Books in Brief: Andrew Davies, Robert Graves and Linda Porter

Three new books you may have missed.

City of Gangs: Glasgow and the Rise of the British Gangster
Andrew Davies
 
In the 1920s and 1930s, Glasgow was so riddled with gangs that it was known as “the Scottish Chicago”. Shipbuilding and heavy industry had made the city overcrowded; their decline left it underemployed. Add in sectarian divisions and the conditions were perfect for gangs such as the (Catholic) Savoy Arcadians and the (Protestant) Billy Boys to thrive. Andrew Davies’s book is an account not just of the fear they brought to the streets of Glasgow, but the role of the press in fostering underworld myths and the efforts of the police to control the spread of violence and protection rackets.
Hodder & Stoughton, 464pp, £20
 
Selected Poems
Robert Graves
 
In “Mid-Winter Waking”, Robert Graves writes: “Stirring suddenly from long hibernation,/I knew myself once more a poet/Guarded by timeless principalities . . .” For many modern readers, Graves’s poetry has hibernated beneath his Claudius novels and his memoir, Goodbye to All That. Michael Longley’s selection of his verse – a primer to the Complete Poems – is a reminder that he was not only a friend of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen but a war poet of power and anger, too. After 1918, his many poems about love were also couched in uncompromising terms, and the mythology he expounded in The White Goddess (1948) gives them an extra flavour.
Faber & Faber, 160pp, £15.99
 
Crown of Thistles: the Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots
Linda Porter
 
Mary Stuart’s “fatal inheritance” was the long-standing power struggle between the English and Scottish royal families. Her fatal tussle with her cousin Elizabeth I was just one stage in a battle for supremacy that had started with their grandfathers and would not be resolved until Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, became James I of England. Mary’s life was rich in incident and Linda Porter recounts it with judiciousness and verve.
Macmillan, 424pp, £20 
A woman browses titles at the Leipzig book fair. Photograph: Getty Images.

Michael Prodger is an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman. He is an art historian, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham, and a former literary editor.

This article first appeared in the 12 August 2013 issue of the New Statesman, What if JFK had lived?

Photo: Hunter Skipworth / Moment
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Cones and cocaine: the ice cream van's links with organised crime

A cold war is brewing to the tinkling of "Greensleeves".

Anyone who has spent a summer in this country will be familiar with the Pavlovian thrill the first tinny notes of “Greensleeves” stir within the stolid British breast.

The arrival of the ice cream van – usually at least two decades older than any other vehicle on the road, often painted with crude approximations of long-forgotten cartoon characters and always, without fail, exhorting fellow motorists to “Mind that child!” – still feels like a simple pleasure of the most innocent kind.

The mobile ice cream trade, though, has historical links with organised crime.

Not only have the best routes been the subject of many, often violent turf wars, but more than once lollies have served as cover for goods of a more illicit nature, most notoriously during the Glasgow “Ice Cream Wars” of the early 1980s, in which vans were used as a front for fencing stolen goods and dealing drugs, culminating in an arson attack that left six people dead.

Although the task force set up to tackle the problem was jokingly nicknamed the “Serious Chimes Squad” by the press, the reality was somewhat less amusing. According to Thomas “T C” Campbell, who served almost 20 years for the 1984 murders before having his conviction overturned in 2004, “A lot of my friends were killed . . . I’ve been caught with axes, I’ve been caught with swords, open razors, every conceivable weapon . . . meat cleavers . . . and it was all for nothing, no gain, nothing to it, just absolute madness.”

Tales of vans being robbed at gunpoint and smashed up with rocks abounded in the local media of the time and continue to pop up – a search for “ice cream van” on Google News throws up the story of a Limerick man convicted last month of supplying “wholesale quantities” of cocaine along with ice cream. There are also reports of the Mob shifting more than 40,000 oxycodone pills through a Lickety Split ice cream van on Staten Island between 2009 and 2010.

Even for those pushing nothing more sinister than a Strawberry Split, the ice cream business isn’t always light-hearted. BBC Radio 4 devoted an entire programme last year to the battle for supremacy between a local man who had been selling ice creams in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea since 1969 and an immigrant couple – variously described in the tabloids as Polish and Iraqi but who turned out to be Greek – who outbid him when the council put the contract out to tender. The word “outsiders” cropped up more than once.

This being Britain, the hostilities in Northumberland centred around some rather passive-aggressive parking – unlike in Salem, Oregon, where the rivalry from 2009 between an established local business and a new arrival from Mexico ended in a highish-speed chase (for an ice cream van) and a showdown in a car park next to a children’s playground. (“There’s no room for hate in ice cream,” one of the protagonists claimed after the event.) A Hollywood production company has since picked up the rights to the story – which, aptly, will be co-produced by the man behind American Sniper.

Thanks to competition from supermarkets (which effortlessly undercut Mister Softee and friends), stricter emission laws in big cities that have hit the UK’s ageing fleet particularly hard, and tighter regulations aimed at combating childhood obesity, the trade isn’t what it used to be. With margins under pressure and a customer base in decline, could this summer mark the start of a new cold war?

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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