Monthly Archives: April 2017

A Day On Loan From Summers Past

Today, late April, but a strong sun burning our eyes. It is a seaside light, which is sharp in spring and early summer before the haze builds to soften the skies and the sun rises above the brim of your finest straw boater. Today I was playing at single parent, with only the wee man there. We were up late so that Aust Agder light I know well now, was sharper and more insolent in its wakening demand. Star Wars I to III, three nights in a row included some minor tardyness on my account, and those films are always longer than I remember.                           The day meant the arrival of the wee man’s pal who lives on a rather idyllic kind of small holding on a lakeside, up a single track road long superceded by the two way trunk road you can heat when the wind blows from the north down that flooded valley.         12 o’clock came shamefully fast upon us, but time to play it was. Being alone parent this weekend, I could also decide the extent of just how many kids could trampoline, and if nosey, uninvited kids could cross the threshold. My other half being more kind of 70s about that, and a little too liberal leading to outstayed welcomes and presumptiousness about me casa su casa, while I like a bit of privacy and to be able to get to know kids before they are hipping on my bed and scubaing in my bathroom.                              There was a fun fair in town,. ironically snow and slushed off on Frdiay, while today we virtually basked in a day on loan from mid summer it seemed. Visiting friend is not B list but does not quite mix with A list so the latter had been joined in fun at the Tivoli yesterday, and I was prepared to be fleeced for a a hefty 400kr for 6 rides each for the two lads today, in the interest of fairness and appropriate groups of birds and their peronality feathers.                   Play commenced before I could say that perhaps the “shows” may well be packing up mid after’ and the sledge-hammer, dragon and mad hatter  would miss their patronage from our fine young princes. Play though stopped for no adult conception of timetable, and in fact visiting bairn was a bit ‘feert’ of the higher G force rides, perhaps finding the tea cups type more passiing to their tastes and workings of their inner ear. Third party , freind to B lister, turned up and decided to stay, making tivoli more complex and as Play with thirdy party, B and Child A was going so swimmngly, one rather hoped Tivoli was rained off with joy of simpler pleasures.                     As it rurned out, a lack of brash pop music wafting over the rooftops from the winter skating rink belied the fact that Mr Romani Mercedes had cut their losses and buggered off early to a more populus township, having had a mediocre thursday eve, a washed out friday but a very good Saturday.                                        Maybe it was somethign about the light, or maybe it was because I was getting on with my Dad type things while being on hand as diplomatic envoy one minute and squash baring waitor the next, but this really started to feel like summers gone of my own childhood.  I wore my boiler suit all day and all evening having changed to summer tyres and done various checks on the car and scrubbed the barbecue grill ….   I felt I was myself an in my element, dad on hand doing dad things with out incurring dad critique and dad penalties………   It reminded me most of being with a wee pal I was so endeared to, Charles Goddard, or was it Gozzard, anyway, a lad of the Naval Officer persuasion, destined to be moved on as they all were, but a really good pal for me he was a couple of years at primary school. We enjoyed long and warm summers in the mid 70s when I was the same age as Junior is now. It doesnt just seem that rose tinted memory, we really did have a run of warm and quite dry summers, with the odd raining off on his cricket lawn. Yes, he had a cricket lawn. Or rather they rented a ground floor appartment in what had been a millionaires country pile, made in a kind of neo gothic style, with a very english front garden which seemed several football pitches in size to us. This little empire also boasted an orchard and a walled garden, and not only the single drive way but two, a tradesmans and the welcomed visitors one which was rather short for a mansion of Lordship proportions, but was cunningly curved such that it was hard for prying eyes to gaze  upon the wealthy at rest. . It was rather magical a place and a view for us all of how the other half, or rather top 1% of society lived. His father was kind and wise, and could come easily to our level but being away on patrol often for months, it was his lovely and rather care free mother who made our summers and other holidays so much fun. I seem to remember being taken by them far more often that we took them, aged 7 to 9 way back when. Maybe that was true, maybe just the impression. We would listen to hans christian andersen stories on tapes in their top of the range renault 16 with sun roof, electric front windows and green sunscreen.     Oour favourite game of all with his wee brother james, was based on an ‘its a knock out’ challenge with glasses of water on a tray, to fill up a recpetical. the Lawn had a grand embankment dividing it from the driveway and house, making th ehouse look all the more grandoise once on the lawn. There was what I suppose was a childs wicket run or maybe I embellesh. But anyway there was than 3 meter embankment and a slide had been installed or laid out sans stationaire, and how we would slide down with those plastic cups on a tray and try to fill a bucket or squash jug at the bottom, and how his mum would laugh. Later on he moved to the very humdrum married quarters, but they were nearer me and I was allowed often to wander up the road alone to visit them and vice versa.    I saw charles once years later when were both perhaps 13 or 14. His father seemed to have extensive burn scars on his face and charles seemed proper and  a little stiff, quite possibly at prep school by then. Part of me wanted to gush and rekindle, but their aire seemed austere and stand off so our passing gaze went just as that. I found Charles on the internet not long ago and he has had an interesting life, I deduce, but I feel guilty for that passing by and in any case, so many facebook style reconnections run to a ‘stump’ after initial excitement and much writing of life stories. Both parties drawing a little blank as to whether they have much in common now, would like to reminiss more, or is the one escaping the past, or is really cyberspace the place to meet ? Mostly we just dont have the time or see the motivation. Old Flames are just that too, they are mere embers which will eventually fade to ash no matter how carefully you try blowing on them.                    Today though I decieded an impromptu taco picnic on the trampoline was in order. Taco is a favourtie amongst kids here, bloody salty crap, but at least it is far from over priced, the salads being now the most expensive component. The trampoline was perfect because with kid B, there is always mess like a pack of hounds eating on assorted offal and biscuits. Outside I could hose it all off later and they loved their al fresco dining. I think now very much and very often that some things in life actually only occur once, or are remembered only once. That people come into your life as you do theirs, yet all this is finite and subject to the vagiaries of life. Charles was a wonderful pal to have, not just because he was kind, interested and a bit wise and funny, but also because his whole family liked me being there too, and enjoyed him sharing his young days with new pals. In fact we became besties for a while I am sure, and hope that was mutual. Between exploring the woods and burns to playing with Action Man, we had a togetherness and Charles would often come with some profoundness of the innane which kind of captured me and stopped me stone dead such that I had to think. He was a child philosopher of the ordinaire, a boy who glorified his own experiences and impressions as being something where in there must lie more meaning……………. I hope the kids remember today, with sqause, taco, trampolining and their hybrid Jedi Ninja battles as I remember those now fleeting glimpses of happy summers in the mid seventies with Charles and other bairns of the wooded and shingle beach lined world I grew up in.

