24 December 2006

mist on the river

I have a lot of catching up to do. My recap of awhile ago did much to establish what's going on in my head and life on a large, if slightly random, scale. However, as a chronicle, this blog has slipped over the past few months. I've been trying to work out why.

The simple answer would be that I can't be bothered anymore. It's such an easy answer that I've almost convinced myself it's the truth. It paints with a broad brush and sorts it all out in a oner. A buckshot answer - precision unnecessary and bang zoom it's a brace of pheasant. It would be ace if it were true.

Sadly, it's bollocks.

The truth? I think it's something to do with the book and my life in general. I'm nearing the end of the first draft. There's a rush of conflicting emotion that comes from this that has spilled into everything else. On the one hand I'm excited, on the other I think everything I've written is a pile of dreadful rubbish, not just the book, but the scribblings in my notebooks, the outlines and ideas on my computer and, of course, the blog. It's not true. Well, I hope it's not true. But there's a part of me that feels it with such conviction that even starting a new post on the blog is difficult. So I've been starting posts and trashing them after a few short sentences.

Not that there's been much to write about. Most of my days are spent writing and talking to cats. Life in the country has become uncomfortable and lonely. Brief respites, trips to Edinburgh or Fife, bear little comfort. I'm a guest where ever I go, and while welcomed (I hope), I need a place where I am the host. Which brings me back to the state of the book in a roundabout way. While I look for jobs it's the book and those that follow that will provide proper independence. Independence and validation.
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In spite of these bouts of self-doubt and discomfort, life still amuses. Last weekend I went to Stirling. It wasn't my fault. It was a friend's flat-warming and for some reason, best known to himself, he lives in Stirling. Disregarding my misgivings, I hopped into Fifi with a print out of the AA's directions and Xfm Scotland playing loudly. The party was drunken. I met a wonderful and beautiful girl: smart, enthusiastic, artistic (professional graphic designer) - she ticked all the boxes. It was too good to be true. So much so that as soon as I'd added all her fine qualities in my head and realised we'd been chatting for twenty minutes without an awkward pause, I knew what the next thing she was going to say was. Sure enough, in the next sentence she mentioned her boyfriend. Ah well - it was a fun chat nonetheless. The cocktails dulled the pain.

Well, the cocktails dulled my pain. The forty year-old wifey whose husband sat on the couch? They dulled her inhibitions. She groped, attempted fondles and smooches, and ultimately straddled my unwilling waist whilst I lay on the floor. Her husband, a mere two metres away, laughed. This was new to me. Flirting with older women? Yup, ticked that box and a few of the ones you tick only if you've already ticked the first one. Molested by an older woman in front of her laughing husband? Nope. And I don't recommend it. Maybe they were swingers. Maybe they were tired of waiting for a basket of car keys that would never come. Maybe the hubby liked watching his wife fondle (well, attempt to fondle - I fought back) wannabe authors. Thankfully their cab arrived and whisked them away before she managed to shove her tongue down my throat. Apparently there are pictures of her advances somewhere online.

There will never be a link to them on this site.
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Now I'm in London and Christmas is upon us. A vital payment from a client of mine has not gone through and as such I can't buy anyone presents. Our tree is only three feet tall - all the decent trees sold long before the 23rd. My laptop is back in the shop as the people who repaired one thing broke another and I didn't realise it until two days ago. My parents are driving me crazy earlier than expected.

As dysfunctional Christmases go, it's low on the scale. Tiny Tim I'm not - there's an amazing meal to come and great friends and family. It will be lovely. But I feel genuinely rotten about the lack of gifts. I have a contingency plan of course...
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I miss the fog already. I know - missed flights, chaos, yadda yadda yadda. I've missed flights due to snow and cheered for the weather. Why? The kid in me, loving snow for its endless possibilities and loving fog for the way it transports you to another world, taking everything familiar and making it a mystery. The mist rose from the Thames as though the river sweat. Millions of pounds lost and holidays ruined but for a few days these isles changed from one world to another, and it was a stunning sight. I wish I'd taken more pictures.
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Listen to The Black Affair: Japanese Happening. Retro techno brilliance with a hint of Brazilian funk.
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This was my four hundredth post. Happy Christmas all.


21 December 2006

return

Fifi carried me safely home on Tuesday. I'm back in London for Christmas. It was a last minute decision and as such will bear a striking resemblance to my Christmas shopping.

14 December 2006

science petition

Few news stories make me genuinely happy. This is one of them.

12 December 2006

Recap (in no particular order) *updated again*

I'm 30 1/2 years old. I was born in Boston but have been living in the United Kingdom for the last 17 years. I like it here. I think I'll spend the vast majority of my life here. While I feel I am an American and always will be, my fondness and frustration for my adopted home provides a personal dichotomy that lets me bounce things around in my head when I should be concentrating on other things.

At the age of twelve I became the first and only member of my family ever to beat my grandfather at chess. I've never been able to concentrate properly on the game since.

I went to university in Scotland, before it was fashionable for Americans to go to university in Scotland. This took longer than expected. I started in the Autumn of 1994 and finished in the Spring of 2001. Three days after graduating I started a job as a wine merchant in St Andrews.

I did GCSEs in London, but I decided to finish high school in the States, at a boarding school in Connecticut. These were some of the greatest times of my life. I climbed trees and got into quite a bit of trouble without generating too much ill-will from the faculty. High school in the States is, for the most part, exactly like the first American Pie movie. Honest.

I was meant to do a postgraduate: an MLitt. in mediaeval history at St Andrews. This was to lead to a Phd and a world of academia. It didn't work out. I got distracted - and a lower degree than I was predicted.

Occasionally, I do theatre. It's been awhile, but I've done my fair share of student, amateur and semi-pro. The semi-pro was twenty-two years ago. I love Shakespeare in the same way a fuddy-duddy fictional teacher loved and laughed at by his students loves theatre. It's tonic for the soul, yearning to be spoken out loud. I can improvise dialogue in blank verse. I discovered this by accident, forgetting my lines for one show or another.

My memory is selective and retains vast quantities of useless personal recollection and trivia.

Being a teenager in London was amazing.

I have two sisters, one brother, two nieces and two nephews. I don't see any of them as often as I should.

I used to breakdance.

Photography amazes me, and I try to take as many cool pictures as I can. My inexperience and lack of understanding frustrates me. This applies to all manner of things, not just photography.

For five years I did both stand-up comedy and improv comedy. I think I was better at the latter. I never prepared for the former and as such my routine could be excellent or dreadful.

I've been single since March 2003. But I pulled twice last weekend.

Loads of kids grow up wanting to be something: doctor, lawyer, astronaut, fireman. They don't necessarily become those things, but their dreams fall into some sort of career path. I wanted to be Indiana Jones. I still do.

Friendship is, to me, more important than anything in the world. And my friends are the best people in the world.

If you were to sneak up on me when I thought no one was around, I'd probably be singing along to music I loved very loudly.

I will live in Edinburgh soon. I live in the countryside outside Linlithgow at the moment.

Skiing, baseball and scuba diving are three sports I used to do but don't anymore. Sometimes, when I'm feeling a lack of self-preservation, I'll play rugby. I played shinty (gaelic hockey) at university but wasn't very good and only ever stuck around for the drinking. I ride a horse once or twice a year, remember how much I enjoy it, and then wait another year before doing it again. I run almost daily, except for the last couple of weeks - I've had a cold.

My parents are incredibly supportive, even when they drive me nuts.

I became addicted to wine. Not in the alcoholic sense, but in the craving of knowledge, tasting, discovering, making notes, selling, matching with food, learning the history and, of course, drinking vast quantities. It's under control now, the addiction, but the passion is still there and sometimes I lose myself in polite company, waffling on about vintages, varietals and biodynamic viticulture.

