23 December 2008

on hangovers and railroads

I've spent a lot of time hungover on trains. Once I had such an awful hangover I jumped on a train in hopes of escaping it.

It didn't work.

I used to be the last to leave the party, the last to bed, sometimes wincing at the morning sun as I lay down my head. I'd make or buy breakfast, pour a bloody mary or a beer for myself and anyone else dumb enough to be welcoming the dawn with me. On more than one occasion it was a bottle of red wine. My favourite wee hours red is Amarone, usually Allegrini or Alighieri. You need something robust for those times.

This morning my alarm was unwelcome. I hit snooze. I thought about making coffee and breakfast. Then I hit snooze again. I erased a little morning luxury with every tap of the snooze button. No time for breakfast, no time for coffee, I shaved and ironed a shirt and showered and closed my eyes as the warm water cleansed. No time to pack, I stumbled workwards.

The restaurant was locked. A kitchen porter waited outside, texting. Stacks of produce sat outside the door. The yellow van full of booze waited as well. I opened up and the phone was ringing. Some kids had chucked rotten eggs at the entry way and thrown our patio furniture into the sea. Our first table was merely an hour away, and there were no chefs to be seen. While the kp fished the furniture from the surf I wondered idly if he could cook.

Last-minute Christmas shoppers kept phoning and popping by the restaurant, demanding vouchers as gifts. Plates and cutlery went unpolished. I wasn't in my suit yet. My brain wasn't on yet. A single chef appeared, then another. Someone could cook something. The diners wouldn't starve.

I rubbed my eyes and face, scratched the back of my head, massaged my temples and drank water. Anything to remind me that my body and head were still attached. The chefs and I compared notes on the evening. When did we get home? Why were all the girls crying? Was X really trying to pull Y? If so, why? Did I go to the after party?

I didn't go to the after party. I don't remember what time I left, but it was late. All the fast food dives in town had shut their doors for the night. I looked everywhere. I wandered the cold night, drunk and hungry, and everywhere was bolted tight. Somehow I forgot the all-night garage. I walked the long way home and ate leftover apple and pear crumble. I passed out in my boxers and woke up and hit snooze on the alarm.

The head chef arrived and looked like death. Some of the afterparty goers trickled in with bruises on their faces. Drunken weight-lifting. The restaurant manager walked in, slowly, with an egg in the middle of his forehead, turning slowly purple during the course of service. A dumbell accident.

Dumbell accident? Drunken weight-lifting? The afterparty host arrived with a cut on his eye. Another dumbell accident.

The head chef and one of the sous drank whisky & soda and smoked cigarettes outside while I changed. Not my preferred hair of the dog and from the look of them, it didn't do them any good. Customers arrived early, wanting lunch. We served them with a smile. I starved, having slept through breakfast. Every pause and every face drooped with the weight of the night before. We drank water and coffee. A chef passed some spare risotto my way. Redemption.

Diners left happy.

I changed out of my suit and went home to pack. I remembered the presents and my train tickets and running shoes. I made the slow voyage from hungover to tired.

I missed the afterparty and wasn't drinking expensive Italian red while watching the sun rise. I'm sure it will happen again. But not this morning. And now I sit on the final stretch of the train journey to London and can smile that I've no bruises from drunken dumbell juggling or whatever the fuck they were doing. I eat a tasteless sandwich and sip some better-than-average white Burgundy. I read Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I wonder if the Yankees really have signed Teixeira. I didn't miss out on anything last night, except perhaps a meal.

Drunken weight-lifting... what the fuck were they thinking?

19 December 2008


Sometimes it was Charles St, sometimes it was Park St. It depended on what walk I felt like. It depended on whether I'd lost my 'T' pass yet. It usually took a week to lose the pass. Taxpayers' money to waste. The guy at Charles St knew me. He kindly let me through, knowing I wasn't selling my pass on the black market for drug money or tricks. We got them for each month. Multi-coloured plastic, kind of like a credit card, the month in bold Helvetica, or some sans serif clone thereof, and the 'T' symbol in the top-left corner. Some people put a hole punch in it and slid it on to their keychain. I think I tried that a couple of times. I still lost it. I'm not entirely sure how I made it to thirteen with all my limbs to be honest.

I liked Park St best. I had to walk through the Common to get there, and that took me close to the little league fields. It would be fitting and nostalgic to recall taking a minute to wander over to the diamonds and think of Spring, but I never did. And as much as I liked the walk, I liked Dunkin' Donuts better (back when coffee was only an afterthought - an accompaniment to their doughnuts). With whatever quarters I had, plus the odd dollar, I'd buy a honey -glazed, a copy of The Globe and a copy of The Herald.

