My Sunny Sailor Boy

On this date 11 years ago, at exactly this time and on this very day too, I heard and felt a pop.  It had been a long, hot day – in fact, we’d been enjoying a heatwave similar to this year’s.  I’d got up early and spent most of the day in the garden: weeding, tidying, cutting grass, clipping the big rhodedendron and the rose bushes.  I’d also done a mammoth washing and ironing, for the Big Yin’s forthcoming holiday. I also found time to do a little cooking, tidying and bag packing.  And it was only when I stood up from a late tea, that something happened.

That happening was the start of the arrival of Boy Wonder.  The contractions started coming thick and fast but I was filthy, so into the bath I went.  The heat simply quickened the pace.  By 10pm I was in the hospital: by 11, in the birthing pool; by 1am, in delivery, fending off all offers of drugs; by 3am, he’d arrived.  Always in a hurry, right from the start.

He was long, very long.  He unpacked his limbs and lay placidly on my chest, gazing up at me, eyes wide open.  Lashes to die for, even then. I don’t think he’s ever been still for such a long time since.

At 11 weeks, he first rolled over.  By five months, he was crawling, discovering the joy of bolting up the stairs at the grandparents a month later.

There were some toys, games and books he never tired of.  The little stars play gym/piano/push along; the Moose in the Hoose (thank you Matthew Fitt and James Robertson for hours of fun); We’re going on a bear hunt; Lego (Duplo was too lumpy for his fine motor skills); playdoh; pots and wooden spoons; little plastic soldiers (inherited from his brother and augmented ever since); How to Catch a Star.  This is a boy with an endless repeat function – what is that about?

And he is still long, he has limbs which seem to go on forever.  A sportsman’s body, excelling at all he tries, though he often doesn’t try hard enough.  Just enough and no more, that’s his motto, and why should he when he doesn’t need to? Class champion every sports day with barely a sweat broken. A natural musical aptitude too – how proud I was when he led the percussion section in the school nativity in Primary 2, keeping perfect rhythm and as is his wont, everyone else right.  Singing in the school choir, playing the flute, humffing about both at every opportunity.

Because lordy, does this boy have an attitude.  An answer for everything, a bletherer, an opinion and a counter argument.  He would argue that black was white and frequently does.  I wonder who he gets any of that from?

We’re hitting the hard years.  Neither baby boy nor man child.  Something inbetween and completely unsure what.  A sudden interest in how he looks, though thankfully still maintaining a healthy, boyish disinterest in washing.  Apparently, it’s okay to wash your face only on a Wednesday.

A bright and shining star, this is a boy destined to go far.  Counting at the age of two – no, really.  A huge vocabulary – over 100 words at a year old.  But only if he can be bothered to get out of his pyjamas, for this is a wee home bird, happy to loll around, resting up, waiting for events rather than making things happen.

He wants a dog.  We’ve been weighing it up for months now.  He’s great with dogs and animals generally, but we all know who gets the joy of walking, vetting and cleaning up after them.  And he’d like a baby brother or sister, of which there is no chance.  Which is a shame because he’s great with wee ones too.  Thoughtful, kind and patient.

If his brother is the child who will always land butter side up, this is the one who would insist on butter and jam, not give in until he got them and then insist on them being on separate plates.  Oh, they’re funny together.  Big and small, two sides of the same coin, polar opposites.  But their adoration for and loyalty to each other brings tears to the eyes.

For this is my Boy Wonder.  And he is wondrous and wonderful in equal measure.  And when it’s him and me on our tods – as it so often is – he makes me feel whole and complete.  He is curious and chatty and charming.  And very, very funny. A joy to spend time with, particularly when he allows himself to just enjoy the moment.  I adore every sharp and soft angle of him, every idiosyncratic inch.  Even if I spend more time than is healthy also worrying and fretting over whether any of my good enough really is good enough.

Because this is a boy who needs more, a bigger world, a grander stage.  He is always searching for more, never satisfied in the present, wanting to know how and when and where and what happens next. This one is a seeker and I hope eventually, he finds it.  And when he does, whatever it is, he’ll be brilliant, quite utterly brilliant at it.

Happy birthday, Boy Wonder.  You might be turning eleven and growing up, oh so fast.  But you’ll always be my wee Sunny, Sailor Boy.