There's a lot I haven't said here.

At the moment I'm writing a book. It's a novel set in St Andrews. The first seeds of the idea came to me as I was crossing the City Road roundabout just up from the bus station in St Andrews. I think that was in 1999. The idea rolled around in my head for six years. In October of 2005 I retired from the wine trade, moved to London and started writing my book.

Sort of.

Becoming a novelist is not something I'd recommend. For starters, I'd rather not have the competition. But more importantly, it's really hard. I've written over two hundred pages of narrative prose now, and am nearing the end of my first draft. This isn't a whim or some one-off indulgence. Whims and one-off indulgences tend to be more fun. I will fight to get it published and know already what the next three or four books I write or going to be. I've found something, finally, to replace childhood dreams of being Indiana Jones. People who think this is some phase or whimsy outrage me, especially those who suggest I'm retired. I've never worked on anything harder, for longer and with such focus. And unlike previous employ, there's no safety net, there's no one to seek advice from, there's no one to go to, because the vast majority of people just don't know. I didn't know. I don't think I do know yet, but I've got a better idea than I used to have. The few people who help and believe and understand are gems and provide strength and nagging to keep going. The heady rush of accomplishment that comes with completing the first draft will be replaced quickly with the drudgery of rewriting.

I'm easily distracted.

11 December 2006

above the stove

Habits die hard. Bagel, the world's greatest cat, loves to sit on the hood of the Aga. It is her winter station. She lords over her domain from there, looking bored as we mill about, fixing a snack, flipping the kettle on or cooking dinner. Sometimes Bagel's not bothered by our antics and just sleeps. In her younger days, it was a two-step process. She leapt to the kitchen counter and then leapt from the kitchen counter to the hood and would stay for hours, drifting in and out of sleep, a look of serene content on her whiskered face. Now, age has caught up with her and she needs a hand. She gets to the counter without issue, but the hood is now that leap too far. Now she jumps from the counter to my shoulder and then to hood.

Friday afternoon found me in a foul mood for no particular reason. I sat down to The Simpsons, hoping for a 23 minute respite from grumpiness. My phone rang at the end of the opening credits and I cursed. The number was a mystery. The voice on the other end was not. I needed to go to St Andrews. An old friend had returned and was playing a gig. There were several pints of beer that needed drunk and quite a lot of cheering to be done, was I up for it?

So I jumped in Fifi (I have named my car Fifi - she's French), and shot north with one good omen after another. Fun Lovin' Criminals' Scooby Snacks burst from the radio just after getting onto the A92 from the M90. I bobbed up and down in the driver's seat singing along with Huey and the gang, reveling in my passenger-free environment. Someday I'll be driving and a great song will come on and I'll lose myself to it and notice far too late that there's someone sitting next to me.

My love/hate relationship with St Andrews continues apace. Students still wander into the street, seemingly invulnerable to oncoming traffic. But dear friends still reside there, and the pubs are warm, occasionally serve good beer, and boast the same comfort as an old t-shirt or tatty jumper.

Friday evening was a swirl of laughter, Guinness, sherry and whisky. With little or no cajoling, fuelled by pints and nostalgia, I joined my mates behind the microphone and belted out If I Had $1,000,000. Catching up was unnecessary. Everyone still read from the same page. It might have been 2004 or 2005 again, not the verge of 2007.

The hangover Saturday morning started off with the clinging remnants of drunkenness. Bacon rolls and an angry disgraced former First Minister and I loitered around the bottle shop for lack of anything better to do. I was in no state to drive back to Linlithgow. The shop was heaving. People sought wine advice and I dispensed, reeling unbalanced, voice hoarse, body disheveled, eyes glazed, the ideal matches for food, the best vintages and the perfect gifts - wines that I knew and loved, dismissing rubbish or those simply not good enough. Bordeaux, Burgundy and Port flew off the shelves and from the stacks. We opened a bottle of Nuits St George and I sniffed and sipped, it cut through the paste of the night before and I felt within a comfort zone I'd missed for over a year. Some lady arrived host a champagne tasting and I decided to stick around for another evening. I mentioned my heady sense of well-being to a friend and he told me to get out while I could. The hangover overcame the remains of drunkenness and after lunch I retreated from the shop for coffee and chat.

Bagel's spot above the stove is still hers, she just needs a hand to get there. We've thought of building her a cat ladder.

I don't need a ladder to get back to St Andrews, just a full tank of petrol. It's so easy, too easy, to slip back in, to forget the reasons I left, to avoid my life now by only remembering the good and the great of my life then. But then, it was only a weekend, a brilliant one at that, and there's no harm in a weekend.

Is there?

06 December 2006

old pics

As it's December, I've unearthed some pictures of winter last year. They're here. Hope you like them.

Ya boo, sucks to you if you don't.

I don't know, it was on Blackadder Goes Forth and made me laugh.

Listening to The Magnetic Fields 100,000 Fireflies. It's quite groovy. Ta to 'Lish for the heads up.

04 December 2006

odd bits

Two bowls of cornflakes and a couple of pieces of toast - a subdued breakfast/lunch this afternoon. I'd forgotten how much I really like cornflakes - hence the second bowl.

I'm considering buying bricks/concrete/flagstones to put in my car at the moment. The wind keeps threatening to pick it up and deposit it somewhere far away.

The weekend ended in a manner far more civilised than it should have: a classical concert in the company of some of Perthshire's finest, and us lot, weary, bleary-eyed, hungover and yearning for bed. The Perth Choral Group's rousing rendition of Orff's Carmena Burana cleared the cobwebs from our heads though, and it was a lovely evening all told.

Bed last night was welcome, though a tad empty compared to the night before.

30 November 2006

27 November 2006

fingerless gloves

I'm typing this on the couch in the lounge. I like the lounge; it's grand but cozy and well-lived in. It catches the afternoon light well. It's also quite cold. Not as cold as my bedroom, mind, but chilly nonetheless. It has a fireplace, but I've spent a chunk of the morning chopping wood, and the thought of burning it is anathema. I'm wearing gloves until my laptop warms up enough to keep my fingers warm. Typing with gloves is not as challenging as I feared - in fact, aside from the odd typo, it's no problem at all. The trackpad, however, is another story. It's having none of my gloved fingers. In a moment of total disconnect, I couldn't work out why it wasn't responding. I panicked for a second, feeling a bit like Bruce Willis at the end of The Sixth Sense. When common sense dawned and I removed one of my gloves, the cursor sprang back to life, and my MacBook bore no resemblance to Haley Joel Osmont.

I need a pair of gloves with the right index finger removed.

In other news is a rubbish phone call, a growing wood pile, and cats so smart they know when you need a cuddle.

23 November 2006

thanksgiving

Thanksgiving lunch today was chicken instead of turkey. That was fine by me; turkey's rubbish. There was family tension, which was also fine by me as it wasn't my family.

Check out these - I love The New Yorker.

21 November 2006

dwindling leaves

Those dancing, fish-like leaves in my window are now all but gone.

19 November 2006

Small red tractor

The fireworks of autumn fade slightly. The reds and yellows drift to sepia shades of brown. I need the thick fleece socks for my wellies.

My wellies came in handy today, shin-deep in muddy water, trying to push the tractor to dry ground. I'd misjudged the field. It was a messy reminder that no matter how long I live out here, and how much I love it, I'm still a city boy. So my first attempt at driving the tractor lead to a couple of clutch mistakes and getting trapped in a quagmire. I needed help to get out. Reverse gear remained a mystery to me until my second trip to the wood pile. What I'd thought was reverse was third. It could have been worse, and I confess there was a contented sense of well being heading back to the house in the dwindling sun with a trailer full of logs in the back.

I also got to use the word quagmire - always a bonus.