Questions Around Allelic Exclusion, 30 Years On

It’s 28 years since I studied allelic exclusion in B lymphocytes as my paper based undergrad’ thesis. I kind of fell upon the concept, as it always bothered me from the first days of understanding simple Mendelian genetics – how does it all work with two copies of a gene yet only one phenotype?

Well Mendel of course, cheated. He actually ignored strains of peas whose flowers bred through to pink, instead of those which bred pure white or red. Genetics is always throwing up complexity around some central simplicities, and as with the Human Genome Project, scientists go off on keep-it-stupid-simple at their hazard.

In allelic exclusion in certain types of  white blood cells, there is some very interesting genetic engineering, and sorry dear creationist, you can see evolution happening in your own bodies if you care to study the molecular mechanisms. At some point a white blood cell decides                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   to make one very specific antibody which has the purpose of             very specifically locking onto a potential  disease causing agent. This is then locked and in effect it becomes a memory cell if you like, which can then explode in a clonal type way to produce thousands of these cells all of which are identical to fight a disease currently threatening the body, or doing so in future. Earlier on in the story, the cells have undergone some degree of evolution, firstly by being selected as fairly good matches for that ‘pathogen’ or antigen to be more accurate, and then having to select which one of two versions of the gene for the antibody will be the one which is most suited to the job at hand after in fact the cell induces some very specific mutations, or internatl genetic engineering, to alter small parts of the antibody such that it may become more specific and thereby the antibodies will bind better and discriminate between this specific threat and others in a manner much enhanced over the earlier incarnation of the cell line.

So one gene gets switched roundly off, while the other copy, which is a little different due to this ‘hyper mutation’ is kept for the life of the new cell line. If i remember correctly, there was only one iteration of this process, but of course it occurs over a population of white B lymphocytes and other related antibody producing cells, so that a diversity is then honed down into a more targeted set of cells which can tackle disease better. So we see natural selection at work, every day , in our own bodies with mechanisms of molecular directed evolution to boot!

Now this was thought to be a very specific mechanism, the exclusion of one of the two copies from further use in the cell. However back to Mendel. It seems to be very wasteful to have one copy of the gene which is recessive, or presumably non functional? White flowers it seems are default no colour when two copies of the white, failed gene are present. It just seems a waste of space.

Well in fact recent research amongst relatively inbred populations including Iceland and an area in Pakistan, show that in fact humans in such small gene pools harbour upto 7% inactive gene copies. It may seem that prevalence then of genetic diseases would be much higher, but althouugh some typical genetic linked diseases like Huntingdons are present, there is actually not a correspondingly higher rate of disease in accordance with the inbreeding and this high percentage of ‘knocked out’ genes.

Here we see again that a simple route can reveal complexities and the golden rules can and are broken, wihtout perhaps the exeptions quite proving the rule. We find that a gene in the genome, on the chromosome, can be swithced on and off intermittantly, or more locked away and this can vary between copies, sometimes the paternal is less likely to be switched on than the maternal copy. The simply methylation of chromosomal DNA can affect this. Also the gene product need not be a protein, but can be an intermediary control element. And if there is a final protien as in the good old central dogma of genetics, then it can vary in how it is constructed from the one gene, or be made up of several genes spliced together at the messenger RNA level. 

