Monday, 31 October 2011

(A Toast to) Sparkling, Fading, October.

Loch shores shine
Sun burst swell,
Tipping tides,
In upturned shell,
Hillsides blaze in

A burning bush,
To trample on,
Yellow is copper,
When night is gone.

Scented riches,
Bittersweet smell,
To silent carpet,
Acorns knell.

Dropping life, deciduous trees,
Uncovered, like defiant thieves,
Are knowing they
Should take their leave,
Content in course,
To one day breathe.

They steal away,
But never grieve,
'Fore all shuts down,
At full frost heave.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Daylight Saving Time or A Walk in the Forest...

It's always a dangerous season. The walk into the forest happens at roughly the same time each year, when tall spindly giants shed their golden, auburn, and scarlet locks to form a crisp, cushioned and comforting welcome mat under your feet. And so, you may enter with a spring in your step.

Gradually, you acclimatise to the slumber that is setting in around you as you become part of the spell that is being cast. Squirrels hoard their stock. Deciduous trees shut down their growth. Darkness falls earlier and days go minimal. Black meanders through, just a few minutes earlier with each turn of the planet. And daylight, in an inversion of long, endless, summer, scuttles away, half-ashamed, after briefly punctuating the dusk.

"How far can you walk into the forest?" The child grins as you stumble manfully over his brainteaser, before eventually giving in.
"Halfway-because after that you’re walking out of the forest."

Not strictly true. There’s always another option...

Fear comes from uncertainty, and in the weeks before you enter the forest, you begin to wonder whether you will walk straight through this year. Or, whether, as in years gone by, you will lose your way in the endless turnings of oak, pine and briar. Will you be retracing lost steps over and over with vanished memory of where you once began and where you are headed? Helplessly etching imprints on tree trunks in the hope that if you happen to return this way, you will recognise your hand amongst the many, scratched in bark by the others who have lost their way too?

In the forest, you may wander like a lost child, but the panic is felt in palpable, tangible heart-hammering technocolour and it is very possible that there will be no happy reunions. Until, that is, a silence begins to set in, like the icicles that form and hang from the branches of every tree, beautifully isolated and untouchable.

Wandering the increasingly cold, bleak landscape, wind can begin to chill the bones. Turning to look for help, it is possible that darkness can fall unawares and there is only the sound of breaking twigs beneath your feet as you tread and retread familiar yet uncharted territory.

How long will the darkness of the innermost labyrinth last? In the forest, time can seem interminable. Days can seem to lead to months and on into years. Memories of past excursions can surface without warning, sending you spiralling towards colourless mornings and greying, dusky afternoons. You are walking in mist, and you are wishing that you would arrive at a clearing: a cool breeze, a blue sky, a motionless, mirrored pool of water…
You face the fact that journeying in the forest is a part of who you are. And, as leaves begin to fall again this year, you dream that these trips will not merely define you, but will refine you for your next arrival in the clearing. Certainly, time will travel; Spring will sprout; re-creation will rise. And bubbling to the front of your mind, another memory forms: of colours that begin to merge from the hard, barren ground: yellows, reds and violets on a canvas of brown and green. Let them be the colours of your hope, as you approach the forest once again...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A day in Spain...

The endless blue-gold carpet shimmers and glitters as if magic is being performed endlessly before my eyes. An occasional fishing boat dawdles in front of the horizon crossing the liquid mirrorball momentarily before my vision resettles onto its mesmerising, shining, shifting surface. The puppet master sun has now revealed himself and glides elegantly and purposefully in front of his audience. His warmth is soothing to those who draw from his dazzling performance. Below, some dance in the light of his golden glow. As if in tribute, a rainbow of colours move along the shore: blues, reds, oranges and yellows mingle and merge with the beauty of sand, rock and water, whilst others lying on the endless ladder of sun-loungers are simply happy to be transfixed by his Midas touch.

He revels in this orchestration. It is the creation of light and shade that brings the symphony to life.Canoes and sailing boats now get the nod and burst into the movement. A father and son see the point, and dive beneath the rippling foam. Glorious blooms, content to play second fiddle in the early morning, now submerge the senses with brightness, and their scent adds a vital accompaniment. The yellow bird of paradise flowers sing sweetly from every branch.  Golden green palm trees are grass skirted dancers swaying delicately to the sound of the free-style breeze. The engine of a small ferry chugs rhythmically past, as the resonant whooshing of white waves loops endlessly to shore. Their climactic arrival adds a swelling time signature to the piece being refrained over and over again, as the light sea breeze cartwheels in towards the baking shoreline.

Suddenly, and unexpectedly the feeling of being alive strikes. I dive headlong into the careering waves and my breath is extracted rapidly as the cold, galloping spray hits. The endless blue horizon, with the coast of Africa tantalisingly close, blends with the effortless strength of the wind to create an awareness of the pneuma within...