It's not a big tractor. It's one of those wee ones that you need an attachment to mow the lawn. And it's red, undoubtedly the finest colour for a tractor to be.

After work? A cold beer and Ireland thrashing Australia at the rugby. Perfect.

Most photos shall live here from now on - have a gander if you fancy. The road trip ones are up and there should be some more soon, as I've conquered the evil broadband demons. There's also a link on the sidebar to your right ---->

17 November 2006

windy leaves

It's windy outside and quite cold inside. We've had a power outage. The broadband connection is dreadful - I've been fighting with it all day. I tried to post my pics from the road trip to my Picasa account but it's having none of it.

There are some pretty leaves clinging to the tree outside my window, in spite of the gales.

They look a bit like happy fish.

16 November 2006

tea folly

My first cup of tea tasted odd this morning. It lacked the smoky goodness that Lapsang Souchong (the most fun tea in the world to say out loud) usually has. I thought nothing of it until I went to get my second. It turns out my first cup was Lady Grey.

It's quiet out here.

You may have noticed.

Today is a words and pictures day.

15 November 2006

Ciao, happy fish


My happy fish are once again in the care of their owners. I shall miss their antics.

13 November 2006

Road trip recovery

I slept well last night, a belly full of Mexican food and a couple of beers. This morning my cold reasserted itself and there's been a great deal of coughing and nose-blowing.

Two holidays are ending in quick succession. The road trip is done and dusted, a fantastic trip through some of the world's most beautiful places. We covered just over 700 miles in four days. I kept a journal and hope to turn those pages into something more, perhaps even profitable. I took four hundred and twenty-two pictures and no doubt a few will turn up here. I need to trim them a bit.

The other holiday has been this recent Edinburgh stay. It's been a working holiday. Charlotte and Adam get back Wednesday morning and I am soon to head back to the country and wood chopping. It won't be for long. Edinburgh and gainful employment beckon and my job hunt gathers speed.

Must unpack - and then pack.

08 November 2006

World Tour of Scotland

Road trip. Maybe they'll be posts, maybe not. Regardless, I intend on having a brilliant time.

05 November 2006

Waltz of the Flowers

I'd wondered about my camera. The flash was damaged in the car accident but there was no external damage, so I figured I'd blag it on warranty. It looked like I'd got away with it. The repair shop took it in and said no problem. Well, today I saw the quote for fixing it.

£387.00 inc. VAT

Apparently a bit more than the flash was broken. Something about liquid damage.

I drove home distressed. I had to change from Xfm Scotland to Classic FM. This turned out to be a genius move as they played Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker. I love The Nutcracker. It's the first piece of classical music I remember hearing. It's good for the soul. I got back to the flat feeling better.

So I checked online and found the brand shiny new model for £455 inc. VAT (cheers to Jo for the buying advice).

The new model's on its way. The old model - well, I'll find it a home.

03 November 2006

Sketching (or sketchy?)

I haven't typed anything on the book for a few days. I have written a lot though. I call it sketching. A very, very long time ago, I was going to leave school and train to be an illustrator/comic book artist. There are several ambitions I've held at one time or another that I've sidelined for one reason or another that I still harbour the odd dream about. The illustrator/comic book artist thing isn't one of them. It may be the only one. I do still wish I could draw better, and occasionally pull Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain out to see if I can finally crack that negative space sketching thing. I do a mean Garfield. I even carved one into a mate's guitar once (with his permission).

So when, instead of writing the actual book, I grab my notebook and write a sort of scaled version of what's going to happen (I don't know what the scale is: maybe 1:5, maybe 1:10. I dumped geography GCSE to do art - the irony), I call it sketching. It's some sort of hangover from when I was scratching out anatomy diagrams with a trusty 4b pencil. It feels right. Some people use the term outline. That seems cold to me. Something to use when planning an academic essay or a corporate presentation. Images of bullet points of varying shapes with three word breakdowns of paragraphs or smilies to denote the mood of the chapter pop into my head. So I'll stick with sketching - fast, unrefined, rough, undetailed with scratchy lines that sometimes don't look like what they're meant to, loads of words scribbled out, filling notebooks until such time as it's ready to take the water colours out and finish the job.

There are only two more chapters to sketch. After that, there are five to paint.

I'm sketching in biro at the moment. 4b's rubbish for writing.

02 November 2006

And before you could say autumnal...

It's taken quite some time for the leaves to change this year. Summer lingered well past its expiry date and this has left the trees confused. In some places autumn blazes with its brilliant burst of yellows, oranges and reds, luminous against the green grass. In others the leaves stay green with stubborn refusal to accept seasonal change. Ducks and geese alike have yet to bugger off for warmer climes. I've been watching it all with interest. I'm fond of autumn - being from New England the appreciation of it was drummed into me before I could walk. I like observing the quiet changes, everything getting ready to hibernate or depart for the duration of the winter. Cozy jumpers come out of the closet (or would, were they not in a duffel bag on a moving van somewhere in North London) and the fires get lit that bit more often. It's a bit chilly but not bitter.

So you can imagine my disappointment when, after all this anticipation, autumn lasted one day. It was Monday, to be exact. Monday was cloudy and mild with lots of gusty, billowing breezes kicking the fallen leaves all over the cobbles. The air smelled of earth and leaves and, when a taxi passed, diesel. The occasional shower would add a damp mustiness to the scent and while there was a nip in the air, it was just a nip, not a bite. The trees in the breeze made noises apt for the night before Halloween, rustling and howling followed by whispers and a murmur. Tumbling into the warm pub from the bluster felt brilliant, as did the ale that came next. I marked it in my mind as the first proper day of autumn. I went to bed with a nice buzz from wine, beer and chat and woke up on Tuesday to find that the next ice age had arrived in Edinburgh.

Certain vestiges of the short season remain: the leaves are still lovely. But their scent is replaced with the crisp nose of winter. The wind remains, but is not billowing or blustery, it's biting and vicious, a lazy wind that cuts through you instead of going round. T-shirts need to be tucked in and it's a three layer minimum to step foot outside. The nights near zero C and while the sun shines brilliantly, it doesn't stay out for very long. My jumpers can't arrive soon enough.

In non-weather related news, I'm sketching the final chapters of my book. It's scary but makes me giddy. Once they're sketched, it's still 35,000 words to write. Close, and yet so far...

Some pics from my running route (not taken while running)

Beneath Stockbridge
Crazy rainbow cirrus cloud. I saw the colours only when wearing my shades. So I put my shades over the lens and Bob's your uncle. It's quite a wintry cloud as well...
Water of Leith heading towards Stockbridge

31 October 2006

Lish sent me this link. Crazy stuff: dark, surreal, brilliant and funny as well.

Happy Halloween. Or something.

29 October 2006

Vegas

Cleaning out a computer is similar to cleaning a room. You find stuff you forgot you had and wonder why on earth you kept it. Then you're compelled to go over it all, revisit each document in an effort to work out why it's there. It's where nostalgia and bewilderment meet. The old essays and notes I understand. As late as they may have been, most of them took too much effort to relegate to the waste bin. And they don't take up too much space. But an old folder of awful net jokes forwarded around in the late nineties? My reasons for keeping that are lost, and so it gets binned. None of them were that funny in the first place and several are still doing the rounds. In great supply are various mission statements and life schedules. All carry the same sort of rubbish: ideas on how to get my life in order, diet plans, exercise plans, life goals et al. There are even check lists - with all boxes unticked. The language is earnest but uncomprehending and the long-needed changes came later and without ticking any boxes or writing any lists.

Amidst these odd documents I did find something quite wonderful; an anonymous quote that did me far more good than any list:
Work like you don't need money,
Love like you've never been hurt,
And dance like no one's watching.
I don't know where I got it, whether it was sent to me or whether I found it online or not, but I'm glad I found it.

