Ward  Hill – the highest point in the OrkneysHoy m 24-11-2014 21-58-10

                                                      Rackwick Valley – here comes the rain
                                             The famous sea stack – the Old Man Of Hoy

                                    The Hill Of The White Hamars with yellow flowers

SWT Hill of White Hamars

                                        The glen route to Rackwick


                                         A lazy sunny day in beautiful Rackwick BayRackwick recrop pica The Cras Nest Museum is a traditional Croft house and Steading dating from the early 18th century. The house has two box beds and a dresser; the steading includes a byre and a barn with a kiln used for drying oats
                   The Rackwick Bay bothy – a free if basic shelter just below the attractive hostel.
Bothy Hoy

Language Love

You’re such a snob!


When Ariadne left me in mid-sentence and began throwing stuff  pêle-mêle  into cases and holdalls and bin liners, I asked her where it had all gone wrong, just what had I done to ruin what was, for me at least, a perfect marriage, and she paused long enough to say with unbelievable bitterness, “You’re such a snob. ”

I was knocked over. Bouleversé.

But I have  nothing against people who are of a different class, creed or race from myself, ” I protested. ” In fact –  ”

Not that sort of snob, ” she interrupted impatiently. “ You’re a language snob. That’s your problem. Our problem.  Pass me that case.

I was dumbfounded. Asombrado.  Décontenancé.

Just because I can’t stand people who say ‘ Between you and I…‘, ” I told her, ” and ‘He was laying down…’ and ‘there are less people…’ and ‘ she’s disinterested in what I say…’ and ‘ he could of went yesterday..’ and  ‘in this day and age’  and begin everything they say with ‘basically’ or ‘actually’ and 

But before I could say any more, she was off, taking with her my first editions of Graham Greenes novels, all my  Picasso’s blue period  prints and most of my  CDs of Beethoven’s greatest hits.

*   *   *   *   *

Let’s Do It






For years nothing much had happened in our unadventurous lives but we were quite content with our little lot. At least I was. There was a regular pattern to our days that we found reassuring. At least I did. Then one day we found this strange plant in the garden with yellow flowers, purple florets, red berries and heart-shaped leaves.

Let’s dry the leaves, Dorothy said. Out of the blue.

Try the leaves?

Dry the leaves Cloth-ears!

What’s the point of that? I asked and immediately regretted my question as Dorothy went straight into her Primary School Headmistress mode. Like a TV presenter reading from the auto-cue:

Drying, she said,  is a method of food preservation in which food is dehydrated. This inhibits the growth of bacteria, yeasts, and mould through the removal of water.  Dehydration has been used widely for this purpose since ancient times. The earliest known practice is 12,000 B.C. by inhabitants of the modern Middle East and Asia regions. Water is traditionally removed through air drying, sun drying, smoking or wind drying, although today electric food dehydrators can be used to speed the drying process and ensure more consistent results. So What do you think? We have a dehydrator up in the attic somewhere. Let’s do it.

Okay, I said. Without any great degree of enthusiasm or expectation. For all that she watches so many cooking programmes on television, Dorothy isn’t the world’s greatest cook. Her timing. Things are either under- or over-cooked.
Okay. Let’s do it.It’s not as if it can do us any harm.

Six hours later, the leaves were so brittle that they turned to powder at a touch.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, I said, not sarcastically, a feeble sort of joke which I regretted as soon as I’d made it..

Good thinking, Batman, Dorothy said. Let’s do it.

So I went out to the tobacconist and bought a Meerschaum which the tobacconist said would ensure a pleasingly cool smoke.

You first, Dorothy said.

No, after you, I said.

I lit a match for Dorothy and held it over the bowl of the pipe. Dorothy took a puff then passed the pipe to me.

I took a puff and waited. Nothing much happened. A  cinamonny flavour left in the mouth. A slight smell in the air like after you’ve peeled an orange. Not unpleasant. But all in all a bit of an anti-climax.

The effect won’t be immediate, Dorothy said. It takes time for it to get round all your …whatyamacallits and reach the brain. We’ve hardly started yet.

We took a few more puffs.

Can you feel anything yet? Dorothy asked.

I shook my head then I began to panic a little.

