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?

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood