I often get asked if I am related to the celebrated artist, Joan Eardley. Each time, my response is the same: 'We do not know we are not
related'. Though to be fair, the chances are slim to none. However, there was
a talented artist in my family: my brother Chuck. His real name, though he personally never used it, was plain old James. I never really got to the bottom of why he chose his nickname, which I am told he adopted at a very early age, however, it definitely stuck and even his three daughters when recalling his memory, refer to him as Chuck or dad.
Chuck was a bit of a force of nature with a massive imagination to boot. He was a tasty golfer in his younger days and I remember the sense of excitement as the Pink Paper
arrived on a Saturday night as I scoured the various club championships and medals for his name, finding it as usual high on the leader board. He was a good few years older than me, as were all my siblings. Just as my eldest brother, John, introduced me to the splendour of Celtic FC at an early age, Chuck in his way gave me an early start in the subjects of communism and classical music. All three of which I have tried and at times failed to appreciate or completely understand over the intervening years.
As a shy and nervous teenager, he brought me along to the greyhound racing at Powderhall in Edinburgh. Encouraging me to immerse myself in the spectacle, he convinced me, very much against my judgement, to have what I considered to be a risky bet on the last race. I recall I had a whole pound on number 4 and could hardly contain myself watching. Little did I know that when it came in and I received the princely sum of £4 against my stake, that his prize was considerably higher, against what I considered to be a ridiculous risk.
Though it was very exciting, I never had the inkling again to bet on the dogs, nor to that matter the horses. Another time he took me on a very different outing, lunch in what was then the Castle Trades Hotel located in the Grassmarket, an establishment catering for men down on their luck. The form at Castle Trades was canteen-style and on opting for burger in brine and potatoes, I advised him that I could not bear to eat the meal in front of me. 'You will,' he angrily hissed, 'do you not realise these men, unlike you, have no choice but to eat this food'. It was a humbling experience which has stayed with me.
Chuck was a self-taught artist, though did attend college in Edinburgh as a mature student, where he honed his considerable talents. I remember as a wee boy, I was asked to sit for him. Satisfied with the early draft, he was prepared to let me see. I was then questioned on my opinion of the work. 'I've seen you do better,' was my unguarded reply. His rapier-like response: 'what the **** do you know about art anyway?'
I am very fortunate to have a delightful self-portrait of Chuck's hanging in my home and though I am not suggesting in any way that he was vain, I have to say the picture certainly reflects my big brother in the very best possible light. A few years back, I bumped into an old friend from my youthful political days. On seeing me, he did not as expected inquire how I had been all these years. Instead, his plea was that I petition Chuck to release the commission to paint his mother he had given him two years ago. Chuck had insisted that the picture was not yet finished. I think he eventually got the painting, but only grudgingly.
I sometimes wonder about him and what he might have thought about my efforts. I imagine it would go along the lines of: 'what the **** do you know about writing anyway?'
In his Cafe piece, James Scott
picks me up on two points in which he says 'my affectionate appraisal [of George Orwell] was slightly marred'. I plead guilty to both James – if I indeed made mistakes.
Like many others in those far-off times, Orwell did indeed try to join the International Brigades, as his biographer D J Taylor records on p194 of Orwell the life
: '… in a movement led by the communist-dominated International Brigade… at some point in the autumn, Orwell decided to join them'. Once he realised he'd have to commit to the IB politically, Orwell declined to do so, and went on to join and fight with POUM, whom he contacted via the UK Independent Labour Party.
If it is indeed true that, as Mr Scott asserts, Orwell was in Barcelona 'quite by chance', it seems a wee bit odd to me that his honest and clearly anti-communist biographer does not record that. On p195, Taylor states that he went to Spain because 'he wanted to fight'. It matches everything else that we know of Orwell's life, that he wanted to fight Franco's fascists.
The Spanish Civil War is part of a complex period in European history, and to this day is much misunderstood and misrepresented. Which is why the statue of (Basque communist leader) Dolores Ibarruri – La Passionaria
– on Glasgow’s Clyde Street, had to be raised higher than its original plinth… because it was being defaced by neo-fascists.
James Scott may be correct in asserting, on no evidence, that Orwell would have supported capitalism in the Cold War. His biographer's comment, quoted in my original submission, suggest this is unlikely. But who am I to judge? I'm just an old former commie – therefore politically suspect.
But I'm very proud that La Passionaria
is one of only three statues to a woman in my home city, other than queen Vicky.
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