How do we know what effect it – whatever it is – will have on our brains?

That’s the beauty of it, Dorothy said with one of her little smiles. We don’t.

Tomorrow we’re going to do something with the berries once we get back the use of our limbs

Changing Rooms

i  remember

(in aleppo once

back in our early oh-what-a-wonderful-world days

when nothing was too much trouble)

having been given

in this our first hotel

a room with a view

overlooking the car park

and sensing your disquiet

daring to ask  the manager

(a large man with little english

and a fierce moustache)

for a room 

(if that was at all possible

and not too much trouble)

with a view out to sea

(if there was such a room)

and i remember exactly how he leant back

in his black leather armchair

and looked at us

from one to the other

and twiddled his thumbs

then closed his eyes

and nodded

and oh the triumph of  it all

the relief

the joy


as i discovered much  much later

you simply wanted

a room nearer the lift).

Up in the Orkneys

 WW2 poem by Captain Blair RN who had been posted to Scapa Flow:

This bloody town’s a bloody cuss
No bloody trains, no bloody bus,
And no one cares for bloody us
In bloody Orkney.

The bloody roads are bloody bad,
The bloody folks are bloody mad,
They’d make the brightest bloody sad,
In bloody Orkney.

All bloody clouds, and bloody rains,
No bloody kerbs, no bloody drains,
The Council’s got no bloody brains,
In bloody Orkney.

Everything’s so bloody dear,
A bloody bob, for bloody beer,
And is it good? – no bloody fear,
In bloody Orkney.

The bloody ‘flicks’ are bloody old,
The bloody seats are bloody cold,
You can’t get in for bloody gold
In bloody Orkney.

The bloody dances make you smile,
The bloody band is bloody vile,
It only cramps your bloody style,
In bloody Orkney.

No bloody sport, no bloody games,
No bloody fun, the bloody dames
Won’t even give their bloody names
In bloody Orkney.

Best bloody place is bloody bed,
With bloody ice on bloody head,
You might as well be bloody dead,
In bloody Orkney


Captain Hamish ‘Bloody’ Blair
Isna posted here nae mair
But naebdy seems tae bloody care
In bloody Orkney.

                                     Ward Hill,   HOY

When we  took the ferry to Hoy,  I  talked to the ticket collector(from Stromness) who was a very amusing and friendly guy and on the way back I told him about meeting Hoy’s celebrity, Jack Rendall,  and how interesting a story-teller he was and did he (the ticket-collector) know him and he shrugged and said, ” A dinnae ken ony o thae hillbillies.”
That’s what I now enjoy saying as I switch off  things like Celebrity Big Brother.

                      Rackwick, HOY                   

The glen route through the gap in the hills leads on to the bay at  Rackwick.
Anna and I set off  for Rackwick from Northern Hoy past  Sandy Loch (the one place on Hoy which  Geoge Mackay Brown disliked) when the black cloud overhead opened and turned the path into a fierce little stream………

I turned back but Anna, made of sterner stuff,  pressed on to Rackwick where she was rescued from the cold and the wet and returned to North Hoy by a good Samaritan all the way from Canada driving a Caravanette. (You can always rely on a good Samaritam to be passing by when you most need her…in my experience. You, gentle reader, are probably a pretty good Samaritan yourself when/if the opportunity arises.)
Next day, the sun came out, the birds burst into song,  the dogs wagged their tails and everyone had a spring in their step and a smile on their face.

Orkney’s okay. I love it.

Painting and Photography

This is a photograph I took early morning while waiting for my coffee…

Sort of like Manet’s painting of the bar at the Folies-Bergère only without the barmaid. And without the mirror. And without the customers. And without the ambiguities. And…..
It’s a photograph. It’s nothing like Manet’s painting.

What if I play about with the photo, zoom into the barman making my cappuccino?

Okay. Makes me notice the barman at least.

What if I take another photograph when more customers have arrived, get some figures into the barscape…?

Better?  Better……mirror reflection on the glass table….solitary refelective woman in the foreground…..busy baristo in the background….interesting woman entering left behind the flowers…

What if I focus on the woman in the foreground?

