And Schubert. What shall I say of Schubert? That he taught me to turn a deaf ear to tittle-tattle? That he told  really funny jokes? That he must have done something wrong? Only that last one, I’m afraid, only that last one was true. But his jokes weren’t too bad either:
” When he was at the airport it occurred to Peter that  Gertrude, his usually reliable neighbour, hadn’t come round for the dog. He tried calling her on her mobile  every day but got no reply. And when he got back, a fortnight later,  what did he see waiting for him on the doorstep? “And of course you say, ‘the dog’,  and he says,   The 14 bottles of milk he had forgotten to cancel.”
That was one of his jokes. Not really funny? Perhaps it’s the way I write them. They were certainly funny the way he told them. Wry. Dry. He was fond of one-liners, he was good at themDid you hear about the dyslexic guy who walked into a bra?
He could rattle off a dozen or so in the time it took you to down your pint.

So I asked the man if I could join his aerobics team and he said it depends how flexible you are and I told him I couldn’t make Tuesdays.
We all had composers’ names: I was Mozart; my London contact was Bizet even though she was a woman. Blond. Big-boned. Wagner would have suited her better.
Where  did I meet Schubert for the last time?  Oddly enough at midday under that outlandishly huge astronomical clock in the main square with all the tourists waiting for the clockwork Jesus. Noon or midnight were the real treats when Jesus popped out followed by all his faithful, brown-robed disciples. People applauded as if they were real characters.
As usual Schubert was late, not that that worried him in the slightest. He never apologised however late he was, never explained what had kept him, just breezed in with some joke that made you smile.
When I left home, my mum said: “Don’t forget to write.” I  remember thinking: “That’s unlikely – it’s a basic skill, isn’t it?”
We were taken by Schubert  to the sleepy little town of  Strakovica  where we picked up Sibelius (and where Stevenson got the idea for Markheim, his short story about a murdered watch maker). We had a beer at Ticktalk’s, the pavement cafe which had formerly been the shop of the unfortunate watchmaker (whose murderer was never found). The sun was shining but it was cold enough for Schubert to put on his big black overcoat.
After that we went on to the very stylish glass and chrome building in the town centre where I was to give my lecture, a strangely transparent place for such secret shenanigans. At the ornate glass door, Schubert put an arm round my shoulders and said, ” If I don’t see you through the week, I’ll see you through the window,” his last and by no means his best joke.
I never saw him again.  



While her boy friend

with three red vertebrae

repaired his rock-damaged foot,


finely focussed,

inwardly balanced,

the pretty lady with the long brown hair

precariously standing

on one shapely leg

on this so rapidly turning world

on a windy summer’s day

on a long languid Lanzarote beach

had the top of her head sliced off

by a clumsy photographer

but nevertheless

managed to

cling to

her dainty




Crabbed age and youth cannot live together

There are so many reports

of kids knifing adults

for various reasons

or for no reason at all

that you can sit on a bus

and watch kids chuck stuff

on the floor or wherever

put  their feet up

on your seat

swear at each other

shout through and across you

until you feel like joining in

in case they take offence.

See the auld fowk on the bus, man,

aw the sap  sucked oot o  them,

clutchin their goodie bags

close tae their bony chests

or starin oot o  the windows

at  life  passin them by.

Zombies, man,

that’s whit they are,

the livin dead.

