The Making of Lists


Today I have stayed all morning in bed wondering, Am I a good person? Am I a bad person?

I find that things become clearer once you organise  them into  orderly lists so I start on a positive note by going over all the good things I have done in my life.

Right away I have a problem with my daily purchase of The Big Issue from the sad young woman  who stands,  every day, all day, rain hail or shine, outside the supermarket and wishes every passer-by a nice day even when they ignore her. I go into the supermarket every day and buy at least £20 worth of food and drink but only give her a quid. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Stopping smoking is another grey area. Is that morally a good thing or just selfishly a good thing? Can something selfish be good? I’ve stopped because I don’t want to kill myself. Nothing particularly heroic there!

And taking in that stray cat my daughter brought home which drove my dear wife crazy and gave our younger daughter fleas and an allergy – a generous enough impulse but wasn’t it a bit thoughtless, a bit self-indulgent? And wasn’t the good deed more my daughter’s than mine?

And becoming a vegetarian? Did that stop me from buying shoes for which some poor cow had provided the uppers? Or wearing my ski hat made from the fleece of an unborn lamb?

I once stepped between a young woman and a man who was hitting her. He was smaller than me. My wife sort of pushed me into doing something about it. All the same I did the right thing. Stopped him by grabbing his arms, enclosing him in a tight embrace. She wasn’t grateful though. Told me to mind my own f*****g  business. And when it was all over and they had gone off, arm in arm, and I was dusting myself down, I discovered my wallet had gone with them. 

But I did save a boy from drowning. That was definitely a good thing. He had jumped in after his dog, not knowing it would dog-paddle its way safely to the river bank. His sister was running along the bank, screaming her head off, but couldn’t swim so I did what most adults would have done and  dived in,  grabbed him, swam him ashore. But then I am an excellent swimmer. With certificates to prove it. The boy probably showed more courage in jumping in after his dog than I did in jumping in after him.

 Tomorrow I might get round to listing the bad things.

  • cat2

What’s it like to be dead?



ONE NIGHT  last week I sat up in  my hotel bed and  and saw  that what had awakened me was  the creaky bedroom door  being   opened to admit some crazy woman dressed in a green ballgown who kept banging into things and swearing not quite under her breath as she did so. She said she had been on her way to the Hunt Ball at Denholm Hall when she realised she had forgotten her spectacles, couldn’t see a thing without them, had turned back to get them, was sure she had left them on the table beside the bed, had run into a group of enemy troops, been taken prisoner and executed as a spy,  but because of the missing spectacles she was doomed to roam the earth looking for them and only when she had found them would she be released and had I seen them anywhere?

I asked her how she had been executed. She said she had been shot at dawn against the wall of  the church, blindfolded (which was sort of ironic) and that it had been extremely painful and she didn’t want to talk about it.

I asked her what it was like being dead and she said there wasn’t much to it, you got used to it after a while and was I sure I hadn’t seen her spectacles anywhere? All this while she was lifting things up and putting them down again, looking under chairs and tables and beds, even  lifting up my book from the bedside table and  giving it a good shake, losing my bookmark in the process.

I was feeling sleepy and disappointed in her impatient replies to my genuine questions, so I turned over and in spite of  her thumps and effing and blinding, quickly fell asleep again.

I woke up just as the sun was rising and was relieved to see that there were no overturned chairs or broken vases left to mark the stumbling passage of my myopic night visitor. At least she had had the decency to tidy up before she left for wherever these nocturnal peripatetics  go to during the day.

But my very expensive spectacles which I distinctly remember leaving  on the bedside table were gone.

I looked for them everywhere without success, on the duvet, under the pillow, getting on my hands and knees to look on the carpet  but beginning to come to a very unwelcome  conclusion. Yes, my night visitor  (I tend to blame other people when things  go wrong) !

However once again I searched the duvet, the pillows, on and under the chairs, the bedside table, then peering one last time under the bed, out they popped from  the breast pocket of my pyjama jacket where I now remembered I had put them for safe keeping before going to sleep. But my bookmark was between page 41 and 42 whereas I had read up to page 147 before carefully marking the place and switching off the bedside lamp.