Interesting. Like the question that floats up when you see the barmaid in Manet’s painting, what’s she thinking about? She contrasts with the busy barman. And the flower and the vase in the foreground are attention-catching..

Or the woman behind the flowers on the left – what if I play around with her…?

Interesting. Certainly plenty of ideas for a few paintings there….

if only I could paint.

A Remembered Moment

The hen,

and behind it

a line of waddling ducklings –

khaki campbells –

which it had step-mothered 


one duckling

which had strayed behind

rushing to catch up

flapping tiny wings

cheeping its panic 


above it

a hoodie crow

on  the tree top,

black body, grey head,

launching  itself,

clumsy, ponderous 


and to complete the scene

me watching  it all

through the kitchen window

plate in one hand

dish cloth in the other,






Daedalus stood at the window,
stared down on  the wine-dark sea,
at the white-sailed ships with somewhere to go,
at the sea birds flying free.

Icarus looked up at his father,
watched him sawing wood
then helped to sweep up the white sawdust
like a good son should.

What’s in that pot on the burner?
What do you have in these sacks?
Why are you carefully sticking those feathers
one by one into that wax

Father, what toy are you making
with wood and feathers and glue?
And why do you work here all the day long
and half  the night too?

Why do we work for these people?
Why have  they locked our door?
Why can I never go out to play
with the children on the shore?

Daedalus stood at the window,
stared out at the clear blue sky
and the birds that passed all flew in from the left.
He felt his mouth go dry.

Icarus looked up at his father.
His eyes were full of fun
but his father’s eyes went cold as the stars
when he looked up at the sun.

Tighten those straps on your shoulders.
Tighten those straps on your arm
and listen to every word that I say
and you cannot come to harm.

Fit your fingers into the canvas.
Spread your fingers out wide.
Now lift your arms up to your shoulders.
Now sweep them down to your side.

He led Icarus up to the turret
that towered over the town.
Watch what I do then you do the same.
My wings won’t let you down.

These wings are the best I’ve ever made
but my skill can be undone.
We must fly low.  We dare not go
too close to that blazing sun.

Daedalus stood poised like a diver.
Like a diver he fell through the air
and the air let him fall through its fingers
as if it didn’t care

till his wings stirred and some  invisible force
carried him over the town –
the slightest movement of his arms
sent him up, or sideways, or down

and Icarus flew right behind him,
laughing his joy out loud
for the air felt safe as houses
and his body light as a cloud.

The gods were alerted by  Minos shouting,
cursing, tearing his hair
while the boy and his father,  too clever by half,
trespassed through his air.

It only takes a second;
it catches you unprepared –
first the impulse of joy and then the act,
the deed  that can’t be repaired.

The careful work of a lifetime
in a moment is undone.
Wisdom ignored,  Icarus soared
up to the golden sun.

He did not hear his father’s cries
nor see the red wax run;
he did not see the fragile feathers
drop off one by one.

Where was the dolphin, the sailor’s friend?
Where  the ship? the look-out’s  cry?
Why did everything turn away
from the boy falling out of the sky?

O father what is happening?
O father what have I done?
Why are they tumbling round my head
the sky and the sea and the sun?

A splash of white starred  the wine-dark sea
and Icarus was gone.
The gods had other things to do.
His father flew hopelessly on.

Why was no rescuing eagle  
summoned by  a simple nod? 
Which of us would not have saved him
if we had been a god?

Spain, Czechoslovakia, France, and the rules of grammar

What a country!
Pontedeume……Oviedo……Lugo…..Caceres…….Santiago…. Pontevedra …… Malaga……Pamplona…..Oviedo……Vigo….
I was only there for a year but I’ve such fond memories of so many places.

Who was the guy who fiddled his way through Spain? Landed at Vigo with a violin and great expectations? Mmm  L-something… Lionel?..Leslie?…. nope. Gone. See my memory? The name’s departed, flitted off, no longer accessible.

