Wednesday, December 19, 2007
I have been forced to take to my bed, feverishly dozing away my days, interrupted only by passing locals who, on their way to various rustic tasks, pause outside my window to snigger at the location of my injury.
It would be good to say that I have passed my days creating literary works of lasting importance but in spite of a new pen which, using NASA technology, allows me to write flat out on my back, I have written nothing but rubbish. Some would say this is merely the continuation of an honourable tradition.
I have however read a lot, including the excellent short stories of Paul Bowles, which led me to his letters and then again to those of Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac etc. Reading writers letters - Dylan Thomas, Kingsley Amis, etc-is always good. I am continually reassured by the amount of time they spend complaining of lack of money and annotating the people they think have cheated them out of it.
I myself have a very minor complaint of this sort and will soon reveal the name of the dastardly publishing company that owes me a tiny amount of money and should have paid me long since. Of course in this game you're meant to be slavishly grateful for anyone accepting your squibs and payment when or if it comes should be seen as as mere icing on the cake.
More seasonal spleen later.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
What the Sick Think
Beyond broad windows people tip home,
or back to work through the sluice
of traffic, rain, cold, or winter sun
brassy on their skin, but that is not for us.
Inside out like socks our focus is arcane,
the labyrinth of pulse and flesh and synapse,
inexplicably gridlocked. We are a breed apart.
The magazines and works of art,
the TV screens flickering in the evening
like bats, the crews landed here
to watch their beats and lifted off each
night, declare our exile. We read
our fate in those who pass exotically by,
gauzed and tubed, their faces closed
like blooms, We have only one question:
will things ever be the same for us?
Monday, November 19, 2007
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Friday, November 09, 2007
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Since we were mostly poor we went the long way to get there- across the Ballachulish ferry, then across the Corran ferry on a gruesome single track road to Strontian then Lochaline. It was quicker but more expensive to go from Oban to Craignure, or Lochaline on the car ferry. At least I presume that’s why we always went the long way. Maybe there was another reason: a romance with small ferries maybe. Nowadays of course there’s a bridge at Ballachulish but the Corran Ferry is till there. Last time I tried to get there by that route was in the great year of madness- 1997?-when Eric Booth Moodiecliffe, (see below), who was driving, had a strange back spasm near Benderloch and we had to go home, via St Andrew’s and Hawick (don’t ask).
I think Mull is the target because I have my own layer of crazed memories now and also Mull has traditionally been a place visited as much in the mind as by the ferry. This year my pal Paterson and I intend to go to Mull to watch the Scotland Italy game. This is a proposition that in common with nearly all schemes involving Paterson, is impossible to achieve, or, at least, even if the gigantic logistical problems are overcome, has so many terrible consequences that it is hardly worth anyone of sensible mind contemplating. So that’s what we’re doing. Other completely impossible feats have been achieved in the past, after all. I need only think of the Dumfries to Tobermory on a fiver expedition which involved a landslide, a 22 mile walk in the middle of the night, a riotous night at Ian Crichton Smith’s house and the Taynuilt Highland Games.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Everything must be explained,
death, clouds, oxygen,
so when we at last descend,
you neatly clip the safety card
to the seat in front of you,
and talk us through what we do
should the plane, perhaps in the midst
of this very tight turn, ditch
in the sea. You practise the head
brace, check your shoes won’t tear
the safety slide. When the plane rocks,
you watch hopefully for the masks
to drop like blooms from the ceiling.
At a standstill, you scan the morning’s
light, sniff pine, prepare to change
topics. The rest of us, as ever, are insane:
mortal terror is our baggage; we swear,
we sweat, we are defined,
but all you have with you to declare,
is pure, unfettered mind.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Eric was full of surprises one of these being the fact that while a psychiatric nurse he looked after the famous American poet Robert Lowell, and calmed him during one of his manic phases with a huge and boring rendition of one of Moodiecliffe's own poems (which he could always recite off by heart, of course, no matter the size) called 'Time is a Thief'.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
We left the lush fields of Ireland
in search of rock to perch on,
to garner and shuffle into cairns,
to carve mazily or batter folk,
to celebrate our Kings.
At the start of the future,
it’s as though we said:
all this work in leather,
the filigree the euro-galleys
bring when sea’s like glass,
is a’ very guid, but it won’t last, eh?
You ken whaur ye are wi’ stane.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Friday, September 14, 2007
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Hold onto your weans,
Scottish Heritage have hoisted the red flag,
winds are cutting down the Dee
and the island is adrift,
rudderless in the merse.
Flagpoles bow, hellesponts blaze
in wild winter sun. We tie the kids
behind the caponier
but we have taken casualties:
the boatman has been wounded
by a piece of boiled ham,
and an old man is lost dooking for his flask.
