Yes, I remember Hoy.

Hoy m 24-11-2014 21-58-10

A lazy summer’s day,
crossing a stream
below a clump of trees,
knee-deep in ferns,
we heard (but did not see) a golden oriole.

It seemed to be saying
“Put the radio on ”
in lovely lilting liquid notes
“Please put the radio on “
over and over again
“Please please put the radio on “

no sign of irritation
no note of ennui

no hint of weariness

such a sweet song
such a gentle tone
such a calm, sweet nature.

And now
all Anna has to say is
“Put the radio on “

to make me laugh
to lift me out of a dark mood
to make me remember
the sounds of summer
and the feel of  happiness,

Hoy m 24-11-2014 21-58-10

How Ideas Are Formed 2

Here they come, the blind bats

shrieking from Plato’s  shadowy cave

nails  screeching on blackboard

black umbrella shards 

zigzagging  downwind 

into the embers of a dying sunset

a late quartet of notes by a deaf composer

flung into the void

tossed into the unresponsive void

which only they can hear.






day 15

This chomping noise woke us up.
I pulled back the tent flap and saw first of all the wild horses then behind them, blue and massive, rising dramatically from the other side of the lake, the blue, jagged peaks of  Els Encantats, the Enchanted Ones.
I breathed in the early morning air,  so  cool and clean and pure.

day 16

On the way down we had to pass through the strangely silent and lifeless  Vall dels  Ocells, the Valley of Birds. The air was humid and brackish. Most of the trees were either dying or dead.  Trapped between the valley’s steep walls was the whiff of something  vaguely unpleasant,  perhaps wood that was old and  wet and decomposing. 
In spite of the valley’s name, the only bird we saw was a sinister and solitary crow.

day 20

We reached the arid plateau above the river just before noon. It was stiflingly hot. We tried to buy some provisions  from the trading folk but I was unable to make myself understood in any of their three languages. They showed not the slightest inclination to trade or communicate with us.
It was a relief to move on. Those flies!


At last – the green trees, the river and the long plain that goes on to the sea. This view sent my childhood rushing back; it at least hasn’t changed, thank the good lord.
We are to be heard of at the Eel Pie House, Twickenham, where we shall dine at half past five or thereabouts and where we will take care of you if you come. E-mail us if you can’t. 


On my way up to Easter Aquorthies  I tried to spot the  skylarks  singing high overhead but they were either too high or too small.
Far below I could see field after green field all the way down to the conic hill of  Dunideer where the sheep that  graze there acquire golden teeth – a  chemical in the soil, some say, that affects the sheep’s saliva;  a fairy place, others tell you, and can sing you ballads to prove it.
And not too far away is the 40ft. column that marks the battle of Harlaw. Red Harlaw where 10,000 Highlanders died:

 As I cam in by Dunideer
 and doon by Netherha’,
 there were fifty thoosand Hieland men
 cam mairchin’ tae Harlaw “

Only 40,000 at the end of the day however….an they werenae mairchin…..
But all that was a long long time ago. 1411.

Anyway today….big blue sky; fluffy summer clouds; a day that made you feel like whistling. Or hanging out the washing. Or going for a hike up a hill  to a place like this that had something about it that brought a smile to your lips and a spring to your step. Air that had that fresh, clear like quality that comes after rain and I was going to the sacred place, the Recumbent Stone Circle that marked the centre of all the strange and wonderful things that had happened here…here where the sacred Gadie runs clear and fast at the back o the blue hills o Bennachie.

Then I  heard  voices.
French schoolchildren had been organised by their teacher to play a sort of basketball game in the stone circle.  They were clearly and loudly enjoying themselves immensely.
” Excuse me,” I called out to their teacher.  ” Ex Cuse Me!”    She blew her whistle and they stopped playing. ”  Excuse me, ” I said again, lowering my voice and sweeping my arm to take in the ring of stones. ” Do you think these stones were placed here to mark out a games pitch for visiting tourists? Are you not here to learn something of our culture and history? Are you aware that this is a sacred place, a warriors  burial ground,  not a schoolchildren’s playground? I don’t expect your kids to know any better, they’re just kids after all,  but you! Their teacher! I expect you to know better!  “

(No, I didn’t. But I wish I had. Instead I turned on my heel and walked slowly back to my car.
The skylarks had gone.  

I drove down  to the main road back to Aberdeen, curiously defeated, the brightness gone from the day.)