Anyway, what was I on about? Ah yes. Czechoslovakia. Whatever happened to Czechoslovakia? There was a civil war, I remember that much though between who I’m not so clear about. Should that be ‘between whom’? And should it be ‘about between whom’ (you can’t end a sentence on a preposition)? But can you have concu –
One thing I remember though: when I was 15, in France, on the Seine, a wee village called……..anyway I had learnt to swim there and with all the confidence of teenage youth I struck out to see how far across I could swim. But along came one of these long sinister wave-making barges. A wave broke over my head. I tried to clear my nose. I went under. When I got to the surface I tried to swim back to the shore. Unfortunately I had forgotten how to swim. Then I was breathing water. Then air. Then water. Then more water.
And then I remember opening my eyes to see this circle of bright faces looking down at me. Angels. This is heaven, I thought. I have drowned and my mother is going to be so upset. Then what had happened came back to me.
“Ou suis-je?” I asked, very correctly (Miss Yule would have been proud of me).
Two guys, fortunately good swimmers,  had seen my plight and dragged me ashore.
Yes, I remember all that as though it was yesterday. But it wasn’t yesterday. It was ………..years ago. Dear god, long long years  ago!
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, Laurie Lee, the ‘Cider with Rosie’ man. But what was the book called, the one about his trek through Spain? He landed in Vigo, with a violin and all the confidence of youth and a way with words as well as with notes. But what was his book called? ‘Travels with a Donkey’ , that  was Robert Louis, but what was Laurie Lee’s book called?
Do you remember?

I suppose I’ll have to google it. Now how……



This is a single-track road in Shetland that might have been built by the Romans (if they had ever got this far). It takes you to Bigton and St Ninian’s Isle where Douglas Coutts, a local schoolboy, discovered a hoard of Pictish brooches and rings (and the jawbone of a dolphin) in a larch box. The planners have been generous with their allowance of passing places. (Looks a bit like the Nazca lines in the Atacama desert)



This is a rough camel track in Turkey with a weary young girl pulling at a reluctant camel carrying building stuff to the top of the hill where they were extending a restaurant. When I met up with them later as they were preparing to descend, the builder gave the camel a smack on the rump with his shovel just to help it on its way.


This is a street in Stromness which has the atmosphere of a Giorgio de Chirico painting.


Sylvia Brown’s Hostel is near here, the friendliest and most relaxing place to stay in this most friendly of towns. You bump into students from Estonia, painters from Peru , dentists from Denmark, violinists from Vienna, anglers from Angelsy, lap-dancers from Lerwick,  all varieties of human life is to be found here. Also nearby, with great views across the harbour,  is the impressive Art Gallery which was having a wine and cheese affair the first time I went there and a whisky and no cheese affair the second. And not just any whisky. Highland Park whisky. And that’s not the only surprise, they have some interesting and striking artworks on display.

 The occasional car drives past but as yet there is no traffic problem.



St Andrews’ Butts Wynd, a link for students between the Quad and the Library and also the link between the Scores and North Street. Funny name, the cause of much coarse  guffawing. The Students Union used to be up there on the corner is but no longer. How things change behind your back, when you’re not looking.

As names go, I prefer Dundee’s  ‘Horsewater Wynd’.


I FEEL THE CONTINENTAL                                                       DRIFT

of                                          shifting geography:
the sun no longer 
                                                         an unfamiliar sea.

A jagged barrier reef surrounds                                                        
                                                                                                                an inaccesible shore
and                    ICE                              –               how thick I do not know
where    water           was        before.


Where is that quiet green valley
where       heron       and         kingfisher        flew?
A ridge of stone as bare as bone


A flat and recent Sahara
covers remembered hills
and over the top of  my childhood home
the     lurid     lava         s                    p                 i                  l                  l                   s.


NO feral  forces fed those fires 

that swept my past away.

NO howling hurricanes spread those flame
                                                 that turned night      to      brightest day.


NO           irresistible           seismic           thrust
                                                                                              that mountain range.

pushed  up 


the heart of things
permitted                                        all                   this                            change.

Coogi, Pablo And The Woman Next Door

The lovely but impatient Griselda, my speech-impedimented next-door neighbour, seemingly finds me such good company that she spends more time in my house than in her own. Love thy neighbour (Jesus); but don’t get rid of hedges (Benjamin Franklin).
Last night after work, for example, over a glass of  cool green Chardonnay on my verandah , she even asked if she could have a spare key so that she could pop in before I came back from work and switch on the central heating, do a bit tidying up, even prepare a meal if I wanted, as a way of showing her gratitude for my friendship and company.  Otto, her head-hunted husband, had flown off to Bolivia’s Western Amazon forest to film the Callicebus Moloch (a titi monkey on the threatened species list), leaving Griselda in the care of Pablo, their large white Alsatian (an avant-garde dog, Otto told apprehensive visitors, thus the name, and yes, he was quite safe with children).

