Sunday 22 December 2013

Visit Kilmarnock: Football Away Days Kilmarnock vs Partick Thistle

With Partick Thistle back in the top tier of Scottish football I wasn't expecting to see some great leap forward with regards to the football on offer (and in that respect my expectations have been met) but one thing I was looking forward to was re-visiting some grounds that I haven't been to for years. Already this season it has been nice to re-acquaint myself with Easter Road and also with St Mirren's new ground. One other old rivalry I was looking forward to re-visiting was with Kilmarnock FC. The earlier fixture at Firhill ended 1-1 with a Kris Boyd equaliser in the second half. However since then both teams have struggled to pick up points so I (naively) fancied our chances at Rugby Park.

I wasn't just wanting to pick up a Killie pie and a Killie bunnet when I was in town (that's the Alexander Brothers singing the Big Kilmarnock Bunnet song above). Another reason I was looking forward to this wee jaunt down to Ayrshire is that one wing of my family comes from down Kilmarnock way and I fancied trying to have a wander around the town to see what it has to offer. The Visit Scotland website isn't exactly bursting with suggestions of what to look out for so I thought I'd start by trying to track down any addresses in town inhabited by my ancestors which are still standing. A few years ago I got quite into tracing the old family tree and found that at the end of the 1700s my great-great-great-great grandfather, a weaver from Paisley, moved to Kilmarnock. His son worked in the town, also as a weaver, but as industrialisation moved on apace his son left that trade and was a coal miner in the local pits. In the 1860s he was living at Back Street, which I found was bulldozed to lay out Portland Street. His wife, an immigrant from Ireland, according to a census of 1861, helped make one of Kilmarnock's famed products which featured in the Alexander Brothers' song, as she was a bonnet knitter. Their son married Lizzie Jane Hay, a domestic servant from nearby Hurlford, so I started there.
Railway Tavern at Riccarton Road, Hurlford
She lived on Riccarton Road in Hurlford and this is a postcard she sent home once when visiting relatives there. Although the town was once home to Jimmy Knapp of the RMT Transport Union, there hasn't been a train station in Riccarton since 1955 and Riccarton Road today was less picturesque than it was 100 years ago, although the children did appear to own shoes nowadays.

Riccarton Road going under the railway line, Hurlford today
One thing which Hurlford is known for is its junior football team which plays at Blair Park and it has a reputation as a "football nursery" with professional players Ian Bryson, David CalderheadWilliam Goldie, Jack Picken, Sandy Turnbull, Arthur Young and Colin Douglas all calling Hurlford home at one time. I have a couple of old photographs of my Kilmarnock ancestors in football teams but can find no trace of Kilmarnock Hillhead Victoria FC now.
Blair Park, Hurlford

So as there were nothing standing of the places my family used to live in Hurlford maybe I'd have better luck if I headed into Kilmarnock. My great grandfather when he married lived at number 5 East Netherton Street in Kilmarnock in 1906. This house is still standing, no longer a family home, but a dental surgery.
5 East Netheron Street, Kilmarnock

Later they moved around the corner to 14 High Glencairn Street, which I was also able to visit, and order some chips and curry sauce from their old front room, as it is now a Chinese takeaway. Underneath the "Ocean Sun" frontage you can clearly see there is a good, solid, old house there. A lot of Kilmarnock seemed to be like that. There are swathes of the town centre flattened as industries have come and gone or brutalised, such as with the concrete monstrosity of a shopping mall which lies beside old buildings at Kilmarnock Cross. The nearby winding streets struggle to show their former handsome selves.