Oh dear, Genetics is big and scary and the Human Genome Project to some extent, only confused us more. There were fewer genes than expected, and a now it seems there may be more inactive, fautly genes that first thought. Also there may be redundancy of alleles, or multiple alleles of the same gene, or perhaps gene products can be cobbled together to make up for a K/O’ed gene at the mRNA level. It suddenly became important to study diversity between individual genomes so as to try and understand what was going on. 

From my point of view then I always said that in Genetics and molecular biology, there is simplicity to be found in diversity, and that the abnormal informs the normal. There is a fundamental truth that in studying one fairly obscure genetic phenomenon, we find a universal truth, yet we cannot understand a universal trith fully without considering diversity.

Big science has kind of speeded things up, but also quite possibly used up huge resources in uncovering issues which were already there as in the last paragraph . We need to look at the detail but also how varied each detail is. So if you follow one obscure detail, like allelic exclusion in B cells, then you find out a lot about it, in fact so much that in this case specifically, it seems it is just an obscure mechanism . for time being. If you give yourself a bigger job, then yes you get more done in terms of this diveristy, but you are building a bigger stick to beat yourself with as that diversity then starts to obscure the universality in mechanisms. However Big Science came with a lot of public and private funding so we cannot complain from that point of view, and a lot of processes which were tedious and manual when I was working in labs (with the first commercially available multi well PCR thermal cycler with digital control) have been either fully- or semi/automated and results are as likely to be read on a computer screen than in a ‘petri dish’so to speak.

The older, more patient and pedantic me would suit being a scientist today because I am quite computer literate and like solving puzzles,. At the same time being locked into using standard equipment means that you perhaps loose some pioneer spirit and perhaps come up with less new technique innovation, which is also very enabling in terms of being able to do new things, if not do the same thing thousands of times over accurately and automated. 

We come back to the whole simple argument which is really about sex. Why have diploid organisms which breed sexually? Well in fact those industrious and ingenious little B cells have the answer. We need diversity to survive and evolve. Without diversity there would be no real selective evolution, one species would tend to get whiped out, as we saw with for example the potatoe blight of the 1800s which was from all plants stemming from a tiny number  brought back from S. America. We need sexual reproduction and sexes because it means we can recombine good survival packages of genes to then meet the challenges of the environment. Sex speeds up evolution by this mixing up of genes too. Some new combinations fall by the way side, while other quire surprising genes come to be quite common, such as the odd case of sickle cell anemia, a simple point mutation, which you would have thought would be bread out due to the higher morbiitiy and mortality of having the double dose. But the single dose confers a protection from malaria, which hides in red blood corpuscles, which then split open upon infection. Here we see a perfect example of the opposite of my thesis area, where there is no exlcusion what so ever, there is a neutral inclusion of both gene expressions. 

 I could hypothesise then that we will find that some gene alleles have one favoured all or most of the time, while others just arent important enough. Some alleles can be compensated for by other gene alleles or qausi alleles. Some gene alleles have one of the pair long term down tuned  via methylations, and that can be tissue specific. Some genes may well be turned more on at one of the pair copies. Some genes will be then later tuned or eliminated at their RNA level as far as getting stuck onto the ribosome protein factories. Sometimes we may need multiple copies of the gene on at any time to make enough protein or gene product. 

Allelic exclusuion in the context of a secually reproducing multicellular  organism is a high risk strategy in some 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Populist Alt Right- Only Actually Popular with The Media

The ‘Alt Right’ are on the move. They found each other in the electric interweb and liked each others’ “we poor derprived white male workers should come first” rhetoric for covering their inherent racism and all the other nasty -isms they have. At last many little xenophonic nazionalists had a voice. But that is only because the media wanted to give them one.

Let us be clear here, Populism just isn’t very popular. Marie Le Pen fielded votes at just over 20%, sneeking ahead of the communist party candidate. Geert de Wilders fielded about the same, and none of the other parties will let him into government. Austrians right wing presidential candidate was beaten by a Green, and after the re-run he will not persue an EU busting, Putin  Friendly agenda. HUngary in truth, has always had a rather dark, isolationist view of the world reflected in the post communist democracy swinging to the right.

No the real story here is that there IS a story. The media were getting very bored with the centre consensus where the Neo Liberal, globalisation model was adopted by all the major parties. If you look back into the electoral registers and hustings’ rhetoric of 1970s britain, I am sure you could find that a fith of the vote in some constituences went to the british national party. But the first past the post system kept them out of parliament and therefore out of the day to day media gaze.

