What Have the Team Been Enjoying in May?

So little time yet it always seems like we’ve got too much choice when it come to things to watch, read, listen, and visit.

From books on The Cold War and fantasy fiction, to Hip-Hop documentaries and funny podcasts. We can suggest art galleries to take a look at and a pint in the highest village in Scotland, which is well worth the visit. So here’s some reviews from the Common Weal team to make the choice a little easier, hopefully there’s a little something for everyone. 


Read This-

David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years. This is a very interesting history of the concept of debt and social attitudes towards it with the most profound moment within for me being when it pointed out that the idea that one “should always pay one’s debts” doesn’t actually make any sense at all. Sure, one may endeavour to pay one’s debts, but everything from bankruptcy laws to the concept of charging interest itself is founded on the principle that there is, should be and must be a chance that you won’t. Without a risk to the creditor and the possibility of a graceful exit, debt merely becomes extortion.

The Lion, Son of the Forest by Mike Brooks I reveal myself as a Warhammer nerd with one of the latest Black Library novels. For a setting that involves galactic wars, daily planetary genocides and factions where even the very best of them would be the darkest possible stain on a real world’s history books, The Lion is a remarkably small and humble story that is fundamentally, underneath the battles between transhumans and corrupted mutant sorcerers, a story about a father who wronged his sons, was wronged by them in turn, and must learn – for the first time in his life – to forgive the Unforgiven.

Give This a Go-

Beyond books, I spend a fair bit of time playing board games and last month designed and published one myself! Palisade is a 3D printable, multi-player, tower defence game that involves you building a fortification around your castle out of tetris blocks, setting up cannons then trying to knock down your opponents walls faster than they can yours. Who knows. If it proves interesting, I have a couple of ideas for an expansion pack later. 


Listen to This-

Music is a big thing for me, and I listen to a lot of music. The new Gorillaz album (Cracker Island) is reliably good and the Great White Sea Eagle by James Yorkston, Nina Persson and the Secondhand Orchestra is a lovely collaboration between the Scottish singer-songwriter and the former Cardigans singer. Irish folk band Lankum’s new album False Lankum is wonderful and if you are into dance and electronica I can strongly recommend Caroline Polachek’s Desire, I Want To Turn Into You. But my current highlights are Edinburgh’s Young Fathers (who must now be Scotland’s greatest currently active group and certainly one of the most distinctive and creative sounds in contemporary music) with their new album Heavy Heavy.

Watch This-

We’re on a Succession catch-up on TV so no spoilers, Kaitlin and Rory are also riding on the Succession band-wagon. Rory says “I love Succession for its witty script and the fantastic chemistry between the actors, complemented by beautiful cinematography, and exceptional music (if you haven’t already watched it, you have to!)”.

Fight the Power– We recently watched this BBC documentary about the rise of rap music as a political force through the 1970s and 1980s which is absolutely worth your time even if rap isn’t your thing. The music represents probably the last great revolution in popular music (certainly in political terms) but the real interest in this series is the cultural history of race in America which forms its backdrop.

If you like that series I can (surprisingly) recommend 1971: The Year that Changed Music. I looked at this and thought ‘eight nearly hour-long episodes about the music of one year?’. By the end I could have watched more. The music is, well, particularly good music, but again this turns out mainly to be a way into a year which was politically and culturally seismic. Unfortunately it’s on Apple TV which not everyone has, but if you do have Apple TV then give it a watch.


This month has been a bit of an everything month, having just moved to Edinburgh six weeks ago, my girlfriend and I have spent time getting to know the city. We’ve found ourselves down at the St. Vincent and Hector’s in Stockbridge, competing in the pub quiz, visiting the Colonies Yard Sale (and nabbing a few bargains), hiking up Arthur’s Seat and taking a stroll along Portobello beach with an ice cream or two.

Read This-

I’ve just finished the Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life by Anu Partanen, which I read on our excursions to Inverleith Park, all our days out have begun to show – my peely-wally skin does not tan well. Partanen, a Fin, who upon moving to America examines how her life may have changed for the worst. By comparing the two countries through the lens of different relationships, such as employee and employer, men and women, she offers insight to how America can reimage the American dream and live a better life.

Listen to This (to keep you motivated)-

Before the pandemic I used to hate running but I’ve managed to get into 5kms, and with the weather being as good as it is at the moment, I’ve found the motivation to power through some 7kms in the late afternoons – I’m hoping to run a half marathon, and take part in next year’s Edinburgh Half Marathon festival! I like a mix of things to listen to when I’m running – James Acaster and Ed Gamble’s food podcast Off Menu, Made in Chelsea’s Jamie Laing and Sophie Haboo’s NearlyWeds is also in the mix; I am a Loyle Carner obsessive, his relaxed and soulful music really sets the tone for a good run or a workout and sets me at ease. While Graham Rorie and Rory Matheson’s album ‘We Have Won the Land’, a trad album about the Assynt Crofter’s Buyout is a real motivator (and a bonus that we saw them perform it live at Edinburgh Tradfest).