Crows and Doves

Once upon a long time ago, I was wandering through Ireland and I came to the monastery Joyce wrote about in “The Dead” …..Mont-somethingorother. It’ll come back to me.* Anyhow I stayed there over a weekend – a spartan room, very simple meals, no-one to talk to except the priest/monk who had the dispensation to talk. My fellow lodgers were, for Ireland, unusually untalkative. However it was a very peaceful sojourn and did my soul and heart no harm at all.
* [
Mount Melleray Abbey is  a community of  Cistercian (Trappist) monks.  The monastery is situated on the slopes of the Knockmealdown mountains in County Waterford, Ireland.]
The outstanding memory I have of Mount Melleray is of sitting on my bed looking out of the window across the sunlit garden at the very ornate wooden dovecot in the centre of the lawn – a single pole supporting a circular platform in the middle of which was a large ‘house’ with two arched doorways. A half-dozen or so pearly-white, puffed-up doves gingerly moved around their not-so-little platform, entering and exiting their rather grand castle, nodding politely and  making gentle sounds of satisfaction to each other as they did so – all very civilised, very French aristocrat


looking down from the surrounding grey granite ramparts of the monastery and making ugly guttural croaking sounds was a  ragged legion of black crows, very Irish peasant. The doves seemed oblivious of these creatures crowding the ramparts; the crows seemed to have little else on their minds but a sense of  the injustice of it all. And that’s how it was intended, 0r so it seemed, by some hidden law: the doves in custom-built comfort, the crows outlawed to the outskirts


a solitary crow launched itself from the ramparts and landed awkwardly on the doves’ circular walkway. The doves on either side moved hurriedly away, not a panicky retreat, rather the moving away from an unwelcome newcomer with whom they wanted no contact whatsoever


another crow made a bumpy landing, this time with some excuse because it had in its beak a long twig which it carefully and cleverly, to the startled cooings and uneasy shufflings of the doves, inserted in one of the arched doorways. The doves edged closer together, the two crows, without a struggle gained free access to at least a third of the circular board. The crows cawed loudly, the doves cooed softly


a third crow descended with a twig in its beak which it duly inserted in the doorway


another and soon the half-dozen crowded doves were having to balance precariously in ever-decreasing space as they became outnumbered by the relentless nest-building crows


a door opened and a monk carrying two pails appeared. He put the pails down to shut the door behind him. Another crow descended, landed, inserted its twig.  Before taking up his pails, the monk clapped his hands. Clap clap clap. With a leathery flapping of wings and more cawcawing, the crows retreated en masse back to the dreary ramparts, the monk crossed the tonsured lawn with his shiny pails on his way to the vegetable garden, pausing only to pull the twigs from the doorway of the doves’ house, the doves once more occupying the full circle of their walkway with space to spare, once more nodding and making gentle sounds of satisfaction to one another.

The ungainly crows  on the ramparts hopped restlessly from one perch to another, cawing, waiting.

Church, State, Nobles, Peasants – it was all there – the history of Ireland in a monastery garden.

The Fastidiousness of Birds

                                                                in Kenmore

on a white picket fence

the round robin with such delicate feet

watched me come closer

turned its head

this way and that

then flew off

to sing his song

somewhere else

                                                                        in Antequera

there is a megalithic dolmen

leading down into the dark earth

– closed on mondays –

so the rainy monday i went

no-one was there

and when i went down the tunnel

under the big dolmen rock

the iron gates were shut




in spite of  my angry shaking of  the bars

* * *

when i gave up

turned to go back

i saw

as if waiting for me

at the end of the tunnel

outlined against the light

standing between me and the bright outside world

a big



* * *

i stopped

not afraid exactly

no not afraid

though i  did think of Cerberus

at  the gates of Hades

to prevent the dead from leaving

but Cerberus had 3 heads

* * *

he  lifted his big head

this big black dog

looked at me


loped off


as if to say

‘no this is not the one’

he  had only 3 legs

the front left leg missing

* * *

before i could move

before i could breathe out my pentup breath

before i could take a further step

the dog was replaced

by a hoopoe

a bird  i had always thought of

as purely mythical

a bird i knew from books

pinkish brown

black and white wing stripes

downward curving beak

something to do with the underworld

this was the first one i had seen

really seen

when it saw me

it snapped  out its ragged crest like a fan

and took off

flew off with a curious looping flight

like a butterfly

* * *

next day I returned

took this picture.

The Intransigence of Things 4



The light went out.
Hermat shut his eyes, opened his eyes.
The same total dark.

Then a
ll the noises started again, but not the same noises, no longer the screech of metal-on-metal  but the   plaintive songs and cries of imprisoned birds:  linnets, thrushes, robins, nightingales, wrens, larks, warblers, a cacophony of calls above which Hermat could clearly distinguish the distinctively complacent  voice of  the cuckoo. They seemed to be whirling all around him, past his face, over his head, he could feel the draught of their passing wings, some bird even brushing his hair with a wing or a claw as it flew too close, making him duck even though it would have been too late.
Then s
omething was tugging at him, not so much tugging as pulling, not even pulling, holding rather but with a slight patient indication of the desire/need to be moving/escaping.  Now that his eyes had adjusted  to the darkness, Hermat could see  one of the capped figures, now a dark presence, standing at his side, gripping him by the upper arm. There was no real reason to resist. However there was still the option of pulling his arm away…
Meekly he allowed himself to be guided away – a long way –  from the visible side of the cube into its inner reaches and recesses where the darkness was complete and palpable……
and then the guiding hand was no longer guiding and there he was,  abandonedin the dark physically and metaphorically, forsaken, frighteningly alone, the dark presence by his side no longer present, the bird songs trailing off one by one as though the individual birds too had taken flight for a sunnier,  friendlier clime till only the call of the cuckoo was left.

