I have been thinking about Shane MacGown a lot since I saw (and enjoyed) this film two days ago and here are ten of my conclusions:

1) Shane is/was a (would be) violent sectarian tosspot

2) Great poet? Yes, but also “a-rovin’ a-rovin’ a-rovin’ I’ll go” and many similarly rubbish bits.

3) The band fell apart because Shane was getting too much attention. Then don’t accept so much attention, Shane. Make sure it’s shared out. It was the same right from the beginning, or near enough.

4) I remember seeing The Pogues live and (some of) the other Pogues spent a lot of time grinning and sucking up to the audience, encouraging them to have a good time. Bring back the Jesus and Mary Chain.

5) I remember surprisingly little about seeing The Pogues live (musically). I must have been having a good time.

6) Except for Glasgow Barrowlands where the sectarian thing made me uncomfortable and unable to join in. I suppose better inside than out, but still.

7) The Pogues were the first band I saw of my own volition, without parental (Carpenters) or youth club (Ozzy Osbourne) influence. I understand their teen appeal. We went as a non-violent gang of sixth-formers to Nottingham Rock City.

8) Johnny Depp is a twat.

9) It is the same old rock’n’roll rise and fall story, just slightly different details.

10) No mention of the entire scene of like-minded groups and people dressing up like the fifties but with Doc Martens and bootlace ties. (Boothill Foottappers, Terry and Jerry, etc.)

Bandstand – green-painted iron, wrought iron from Zaragoza. Complex design of leaves and flowers. Dirty stained glass continues the theme of foliage, crawling like ivy. Sellotape attached to the posts where banners and placards from demonstrations and protests have been held up. New roof – clean fresh wood contrasts with grubby iron. USES – bands – not very often – elderly crowds reliving the past – bands usually municipal. Demonstrations. Kids playing – spinning tops/gymnastics.

Shelter from the rain.

Previously roads on both sides, but now pedestrianised, in summer blocked by terrible hip-hop crews and other buskers. Base/stage – reddish stone, looks like marble. Must have been popular at the time because there is a lot of it about. Adjacent lampposts from 1885 with the city emblem (a galleon/sailing ship) and more foliage. Large clock on post – white-painted iron from nearby Lasarte. The clock is a meeting place. There is a bar named after it. It is notoriously expensive.

There is nothing happening now. People wandering/stopping/chatting. Later there will be children. A woman goes up onto the stage for no apparent reason, but it turns out she is having her photograph taken, thus spoiling my thesis that there are no tourists about today. Children on scooters whizz about while their parents sort out a shopping bag full of new flip-flops. Water filtrations in the base of the bandstand cause chemical reactions like the inside of a cave. Belle Époque. Birds drink from puddles in manhole covers.

Below us lie the remains of the old city walls. You can see them, behind Perspex, if you go down the to the car park.

Silver spinning things on chimney pots are gleaming and glinting in the sun. Some above me to the left, requiring me to lift my head; others on the far side of the bay, right in my line of sight (providing no buses are stopped at the traffic lights).

Some people are in shorts; some people are in anoraks and bodywarmers. Someone carrying multiple loaves of bread. Tourists, pasty-faced and pointless, moving from A to maybe B. A couple start feeding the sparrows and pigeons. The pigeons widen their search while the sparrows remain focused. The man gets down on his haunches and starts sprinkling crumbs. Other pigeons gather on the edge of the bandstand roof. They weren’t there before. They preen: surely a hopeless task for these disease-ridden scruffs.

A pane of stained glass is missing, letting through the bright green of leaves and the bright blue sky. A rollerblader zigzags. A senior citizen in a fluorescent green t-shirt, cyclist sunglasses and cap. Two purple foil balloon remains are trapped in the trees.

