BELK: A Ballad of Reading in Gaol (full version of essay published in Scottish Review of Books)

A Ballad of Reading in Gaol

(Full version of Scottish Review of Books Essay.)

By Martin Belk

A young woman hangs back after my writing seminar at the new City of Glasgow College with a question: “What’s it like, ya’ know, in there?” For a second, I’m thrown, forgetting that in the preceding class I’d alluded several times to my prison writing workshops. Before I could respond, huge, heavy tears welled up and fell from her eyes, falling down to her denim jeans. She didn’t say anything more, she didn’t need to – she has a loved one on the ‘inside’. I didn’t quite know what to tell her: a ‘modern place of rehabilitation’, to reassure her, or, a ‘bona-fide prison’, to confirm and confront her worst fears? Neither is entirely true, there are problems in the narrative.


ONE blogs – JOHN CALDER – Culture Change And Intellectual Decline

When the last world war ended in 1945, Europe was gutted, short of all the means of maintaining a normal existence, except that, pre-war, the lower classes had rarely shared normality as the middle-classes knew it. Suddenly there was an equality of diet, dull but not unhealthy, a shortage of clothing, houses and all luxuries, but a general sharing of what there was, and only the rich, taxed to the hill, really complained. Anything was better than war and that had ended. At the same time there was a flowering of high culture. Concerts were packed. So was opera and ballet, new literature was eagerly discussed, art exhibitions were full, and the BBC had started the Third Programme, which enabled everyone to hear on the radio good music, interesting and educational discussions and talks for a small license fee, and generally there was an interest in education, the higher levels of which had become available to all who could pass exams. read more —>


Historians will have such a wealth of material to deal with then they come to writing up the first decades of the twenty-first century, that may well drown under it. Around the world there is deepening depression unbelievably incompetent government and administration of industry. This of, natural resources (all dwindling fast) and all social institutions, with widespread corruption that is not even disguised, and a culture of greed, tyranny, and power-lust that is demolishing all the products of civilised rule-of-law, individual and group rights, and decency that it has taken centuries to establish. read more —>

ONE blogs – JOHN CALDER – ‘The Worst of Times’ MONDAY MAN RETURNS!

Dickens was referring to the depth of the French Revolution, but the words are very apposite to 2011, not only in Britain, but nearly everywhere. This will be a year of revolution in many places, to chaotic trouble in most other places and to decline, suffering and misery almost everywhere else. read more —>


Is democracy a good thing? According to Plato who was able to observe it in its early days in Athens, which first invented it, definitely not. It is too open to corruption, either by those who use it through demagogy or whipped-up prejudice or bribery to take advantage of the naivety of simple people to achieve their own ends, or because most people are too unaware of what is best for them to be able to make the right choices. All that remains true today. Plato saw how Socrates, probably the greatest thinker and teacher of his time, was driven to his death by corrupt democracy. Indeed, if it were not for Plato we would not even know of Socrates’ existence, let alone his ideas because he appears to have written nothing down. read more —>


Looking at the last two-hundred years or so, one can see how the growth of capitalism, starting in a small way with industries perceiving a need or possible opportunity to create one, where some new invention had come along, often taking the willingness of people to believe in the value of what would turn out to be a bubble, has developed into what it is now. read more —>