The Green Line's a tram, really, not a train. I trudged up the steps and found a seat and read the funnies. That's why I bought the papers. If there were no seats, I'd stuff them in my backpack and wait until a quiet moment at school. Garfield had moved to The Herald. It was huge news at the time. That's why I bought The Herald. My parents bought The Times. And for some reason I didn't want them to know I bought newspapers. My secrecy made sense at the time. I was just that age. Pretty dorky form of rebellion, really.

As an aside, that was also the age where I realised Garfield wasn't really funny and Calvin and Hobbes was. And is. And probably always will be. Maybe that's why I still love that memory so much. Because it's fairly Calvin-like.

Aside aside, as it were, I wound up reading the papers. It's a lot of newsprint to carry around, just to read the funnies. So I read some of the rest.

I only remember one story from that year. It ran through the week, whatever the week that was. It was about Carl Yastrzemski, or Yaz, and his road to Cooperstown, to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I read it meticulously, though I don't remember who wrote it. I remember reading it and wondering whether someday Wade Boggs would make the same trip. I remember reading it and looking forward to going to school the next morning just to pick up the next part of the story.

I never looked foward to going to school. Not that year. It was the wrong school, I was the wrong student. But I liked the commute. At the age of 12, I liked the commute. I liked the honey-glazed doughnut and losing myself in the papers.

I remember one of my teachers commenting on them. As bitter and cynical as could be, there was no joy but the smart arse comment, the bitterness itself, his delight in the sarcasm with which he rejected every excuse. His name was Mr Donovan. White hair with a bald patch, short cut, not too tall and an almost perpetual sneer. No one misbehaved. Well, they did, and he enjoyed it. He smiled at misfortune and punishment. He laughed at the troublemakers. He mocked my newspapers.

'The school doesn't want you to have those.'

'Scared you'll read what the press writes about them.'

He never confiscated them though. A snort of derision, a shake of the head and a mutter under the breath, but never a confiscation.

I didn't misbehave at that school. Well, twice. Once smart arse and once stupid, but never the siren-wailing lunacy of the years before. I fought in the school yard, during gym, but teachers didn't get involved in things like that. But I had to see the vice-principal every day. Every day she checked my bag, checked my homework. There were 1200 kids in 7th grade that year, and every day she checked to see if I'd done my work. She worried about me, encouraged me, helped me. I wasn't going to be there the next year. I was moving to London and she wrote exceptional recommendations to schools throughout Britain, overwhelming the blight that was my transcript.

I hadn't done my work. She would shout and swear at me, send me class, telling me to come back the next day, same time, with my homework finished.

I was getting D's and F's. I was at constant war with my parents. I had three friends, only one whose name I still remember.

I remember one day at home, during a quiet time, my mother asking me when I started reading the papers. My dad was in the room. I said I didn't know. I just started reading them for the funnies. She told me Mrs. Edwards noticed. Noticed that I read The Herald and The Globe. She noticed and it gave her some sort of hope. Ever-combative, I muttered again that I bought them just for the funnies, refusing to admit that I read anything else. I went to my room. The one with the red curtains.

Mr Donovan sneered at my papers and I shrugged. He supervised, and never taught. A prison warden.

I remember going home on the Green Line. A thousand school kids, fighting for standing room, the gossip and excited chat at the end of the day, filling in slam books, eyeing each other with curiosity and confusion. I took the papers out again until I got to Park St. Sometimes I'd walk home, sometimes I'd switch to the Red Line and head to Charles St. Sometimes I'd grab a doughnut. I never understood why the trip home was so much more crowded.

There's a lot there. But as a reflex, all I remember is the morning papers on the morning train. Commuting to school, reading about the baseball and eating a doughnut.


13 December 2008


Just to let you all know, my flatmate and I started a new blog of tasting notes for guest ales and fine bottled beers. It's here, and under Guest Tales in my links list.

10 December 2008

the view

St Andrews harbour
Originally uploaded by rwhbray

I'm working on a post at the moment, but in the meantime, I thought I'd share a pic I like. This is the view from my flat.

I look out the window a lot.

05 December 2008

older and wiser?

Sister Mary Andrew stormed out: a harbinger of the apocalypse. The anger in those eyes held no Christian charity or turning of the other cheek. As I plucked a clump of grass from behind my ear she descended the short three steps from the front entrance of the school down to the lawn. Her finger waved at us from her outstretched arm, accusing.

She was not a slight woman. She was built like a linebacker. She sounded a bit like a linebacker as well; drawn out suburban Massachusetts drawl with an authoritative depth. Sister Mary Andrew could make the word 'no' last for seconds.