Pictures (by someone else, not me) are available here:


At Anoeta, the Real Sociedad football stadium, they love to try artificial means of boosting participation and vocalising support. Thankfully, most people just ignore them and sink further into the seats, a halo of embarrassment hovering above the stadium’s 25-year-old concrete crown of thorns architecture, which is about to undergo a “remodelling” which will make it look like every other modern football stadium in the world. Whenever Real Sociedad win a corner, the Tannoy system plays the drumbeat from Queen’s rabble-rousing anthem We Will Rock You. We supporters are supposed to clap along or something. But it is not the original Queen version, and the original Queen version is not a drumbeat anyway. It is four people stamping on microphoned-up wooden boards, a technique gleaned from Motown records such as Where Did Our Love Go by The Supremes. In the case of Motown, the stomping was done by a little kid of Italian origin who used to hang around the studio. You can read all about this, and even find out his name, if so inclined. I know about Queen and their wooden boards because I watched a DVD of their videos with the commentary switched on. It was very cold when they did their video (in somebody’s garden). I expect they wore bovver boots. If you are walking for any length of time, it is best not to wear bovver boots because they are too heavy. This very heavisosity is what makes them ideal for board-stomping. The Real Sociedad version of We Will Rock You, besides lacking the depth, resonance and tension of bovver boots stomping on wooden boards, is slightly too fast. I think the handclaps are machine generated and therefore tinny. Consequently, Real Sociedad rarely score from corners. I sold the Queen DVD, which is a shame, because I now have a strong urge to watch it and marvel at its inconsequentiality. I once went to an exhibition of Queen paraphernalia in an old warehouse or workshop near Brick Lane. I am not much bothered about Queen, but it was an interesting diversion. Google suggests Freddie Mercury generally wore normal Adidas shoes, which is a bit of a let-down for the purposes of this essay. I suppose his onstage exertions ruled out bovver boots or glam rock platform shoes. I could buy the Queen DVD again second-hand, but by the time it arrives I will have snapped out of the urge to watch it. Besides, it was mostly just them moaning about Top of the Pops camera angles. Despite the tinny quality of the recording used at the football, it is hard not to tap your feet along (quietly). In winter, such foot-stomping is the best way to keep warm, or at least freeze slightly less. The footballers, whose professional title exalts the role of feet more than any other, nowadays wear boots of many colours, usually fluorescent. My daughter asks me why. The only reason I can come up with is because they draw the attention of television viewers, helping to sell more pairs of replica boots down at the sports shop. Conversely (pun intended), football boots are now much cheaper than they used to be. Presumably, this is because they no longer use leather, at least at kiddie level. The most prominently displayed boots in the shops are those bearing the name of either Messi or Ronaldo, tax-dodgers both.

At a recent football match a plastic seat landed on my head and those of my neighbour and a small child sitting in front. It was a shock. I looked up, only to see the creaking concrete underside of the tier above. My neighbour on the other side, untouched but touchy, turned around and started yelling, demanding to know the identity of the culprit. It was obvious who was responsible for the flying seat: the spotty gorm sitting behind an empty space where a seat used to be. It transpired that he had, in a fit of pique designed to signal his displeasure at a missed opportunity by the home team, booted the seat in front of him, and said seat had gone flying. He was keeping very quiet while the accusations were flying, with the falsely-accused defending themselves a little over-zealously, spit-flecks flying. The small child sitting in front of me was in tears, more from the shock of receiving a bucket seat blow to the head than the pain engendered. By now, the culprit was standing up in a faux-aggressive stance, bellowing, “Come here and say that!” to the assembled haranguers. Because I thought the crying child deserved better, I lifted my feet one by one over the back of my seat to the row behind, willing my body to defy gravity, and repeated the process twice more until I was standing on the same row as the culprit and gently pointed out to him that he had done an idiotic thing, that I knew it wasn’t intentional, but it might be a good idea to just apologise instead of going on the warpath. He did apologise (to me) but his mother or whatever was vociferous in his defence because he hadn’t done it on purpose. I said that intentions were immaterial in the face of a crying child. The final whistle blew and people started heading for the exits and that was that. I am normally a very calm person, inclined to keep out of things. I do not hurl abuse at the referee or the opposition and I do not gesticulate wildly in what often appears to me to be a pre-scripted dance of pseudo-aggression, so this minor incident made me wonder what I was doing there at the football stadium, and it took me a few hours to regain my usual level of composure. The reactions of those around me had been a surprise. There has been no trouble since, although I have noticed that some of the people involved have not returned. The moral of this story is never kick a stadium seat because they are not as firmly attached as they look.


