Saturday, 31 December 2016

Hogmanay and the knighthood of Ray Davies

It’s Hogmanay but I won’t be celebrating a great deal. These days I don’t rest easy with this particular Scottish ritual. On a few occasions, many years ago now, I joined in the whole carnival but found myself so exhausted and  distraught in the aftermath of my revels that I have since eschewed extended New Year jollification.

Nonetheless there is a good feeling in Scotland around the New Year. It is a time for wiping the slate clean, for forgiveness and renewal and so tonight my wife and I will be early to bed and tomorrow morning on New Year’s Day, car already packed with our luggage, we will drive north from Totnes, Devon with Scotland as our eventual destination where we will breathe in Edinburgh’s New Year cheerfulness and optimism.

Back garden with clothes pegs, Orchard Waye, Totnes

We won’t complete our journey in one long haul. We’ll stop off on the M6 at Hilton Park Services just north of Birmingham where I will buy enough shirts from the Cotton Traders’ stall to last me through the next year. 

Hilton Park Services - the place to buy shirts

From there we head up to the Castle Green Hotel at Kendal and enjoy a swim in the pool before dinner. 

View of sheep's rears from the Castle Green Hotel, Kendal

After a night’s rest we’ll drive north leaving the M74 at the couthy town of Moffat where Robert Burns allegedly scratched a verse on one of the windows of the Black Bull Inn. We'll probably stop for a coffee here at the very respectable Moffat House Hotel.

Moffat among the hills

Leaving Moffat we'll take the A701 and immediately we will be climbing and winding through the hills, and, after leaving behind us 'The Devil's Beef Tub',where border reivers once hid their stolen cattle, beyond the summit of the 1400 ft pass with the loftiest hills of the Southern Uplands on our right we'll reach the source of the River Tweed and the heart of John Buchan territory at Tweedsmuir. Motoring on towards Broughton we will cruise by the old coaching house, the Crook Inn (will it ever be re-opened ?), and beyond the village of Broughton with its brewery, we'll pass through agricultural and moorland country with exotically named places like Romanno Bridge and Lamancha before we descend to the town of Penicuik.

Opened to trade 1604, closed....?

 Leaving Penicuik we’ll wend our way to Edinburgh and park the car in Milton Street, Abbeyhill where we have a tenement flat.

It will be about midday and after the glory of our morning journey we'll quietly enjoy a bite to eat and spend a restful afternoon reading the newspapers. We’ll go out in the early evening and for a while I’ll enjoy a feeling of being where I belong but gradually I will be subsumed by a sense of being a stranger, a misfit, for this is not the Scotland I left in 1957 or indeed the Scotland I left again in 1976. It shouldn’t be. Scotland is not a museum piece, I am the museum piece, and I shouldn't be.

Home sweet home, Milton Street, Abbeyhill, Edinburgh

Speaking of newspapers and misfits, I read in today’s issue of The Guardian that Ray Davies of the Kinks, probably my greatest rock n' roll hero has been offered and has accepted a knighthood in the New Year honours. I feel ambivalent about this, pleased because his genius and his considerable contribution to music are being recognised but unhappy because there are aspects of the honours system that I think are related more to giving favours to those with power and high financial status, to those on the “inside”, rather than those who question the status quo.  Ray Davies has composed a number songs about those on the “outside", the misfits, and I guess this is what led me to think about living in England without being totally at home here, while, though I feel I belong in Scotland, I am no longer at one with myself when I am there either. Still, I console myself by remembering that I’m not like everybody else.

Happy New Year !



Misfits   The Kinks 1978 Arista

I'm not like everybody else The Kinks 1966  B side of Sunny Afternoon Pye Records

Among other songs that might be included in a Kinks "misfits" list are Dead End Street, 20th Century Man, See my Friends, David Watts and Sitting in my Hotel.

Friday, 25 November 2016

She's a woman. Can she do it ?

In these next few weeks the BBC is focussing on women. This morning on breakfast TV the news presenters were interviewing one of those people they regularly bring on who are experts and tell us about things in terms of what we must do or what it's important for us to do and how terrible things will become if we don't do them.

