I first met Angus at a literary event entitled ‘Thirsty Lunch’ way back in 2004. At that point the Gun was still very much at the fledgling stage; we had only existed for six months and had produced three issues. I had been informed by former Punch columnist ‘Wee’ Michael Conway that Angus had shown an interest in meeting the editor of the paper and I knew he would be attending the event, so I turned up with an open mind. I didn’t really know who he was as this point, though he had been described to me as ‘eminent’ so I was naturally intrigued.
After this initial meeting we became friends and he was always keen to give me exactly the kind of encouragement that I craved at this point in the Gun’s development. My (relative) youth and naivety, couples with his wealth of experience in the literary world proved to be a potent mix. He began to contribute stories and poems to the paper, and introduced me to other writers who would likewise send me articles for publication. He also was instrumental in confirming my suspicions that the Edinburgh literary ‘scene’ was in dire need of a good kick up the arse. I began to call him (only half-jokingly) ‘Don Calder’ a title he graciously accepted with that twinkle of the eye. To call him my mentor might be an exaggeration, but I reckon he came pretty close.
Unfortunately, his health was never particularly good during our relationship, due to his fondness for the bevvy and cigarettes, but I used to relish his bizarre late night / early morning phone calls, which would begin something like this:
(11.45 pm. The landline rings. I pick it up)Me: Hello?(The sound of ice clinking in a glass and a lighter sparking a fag)Me: Angus? How ye doing?Angus: (with a deep sigh) Fucking shit, mate.Me: Ok, what…Angus: (cutting me off) Craig, have you ever considered… (some literary highbrow thing which I had obviously never considered before, let alone heard of)..?
Yes, these calls could be a real education for me, and by the time I put the phone down a good while later my right ear would physically be red and sore. To this day, if I have been on the phone for too long I will think to myself - ‘I’m going to get a case of Calder Ear if I’m not careful’.
We all loved Angus, and were gutted when he passed away, though to be honest, it was hardly unexpected. Nevertheless, it really fucked me off after his death when all these crusty academics came crawling out of the woodwork, praising him, lauding his ‘squandered’ talent, and lamenting the horror of his last four years (which is precisely when I had the honour to be his friend). These hypocrites would not have given him the shit of their shoes towards the end.
Well, fuck them and their ivory towers. I, for one, am proud that Angus was a ardent supporter of the Gun during its earliest days and I’ll always strive to live up to the dedication he inscribed in my copy of his poetry collection Sun Behind The Castle in 2006:
‘Keep your powder dry, mate, for the city we love’
Angus was a legend, simple as that. They truly don’t make ’em like that anymore, more’s the pity.
(Image courtesy of George Gunn, left to right George Gunn, Antonio Gramsci and Angus Calder; the event was the scattering of Hamish Henderson's ashes. 2002)