Here we come of course to Trump, the great white hope of the Alt Right, who already is being reeled in by the realities of international diplomacy and the need to position and pose your super power so as not to seem weak in the media. He is even on the edge of chossing Putin as a new enemy rather than a potential nationalist ally. Trump though is exactly the way you need to look at what is happening in politics. He was elected not for his mexican, muslim bashing speeches, but because of the ‘economy, stupid!’.

The centre consensus had gone wrong, especially after the left had embraced Neo Liberalist economics of globalisations and courting the corporate might gently and compliantly to boost job creation. The malaise of the last decade in the western countries which most embraced a post industrial, neo liberalist stance is caused not by the creation of ‘free market economics’ but by their destruction. Mega Corporates can launder their profits abroad, while internal start up competition on the ground gets hounded by the tax man at federal and local level. THey lack the might of lawyers, tax accountants and most of all lobbyists in owning politicians and commanding that ‘job creator’ angel like status. Clearly they do not deserve this because they are largely in the rentier area, living off our existences in housing and consumption, and creating a part time, temporary work life for millions of people. In the US and UK in particular, living standards in terms of ‘discretionary’ income, the cash we like to splash once all the bills are paid, is eroded down to actually just being access to credit card ceilings and a life in debt to support the cosey extras we really want out of life. All part of the plan – more money is taken out of the take home pay packet via housing, transport and fuel costs in the fully privatised economy, than is put back in via wage rises and investment in productivity.

The back drop of this is importation from the greatest socialist  Keynsian experiment the planet will ever see, China, and the virtual enslavement of workers in the developing and third world, locked as we are into a cash economy where making ends meet is designed to be near impossible. Chinese central banks underwrite the credit worthiness of their banks and control the cash supply, which Trump rigthfully accuses of being currency manipulation by proxy. They are building a mega efficient infrastructure in a decade which western countries have not equalled in sixty years of post war regeneration and public investment.

The left had been to some extent forced into accepting the Neo Liberal economic philosophy because of the lobbying power of Corporate proponents and because the Media had drifted into buying all the ‘market mechanism’ as sensible means to run society, The left were fooled into thinking that laisez faire , ie give power to the corporates and the super rich establishment, meant that the economy would grow and productivitiy would be a focus of investment, thus workers would benefit through higher rates of employment, upskilling opportunities a plenty and their central governments would recieve burdgeoning  tax revenues in return.

The reverse has been true. Wages have stagnated for average workers and monthly take home pay has fallen for many, and far more are reliant on top up benefits to put bread on the table. The educated middle class ‘yuppies’ and technocrats are faced with huge student debt and eye splittingly high mortgages per square meter in the valleys and cities where there is work. My generation and those younger, have to basically rent their lives and many just don’t make ends meet without money from mum and dad or extensive use of credit. Only if you come from a wealthy, entitled family can you keep your head above water.  We down a triple hopped IPA and vegan bruschetta and try to get on with life.

Blue collar workers in the EU fair better than their US counterparts, where trade unionism is about as persecuted as democracy and religious freedom was under Stalin.  Wages have often fallen due to deunionisatoin, even in super profitable industries like oil. Jobs have indeed been moved out to low cost land, even when US companies were making profits from US factories, the allure of 5% more bottom line is just too great for the corporate accountants and super powerful stock investors.

Enter Trump. He offered something different, hope via market mechanisms, all be those procetionist, America could be offered to be great again, not just corporate on the republican side, or minority lifting on the democrat’s side.  He reached out to a lot of non voters in the blue collar belt, and appealed via his anti intellectual, anti elite stand point. Like the golden edifices of Trump Towers in Manhattan amongst the tasteful, neo gothic and art deco neigbouring billionaire’s buildings, he is more down to earth, more real in fact. He does not dress himself up in sheeps clothing, or use ambiguous platitudes to sooth both sides of the debate. He annoys and challenges everyone in power, all establishments, all percieved knowledge and yet delights many american blue collar voters and small business owners.

Trump is not there because he is a racist, in fact it is a very, very long time ago when he went along with the rather nasty economic tactic of the time, to keep appartment prices up, you appeased racist white collar americans in New York by keeping afro-americans out of their blocks. He is a maverick de luxe though, and not afraid to sweep in a very odd bunch of right wing christians and his own family to his inner circle. These are people to whom he is the prince-maker, and from whom he expects obedience in reward for airing their own views. Trump wants to be King.

All this is a wonder to the media. Finally news so exciting people will perhaps follow the news channels rather than Facebook and Instagram at 6pm each night. They didn’t really put Trump there though, he could buy his platform and be completely unavoidable to the media and the public. However the rest of the Alt Right, the one in five small minded racists with their simplistic solutions did get a voice in the media. The rid us of islam, rid us of immigrants, defend christian values by being un-christian to refugees.

So we have a social media meeting place and then a consolidation into ‘movements’ the “firsts” and so on, and of course Scottish Independence gains greatly through social media connectivity fighting the multi million pound No campaign at the grass roots. However the media have chosen to have attention grabbing, worry making stories about the far right, rather than listen to the centre majority and centre debate, which had become dull and consensual around Neo Liberal globalisation and the move to a completely tertiray economy in the UK bar oil and shale gas.