She was not in habit. She wore a grey wool suit and white blouse, bullet proof opaque tights and black brogues. I think she wore that every day. I wonder if her closet held a series of identical wool suits, labeled with their respective day: her cupboard a collection of cloned blouses. Her habit, no doubt, would be kept separate. I never saw any of the nuns that taught me in their habits. I'm not sure I would have recognised them.

My hands stopped scraping the grass from my hair as I noticed the approaching juggernaut, my principal. I slapped Stevie Delicata's shoulder and pointed towards the path where Sister Mary Andrew marched towards us. She leaned forward slightly, as though her legs couldn't match the speed of her wrath. The delirium of the previous minutes evaporated as Zach, the third of us, muttered the only thing that came to mind.

'Oh shit.'

None of us could say anything else.

Not much more than a minute before, the fire alarm sounded throughout the school. The odd fire drill never really meant much to us. We were only 9, maybe 10. We lined up in two lines in front of sister-something-or-other (I think Sister Mary-Ellen that year, because I think I was in 4th grade) or miss-what's-her-name and once we stood in two orderly lines, we'd be led outside to our meeting point. If anything, it was 5 or 10 minutes of not being in class. If you had a tendency to misbehave, as I did, it could be up to 20.

That day was different. I don't know how or why, but the ear-stinging shriek of that alarm ignited some manner of delinquent telepathy. Stevie, Zach and I weren't allowed to sit next to each other. Some earlier shenanigans led to us not even being allowed to look at each other that day. Nothing was planned because we didn't plan anything. We never planned anything. It just seemed to happen. Trips to the principal's office would ensue. Either that or being forced to stand out in the hall. Or, and this was the worst, being sent to the grade below's classroom. I would simply run and hide in the boy's room whenever that happened. That would undoubtedly lead back to the principal's office.

Who stood up first? Was it Zach? Always the craziest, the least in control. Was it Stevie? Was it me? It may well have been me. Maybe we all stood up at once, synchronised by that delinquent telepathy.

We screamed mock panic, hollering to be heard above the din of the alarm itself. Out the classroom door before the teacher could stop us. We tumbled and bounced through the hallway, banging on all the other classroom doors, lunatic klaxons shrieking 'FIRE!' and howling as though we burned. We leapt down the stairs two and three at a time and continued through the ground floor hall, topsiders squeaking along the linoleum grade school floor tiles. This was the home of first, second and third grade. Zach started imitating the wail of the alarm. Or maybe it was a fire truck.

Out the front door we flew, hoarse with our roars, and jumped arms and heads first out on to the lawn. Our chant changed from 'FIRE!' to 'STOP, DROP & ROLL!' - instructions on what to do should you happen to catch fire. I think Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck delivered the message. We stopped, dropped and rolled; somersaulting and writhing along the grass, extinguishing the non-existent flames and covering our chinos (no jeans allowed) and striped shirts (were there kids' shirts in the eighties that didn't have thin, horizontal, multicoloured stripes?) in grass stains.

None of us were strangers to her wrath. But as she towered above us, purple-faced and speechless with rage, it dawned on us just how stupidly we behaved. I'd never seen her that angry. Our mania drained away, siphoned by the apoplectic Sister staring down at us. I looked towards the school and there were no classes lining up to be counted. The alarm had fallen silent. We gasped and grasped for breath, trying to look penitent. In the quiet of it all, in the soft Spring afternoon, I tried desperately not to giggle. I bit my tongue and looked down at the grass, avoiding Stevie and Zach's eyes.

She shook her finger at us from the shoulder, jabbing, still unable to speak.

And I giggled. Then Stevie. Then Zach.

She didn't speak. She roared.

I don't remember what the punishment was. I don't remember how long my parents had to speak with Sister Mary Andrew or my homeroom teacher. I guess I was grounded. That's what tended to happen. Stevie and Zach probably were too.

As I write this my tongue probes the gap where a wisdom tooth used to be, and I think about growing up. It's a fond memory to me. I cling to episodes like this in times of necessity, times of conformity, times where I do what I have to do, rather than what I want to do. It's a comfort. Now, of course, with friends who teach at all levels, I understand the other side. I understand just how much they must have loathed our behaviour. How they must have breathed a sigh of relief when a day went by without incident. I sympathise with teachers who have students anywhere near as problematic as I was.

My tongue rubs that spot and I remember 23 years ago and I realise I wouldn't take any of it back. I'd still scream down that hallway, bang on doors and leap out onto the lawn, breathless and maniacal.

And when the nun caught me, I'd try not to giggle.

And fail.

26 November 2008

return to normal service... eventually...

I can once again, in the wake of surgery, stare vacantly at a screen for hours on end. Broadband has finally been connected in my flat (though broad is an overstatement for the band - middling perhaps; or even slender) after monumental indifference and/or incompetence on the part of our erstwhile provider.

