Give me a clue                                                        

It’s good to see grandad up and about again, sitting in the sun by the window in his scarlet waiscoat with the tartan rug over his knees. He is staring down at the quickie crossword on the back page of The Herald.

Give me a clue then Pops, I ask.

He used to rattle through crosswords, any crossword, in no more than the time it took him to have breakfast, the paper propped against the marmalade jar, the radio in the corner behind him giving out the day’s news and weather/traffic reports. He used to give me a clue,  just to make me feel included, and then help me to arrive at the answer,  just to make me feel pleased with myself.

Come on,  Pops. Give me a clue.

He taps the pen between his teeth, frowning.

P something  Z  something something something  something  something something  S,  he says. Nine letters.  Someone’s  illness.

I count out the letters on my fingers. Parkinson’s, I tell him. Parkinson’s disease.

He looks out of the window. Next-door’s cat is stalking something along the garden wall between the wheelbarrow and the garden shed.

Gran comes in and puts his tray on the table beside him. Don’t let it get cold now, she says.

I won’t, he says and leans forward over the tray then looks up and smiles. Mmmmm, he says.  Smells good, looks good and it’s going to taste good. Thanks Dot.

When Gran has gone, he looks at me and the smile goes. Zed,  he says.  P something Zed. Not P something R.  And nine letters,  not  ten.

I lean over his shoulder and together we stare at the half-filled- in grid and then at the unsolved clues.

‘Pleased’  is wrong, I finally tell him and point at his answer for 6 across. ‘Pleased’ is wrong, Pops.  It should be ‘amiable’. So it’s  A something  Z,  not P.

What’s with all this Pops malarky? he asks,  making no movement to correct his error, not even looking up at me. You’ve  been watching  too many American cartoons.

I’ve always called him ‘Pops’.

‘ Pa   za   lo   va’s ‘,   he says with an air of finality,  filling  in the answer,  drawing out each syllable to match the slowness of his writing.  Yes,  Pazalova’s  Disease,  he says and with a flourish puts the pen away in his breast pocket . That’s it. Finished.

The cat pounces but on what we can’t see because it’s behind the wheelbarrow.


‘Two Cats and a Waitress’  is the title of a short short story about two cats and a waitress. It is a short short story because I am coming round to the belief that nowadays we work so hard at reducing our daily workload (escalators, for example  – we don’t climb stairs any more; the stairs do our climbing for us… or lifts,  remote controls, teabags etc., etc.),  that the 400 page novel is already a thing of the past; and the short story will soon be replaced by the instant short story (which will soon be replaced by the two-liner and so on).

Would you like to read my two-liner? It can be read in a couple of  seconds and relies on the reader to flesh it out. Very post post-modern:


A waitress had two cats. One of them got pregnant, one  disappeared and one kept the neighbourhood awake at night with her continual screeching and yowling.

                                                                        * * * * *

That’s it. The end (as far as the writer is concerned). But just the beginning for the reader: –
Which of the three got pregnant? Could it have been the waitress who kept the neighbourhood awake at nights? Or was she the one who mysteriously disappeared?


When my girlfriend becomes aroused, she insists that we go outside and find somewhere very public and very dangerous to act out her impulses.  She especially enjoys  kissing and entwining her supple self round me in the main street with all the cars whizzing past, honking their horns,  flashing their lights. Most of all she is stimulated by the lewd remarks shouted at us by shaven-headed thugs leaning from the windows of their flashy cars  with CD players turned up full volume and making obscene gestures with their fingers and forearms as they pass.

When we get back home, fired up after one of these outings, she likes nothing better than kicking off her shoes and lying on the sofa with a giant tub of popcorn on her chest, watching old Humphrey Bogart movies, flicking popcorn into her open mouth and shouting things like, Get ’em off, baby! and Just do it for Crissake!

The African Queen is our favourite.



This morning at 3am I woke up out of a troubled dream, started worrying about the exam, couldn’t get back to sleep again, switched on the radio. BBC 5 Live. A phone-in programme. Nicky Somebody from Osmotherley  told this extremely funny, extremely witty  joke, and I laughed out loud and thought that was the funniest thing I’ve heard for ages, I must remember to tell it to everyone tomorrow and still smiling, the exam forgotten, I dropped off into a seamless, dreamless sleep.
Then this morning, at 10.30 am as I was filing  into the examination room I suddenly remembered that I had heard this extremely funny, extremely witty joke which would make everyone laugh….