This is the same media attention grabbing by shifting the debate to unsavoury, minority areas as has happened with climate change, or rather man-created-global-warming as it is to put it in your face.  The media like to give air time to the deniers, because that would seem to be a balanced and fair debate, and their PR companies prime that side for well crafted argumentation. The actual debat is between those who say we will have 10 m sea rise by 2050 and catastrophical destruction of marine life, desertification of today’s semi arrid areas and more mass migration of people, or a more moderate set of effects from global warming which can be alleviated by progressive policy and technology. But that would be giving in to a one sided argument you see.

The trad’ Media, news at ten, etc is failing to attract the attention of younger generations and to appear ‘relevant’ it is biasing the reporting to dialectic – the debating of heated, highly opposed and often reactionary arguments. In the polarised debates they present willingly to capture viewers and appear exciting and relevant, they actually are suceeding in making radical right wing agendas centre stage, and disappearing in their own dark place by allowing freedom of speech and ‘real’ debate they will create less freedom of speech.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

….Dear Old Glasgow Town

I am thinking back to my last visit to my birthplace and my alma mater, in a typical cool and showery spring,  but for a with a single day for a waddin’ stolen from June as the weather gods shone upon the bride and groom and the short cavalcade arrived at the city chambers on George Square bathed in startling golden light.

It had been some time between actually taking a good wander round the place rather than stringing a couple of visits to attractions and family together. The time before this it had been for a funeral and a chance to update my passport. That part of town, Cowcaddens , from Buchannan galleries upto Dobies Loan had changed little, evolving over the years of my life from a set of gap sites and the location of Scotrail HQ and the ‘Tech on the old Buchannan St. railway station. The North Gate had been there for many years now, still looking modern and with the offices unchanged, only difference being they were now privatised and more double the price for the essential wee burgundy book in ten years.

While waiting for my passport , I had wandered into the Horshoe Bar, Drury Lane, for old times sake, a kind of touchstone for me going back to 1987 or perhaps earlier, when we would pop in on the way further or as a warmer before the O’Henry’s on the other side, or going further out on the big town centre nights, or just catching the train. It is kind of an oasis now,very much quieter than times gone by when there was a babble at lunch time of railwaymen and office clerks discussing the fitba, or politics. I used to go in once in a while just for a random conversation, usually with some forty something men, who were pleased to tell me their opinions but equally pleased to here my young impressionable ones back.

Taking though the bigger picture, Glasgow has gone through a bit of a revolution it seems the last five to ten years, but that is just my bad statistical sampling technique, the same maybe as finding the Horshoe half empty on a Tuesday lunchtime.  You can hark back and be all nostalgic, but the auld sole of the city was pummeled out by the M8 and the slum clearances, and the danergous buildings, and the new 60s and 70s monstrosities of mediocrity which arose in the gap sites, or the austere, pebble dashed replacement to queen street station. Very much of the town centre remains intact however, and it is really quite a lot of tatt which has been swept away by the new broom of one the one hand hipsterisation, while on the other corporate service sector invasion.

I had always fancied loading my old Ricoh 35mm compact up with some ektachrome or maybe investing in a small mFT camera with a street lens on it, and going the lengths of Argyle and Sauchihaul streets from their Kelvingrove beginnings and out beyond them to the east end. Capturing the oddly american style shopfronts, which could have been used to represent brooklyn or the cheap end of high number streets on Manhattan in the 60s. In fact the stretch from Glasgow Central underpass to Anderston was used at least once for this very purpose in film or TV advertisement now that I remember. They both had scaggie ends.

Towards Kelvingrove there were always closed down shops, shabby appartments above them, and a run down feel to an area which had lost its wandering in local shoppers and lost most of its electrical or office equipment customers to out-of-town shopping parks long ago. Now though it was different. Where once the ubiquitous Indian restaurant or cheap, caged in off-licence would sprout and offer some sign of economic activity, the whole of western Sauchiehall and Argyle Streets were buzzing with hipster pubs and eateries or all shapes and forms for cuisine. We did Sauchie’ on the way into toon, and Arygle on the way out on a hire bus from the reception at the sports club up Gartnavel end.

This evolution doesn’t make me gasp, guffaw and gesticulate! Far from being a chastity to my memories I was delighted to see the development of the town now, and how many people were enjoying them selves. I had lived down on St Vincent Crescent a summer while working in labs at Yorkhill Hospital on a ‘vampire’ DNA project, worth a different blog on the science and the long, hot summer of 1989, and found that there was a kind of dead zone between the Lorne bar where the Teuchters gathered and Gaelic was almost first language in the 80s, to Murphy’s pakora bar, a wonderful emporium dedicated to Glasgows favourite starter, and with of course, the stout of the same name selling always very well. Murphy’s and the Ashoka could get pretty busy.