Unfortunately on her first visit to me after Otto’s departure, as soon as I opened the door Pablo had burst past  like a greyhound out of  the trap and with a single crunch and shake of his big head put an abrupt and savage end to Coogi, my constant companion, my lovable friend, the one-who-made-me-smile.
Alas, poor Coogi.
No point in blaming  Pablo, it was his  nature after all.  Griselda should have muzzled him.  Or had him on a lead at the very least.  Common sense.  However I could also see she was so distressed by it all that I couldn’t add to her misery by pointing this out to her.  As it was she went away in tears.
Poor Coogi.
I could hardly just  drop him casually into a hole in the garden. We had been together for seven years, ever since I moved here in fact. He deserved some sort of dignified funeral service. The thought of dirt landing directly on his body was emotionally upsetting. I picked up the limp, still warm body and wrapped it in a crisp, white pillow case. In the attic I unearthed a cardboard box still containing the walking boots I’d bought years ago but never used, replaced them with the shrouded body (he had ceased to be ‘Coogi’) and found a spot which he used to stare at with great concentration from the veranda.
The rectangular hole I dug there was about 3 feet deep – deep enough I hoped to prevent Pablo or one of his kind digging up the body. As I shovelled the earth over the box I had to stop and stayed that way for long enough, leaning on the spade, not thinking about Coogi in particular but about life in general. And death. I tried to think of something to say, a prayer, a final farewell…
Some sort of marker then? A  shrub? Tree? Flower?…..
I stood leaning on the spade till it started to rain, feeling the way I felt when I was small and Miss Sutherland asked the class a question to which nobody knew the answer and the silence went on and on until I put my hand up and said the first thing that came into my head.  Bicycles. Everyone except Miss Sutherland had laughed.