No time to grieve: black clouds
are massing in the valley
and we squat behind sodden stone
for the worst to come.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
There are always little signs of encouragement that keep you going, too. Last week a poem accepted for ‘The Rialto’, this week a request for a poem for Luath’s upcoming Anthology ‘100 Favourite Scottish football poems’. The poem in question there is ‘Anglophobia’ which Gavin Hastings read out to the Scottish rugby team on the day of their World Cup semi-final against England in 1991. They lost, of course, Hastings himself missing a sitter of a penalty right in front of the posts which would have drawn the game. Possibly he was troubled about the poem's internal tensions.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I always take my culinary advice from my confidante Theosiphylis Neil, body builder and thistlemilk entrepreneur, who was Chief Chef to the Dowager Empress Alice, mother of Tsar Nicolas 11. It is a fact known to few that this venerable lady died of food poisoning at her Dacha in Sandside in 1982 at thre age of 160. Unhappily for Theosiphylis, the Dowager Empress had already squandered most of the treasure she'd smuggled out of Russia in her corset on scratch cards and four horse yankees, leaving him only a first day cover from the opening of the Post Office Tower, and a rare collection of Siberian dried plants. It will surprise no-one that the scoundrel sold the former and attempted to smoke all of the latter.
For those of you with a morbid interest in the life and times of Theosiphylis Neil I would add that his latest career- that of a performance poet- got off to a rip roaring start at the Open Mike session held in the Station Hotel on the last Friday in July. He is due to make a repeat performance on Friday August 31st at the same venue. I may also read an ode or two. Anyone wishing diversion from Drumsleet's other premier Friday night occupations should come along.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Below a stunted tree
on the Whitesands,
a small black mongrel
watches a sunburned man
drinking cider. No Border
Collie or Sealyham
could be more focused
on the job at hand-
unflinching eyes follow the can
from lap to lip
and back again.
Between rapid sips
the man talks softly to the dog,
lifting his hand
occasionally in salutation.
He has more booze unopened
on the grass beside him,
it is hard to tell
if the dog knows this,
or knows it too well:
the sunburned man
and the small black mongrel
are a package too complex
it’s enough to know
this Friday afternoon,
in this un-seasonal town,
they are very much in love.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Racing Through Summer
We chase friendly weather fronts
through other peoples’ gardens,
distil the sun they have, eat picnics, jig-time
and always we are framed
by lush oceans of waving grass
and trees that foam through
fine cracks in cloud.
Daily our children grow
before our eyes,
more talkative than birds,
more beautiful than birch.
On gentle slopes swollen with jacaranda,
they pick up pace, blur,
and we strain to keep in touch,
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
In the midst of a depressive illness, I go to see my doctor. He is an urbane and clever man who earned my unstinting admiration a few months ago by instantly recognising the seriousness of my condition.
“There’s no doubt about it”, he said, after a harrowing examination of my symptoms, “you’re fucked.” “Doctor”, I said at the time, “is ‘fucked’ the colloquial term for that existential angst brought on by a realisation of the gap in your life between what you are and what you thought you were?" He shook his head and reached for his prescription pads. That’s the measure of the man.
The good doctor has been on holiday and I am now to see him again. I have been looking forward to describing a strange feeling that develops in my kidneys whenever I think of my work. Imagine my surprise when I find him slumped over his desk in an attitude of complete despair. He looks up. “It’s all right for you”, he sobs.
Taking Doctor Crawford’s advice, I go on holiday. “Get the fuck out of Dumfries, he’d said, throwing prescriptions at me like a ticker-tape farewell.
I decide on a package holiday, reckoning that is the best way for a mentally discomfited person not to stand out from the crowd. There is a moment’s difficulty in the Travel Agent’s, where the enthusiastic assistant is giving her advice. “Kalymnos” she says, “Stoupa”, they’re real places. Corfu’s not real.” I eye her with interest. Once you realise there are different realities, everything’s up for grabs. I write Doctor Crawford’s name on her pad before I leave.
Stoupa is a little village tacked onto a beautiful and wide sandy bay. It is a quiet holiday location off the main tourist track. It is on one of the peripheries of mainland Greece, the Mani, a mountainous area not unlike northern Scotland. As is common knowledge, loonies head the furthest north or south they can. It explains why Shetland is the way it is.
True enough at dinner I meet another disturbed teacher, from Arbroath. He is scared of his headmaster who he thinks is a maniac. I tell him my headmaster looks like a Greek God. For some reason he is very impressed by this. Over our red snappers we express disappointment that teachers, with only 28%, have not met their nervous breakdown targets this session.
Back home in Dumfries I periodically go to see a strapping woman who wants to get to the root of my problems. When I told Dr. Crawford about this intention of hers he said, in a quiet voice, “Some things you don’t want to get to the bottom of”. I have often wondered if Dr. Crawford is one of the 1.55% of bogus GPs who, despite having walked in off the street with no medical qualifications, acquire a large and faithful practice, mainly due to their sound common sense and liberal inclination to sign people off their work.
Miss Prentice, that is the psychiatrist’s name, believes I need to go back to my childhood. It is a place I don’t want to go, but it is better than Kardymili where I have just sat through a traditional Greek night with dancing. Like traditional Scottish nights with dancing no activity of any historical or cultural validity goes on apart from robbery. I do not believe for a moment that any Greek has ever behaved in the manner depicted at a traditional Greek night with dancing, or he would surely have been locked up.