Later, as evening begins its relentless fall in the east, a shimmering spotlight focuses on the sea, amongst the dark blue hue now settling on the restless Mediterranean. The show is almost over, but, as if to build to a virtuoso crescendo, the sun completely dominates the blackening sky, an awesome, transfixing ball of orange hanging in the heavens. Finally, he disappears, stage right, behind darkening hills in an effortless, yet extravagant exit and ripples of appreciation ring out from water and land. In the lilac, orange afterglow, gulls swoop and settle on the shoreline and peace descends to complement the passing of a perfect day.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Tripping the Badge Man. (Reimagining a conspiracy theory).

Vaulting the thin, white, arrowhead fence, he started to run. With every step his heartbeat pounded his chest in a jungle rhythm. To those who stood watching on the knoll, his dark suit seemed to mesmerise the horizon like a menacing swarm of flies. Soon another suit followed giving chase to the dark blue figure. The first man's hat bounced around his forehead, the shining badge glinting in the sun. As he ran, he was picking at the catch of a camera with all his might. Finally it snapped open, spewing the spool into the deadly sunlight. He ripped at its contents before stuffing the small pieces of photographic paper into his pocket. His accomplice caught him near the corner, just as he shattered the small camera against the nearby wall. They both headed into the underpass taking the last traces of a nation's hopes into the dark with them.

At that moment a blonde haired teenager skated into the underpass from the opposite end, oblivious to the commotion which had erupted in the nearby street. Swivelling deftly, but dangerously, in an attempt to avoid the two officers, he upended his board and sprawled to the ground, tripping the badge man and sending him straight to the ground. The second man simply kept running and was soon bursting into the bright light of morning.

This time the badge man was not so fast. As sirens sobbed above, the badge man and the teenager slowly looked at each other. The older man reached into his pocket and suddenly, as if a switch had been flicked, his fingers clasped readily around a compact revolver which soon hung magnetically from his hand. The skateboarder, already hunched from his fall, disappeared into himself, drawing his arms around his desperate body as he clawed for the narrow gutter at the edge of the wall. In that second, a shot cracked out, reverberating around the underpass; echoing, it gradually disappeared into silence. But the teenager's blood did not smear the wall, as he crumpled amongst a backdrop of red and blue graffiti.

The badge man lurched forwards towards the light. Emerging from the darkness, his black pupils bulged from his round wrinkled skull, before his brain registered that movement was not an option. Above him stood a sentry of blue. Scanning the scene he saw movement from behind a tree. The badge man froze, but by then it was too late. Like a landslide, a team of four officers were down the verge and onto him before he could reach once again for his gun.

Instead, he reached for his identity card and mouthed "C.I.A."

But as he spoke, a voice drawled and crackled out from the belt of one of the officers:
"Tippet here. We've got this guy who works in the Book Depository. Get up here now."

As the officers lumbered once more up the verge, the badge man slipped into the underpass. There, the skateboarder, lying as if dead, cowered breathlessly until the badge man had marched with deliberate, dreadful strides past him and then, breaking into a jog, had disappeared out through the other end of the tunnel.

Getting silently to his feet, and with a bullet lodged in his left elbow pad, the teenager walked in the opposite direction into the Dallas sunlight, desperate to tell his story, but try as he might, no police officer would so much as give him the time of day...

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

50 years...

In a fast moving world where a football manager might be fortunate to last fifty games or even, in some cases, fifty days with a club, the longevity of fifty years of stickability seems like a thing of the past.

Half a century, six hundred months, c18250 days. However you look at it, it's a long time. Isn't it?

In a BBC clip, David Attenborough, who recently returned to visit Madagascar, recalling an expedition some 50 years ago, comments that his pioneering trip seems like "the day before yesterday."

Currently celebrating its jubilee year, with special guest appearances from celebrity former pupils, is the place where I work, Braidhurst High School in Motherwell. It's a chance to look back on times gone by and to remember how things used to be. Old faces remembered as mere kids, have been spotted, hoving into view as parents or grandparents themselves.

Good things come in threes, and my parents have recently celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary. As I've been leafing through a few of their old black and white photos, the thought has struck me that time passes quickly. Cliches about "seizing the day" seem somehow appropriate as I recognise my face and position in life in some of their earlier memories.

Master Oogway has it right in Kung Fu Panda when he selects from a quote attributed to Alice Morse Earle:  ""The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it is called the present."

Enjoy your day.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Summer Reading (5)

Time to Declare by Michael Vaughan with Mike Dickson

Here, former England cricket captain Vaughan deciphers the high and low points of an illustrious career. Written in an honest and straightforward style, Vaughan comes across as a strong, intelligent leader whose success in bringing the Ashes back to England after 16 years in 2005 was the result of meticulous planning which included the removal of previous players who, in Vaughan’s view, had been "scarred" by a series of previous defeats. Often forthright, Vaughan is quick to reveal those players, coaches, and administrators who, in his opinion, did not help his cause as he battled to instil a more positive, attacking approach to winning Test matches. The first Lancashire born player to appear for Yorkshire, Vaughan comes across as a man who is keen to innovate, improve and inspire the chances of those in his charge, but he describes in an honest, almost confessional way, how his confidence gradually was drained as a result of a series of injuries which led to his retirement in 2009. Now an established member of the media, Vaughan’s voice is one that commands respect and this book is well worth a read for cricket fans.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Summer Reading (4)