Lonely Things

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

May we be granted the power

to understand

the nature of  loneliness

and the empathy

to admire the bravery

of  those who suffer in silence

and alone

abandoned: a wagon in the Czech republic

 discarded: a plastic bag similar to the one in ‘American Beauty’

derelict: a beggar on a rainy day  in Glasgow

excluded: a penguin at Discovery Point in Dundee

imprisoned: a man at a window in Italy

isolated: a boy on the Est Sands, St. Andrews

neglected: two dugs outside Weston Links, Edinburgh

rejected: a mother and son on a beach in Tunisia

Blow your heart out for passing strangers

We take  up our usual stance outside Marks and Spencers almost directly opposite Tescos, and in no time at all,  from our shiny silver instruments,  we’re blasting out  ‘Good King Wenceslas’  into the cold, clean air  for the benefit  of last-minute Christmas shoppers  (take a quick breath).
I never grow tired of playing  ‘Good King Wenceslas.’  Or listening to it.
I think it’s my favourite favourite. And it’s not as easy to play as you would imagine.
In fact it’s really quite a complicated piece. It consists of five quatrains. Each quatrain has the scheme ABABCDCD with feminine rhyme and internal rhyme.  The unstressed syllable of the fourth foot is abated in each line in favor of a caesura, forming the line into two hemistichs. In the accompanying common time musical score, the caesura is attained by rendering the fourth foot as a half note (or minim), while the last foot of the line effectively becomes a spondee by being realized as two half notes.
Perhaps you don’t really have to know all that to feel happier, better, braver when you hear it (take another quick breath) but a little knowledge never goes amiss.

If one out of every hundred stops to listen and is affected by the music or the message that is all we ask for

Pleasant Voices

The poems of Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas

Richard Burton


all had rich brown voices that gave their clearly enunciated words  a mellow music that bypassed your ears and  slid straight into your soul.
Especially James Mason – he purred like a contented cat. Such rich, pinguid notes.
Dylan Thomas had the confident, booming voice of a Welsh minister “……and deaeaeath shall have nooooo domminnnion….” that commanded and demanded your attentive hearing
And handsomest of them all, Richard Burton could send those rounded polished streamlined words spinning effortlessly gracefully through space ….

I can still see them, still hear them, still shut my eyes and listen to their voices like remembered music……

Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.



Stopping off  for a couple of days in India,

I met a gentle man from Kent

whose speciality was moss.

Very professional he was,

very technical,

using a satellite locating system

to map out and record the whereabouts

of different mosses,



while other holiday-makers were idly lying in the sun,

like seals on a beach,

or doing a splashy crawl

across some hotel swimming pool’s Hockney-blue waters,


(I’ve forgotten his second name)

….Burk? Baker?….

anyhow John, the moss gatherer,

was assiduously filling his notebook

and his camera

with carefully annotated images

and descriptions

of moss.


He had recorded, he told me,

46 varieties,

(both monoicous and dioicous),

of the 12,000  species known to exist.


Just a hobby, he said when I asked him,

no, he didn’t remember when or how it started

but that’s all it was,

a  hobby,

something he and his  friends did

with and in their spare time.


He smiled when I told him

I couldn’t tell a moss from a lichen.Image


This is here now but was there then. A b & w photograph taken some time ago which surfaced to day

I may be the backpacker in the photograph although I have vague memories of seeing the grafitti and asking someone to pose for the photograph but then that may have been another time, anotherplace….

and this is here and there – the Shetland island of Hoy taken last summer from the boat as we drifted past,  with  the bright curtain (bought last November in Perth) balancing the photograph (30cmx40cm) on the wall ( painted white ten years ago)  and the yellow roses (plucked this morning from the garden) in the blue vase (a last year’s Christmas present from the alas deceased Mary Jess) on the brown table that I got at an auction in 1999….

The Woman In Red

In the Castillo de San Jose
I saw this woman with such black hair
and the red red dress.
I left my brother in mid-sentence,
walked over to her table,
clicked my heels,
bowed a little,
and said slowly and clearly
” Your beauty lights up the room.”
She turned to her friend and asked
“Qu’est-ce qu’il dit?”
“Il dit qu’il t’a vu danser, ” she said.
“Il est anglais.”
The woman in red smiled
and inclined her head.
When I returned to my table
“What did she say? ” my brother asked.
“And is she Spanish?”
” She said ‘ That is my husband’s boat’ ” I told him.
“Yes, both of them.”