All over Europe people with too much money are attending traditional nights with dancing, drinking paint stripper and, to the discordant twang of some joke instrument made out of an old tennis press, are taking to the floor to the Estonian handkerchief dance, or the Icelandic Nasal Polka, all invented the night before at the pub. It is a gigantic piss-take controlled by the Mafia. Of course I am only jealous that the Scottish operation is already up and running, though there is still time for me to do the Dumfries Cultural Experience where visitors will sit in a disused church hall while drizzle falls steadily on their heads and I go through their jackets in the next room.
I hike to Agios Nikolaois, a small fishing village three miles south of Stoupa. I am supposed to get lots of healthy exercise and I know that walking for an hour and a half up the side of a mountain with 6 litres of the legendary Greek beer Mythos in a temperature approaching 46 is just the
When I arrive, the boats are coming in and the women are battering squid against the wall while the kids frolic in a surf flecked with blood. It is indubitably a piece of real life. The heat bursts like pure bubbles in my head but I sit and try to write partly because Miss Prentice says it’s important to catalogue your feelings, and partly because I’m supposed to be a writer. My catalogue consists of the words ‘Knackered’ and ‘Half-drunk’. Everything beyond the reality of pure colour and the heat seems an absolute indulgence. You’d need to be a painter to address primary truths here. I shut my notebook. An old gentleman, Greek Tourist Board Beard, sees my distress. “at this time”, he says, “you have to drink a lot.” This seems to be fundamentally true, at last.
Hoping to better to see the effects of this phenomenon, I get more exercise, trudging north up a mountain to an even more distant village where I hope to see the eclipse’s effect on an ignorant and superstitious peasantry. I am encouraged by what I find; a ramshackle of whitewashed cottages, lolling dogs and olive trees. Unfortunately when the appointed hour arrives, everyone whips out the free eclipse glasses provided in today’s Kalamata News, or goes in to watch it on satellite TV. The only primitive figure in the scenario appears to be me, soaking wet in sweat and half dead with heat exhaustion, squinting painfully at the sky through a half torn packet of paprika crisps.
Miss Prentice also says (I believe she is paid by the aphorism) that I need to feel more pinned in place, so I spend the evening pinned in place in ‘Manoli’s Disco Every Hours’ a Happy Hours’ All Day Pub and Light System.’ After a few hours drinking Manoli’s Molotov Cocktails, I am better able to articulate the vague feeling of unease that has infected me since my arrival. I am surrounded by Euro-Youth. They have the same teeth, the same cut-off shorts, the same antennae. They are confident, gleaming, so spectacularly different from my contemporaries at their age as to resemble creatures from a different star system.
Euro –Youth are the reason why European unity is both a foregone conclusion and a dreadful prospect. They are an empire devoid of that most civilising agent, doubt. At their age I was riddled with doubt, and things have not improved any. Even my teeth were doubtful. These people behave as if their teeth could enamel the universe, and they probably could.
Things have gone from bad to worse and today I am imprisoned in a bar. I came in for a single drink – the legendary Greek Mythos – but every time I ask for the bill, the waiter, an entirely cheerful old man, brings me another beer. Thinking ‘bill’ to be some local euphemism for beer I ask to ‘pay’. With a great smile the waiter brings me another beer. At such times you feel there is a destiny working at you, chiselling away like the tide. You also feel that language differences may yet be the salvation of all of us. Overcome by joy at the human condition, I cry “Vive la difference”. Clapping delightedly, the waiter brings me another beer.
This is predominantly a German resort and many have obviously driven here to the various campsites which, even to my uncynical eye resemble bivouacs, with camouflage mosquito netting, field kitchens and anti-aircraft batteries. There is obviously a fashion this year for ex-Reichswehr vehicles. There is an old personnel carrier parked outside the Agricoli Tavern which some thoughtful Euro-Youth have driven down to remind the locals what their roads were originally built for. The Greeks bear no grudges, I think not because they have short memories but because they have very long ones, for after all who has not, at one time or the other, dumped on the Greeks? Even the Scots have, though we were probably pretending to be English at the time.
I go for a last drink at the pub with the kindly old waiter but it has disappeared, like Brigadoon.
Disconsolate, I send a telegram to Dr. Crawford telling him to clear his desk as I’m on my way.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Thursday, June 21, 2007
He comes out of the bath. He’s 52 years old but feels more. His little daughters are sitting in front of the television, learning Spanish from video tapes, a set recommended by a top educational psychologist to boost their brain capacity a hundred times, and so expensive his wife’s parents had had to buy them.
“Hola Papa” says the 3 year old, “Tengo hambre. Me gustan las uvas.”
Her older sister doesn’t turn round.
“Y a mi me gustan las uvas” she adds, however.
On the screen a green monster drones on in a guttural snarl. Although the man has tried he has never been able to make out a word it says. Dressed in a T shirt and boxer shorts he looks in the mirror and wonders how he got so fat. In the kitchen his wife drinks coffee and orders shoes for him from a catalogue for a business trip he’s not really going on. I thought you could mow the lawn this morning she says, while it’s dry.