Last night Kirsty phoned up and asked if I wanted a free ticket to Vegas. I didn't know what she was talking about, and assumed she meant Nevada. She did not. Vegas is a roaming club, an event celebrating the halcyon days of big bands, sharp dressing and stunning women. I love big band swing and jazz. It makes me dance like no one's watching. And last night in Ocean Terminal we all boogied to the classics and delighted in brilliantly 'swingified' versions of Sweet Caroline and Wonderwall. People made an effort, with costumes ranging from Playboy bunnies to Hunter S Thompson is Fear & Loathing. Most of the guys looked like they got thrown out of the Rat Pack and the girls looked great and loved looking great. Everyone got into it - a thousand people turning a shopping centre in Leith into Vegas circa 1962. It was glitzy, ridiculous and brilliant. The ages ranged from 20 to 70 and they all just had a blast. We danced until 3am, and when the music finished it was 2006 again. The buses were scarce and the taxi driver home droned on about the miracles of the Atkins diet.

The extra hour came in handy this morning.

Today I had the finest hollandaise sauce ever. This evening? Well, this evening I have to work like I don't need the money.

25 October 2006

new neighbourhood

Three-and-a-half years ago I moved back to St Andrews from Edinburgh. There were very good reasons for the move, or so I thought. One was to recover from a broken heart which, like a bone, never quite mended to the same shape it was. Another was to devise a television program. I don't remember the other reasons but I'm sure at the time they made sense. Regardless, the move was always meant to be temporary. A brief retreat to familiar ground to regain my strength and purpose and venture back to the real world and Edinburgh. It was not meant to last as long as it did. But I've realised that while my punctuality is quite admirable when it comes to meeting someone for lunch, or a pint, at the level of life planning it leaves a lot to be desired. It took me seven years to get my degree. My recent London jaunt was only meant to last five months: it lasted ten. I don't even want to mention when I first hoped my book would be finished.

So this short stay in Edinburgh feels long overdue. And hopefully the precursor to something more permanent. There are 4 lovely wine merchants to choose from and the same number of delis. Each has something of interest. I never stop at just one. Bread from Herbie's, a salad from Peckham's, a bottle of burgundy from Raeburn - it's sort of like pick 'n mix for grown-ups. The butcher's brilliant and I'll be trying out the fishmonger before the week's out. Of the two curry houses I have, this evening, discovered which is superior - always useful knowledge. The local pubs need more testing but I've bumped into several old friends, so that shouldn't be a problem.

In other good news, my writer's block left without the fanfare and twisted metal that heralded its arrival. The pages are flowing once again, and there are some big round numbers very close.

Oh. And I've bought a new car.

22 October 2006

One Year Later (and a few more days)

Writer's block is a strange thing. I have no shortage of explanation or excuse - there are several. Some even make sense. But there's a difference between making sense and ringing true and they all seem toneless to me. There's a strong temptation to put everything down to the car accident. Heap the writer's block, my recent anxiety, my financial troubles et al into the ravaged boot of a cherry red "L" reg Cavalier that now sits in a scrappy's yard, awaiting scavengers. But that's cheating. It's not a shortage of subject matter. There've been all sorts of goings on that merit commentary and musing. This post has been started four times, all with different openings and snippets, ranging from train journeys to old books. Everything leading to some profound observation about the year that's passed since I left St Andrews. But I don't know if I have a profound observation to make. Well, once again, I have several, but I'm not sure if they ring true, and I'm no longer interested in making a point just to look clever.

Every time I try to assess the last year I come up short. In fact, I'm having a difficult time with the last week. It's been an odd mix, and my hindsight is not necessarily in chronological order. I've cooked, run, discussed ninjas with beautiful women, drank, regretted drink, played poker and moved (temporarily) to Edinburgh. I haven't written.

I received my first rejection last week. It was from an agent. I got it on Wednesday, almost a month after I submitted my chapters to him. The email was complimentary, saying that I wrote well. It said little else. A year and only one rejection - my pace needs work.

16 October 2006

the truck hammer

The weekend started Saturday morning. Mist lingered through the valley and I snapped a few pics before getting the train through to Edinburgh. I was there to get picked up and taken to Fife. I hate not having a car.

Saturday boasted the Luvians Wine Fair and then a birthday party, both of which were brilliant fun.

Sunday morning boasted my hostess's 3 year-old nephew banging the truck hammer up and down the hallway from about eight in the morning. Having drunk Halo out of Bollinger the night before, this was not what my head needed. Nor was the Hollyoaks omnibus, inflicted upon me by my hostess who claimed that it was the perfect hangover television. She was wrong. Fuzzy-headed, I made my way up to a nice bar on Fountainbridge and had bloody maries, pints, eggs benedict and a lamb burger while sat on omfy couches with meandering chat. Then ciao to some pals and hello again to another, off to the cinema and then, finally, back to the country for warm fires and affectionate cats.

So a pretty good weekend, really.



13 October 2006

fruit

Skipping breakfast tumbled into too much for lunch. Homemade split-pea soup - heavy on the nutmeg but that suits me - followed by a massive bacon baguette. There was nothing for it - I had to walk it off.

So Gilmour and I wandered up to the walled garden to see about apples. And pears. The garden has grown wild over the last 20 years of neglect. Waist high nettles, thorns and thistles punctured denim and jumper. We earned our apples. Every step a new sting or prick while the tree waits with bushels of plump fruit. The wicker basket couldn't take any more and we hadn't even found the pear tree. It turns out the pear tree is outside the walled garden. So we traversed the neighbour's field and avoiding vast quantities of sheep shit. Several fences lept later and we stood below what must be the world's largest pear tree. The fruit towered 20 or 30 metres above the ground. The trunk gnarled and knotted with age. There was one pear on the ground at the foot of the tree, next to the knots and gnarls. With so many apples, the one pear was enough.

12 October 2006

Cauldron is a cool word. It provides imagery rich with atmosphere, cobwebs and cackling crones. It needs a Brit to say it though. An American speaking the word ruins it, sucking the supernatural out of it and turning it into nothing more than an antiquated cooking implement, something to be found and marveled at in some curiosity shop or garage sale. As such I must resign myself to typing it with glee, knowing that to utter it in my own voice does it a disservice.

08 October 2006

inverted

I can walk on my hands. It sounds like an odd thing to mention, but I think it's relevant. I'm generally ok with being upside-down. In my breakdancing youth, I even managed some headspins. Being able to say 'my breakdancing youth' dates me. It's so retro it's come back into style. At summer camp, when I was 12, I set some sort of headstand record. I think it was about 10 minutes. I don't know now whether that was hugely impressive or a bit mediocre, but it was a record nonetheless. That said, I don't know if the record was for the camp or just my age group; if it was for that summer or the entirety of the camp's history.

I found myself upside-down Friday. My shoulders felt strained, but not as much as when I walk on my hands. My seatbelt was cutting into them, taking my weight, suspending me so that my head didn't fall and smack against the roof of the car, or worse, go through the windshield. My phone and nano lay on the windshield beneath me. The car was upside-down and upright. I don't know how that worked. The radio was still nattering away. I turned the engine off. The radio stopped. I put my right hand on the roof and used my left to undo my seatbelt. I didn't fall. My legs worked out where to be. I opened the passenger door, as it looked closer to the ground. It didn't occur to me to be relieved that I was able to open it. An alarm went off, telling me my headlights were still on. I switched them off. I grabbed my phone and stumbled out. My hands weren't shaking yet. There were voices from up on the road, wondering if anyone was in the car. I shouted that I was ok. I was. I scratched my head on a branch getting out of the underbrush.