I had just sat down at my desk and begun reading my students’ essays on the relationship between mankind and nature in the poems of Edith Wales, when  Griselda came back – without Pablo – but with a bottle of Talisker and poured it and her heart out : about her parents sp litting up wh en she was eleven, panniculitis, a difficult time at sch ool  because of her sp eech p roblem, a teaching job wh ere the staffroom was m  ore un pleasant than the classr  oom…and…
She had changed into a green silk dress I’d never seen her wear before. ‘Whenas in silks my Julia goes, then, then methinks, how sweetly flows the liquefaction of her clothes!’  Great eyes to boot.  A very attractive woman no matter what she wore and her green dress was certainly eye-catching. Lucky Otto who was short and a bit on the tubby side.  Still. Good looks do not a person make, as Suckling so nearly put it. Nor nylon bras a cage, I thought as she sat slumped forward in her seat, eyes on the carpet, elbows on her knees, hands clasped round her glass, talking, endlessly talking.
Aided no doubt by her rapid consumption of undiluted Talisker,  her voice became less of a monotone,  she sat up,  looked at me as she talked, her face taking on various expressions, lighting up or dulling down as memories came flooding back to her……….an Italian boyfriend………..a trip to Elba……….an interview with…impossible man who…wild parties where….doldrums when….
I’m afraid from here on I nodded and looked serious but my mind was elsewhere until I realized she had asked me a question for the second time and was waiting impatiently for my answer..
I shook my head and mumbled something.
“I  m et  Otto, ” she said gleefully. “That’s what  h appened!  At one of his lectures.  I adored him from first sight and I thought he adored me l ike that too. I am his sh adow. I worship him h and and foot. He is so intelligent but he can be also very f unny when you do  not expect. Why do F rench people not h ave two-egg omelettes? Because they think one egg is an oeuf.  Everyone laughs his head off.  I adore  him. We are inseparable. We go to concerts, we go to cinemas, theatres, dinners, parties, balls, exhibitions, we go everywhere together. We go together on holidays. We go to L atvia, we go to  L anzarote,  Lichtenstein…..
While Griselda was telling me about her high life with Otto in places that began with L, I was trying to remember a joke he had once told me that made me laugh out loud….something about fish……
Funny things, jokes… Jokes and dreams…Where do they go to? And yet. I was stopped in the street the other day by a policeman who informed me he had been in my class a dozen or so years ago and had enjoyed my lectures very much. I didn’t recognize him – seven years and every cell is changed after all – but I was flattered and told him so. I asked him what he remembered from my lectures. Awkward pause. Then he grinned. ‘That  was a great joke you told us’, he said,  ‘about
“Then gu ess what happens?” Griselda was asking me, waiting impatiently for me to respond. I shrugged. She sighed.
” He goes away. On h is own this time. Work, he t ells me. I wouldn’t like it, h e tells me. No count ry for young women. First he goes to B otswana. For the wh ole summer. Then it was Brazil. And now  Bolivia.   And I am so un happy again. B ack in the d oldrums. So un happy. Can it be s omething I have done or something I have not done? I ask myself.  ‘Is it s omething to do with s ex?’ I asked  him  He made me sit down and explained it was his career, his raison d’etre,  it was what gave him w orth and what gave us this b ig house and this b ig garden in this n ice v illage and the big V  olvo to go to nice country p ubs in the evenings. But I do not b elieve him. All the time I think I don’t know where I am concerning this man. I tell him that. ‘Everything is a j oke to you,’  I say. ‘Everything except your w ork’.  That is the truth.  I do not am use him any m ore. I feel it. He is g lad to g et away. I kn ow it but he won’t say wh y. Too late I realize he is one of those m en who want only what they can’t have. I b rood. I am so angry. Hurt. I do not t alk to him. I do not t alk to anyone. And then guess wh at happens?”
She made encouraging gestures with her hands.
” I’ve no idea, ” I told her.
“You!” she said. ” You h appen!  You rescue me. You are so kind. So un derstanding. You are my knight in sh iny armour. You listen to wh at I say.  I am in the d oldrums and you c ome along and  r escue me.  It is like an earthqu ake when  s omeday  s omeone walks into your l ife and m akes you realize you have w asted so much time p retending  n othing was the matter. “
She poured herself another glass of Talisker. Quite a generous glass.
Not once did she refer to the brutal killing of  Coogi;  it was as if nothing at all had happened.
Alas, poor Coogi.
Not a hundred bottles of Talisker could make up for his loss.

Anyway, last night, when I refilled her glass with what was left of the Chardonnay and asked her about Otto, she said,   ” S ometime I th ink  he  prefer  his m onkey th an me. “
Leaning on the wooden railing of the veranda,  I could see in the failing light  the patch of disturbed earth, the unmarked grave, close  by the white fence that separated my lawn from  Griselda’s.  It was this veranda with its sweeping view across the river and into the trees that really made my mind up to buy this place seven years ago .  Seven years! Where did they all go to?
” Of course I w orry for him,”  Griselda was saying. ” Do you know there are p eoples in that j ungle that have s een n o-one and that n o-one has s een?  The inv isible peoples, they are called.  N aked men and women with b ows and arrows and b lowpipes who still make fires by rubbin g sticks together. You see n othing, you hear n othing then….Pffff…and you die. Do you kn ow there is a tribe there  that still practises h eadhunting? So I w orry.  Silly old me but I w orry for him.” She  sighed. ” It is so safe here. Why do you want to go to th ese dangerous p laces? I ask him. You know how he replies? ” I shook my head. ” Because th ey are th ere.  Th at’s wh at he says.  Very English.”
” But he’s German, ” I said.
” But he can be v ery English at times, ” she said. 
I asked her how they kept in touch, him being in the depths of  a  jungle half-a-world away.
” He ph ones”, she said. ” Otto is a very r egular m an.  Every W  ednesday he ph ones.  It is strange because his v oice sounds so different, because of the long distance perhaps, very h ushed,  as if louder would scare off some p recious animal and r uin his close-up. Like your Mr. Attenborough does. Anyway I tell him about the garden, what I have p lanted,  how the lawn is c oming along, how much f ruit his plum tree is carrying and I tell him about Mrs Robertson who works with me in the library and the conversations I have with p eople in the village. And the w eather, of course. I too have b ecome very English, you see….”
Griselda paused as I refilled our glasses.
” And Otto,” she continued when I sat down again. “What does he tell me? He tells me th ings like that that his m onkeys bond for life, are n ever more than a few  y ards apart, sit on a b ranch leaning against each other with their t ails intertwined. Sing to each other.  Him on the other side of the w orld and he tells me th ings like that!  He doesn’t worry, he doesn’t need to worry about me but I worry about him.  I really do.  He tells me about  one sp ecial disease,  B ilharzia, you get it from all the  rivers and lakes there. It is because of the climate.”  She fanned her face with her non-drinking hand as if I needed a sign, was deaf or something. ” It’s  so  h ot. It’s the Equator after all.  Like in an oven. So, what do you do?  You jump in the nearest river or lake and these….bl oody things….these slimy microscopic things ….. they enter you and lay eggs in your b lood with little h ooks that tear the v eins as they pass. ” She shuddered. ” And th end you die.  Wh en Otto tells me all this, and I tell him how he must be very very careful,  he just laughs. As if I am m aking a  song and dance about nothing. So wh at you think?”
“About  what?”  I asked, confused.
“The spare key”, she said impatiently. ” Is a good idea or no?”