Outside, birds sing and hop doggedly round the small neat garden. He stabs the mower forward through tufts and channels. Above a mass of purple flowers he cannot name, grey chimney pots and clouds march on to the end of the world.
He thinks, as he does sometimes, of walking by the cold water of a sea loch. He thinks, as he does always, of an excuse to go for a drink. Back inside the house he treads on a small plastic toy which breaks in two. Carefully he puts it in his pocket and makes for the front door.
Quien eres tu?” his girls sing, crunching their grapes with perfect little white teeth,
“Quien eres tu?”
Monday, June 11, 2007
A fine and jolly evening in Edinburgh on Thursday on the last leg of the Strange Bimbo Tour. A good reading in the Poetry Library to an audience of luminaries such as Stuart Conn by Drumsleet's two greatest MAKARS, followed by 3oo pints of apple juice in the pub across the road in the company of Shug Hanlan, author of the hilarious 'Hi Bonnybridge', his pal Ted and the impish Tam Jardine. As usual Shug I and I found ourselves reminiscing about the famous four horse yankee which brought in £400 for a 10p bet away back in 1976. The names of these glorious beasts should forever resound in history: Tree Tangle, Fisherman's Cot, Master Upham and Spanish Tan, or 'Spanish Tan 8 lengths clear' as I like to remember it, as these were the joyous words we heard as we stepped inside MacBets in Willowbrae Road, the first three horses having romped home at extraordinary odds on the TV earlier. Such times will not come again.
Back to the south west now for the weekend where I will supervise my 'Dark Days in Drumsleet' float for Guid Neighbours from a bunker a mile and a half away. On such occasions a strategic overview is essential.
Fathers were good to my pals
lectured them about cash
then bought them flats,
deplored their morals
but flitted them from place to place
at dead of night.
Oh my Dad’ll go spare
they’d cheerfully admit
as they phoned for loans.
At such times
I would remember my own
and his two pieces of advice:
how to remove your bayonet
from an enemy’s ribcage,
and how to disarm a maniac
coming at you from the stairs.
They thought their fathers weird
for having cardigans,
I thought mine odd
because he’d talk to men
who’d burned alive in 1942
and because of other things
I’d watched him do:
vault walls three times his size,
or sprint along a busy street
to punch my Mum. When he went,
it left a hole as a trepan might.
I have no idea where he ended up
though I knew he would live long,
as mad folk do.
Years down the line
I received a sentence or two,
written in his cramped
and delicate monkish way,
I wonder, it began,
if you remember me…
This poem and many other damned good ones are available from my new collection 'Strange Bamboo' (Shoestring Press). If you wish a copy and can't find one in the shops yet please contact me.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Friday, May 25, 2007
Thursday, May 17, 2007
He first suspected something was wrong on Sunday night. He’d been standing at the bar regaling his old pals with his funniest old stories and there had suddenly been the most rank, fetid smell, worse than the worst toilet smells you could imagine, and accompanied all the while by a loud buzzing like flies.
“Jeez Willie” said someone, “you crapped yerself, or what?”
Bit by bit his friends had withdrawn, made their apologies and left, even though Willie had been standing all the drinks. He had retreated to a table in the corner, the smell accompanying him like a dog. “Must have been that kebab” he muttered, holding his palm up to sniff the deflected breath. He swallowed his drink and left the pub to walk the half mile home through the streets of Drumsleet. It was an Autumn evening, the cold nipped his skin. As he strode down the cobbled street, he saw, in the distance, a crowd of kids running along, whooping and cheering. They seemed to be carrying a dummy. “Guisers” thought Willie Kelvin, allowing himself a smile at the memories of Halloween and the innocence of youth. He fished in his pocket for a coin or two to give them, then, remembering his personal hygiene problem, ducked into a doorway instead. Kids could be cruel. From the shadowed safety of Poundstretchers doorway he watched them cavort along the road. They were parallel to him before he realised that the figures were dwarves, and that the burden they were carrying was a young girl, bound and gagged. As Willie Kelvin watched, one of the band grabbed the girl’s foot and bit into it. “Mmmm” it slobbered, then they were gone into the darkness. Willie stood for a moment to gather his senses. What he’d witnessed was a student rag, of course, even though there weren’t any students in Drumsleet. Or maybe it was a theatre troupe. The local Arts Association had recently appointed several bald women to revitalise local culture, so this could have been a piece of street theatre. Or maybe, and this seemed the soundest notion of all, the girl was on her way to a party. What an effort, finding all those dwarves. Willie Kelvin imagined there was an Agency in the Yellow Pages.
Shaking his head and forcing a grin in the reflected green glass of the shop window, Willie resolved to return to the pub for a stiff whisky before it shut. He wondered if the dominoes were still on, or whether the karaoke had begun. He was a man on whom economic necessity forced sober habits but he was going to enjoy his little windfall, even if it meant going to day 6 of the Social’s ‘Retraining for Success’ course with a massive headache in the morning. He began to anticipate the smoky warmth and atmosphere of the place. Even the smell had abated a bit. He retraced his steps. A fine mist had come out of nowhere and though he knew Drumsleet like the back of his hand, he hesitated at the top of the Vennel. He thought he could make out the dull yellow face of the Church clock, but he wasn’t sure. Automatically turning right along the High Street, he brushed into something outside the Oxfam Shop that he knew shouldn’t have been there. The object shifted against his shoulders. Reaching up, he grasped a foot and was left, as it moved, hanging on to an over-size leather shoe. A small, horrified, glance was enough to register a corpse swinging in a gibbet, its mouth and eyes open and staring. Willie Kelvin screamed and the noise echoed down the empty High Street. Somewhere a dog whined, as if in pain. Willie turned and blundered down the Vennel, running blindly in the direction of home.