Gary Wilson: My journey to Yes

When folk say that Scotland is a village, they really do mean it. It’s funny how people you know through contact in a certain sphere, turn up again somewhere completely different and totally unexpected.  When I first met Gary Wilson, I knew he was a Labour member and involved in Better Together. I never dreamed that we’d end up on the same side nor that I’d get to hear his eloquent and powerful explanation for his Journey to Yes:

I began life in this campaign as a Labour party member and as the Better Together co-ordinator for my area, Edinburgh East. I’d like to say I beat off stiff opposition for the “honour” but lots of my Labour colleagues were uneasy about the alliance with the Tories in Better Together. I came forward because I saw it as my duty and no one else could or would.

But it didn’t take long for two concerns to emerge. First, here I was hob-nobbing with the very people I had spent all my life campaigning against. Second, a no vote could lead to the worst possible option for me – another Tory government in charge of all of us in the UK.

And I had been speaking with friends who work with homeless people, disabled people, and lone parents about the impact of welfare reform. It was more than I could stomach
and I began listening instead to my heart. And my heart told me I could not be part of the Better Together campaign. Even though I continue to be a Labour party member in
Edinburgh East.

I also started looking into the arguments against staying in the UK – the case, particularly the economic case, for independence for Scotland is strong, very strong. I also began to notice
the very vicious press attacks designed to scare folk and the success these scare tactics appeared to be having.

And so I journeyed to Yes. And I am not alone.

A lot of my Labour friends have doubts and are uneasy at the position they find themselves in with the party throwing their lot in with the Tories.

As a gay man who had come out many years ago, I was under no illusion of the impact of “coming out” for yes. But I had to do it. And it has been difficult but also the right thing to do.

I recall hearing Ruth Davidson (Scottish Conservative leader) talking to young people about change and how she felt that she now lived in a liberating, exciting, free country ie the UK.

That isn’t my experience. And there’s nothing exciting about the current environment of cuts and pay freezes for public sector workers. It’s not exciting for the one million living in poverty in Scotland. It’s not exciting being attacked for being sick or being disabled.

There has been a 400% rise in the last year in the number of people in Scotland using foodbanks to stave off hunger – I don’t call that liberating, I call that a disgrace. Where’s the freedom for the 1 in 5 living in poverty in the world’s sixth largest economy?

I did not get involved in the Labour party to sanction public service and welfare cuts but to fight them. And now I can by campaigning for independence for Scotland.

It took me a while to get involved with Labour for Independence, but I’m glad I did. We are fighting for what we believe in and there are more of us than the Labour
party likes to pretend.

Tales from the Campaign Trail (1)

So, four weeks of the Sabbatical down, eight to go.  Apart from a wee interlude in Yorkshire for the Tour de France, it’s been pretty full on referendum campaigning.

I set myself the goal of engaging with 100 voters a week which I worried, judging by the gasps from some, was overly ambitious.  It’s not.  If anything, it’s been too cautious.  Last week alone, I spoke with over 300 voters.

In fact, I’m having so much fun I thought I’d share the highlights with the wider world, in a weekly round-up diary.  Which may have two posts this week as I catch up… Sometimes good ideas take a while…

Wunderful wimmin

The best thing about getting out there on to doorsteps is meeting all Jock Tamson’s bairns.  And it’s when you meet people, and they share a little of who they are and what they do, and how they got from there to here, that you inwardly rejoice that you live in a country called Scotland.  People are amazing and they are amazing in a multitude of ways.  I hear resilience and can do and refusal to accept defeat.  I also hear negativity and doubt and fear and worst of all, the articulation of conditioning to think that we can’t.  “We cannae afford to” “Do you think we could?” “I think Scotland would make a hash of it if we go it alone” – anyone who doubts that there has been a colonialisation of hearts and minds in Scotland should join me some day on the doorsteps.  But they’d also encounter hope in the form of what people achieve for themselves, their families and their communities.  And the ones who make my heart sing the most?  The wimmin.  The wunderful, wunderful wimmin I encounter from a wide range of backgrounds.

There’s the woman with three deerhounds in a two bedroomed house with a wee square back garden who speaks in double negatives. “Well, I can tell you who I’m no’ gonnae voter fir.  And that’s the no lot.”  Yep, that does mean she’s voting yes.  Better than that, she’s decided she’s the Yes shop steward at her work, posting leaflets and snippets on the staff noticeboard in the canteen, ensuring it is discussed regularly and often at breaks. “Particularly aw thae young yins whose heids are fu o nonsense”. She took five Scotland’s Future summaries, the first going to her colleague on the machine in front of her, for this apparently is just what she needed.  She beamed when I said I wished we had twenty of her.