I'm no wiser, but I'm older and often feel it. Revelations of late are notable more for their 'well, duh'-slap-the-forehead nature than any brilliant insight they contain.

Yet my fingers itch. I clench my fists in frustration and collect the snippets of prose and observations here and there. Memories still filter through the speedy blur of now and I still seek to balance what was with what is and attempt to suss what will be from all of it.

The book(s), my life and the bits in between still fling forward, and I still feel the need to mention them all in passing, in some manner of acknowledgment that those moments in time existed; that I was here, now, typing.

I'm out of practice in all things at the moment. It takes awhile and it isn't like riding a bicycle, no matter what people say. The passage of time and all that's taken place - all that I've gained and lost on that part of the journey - changes it. Finding my rhythm again doesn't mean finding something I used to have, nor does getting back in practice mean it's the same practice. The rhythm will be different, must be. Practice won't mean perfect, but that's never really what we do it for anyway.

These odd chronicles begin again and I can't really tell you what I'm going to be writing about, because I haven't really decided yet.

But I am going to be writing, and that's a good start.

04 November 2008

not quite vampiric

I hide from the light these days. It blinds me; I shrink from it. My curtains are always closed and any foray into the sunshine must be followed by an hour of resting my battered orbs. I feel it in the morning, clawing at my curtains, bathing the sand and stone outside my building in the molten autumnal light that saturates Scotland at this time of year.
I hide from the light with a pair of oakleys, a wooly jumper, baggy jeans and a tattered pair of flannel-lined moccasins, spread out on a couch near a window with the blinds down. No coffin or black cowl or gothy eye-liner. I do venture out for coffee sometimes, sticking to the shadows... But overall, I think I'd make a pretty poor vampire.

31 October 2008

resting my eyes

I lie on the couch, eyes closed, facing the ceiling and listen to the sea rage. Once in awhile I look and watch the spray disappate into mist as it crashes over the pier and harbour walls. All's slate; the sea, the sky, the stone. Vast strips of foaming white tumult cut the sea, crowning the waves, embracing the stone, exploding and cascading over it. The few droplets of rain seem pointless against the sea's torrent. I lie back and look at the ceiling for a moment, shut my eyes. And listen.

29 October 2008

a wee note

Just a small note to let everyone know that recovery proceeds apace. My flat doesn't have broadband, so updates are coming from my iPhone. I spend most of my days lying on my back, listening to stand-up (Izzard and Connolly mostly), resting my eyes. It seems to be working. I drink lapsang souchong tea during the day and allow myself a beer or two at night. I sleep a lot. Toast forms the cornerstone of my diet, with various toppings. I snack on apples and bananas, I've cooked once and I've perfected showering without getting my left eye wet. Bright light bothers me and I wear sunglasses a lot of the time. We don't have a tv at the moment, but I couldn't see it anyway if we did. Friends have helped a bunch, from just being company to running errands, to bringing much-missed coffee. I'm feeling better, slowly but surely, and look forward to crystal sight, taking pictures, scribbling words, tasting wine and settling into the new (old) flat.

26 October 2008


On Wednesday morning I underwent a procedure to reattach the retina in my left eye. They shot some lasers into my right eye too, just for good measure. The operation was a success, but looking at computers is rather difficult at the moment. As such, my blogs are all under indefinite hiatus. Sorry guys.

01 October 2008

electron microscopes

I honestly don't remember the first time I saw an image taken by an electron microscope. If I told you a day, a situation, a tv show, a class, an idle thumb through a magazine on a slow Sunday where the dust sifted softly in the sunbeam through the living room window, I'd be lying. I may have seen it in school, though I doubt it, knowing my school at the time. TV is equally unlikely - aside from cartoons it was the A-Team or The Dukes of Hazzard - neither known for their cutting edge science imagery.

In all truth, it was probably a magazine. It may not have been a slow Sunday though, and there may not have been sifting dust. It may have been raining.

So the details surrounding my discovery are hazy. As is the image itself. I'm pretty sure it wasn't pollen. Pollen came later, and was hugely popular - along with dust mites and allergens in general - among the electron microscope model agencies. I think, and I can't be sure, but I think it was either the head of a needle or the corner of a microchip. I want to think it was the head of the needle.

I do remember how I felt the first time I saw an image (whatever it may have been) taken by an electron microscope (where-ever and whenever I saw it). I felt confusion and wonder. Mostly the latter. Wonder at a world so small as to be invisible looking so enormous and alien. I sought more, and flipped pages of National Geographic and 1-2-3 Contact and Discover looking for images. The pollen and dust mites didn't really interest me - it was the everyday things, like the head of a needle, things that seemed solid, flawless and perfect in their form, revealed to be imperfect, ridged, fibrous, ragged, hugely complex and often flawed at a microscopic level. Even the geometric perfection and symmetry of crystals bent and twisted with a close enough look. They all seemed to come from the negative zone, bizarre shades of blue or purple against black, alien shapes and daunting landscapes. That such a simple thing could boast its own landscape...