I am sitting in a ratty armchair in a cafe called KOH TAO, or at least that is what is written on the window. There are rustic and rudimentary bookshelves, rickety tables and a mish-mash of chairs seemingly rescued from skips. Too late I realise they offer BIG COFFEE. The cafe is filling up now. There is a brick-look wall with a “Banksy” style painting on it. Looks Palestinian. Ethnically challenged, anyway. I am still laughing inwardly at the Chief Rabbi or whatever on Radio 4 this morning saying that the current renewed conflict in Gaza is “something to do with Iran,” before being told by the presenters that he was still on air and suddenly snapping back into pious platitude mode. This place seems to attract the less physically repulsive members of society. There’s not much room, and crossing my legs results in a terrible testicular tangle. The chatter is drowning out my headphones, Brian Eno’s Discreet Music. I may have to resort to something more… plentiful. Actually I think I may have to bugger off elsewhere. My brain vibrates when buses go by. They look like they’re going to hurtle through the window when they come round the corner. I don’t know the name of this street, but that one there is Okendo, with the bus stops and the hotel, the Inland Revenue and a bookshop. My brother-in-law works at the hotel, which is a five-star, so he gets to do things like fix Lou Reed’s broadband connection. Lou Reed slapped his hand and screamed, “DON’T TOUCH MY COMPUTER!” which his interpreter translated as, “He says he prefers to be alone at the moment.” I explained about the electric shock therapy and that seemed to make it all OK, although he still thinks Lou Reed is an imbecile. He may have a point. A girl is now sitting cross-legged on her chair, so I pretend to myself to be outraged by this (because I know people who would be outraged) and make ready to leave. Actually I quite like it, falsehood notwithstanding, and certainly wouldn’t object if more girls sat cross-legged on rickety chairs in cafes.


(I was halfway up the hill, at an old gun battery, looking out over the sea. A fishing boat came in. I took a picture of it.)


I think the spiritual significance of this place is probably false. As far as I know, Franco stuck this big Jesus here looking over the city. I’ve been watching The Devils (1971) recently, so to me it is a cross between Orwellian and Ken Russellesque. The statue itself, creamy against the pure blue sky, has very clear lines, like precisely shaped marzipan. The right hand is held up in blessing, the left points demurely to one of those sacred heart things on his chest, like a junkie’s tattoo. The hand is massive, possibly to make it more easily distinguishable from the bottom of the hill. Looks a bit Wreck-It Ralph close up. The folds of his robe look like the pastry enveloping a sausage roll. The longer I sit here, the more I resent the statue’s presence. It seems nothing more than a fascist symbol. It is perched on top of an old fortification. There are many of them round about. They are something to do with Napoleon. I could go inside and find out what exactly, because there is a museum inside now, but I don’t feel like it, having been sent into a sulk by fascism. I will wait for said sulk to pass over before continuing.


The question I had in mind was a very vague one, along the lines of, “how do I fit in here?” I haven’t really got much of an answer, and to be honest wandering around pondering such impenetrables is pretty much my default activity. It helps me think about the place, and its convoluted history and how that inevitably impacts on me. The effects of fascism are all around me, and the church’s role is, I think, fairly cancerous. At the moment I don’t see any belief in God there at all, but I am aware that is just the mood I’m in, which is impacted upon by the current cloud of child abuse hanging over us all. I tried to get down the hill as directly as possible, trying not to double back uphill to find an easier route. Towards the bottom one path was closed off for safety reasons, so my plan was slightly scuppered and I ended up at the furthest end of the harbour. Violence and blame were on my mind. I have been attending a season of films about the Civil War in the Basque Country. In one of these films – LAUAXETA – A LOS CUATRO VIENTOS (1987) – there was a hotel in Bilbao operating as normal, a luxurious restaurant and so forth, while the city was under siege. The patrons were (of course) in league with those besieging them. It was like a strange dream. It was a terrible film, truly awful, but I kept thinking how good it might be to re-edit the footage, some of it very beguiling recreations, into something less narrative-driven and more oblique, more affecting. But at the end the audience (mostly old enough to have lived through it) applauded.