There were plenty ‘no go’ bars it seemed for students round there, the dodgey looking Calipso across from the art galleries amongst others, but we used to congregate at the Stirling Castle of a Thursday or friday. It was cosey, but there was a kind of wee snide inverted snobbery towards the hospital lab staff, and worse, students like us,  who did seem to be becoming their best clientel at vespers and into eventide.

A fine summer then, a coming of age passage between an awkward and quite boring third year course, losing my fist love to I believe a posh vet student over in Edinbra’, and getting my teeth into what being a professional scientist might be like –  helps if you are a darn sight more introverted and pedantic than I am even now in my reserved middle age. That summer I really did kind of find my way into adulthood more than any other and in fact, the year later, graduating and moving home to pay off debt with menial jobs darn well broke me as a person. But 1989 was a long hot summer, where most all my pals were in the town and I took to cycling about 8 hours a week or more, got a saturday job in Dales Cycles, and got on very well with the decent folk at work up at Yorkhill.

 

They were to put in mildly an eclectic bunch. There were some ageining lab rats who came from it seems public school backgrounds, and would have fitted in well in London’s west end theatre crowd. There were taciturn working class lab techs, and a wide boy with an XR3i. Then there were the professors, like mine, Charlie MGone from Tanzania, and the prof of the Medical Genetics unit whose name escapes me, ( mick’ something?) but he was very well known across academia, and landing a summer internship apparently was a bit of a catch, even though it confirmed my suspiscions that I was not, at that point, really cut out to be a poor PhD student for five years. I celebrated my 21st with them all, twice in fact, once at the flat and once at Oblamov’s on Byres road (although it may have evolved into Whistler’s Mother that very year). There was also a youngish lab rat turned research scientist from the east, called Derek, who was kind of a prototype for me to look at, being quite extroverty but also a good scientist if his chat was to be believed. Not that he put me off, it was just the project was slow and dull, as would my final year lab project be too.

Mixining in with the great age range at work was then one big brick in me coming to adulthood, perhaps starting at my first summer job at Faslane with Balfours where I was offered the chance to become a civil engineer, having unbeknowingly impressed them enough for them to want me in their tribe.    However another very big passage of rights was underway. Sandra, love #1,  left me without any good reason, just a moving of flats to mark the change in wind at her end, and I was left heart broken. Worse I was alone at my mum’s house for some reason on a sunday during the night when she phoned and wanted to ‘reassess’ the situation. Later in the summer two things would happen which were rather marevellous after the usual early adulthood feelings of emptiness and despair and thoughts of ending all the pain, Firstly I had a dream one of the long sunday mornings I used to lie late in bed, awoken only by the cooing of bowling balls gently buffeting each other across the road. I dreamt that I climbed a hill, at a waterfall dived int the deep, cooling waters. I was at once refreshed in my soul, and free of Sandra. Later I went to meet her because there was the usual hostage exchange of records and forgotten clothes, but we went for some drinks and had a good laugh, kissing goodbye with a glint in each other’s eyes like we could perhaps strike up again once what ever had perturbed her washed past.

So back to the early summer, May when Sandra dumped me, without a place to live as my Brother was taking in Mary and Joseph with nay room at the hotel and turfing me out such a more comfortable pregnancy could brew away to near fruition. I had a miserable few weeks or month even back home at my Ma’s but got the chance of the room on St Vincent Crescent and knew one of the (beautiful) flat mates to be who was also called Sandra oddly enough. I had fun flirting with her occaisionally but was both a bit burnt round the edges of my heart and not really in her league of babes. The flat though was a marvel of delapetaded grandeur and a haven from what was a very active lifestyle outside.

St. Vincent Crescent had been town houses for the well heeled long before sauchiehall street became a little more seedy, and so became a rather incongrous grandoise terrace with an elegant curve and marble fountain at its climaxing east end, amidst the dead standard, blackened sandstone tennements of the Finnieston area.  It was a dead end, with an electric cable depot on the dead ground towards the main commuter railway lines still ploughed by the shoogely ‘blue trains’ when I was at uni.

Being a cul-de-sac meant that it had very little traffic, especially at night and attracted less break ins, in the days when security closes off the main thoroughfares were rare. Tea Leaves dinnae like being caught “going equiped” with no reason to be up a cul-de-sac other than bad intent, nor finding a blue flashing light upon exiting the scene, swag over shoulder.

These days I would have a whale of a time with all the wee eateries and micro brew  pubs that line Arygle street, where once tatty convenience stores, cheap curry houses and billboards predominated. I doubt very much that St Vincent Crescent boasts a single student tennancy now. It was quite a working class renter type as far as I could gather in the ‘closes’ while the private door and gardens inbetween seemed to be occupied by gardening-shy hermits and old maids, or just lay empty. The shape of things to come was already there in 1989, with the newly opened international student accomodation round the back of the crescent on Kelvinhaugh Street. They were anonymous yellow and orange brick affairs, which looked uninviting. I seem to remember there was a cheeky short cut if the security door was on the latch at these, into our back ‘midden’ , and we were once confronted by an irate pair of greek post graduates about our thorough faring.

