Tuesday, 23 December 2014


I’ve never really ‘got’ Glasgow. My main dislike is that, as soon as you leave Queen Street or Central Station, you are faced with a sea of shops and a surge of shoppers. You have to push against the tide to find the stuff for which Glasgow is also famous. I usually head straight for GOMA, then Trongate or cca to get my cultural bearings, yet it is impossible to ignore the thousands of people surfing through the ‘style mile.’

So there I was in Glasgow recently, on the last weekend before Christmas, the worst possible time of year for one who hates displays of commerce, consumerism and affluence – a different sort of cca. And the first thing I thought about when I saw a piece by Barbara Kruger in GOMA was her famous work, I shop, therefore I am.

Many think that the run-up to Christmas is what the festive season represents. This frenzy of shopping, partying and pseudo-celebration of something that hasn’t yet happened becomes a fairground without a purpose except to rejoice in its own existence. It’s as though people can only identify with their materialist identity by jumping on the merry-go-round of spending.

The only thing that halts this spree is Christmas Day, when – thankfully – most shops are shut. Well, sometimes I also wish it could be Christmas every day. Far from being the first of twelve days of hearty eating and drinking to fatten us up for the hard months ahead, for many this is where the celebration ends: Boxing Day is when you tear down the decorations, chuck out the tree, and start the diet.

There is an expression in the Bible about performing acts of charity without letting the left hand know what the right is doing. A sinister adaptation of this image now occurs as a metaphor for corporate ignorance, where one ‘body’ is unaware of what is going on in a different department. This lack of communication between two elements is, on one hand, a worthy sentiment while, on the other, a symbol of failure.

We know, of course, that not all acts of generosity are performed with pure altruism. There is a concept in psychology which takes on the idea that we rarely give without expecting some form of reciprocation. I have played with this in the next of my Cautionary Tales, which I will post below. But first, to return to Glasgow. Not the shops, or pubs, or other cultures, but the people.

I was due to attend the launch of Northern Renewal who had included two of my poems in their latest issue. Nervous about going to an event where I didn’t know anyone, feeling fractious after battling through Christmas crowds, I popped into a nearby Wetherspoons for a pint of Old Scrooge. But when I arrived at the Launch Party I was welcomed with warmth, generosity, and immense friendliness.

These, as many folk are keen to point out, are factors that typify the Glasgow spirit, whether in the streets and shops, theatres or concert halls, pubs, clubs, or art galleries. Sadly, as I write this, Glasgow is reeling in another tragedy, following on from the Clutha disaster and the GSA fire, which will test its spirit and resilience.

I cannot imagine the horror of this incident, and my heart goes out to all those who, while engrossed in what I have dared to suggest was a meaningless pursuit of ‘happiness,’ found themselves in the grip of true horror. A lorry, out of control, among the juggernaut crowds of shoppers. There are some who will want to throw out the tree before Christmas Day arrives. And who can blame them?

Anyone who tells you that Jesus came to die for us so that we might have eternal life is lying: He came that we might live life to the full. This is what those folk were doing when death ploughed through the crowds with its uncharitable scythe. Days before, I was moaning about meaningless money, forgetting that Edinburgh Council’s vulgar slogan is ‘Inspiring Capital’ while Glasgow’s is, ‘People Make Glasgow.’ This is what will get those hardy Glaswegians through the coming days, and years. And life.

from Charlotte & The Charlatan – and other cautionary tales


Benevolent Benedict


Benedict lived for one thing only:

to give. His reason to live was

to show unconditional generosity.

For Ben, this was a need more than basic;

he hated greed and favoured altruistic

gestures that required no reciprocity.

Generous to a tee, he gave to charity,

and abhorred all selfish acts.

Giving was selfless and never performed

while hoping for something back.

To make a donation was money-well-spent:

this was the philosophy of Mr. Benevolent.


This life-choice wasn’t derived

from religious affinity. For Ben,

it was more about ‘light’ than

the darkness of religions’ thrust,

which required you to trust that

you would be rewarded for your

good deeds. Whether there’s laughter

in Heaven or not, there’s no point

in bequeathing a gift to someone

who has breathed their final breath.

Uninspired by the life-hereafter,

he awarded a higher value to life before death.


“But can you be sure?” his friends would ask:

“That all your giving will be remembered

after you’ve left the land of the living?”

“That,” said Benedict, confident,

“Is no concern to me: I’ll be dead and gone.

Whatever money I earned or spent

won’t follow me into the grave.

I’ll be remembered by what I gave,

not what I took, even if eternity has been,

or will be, proven to be a reality.”

“But this life,” his friends remonstrated,

“Is ours for the taking: we must get all we can.”


“Oh really!” said Ben: “You’ll pay dearly

if you consider this life as anything more

than a gift.” Saying this, he knew that a rift

was forming between him and his associates.

“Wealth creates wealth,” they said:

“If you give it away, you’ll have nothing to show for.”

“For sure,” was Benedict’s curt reply: 

“And, by the same token, nothing to pay!

It’s better not to be indebted

than die in the red with a life half-regretted.”


“Surely,” said his friends:  “You must make

the best of the life you’ve got? Yesterday-

remembered is better than tomorrow-forgot.

Speculate, accumulate, and enjoy it to the full.”

Benedict was dismayed by their rhetoric.

It wasn’t in Ben’s nature to be uncharitable,

so he showered them with compliments,

accolades and, above all, unconditional

forgiveness (otherwise known as love.)

But he still had something to prove.

So he gave the ultimate gift with his left hand

not knowing what the right was doing.


Again, his friends eschewing

his selflessness, said: “You may

think of yourself as a generous donor,

but if you disown a responsibility

that most of us are unable to avoid,

you are no more benevolent than

Father Christmas, that fraudulent fake,

is opulent.” This may have been true,

but there was nothing Ben could do.

Time went on, and Benedict never

considered that what he did was wrong.


He continued to do for others what

he never thought of doing for himself.

And whether he got into Heaven or not,

he spent all his earthly life alone,

on the shelf, confessing that life

had been an unrequited blessing.