There are people in and around San Sebastián who can look at the sea and tell you what the weather’s going to be like. People who are as aware of the tides as they are of bus timetables. Nowadays you can get an app to tell you, which is perhaps even more remarkable, and adds a nice salty rime to your smartphone. It is no surprise that water is an important part of life wherever it is found, but it is striking how different its effects can be from place to place. Here in the Bay of Biscay the seafloor shelves off steeply quite close to the shore, and that makes it easy to imagine the people’s take on life to be fatalistic, always aware of the proximity of the edge of the underworld, having a kinship with prehistoric sea monsters. But really it just means there is (or there was) very good fishing to be had without going too far from land.

I was watching BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969) last night, because parts of it were filmed round here. The role of the Normandy coast is played by Zarautz, so while the German military command was enjoying a slap-up meal by the beach, I could see a couple of very small rocky islands in the background, where a local delicacy, goose barnacles, grow. People risk their lives to collect these ugly stumps, and they just taste like a load of salty old seapuddle. Franco was still in power when the film was made, and it’s not the first time German soldiers have been welcome here, many of them having nipped along from France for a bit of R&R during the war. Still, it shocks a bit to see the main avenue festooned with swastikas.

And then, of course, Franco oversaw his own peacetime conflicts. I take a perverse pride, a pride of which I’m not proud, in the fact that I could take you to two separate places by the sea where ETA people were shot by the Civil Guard. In one case they, the Civil Guard, even dressed up as female hippies having a picnic in a little cove before whipping their machine guns out from under their kaftans and doing the business. No – this can’t be true. It seems too novelistic to be true, gaudy as a seventies thriller.

Sometimes little whirlwinds whip up out at sea and you wonder what it would take for them to get big enough to be anything more than a minor diversion. There are lots of rickety structures near the sea devoted to the consumption of snacks or beer. Some of them, if you’re really lucky, even have sardines cooked over a charcoal grill.

I once shared a flat with an unemployed trawlerman. He wasn’t very forthcoming on the subject, or indeed any other subject, but he didn’t seem too upset to be no longer working. He spent most of his time stoned out his box staring at the television. His one funny story (well, funny to me) was about when he was due to go off and do his military service and he bogged off on a boat to do his normal stint of fishing instead. The Civil Guard radioed the captain and made him turn back from Newfoundland or wherever. I didn’t like Nestor very much and even now that I am thinking about him I can’t be bothered to wonder where he is or what he’s doing.

I like the destructive power of the sea. Not just the thumping of the waves, but also the slow insidious dismantling of molecules wrought by the salty air. Balconies with peeling paint, railings rusting, sandstone being eaten away. Its effects are particularly poignant on the love locks that have appeared on the railings along a coastal path. You may have heard of this phenomenon – lovers put a padlock somewhere public to symbolise their union. Good news for trees (that don’t get names carved into them any more) and ironmongers (who sell more padlocks), but to me, the symbolism seems unfortunate at the best of times. Here they rust away so rapidly, leaving an air of dilapidation and distress that I relish perhaps more than I really ought to.



We all know about peacocks – they are basically glam rock pigeons. They strut, they preen, they are rotten show-offs. They have expended all their evolutionary energy in growing a whopping great tail and developing the hydraulics necessary to stick it up in the air and shake it at the objects of their ardour. It’s difficult not to attribute to them a little haughtiness, a la Captain Peacock of Grace Bros notoriety, but in reality they have very tiny brains, far too small to summon up any kind of comparison with others at anything but the most instinctual level.