Today's expert, was saying how in our culture women weren't thought to be as capable as men in most things except for producing babies. She, (the expert was a woman), said that whenever women are being considered for any enterprise, the tacit or expressed observation made, and question asked, was always,  "She's a woman. Can she do it?"  The presenters and no doubt others watching may have nodded in agreement but I have never in my whole life been able to buy into this idea .

They're not Amazons

Without any doubt women have held enormous sway over my life. All the women I've been closely related to have been impressive. My grandmothers, my mother, my wife, my sisters, my daughters and, my almost one year old granddaughter, are, or were, formidable. I'm not suggesting that they were Amazons or Madonnas but all have been -  apart from, as yet, my granddaughter - successful in their careers and have been fortunate enough to have children whom they have brought up to be good people. In addition to these achievements and more potent in my view is that these women have held things together for their families particularly during times of crisis without recourse to those predominantly masculine traits, punishment and violence.

They're not Madonnas

They're women. Can they do it? They do it better.

Monday, 31 October 2016

From Smokies in newspaper to high tea in a restaurant : a tale about my youngest sister

In the first half of the 1950s Sunday afternoons in winter were not my favourite part of the week. We were taken on a jaunt in Bessie, the 1931 Standard 10 car that my Daddy drove us around in. Invariably we’d head for Arbroath and go to the seafront by Victoria Park. We’d  play on the grass with a ball or clamber down to the rock pools but I wasn’t too keen on slippery rocks and smelly seaweed. I preferred sandy beaches like the one at Broughty Ferry. After that we’d walk up the clifftop path which started just by St.Ninian’s Well. The cliffs  are not amazingly high there but could still be a wee bit scary. 

Our exercise over for the day my father drove down to the fisherman’s cottages near the harbour  where my parents would buy Smokies from the smokehouse. These were wrapped in newspaper and we drove out to park in a layby on the Dundee Road about two miles out of Arbroath. Mummy, Daddy and my younger sister, J, all loved smokies. I hated them and did without. Just the smell of the smoked haddock almost sickened  me,  I hope I’ve gotten over to you that as a young boy a Sunday afternoon in winter was situated somewhere between misery and anathema.  On every occasion my memory tells me, the weather was cold and dull.

With J, my sister, and Bessie on a cold Sunday in pre-baby sister M days. Mummy is in the car

Then in 1955, my youngest sister. M, came along. We continued to go to the Victoria Park and played ball on the grass and walked up the cliff pushing M in her pram but we did not go on to the rocky beach because it was too slippery to be on carrying a baby.  More importantly for me we did not go to the smokehouse because stopping to eat smokies in a layby for half an hour was not an easy pastime when you had a wee baby to look after. Instead we went to the Star Restaurant in Arbroath  where we enjoyed high tea together. I always had sausage, egg and chips with toast followed by cakes and a cup of tea. This beat smokies hands down as far as I was concerned and of course M was immediately the centre of attention with the waiters and customers : a bonny wee baby. Soon she was old enough to sit at the table in a high chair and she was very early in learning to speak which led to her becoming an even bigger attraction. 

Daddy with M on Broughty Ferry Beach

My father could at times be stern and taciturn  and on these occasions in public places like the restaurant my Mummy would quietly say “Chic, cheer up a bit we’re here to enjoy ourselves.” One Sunday M, though she had not many words at this time, picked up on my Mummy’s remark and with loud self-assurance  hollered to Daddy, “You’re just a big crabbit brute!” Coming from such a wee girl this announcement caused great amusement among the other diners and though I tried to I couldn’t prevent myself laughing for neither my sister J, nor I would ever have had the nerve to shout at Daddy like that. Where she plucked this phrase from I leave to your imagination but I am led to believe very young children learn to speak from the things they hear adults saying. To my surprise Daddy took M’s critical declaration well and we continued going to the Star Restaurant every Sunday. The climate had changed and I remember all of these post-smokie days were sunny In the following weeks and months M continued to entertain her audience and as her vocabulary grew so did her repertoire. We all loved it until the day came when we left for England.