but what was the joke again?
I sat down in my allocated seat [206] and when the invigilator told us to begin, opened the question paper and quickly glanced through it. So many questions!
Question 6 looked like the one I had prepared for. Yes, question 6 then 4…or possibly question 3…..or 9? Yes,question 6 then question 9..
The invigilator was walking slowly up and down the aisles. He had a club foot. His club foot made a different sound from his other foot. And the rhythm was sort of irregular:  Boom….. di..Boom ……. di.. Boom….. di..Boom. Getting louder, getting closer.
Right, question 6…..
That funny, witty joke, what was it?
Where was it?
Dissipated. Deleted. I looked  round. Everyone bowed over, writing
away like mad.
Boom…..di..Boom. No, wait…something to do with a railway carriage….. a woman in a railway carriage ……….and …..and
No. Discarded. Gone forever.
Right. Question 6.  ” Truth or illusion: Is this what ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’  is about? ”
 ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ was a play I had seen/read so often I felt I knew it by heart but truth or illusion? Truth or illusion…
What exactly did that mean?
I started to write anyway,  got halfway through my opening sentence –  ” Martha’s truth is very different from George’s version of reality in that….” –  when I remembered it had something to do with peeling an orange…a  man in a railway carriage is peeling an orange and the woman sitting next to him says……says what? No, he turns to the woman sitting next to him and says……
(Why is it that when you dream a particularly vivid dream or hear an outstandingly funny joke, unless you write it down it disappears like morning mist? What specific part of the brain’s memory system deals with jokes and dreams? And why does it send them straight to the recycle bin after use? What use? How can they be retrieved? And what is the link between jokes and dreams?)
That was it….he turns to the woman and says, I hope you don’t suffer from a citrus allergy and she says……and she says…

I listened to the irregular footsteps of the approaching invigilator and stared at the exam paper then he was bending over me and quietly asking, “Anything the matter?”
I shook my head.
So many questions, so many unanswered questions.



Naebdy hitches thae days. When I wir  a lad (that’s me ower der) I hitched a ower – Europe, America – an I met hunners o interestin fowk in the  process.

Later on, when I wiz in Africa, I met an American quine wha hid been drivin her VW caravanettee wi a freen fae Nairobi doon tae Cape Town an the van hid broken doon in the Congo so whit did she an her freen dae? They hitchhiked. In Africa. In the Congo. A the wye back tae Nairobi. Wi niver a bit o trouble.  Well no exactly – ther wis an encounter wi a rhinoceros an the freen got tick fever but apart fae that they hid the time o ther lives. Hoo’s that fir smeddum  (or recklessness)? Or jist bein young?

Nae doot some fowk saw it as a wye o life – get sumbdy else ti dae a the work an   pay a the siller and gie you a piggieback intae the bargin.

But na, it wisnae. It wiz a wye  o seein the world an the fowk in it that otherwise ye widnae hae hid access tae. Yid get a lift tae Terranova an on the wye yid tell the driver yir life story an he/she wid tell ye his/hers syne he/she wid drap ye aff an yid niver see yin anither  again.

Nooadays der’s sae much cheap travel fir young fowk that it’s daft or mean tae hitchhike. An if ye did,  ye wid run the risk o bein mugged, murdered or worse.

A different world nooadays. A different world.

Na it isnae!




Words have sounds and rhythms which reinforce their meaning: ‘flip-flop’ echoes the sound and rhythm made by that particular type of footwear….and ‘thud’, ‘bang’, ‘crash’  etc. are obviously words that echo the sound they represent; words like ‘shuffle’, ‘flutter’ imitate movement as well as sound…..
‘Ping-pong’ sounds even better the other way round      –     gnip-gnop gnip gnop  gni….oops…pick it off the floor…there it is…there, under the chair…
Likewise  the word – SPLASH – is an  ideogram of the event it signifies:
1) The  initial  sibilant  –  S – replicates the hiss of the stone cutting through the air (SSS);
2) then  comes the plosive – P –  as the stone breaks  the surface of the water (SSS – P);
3) the labial –  L –  pictures  the stone gliding under the sutface  (SSS-P-LLL);
4) The concluding – ASH – is the plume of spray sent up by the stone as it disappears into the water (SSS – P – LLL- AAASHSHSH).

‘glides’   has the sounds to suggest after an initial thrust, effortless motion in/on/through water  –     G….. LLL….IDE….SSSSS

and it sounds even better in French:

Le cygne chasse l’onde avec ses larges palmes
et glisse………………

And  finally I remember from my schooldays when we had to learn poetry by heart, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s

” the moan of doves in immemorial elms,
   and murmuring of innumerable bees. “