The girl with the blue and red tattoo

bend b

went to the gym
in my brand new addidas trainers
white Primark socks
black short-sleeved M&S shirt
blue JC Sport shorts

spent 3 minutes
on the stationary  bike
1 mile

watching the C4 weather forecast 
gusts of 90mph  sweeping over the Pentland Firth

2 minutes on the rowing machine

watching the weight-lifting slip of a girl
with  a blue and red tattoo
on her left shoulder
expand contract expand contract
15 calories

2 minutes on the slalom exerciser

with a view from the window
of passing students leaning into the wind and the rain

then sit-ups sitting down on my favourite

the red medicine ball
5 10 20 25 30 35 40 42
enough enough

then the  abdominal exerciser

then the  lower-back exerciser

the outer-thigh exerciser

the  inner-thigh  exerciser

then the torture of the tedious treadmill  

5 final furious minutes
heart-rate 110
watch the Vermeer girl with the white earphones
ignore the left calf pain
Slap Slap Slap Slap Slap
42 calories

Slap Slap Slap Slap Slap Slap
enough enough enough

10 minutes showering
pause to watch the girl with the tattoo

then out through the revolving door
into the wind
into the rain




Laz MU

We sailed from  Muhii to Cloijo then on to Iglan Porto, picking up what was left of the  Lete people. They were overjoyed to see us. Heroic survivors, they all had stories  to tell – tales of betrayal, lies, theft, promises, brutality, suffering….how they had managed to avoid/outwit the rogue soldiers  left behind from last year’s failed rebellion….  how some of the soldiers were  mere children but children with guns…how it was their own people who had robbed and betrayed them….how once the traffickers had your money that was it as far as they were concerned.
One of the Lete people, in overalls and tennis shoes, tall, well-spoken,  said she was blind, and to take them to Iglan Maché she had hired a guide who had abandoned them as soon as they left Trasmont.  It had taken  her  and her son a year to get as  far as this.

And cost her all the money she had, no doubt. And you’re not there yet, lady, I thought. Not by a long chalk.
” We’ll soon be there, ” I told her.
She was accompanied by a small boy, ten? eleven? who held her hand in both of his and looked fiercely up at me whenever I spoke. Who was looking after who it was difficult to say.
” We’ll be in Mervidia in a couple of days, ” I told her.
” I have some money, ” she said brightly, producing from her overalls for my inspection a thick wad of notes.
The old currency.

” Take it, ” she insisted, almost pleading.

I closed her hand over her valueless money.  “What’s your name?” I asked the boy who turned away from me and pressed himself against his mother’s legs.
” Take it, ” she insisted. ” If  it’s not enough, tell me. I have more. ”
” Put it away, ” I said quietly, aware we were being watched. They all put their faith in money, these people.  Money was their rock. With money you could escape to freedom. With money you could bribe the soldiers, guards, inspectors, drivers, police. With money there was nothing you couldn’t do. Without it  you were at the mercy of  the evil people who wished you harm. That was the way their thinking went.

The final crossing from Iglan Potro to Mervidia was the tricky part – if the pirates didn’t sneak up on you then the weather would. Luckily it seemed the pirates had other fish to fry and the black storm clouds hovering over Muhii  finally made up their mind to deprive us of their company for a bit and vanished  South. Blown off the map. Our map anyway. But there is always something new, something unexpected to grapple with on that particular crossing either in the treacherous, turquoise waters of Iglan Potro  or the deceptive cerulean blues around  Mervidia. When the strong eastward current rushes through the Mervidian gap and encounters an opposing east wind, this has the effect of building up  monster waves.

The wave that got us wasn’t 100 ft. tall but it was tall enough, tall enough and steep enough and fast enough. Suddenly from nowhere we were confronted by this  roaring glistening wall of green water.
Nothing  I could do except shout warnings just before it hit us, shout out orders that were immediately drowned in the water’s roar.
Down the boat went at first into a deep deep trough that preceded the wave then everything went quiet and we were being lifted up then just as quickly thrown back down, such a long long way down….. 

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the startled face of the little boy close to mine. As soon as I opened my eyes he was gone. I sat up. He was standing close to his mother who was facing out to sea although being blind it wouldn’t matter in which direction she was facing. He was tugging at her hand and saying something to her but she didn’t move.There were others strung out along the beach but not too many, not more than half the number who had set out with us from Iglan Porto.

After a bit I got to my feet. No broken bones. No  cuts.  No bruises. Even to be still alive was a miracle.
I walked slowly along the beach to the woman and child. ” Are you all right?” I asked them.
The little boy looked up at me then pressed his face against his mother’s legs. Without shifting her sightless gaze from the sea, she gently held him against her and said dully, “It’s all right.  I have some money.”

Signs of the Times (and the Courier and the Record)

The bees were worth several thousand pounds.

This cat had been taken by a couple from Cupar on their round the world in 80 days (approx)   luxury cruise. 

I saw this sign in Glasgow’s Byres Road and followed the arrow to the shop it was pointing at  but it was a barber’s shop. I think it was some sort of  Glasgow joke.

Meanwhile, up in Stromness, this plaque tells of a more heroic age, when men vented their energies and bravado on feats of endurance and stoicism even though death was an ever present alternative.

And how did the Khyber Pass find its way from India to this little Orcadian  alleyway ?

Dear kind compassionate Mrs Humphrey,

                                                                                     This is just a note of thanks and appreciation for all the care and thoughtful nursing you gave to poor sailors and whalers and explorers and ordinary fisher folk who caught diseases of the sea at a time when little attention was given to these diseases or to those who were afflicted by them. Thank you.

Yours sincerely,


Mackenzie of Stromness: A Hard Man

Extracts from the diary of  Wallie Stott

November 1832

Day after day we stuck. Plenty to do but keeping warm was the most important thing. Not that there was any warm to keep. We were always cold.  ” Stop yir moanin ” growled Mackenzie, the man from Stromness.  But it was true. We stomped around the deck to stop our feet from freezing, with hands hugged tight under our armpits to keep the circulation going, looking across a sea of ice all round that in the absence of sun looked dull and off-white like the bed sheets in the Stradavanger bunkhouse where we’d stayed  for long enough, waiting till the ship was ready for us.

April 1833

Day after day. Ice everywhere. Breathing in air that the moment you took it in hurt you,  searing your lungs, breathing out little steamy clouds that were instantly sucked into nothingness  by the  cold.  “Weel dinnae listen, ” Mackenzie said when we complained that his coughing was keeping us awake.

July 1833

Day after day.

The last of the dogs has  gone but thanks to the Almighty’s benevolence, Mackenzie came back to the ship hauling  a ringed seal behind him. ” Yir average polar bear kin scoff a hunner puns o seal fat at ae sittin, ”  he informed us.  His seal kept us going all  month.

January 1835

When we got back to Stromness they put me and the other four into Mrs. Humphrey’s house.  “Noo dinnae gang an dee afore A dae, ” Mackenzie whispered to us  though it was hard to make out what he was saying and just saying it brought on another of his coughing fits