I sat in the front of a stranger's van, another stranger's blanket to keep me warm in case I went in to shock. My hands started shaking. Pete C, James and the police arrived, concerned. A doctor took my pulse. I told everyone I was ok. Because I was. Everyone told me how lucky I was. Because I was. Pete collected the things that had been in what once was the boot. The boot lost the argument with the tree, and my camera, laptop and rucksack were strewn along the slope of the ditch. He found my Red Sox hat. James phoned his mechanic and asked him to get the car out. We climbed into the written-off Land Rover and drove back to Naughton.

Pete and I went for a walk up to the back field on the hill to finish some fencing. James and Lara joined us and then we headed up to the garage in Gauldry to see the car. My lens broke in the crash, so I borrowed Pete's. I took some pictures, detached. It wasn't my car anymore, just twisted metal, rubber and plastic. The mechanic looked at me in disbelief when he found out I was the driver. He told me I was lucky. I was. He charged me too little for recovery. I left it for him to sell for scrap.

My macbook's chassis is warped: it's had some hiccups. My new lens and my built-in flash are broken. I lost a pen, and the battery cover for my camera. I don't have a car any more. Rain, mud, a bad corner and inexperience took it from me. I wasn't going that fast, but still I lost control. But I'm alive, and my friends took care of me.

I was very, very lucky.

But I don't know if I'm ok. Yet.

04 October 2006

fiddling

Just fiddling with the look a bit. Writer's block. It leads to odd distractions. Like it? I'm not sure. I needed to get rid of the orange though. Comments in comments (who am I kidding?).

Memories

Today I had one task. Well, lots of tasks, but there was one task unique to the day. Part of the task required me to be in Edinburgh. I was delivering something. But just delivering something is boring, so I arranged lunch. Lunch should never be boring. So Kirsty and I arranged to meet for lunch where I would deliver her stylish-executive-style-groovy black jacket and we would eat yummy food. She chose a groovy little place on George IV Bridge. Sorted. Traffic was easy. I found a parking space no problem. The walk from Castle Terrace to the bridge was lovely, the sun was out and I paused to admire the apples in Ian Mellis on Victoria St. I got to the restaurant first and was given a big comfy couch, in spite of there being a reserved notice on it. Maybe the waitress liked me? The menu looked good. I ordered a soft drink. Kirsty walked in, all smiles, and I felt like a total prat. Her stylish-executive-style-groovy jacket, the reason for me being in Edinburgh, for having lunch, my day's task, was hanging in the closet back at the house.

My memory perplexes me. I'm nine years-old, lying upside down on the pale blue carpeted staircase in a flat my parents rent on St Peter's Sq, in London. I've just been Indiana Jones, and my adventure has left me inverted. My imaginary adversary fared far worse, no doubt. For some reason I burn that image in to my brain, and promise myself I will remember it for the next twenty years.

That was twenty-one years ago last month. The details are there, but it's arbitrary. There are thousands like it, both before and after that moment that seem so clear, and for some reason significant merely for their clarity. A moment's concentration and more comes out. Detail after detail, names, faces, times, dates, menus not just what I ordered but what others ordered. What people said, why they said it. Or why I thought they said it. Moments of horrendous embarrassment and great triumph - the former surface with more annoying regularity, of course - it's all there.

Well, almost all of it. Story ideas disappear without a trace - only the echo of elation at their conception remains. Nothing brings them back. I have notebooks but forget to bring them with me. Ironically, I forget to remind friends about things. There's laundry in the drier, I've just remembered, that I put in three days ago. I remember birthdays, but not family ones. I don't remember the chat that led to me kissing the most beautiful girl I've ever kissed. I didn't remember Kirsty's jacket. But I remember the first night I met Kirsty. I remember it was February of 2002. Andy introduced me. I had just finished my shift at the shop. The Central still had Becks on draft, so I drank five pints as we chatted about the wine business and got to know each other. Afterwards, I went back to the shop, tipsy, and bought a bottle of Les Forts de Latour 1988 and opened it then and there. I only drank a glass, because my palate was a mess from all the beer. I left the rest for Zana, who was working until ten.

It could have been yesterday. But it's today, and I forgot the jacket. Lunch, however, was excellent and well worth the trip. Just as well, really.

Pete C scales the shelves of the Naughton cellar, much to Kirsty's bemusement

01 October 2006

lifting haze

It turns out a dinner party of two can still be a party - provided champagne, wine and port are consumed as well as a smattering of oloroso and a healthy dash of talking utter gibberish. Exes phoned as drunk as we were and added to the general nonsense.

Once again the problems of the world and heart were solved but once again we remembered none of the solutions in the morning.

If only all hangovers could be so good.

The sun followed us north across the bridge while Jonathon Ross provided the chuckles. Two speed camera close calls and we were once again in North Fife, where the haar consumed us, a silver filter on the sunlight. Bacon butties for brunch coupled with strong coffee and the curious question as to where everyone had gone. To the front steps we went, rehydrating and shaking the cobwebs out. Snippets from the night before; the chat, the wines, the food, the questions raised drifted through the conversation. Our heads cleared with the haar and in the bright autumn sun we brought apples for the horses. We contemplated kidapping Chester, the wee fat mini Shetland, but thought better of it.

Back at Naughton the coffee machine bubbled, and a glance in Polo Times revealed one of my photos, leading to a juvenile swelling of chest and pride. Kirsty rocked up and we had a cocktail and a glass of champagne. I got home late. The cats were hungry and grumpy. Ah well.

There's beach polo and a wine tasting tomorrow: not a bad weekend really. Though I really ought to write something.

30 September 2006

Lish has had an epic rant, and I want to share it. And I don't even know what Tastee Delight is.

29 September 2006

patchy update

The sun, when it appears, is autumnal. The summer sun has said its goodbyes for the year. The dew sticks to the grass until well into the afternoon, if it evaporates at all.

Life is full of pleasant distractions at the moment. There are birthday presents to design, menus to create, cats to feed and the like. Last night I went to the grand opening of a stylish new bar/restaurant in Edinburgh. Free champagne flowed and some excellent canap├ęs served as my meal. It's nice to be able to hover around the fringes of the wine trade still, grabbing the odd freebie. Beautiful waitresses bringing stylish trays of mouth-watering food. I didn't even need to talk shop - just chat with my mate and stuff my face with great grub. There was some society photographer taking candids and I think every pic of us we have a mouthful of fishcake or spring roll. Ah well. For posterity and all that.

While last night was lovely, yesterday morning was hell. We stayed up too late on Wednesday, having feasted on mussels, roast chicken with all the trimmings, fine wine, whisky and healthy dollop of beer as well. It was grand. Gilmour and I decided we would have made great uni flatmates, though separated by 4 decades. We watched Sean Bean sort out corrupt English army types and the French in Sharpe's Regiment. Then we remembered we had to be up at 530 to get to the airport in time for Gilmour to catch his flight. We got up. I drove. We were well on our way on the M9 when Gil checked and realised that his tickets and passports were in the kitchen. A half-hour delay and we get to the airport, and all's well. Except for the ride back home, which was swamped by the swelling tide of Glasgow morning rush hour. I retreated to bed. I meant to sleep for only an hour or so. I slept for four.

Tonight was meant to be a dinner party. But there are only two of us attending. It's my fault. I decided this morning it would be a dinner party, which is a bit late. As all of my friends are cool, it was foolish to think they'd not have plans for a Friday night by a Friday morning. But I don't really operate along a weekly calendar. Most weekends I find myself doing as much work as the week, if not more. This is a hangover from the wine trade, where working weekends was a matter of course and even Sundays weren't sacred. Days off fell arbitrarily. I toyed with the idea of taking weekends off once I started writing, but it's failed. Mainly because it's a good time to catch up on all the stuff I failed to write during the week. But also because I have difficulty resting. It would be different if I had some sort of contract to fulfill, if I had a deal. Then I could let it go: bask in a guilt-free Saturday and Sunday, writing nothing but Amazon wish-lists. Until then, I will write on weekends. Or at least feel guilty when I don't.

