George Mackay Brown. Celia
I thought I’d ready George Mackay Brown because I could vaguely remember The House with Green Shutters. But that was George Douglas Brown. Ceila is probably what would be called a novella, which means it’s short, about 30 pages, but perfectly formed. It’s a slow burner. One of my favourite lines is ‘Faces tell lies to one another…The truth gets buried under smiles.’ There is a consistent strand of psychological awareness running through Ceila, like a stock of rock or the letters on a gravestone, dependent on the mood you’re in. The acuity of expression also extends to lines like: ‘The gull came down on the rat and swallowed it whole the way it would gulp a crust of bread…I could see the shape of the rat in the blackback’s throat, a kind of fierce twist and thrust. The bird broke up in the air’. Ceila drinks because she is frightened. She has no defence against the cruel things in life. She feels them too much. But she drink for another reason, because it takes her to a different place were she is the princess and poverty and hurt lie outside her. She needs to drink to be the person she wants to be. She drinks because she must. And in the closed island community rumours mushroom in the darkness and men wait, with a bottle in hand, for her need to grow enough.

Ferenc Puskás and Joe.

I met Joe in somebodies’ local, the type of place where men with faces like gunshot wounds gathered to drink Vimto. I think Vimto is rum and Vimto, but don’t ask me anything else, because I can’t remember. Joe was an old guy I bought a drink (not Vimto) and got talking to. He’d left school at 14 to work in the glass factory near his house. He was one of four brother and four sisters. At 18 he trained with the Hungarian squad that lost the 1954 World Cup final to West Germany. He remembered that as being a day of mourning. Hungary had beaten West Germany 8-3 in an earlier round of the tournament and were overwhelming favourites. The flip side of that is I remember reading somewhere that same victory helped to bring West Germany together as a nation after the post war horror, hunger and poverty of World War 2. Puskas was 27 when Joe played football with him and was known as ‘the galloping major’ because of his rank in the Hungarian army. Puskas defected from the national team and his country after the 1956 Hungarian revolution was crushed. Joe was one of the 200 000 refugees that fled into exile. He was shot in the leg by the Soviets entering Austria. I asked him how he’d ended up here. And he said he’d taken the 54 bus. But I was sure there was more to it than that.