Hugh ‘Mr Housing’ Bawn lies dying on the 18th floor of one of the tower blocks in Ayrshire which, as Municipal Planner, he helped to build. His grandson Jamie who demolishes tower blocks in
, is with him for his final months. Jamie’s alcoholic, wife-beating father Robert, has disappeared. England
This book, written in crisp and original elegiac prose, explores the relationship between Jamie, Robert and Hugh and their women. It explores modern
and the lives blighted by poverty, unemployment, alcohol and the built environment. It seeks to redeem the heroes of the sixties who built this urban landscape in the name of progress and with the vision of escaping from worse poverty and the worse housing of the Scotland tenement slums. If there is a poetry of the assembly line this book describes it. If there is nobility lurking within the wife-beating drunk, this book finds it. The images of girls in hair nets at superstore checkouts beside roads from an auld village centre to nowhere are haunting. Drunks quote poetry (alright, it is Burns so it is mostly doggerel) in the working men’s club. History is just beneath the surface whether it is the bell tower of the church mentioned in Tam O’Shanter or the monastery where Robert Bruce murdered Red Comyn (now a supermarket) or the housing estate all of whose Drives are named for a forgotten Scottish Socialist. Glasgow
And there is comedy. Jamie meets his mum’s mates and they try to chat him up. He watches Gaelic breakfast TV with his Gran (the only people in the world who watch it, he believes) and questions the credibility of the item on swimwear fashion in Uist.
A remarkable book, full of the romance and dignity of everyday poverty.
July 2011; 282 pages