William Lobban's Glasgow

william lobban

William Lobban was born in Exeter prison where his mother, Sylvia Manson, was serving time for her part in a daring heist, which, (like so many of the criminal adventures in young William’s life), went pear-shaped.

The opening sets the tone for Lobban’s life as heir to one of the more ‘successful’ crime families of the 60’s and 70’s. William’s uncle, hardman Robert Manson, (described by Lobban as a “real Glaswegian gangster of a long gone era”) was an underworld force until his murder in April 1983.

With the loss of his uncle, William’s life took a downward spiral. Robert Manson, (for all his hard man ways), defended the young William against the whims of a drunken, and volatile mother.

The rules of the game were straightforward in the William Lobban household. Ruthlessness, cruelty, a will to survive, (kill if necessary), and an odd form of entrepreneurship. Oddly, William’s world bears striking similarities to the corporate world; same rules apply; profit at all costs and sod the consequences.

William Lobban is a vivid raconteur. The botched episodes of William’s early criminal career are amusing, with the young William having the Monty Python knack of missing a pertinent detail, (such as how to shift stolen goods). The botched Balmore bar-heist is one such account of an inexperienced young crook getting it wrong.

It is easy to warm to the writer. Lobban comes across as likeable crook, irrespective of a ruthless criminal background. There is a certain prophetic tone, look what happens to kids who are abused and neglected. Lobban was both abused and neglected, but the narrative lacks self-pity.

The crime networks described in the book are historically apropos, for instance Lobban’s yuppie pad was a well-furnished apartment, complete with Axminster carpet, a status symbol in the 1980’s. Lobban, and his associates Ferris and Taylor were the criminal version of the yuppie movement down South.

At the same time Lobban chronicles the soreness of the times, grinding poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and scant opportunity for working class Glaswegian kids.

Meanwhile, down South, the Tories were pushing ahead with their economic and social reforms, caught up in the Gordon Gekko mantra, “greed is good”. Economic philosophers expounded the idea that human greed, (or envy) acts as a spur to growth.

In their quest to pull Britain out of the doldrums the conservatives turned a blind eye to the hostility of ordinary working class Britons. Not everyone was included in their ambitious manifesto and with the demise of the unions, people were angry, brittle, and afraid.

Home ownership relieved much of this fear, practically overnight, but for a certain period of time, (in the mid to late eighties), there was a war-like atmosphere between the government, (city of London) and UK workers, a predecessor to the anti-corporatist movements of today. (UK Uncut for instance).

William Lobban describes the conflict between the older crime bosses (overlords like Arthur Thompson) and the young criminal up-and-ups who were desperate for similar status. This is familiar territory to crime-book aficionados; turf wars, prison riots, internecine squabbles, conniving and betrayal, all freshly told.

moral perspective.

The book starts off with bleak descriptions of a grim childhood. Poignantly, the young William never remembers having a meal cooked for him by his mother. Tossed about and abandoned, nevertheless the young William Lobban relished his freedom, he had the kingly ability to roam the streets at will.

The path chosen, (a predestined life of crime), demonstrates the moral failures of the era. Community leaders and politicians failed to make sure of an economic future for Glaswegian youth. Some might argue that William’s ingenuity and energy – albeit criminal – were a credit to his entrepreneurial young spirit.

Predictably, upon his release from prison, the writer had not help back into society. Given a £70 giro cheque and scant rehabilitation, William Lobban somehow made it beyond his life of crime and imprisonment towards becoming a professional writer.

The narrative, though seemingly matter-of-fact, crackles with life and zest, Lobban makes use of understated humour throughout. It is a well constructed first book and Lobban is planning a sequel.

One shining chapter (for me) was the prison siege. Following serious head injuries inflicted by another inmate, Lobban decides to take a guard hostage. The stand-off lasts for thirteen hours during which time Lobban and the guard achieve a delicate human bond. So much so that by the end of the ‘ordeal’ the captured guard shakes William’s hand calling him “a gentleman”.

This finely executed drama depicts the ironies and contradictions inherent in the prison system. Arguably, there is no such thing as criminals, there is society and its failings; that’s it.

A highly recommended read from William Lobban. I won’t be surprised to see this book turned into film.


Jane Allen Petrick – The Story of Norman Rockwell

Hidden in Plain Sight

Norman Rockwell’s vision of the USA was not all white. As early as 1936, Rockwell was showing people of color with sympathy and a dignity usually withheld from people of colour back then. Normal Rockwell developed these portraits from live painting sessions held at his studio.

Hidden in Plain Sight tells the story about the other people in Norman Rockwell’s America.  It shows the stories of the Asian, African, and Native Americans who posed for Norman Rockwell. These people were often concealed, though patently obvious from Rockwell’s body of work.

There are more than 4000 illustrations in Rockwell’s portfolio. People like the John Lane household, Navajos poignantly depicted in the almost unidentified Norman Rockwell painting, “Glen Canyon Dam.” Individuals like Isaac Crawford, a 10 year-old black kid who was a precursor to the Boy Scout calendar.

In this enlightening narrative, Jane Allen Petrick explores exactly what motivated Norman Rockwell to slide people of colour “in to the picture” to begin with. And in so doing, she persuasively documents the well-known illustrator’s deep dedication to and pointed imitations of multiculturalism, imitations that up to now have been, as Rockwell biographer Laura Claridge puts it, “bizarrely overlooked”.

Jane Allen Petrick tells the story using an easy, flowing narrative, the style conversational, and deceptively ‘laid-back’. Petrick is a sharp social observer and her wry sentences stand out, as do her more poignant descriptions of the people Norman Rockwell saw when all around him were blind.

Rockwell suffered psychologically, and spent his life trying to crawl out from under the rock of media oppression. If he, as an artist, was repressed, how much more so were the subjects of his intriguing paintings; the people who were ‘hidden in plain sight’.

Wonderful story. I found myself reading this book from cover-to-cover in one or two days. Unusual for me.

Read more about Jane Allen Petrick and the true Norman Rockwell story here:

Jane Allen Petrick is the author of several publications on subjects ranging from biograpy to work environment issues. She was a bi-weekly columnist for the Knight Ridder Wire service, and her short articles have appeared in many outlets such as the New York Times, the Denver Post and the Washington Post.

Born and raised in Connecticut, Jane earned a BA in economics from Barnard College and obtained her Ph.D. in business psychology from Saybrook College. Retired as a vice-president of ATT Wireless, she is now the vice-president of Informed Decisions International and an adjunct professor at Capella College. Jane has provided assessment in business habits and diversity and ability to many business clients such as IBM, Nextel and Xerox.

Jane is Longstanding and enthusiastic supporter of cultural and historic preservation, she has contributed to neighborhood preservation efforts in both Florida and NYC State. She belongs to The Villagers, the earliest preservation society in South Florida, and is the writer of all the Miami strolling tours for PocketGuides. A qualified trip supervisor, Jane conducts cultural ancestry trips on the East Coast, from the Everglades to the Maritimes.

Jane and her husband, Kalle, split their time between New York’s Hudson Valley and Miami, Florida.