14 Glencairn Street, Kilmarnock
Harland and Wolff shipyard workers, Govan, Glasgow. "Moulders"

Climie Place, Kilmarnock
Like the character in the Kilmarnock bunnet song, my great grandfather put on his bunnet (maybe one his mum knitted him as it was her occupation) and headed to Glasgow, where he worked as an iron moulder in the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Govan. He is in the photo above, the guy with the bunnet on. One of his brothers stayed in Kilmarnock, Robert Climie, working as a draper's clerk. Then he worked as an engineer in the Britannia Engineering Works in Kilmarnock, owned by the Dick, Kerr Company, which made locomotives and tramcars. There he became active in the trade union movement and the Independent Labour Party (ILP). In 1914 he became chairman of the Scottish TUC. His obituary mentions one of his successes in getting £50,000 in back wages for the women workers of the Singer Manufacturing Company. He worked for many years on the town council and stood in parliamentary elections for Kilmarnock and represented the town as MP in 1923 and 1929. I've a great photo of him standing beside Keir Hardie in another blogpost here.  He has a short street in the town named after him for his efforts, so a quick visit to Climie Place was my next destination.
A lot of this information here I gleaned from previous visits to the archive at the Dick Institute and now a lot of this old archive is stored at the Robert Burns Monument Centre where a statue of Robert Burns looks out over Kay Park.
Robert Burns Monument, Kilmarnock

Another association Kilmarnock has is in the phrase "Kilmarnock Edition". Robert Burns's most famous work "Poems Chiefly In The Scottish Dialect" was published in Kilmarnock in 1786 (around about the time my relatives moved to town) and is more commonly known by that phrase. A swanky online edition of the book is available here. The success of the Kilmarnock Edition of his poems lead the famous son of Ayrshire to abandon his plans to go to Jamaica and continue his writings in Scotland. The Dick Institute (titter, titter) is the town's museum. I found it a bit of a hotch potch, with the library and temporary exhibition space on the ground floor given over to a thing on Jacqueline Wilson. All the olde Kilmarnock stuff I was interested in was a bit of a jumble in one rooms on the first floor, gathering dust, with wobbly display cases and old photographs curling off of their mountings. It was a sad collection of now departed industries from the area, from coal, through to the Saxone shoe factory. They did have a printing press of the type used to produce Burns's work. Here I learnt that the case holding the movable type letters had two drawers to it, the capital letters held in the upper case, the lower case letters held in see where this is going?
Another famous son of Ayrshire associated with Kilmarnock is a chap called John Walker. A grocer, he started selling his own whisky in his shop as "Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky". After it became legal in 1860 to sell blended whisky his son and then grandson expanded the enterprise and renamed their whiskies Johnnie Walker, and it is now the world's best selling Scotch whisky. The wee man striding across the label is known everywhere. When ANC activist Zola Zembe (who I've mentioned before) was staying with us in Maryhill in the 1970s he was delighted to see that there was a familiar figure on the advertising hoarding across Maryhill Road from our flat. He called the man "Walking Johnnie" and when he was in South Africa to him this was such an archetypal image of Scotland, that he was delighted to see Walking Johnnie out of our windows in Glasgow. On the wall of the goldsmith's shop on King Street is a plaque telling you that this was John Walker's original shop, where he started selling his whiskies. I think the plaque means that shop and not the ugly Claire's Accessories shop next door.

Site of Johnnie Walker's original shop

Johnnie Walker now has annual sales of 130 million bottles. That must be great for the town, no? Well, no. The distiller Diageo that now owns the brand closed down the Kilmarnock bottling plant in 2012, at that time the biggest employer in town, ending 192 years of association between Kilmarnock and Johnnie Walker's whisky. I went to an old graveyard off Saint Andrew's Street to see if Mr Walker was spinning in his grave - I can confirm that he was, poor chap.

Johnnie Walker's grave, Kilmarnock
Leaving the churchyard I then headed for Rugby Park to watch Kilmarnock vs Partick Thistle. Despite dominating the match for almost the entire 90 minutes Thistle spurned numerous chances and let Kilmarnock score two sloppy goals. Sadly this is becoming the familiar shape of our campaign. Largely playing with a slightly weakened version of last season's First Division winning squad we were always going to struggle. Despite a neat goal from Kris Doolan, it's a poor day when a Killie pie is the highlight of the match.
A Killie pie at Rugby Park

"In memory of John Walker, merchant"
Kilmarnock Water

Sunday 8 December 2013

Nelson Mandela: My Part In His Release

I wasn't going to write a blog about Nelson Mandela, who died at the age of 95 on Thursday, as there has been a lot already written but a couple of things changed my mind.