Callicebus moloch

I gently explained to her that the central heating came on automatically and that although I wasn’t the tidiest person in the world there was a method in it,  I knew exactly where to lay my hands on what I wanted,  and that actually I enjoyed cooking, I found it quite relaxing, in fact if she was feeling peckish there was a Hungarian recipe for Kohlrabi soup  I’d love to try out on her, a bit spicy perhaps but full of  quite unexpected flavours.  And that afterwards there was nothing I’d like better than to watch again one of Otto’s excellent wild life videos, especially the one where his canoe was almost overturned on Lake Poopo by the giant enipoxea.
I offered to refill her glass. She raised her hand like a traffic policeman and got unsteadily to her feet.
” I have had enough, she said, ” more than enough in fact. And I’m sure you have students’ essays to mark and interesting stuff like that to do.”

And off she went.
After she had gone, I took a glass of whisky and a large flat white stone I had brought back from somewhere because of  the markings on one side which look as though they might mean something, and placed it carefully on Coogi’s grave. I raised the glass.
” Goodbye Coogi, ” I said and looked up at the night sky. ” Look how the floor of heaven is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold. There’s not the smallest orb which thou beholdest but in his motion like an angel sings. Such harmony is in immortal souls but while this muddy vesture of decay doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”

I could hear Pablo howling next door. If I shut my eyes it was like the jungle.

When I came back from college this afternoon,  I noticed a Landscape Gardening truck outside Griselda’s house and workmen busily replacing the fence with some sort of evergreen shrubs, cupressocyparis leylandii  I would say from the brief look I got of them as I parked the car.
No doubt she’ll be rushing over to tell me all about it before I’ve even got my coat off.


On watching a poet read her poems on video


On watching a poet read her poems on video

I read her poems
and liked them
but listening to her read one of her unscripted poems
quietly, softly, slowly,
with the incessant sea in the background
was like trying to overhear on the bus
the conversation
between the woman from Hongkong
3  seats in front
and her friend across the way
as well as not to hear  the chirpchirping
leaking from  the blokebehindme’s earphones.

My Lovely Amelia


I like nothing better than taking photographs of my lovely Amelia against some famous landmark: Amelia and The Eiffel Tower; Amelia and Nelson’s Column; Amelia and The Coliseum; Amelia and Edinburgh Castle; Amelia and The Angel of the North; Amelia and The Great Wall of China; Amelia and Ayers Rock; Amelia and The Great Pyramid.   I have them all.

Last week we went to India so I could photograph her with The Taj Mahal in the background.  The Taj Mahal looked  wonderfully grand, touched with pink by the setting sun and framed by majestic palm trees. It brought to mind that wonderful photograph of red-jacketed Princes Di  seated primly on the little wall  in front of the oblongs of water with this magnificent pristine building behind her not quite managing to put her in the shade. People have often remarked when I show them my photographs that my Amelia has a touch of Diana about her, the eyes mainly I think, the way she lowers her gaze at times. She is too beautiful for words.