There was so much more than what you saw.

I remember at one point seeing the daunting precipice that was the face of a single ridge of a finger print and staring at my thumb thereafter for an hour, trying to imagine that same precipice occuring over and over again, on every uniquely individual line on both my hands and being unable to fathom it. I'd be lying if I told you when and where I was. Very early eighties and Boston's as close as it gets. I might have been on one of the semi-circular, cream upholstered chairs in the library, occasionally kicking the wall to spin it slowly as I stared at the pictures and read the captions. My mom yelled at me, telling me to keep my feet off the wall. I'd say sorry and do it again 15 minutes later.

I looked at my fingerprints, on both hands, and they weren't a pretty sight. The pigment of a million or more grape skins stained the grooves between the ridges. Cuts sliced perpendicular to their idiosyncratic patterns. Never parallel. My cuticles ragged and dyed. The nails unintentionally painted.

A bottle of wine is a simple thing. A liquid encased in glass closed with a cork, or quite often a screw cap. Grapes seem quite a simple fruit, grown in bunches on vines. They come in different colours, the wines and the grapes. Most of my professional life has dealt with wine in this form, the bottled form. A cork screw and glasses are all that's required, though accompanying food is a treat, good company's a bonus and if it's the wee hours on a secluded beach with a roaring bonfire, the glasses are optional.

It's fairly simple. That said, washing one's hands is fairly simple and yet no amount of scrubbing seemed to take away the dye.

I helped make wine. It's fairly simple. You pick grapes and control their fermentation in a way that prevents the juice turning to vinegar. The result is aged and encased in glass and sealed with a cork.

It was still dark at 6, when we got to the winery. The winemaker worked under the dim bulbs in the half light, already there. No matter how early we arrived, he was already there. That cool pale light just creeping on the horizon, the winery in shadows. We set up and tasted the still-fermenting juice with half opened eyes, our morning coffees a memory. We navigated the tanks, the barrels, the various apparatus of the winery, be it stained oak or shining stainless steel. The tiredness doesn't slow us, and with every scribbled note or bit of machinery checked, our eyes opened that little bit more.

The grapes started to arrive. Dark jewels, beset with pinprick droplets of condensation. Their ripeness glowed. I loaded them onto the conveyor, which loaded them into the destemmer, which dropped them into the crusher, which dropped them onto the sorting table, which dropped them onto the second sorting table, which dropped them into the pump, which shot them into the 4000 litre stainless steel tank.

The odd berry fell onto the concrete floor and looked for all the world like a child's marble.

Sometimes it was me on the sorting table, spreading piles of the fruit, the sugary juice and tattered skins and globules of the flesh and countless seed coating my arms up past my elbows. My t-shirt stained purple. That freedom of being dirty, caked in the work, knowing its inevitability and taking pride that your work leaves its mark on you, that keeps you going until someone calls lunch. I sprayed down my arms and face with the hose and we ate bread and cheese and drank someone else's effort.

After lunch and there was more to do. The food revived us but the muscles started getting sore. From aches to burns to the uncountable lacerations on the hands and anywhere else a limb took the hit instead of the fruit.

It got hot but there was a breeze. From one job to another, when something needed to wait, there was always something else to do. Either up ladders or in the bottom of a vat, shoes off, pushing the last of the macerated and fermented grape detritus into the press, to squeeze that last bit out. To get those final drops of quality juice, for it to age and mature and eventually be put into a simple bottle.

At the end of the day we wandered into the Café Sola, filthy, caked in fruit, exhausted, waiting for the sore to set in for the evening. Beer never tasted so good.

My hands are cleaner now, the cuts healed. I feel a bit of loss. My muscles don't ache any more than usual. It's far colder here than it was there. I wake up after 530 whenever I can. Though, I'll confess, once or twice a week I'll raise my head in the dark and for a moment think it's time to get up.

And I look at a bottle of wine and I see terraced vineyards, vats of steel and barrels of oak, loose grapes like marbles, the pickers laughing at the lost American and smoking their roll-ups while gathering the harvest, the machines of the making: the press and pumps and destemmers. I hear the crackle of a fresh loaf at lunch, feel the warm, fermenting juice shoot between my fingers as I rack from one vat to the other. I listen to the winemaker's quiet words while tasting, hoping to hear 'bon' at the end of the sentence. And I think about electron microscopes, and the heads of needles, and the strange and alien universes held in the liquid encased in a simple glass bottle enclosed with a cork.