Yesterday afternoon I stood to give a minute's applause with a crowd of 10,000 people at a football match in Edinburgh, marking the passing of a man once derided by our government as a terrorist. This just struck me as a pleasing, but bizarre, situation. I thought back to the annual sponsored walk around Pollok Park that we used to do as a family when I was a child, raising money for the Scottish Committee of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The sum total of people who seemed interested in the wellbeing of Nelson Mandela at that time seemed to consist of my dad and his friends in the organisation.

Edinburgh and EOS Jags fans going to yesterday's game
alter their flag to mark the passing of Nelson Mandela

The other thing was that unbeknown to me, Conservative Party Central Office seems to have been a secret hot bed of campaigners against oppression in South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s, despite those all expenses paid "fact finding" trips to the country they took and the notorious "Hang Mandela" posters. Marina Hyde covers this nicely in the Guardian today.

So if David Cameron now wishes to reposition himself on the right side of history, then to paraphrase Spike Milligan's title, I feel I can share the story of my part in Mandela's release. By doing so I only want to make sure that the people who did work tirelessly to raise the issue of apartheid in South Africa are not overlooked. This is something Janey Buchan was keen to do in a letter to The Herald newspaper 20 years ago when Mandela visited Glasgow (although the main point of her letter was to say that it was all her idea about the Freedom of the City, not Michael Kelly's).
Those of us who were present at the ceilidh to celebrate Mandela's visit were pleased that, at last, the consistent support and hard work over long, long years of John Nelson, treasurer of Scottish Anti-Apartheid, was finally marked in a speech by the equally hard-working chairman of Scottish Anti-Apartheid, Brian Filling. Everyone got to their feet. It was absolutely in character that, when this salute was made, John was not in the hall -- he was outside selling T-shirts and pamphlets. Now, that's a punter. That's consistency and commitment, and when the necessary fund-raising and supportive action gets under way for the free and fair elections in South Africa we will know that the John Nelsons of this world will not be found wanting. 
Janey Buchan, MEP, Herald letters, 21 Oct 1993
 This just nicely encapsulates my memories of the Anti-Apartheid Movement I knew as a child. Brian Filling out front doing the speeches and John Nelson, with his wallpaper table as bookstall, tartan shopping trolley full of pamphlets, books and badges on the side trying to raise money and spread the word. My parents, my aunts and uncles were all involved too. My dad was very active in it and I think worked more alongside trade unions in Scotland to promote the Anti-Apartheid agenda. The bookstall in the shopping trolley was often taken around by my dad too, and that was where I first saw the face of Nelson Mandela. The chubby-faced photograph of a young man on the front cover of "The Struggle Is My Life" was burned onto my memory, so that I was really shocked when the tall, thin, grey-haired old man emerged from prison in 1990.

It just seemed weird that a country was allowed to treat the majority of its people in the way South Africa did. As a child I could understand that injustices were going on in South Africa, how education, housing, medical care, sport, all aspects of life were segregated along racial lines. I knew that a black man was never going to be able to get the same wage there as a white man, or be able to cast a vote. It just was not fair. Why was this allowed to happen? It couldn't happen unless other countries were allowing it to happen, that was obvious to me. However it had only been a few years since America had finally decided that maybe it wasn't acceptable for black people to have to sit on a different part of the bus from whites. So maybe what struck me as a bizarre way to run a country was more acceptable to others. The fact that my parents and their friends campaigning against apartheid were often trade unionists and communists (although many were not "political" and the church was very active in the campaign) maybe provides a clue to the British and American support to apartheid South Africa. They saw it as a bulwark against communist influence in South Africa and nearby Rhodesia, Mozambique and Angola. Many in the ANC who campaigned for justice in their country saw communist ideas as a way to bring the equality they sought.