My summer took a bad turn, with a silver lining. I broke my arm at Partick Cross, when my back wheel wasn’t quite firmly locked into my fancy ‘chromed drop outs’ and I pulled it jammed into the frame and came over the bars, locked hard set on my Look pedals. THis was all much to the amusement of one of those Glesga walruses who had wanderd out one of the several boozers at the corner, who laughed and laughed at me. The other side of glasgow soon showed its face as a friendly couple in their forties, him an ex racing cyclsit of sorts too,  saw me limping along with sore crotch and arm, and took me home with my bike and then back to A&E. “Well Mr Melvin, your cycling days are over for the time being” came an almost cliched response from the Orthopedist. I had a light bandage wmaybe even without plaster of paris over a fractured elbow and was back on the bike in three weeks time, but not after a chance to really go on the booze, at the likes of Lock 27, which was in my opinion and many others back then, Glasgow’s premiere outdoor drinking bar when it was fair roastin outside as it often was that long, long summer.

 

At the end of the summer I did a mini interrail with my pal Raul, covering the meat of the dinner of interrailing for many, Paris and Amsterdam. A blog in itself but I came back to glesga with a renewed vigour and lust for knowledge and even acheivement without that just meaning jumping through the hoops of course content and exams.

So that summer down what was not a very traditional under graduate area , became a real coming of age and I felt kind of back to the womb of Glasgow from where in fact I had emerged from the womb at the Queen Mother’s maternity suite at the self same Yorkhill hospital site. I remember standing at partick station looking up to that great phallic spike on Garnet hill, the university tower, and thinking of this as some kind of trinity of my life. Where I was born, where I was educated to be an adult and where I would always be in movement to and from.

My last visit was different this time, because I really felt the passing of time as if I was revisiting a place in my early adulthood which as a fleeting memory from being a toddler. I no longer felt like I was haunting the place as I have done before on many occaisions. This time I felt I was revisting, and exploring, rediscovering and just enjoying the west end by in large and some of the town centre.

The one really big change, as you kind of get from dipstick visits, was the demographics, certainly of the town centre and it being an easter holiday time now that I think back, Byres road and the west end had a decidely older feel. Down town though, it was shocking how large a proportion of the shopping and drinking population were in their 60s, and just how busy it was with them all! The baby boomers who had all those easy going, fairly well paid jobs back when we were young struggelign adults trying to get our careers underway,  are all now nearing retirement. They were lucky for th most part, they got their trade or education, or just ‘start’ in the relatively booming 1970s and held onto their jobs or developed careers for almost forty years of course, blocking often the way for new blood as of course, Scotland created few if any (net) jobs in the years 1986 to 1997.  If they worked hard, they could buy a hoose of their ain, and Thatcher sold them their cooncil hooses by the barrel load in the late eighties, for better and for worst in the grand scheme of things. We were the first generation to really struggle and the first to discover that a bachelors degree is very often not worth a penny unless you have connections who can get you a start. Okay I turned down my career and went into business via sales, but plenty of folk I know kind of meandered through jobs in the 1990s before retraining as teachers or college lecturers, or what ever semi skilled job sitting at a screen or caring for folk.

I get no gut feeling now, no nostalgia. It is like in fact that I have had a tumour removed from my emotional circuits in the brain because I can learn to love and share the city again with my family without that harking back to the old days, that feeling that things have slopped away. Many things you took for granted or said you would love to do again, actually become once-in-a-lifetime experiences and that is why you bloody well cherish their memories. You forget all the usual dates you went on, and remember your first or last. With Brexit happening, and until any real notion that 55% are going to vote Yes to independence, I felt more like a visitor in some ways, an exile being allowed back in. I can never really go back, I would be trying to rekindle something which is not of a time for me anymore, not with kids and so on and a new career, and not with of course the uncertainties of brexit and where the hell my pension will eventually come from.

No it is now possible to see that period of 1986 to 1994 when I lived in the Dear Green Place as a very, very well written book. A wonderful , technicolour mural on the wallking wall of life. It had a beginning, a middle and an end with a full stop. Glasgow though goes on, unabated, embracing the bloody tertiary service economy, but doing it oh so much better than many other cities I have had the opperchancity to visit.

Glasgow had a real buzz to it back then, 1990 being the city of culture, but 1987-89 being the best and most over budget MayFest years. The town and especially the west end, were like a well kept secret, often thought of as dirty, violent and uneducated from outside. They were fantastic years, and judging by the people out in town and the west end on an unseasonally warm day in spring, it is buzzing today again, and a little hidden away once more whilst Edina, capital in name only, has all the limelight.