"Love Wins-At the Heart of Life’s Big Questions" by Rob Bell

With previous titles such as "Velvet Elvis", "Sex God" and "Jesus wants to Save Christians" Rob Bell has cleverly created a niche market for his writing whilst, it could be argued, managing to distance himself from some of the excesses of conventional mainstream US Christianity. In "Love Wins", Bell takes a closer look at some commonplace church teachings, which, he seems to assert, need to be reconsidered. Bell focuses, for example on traditional beliefs about heaven and hell and how the presentations of them within certain streams of Christianity have clashed with an overall theological picture of "good news" as presented in the Bible. Bell’s vision may seem unconventional and controversial to some, but it does force the reader to question where his or her beliefs about the question of life after death have derived  from. Focusing on biblical texts to support his argument, he manages to provide hope for those who dare to believe that God may succeed in his plan of initiating and balancing an open and welcoming afterlife, admittedly without fluffy clouds, angels with harps or St. Peter standing bouncer-like at the pearly gates. In deconstructing some of the traditional images of his own Christian experience, Bell re-imagines something on arguably a much bigger and grander scale, befitting of a God who may be more gracious than Christians will sometimes accept or reveal to interested onlookers.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Summer Reading (3)

"The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak

The fascinatingly simple, yet brilliant, premise of this book centres around its original, convincing and gripping method of narration. Death is a resourceful and insightful character who decribes a collection of the writings of a young German girl, Liesel Meminger, which were lost to her during the Second World War. That Death, working so hard in the midst of chaos, should be so warm as to care about the girl, may come as somewhat of a surprise to the reader, but we soon realise that Death has little control over the remit handed to him(?) by his own hard taskmaster, namely, War. What comes across most forcefully in Zusak’s poignant characterisation is a series of memorable individuals who live in the ironically named Himmel Street, on the outskirts of Munich, and who come to suffer much, simply as a result of the Fuhrer’s thirst for power. Although we are shown some extreme examples of Jewish degradation, Zusak manages to convince us that ordinary Germans also suffered heroically in the wake of the Third Reich. Overall, this is a novel that should make it to everyone’s reading list at some time or other, on the grounds that it an outstanding, insightful work of fiction.

Summer Reading (2)

"The Life of Senna" by Tom Rubython

 This somewhat protracted reading experience charts the life and untimely death of Ayrton Senna da Silva, the three times Brazilian Formula One motor racing champion. Written originally as a series of articles, Rubython’s writing style becomes repetitive, as pieces of information from earlier chapters are revisited at the beginning of new chapters. Clearly, Rubython has researched Senna’s life thoroughly and he reveals something of his complex character in the book. Senna comes across as a completely single-minded man, who will cross the line of fair-play in his pursuit of driving excellence, but is a thoroughly patriotic Brazillian whose primary concerns within his private life are seen to include family, spirituality and justice for the poor street children of his homeland. Rubython describes virtually every race of Senna’s career in detail, from his early days in karting through Formula Ford and Formula 3000, on the way to his Formula One career with Toleman, Lotus, McLaren (and 3 world titles) and his brief three race career with Williams. The chapters describing Senna’s death are poignant, revealing that Senna, due to his fiercely competitive nature, is compelled to race at Imola against his better judgement, despite the death of Roland Ratzenburger in the qualifying heats, and his obvious doubts about taking part. A small Austrian flag is found in the sleeve of his overalls after his death and it is assumed he was intending to win the race and dedicate it to the memory of Ratzenburger. Ultimately, it is the power and charisma of his subject matter that may force the reader, who is not a Formula One die-hard, to grapple with Rubython’s book. For a briefer, more literary look at this great champion, a better option might be Richard Williams’ "The Death of Ayrton Senna".

Watch the trailer for Asif Kapadia's recent movie: Senna

Summer Reading (1)

"Cash"- Johnny Cash, Patrick Carr
The story behind the steady guitar rhythm and heart-felt lyrics of the late Johnny Cash is completely and satisfyingly unpacked in a compelling autobiography, which reveals the depth of Cash’s influence in American popular culture. Contemporary and friend of luminaries such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison, Cash retells his life story in a self-effacing and hopeful manner, showing a man who has been taught much about life through both good times and bad, set against the backdrop of two contrasting marriages. His battles with amphetamine addiction are unsparingly chronicled and many near brushes with death result from this. For example, we read about him walking into a series of dark caves with the sole intention of dying there, but after being met by "the voice of God", he credits this event as saving his life at that time. The untimely demise of his older brother Jack, while still a child, the result of a sawmill accident, is also a haunting backdrop to much of Cash’s life. Jack mysteriously visits his brother in dreams throughout his life and Cash is always encouraged that his brother has been growing older at a similar rate to himself, and, in these dreams, has achieved his childhood goals of becoming a preacher and a man of wisdom. Filled with often humorous recollections of life on the road, "Cash" is ultimately an uplifting read and as a whole is a fitting testament to the full life of a musical legend.


White trash-lovers, Freaks for all they’re worth, Anarchy in beady, brazen faces, Seizing stares, Standing ground...