Not not While the Giro by James Kelman, 1983

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by James Kelman, 1983

Most of James Kelman's fiction—both his novels, one of which, How Late It Was, How Late, won the 1994 Booker Prize, and his short stories—features ordinary workaday Glaswegians. As one critic has put it, he "takes the reader from pub to Labour Exchange, from snooker tables to greyhound track." His ear for the language of his mostly disadvantaged characters is acute, and although it is impossible not to be aware of his social anger, it is more effective in that he does not preach.

Kelman prefaces the title story of his collection Not Not While the Giro (1983) with lines from the Glasgow poet Tom Leonard:

Say not talkin about
not analysin nuthin
is if not not.

The story "Not Not While the Giro" is a slice of stream-of-consciousness musing by a nameless character who, by his own admission, is a daydreamer, "well-nigh unemployable," and a "ne'er do well." He smokes "2nd hand tobacco" and is the proud possessor of "an imitation Crombie" overcoat. His immediate problem is how to get through the few remaining days before his next giro arrives.

The man is aware of his predicament, of his inability to decide, let alone to act, and at one time he reflects,

Jesus what will I do, save up for a new life, the mending of the ways, pay off arrears, knock the door of accredited creditors, yes, I can still decide what to do about things concerning myself and even others if only in regard to me at least it is still indirectly to do with them and yet it isn't indirect at all because it is logically bound to be direct if it is anything and obviously it is something and must therefore be directly since I am involved and if they are well well well, who can tell what the fuck this is about.

He meditates that walking from Land's End to John o' Groat's, the two extremities of the British mainland, would be a means of passing the time. The fantasy of this speculation is demonstrated by his calculation that "if it takes six weeks a trip and the same back up I could average 4 return trips a year. If I am halfway through life just now i.e. a hundred and twenty return trips then in another hundred and twenty trips I would be dead."

Kelman treats his character, an inertia-bound dropout through the bottom of the social scale, with compassion and grim humor but without any sense of politicking or protest. There comes a time when nothing can be done, indeed, "is not not," as Leonard puts it.

This must be one of the most original short stories to come out of Scotland, covering, as it does, an area of hopelessness most writers prefer to ignore.

—Maurice Lindsay