He clattered across the old Bridge, his footsteps ringing in his ears. The orange lights flickered, swam, in the fog. He tried to think of normal things, being patronised by the Social, the football results, Sunday lunch with his mother, but every time he tried, his mind rebelled, and other images drifted in; horses dragging ghastly coaches, the faces of drowned babies, blood congealing on glass. He wheezed up the lane to his flat, the hair thick on his neck. With relief he unlocked the door and flung himself inside, bolting the door after him. He shut the blinds, put every light in the house on, then the heating, then the radio. He sat and poured himself a large whisky and crouched on the floor, shivering. The noise of the river and the world outside receded to a whisper. The whisky burned, then warmed. The radio began a summary of the day's football matches. Willie relaxed a little, making a mental note to contact his doctor. He’d been getting himself really worked up about things lately. He took a deep breath and poured himself another drink.
Somewhere between the second and the third gulp, the electrics in the flat failed and Willie was plunged into sudden and silent darkness. He stood up and looked out the curtains. There were no street lamps. Willie sat down, glass in one hand, the open bottle in the other. As he drank, the darkness itself seemed to change in nature, become oily and viscous. After a minute or two it began to slop about the room, momentarily obscuring the few vague shapes he could make out. Willie began to sweat profusely. There were candles in the hall cupboard and Willie resolved to get them to banish this unnatural darkness. Groping his way through the door and along the hallway, still carrying the whisky, he finally found the door handle of the cupboard and wrenched it open.
“Good evening” said a deep voice. Standing just inside and framed in deep yellow light that seemed to well up from the floorboards themselves was a man dressed in pantaloons and hose. As he bowed deeply Willie grew only marginally more petrified to discern that his visitor had no head. With great gentleness, the figure ushered Willie back from the doorway. “Please excuse the liberty” it said. Willie was hit in the face by a blast of hot air and then suddenly a torrent of noise and light erupted from his hall cupboard and streamed through his front door and down the stairs a succession of things, creatures, beasts, ghouls, trolls, some images so horrific that Willie’s brain could barely assimilate them. Willie slumped back against the wall, the bottle falling from his hand onto the threadbare carpet. After about three minutes, the cupboard door slammed shut. Instinctively Willie moved forward to shut the front door. The figure was on the other side, already closing it. “Thank you so very much” it said. No need to wait up.”
When Willie regained consciousness his head was thumping but he set off to find some drink anyway. It was still dark but a rind of dawn was forming over the derelict mills. After he’d opened a can of lager and drunk about a half of it, he took stock. Up to now, the only thing that had been wrong with Willie Kelvin had been his fungal feet: the reason he was signing on, and the reason why he was now, to keep his benefit, obliged to attend daily ‘Retraining for Success’, a form of torture specially invented for dole-hounds like himself. Willie had lost his temper on Friday, felt the veins in his forehead throbbing as he shouted at this twelve year old lassie appointed to sharpen his interview techniques up. It was one of the reasons why he’d gambled on the bonus balls. Bloody Hell, he thought. Must see the doctor today. He wasn’t going on the course- they could go to hell. He switched his living room lights off and moved towards his bedroom. As he did so something scuttled under the front door. Willie screamed then slowly unsnibbed the door and to his horror the whole ghastly cavalcade began again, except in the opposite direction, whirling through and into his hall cupboard in a howling torrent of red and black. Willie shut his eyes until the noise abated. He opened them just in time to see his cupboard door slam shut, and something hit the wall above and bounce close to Willie’s feet. Willie peered down. It appeared to be a human arm, dressed in part of a police sergeant’s uniform. It was still hot, and smoking slightly. As Willie stared open mouthed, the door opened and a long hand snatched the body part away. “I do so very much beg your pardon” said an urbane voice, and the cupboard door slammed shut again.
Willie did go to his course in the morning; not out of any sense of duty but out of a need to get as far away from the flat as he could. It was day 7 of his 6 week course, ‘Retraining for Success’. When he registered his attendance the girl looked up and gave a little jolt of fright. From his cursory look in the bathroom mirror earlier Willie could see her point. Waxy faced, slack jawed, eyes like pissholes in the snow and reeking of drink, Willie Kelvin looked more like one of the current inhabitants of his hall cupboard than a man seeking a kick start on the ladder to gainful employment. They were working on CVs that day. One of the fresh faced staff used a flip chart and big fat pens to illustrate the type of CV that would catch a prospective employer’s eye and then they were given smaller pads and pens to draft their own versions. Willie found himself next to Stevie, a nicotine stained old lag who’d recently had his disability allowance stopped after a rule change. The older man was already scribbling away. After a minute or two Willie looked over his shoulder.