My photograph of Amelia in front of  the Matterhorn, cheeks aglow with the cold. eyes sparkling, head slightly tilted, is another that people seem to like but my own favourite is of Amelia against the background of The Victoria Falls, not just because I have managed to catch little ribbons of  rainbows in the spray behind her with the water seeming to hang in the air like smoke but mainly because I seem to have finally captured that little smile of hers that I think is every bit as enigmatic and beautiful  as the Mona Lisa’s.

The one Amelia likes best is of her outside Buckingham Palace where the Queen and Prince Philip waited patiently till I had taken the photograph before passing between us.


Signs are usually brusque, devoid of humour or humanity –  rather like a sergeant-major’s barked commands to a nervous squad of raw recruits – LIFT….DINING ROOM ….TOILETS …BAR….SWIMMING POOL……SHOP…..SLOW DOWN….. TURN LEFT….. LEVEL CROSSING … EDIT…ADD MEDIA….. PUBLISH…. VIEW POST…… CLICK HERE….. STOP..
It comes as a pleasant surprise therefore to find signs that by their form and style amuse and surprise and entertain:




sign v


A very ironic johnknoxy sign seen in Edinburgh outside the Modern Art Gallery. It reminded me of the  archetypal Scottish joke ……On Judgment Day. as  the souls of the damned were whirling through the abyss down into the all-consuming  flames of hell, they cried out, ” O Lord, we didnae ken, we didnae ken!” and in response this mighty voice from above boomed out, “Weel,  ye ken noo!”

sign ok

but on the other hand……a cheerful and jaunty reassurance above the entrance to the Modern Art Gallery – I think both signs are the work of Martin Creed whose good-natured philosophy is very binary or dualistic or whatever.

sign bm



A polite apocolyptical global warning sign in a student kitchen……


Byres Road sign

A very Scottish sign seen in Glasgow’s Byres Road. Scots are addicted to pies. And bridies. There is word that a left-handed bridie is being developed in Forfar with the thumb-hole in the pastry casing placed correctly for a left-handed grasp.

sign rr  A wonderfully creatively welcoming door in an Amsterdam hotel which believed in giving the place personality, soul, a sense of humour, human warmthsign nnThe Conscious Hotel, the same surrealistic hotel whose doors  give you such a warm, poetic  introduction to  Amsterdam. ” Your breakfast is 100% organic and there are plenty of healthy choices but we won’t force you to survive on nuts and berries. At Conscious hotels, you make the choices that are right for you. Except for wearing socks with sandals. Then we might say something..”
Or as Saussure famously said: “In language there are only differences. Even more important: a difference generally implies positive terms between which the difference is set up; but in language there are only differences without positive terms. Whether we take the signified or the signifier, language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system. “


ESTRAGON: I’m going.
VLADIMIR:   Help me up first, then we’ll go together.
ESTRAGON: You promise?
VLADIMIR:   I swear it!
ESTRAGON: And we’ll never come back?
VLADIMIR:   Never!
ESTRAGON: We’ll go to the Pyrenees.
VLADIMIR:   Wherever you like.
ESTRAGON: I’ve always wanted to wander in the Pyrenees.


When I was  asked,  “Where are you off to this summer?”  out of the blue the exchange from Waiting For Godot crossed my mind so I said “I’ve always wanted to wander in the Pyrenees” and having made this destination public felt bound to live up to it.
I got the overnight bus to London, the train to Dover, the ferry to Calais then by taxi, train, bus, train, bus  and hitchhike to Caldes de  Boi then uphill by foot after foot to the  Estany Negre with wild horses in the foreground and the distant blue peaks of Els Encantats (?) towering in the background.
Here I was at last, in the Park of  Swirling Waters,  Aiguestortes,  in the Pyrenees,  where I’d always wanted to wander.
Thanks be to Samuel Beckett.

( On the way back, at Santander, taking photographs behind the cafe at the ferry terminal – the PELIGRO  sign obscured by a parked van –  I was savaged by a couple of Alsatians. One on each ankle.  Impressive inartistic scars and a few photographs to show for it all .
But that’s life for you. )