There was the Muslim woman in the hijab with the largest, most beautiful brown eyes I have ever seen, who was “almost, nearly voting yes”.  But wouldn’t commit fully, yet, just in case.  I’m not sure “just in case” what, as she made a pretty convincing case for voting yes, with little prompting from me.  She watched and read everything, all the political coverage and programmes and she and her family and friends spent a lot of time on Facebook discussing politics.  Gaza was the hot topic and I listened to her thoughts on what was going to happen.  A ground invasion she thought, the day before it happened.  Witty and fiercely intelligent and engaged and thoughtful.  And a Scottish accent to boot.  I left in complete awe frankly.

Then, there was the pensioner with Alzheimer’s whose front door wouldn’t open so she decided by looking through the nets that she could trust me and we spent five minutes wrestling the keys through her letterbox so I could open her door from the outside.  I did so because I was worried that she couldn’t get out if she needed to.  Turns out the door sticks all the time and the back door is fine.  Anyway, after a long chat about her family which flitted and skittered across the decades and memories, she finally got round to asking why I was here.  So we talked politics for a little bit and she advised she’d probably vote no.  I knew that she was a no before I went in, but it didn’t matter.  Before I left I made her a cup of tea, made sure she could get her feet up on the stool and left a note for her daughter explaining who I was and why I had been in the house, otherwise “I’ll get a row cos I’m not supposed to let anyone in”.

Spending time with pensioners was a bit of a feature last week.  Apparently, I’m good at pensioners; supported housing is ideal for my engagement skills, so I was told, even just to negotiate the buzzers.  Don’t tell them but where they sent me?  Trade buttons work until 3pm… But I did have a great time, for most of them can’t stand at the door talking for very long, so you do get invited in and offered cups of tea. And they make time for a proper chat and it’s a pleasure and a privilege to listen to them and hear about their lives.

The one who will stay long with me was a woman aged 94 who will be voting in person, thanks.  Absolutely sharp as a tack mentally, reads two newspapers every day, scours the TV news avidly.  She was probably going to vote no she said.  At her age, who needs the change?  But then she did something that doesn’t happen all that often.  She turned to me and asked me why I was voting Yes.  So I talked about my boys and how the fact that more children than ever in Scotland are growing up in poverty and how we didn’t seem able to do much about it in the current system.

And she told me that her husband had left her with two wee ones and she tried as best she could to cope on her own in the 1950s but it was hard in those postwar years.  And eventually she had to go to the Parish Relief for help and with tears in her eyes, she told me how they had treated her and how ashamed they had made her feel, as if it had all been her fault.  And I told her about my own experience forty years later of being a lone parent on benefits. And about how lone parents were being treated now.

And she talked about what it was like to grow up in the hungry thirties.  Every morning, her mother would send her and her brother off to the Salvation Army for breakfast: a mug of hot porridge and bread crusts (they kept the bread for the men). And how sometimes that would be their only meal of the day and she can still remember what it felt like to go to bed hungry.  And she turned to me and said, that’s why they keep that food parcel in the porch of my church round the corner, isn’t it?  There’s always one there and when it goes, it gets replaced straight away.  The women who used to do the flowers do it.

She hadn’t made the link before now.  “The hungry thirties are back, aren’t they?” she asked.  “Now I get it.  That’s why you’re voting yes.”  I had said nothing other than a sharing of stories and experiences and she had arrived at the conclusion herself, of how in her lifetime she had seen the return of hunger and destitution to the streets of Scotland.  And why something as radical as independence was needed.  Will she vote yes?  I think so.

Brief Highlights

Come to the seaside, they said.  It’s great fun, you’ll like it.  They had great fun apparently, yesses everywhere.  I got four doors slammed in my face.  But I did also find two young women who’d never been on the register before and persuaded them to fill the form in this time.

I also managed to find a whole street, admittedly of only ten houses, which is No in its entirety.  Yep, every voter voting No. I’m open to offers… It’ll go to a good cause…

Quote of the week

“It’s so confusing when you hear about it on the news or read about it in the newspapers.  You don’t know who or what to believe, but see when you explain it, it makes much more sense”.

Things I am going to do after 18 September:

the ironing



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