“Christ Stevie you cannae say that.”
Stevie had written ‘Born: cannae remember’ and after ‘Education’ had scrawled ‘Doctorate of Social Anthropology from the University of Baghdad.’.
“You’ll need to take it more seriously Stevie” said Willie, “they’ll stop your benefit”
“I dinnae care” Stevie said. “I’ll probably no make it through the rest o the day anyway”
“How do ye mean?”
“Christ where have you been? The toon’s in the grip o a gigantic crime wave.”
Willie shook his head.
“God, where do I start? They burned down Marks and Sparks last night and every windae in the High Street’s oot. “
“Bloody Hell” whispered Willie, his headache increasing.
“An that’s no a’. Two bobbies sent oot tae investigate have vanished oaf the face of the earth, and a whole dormitory of Convent girls is missing.”
Willie shut his eyes. “Have they any idea…who it is?”
“Och there’s a’ soarts o’ stories goain’ the rounds. Rogue Polish potato pickers who’ve turned cannibal, Gretna supporters..only there’s no enough o’ them” Stevie leaned closer.
“If you ask me, it’s no’ of this world Willie. It’s the Apocalypse.”
“The beast Willie. 666. Dye see?”
Willie did see with great and sudden clarity. 666. His bonus balls. Through greed and stupidity he had delivered Dumfries and Galloway to the AntiChrist. He was to blame. Willie Kelvin.
“Mr Kelvin?” the young girl was at his elbow, a look of barely concealed distaste on her face. She nodded at his blank page. “How are we doing?” When he didn’t answer she made a little clucking noise with her teeth and the tip of a very ping tongue protruded for a second.
“Don’t we want a job? Do we want to be in Limbo forever?”
Willie Kelvin didn’t sleep that night but instead, through the long hours thought and thought, his concentration only periodically disturbed by loud explosions, sudden sheets of flame, and the screams of the damned as they rampaged through Drumsleet. There was no escaping the facts: Willie Kelvin was responsible for the impending destruction of the town in which he had been born and bred. Everything he was familiar with, the park speckled with dog turd, the threadbare bowling green, the boarded up businesses, the poundshops, the tanning salons, the pedestrian precincts swept by drizzle, the Social……By dawn he knew exactly what he had to do, even if it meant his own death. He rummaged around in a bookshelf, emerging with a thick and venerable tome. He blew the dust from its cover then, steeling himself, awaited the return of the supernatural procession. It came, as expected, in a blast of colour and noise, the headless figure at the rear.
“Excuse me” said Willie Kelvin, boldly stepping in front of him. The spectre inclined his torso as if in polite enquiry. “I was wondering” he began “if you intend staying here for any length of time.” “Yes indeed” said the apparition, “for we were invited.” “But” said Willie, and at this point he revealed the large volume under his arm. At its appearance, the figure seemed to recoil for a second. “It says here..” Willie opened the book and his finger trembled above a long passage. The devilish light in the cupboard seemed to flicker. “It says here” he continued doggedly, “that if I sub-let the premises I lose my benefit entitlements. And that guests are not allowed to stay overnight, even in the storage spaces. I mean I don’t want to cause trouble but…” The headless man stroked the space that might once have been occupied by a chin. “Hmmm” it said, “I see. Well perhaps we can make an accommodation.”
When Willie Kelvin returned from Rio, sated in every way, though not having put on a pinch of fat or aged a single second, he found that the Tide of Evil had progressed quite considerably. The Regional Council had declared war on England and the Wellington Boot Factory at the edge of town had been converted to make Poison Gas. Chain gangs of lawyers, dentists and minor civil servants had made excellent progress towards erecting the giant statue of Willie Kelvin that was to dominate the town’s new skyline. After a light breakfast of Lorne sausage and Champagne, Willie made his way to the middle of Drumsleet where the Social Security Building stood alone among the smoking ruins of other local government offices. He paused at the door. Through the windows he could make out the filing cabinets and desks, the glum faces sat round a central table and the Flip Chart. It bore the motto: RETRAINING FOR SUCCESS: WEEK THREE. EXPRESSING YOURSELF. Willie Kelvin strode up the steps to do just that.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I would like everyone to know before they sharpen their staves that Chapter Six was a satirical rant and not factual social comment and that, like any other person who has lived and worked almost their entire life in Drumsleet, I know that the town has many strengths and many weaknesses.
My first task as the Most Hated Man in Drumsleet will be, of course, to appoint from among the many dole-hounds of my acquaintance men of sufficient physical strength and agility to repel the physical attacks planned for my person by a Special Hit Squad recently formed by the Provost and local Tourist Board. I understand from some of my sources that these agents have been trained at a camp deep within Ae Forest and may already be in place in the community armed to the teeth.
My second task will be to run for it. Perhaps, like the poet Publius Ovidius Naso, I shall go into exile in Constanta in Romania, where I will pine my life away dreaming of the poundshops of home. I have fond memories of Constanta, having been chased round several soviet era apartment blocks by a hunchback in 1992.