He stood there for what seemed hours,  wide open eyes seeing nothing, total darkness, only the relentless bi-tonal call of the cuckoo sending through his listening brain a crackling  tide of strangely patterned repetitive sound waves.
When that call also began to trail off, he followed it through the darkness,  his hands held out in front of him, till it too was lost in the dark silence,  leaving him guided now only  by an inner voice in which he placed absolute trust……

and then he was falling, falling, stepped off the edge of his world into airy nothingness, turning, rolling, somersaulting, cartwheeling helplessly through the dark vacuum that nature was supposed to abhor.


a white building

a white cloud

a white bird

and blue

out of which an  orchestra strikes up

taking the young Spaniard drinking a brandy by surprise.

May I have the pleasure?

(he looks up at the woman, nods)

mmmmmmmba da mmba da mmmbada da

(they dance a snaky sexy tango then she loses it)

Oooops! Sorry. My fault.

no problem

(they dance several flawless circuits of the room without saying anything)

do people still say ‘oops?’


what do they say instead?


the others, the people who don’t say ‘Ooops’.

all manner of things

such as?

shit, for fuck’s sake

I see.

we english tend to say ‘ooops’ a lot, I’m afraid

you’re very polite

sorry to interrupt but could you possibly pass the salt? That sort of thing.

I know. It’s a –

(the music stops. They hold the final pose for a second then part)

see you around

I hope so

the white bird flies off.

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,




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       THE MOLDAU

 This painter from Dijon, Jean-Pierre Difrague,  and Amy his American girlfriend (of a day and night) * were passing under the  the Charles bridge in Prague* when someone jumped into the river and disappeared from sight.

Jean-Pierre could have dived in after him but didn’t. So could Amy but she couldn’t swim. She thought she saw his face pass under water with eyes and mouth wide open but afterwards was never sure whether she had just imagined it or not.

After that Amy and Jean-Pierre went their separate ways. The suicide was a youngish  unmarried insurance clerk from Osmoroc who, according to his family and colleagues, had no reason to jump off the Charles or any other bridge.

                                                             WATER OF LEITH

    Anthony Gormley pops up in the most unlikely places. Here he is ankle-deep in the Water of Leith, just below Embra’s Gallery of Modern Art. It is quite a surprise to come upon this coppery naked man –  a bit like coming round a corner and surprising Jesus walking on water – it would have been  even more of a surprise in the Scottish winter.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  THE TAY, THE TAY, THE SILVERY TAY

A lone swan. But not necessarily a lonely swan although who knows what goes on in a swan’s head when it’s floating majestically on a wide, wide sea?

(Day after day, day after day
we stuck, nor breath, nor motion;
as idle as a painted swan
upon a painted ocean.)

Rhythm and stress are  effective here but for the quality of sound French takes the biscuit:

Le cygne chasse l’onde avec ses larges palmes
et glissssssssssssssse

The French language has a great sound to it – very expressive, very impressive too come to that – my favourite line is ‘pour reparer des ans  l’irreparable outrage’ which trips off the tongue and which I had to learn in school but which has stayed with me ever since, grown up with me as it were.

The Anglo-Saxons called the sea the ‘swan-rad’.  Did you know they have been known to fly 2000 miles mostly over sea and at heights above 25000 ft?    The swans do some remarkable things as well.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                LUNAN BAY

This place (near Montrose) deserves more history than it seems to command. The Vikings landed here in the year dot and that’s as far as it goes. A pleasant, placid place where the temperature seldom encourages you to strip of your clothes and race into the seal-surfing, fish-flashing, boat-bobbing sea. But once or twice a year (this was one of them) there is no better place to be. See the two swans? I am reliably told they  mate for life but perhaps that’s no longer the case in these modern times. This place is worth a visit.

The West Sands, St Andrews

 How easy to be happy when you’re this age,  sand, sea, bucket and spade and you can while the day away digging holes, watching them fill with water, building turreted castles  surrounded by moats, write your name in the sand with your heel, eat 99s  and look forward to doing it all over again tomorrow.  This is at St Andrews, better known for its golf course although this was the beach  used in the famous opening sequence of  ‘Chariots of  Fire‘ and of course, eight years ago, the adjacent university was the meeting place of the world’s best-known and best-loved romantic couple, the handsome WILLIAM and the beautiful KATE.

 As the song so eloquently puts it: ” Oh I do like to be beside the seaside.”