As a footnote I should add that I have grown to like the aroma and taste of smoked haddock. I particularly like it in kedgeree. The best smoked haddock is of course an Arbroath Smokie.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

My mother, Jimmy Shand's band and The Proclaimers : an email exchange


From Noel Howard : 28th September, 2016

Hi Charles,

There used to be a programme on Irish radio in the 50s called Scottish Requests and invariably “The Road to Dundee” featured as well as “The Northern Lights”, and "Sweet Alice Ben Bolt”, among other “hits” of the day with Jimmy Shand always a favourite.

Oh for such simplicities!



From Charles Sharpe : 13th October, 2016

Dear Noel,

I was interested in your recollection of the Irish radio programme which played requests for Scottish songs and airs. 

You mentioned Jimmy Shand who - though he spent most of his childhood in the village of Auchtermuchty in the Kingdom of Fife  -  became in the 1930s (after a spell in the coal mines), a rent collector in Dundee and he used this job as an opportunity to earn extra money by selling accordions on commission for a local music shop. This was at a time when he was also trying to establish himself as a musician assembling his own band. When he came by my grandparents’ tenement each week to collect the rent he’d let my mother practice on the accordion he brought with him and after a few weeks of this she seemed to be showing promise as an accordionist. 

You can guess what happened. Jimmy approached my Granda Jackson and said “John, ye’re lassie’s a braw player. If she were tae ha’e  an accordion I’d be happy tae ha’e her in my band.” My mother who was 12 or 13 at the time, was very excited about this but Granda Jackson couldn’t afford to buy an accordion, so Jimmy didn’t get his sale or any commission and Chrissie, my mother, didn’t get an accordion and never became the only woman to play in Jimmy Shand’s band. 

That’s how the story’s told in our family anyway.

It may only be coincidence, but Charlie and Craig Reid, the Proclaimers, though born in Leith spent most of their childhood in Auchtermuchty.  There may be something in the air in Auchtermuchty if you can afford your instrument.

Best wishes,



From Noel Howard : 13th October, 2016

Really recalling those simpler times of childhood and aspects of it, like the radio programme Scottish Requests, always makes me grateful for the memory of the simple security that such occasions huddled around the radio brought as a family.

Keep in touch. 


Friday, 30 September 2016

Crimes, misdemeanours, ancestry and pride : Forfar 1940s

From the age of six months until I was 5 years old, my memory is that I reigned supreme in Forfar. I seemed to be able to do what I liked. The polis never touched me.  

While living in our wee 'but and ben' at 9 Green Street I stole our next door neighbours baby's full milk bottle and sucked ecstatically from its teat, I pee’d into a brand new zinc bucket displayed with other goods outside the ironmongers, declaring what a good boy I was, I lay in the middle of the paddling pool in The Greens  to stop my mother (who hated going into ponds, lochs, rivers and seas) fetching me in for my tea (thence, putting me to bed and hated sleep). 

It was even said that I ran off with the tinkies following the carnival after sampling a frothy amber brown liquid they had. I now understand this last escapade as an exercise in getting back to my roots, since years later my mother told me that on her mother's side we had tinkie ancestry. I have always been proud of this.

An omnipotent boy in Forfar with his younger sister , J, and the tail end of their dog,  Darkie, so called because his right eye  was surrounded by a black patch. This name was given in the days when social sensitivities were not as highly tuned as they are - rightly in most cases - in current times.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Auld Reekie Blues

I was ill the whole month I was in Edinburgh this August. There were good times baby sitting for our beautiful granddaughter, and meeting up with her parents was OK too. Nevertheless I was knackered all the time and the only escape was to sit on the Esplanade at Portobello, look at the wonderful skies there, see the changing light over Fife and watching people passing by walking, jogging, scootering, skateboarding and cycling. It's great to witness all these things but even they wore me out in the end. And, for once, the charity bookshops in Stockbridge failed to offer up solace.

Portobello Beach before the Cockenzie Power Station was knocked down so that TV pictures of the Open Championship at Muirfield looked prettier,

What's more I couldn't bring myself to get up to Dens Park to watch the famous eleven. "You're just sorry for yourself!" you say. Right first time. I'm wallowing in misery.  Things have got to get better and they will if I can get up to Dundee on October 1st to watch the Dark Blues beat Celtic. October 1st is my birthday by the way but don't bother sending me any cards, they might make me cheer up.