So even before freeing Nelson Mandela was made a focus for the campaign, trying to bring attention to him and all the other political prisoners in the country, there were plenty of people like us who never bought Outspan oranges or banked with Barclays (who did a lot of business in South Africa). Thatcher and Reagan made sure that no biting boycott ever rocked the financial stability of South Africa and I'm sure the fact that Denis Thatcher had business links to South Africa had no influence on her thinking. I also made judgements on musicians and sportsmen on whether or not they supported the boycotts of South Africa, and ultimately it was from these boycotts that some of the biggest worldwide pressures began to be applied. My mum travelled down to the Borders to picket the travelling Springboks rugby team. This fact later earned her pariah status when she worked in an office in that area when she explained why she had been to the town before. The England cricket team were a bunch of individuals that it was easy to dislike even before they toured South Africa, but it meant I could dislike them from the moral high ground. Ian Botham rose in my estimation as he did boycott the tours, struck by how his friend Viv Richards would be treated in that country. Again it is easy to be sniffy at Elton John and Queen, but when you know that they were happy to take the Krugerrands and play at Sun City, you can feel that you were correct in your musical judgement.

Amandla UK tour programme 1985 and album of songs by Mayibuye
The ANC plan wasn't all cultural boycotts. South African trade unionists, speakers and musicians were often in Glasgow trying to draw attention to the plight of people in their country, such as the musicians of "Mayibuye". In the sleeve notes of their album they note that as the ANC has been banned since 1977 "in South Africa today there is no road to freedom except the armed road." When these people came to town they were often put up in our flat in Maryhill. Due to the various campaigns that my parents were involved with there were often people passing through our place in Maryhill. As children we heard first hand stories from Palestine, Iran, Portugal (which was still run as a dictatorship into the mid-70s) and South Africa. Of all of these temporary lodgers the most memorable for my brother and me had to be Zola Zembe. Like his name (an adopted nom de guerre) he had a zip and a zing about him and I was delighted to see him looking so well when being interviewed on ITV last night, talking about Mandela. He now uses his real name again, Archie Sibeko. He told us stories about beatings he had had in South Africa from the police. But he also told us stories about how rhinos were evil buggers who had poor eyesight but would wait for hour after hour at the bottom of a tree if you had fled up it, ready to trample you as soon as you came down. He had been charged alongside Mandela in the "Treason Trial" and shared a cell with him, before fleeing the country and was at that time trying to organise trade union support in Western Europe. One effect of his trade union work brought two Irish woman to stay with us as they made a speaking tour in Scotland. They wanted to make people aware of the picket by Dunnes shopworkers in Ireland. When two young workers in a Dunnes store in Dublin were suspended for following union advice, refusing to handle South African fruit, they were suspended. This lead to a 2 and a half year long strike at the shops and the eventual banning of fruit and veg imports by Ireland from South Africa. Bizarrely I bumped into the same two Irish women when I was in Moscow in 1985 as a 14 year old and had a good old natter.

The focus of the Anti-Apartheid campaign shifted towards the treatment of the political prisoners, using the 60th birthday of Nelson Mandela in 1978 to draw attention to the issue. We sent postcards of support to him in prison and when the Labour group at Glasgow City Council proposed offering Nelson Mandela the Freedom of the City, the campaign was finally making it onto the front pages. Although the editorial line of the Glasgow Herald initially sneered at the council getting involved in the plight of a man 6000 miles away, by the time he was awarded it in absentia in 1981 their line had changed. Tory councillors in the city continued to deride him as a terrorist. When Jerry Dammers and the Special AKA released the single "Nelson Mandela" in 1984, and covered the back of the sleeve with information on the situation in South Africa and contact details for the Anti-Apartheid Movement, momentum seemed to be building. Steve Van Zant organised others in America to declare that they weren't gonna play "Sun City". By the time the "Freedom at Seventy" campaign came around in 1988 people were queueing up to add their names to the campaign and a concert at Wembley in London generated huge publicity. The Free Mandela March from Glasgow to London that year too was criticised by the Daily Record and letters to The Times still called Nelson Mandela a terrorist, but the tide was turning. In Glasgow 30,000 people turned up to a rally in Glasgow Green to see the marchers off. A Gallup poll showed that 77% of people in Britain had now heard of Nelson Mandela and 45% of the population felt that our government wasn't doing enough. The campaigns also positioned the ANC as the representative of the South African people in people's imagination making it impossible for the South African government to bypass them.