When I went downstairs, I mentioned the woman to the receptionist who said yes there was a Denholm Hall which I must have passed on my way to the hotel but otherwise I don’t think he believed my story one little bit so I wrote a full account of my nocturnal encounter in the guest book and on flicking back to see if previous occupants of my room had experienced anything similar was relieved to read that on the night of June the 24th, a Mary Martin had been awakened by a group of soldiers looking for a woman who they claimed was a spy in the pay of the French. No mention was made of the green ballgown or the spectacles however.


5 characters in search of a narrative

Embra g

Tracy is not a gardener. Tracy is an actress. She belongs to a group called Teatro Al  Fresco. She is rehearsing for a play. The play is called  “Trabajo Trabajo Trabajo”.  It is a comedy about a Spanish girl who finds work in a foreign country as a gardener although she has a degree in Physics. Tracy does not have a degree in Physics. Tracy does not have a degree in anything. She is a very good dancer. In the play she has to dance a flamenco. The audience love the way she dances. They clap their hands hard in time to her Spanish steps.

Embra hh

Ben’s bootlace has come undone. Ben is a bouncer. Ben and Amalia live in a flat in King Street. Amalia is a nurse. She is from Portugal. Ben is finding it difficult to tie his bootlace because he is fat. He is a very popular fellow. He makes people laugh because he has a sense of humour. He is also a very good dancer. Amalia and Ben are very happy together. They have a son called Donald. Donald is three years old and is bright as a button. Donald is also the name of Ben’s daddy. Ben’s daddy  is a fisherman. He has a funny way of talking. He calls ‘fish’ ‘feesh’. Ben and Amalia go once a year to Portugal for a fortnight. They like it very much there. It is beautiful and the people are very kind to them and Amalia is so happy to be ‘home’ again.


Trev is a labrador. Trev has 2 sisters and one brother. He is owned by Amalia and Ben but when Amalia and Ben are working or on holiday Trev is looked after by Tracy. Trev is very fond of Tracy and Tracy is very fond of Trev. When Trev sees Tracy his tail wags like mad. He wants so much to please. You can see it in his eyes. Most of all Trev is fond of Donald. Trev is very patient with Donald. They play together. Donald throws away his ball and Trev runs after it and brings it back and drops it at Donald’s feet. He sits and wags his tail and waits. Donald throws the ball again. He laughs and claps his little hands as Trev brings the ball back and drops it at his feet. They never grow tired of playing this game with each other. Trev is Donald’s best friend. Donald tells him things. I like ice-cream, Donald says and Trev listens, fascinated.

lanz 5rt

Donald is at his happiest in Portugal. Portugal is sea and sun and donkeys and waking up early and running down to the beach and oranges. He feels sad when he thinks of Trev then other things crowd out  his little mind, like ‘Why do people think I’m a girl?’ and ‘Why did I have to eat that horrible fish?’ and ‘Will they let me go out in the boat?’ and ‘Trash osh montsh  – what does that mean?
So many questions, so many unanswered questions…..


It is 6 am  and Donald is bending over backwards to greet the sun. Donald who used to have a boat now has a croft. Instead of herring and mackerel and cod he now has hens and ducks and sheep. And a horse. It is a hard life but it is what he is used to. He has no wife to share things with but that doesn’t bother him. He has grown used to his own company over the years, doesn’t like it much but has grown used to it.

hors 1c

Donald’s horse hasn’t got a name. Crofters don’t do animal names but

(to be conti

The Edinburgh Festival: August 10, 2013



The Edinburgh Festival is something else….it’s great to take part  as a performer or writer or whatever but great fun even as a humble spectator –  hundreds of shows to choose from………the Festival is everywhere , the good, the bad and the hard-to-classify….out on the streets, in bars, cellars, churches…everywhere..

I first went to a Fringe Festival play in 2007. It was called ‘The Smile Off Your Face’ , by a Belgian Company with the unlikely name of Ontroerend Goed. I happened to be passing  down Chamber Street where  it was showing and I went in on the off chance I might come across something unusual.

I got my ticket and was told to wait in the bar   –   sort of unusual all right, a bit mysterious – no barman, just me … where was the audience? What –
A  door opened, a woman smiled and beckoned and  led me from the bar/waiting room down stairs to a wheel chair. I was seated in the wheelchair then quietly told I was going to be blindfolded and have my wrists loosely tied to the arms of my wheelchair was that okay? ( Normally NO NO NO but in this context it was okay. Sort of..(once started, no going back).