Okay my wife was ill some of the time and I should mention that she put up with me and I give her credit for that. She has borne her own and my troubles with fortitude. What a miserable, wretched creature I am. Just like my father, a crabbit brute.

By winning the American Open Tennis championship Andy Murray could deliver me from this brown study and I suppose the Scotland fitba team overcoming the mighty Malta offers the possibility  of lifting a few clouds.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Winning and losing in football and in life

Competitive sport is predicated on winning and losing. It’s good to win but if you lose you know there will be another day, so I know though I am feeling in a small way triumphant  (if that’s possible)  that last Saturday Dundee enjoyed a 3-1 victory over Ross County, I can, without guilt,  savour it because I can remember the dismay of recent defeat at the feet of the same opposition, and to use the old cliche, after a sporting defeat, “Nobody died.” In life however if you lose your livelihood, if you don’t have the money to feed, clothe and shelter your kids, if you cannot stop an aggressor destroying your home, if you are the victim of terrorism or criminality then there may never be a return to happier days. In this kind of defeat, something does die.

It's a shame that as a human community we have allowed an economic system, the capitalist system, to predominate. It too is predicated on winning and losing but unfortunately the losers in this game give up in the despair of acceptance or remain impoverished, or seek out new places to live and new ways to earn money.  Unfortunately the ones with power, the ones determined to win at all costs do not welcome these initiatives and ensure that the losers are crushed.  In turn this leads to further poverty or in some cases violent revolution. Whichever happens,  the consequences are always catastrophic for the poor, the meek, the crushed and the helpless. 

Our human community needs, and must begin to construct a new selfless way of looking after and caring for each of its members. It can be done. I believe that from 1945 to 1951 the Labour government in the United Kingdom made inroads into achieving this by setting up a welfare system which protected our most vulnerable, a health system which was available free to all, and a national education system which provided schooling for every child. The success of these initiatives was not welcomed by those powerful economic forces which persuaded subsequent governments that there was no possibility of making a profit out of services which were provided for the people by the people.  Gradually over the passing years governments of every ilk have allowed capitalist adventurers  to invade our welfare, health and education services and to rob us of those parts of our services from which they believe they can make a profit while leaving ordinary, modest and relatively poor folk to support - by paying their taxes - those services which have no possibility of profit. 

So the result of this match is “Capital 1 Community 0” and the result will be the same every week for it is difficult to see where even a drawn match in any future fixture would come from, never mind a win for the human community. 

I suppose I've been kidding myself to think sport is any different. While things remain as they are,  Dundee Football Club, though it may occasionally enjoy the better of a little skirmish, will aways lose to the likes of Manchester City and Real Madrid. 

Sunday, 31 July 2016

"Keep on Rockin' in the Free World"

'There’s a warning sign on the road ahead,
There’s a lot of people saying we’d be better off dead
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world"

I'm desperate! Dan

But where is the free world, Neil ?
Is your irony lost on me.

I no longer act  -  too numb to feel.
I guess I’ll go back to bonnie Dundee
Where D.C. Thomson publishes reactionary tripe
Twixt couthy lines frae The Broons and Desperate Dan
That scramble my mind and fog up my sight
Of the devil and detail of a usurer's scam.

The first stanza is taken from Neil Young's "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World" to be found on his 1989 album "Freedom."

My photo caption is extracted from the script of Alan Bleasdale's "Boys from the Black Stuff" (BBC, 1982).

The statue of Desperate Dan created in 2001 by artists Tony and Susie Morrows shows the great man striding the High Street, Dundee.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Sitting on the kerb between the cundie and the lamp post in Clement Park

It's no secret that I have become very agitated by the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. I have attempted to slacken the tension by speaking with or writing to friends sympathetic to my views but I am sure their patience will run out soon. It seems I find the possibility of not having influence on the future unbearable. I have come to the conclusion that in part my anxiety can be explained as an unavoidable characteristic of my journey into old age. At first I was not conscious of it but now I see that I am beginning to understand, and to confront, my limited life span. I no longer have the physical capacity to do all the things I used to enjoy nor is there the time left to say all the things I wanted to say. The span of years, months and days which remain to shape the world in my way, is inexorably diminishing. This may sound pompous but my guess is that most of us have at least a vague notion of how we would like the world to be and after all we have no reverse dimension that allows to undo those things we wish we had not done.

