Saturday, 30 March 2013

Easter Musings

Easter Saturday.

A day of waiting.

But late on Friday there is motion. The pulling together of the ties of religious order before the Sabbath brings the need to hurriedly remove bodies from their crosses. There is urgency in the speed of Joseph of Arimathea's request to Pilate to move the body to the tomb. Even the two women find they are unable to take their spices to the dead man's body because they might encroach into the hours and strict observances of what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath. And the conspiracy to murder is forgotten by all those who recognise that religion must be observed. The hypocrisy seems clearcut: we've just made sure that an innocent man is brutally, savagely, ripped apart, but we'd better do our utmost to ensure that the Almighty is pleased with our worship by following a set of dos and donts...

It's easy to spot hypocrisy. We all see it in someone else.

Anyone who claims to be religious will, to a lesser or greater degree, trip up before long. Some in outrageous, newsworthy ways. Others in the privacy of their own conscience.

Perhaps it's best to admit it. Get off that high horse. No amount of ritual can make me perfect.

Maybe that's the real message of Easter. I can't actually do this by myself.

It has to be taken care of for me...


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Simple Pleasures #3

Watching Snow

At night, watch it steal from a grey, leaden sky into a quiet cul-de-sac. Stealthily painting pavements and cars with its purity and piling up potential energy for a child's morning pleasure. I love to watch the streetlamp's illumination of constant falling snow, magically backlighting the main event. Snowflakes are beautiful and when they cascade from the sky, I find them mesmerising.

When the house is at its quietest late at night you can find me staring through a window hoping for falling snow. Round here, you might catch sight of a fox padding its way through backyards leaving its rounded prints as a reminder that it was around, looking for a scrap. Those kind of prints are fine, but I dislike footprints, even my own, spoiling the untouched white landscape after a flurry of snow. When it starts to melt or it becomes a little muddy, I can't help but feel a little disappointed...

Say what you like about snow (and I've spent more than my fair share of time shovelling it across my driveway) but I still think it's a simple pleasure. But enough about me. What are some of your best memories of snow?

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Simple Pleasures #2

The smell of sun-tan lotion

I'm sure it's happened to you. You twist the lid and hold it near your face. It might be a wet and windy Glasgow evening, but suddenly you're transported back in time to that beach in the south of France. You might be soaking in Seattle, but your senses are sizzling in the Seychelles.The tiny specks of sand around the bottle neck only confirm that you're actually basking in the mid-afternoon sunshine. You can almost hear the waves crashing to shore...

Now, you may be pulled back to reality almost instantly, but isn't there something magical about this kind of time-travel? A fragrant De Lorean voodoo that can send your worries scurrying for a split-second? Let's give a standing ovation to the olfactory perception that sun-tan lotion or sunscreen can bring us. It's a simple pleasure. Have you been taken on a journey by your sense of smell recently?

Monday, 18 March 2013

Simple Pleasures #1

The perfect view

 I remember being stopped halfway down Polnoon Street in a nearby village called Eaglesham. Temporary traffic lights had been set up and I pulled the handbrake on. I'd never have stopped at that point otherwise. Framed through an overhanging oak, I glimpsed the perfect view of fields stretching in a patchwork of green far off into the distance.

When we glimpse the perfect view, we're momentarily transported. Eyes shift off ourselves for a second and onto something much bigger, beyond our tiny lives. A view can bring calm and tranquility. It's a simple pleasure. Keep your eyes open and maybe you'll see the perfect view today. Let me know if you do...

Sunday, 17 March 2013

A day in Crieff

The day begins. A tiny shaft of light spears across the ceiling and my ears open to the muffled, relentless delivery of the news reporter. His voice is coming from the next room. It strikes me that, whilst I can't make out his words, he has an awful lot to say at this time in the morning. His urgent intonation emphasises the importance he's giving to his thirty seconds of air-time.

I reach for my watch from the bedside cabinet.


My wife is still asleep. Our room, on the top-floor turret of Crieff Hydro in Perthshire, Scotland, has been specially chosen for my 40th birthday. It shapes out into a three window bay which looks down on and  across the surrounding countryside. Pulling the curtains apart I am met with a magnificent background vista of sweeping hillsides as far as the eye can see. Rolling mist forms the centre of the shot, whilst  the little town of Crieff makes up the foreground.

The hotel opened in 1868 as The Strathearn Hydropathic Establishment Company under the management of physician Thomas H. Meikle and looking down on the surrounding countryside, his choice of location must have factored in the health benefits of such a beautiful landscape upon its visitors.

Soon we are enjoying another window seat in The Meikle Lounge for a fantastic cooked breakfast. Maybe not so healthy, but certainly enjoyable.

Next stop, bizarrely,  is the chance to try out a two wheeled Segway on the ballroom dance floor. Despite my wife's calls for more speed, I'm happy to manouevre the boards with a slow elegance. Maybe I'm imagining the Segway is Ginger Rodgers or is it that I'm just scared that I might overbalance?