Then I was being pushed off, through a bead curtain, stopped, someone was whispering in my ear, then I was moved on, interviewed by someone else, soft music,  someone was stroking my hair, and asking me if I wanted to stroke hers (I assumed it was ‘hers’)  which I did and I did. And so on.
“Can I ask you a question?”  another  voice whispered and I must have nodded or said ‘Yes’  because the voice went on  ” Are you happy? Not right at this moment but in general. Take your time to think about it. Are you happy? ” and I  found myself giving a detailed account of my version of how happy/unhappy I was to a stranger I couldn’t even see and getting  back  wise and empathetic comments in exchange……
“When did you last cry?” the voice asked and as I was trying to remember, the blindfold was removed and I was staring up into an actor’s face and watching tears well up in his eyes and roll down his cheeks.
Then the blindfold was replaced and I was pushed elsewhere to meet other voices out of the darkness and asked other questions and finally one voice began telling me a story about a young man travelling through a strange land where everyone seemed to know him and expected his help, asked for his advice, apologised for taking up his time…
When my blindfold was removed again, I found the sweet voice I had been listening to belonged to a woman dressed as the Pope but with a long white beard like Santa Claus. “Do you mind if I take your photograph?”  she  asked and  of course I said ‘Yes’ then the blindfold was replaced. And  the journey continued.

Smell this. What does it remind you of? What do you think it is? Taste that. Is it sweet or sour? What does this feel like? Rough? Soft? Can you feel it move under your hand?

Finally I was untied and unblindfolded in front of a wall that was lined with photographs of ‘the audience’, mine included, sort of proof that the whole experience was real, had actually taken place, hadn’t been some crazy dream, then I was ushered to the exit and released into the real Embra afternoon air with of course someone playing the bagpipes in the distance.
What was that all about? Had it really been only 20 minutes? Did I really say all that? Did…..?  What….? Why……. How……. Where…..?







This is how cave paintings began


If you can’t join them, photograph them. Everyone has a camera these days


Edinburgh becomes cosmopolitan at Festival time, friendly, makes people smile.
This is Margo from Marvao and an astronaut with
cheap trainers posing for Sven, her Swedish boyfriend.


The woman whose white wedding dress you can just see had posed against the railings
with her handsome husband and his best man, – I was too late to get their photograph – got
instead this aftermath. This terrace is a busy Festival eating place above Victoria Road
with its quaint shops (it even has a brush shop!) which takes you down to the Grassmarket.
The day I went to the Festival was also the day chosen for a protest march 
organized by
Canadian comedian Shawn Hitchins to demonstrate against “gingerism,” or
against people with red hair. More than a hundred redheads  marched from the Balmoral
Hotel on
 Princes Street, across North Bridge to the city’s Royal Mile. The redhead below,
was simply a member of the University of Southampton’s Theatre group who
were putting on their play ‘Hanging Bruce Howard’  (admission:£5).

Pretty woman 
Good whisky shop.


Great place, Edinburgh.

Time Passes

Time passes.
Ab 9
an anxious woman in white
stands on the river bank waiting
don’t worry about me, she had said cheerily
as they rode off into the sunrise
enjoy yourselves
and they didn’t
and they did

Abb 2

Time passes.
The three horses 
one white
one brown
one chestnut
bring the the three daughters
safely back
to the rock in the river
where the woman in white
is no longer waiting.


The University of St. Andrews



We used to walk along the pier then go back along the pier

wall on Sundays in our red gowns after church, usually in

twos, talking and non-talking, a pleasant monk-like ritual.

Out of term time, tourists do the same trek but without the

prequel chapel experience and lacking the mediaeval charm

of the red gown



This was a serious cloistered place where we came to see our

examination results pinned to the  notice boards  for all the

world to see.  Here is all the world studying our results.



Outside the chapel on the cobble stones are printed and

interlinked the letters P H to mark the killing of Patrick

Hamilton. I think he was burned as a heretic. Ah religion,

what cruelties are (still) committed in thy name!




Half-way up the wall is the window out of which the hanged

body of Cardinal Beaton was displayed. He was a Catholic

plenipotentiary who eventually paid the full price of his

unpopularity. Ah, religion etc.




The marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton attracted

fame and focus to the University where the couple met and

fell in love and spent important young years of their lives as

students. Gather ye rosebuds, carpe diem, you’re a long time

dead.  Gaudeamus igitur iuvenes dum sumus….. Still a

powerful message.

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.

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