Meanwhile, the peahen has all the disadvantages of the lumbering peacock with none of the plumage. Except, that is, for a little dandelion clock crest on their heads. It looks from a distance as if you could blow it away, or snip it off, strand by strand, with nail scissors. She loves me, she loves me not…

Both males and females are keen to get their beaks on free food. Few people seem worried by their pneumatic drills on the front of their lizard-like faces, but a swift search on You Tube confirms that they can be dangerous, especially to little kids. This is in keeping with their generally Jurassic air. I don’t know whether they remind me of dinosaurs or just computer-animated dinosaurs, but the resemblance is strong. They are unnerving, like Monster Munch-gobbling velociraptors. Their young are the same. One almost expects them to extend a neck frill and start hissing. Their corner of the park is pretty prehistoric-looking too, consisting mainly of ferns, a significant percentage of which have died.

Once you’ve got over the tail thing, and maybe seen them in congress (a very quick upper hand bum wiggle and bingo) the most impressive thing about peacocks, peahens and peababies is their dusk routine. Despite their size and excessive featherosity, they have the ability to fly as far as the nearest tree. It looks messy, this flight. Once they’re up, they’re safe from whatever they think might be after them. I suspect that whatever it is, it is long-extinct, because their preference is for a dead tree offering no foliage cover. It’s a strange sight, them sitting there, like bags on a branch, part of some schoolboy prank.


Back by the sea, bloody Barnacle Bill. This is a cafe at the far end of the bay. I have never been here because it is (relatively) new, and usually when I am out this way it is in the evening or late afternoon, when the sun is already behind the mountains. It is midday now, and sunny, so I am sitting outside. It’s a nice view, the island with the city in the background. I came to collect my bike, which I left at the office when it was raining. I am glad I am not in the office today.

I have a bun with some yellow jammy-type stuff on it and some dessicated coconut. So although I’ve never eaten one before, I’m not expecting anything too novel. I don’t think it’ll be anything special.

An elderly lady and her South American care worker are sitting at the next table and I have been eavesdropping. They seem new to each other, so now I know the old lady’s life story, with the emphasis on property acquisition.

My coffee is a bit cold, and the woman who served it wasn’t very pleased that I didn’t have anything smaller than a twenty to pay with.

Three people have come to sit at the remaining sunlit table (the rest are already in shadow). They look like smokers, so I was expecting a lungful, but so far they have contented themselves with nail biting, smartphone fiddling and telephonic conversation. They don’t seem likely to talk to each other, which suits me. But I have put my headphones on just in case. They’ve got whopping great sandwiches now. Puts my bun in the shade. I am eating the coconutty bits first. It doesn’t remind me of the coconut-coated products at Derby bus station in the 70s, which is what I was hoping for. I am obsessed with bus stations in the 70s, with their draughty shelters and fantastic fonts. The cafes had machines to dispense soft drinks. The liquid was sloshed around as if it were milk being churned. The yellow jammy bit turns out to be apricot. Its flavour has all the intensity of a gentle slope. I am reminded of the description of mass-produced sliced bread as, “nauseating gunk fit only for filling in the cracks in the wall.” Stodge rules.

Dionne Warwick sounds remarkably like Sandie Shaw at times, which brings us back to the gentle slope analogy.

A bearded man in an olden days fishing boat has just landed on the island. He got out of the boat and another bearded man got in. Maybe they are pointless smugglers.

A sparrow comes close to check out the crumb availability situation.

These Bacharach and David tunes, for all their delicacy, are pretty primordial: “let me grieve,” etc. “Your soul’s salvation will be fatally imperilled if you choose to exercise your right to reject my affection.” Heavy stuff.

The sparrows are ganging up now, like some kind of twee Hitchcock sequence.

‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ suddenly brings out the autumn chill in the air. This is sad. And like it or not, every word is the stone cold truth. I think of Dusty Springfield’s grave in Henley-on-Thames, me standing there at night wondering what to do, taking a break from a wedding reception around the corner, worried that someone might see me, alone in a churchyard, wearing a suit and holding a glass.

It’s time to go home.

(Thanks to Write Around Town and their Writing Maps and the unknown photographer)



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