Or sometimes a screwcap.

27 September 2008


There's another post coming, but I just thought I should say it sucks Paul Newman died.

He certainly had his innings though, and gave us a lot to watch and love.

"Pleased to meet you kid. You're a real horse's ass."
- The Sting

15 September 2008

arriving and to work

I slept a bit on both flights. Not my usual airborne hibernation, but enough to keep me going. I read a bit and listened to some tunes. For some reason I worried about my luggage. I worried that one or both the bottles of fine wine in my bag would be smashed on arrival or that my bag just wouldn't be there. That I would be stood alone at the baggage carousel at Perpignan Rivesaltes, waiting in vane for my blue duffel bag while my fellow travelers had long since departed.

It wasn't panic. My heart wasn't skipping beats, nor were my knuckles white gripping the armrest. I just considered all these things, following through the course of events for a few moments before snapping myself out of it and picking my book back up again.

We flew out over the great chipped sapphire that was the choppy Med and turned back again, landing 20 minutes early. My bag was there and the bottles intact.

I'm in France, on a sort of busman's holiday, here to make wine and pick grapes with an old friend. We lost no time, stopping on the way back from the airport at one of the wineries to rack some grenache gris. Racking is basically moving young, still-fermenting wine from one container to another. You read quite a bit about it in the wine trade, learning the effect it has on the final product, debating its merits and arguing its faults. The liquid we moved looked nothing to me like something I would call wine. Opaque and grey, with a thick cap of CO2 bubbles on the top, respired by the frantic yeast. At the moment the wines smell oddly of lemon iced tea, and taste of apricots. They're only at about 3% alcohol at the moment, so they've a long way to go.

Much like myself.

11 September 2008

not quite back to school

Small piles of leaves grow in the nooks and crannies throughout the town at the moment. There are no fireworks yet. The early fallen tend to be a dull shade of yellow or simply faded green. The fireworks won't be for awhile, yet. A month, maybe longer. I noticed the leaves just as I noticed I needed a jumper and something waterproof to wear over it.

As a kid I remember my clothes suddenly being different. My shorts and t-shirts would move to other drawers, if they still fit. Often they didn't. Blue jeans and khakis and sweaters and my faithful barracuda jacket would come out for the autumn. My barracuda jacket was navy blue and I wore it until the first snow. What with growth spurts and the like I'm sure I had more than one during the course of my childhood. I'm pretty sure that as well as a navy blue one, I had a khaki one. Probably during my Indiana Jones phase.

That phase hasn't really ended yet.

I remember the autumn stationery frenzy. How excitement for the new school year centred around new pens and pencils and pencil cases and notebooks and trapper keepers and backpacks. The crisp sheen on new paper, a new favourite pen, that perfect point on a pencil that only came from the first sharpening, and never afterwards.

Seeing everyone for the first time and trying desperately to make your summer sound better than theirs. Hating anyone, even your best friend, if they travelled further and did more. Loving the look in their eyes when your stories of summer adventure brought a wide-eyed hush, followed by an onslaught of incredulous questions.

Then classes started and everything stayed the same. Everything new became old and used and tethered to the mundanity of grade school routine. Summer quickly fell into the shadows of memory, with little need for recall. Someone else was playing in the World Series.

Autumn had its own adventures. I remember sitting in an upturned apple crate, eating an improbably large cinnamon and apple cookie, having just ridden on a tractor through an orchard, staring out towards the rows of trees and the fireworks of the forest just beyond. I don't remember what I thought at the time. Probably just how fucking awesome that improbably large cinnamon and apple cookie tasted.

I used to kick the leaf piles that grew in the nooks and crannies of Beacon Hill, listening to them scuffle and scrape along the brick sidewalks.

In Scotland this year they're too wet to kick and memories of the summer are simply mourning for a lost season, a season that never came.

Instead of new stationery, I have a new suit. And nothing really seems to be the same.

It's familiar.

But not the same.

07 September 2008

a partial history of personal hangovers

I used to think the guy who owned the baseball card store was Chinese. Only now do I second-guess it. Now I wonder if maybe he was Korean.

I never asked him.

He was tall, hair slicked in a side-parting with thick glasses. He wore pale blue or white button down shirtsleeves. Around his considerable girth stretched a gun belt, and attached hung a holster of pale leather. The gun was always polished, shining. Not foreboding gun-metal, but instead almost silver; nickel-plated perhaps. He had two guns: an automatic, possibly a .45, and a short-barreled .357 Magnum revolver. He only wore one at a time. I don't know how he decided, each morning, which to wear. Which to arm himself with for the day.

I remember asking if they were real. His answer was curt, impatient.

'Yes, they're real.'