Light reflected in the window in the lounge

26 September 2006

window hunting

A week and weekend of dinners, lunches and wine and I find myself hanging out to dry, drinking water and tea, chopping wood, catching up on work and trying to wrap my head around what happens next. It's happy busy work, and I'm still glowing from the company of good friends.

Bagel keeps me company, even when out hunting.


21 September 2006

Half Full

I got my first parking ticket today.

I lost the new jumper I bought in the Fat Face sale in St Andrews. I retraced my steps but there was no sign of it.

I set off the house alarm when I got home and didn't work out how to fix it for a head-splitting, ear-stabbing 20 minutes. I'd been punching in the wrong code.

I accidentally ran a red light.

But.

But I had a good run this morning.

When I crossed the bridge the sun burst through the cloud and it was summer still.

Lunch was lovely, outside in the indian summer with cold beer, a dog and a great friend.

I walked the dog in the warmth, getting smiles and nods from approving pretty girls.

I sat again in the sun, again with a beer, again with the dog, again with my great friend, with apple trees dropping their heavy fruit around us and old palettes and wine crates as chairs.

I met with a couple of other old mates, got caught up, arranged future pints and retrieved, after almost a year, my prized set of global knives.

I bought a few bottles of brilliant wine, and confirmed a nice dinner for tomorrow night.

I baked cookies for dessert tonight, and had a fantastic wine to go with them.

So my glass is half full. More than half full. I've just topped it up.

20 September 2006

Breathing Space

The cat sits on the window ledge, looking into the office when not looking out for prey. The cats hunting leads to contemplative distraction from all things. The garden outside the office shelters all manner of prey, real and imagined, and Bagel and Sam do their best to subsidise their diet. I think they're more succesful than they let on, and have seen Bagel coughing up the odd feather or two. They are my companions at the moment, which suits a romantic ideal: a mad writer and his cats, but does little for romance. Sometimes they remind me of ex-girlfriends. They still come back for a stroke and a cuddle, but shoot off as soon it suits them, leaving me sneezing and cursing my gullibility.

It's been a quiet few days. Playing catch up with all sorts of things, making good progress on the odd secret project. My first photo job went pretty well at the weekend. I felt nervous throughout; worried someone would pull back the curtain and reveal that I wasn't really the wizard of snaps, merely an elevated hobbyist. But I guess having a photo job makes you a photographer by default. The irony, of course, is that the person who got me the job is a much better photographer than I am. Which makes the choice of me as shutterbug a high compliment, one that I tried desperately to live up to, so much that I took nearly 600 pictures over the weekend. But it turned out ok. So it's been quiet, but a contented quiet.

18 September 2006

Not quite abstract


We took the work hard/play hard philosophy to new limits this weekend - 5 am finishes followed by 9am starts. I'm tired but happy. There's a lot to do, and I could post more, but I think I'll have a cup of tea first. Then I ought to get myself organised, but really all I want to do is drink claret and listen to B.B. King's King of the Blues really loud.

15 September 2006

The edge of the world. Or North Fife & Perthshire.

The weekend beckons. It starts with lunch today and ends sometime Sunday. I'll have something at the end of it that I didn't have at the beginning: a car.

And probably a hangover.

If there's a post before Sunday night, then something's gone wrong.

14 September 2006

Pictures on a rainy day

When it rains in Scotland it's hard to imagine than anywhere else in the world has sun. Or that it still exists at all. But it does.

Didn't have to fix the pipe this morning. Joy.

Today I'm catching up on unheard podcasts & unwritten pages.

Listen to Snow Patrol - Eyes Open.

Rocks at low tide, Crail
Fishing boat coming home, CrailSea wall & tower, Crail
Low tide and mist, Crail
The viaduct, Linlithgow Bridge

13 September 2006

earning beer, wine & opinion

There are certain life experiences that you can't put on your CV, no matter how much you feel the effort and suffering have made you better for whatever challenge future employment may lay at your feet. Sometimes these things are dreadful. The epitome of why you chose a life other than that which would have lead you to willingly do that thing as a career, or even by accident. Today I helped clean a victorian septic tank. The heady, pastel-imagery of yesterday replaced by, well, shit. It was awful, and the selfish brat in me wants a medal and a parade for dealing with it. I grasped at the straws of consolation - building character, the beer tastes better afterwards, working in the sunshine, earning my keep, et al. Nothing helped. But I endured, a small sense of accomplishment mingled with disgust and feverish need of a shower ensued. There's a reason plumbers earn vast amounts of money in the UK. Because no one wants to shovel, rod, drain, or have anything to do with shit. And they're right, and I feel that we should keep paying plumbers vast amounts of money. And I can stand on my soapbox, ranting, because I've earned that opinion. And a beer. And a glass of wine.

Tomorrow we fix the pipe that leads to the tank, whether it rains or not. Joy.

12 September 2006

several seasons

The water smouldered with the ghost of the early morning haar, wisps and tendrils reaching up towards the shore, the bridges and the sky. I was late, so the camera stayed in the boot. Above, charcoal smeared clouds edged with brass loomed, to the north the rest of the haar lingered, obscuring the cliffs behind North Queensferry. The odd bit of pastel blue poked through, looking lonely. It looked like another world. Across the bridge, in the other world, the light and sky continued its show. And those in the right lane on the M90 refused to reach the speed limit. The Redhouse Roundabout smelled of peanut butter. Clouds the size of counties battled the sunlight, neither yielding, giving rain, rainbows, glorious summer warmth and the chill of shadows. My partner in crime for the day collected, we headed for the coast, wary of the rain, thirsting for the light and hungry for lunch. Soup and a sandwich in a quiet pub in a quiet village, nestled in front of a deserted beach. Sated, we wandered the beach, seeking crabs and the odd minnow. The tide out, the pools of the sea's leftovers enjoying their temporary independence, we sought new life and talked rubbish. It started to rain, but stayed warm, so we headed back to the car but didn't rush. Crail next, as postcard a seaside village as you will ever get, and the misty haar still lingered on the water in front of Bass Rock. The sun dazzled through cartoon cotton clouds and the lobster shack was typically closed. We walked the pier and I snapped some pics. St Andrews next, for a beer and a natter. It's all different and the same. West Sands then, for a beach walk and more talk, the sky ceaseless in its entertainment. Deposited the partner in crime and sped south, the cats needed fed and so did I. Crossing the bridge and fissures in the cloud to west erupted with the molten evening sunlight, bathing the water and the shoreline.

The cats needed fed, the camera stayed in the boot.

curry, cars & Steve Irwin

Solitude's a funny thing. I like my own company. Writing is about as lonely a career as you can choose, so it's just as well. But every once in awhile, you just need to be with your mates. You need company. I'm alone in the house for a couple of days and last night I genuinely felt a bit lonely. I phoned a lot of people, caught up a bit, started the 'agent hunt', but when I hung up, I was still in a big house by myself in the middle of nowhere. Normally, this would be a good thing. Many pages get written in such situations. So I finally settle down to do some writing, pour myself a beer and re-read page 140-odd. But I wasn't ready yet, so I checked Messenger to see if Irony was about, as I hadn't chatted with her in ages and she was grumpy the last time. Irony was about and on spectacular form, with all sorts of good news. Friends with good news are a much underrated wonderful thing. Chat turned to dinner. There was food in the house, but I fancied a curry. I mentioned this and was told I was a bastard because I could go to the Balaka for a curry. The Balaka's in St Andrews, just over an hour drive away. I dismissed the idea at first, citing the distance involved and the general extravagance of traversing a couple of counties and a firth for a curry. It was the non-driver in me. It just didn't occur to me that I could drive to St Andrews to eat dinner and drive back. It wasn't even seven yet. And I'm the one who harps on about needing adventure in my life. So I phoned Pete W, mired in a stocktake in St Andrews, and told him we were going for a curry - I'd be there in just over an hour. And with the Kaiser Chiefs as my theme music, bounding over the Forth Road Bridge, that's what I did. It felt good, the company was good, and the curry was ace.