Visit Here-

Agitate Gallery Haymarket: 

Popped along to see an exhibition by Ellen Renton at this small gallery/photography shop. Supported By Disability Arts Online, in this tiny space Ellen showed photographs and poetry you could listen to through your phone, which made me think a lot about what you can see if you have a visual impairment. She was responding to the Edwin Morgan Archives (Glasgow Poet) and it made me want to check out more of his stuff as well.

After a night camping with my Girlfriend Claire and our little boy in the Trossachs, we had great fun round the fire, until we realised the air mattress had a puncture, so an extra coffee at this beautiful cafe was class the next morning: The Pier Cafe at Stronlachar. The views from the pier stretch along Loch Katrine are truly amazing.   

Read This-

I just finished Lemn Sissay’s Autobiography My Name is Why about growing up in the British Care System in the 70’s and 80’s. He’s a British poet but there’s very little poetry in the book. Instead there are a lot of scanned official documents and typewritten correspondence between social work departments and foster care homes which the author has retrieved as an adult. I think it’s a fairly unique bit of reading on what a National Care Service could achieve to avoid the mistakes of the past. 

Watch This-

Colin from Accounts on BBC   Very little needed to say here, other than this is just a good hearted, funny comedy from Australia. You know I struggle with sitcoms. This one really is funny without trying too hard. A perfect watch whilst completing a task like pairing your socks up or whatsapping your mum.  


Read This- A People’s History of the Cold War

Colin Turbett from the care group has published a few books on the Cold War, giving a perspective unencumbered by western propaganda efforts. This is his latest, giving a people’s history with interviews from both sides of the iron curtain.

This is a story of how economies on both sides were built around war preparations and the advance of destructive technologies that had no social benefits apart from the provision of employment. Sources used are unusual in not fitting the western-based narratives that pervade both academic histories and popular accounts. It was finished in February last year prior to the war in Ukraine but released earlier this month with an introduction acknowledging the significance of current events 


Read This- Criminal: How Our Prisons Are Failing Us All

A hard-hitting book, yet with snippets of humour from the stories of a social worker in an English prison. This book approaches some hard hitting questions and the author Angela Kirwin does her best to answer them. Although based in an English prison there are so many aspects applicable to Scottish prisons, above all else their need for reform. I laughed, I shed a few tears but most importantly I got a sense of how our prisons are most definitely failing us all. This really is an important book.

Do This- Boxing: Holyrood Boxing Club

Since moving to this area of Edinburgh several months ago I decided to give boxing a go, not to become the next Nicola Adams but for fitness and to try something new. The first hour long class I did almost had me keeling over, but I’ve enjoyed every moment of them, even if there is an excessive number of burpees. I would highly recommend giving it a shot if you’re bored of your everyday gym routine. Open to all abilities and ages, Beginner/fitness classes run every day (except for Friday), and Sundays are always free.

Listen To This- Table Manners Podcast

I’m a bit of podcast fiend and after the Common Weal podcast (goes without saying) one of my favourites is Table Manners with Jessie Ware and her incredibly funny mum Lennie Ware. While serving up some amazing food they interview some pretty impressive people, from Dolly Parton, Paul McCartney, Johanna Lumley to Big Zuu, they delve into some interesting conversation, and as always we find out what their last meal on Earth would be, some of them have very strange answers. I love this podcast so much I bought their cookbook.


Visit Here- Wanlockhead and Leadhills

We took advantage of the good weather and bank holiday and got the family out for a day trip to Wanlockhead and Leadhills this Monday. Wanlockhead is the highest village in Scotland and the neighbouring Leadhills the second. They are both ex-miner villages and are both wonderfully picturesque and surrounded by beauty, history and quirky folklore everywhere you turn. Unfortunately on this occasion the wee one’s world-domination plans were thwarted by the mining museum in Wanlochhead being closed -they offer gold panning sessions and the wee man had already visualised his future as a gold nugget broker. We have visited the museum before, and it is very well put together; they also offer tours through the mining tunnels and their visitor’s centre cafe is famous for its delicious home-made soup. Wanlockhead also a local steam train club, and its members fire up their engines and take folk on lovely ride along the lead hills a few times a year.

One of my favourite stops (though an appointment is needed for a visit) is the Miner’s library in Leadhills. It is Britain’s oldest subscription library and it was also the first library in the isles to practice  ‘Mutual Improvement’, which was basically encouraging people to get together to read and learn as an early form of lifelong learning, rather than do it in a solitary way. Leadhills is also home for the Lowther Hills Community Ski Club and there are tons of hiking and cycle paths in the area for those who are looking for a more physical way to spend a day off. For R and me, having a pint at Scotland’s highest pub, was thrilling enough after a day dragging children and camera equipment about in the baking sun.

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