My desperation is reinforced by the realisation that I will fail in my aim. This awareness seems to have crept upon me stealthily and unseen, but there is a sense in which I’ve known it all along. On the night of my 40th birthday I was working in a children’s home in the north midlands of England and while I sat on the upstairs landing waiting for the children to settle, it dawned upon me that I would never have the time to do all the things I had hoped to do. This was nothing to do with my abilities but more to do with spatial and temporal limitations. I couldn’t be in two places at the same time. 

How different from the prospect I had one sunny summer's day in the mid-1950s while sitting on the kerb between the cundie and the lamp post in front of our house in Clement Park. It was about 8.30 in the morning and I was waiting for JL and FJ to finish their breakfasts hoping their mothers would soon let them out to play. There were so many possibilities for the day. We could play fitba', or catty and batty, play Gerries and Britishers, or cowboys and indians or we could play Kerby or make a den or we could….….... The prospects for adventure were endless. The future could be thought of without fear.


John Stein comments : Your post really struck a chord with me.  I got the anxiety, and the wish I could do more.  I have written two letters to the editor of our newspaper, one about our fascination with guns, the other about police shootings, one near here in Baton Rouge.  I did not send them.  Those who already agreed with my points, well, they don’t need to hear from me.  Those who don’t agree--their beliefs would not be influenced in the slightest.

And then your letter about Jeremy Corbyn.  Sad to see some of the same dynamics in Britain that we have here.

My wife’s favorite quote:  May you live in interesting times.  Ancient Chinese curse.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Dear fellow members, re-Jeremy Corbyn and PLP Labour MPs who abuse power.

Here is the text of a letter I sent on July 1st, 2016, to the secretary of my local constituency Labour Party in Totnes, Devon, in response to the proposed agenda for our next meeting. It may be somewhat emotional in nature but I think the message within it is a reasonable one.

Dear fellow member,
I am rather saddened there is no agenda item to discuss firstly, the behaviour of Labour MPs who are attempting to ride roughshod over the wishes of a substantial majority of the Labour Party’s members and secondly to consider what to do about their inhumane humiliation of a decent man. Like many people I did not rejoin the Labour Party last year to be under the screw of  self-important Blairite media sycophants, who take the stance that they know much more about things than us ordinary folks and who feel it is their right to bounce us into doing what they decide must happen.

I also knew when I rejoined the Labour Party that a substantial number of Labour MPs did not like the members’ decision to elect Jeremy Corbyn. You’ll remember for instance the nuances of Ben Bradshaw's* contribution at the meeting for new members that was held around Christmas  at the Royal Seven Stars Hotel. Certainly at the time of that meeting it was clear there were people at Westminster who would work against Jeremy whatever he did.  In my view the attack against Jeremy Corbyn has been orchestrated by a number of Labour MPs for some time and the referendum result offered them an opportunity to do this when the entire community was in disarray. The funny thing is Jeremy Corbyn had a very good referendum campaign being perhaps the only leading political figure on either side who was honest and did not manipulate figures in order to generate fear. I can’t actually remember any great contributions made by other leading members of the parliamentary party, though no doubt there were.

 I write this all because these issues are not addressed in the agenda - in a very middle class English way it seems almost to have been denied -  let’s not mention dirty things like an attack upon a properly elected leader of the Labour Party by those who would abuse power. 

As for the referendum, there should never have been one. It came about as a consequence of the difficulties the Prime Minister was experiencing within the Tory Party and yet such is the power of the Westminster/ politico/media clique it ends up that the person being humiliated by this - is our elected leader.

I hope to be at the meeting on July 7th.** My temperature may be down then!

Best wishes,
Charles Sharpe

* Ben Bradshaw, Labour Party Member of Parliament for Exeter

** Since I sent this letter a motion deploring the action of the MPs of the Parliamentary Labour Party MPs has been placed on the agenda for the next constituency meeting on July 7th.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

On my son's 50th birthday

It's my son's 50th birthday today. It was a wonderful day when he was born. I could tell you lots of stories about him but there is one which epitomises a quality, among a number of good ones he has, and that is, determination.