Off to Fife again today, to whisk a gorgeous young student away from her dissertation to buy her lunch and see if her incredibly fit friend still fancies me, or at least remembers who I am. There's a picture of her draped over me somewhere on this site - the friend that is.

In other news, an old friend, deeply upset at the loss of Steve Irwin, has started a poetry tribute to him. The best will be sold to raise money for his conservation fund. So, without further ado, I give you Steph Lunn's tribute, penned in a moment of grief last Friday.
Golden crinkly spaces of time will pass
But your khaki-tinted memory will last

And when we watch you handling snakes
What hearts your memory will break

How odd that we still fancied you a bit
As you rolled around in crocodile sh*t *(no swearing in the office)

But all good things must come to an end
Someday our sad little hearts will mend

So next time I’m chasing Komodo Dragons up a tree
I will close my eyes and think of thee

And while with your memory I’m smitten
I will try my best not to get bitten….

And with a bottle of wine so white
We’ll drink to you and your crocs tonight

RIP Steve xx
If you'd like to submit a poem (no time wasters please), email stephlunn@msn.com with the subject line "croc poet." I think she had a bit of a crush on him, poor thing.

11 September 2006

Intelligent Life (& cows)

We drank in the sun while we drank in the sun yesterday. To call it the last bbq of the summer would be depressing, but it may well have been. The spaniels presented everyone with rocks, sticks, bits of coal and copious quantities of slobber. The cows from the field next door got curious and had a look in. We got curious and leapt the fence, wondering if it was possible to ride a cow. There had been much drinking in the sun by this point. The cows, smarter than drunk people, ran away. I ate too much Thornton's toffee cake.

Today I feel as though I'm made of cotton wool.

Cows: smarter than drunk people

09 September 2006

Earless in Edinburgh

Summer refuses to surrender in Scotland. The days get shorter but they're still filled with glorious sunshine. Hints of autumn creep about - the odd brown leaf, the lingering morning dew - but it's hard to concentrate on those when you need to put on factor 21 to stop from burning.

I found no gift for my mother. I did find a brilliant card though and never has my sock collection been so shiny and new. It was liberating throwing away the odd, holey socks.

The Dean Gallery was brilliant - though confusing. It didn't look like it did eleven years ago. It took me awhile to work out that I'd never been to The Dean Gallery, I'd been to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. In fact, the Dean Gallery wasn't even a gallery eleven years ago. However, they are both beautiful buildings, set on lovely lawns, and they're on the same road, so my confusion is understandable.

There was a Van Gogh exhibition on - a brilliant surprise. Field with Ploughman and Orchard in Blossom (Plum Trees) moved me far more than anything I've set eyes on of late. It's a wonderful exhibition, not just for the paintings, but for a sense of time - it isn't just a study of the man and the art itself but a look at the environment in which they existed. No matter where you are in the UK, make the effort to have a look - it's on until 24 September.

The Dean Gallery

Oh, and top secret project planning went well. So well, in fact, that a couple of new top secret projects were planned. So I don't know how many I have now.

08 September 2006

sock merchants

Off to Edinburgh today - need socks. I feel like Hugh Laurie's Prince Regent in Blackadder the Third: never enough socks. Sadly, there's no machiavellian butler selling them to a Tunisian sock merchant. Life would be more interesting with a machiavellian butler. And there'd be an explanation for my sock woes. As it is, I haven't a clue.

Vital though new socks are, there's other business to sort out in Edinburgh. A top secret meeting to deal with one of my top secret projects. A visit to the Dean Gallery (haven't been in 11 years). Maybe some food and a wander. A glance in the windows of a few estate agents. A glance in the window of a literary agency.

And - ohshitI'veonlyjustrememberedthisrightthissecond - a birthday present for my mother. Bollocks. It's on Sunday. There's no mail on Sunday (except for that dreadful newspaper - ba-dum-tum). Bollocks. And I think they're flying to the States tomorrow. And I haven't a clue what to give her. Socks?

Bollocks.

06 September 2006

Sort of like Alice, but with champagne

There's a part of me, the guy part, that likes to pretend I'm unimpressed by most of what I see. Grandeur and the epic recognised as though it were merely average and ordinary, given a cursory glance with a cynical eye. It's stupid, really. And I'm not very good at it. I'm an eager and excitable person. Attempts at aloofness, cynicism and world-weariness collapse in the face of wonder, excitement, and boyish enthusiasm.

Last night, some dear friends and I attended a champagne tasting at Broomhall, seat of the Earl of Elgin, direct descendent of Robert the Bruce. The guy part of me assumed control of my expectations - another big country house in Fife. Whoop-dee-doo.

It was stunning. The guy part of me received a severe beating from the rest of me, jaw scraping the floor at the scale and beauty of the place, stuffed full of the most remarkable artefacts. The historian in me, the one I try to forget, leapt to attention, noting the portraits, the remarkable marble, the statues, the framed letters, the centuries of family, national and world history that permeated every corner of the house. So I was in a bit of a daze, trying to drink it all in while trying to drink champagne. My critical faculties were smothered by a barely concealed grin. It wasn't awe at the opulence, or a material need for my own mammoth pile, but curiosity and delight at so many treasures under one roof. An ancient printing of the music "Cockles & Mussels" or "Molly Malone" lay discarded next to a piano sat in the corner of the tasting room - classic, intricate typesetting with an abundance of Victorian swirls and flourishes. Letters from Winston Churchill to the current Earl's great-grandfather were on display, the legendary wit in its original ink.

So I wandered through these enormous rooms, past marble busts, statues, tapestries, great curtains cut from rich cloth that laid out would cover a tennis court, and drank champagne, and ate. I didn't mingle too much, sticking to the group as much as possible. Not to be antisocial, but my buzz was a personal one. The Petes and Kirsty cover the diplomacy thing a bit better than I do. I got the sense that everyone felt a bit like they were through the looking glass, gazing about in wonder. The Earl himself looked delighted with things, a proper raconteur, as much a part of the house as any of its artefacts, answering questions with glee.

We got back to Naughton and it felt no smaller. Every bit as grand as before. The world needed put to rights though, and so we ploughed on til past 4, sketching the future and drinking more wine. We have something wonderful and don't know what to do with it yet.

The morning came unwelcome at first. Tea with toast and marmite served as a restorative. Kirsty, Pete C and myself pried the sleep from our eyes while Pete W was already at work, James had already walked the dog, and Annie had already remarked on how clean the kitchen was, even though I was there.

I got back home and went for a run, a hangover cure if ever there was one. I received an email from one of my most cynical and critical friends, who poured over the first 119 pages of the book and heaped more praise on it than I could have imagined. It's not quite complete vindication (there were some important criticisms as well as praise), but fairly close. Complete vindication comes with the first printing. Which is far more real to me now that it was this morning. I'm still through the looking glass, staring at all the fineries, but they're not curtains or statues or portaits: they're possibilities and opportunities.

04 September 2006

earning beer

The seventh time the spaniels ran through the wet cement we tied one to the boat so they would stop. It worked. Those dogs are beginning to annoy me.

Today I earned my keep. Pick-axes, spades, cement-mixers, ball-peen hammers, bricks, gravel and several hours of shoveling, digging, bricking, pouring, smoothing, patting, heaving and swearing led to a new drain in front of the boat shed. It was hard work. I'd feel accomplished if I weren't so exhausted. My beer tasted earned and deserved. So much so that I've poured another.