Monday, April 30, 2007
Hugh McMillan’s fourth full collection ‘Strange Bamboo’ is about to be released by Shoestring Press. This book reveals him as one of Scotland’s sharpest and most accessible talents. His subject matter ranges from the local to the universal but all is observed with clarity, an unsentimental compassion and, often, a rollicking sense of fun.
Much modern poetry is portentous and self-consciously clever. McMillan’s is, as Robert Nye once pointed out, “ a breath of fresh air.”
“McMillan is unique in the angle and tone of his attack on the familiar.” Ian Duhig
Out of the Way
Lydia has pink sandals
and butterfly clips:
it’s sunny in the gardens,
the grass tiger stripes,
the news only a distant wheeze
from a kitchen radio,
drowned by bees,
a breeze, the birdsong.
This is why we’re here:
nothing to worry over
but tumbles on soft lawns,
that and the vicious roar
of fighter bombers, spinning
like needles over garden sheds,
practising pitching bombs
on babies’ heads.
Strange Bamboo ISBN-13 978 1 904886 51 8 £8.95 from Shoestring Press
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
the blank page you left
sparkles in streetlight
like snow. It's perfect
but you'll be back
to spoil it. At night
we think about what might
have been, if that line
had been just right,
that rhythm less flat,
if you were any good, in fact.
We were battered out and sent
half made into the world,
now we hang about the shelves
all day, your dead-end kids.
Here's a clear image
at last, to define a quarter
tyro, middle aged,
distils boredom into dross
with a shovel.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
“There’s floaters in it, though”
“They’ll no mind” said Stevie, “they’re deid after all.”
They walked down the hill. It was a bright spring afternoon.
“Remember Kenny Morgan? He died young.”
“He drank, didn’t he?”
“Aye Paraquat” said Stevie, limping into the Kirkyard. Stevie had long suffered from some ailment which kept him intermittently short of breath. 14 pints of Guinness a day probably didn’t help either.
Time wore on. The sun was blazing and the distance between the graveyards was about a mile and a half, but seemed more. They had to stop quite a few times to let Stevie, by this time very red in the face, catch up.
They couldn’t find Drew in the second cemetery.
“Christ You cannae track him down even now. He still owes me a ten spot you know.”
It was a vast necropolis, apparently packed with men called Andrew who’d died before their time. The party split up, reformed, this time with no sign of Stevie.
Finally they gave up and drank what was left of the Yamikaze. It did have floaters. As the shadows lengthened, they set off to the Normandie Inn, then after a few pints, towards town.
“Where do you think Stevie got to?”
They were passing St Mary’s.
“That’s where his Mum’s buried isn’t it?”
They all nodded, noting its convenient proximity to the Fleshers’ Arms.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
It's funny isn't it that just when you think life is impossible, that your enemies are irresistible and that that tight feeling in your forhead is a sure indication of a fatal thrombosis or at least a massive brain hemorrhage, that something good and cheery occurs?
This morning, for instance, after a long and fevered night thinking of all the ways to spend the 75p I've got to last till next Tuesday, mixed up with the grinning and triumphant face of TIM DOWD celebrating another literary coup, I awoke sweating to find a buzzing on my mobile phone indicating a message from a very close friend. It was from Ronnie Fisher, a well known and highly gifted wildlife painter, and one of these rare and altruistic folk who really make a difference in life, who actually do, by their bearing and consideration for others, lighten the step and share the burden.
I scrolled down the luminous green screen. It read:
EVERYBODY HATES YOU
BECAUSE YOU'RE A KNOBEND.
Friday, March 09, 2007
School Trip February 2007
Lions, sejant affronte,
tressure flory, counter flory,
swans wings and unicorns chained
on tapestry fresh as grass.
Pennants swing, the breeze of battle
pumped from some hidden place
where dark kings wander
from reality to myth and back
to the rasp of sackbuts.
Stand on the right spot, break a robot eye,
and see Bruce crowned by Britney Spears
as the Countess of Fife,
or James IV the glamrock dwarf,
staggering beneath a lifetime’s guilt,
or Mary, Bairn of Broons,
screaming for a dummy, or a husband,
or at least a change of CD.
Then the tin-plate, the filigree,
the stone poked in a corner,
no talk, or touch, or photographs.
More than the three quid poorer,
with the shop’s Braveheart pencils
still to come, the real honours
of Scotland pour downstairs,
career across the black hem of rock,
their country paralysed below,
the past, their future, no
live connection yet.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Dear Mr Hodgson,My client, Mr Hugh McMillan, has instructed me to contact you with a view to winding up your joint correspondence. Having been shortlisted in twentieth place for the Drumsleet Tech College Poetry Prize (special no-cash award category) he now feels that he is too mainstream to bother with you. Whereas once he may have been pleased to idly exchange bitter little fripperies he now clearly has a duty to cement his place in the establishment of POETS and MAKARS, renewing the CULTURAL BLOOD of our nation. As a mark of his meteoric rise he has been invited by MR TIM DOWD to read at a conference in the University of Drumsleet in May in a five minute slot attractively named OTHER LOCAL WRITERS. Similarly when his new book is launched at the end of that month, McMillan has the honour of reading fourteenth on a bill headed by the famous MR TIM DOWD. So you must clearly see, Mr Hodgson, that he cannot have further truck with you, for fear of damaging his newly established status as one of the best poets ever seen in his postcode. He has high hopes of following in the footsteps of TIM DOWD and other famous MAKARS, and being seen to receive your pock-marked and smudged little letters brimming as they are with acrimony and envy can only be detrimental to these ambitions. He wishes to let you know that he will return your correspondence separately, along with the voodoo dolls you made of other regional writers.