Wealth Extraction and the Neo New World Order?

We learn this week that major corporates have shall we say favourable investment-taxation mechanisms in the UK for Oil and Gas exploration, extraction and life cycle. o much so that as David Cameron liked to point out in Indryref #1, oil revenues were a trifling £43m. Yet in that same year, Norway could base over 70% of its’ state budget on oil related tax revenues. It transpires that AustraliaLiberalifor it, even  New Zealand recieved a higher tax income from certain oil giants than No.11 Downing Street could muster.

Oil is just another case on the path of wealth extraction successive governments have pursued, gone along wittrindly or simply been a bit ignorant too. The malaise in the UK economy is not really to do with the credit crunch, the collapse of the global credit and bank lending system, that was just a symptom. The malaise in low gains in standard of living and more people not being able to make ends meet is caused by leverage and wealth extraction being part and parcel of nearly everything in British life. From cradle to grave now, the UK rentier economy is ready to take more from you for just the brazen act of living and breathing within a monetary system. 

Excluding Scotland, the majority of rUK economy is dominated by two sectors- retail and financial services, which are bigger than manufacturing, farming and fishing put together. The money floating around in the economy is by in large being put through the consumer and levered out for profit , or in the first pace gross margin. Because companies, like BP and starbucks don’t make profits in the UK, they have the hugely charitable act of employing people and ao don’t need to pay more than their munimal legal requirements to the state for providing a safe democracy with the rule of law, and a decent infrastucture of transport links, education and health. 

Indyref 1 was a kind of taste of things to come, not just in Brexit, but more so in  today’s dangerous times of true post elected democracy. The terrible Scots were on the march, akin to bonnie prince charlies progress as far as Derby in the 1745 rebellion. Westminster were routed, and suddenly the oil cash and 50 ‘safe’ Labour seats needed to be secured. Fear of course, but there was plenty of that in Brexit too for Remain, but also appeasement. “Union” won at all costs, but then walked away from the promises in the ‘pledge’.
Winning at that point in time was all that was mattered. As with Brexit, there was a residual British core of older voters, done well out of the UK or otherwise ideologically aligned to the Union Flag by religion or military service. However to stop the positive indy campaign’s momentum it came down to a series of propoganda pedalling via the BBC and other media outlets, wheeling out ‘economic experts’ or institutions, all woe-sayers. Brexit seems to have been a bit like Trump – marginal gains over building impresssions around terror, unemployment, and good old Britishness. Taking back control!

But control from whom and to whom?  The trouble is that the guiding economic philosophy of the 3 decades 1980 – 2010 had ground to a hault for even average income employees, who were experiencing for the first time an errosion in their material living standards, while being expected to work longer hours to secure this real terms reduction. My generation are the first to encounter this – smaller houses, later premises for starting a family, less discretionary spend and most of all much, muxh more debt in an astonishing  earnings-credit ratio our parents would have thought ludicrous. As indeed it is. 

But to whom goes this new control then ? Well to whom ever thinks they can win. Trump. UKIP. Whom ever can come up with an alternative to both the social democratic keynsian model and the Neo Liberal one. Who ever can win a sound bite, a marginal opinion poling gain or a shit fight in twitter. Whom o ever can make the impression they are racist to the raciat minority, while offering immugration control to those who fearoe their level of income. Whom ever who can be seen to be winning and pulling those minorities together, meaning many things to many people, whom  ever who can be seen to be wielding power, doing something decisive. 

These sound bite battles and proto anarchic revolutions like Trump, Brexit and the EU ‘populists’, who arent that popular really, are being won not to really achieve a racist agenda. Theresa May will be opening the gates to Indian and Chinese ‘Talent we Need’ as part of trade deals with them. No- race, xenophobia and simplistic economics like ‘ taking our jobs and keeping our wages down’ are just stalking horses for a new power elite who are either self sponsored like Trump and Arron Banks, or in the wealthy elite circle and paybook like muchbof congress and the parliamentary cabinet. 

The trouble is though for this new “elite” who are invading the post Neo Lib’vacuum, is democracy. They have used it to their ends, but they face oknce again the tyranny of the masses, and if any of their qausi protectionist and anti immigration policies work, they can be ‘land grabbed’by centre right and even Labour parties. Unlike Putin, they will not run over countries with a divine right of a Tsar, a strong, unweilding hand  above even the rule of law. 
Liberalism and Socialism grew from this kind of corruption and arrogance in the ruling classes, who had in their day risen from the conquest of fifedoms and their warlords with violence and deciept. Today’s tribal violence is “contra-confined” in internet land, where the petty racist 20% of society can be vocal and use veils of cultural defence in their posturing and spear throwing. A Neo, Neo Liberalism witb the freedom of the individual within society will arise aloing with new social justice, just as it has done before. Change is the only constant, a barometeic shift will eventually swing and victory beome again hollow as the pendulum swings back witb the tyranny of the masses.