Tomorrow we're meant to be shovelling aggregate. Aggregate is what gravel's called when it's bigger and there's 10 tonnes of it. I hope it rains.

The path up to the stables in the evening light.

03 September 2006

small escapes

I took a nap this morning and woke to find one of the cats had been sick on the carpet of the tv room. It was not a morning for cleaning up cat vomit. No one told the cats this. So, down on my hands and knees, I scrubbed it all away. A few hours later one of the neighbour's spaniels, soaking and covered in mud, stormed into the kitchen and devoured the cats' dinner. This left the kitchen soaking and covered in mud. As I mopped, it occurred to me that without their dinner the cats would have nothing to vomit up.

Last night saw horse-racing and drinking but almost no sleep and patchy recollections. Today has been an effort in avoiding accomplishment: small escapes from responsibility - friends over for lunch, a nap, tidying - that waste away Sundays and leave pages unwritten. The price is that peculiar hangover anxiety that squeezes your ribs and makes your heart pound, like you've forgotten something terribly important, or missed something wonderful.

Adam's new hair.

02 September 2006

snoozy afternoon

I've taken a leaf from the cat's book and stretched out on the couch. The rain is erratic. The house is empty apart from myself and the cats. I chopped a trailer full of wood this morning but have not worked on the book. Last night's wine and whisky lingers like mist in my head. I've put on a cozy jumper and am thinking about buying a pair of slippers. There's a smile on my face as I recall Zippy the dog leaping for the cork from a wine bottle. Today's landmark decision is whether to have a nap or a snack. Maybe both.



30 August 2006

can't wipe the smile (and don't want to)

I have a job.

And it's a writing job.

That makes me a writer. Like, really a writer.

It's not for The New Yorker or anything, but it's writing.

And they pay me.

I'm rather chuffed. No dust on me.

29 August 2006

Back to Normal?

Pause to consider old sayings. Their inner meanings are sometimes misleading. I used the term, "when the dust settles" yesterday (or the day before - perhaps both). I used it innocently, chatting to a friend who was very busy, making plans to make plans. She noted that that dust doesn't settle these days. I shrugged at that and jotted a mental note to make plans to make plans when she was merely busy, and not very busy.

Moving twice in a fortnight, sorting out a job interview, trying to find a car, trying to write my book, getting used to living in the country, organising my three top secret projects, catching up with friends, sorting out bank accounts so that I can live, contemplating my own flat; life has been perpetual motion of late. I saw this coming week as the beginning of routine. Something to settle into with a cup of tea and a piece of toast with butter and marmite. The bank's sorted, I've found a car, there's time to write, I like living in the country and my interview's tomorrow. Slowly but surely, every thing is slipping into place. It's like the last piece of a jigsaw. There's a a satisfying click. My dust's settling. Then I get unsettled. Because while this week is settled, next week is a mystery. There's fear and anticipation and the temptation to ignore it, and settle anyway. Sleep till nine, go for a run, get some writing done and ignore everything else. But I'm up at seven every morning, fingers tingling, feet itching, mind sprinting, wondering what to do first and what to do next.

So the dust isn't settling. Nor am I. It's not a bad thing. When dust settles, it means that something, somewhere, is dirty and inert.

And that's not very nice, is it?

25 August 2006

the odd bit here and there

• Scissor Sisters I Don't Feel Like Dancin' - wicked track. Get your disco on. Or something.

• I have a job interview on Wednesday.

• No beautiful women wandered the countryside last night. Well, none that I could see anyway.

• Cooking a roast for 7 o'clock but need to be in Edinburgh for 9.

• Got a new lens for my Canon - very exciting. So far it's taken pictures of sheep and an aquaduct.

• Still looking for a car.

• Have actually got some writing done in the last day. First proper output since getting up north. Must keep it up in spite of a busy weekend and week upcoming.

• Haven't had a job interview in 5 years.

• The cats conned me into feeding them early this morning. Curse their cuddly cuteness.


The aquaduct. I run atop it (almost) every morning.

24 August 2006

4 and a half hours to go

So much went right today, that had I met a stunningly beautiful, intelligent, funny, single woman, I would have been able to woo her by merely commenting on the weather.

The day's not over yet. Of course, the chances of a lady matching the above description wandering through the West Lothian countryside at this time of night are pretty slim. But if it's going to happen, it's going to happen today. And I've got my weather chat ready.

didgeridoo

It's only drums and a couple of didgeridoos. But you will be compelled to dance. You'll have no control over it. Sit in the corner all bashful and embarrassed if you want, but your toes will be tapping. Then your legs will start. Then you'll bang out the rhythm (or something close to it) on the table, trying to look nonchalant. Before you know it you'll have rushed to the dancefloor and started bouncing around with someone you don't know, massive grin on your face, laughing and breathless, sweating and not caring. Just this song, but the song lasts ages as you're secretly happy about it.

Was that pretty girl looking at me?

Jammin' at the Jam House with the Trans World Orchestra


One of the support bands arrived in this - pure class.

23 August 2006

quiet sail

Waves gossip with the bow that breaks across them, lapping and gurgling the goings on of the Gareloch. There's no wind. The sails puff full only occasionally; the jib hangs. The jib is my job. Keep mind of the tell tails and let it out when needs be. When there's wind to fill it. There's a race, but it's a quiet one. Only three boats. My oilskin is stowed away, the west coast weather ignoring predictions and giving us a dry, silver evening. The clouds waltz around the sun, changing its light to chrome as it bounces off the water that could be quicksilver. Round the first marker there's a wheeze of a breeze and the spinnaker goes up like a great baloon, pulling us to almost 2 knots. But maybe not that much. The air is oysters and champagne without food poisoning or hangovers.

Afterwards in the club there are pints, smiles and food. A quiet Tuesday night made lively by those coming off the water.

Back at the house the vegetables come from the garden. The cats see no need to vacate the couch. The valley stretches below the house towards the old rail bridge and the sheep mutter to each other. My bags and wine crates are unpacked and put in their proper place.

21 August 2006

more than a newt

Aside from several stalls (my fault) on Thursday morning, we made record time on the drive North. We got to Naughton and started drinking heavily. It was one of those nights that, whenever the energy dwindled, something would come up to bring the party back to life - there were several Lazarus moments brought on by karaoke, drunken boardgames and poker. The brightening dawn signalled bedtime.

Friday was a write off. Hangovers mixed with apprehensions about the weather and everyone had a bit of the grumps about them. We wandered about St Andrews in the rain, debating whether Saturday's polo would be cancelled. Lunch didn't help, beer didn't help, coffee didn't help and the Fat Face sale didn't help. We were all a bunch of miserable gits.

Staying up late to watch bad movies, a call came through - there'd been a car accident. Everyone was ok. Sam and I leapt into action. Five minutes and two strong coffees later we were on the road and almost halfway to the scene when the call came through telling us that the car was fine and they were driving back. Sam and I returned, exhausted, deflated, deprived of the chance to be heroes and relieved at the same time. Time to sack out.

Saturday proved that some people deal with the devil. In spite of every weather service on the planet predicting heinous deluges of rain, the sun bathed Perth in glorious light all day, the menacing thunderheads on the horizon staying on the horizon. Apprehension, misgivings, disgruntlement and grumpiness succumbed to the sunshine, bbq sizzle and copious quantities of beer and wine. And there was polo as well. Sadly, England beat Scotland, though Pete C did win man-of-the-match. Following the match we decended upon the marquee and boogied hard.
After the polo the gang returned to Naughton and got stuck in, raiding the fridge and freezer for munchies while ploughing through wine and beer. Adam got a bug stuck in his ear. Some chat went far too far. Once again, going to bed was not a forgone conclusion. Charlotte discovered a newt.

We were far more pissed than it was.