When Nelson Mandela was released in February 1990 from prison it still felt unreal, that years of campaigns and protests seemed to have succeeded. We had a party at our house to watch it on TV and I think there was some delay as I can remember it feeling like it was never going to happen. This was just a step on the road to achieving a more equal society in South Africa. In the 1950s the ANC collected the "freedom demands" from the disenfranchised people of South Africa and produced their "Freedom Charter." They demanded land for the landless people, free and compulsory education, living wages and shorter working hours. Two weeks before his release from prison in 1990 Mandela wrote that "The nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is the policy of the ANC and change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable."

Two months after his release from prison whilst negotiations were ongoing over a new constitution in South Africa I travelled to London with my brother to see Nelson Mandela at a tribute concert in the same Wembley venue the "Freedom at Seventy" concert had been held two years earlier. (Much as it was a great event, Simple Minds were bloody awful at it.) At the time there was great uncertainty what was going to happen next and this felt like our one chance to see the man himself. The programme declared that "Now, after 78 years of struggle the ANC is preparing for the leading role in a democratic South Africa".

April 1990, programme from "An International Tribute Concert for a Free South Africa"
Whilst campaigning for the upcoming presidential elections in South Africa, Nelson Mandela came to Glasgow 1993. The city had raised his international profile when he had been granted the freedom of the city in the 1980s. In a delightful move the city elders had embarrassed the South African consulate in the city by changing the name of the street their offices were on to "Nelson Mandela Place". I am sure that they endeavoured to find a way to avoid having the address on their stationary. Many of my friends and family were involved in organising the events in Glasgow that day. Whilst my uncle Ronnie, my brother and myself were roped in as "security" at the front of the stage, my dad and cousins were manning stalls. My aunt and my mum were on stage with Mandela in George Square and at the Royal Concert Hall as part of the Women's Socialist choir, Eurydice, welcoming Mandela to our city. It was a special day for everyone present, a long cherished ideal suddenly and unbelievably made real.

Programme and my backstage pass for Mandela's visit to Glasgow, 9th Oct 1993
Nelson Mandela at the podium in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
with my mum and others from the Eurydice choir behind him
Mandela went on to become elected as the president of South Africa but since then the lot of many ordinary, black South Africans has not improved in the way that they had hoped. Naomi Klein in her book "The Shock Doctrine" dissects the problems faced by the ANC in the chapter appropriately titled "Democracy Born in Chains." When a new constitution was drawn up before Mandela became president, the ANC were soon to discover that they got the state, but without many of its powers. The constitution made them unable to redistribute land as a last minute clause in it protected private proprty rights. Signing up to the GATT had made it illegal to subsidise factories and create jobs. Signing up to the WTO protected the intellectual property rights of the major pharmaceutical companies making them the only source of expensive AIDS drugs. An IMF deal before the elections landed the new state with a massive debt built up by the apartheid regime of which they were no part. Currency control was banned and South Africa's central bank was to be removed from state control and run as an autonomous entity, its independence written into the new constitution, its directors the same people who had run it in the days of apartheid.

The ANC inherited a state in which the ruling National Party had already passed the reins of control to "the markets", following neo-liberal ideology and shrinking the state. "Increasing the public sector in strategic areas through, for example nationalisation" was part of the ANC election manifesto, but within a few years they were selling off state assets to service the national debt. The wealthy mining companies and multinationals who for decades had profited from the apartheid system now positioned themselves to profit under the new regime, whereas it could be argued they in fact owed a debt to the state.

The government of the ANC agreed to service the state debt of the apartheid regime, of which they were no part, to the tune of 30 billion Rand annually, money which otherwise could have been used to build a new nation. Here it is important to see that though Nelson Mandela was a great and inspirational man, he was part of an organisation who seemed to be wrong-footed just as they finally grasped power.

Ian Bell recently wrote that the words of Norman McCaig in his poem "Praise of a Man" summed up Nelson Mandela perfectly. I read the poem this afternoon and have to agree. I cannot add anything to those words so have a look at McCaig's poem and I will leave it there.