And then he went back to whatever he was doing.

I would stand in fear and fascination, curious as to the hidden violence within the collector trade. I remember his most expensive card at the time was Babe Ruth, valued at $5000. I can't remember what year it was. I wondered if he'd shoot someone over a $5000 baseball card.

It never occurred to me that the cards had nothing to do with the guns.

I wore stonewashed jeans and a denim jacket, high-tops (pre-Jordan) and my 'Sweet Sixteen for the Green Machine' 1986 NBA Championship t-shirt. I fought my first pimples. I tried in vain to make my hair 80's, though it curled too naturally and refused attempts to tame it. I would go on my first date that Spring.

I was young and jumped off the 'T' a stop early to go look for cards to add to my collection. Canseco, Boggs, Clemens, Bonds, Jackson, they were prizes to be hoarded. Sometimes I even chewed the gum. That was a mistake. I pestered the poor guy for hours, and when I got a choice card out of a pack he'd look up and, for a split-second, seem less than bored.

I don't even know if he liked baseball.

I loved baseball. Wade Boggs was my hero at the time: my generation's great Red Sox hitter. I had his rookie card - a 1983 Topps. I probably still have it somewhere. The guy gave me one of those less-than-bored looks when I pulled it out of a six-year-old pack I'd just bought from him.

After the card shop, trying in vain to chew the awful gum, I'd cross the street to Jack's Joke Shop. The baseball card shop was just the baseball card shop, but the joke shop was Jack's. I don't know if there really was a Jack, but there were guys behind the counter whose boredom lessened with the knowledge that whatever my friends and I bought in there would get us into trouble.

Sometimes lots of trouble.

I bought cigarette loads.

My mother smoked and I loathed it. Loathed the smell, loathed the notes she gave me to show the guy at the drug store, telling him to give me two packs of her brand (Merit Ultra Light 100s), even though I was only 10, 11 or 12. Loathed how angry she got if I complained about it.

I used to hide them. Sometimes I'd simply destroy a pack or two. It enraged her. She probably smoked more because of it. In the constant wars between a parent and a child on the verge of their teens, my mother's cigarettes played the role of hostage, battlefield and ammunition all at once.

Cigarette loads were my form of escalation. They were about quarter the length of a matchstick and half the width, sharpened at both ends. With great care, you inserted them deep into the tobacco of the target. When it caught light, it would explode. With a loud fucking bang. It would echo through the apartment followed immediately by my mother shrieking my name and a litany of profanities. I would hide in my room, laughing and petrified, hoping that when it all blew over I could see the tattered remains of the booby-trapped cig. They split from the end in all directions, just like a cartoon. Sometimes I was in the room when it happened.

I had to run fast those times.

My mother got very good at spotting tampered cigarettes.

I got even better at tampering with them, leaving no trace.

The loads came in five-packs. I would only use two or three per pack of Merits. I tried to space them, make sure there weren't two together. Occasionally it would be the very first and very last cigarettes in the pack. Those were the best, the most unexpected, the most likely to enrage. Especially if the last blew after the drug store closed for the night.

The explosions petrified my mother's pet lovebird. This was an added bonus. The cat didn't like them either, but then the cat didn't like much.

I never apologised. I never capitulated. I knew, in a strange way, that what I was doing was right. I still believe that. My mother knew it too. Aside from ruining the enjoyment of her vice, that's what pissed her off so much. That what I was doing was, in a gleefully mischievous way, the right thing to do.

It never made her quit. That came later, and without explosives.

And I started. Four or five years later, I started smoking. Marlboro Lights. I don't really analyse it too much, but to note the chasm between me at 12 and me at 16. It coincided with starting to drink on a regular basis. I preferred drinking to smoking. The latter always left a twist of pitted guilt in my stomach. Moments and mornings of reflection, waking in a stinging haze and not wanting to taste my mouth. Feeling my lungs and wanting new ones. Hangovers felt like life had been temporarily removed, dripping in both physical pain and some manner of spiritual remorse. Showers and clean clothes didn't help, the miasma clung and lingered and before long I sparked my first of the day.

I'm pretty sure I'd started smoking when I found out Wade Boggs was playing for the Yankees.

I don't think I was meant to smoke. I think those memories of delicately sabotaging my mother's cigarettes lay too deep in my mind to shake. The echoes of our shouting matches shuddered too long in my head.

So I quit. I run and keep in decent shape. I feel healthier. The hangovers aren't quite as painful.

And I don't really care too much anymore that Boggs went to the Yankees for a few years.

I miss sabotaging the cigarettes. I miss the joke shop. I still wonder about those guns, and whether he'd shoot me over a $5,000 baseball card.

I kind of think he would.

23 August 2008


There are times I feel guilty.