At about the age of 15 or 16 my son told me he intended to be a journalist. I said to him, "Och everyone wants to be a journalist when they're young, I did too. Why don't you just forget about that for a while, go to university, get a degree and then you can decide what you want to do ? Being a journalist right now is a bit of a romantic notion." He listened to me. He didn't respond. I was sure my wisdom had gotten through.

A couple of weeks later while reading the sports pages of two of our local newspapers, I found in one a report on local golf competitions and in the other a report on a local rugby match. Both publications described the author of these articles respectively as their golf and rugby correspondents. The byline of these articles had the name of my son as their author.  What a man.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Last train fae the Tay Brig Station

D'ye  mind when we rode oot some days on the tram and sailed o'er the Tay on the Fifie?
That wiz in the non-pc days when ye ca'd a woman a wifie.
Eh recall oor mulk was fae the DPM,  and oor links fae Alex Munro.
When flush,  tae the pictures at the Greens Playhouse, when skint tae the fleapit, Rialto.
Oor  hair was trimmed  by Chic Reid or R.S.Peters,
Oor favourite fae Soaves was tuppence worth o' fritters.

Ach but that's a' awa' - change is the nature of the cosmo
Nae mair Aberdeenies  fae Macdougall's , nae fags nor papers fae Kosto's.
Cox's chimney may still stand but there are nae workers in the mill -
Whit's the guid ?  jute, watches, cash registers
Nane'll come back for time has the determination
No ' tae  stick at '57 when the train left the Tay Brig Station.

Last train fae the Tay Brig station
Last train fae the Tay Brig station
Ye'll catch this yin
'n  ye'll never be coming back again
Last train fae the Tay brig station.

O'er the brig the carriages are rollin'
O'er the brig the carriages are rollin'
Doon tae England, doon tae York
whaur noo oor faither diz his work.

60 far years 'n Eh'm still oot there travelling,
60 far years oot there still unravelling,
Whit it signified, Eh couldnae master;
South o'er the brig, och, whit a disaster.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

I am an anarchist : telling lies about our prisons

In the days leading up to yesterday's Queen's Speech, the UK government's pronouncements about our "failing prisons" not being "fit for purpose" (very selectively reinforced by the recently government appointed head of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons, ex-counter-terrorist policeman, Peter Clarke) left me with the impression that some uninvited, unidentified foreign body had invaded the prison system and was responsible for the devastating assault that has been made upon it in recent years. Yesterday Her Majesty, instructed by the Prime Minister, David Cameron on the advice of Michael Gove, our Minister of Justice, told us that her government is now going to make right all that is wrong in our prisons by putting into place rehabilitation and education resources which will make Nirvana of our institutes of incarceration.

Who can disagree with this ?  Well, in all this what is not mentioned in any of the headlines is that the travesty that now fills the space of our formerly good, if far from perfect prison service, was brought about by Michael Gove's predecessor, Christopher Grayling, who, with David Cameron's approval, took the decision to cut the staffing levels of our prison service, in the face of an ever-growing prisoner population, by more than 30%. Yes, 30%.  The Conservative led coalition government and the current Conservative one have, with their drastic chopping of staff during the last 6 years, destroyed the very services they  now claim to be "introducing" to the prison service.

The period the government has spent wrecking rehabilitation and education resources in prisons has seen increasingly inhumane living conditions for prisoners, as well as a dramatic downturn in the morale of the service because the growing pressures on a speedily decreasing number of officers have made it impossible for them to be as effective as they would wish in helping prisoners. Will our government give back to the prisoners these 6 years of deprivation? Will it admit liability for the way it has failed the prison service?

The spurious presentation of issues and information is a characteristic of our government and indeed many politicians.  The nature of their behaviour is accurately represented as dissembling and  disingenuousness as they deny any responsibility for their failures. People who are less prolix and less pompous than me call, this "Telling lies."

If this is government, I don't need it. I am now an anarchist.