We head out as light snow begins to fall, icing the shrubs and trees as we squeeze together under the umbrella, glad to have put on warmer footwear. After a mile or so, we end up in the Clubhouse Cafe sipping hot drinks and reading the morning papers. To my right, another large bay window reveals the mist's descent to lower levels, but from the window to my left I have a perfect view of the clear eighteenth green and fairway stretching uphill away from it. We sip our tea and hot chocolate, interpreting, misinterpreting and laughing over a guide to improving marriage from a Saturday supplement in The Times as golfers pepper the green with various degrees of accuracy.

By mid-afternoon, we are relaxing in the hotel's Victorian Spa. It's a child-free oasis, hidden labyrinth-like in the basement of the hotel. As we descend the stairs, having parted with our entrance fee, piped music immediately readies us for a restful few hours. Despite its name, the spa has Roman marble decor as well as Renaissance-style frescoes on its ceiling. The glistening pool is mesmerising and the sound of jacuzzi bubbles merge with calming melodies and restrained voices. Soft low-lighting emphasises calm and the absence of hurly-burly.

Three hours pass.

(Steam room. Swim. Sauna. Shower. A drink of lime cordial. Bubble pool. Swim. Sauna. A coffee. Dipping into a Paulo Coelho novel. Eyes closed for a while. Another swim etc etc.... )


All is well with the world.

A perfect evening meal at the Brasserie follows. Time wanders past. After some good food, chat and people watching, I'm left with that feeling of having over-eaten.The pleasant sensation of sleepiness creeps ever closer and we are soon tucked under the covers where our day began. Turning forty is not so bad thanks to a day in Crieff.

(Our turret room is up there in the background. We were looking
out of those three windows at the top.) 

Monday, 11 March 2013

Last Time Thirty Something.

skirting the thirty zone
for the last time today
clouds opened
eddying Tim Burton sprinkles
of swirling snow
through a sky
new as blue
transported and transcendent
freed inside Caliban's Dream
to feel the health of God
on this dissolving mind,
shoring down
in cascading waves
of fairytale white,
warmth upon this
cracking shell
a truth to tell: be not afeard.

Note: Inspired by a magical moment I had whilst driving to work today watching a spring/winter wonderland and listening to Underworld. It was a good way to bid goodbye to life as a thirty something.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

sign on the door said...

gone out for a while
so don't wait up
scratching the surface of
bamboo and dirt;
soil under fingernails
won't come clean
dead, like a battery,
in a cell-phone fatality,
drain the mind off his back
where it cannot be seen.

plugged in and charging
loading, rebooting,
an avatar sabateur
just got him motoring
slow to assemble,
quickly resembling;
he faces familiars
redressed in this groundhog
under the poison tree
discotheque monastery
closed-circuit liberty
yelling its knell.

Posted on Poets United Poetry Pantry 141

This poem partly inspired the latest
poem by The Unknowngnome
"Untitled, March 08, 2013."
Read it here.

Sunday, 3 March 2013


In 1978, Ford Cortinas roamed freely around these streets. Ten a penny, a couple could lurch past you before you blinked. 

But on one cold winter afternoon near the end of that year, a Ford Cortina didn't go past Mark. Dark blue and merging with the dusk, it stopped at the side of the pavement for him...               


"You coming to Monkeylands after school, Mark?" 
Kenny Fox whispered it just loud enough for Paula Martin to hear. Her giggle stifled like a trapped sneeze. Foxy was always trying to impress somebody.

The teacher's voice trailed into the distance as faces around the rectangular group of wooden desks shared a look. A look that Mark tried to ignore. A look that meant they all knew that Mark was never allowed out to play after school.

Foxy's question sat at the front of Mark's head all afternoon. Doing his maths workbook wouldn't shift it. When Mrs Lindsay told him off for day-dreaming, he still couldn't concentrate.

Because today Mark knew something else. He knew that his mum had to work late. She wouldn't be back until 5.00. He worked out that he could easily make it back home before then...  

Many times Mark had pleaded with her to let him go. Literally begged. In response her words had always been set in stone: "Too dangerous. You never know who's hanging about there, son." His dad had never been approachable either. In truth, Mark was not usually allowed out of his parents' sight. Aged ten and he felt like he'd been under house arrest his whole life. 

But this afternoon he was going to Monkeylands.

And then a passing blue Ford Cortina was going to slow down at the kerb. Its door was going to open and Mark was going to be taken away...

It was a strange name. Monkeylands. Mark often wondered about it. Played it over in his mind. In primary three, he remembered thinking there might be actual monkeys there. The thought still made him cringe with embarassment.  

Back in his day-dream, Mark decided that he'd simply surprise Foxy, Paula and the others. A picture developed in his mind. He'd saunter up, all casual, and act as if it was completely normal-that he came to Monkeylands all the time. They'd welcome him like the home-coming hero. For the first time, he would belong.