Yours Sincerely,Mr Abraham Snitch
Thursday, February 08, 2007
These bus journeys are usually dry affairs, the only small pleasure to be gained being from reading timetable alterations or from the invention of nicknames for the travelers who every morning come down from the impenetrable bayous of the Upper Nith valley with their goats and chickens to sell at market. These include ‘Man-Woman’, ‘Square- Arse’, ‘Jimmy Clithero’, ‘Mike the Maddo’, ‘Old Leather Heid’, ‘Sister Barbara’, ‘Smokey’, ‘Mary Tudor’, ‘Cro-Magnon’, ‘Sally Stacked’ and ‘Billy One-Eye’.
Recently, however, my routine has been interrupted. For two days a week one of my buses has been driven by the WORST TEMPERED BASTARD IN THE WORLD. This man drives the shuttle bus that picks me up from Penpont and deposits me at my connection in Thornhill. This is a two mile journey, which should take five minutes and should be a calm prelude for the main journey to come. It was immediately apparent, however, on first entering this driver’s bus that here was a man on the very limit of his endurance and sanity. This morning, as illustration, he screeched to a halt at my quiet bus stance and frantically began pummeling at the lever to open the door. Even muffled by the considerable bulk of the bus I could hear him screaming PIECE OF FUCKING SCRAP OPEN UP YOU BASTARD. When the bus door began to move, he threw himself into the tiny gap, wrenching and kicking at it until it opened fully. Mopping his forehead with a rag he then resumed his seat, scorning my attempt to pay the fare. They should be fucking paying you to come on this, he muttered darkly before roaring off through the village at well over the accepted speed limit. Having aimed at and just narrowly missed another car’s wing mirror as it attempted to maneuver from the pavement he turned round, wholly disregarding the road in front, and shouted LOOK AT THAT FUCKING IDIOT SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED TO DRIVE THE FUCKING TWAT COULD KILL SOMEONE JESUS. A few minutes elapsed and then he could be heard bemoaning, to no-one in particular, the lot of the working man. Toothless unions, he muttered grimly, that bitch Margaret Thatcher. I SAY, turning round again to scream down the cabin, THAT BITCH’LL GO TO HEAVEN AND THEY’LL TELL HER GO TO THE OTHER PLACE WHERE IT’S HOT AND HERE’S A SHOVEL. BLOODY BITCH. When she’s buried, I SAY WHEN SHE’S BURIED I’LL DANCE ON THE COW’S GRAVE JUST TO KEEP HER DOWN THERE.
I do feel that this man cannot possibly continue to function at such a finely tuned pitch of desperation and rage and pray that the psychiatric department of Stagecoach buses intervenes before it loses a committed and articulate employee.
Friday, January 26, 2007
When he woke up, his head aching, Brian realised he was not in a taxi or one of the Ford Transit vans usually favoured by the Drumsleet Police. The night before he had been in the pub with his mate, trying to work out a way of beating the bookies, and as usual had drunk too much.
Brian thought he had a copy of this scheme in his top pocket but then realised he didn’t have a top pocket. Besides, it was too dark to read. The windows were blacked out. If there were windows.
The effortless hum of the engine suggested they were really moving . Brian travelled by boozing. You needed to get out of Drumsleet somehow. He just lacked the spine to actually leave. He didn’t seem to have a spine now, in fact, didn’t seem to have a body at all. He was a face and a pair of fluttering white hands.
Betting was another type of escaping, but Brian always chose donkeys.
And cows! In the pub this bloke from the sticks had been talking about aliens mutilating cattle, but had a theory that they weren’t taking things out, but putting things in, to improve the species. This prompted the usual banter about country folk putting things in livestock. What had happened after that? He’d walked by the river, feeling sorry for himself, mourning his lot. A country and western song made flesh.
Thank God he had a sense of humour. Come to think of it, now his hands had vanished, all he could make out was his own laughter. That would be the last thing to go. He smiled, or imagined he did, and hoped that when they put something in him, they’d start with a stronger backbone.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
It’s that time again:
erubescent men are boarding planes
to Fiji and Azerbaijan.
They will blow east and west
on airs of malt. The world will be
necklaced by these ambassadors
preaching love of literature
and other stuff they say
they understand, or even claim
their nation has invented,
things like passion and equality,
humanity and pride.
Avoid them if you can.
They come from a country
so stuffed with hypocrisy and cant
it explodes like this once a year.
The rest of the time
these man are sober
rotarians. Unionists. And that apart,
wouldn’t know a poem
if it bit them on the arse.