dancing around the corner to safety.

***

The street was quiet again. Somebody had already stolen the ghetto blaster, but then it had been stolen in the first place.

Blake sat on the pavement outside of his flat, head in hands, rucksack slung over a bony shoulder. With all of the beans gone, Blake had a mammoth mission ahead of him: find a way to make back money for both car and holiday or… he didn’t even want to think about the ‘or else’ part.

The odds seemed insurmountable. Not to Blake, of course, simply because the boy had no idea what ‘insurmountable’ meant. Blake’s ilk juggled with a few balls less in their vocabulary, but perhaps their stripped vernacular was more efficient in its expressiveness.

‘Fuck,’ he sighed. ‘Fuckin’ shite.’

As if sensing his heavy heart, the magical powers above granted some hope to Blake in liquid form. Pouf!

‘Did some cunt just caw us a poof?’ snapped Blake.

The boy noticed quickly that an object had appeared next to him from thin air. He was bright that way.

‘Where’d that come fae?’ whispered Blake, puzzlement ruffling his brow as he eyed the newcomer. He reached to his right and clasped the ancient-looking glass bottle in his hand. Someone, or something, had scrawled ‘Drink Me’ in the film of dust covering the green bottle. Blake obeyed.

The magical brew tasted to Blake like a mixture somewhere between cough syrup and paint stripper. With a bit of piss thrown in for good measure. It did not take many gulps for the hope-shunned youngster to fall under its spell. A few gulps more and he was entranced. Half the bottle, and his eyes became windows to worlds of magic, his stomach slosh-pit to the ebbs and flows of wonder. The tonic – health-giving though it seemed – was not enough to quell the anger that had built in him since the evening before.

Just then, a gaunt old man shuffled out from a neighbouring block of flats and made his sure-but-steady way towards him. A shell suit hung on his rag-and-wrinkle body and a silver-flecked moustache obscured his top lip. Various species of crumb made the hairy monstrosity their home.

It was Jack the Alike. No one liked him, but he always seemed to be everywhere, rather like Gok Wan. ‘Whit’re ye drinkin’, Blakey son?’ he croaked.

‘Dinnae ken,’ hiccuped Blake, ‘Whit’s it tae you, ye auld fanny?’

Instantly bored by ‘Jack the Alkie’ and agitated by his unwelcome presence, Blake distractedly rubbed at his magical bottle. Dust smeared his palm.

‘It’s guid tae share, son,’ smiled old Jack, a mossy tongue licking at chapped lips, ‘gee auld Jack a swally, noo.’

‘Ma maw aye says that ah’m no supposed tae talk tae strange auld men on account that they might turn oot to be dirty peedos like yersel, ken?’

Jack’s top lip trembled beneath its hairy camouflage. His burst-veined cheeks flashed crimson.

‘Ye ungrateful wee bastard! Efter aw I did fur this country… If it wisnae fur the likes ay Auld Jack, well, you’d be a lad in trouble, that’s fur sure! I did time in a POW camp fur wee shites like yersel’!’

Blake took another teasing swig from the bottle.

‘Ken whit, Auld Jack, I wish the bloody Germans had kept ye.’

Pouf! Old Jack seemed to implode to the size of a marble in seconds, leaving a brilliant white flash of light and a veil of smoke in his wake. As Blake recovered from this optical onslaught, blinking and cursing his sight back to 20/20, he saw before him, through a grey, choking cloud, a bearish, blubbery gent, skin the colour of rust, with a large, blue turban writhing and teetering on top of his head. A giant pair of arms was folded against his massive, shining chest.

‘THAT WAS YOUR FIRST WISH,’ he boomed.

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TO BE CONTINUED

PART 2 COMING LATER IN THE WEEK…