Suddenly the bell shattered his imaginings. Swirls of children cascaded down the stone steps and into the playground. They snaked across the cement and gradually broke into smaller groupings. A couple of boys with blue snorkel anoraks tracked along the white netball lines. They skillfully kicked an Irn Bru can between them. Some girls chatted about the new John Travolta film that their big sisters were going to see. 

At first, Mark found himself being pulled along in the excitement. The steady stream of children flowing out of the school gates eventually became a small trickle. Mark held himself back deliberately to let the others go ahead. He came out past the orange brick gates. As usual, he walked alone.

Hands in his pockets, Mark began to saunter down the hill. It was the opposite direction from his usual walk home.  He glanced at the fussy white bungalows on the opposite side of the road, before his attention was captured as he came alongside a football pitch.

The Ashy was imprisoned by a high metal fence. He'd heard talk in the playground that after school, some older kids sneaked through the broken metal at the bottom of the fence to have a kickabout. As he walked, Mark saw some guys going through. Hearing the ping of the ball against the fence behind him made Mark wish that he could join in the game. Instead he treaded on.  The Ashy melted into the background, to be replaced by row upon row of four-in-a-block houses. 

In time, Mark's footsteps began to drag. Lights were being turned on in cosy-looking front rooms. As Mark peered into one, the curtains were magically drawn.  He began to question himself. What was he doing? What would happen if his parents found out? His earlier bravado, imagining the Clint Eastwood arrival was vanishing into thin air with each heavy footstep. 

Already darkness was beginning to settle itself around the backdrop of houses. After the next block, up to the right, was Monkeylands. Mark stepped off the pavement as if he was part of a chain gang. His heavy feet waded past the final house and its tall spindly hedge. In the space before the next block began was a muddy path that led to his destination. 

Monkeylands was two hundred yards away from Mark.

With his feet squelching, Mark approached the iron gates. Flaking green paint barely covered the rust that was spreading all over them.  The dusk, in its silence, was giving up no ghost of conversation.

Passing through the gates, he panned the landscape from left to right.  And what he saw brought only disappointment.  The sniggers, and the look that Foxy had given Paula came flooding back. It all made sense.

Monkeylands was nothing special.  Some broken glass on the ground; a grass verge sloping up towards some back fences and another line of houses. A clump of trees to the left.  A wasteland.  Immediately Mark knew that no one in their right mind would want to come here on a night like this. The joke was on him.

As Mark was about to leave, he sensed movement from behind the trees. When he had back-peddled to the iron gates, he turned to see a stray dog lolloping off, being sucked away into the darkness. As he exhaled, his breath plunged a puff of fog into the blackness of night. 

The streetlamp ahead was already surging with a blazing red buzz. Mark followed the path, not caring how muddy his shoes were becoming. He reached the hedge, relief and disappointment battling inside him for home advantage....

It was not the high engine revs of a gear change that warned him. The squealing of the car's brakes it was that made him turn his head. The Ford Cortina came to a standstill and the passenger door was flung open. 

Watching from behind a nearby curtain a young girl saw the driver's mouth move. It spoke a single phrase.  In one movement, the front seat collapsed forward. An arm grabbed for Mark, its fist clamping round his wrist and pulling him into the back of the Cortina.

The engine flicked back to life and the car slithered on its way. Through rows of parked vehicles. It passed the Ashy and the school. Huddled in the back seat, Mark saw his journey to Monkeylands flash by in reverse. When the car reached a give-way intersection, Mark dared to look up at the rear-view mirror. Black eyebrows twitched briefly in his direction; then refocused on the road.

The rhythmic click of the indicators jabbed the silence as the Cortina glided on through these streets. At a bus-stop, animated, head-scarved grandmothers did not stop their conversation. But in the back of the car that passed them,  Mark shook silently.

When the car came to an abrupt stop on a cemented driveway, the shaking stopped and Mark glanced up. Tears were washing through his eyes.  

"Into that house. Now." A black expression. A threatening voice.

Mark squeezed himself cat-like through the Cortina's open door and thought about running. As if reading his thoughts, his dad moved between him and the pavement. For Mark, there was to be no escape... 

(Monkeylands was shortlisted for the Eileen Gilmour Award for Creative Writing in June 2012)

Saturday, 2 March 2013


a tree for birds to shelter
stems from the smallest seed
and bread to stuff the starving
swells steadily with yeast 
there's gold for any digger
who cares to probe the field
the bargain of the century:
the pearl that seals the deal.

The Gospels are full of stories and I found four of them told in quick succession. I tried to put in them in a short two line form of seven syllables (mostly), followed by six. The second line had to be shorter than the first to fit in with the idea of a kingdom growing from something small.

Posted on dverse: Poetics. An Evening of Short Verse


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