I don't update this blog enough. It bothers me. It bothers me for the simple reasons. I let my reader(s?) down. I let myself down. The latter bothers me the most.

More often than not, I'm trying to work out the grades of grey, silver and platinum that the sky and sea achieve on your average afternoon. The brilliance and glory of the elusive gold the odd stroke of sun grants the skyscape and sea beneath it - how do you write, photograph, stammer, stutter, shrug off what effect it takes on you?

Mostly it's just platinum and silver, the dangling whisps of skyscraper clouds catching that rare vein of molten sunlight on the horizon, bouncing from stone to sea to itself and back. The golfers bitch in the background about the day and I just try to find new words for sights timeless, that I've seen for years, and still strike me so that I don't notice the slow passage of time.

Mostly it's that.

Sometimes it's subtle. Just steel and cold, the odd patches of light growing in corners, the armpits of clouds, above slate water with no observer. Through a veil of rain I still look at the beauty of it and wonder why no one else does.

Sometimes they do. To be fair, sometimes they see it. They see the weight of the clouds, their pressure, depth and see how the light steals through them, how the stone beneath may soften but never yield. But they don't see it all.

They want the rain in spite of the sun. The early night without the endless days that precede it.

The town is worn and endless.
Those moments it bears the brunt and we lean against a battered wall of stripped stone and only ask what's next.
It holds us up.
And we walk home.
And the sea roars behind us.

20 August 2008


It's been raining for weeks now.
At night its patter lulls me to sleep.
In the day it falls silently.
But I see the rippled circles appear and disappear in the puddles.
And I hear their rhythm in my head.

Go see some pics.

I'm going to buy an umbrella.

18 August 2008

possibly every argument ever?


ha, what?

ha, I win.

You win?

Yeah. I win.

Inner Nagging Voice wins?


Uh. Well... to be honest, you're more resurrected than won.

What do you mean?

Well... we dealt without you.

Dealt?... Without?... Random pronouns?


Whatever. You lost.

Lost? I've posted for YEARS without you.


Yeah, me.



Where are we? Lost track.

I haven't.

No. No. That's not how it is. I haven't lost track.

You have.


You so have.


So what have you not lost?


What haven't you lost?

Right. Um... I haven't lost perspective?

Of course. What were we arguing about?

Fuck off. But. Um... actually...

You're in trouble.

Fix it.

Can I?


The triumphant return of the Inner Nagging Voice.

You've not said anything.

Of course I have

Never wanted to.

I've always something to say.

And used to say it

Never said I didn't.



I can't just jump out and call them all a bunch of cunts, can I?


By your own rules...

You can...

Can I?


Your music taste's still shit though.

11 August 2008


Yet again the pace of life outstrips my ability to chronicle it.
The short version:
I'm babysitting cats at the moment. Guinness and Thomas.
I've got a new job. I'm no longer a wine merchant.
I'm homeless, but working on it.
I'm in Scotland.
I still dream about India.
Karma works. In a good way.
I'm a godfather.

29 July 2008

the compass always points.

Back up north I go. I've had enough of the London sun.

The cool blanket of haar awaits, obscuring what comes next, showing only shadows and silhouettes.

27 July 2008


Me: 'You spent how much on shower gel?'

Mate: '£16'

Me: '£16? How much did that get you? A gallon? A tanker?'

Mate: 'A bottle.'

Me: 'That's ridiculous. I think my shower gel's about £3, buy one-get-one free in Boots. Not the generic stuff, but the funky stuff that has all the fruit and shit in it.'

Mate: 'You don't understand, this stuff's amazing.'

Me: 'It's shower gel. Does it get you cleaner or something?'

Mate: 'No - it's the smell.'

Me: 'Oh, please. You're spending £16 on shower gel because of the smell? You're a fucking moron.'

Mate: 'Normally I'd agree with you, but this stuff... women love the smell. You use this and random women sniff at you and smile.'

Me: 'It's London in the summer. No one sniffs anyone and smiles.'

Mate: 'I'm serious.'

Me: 'Really? Random women smell you?'

Mate: 'Well, they did. Now I've got a girlfriend she smells me and keeps the others away.'

Me: 'For £16?'

Mate: 'That's right.'

Me: 'If I spent £16 on shower gel would your girlfriend smell me and keep others away?'

Mate: 'Fuck off.'

We chatted about life and drank beer.

26 July 2008

pyrhhic sleepiness

I shouldn't have stayed up so late.

The movie wasn't that good.

The tv show that followed the movie wasn't that good either.

Then, fingers crossed, I waited for the Sox game to end.

They lost. That definitely wasn't good.

I'm going to go make an espresso. Then I'm going to go read on the couch, or on the deck. The deck is further from the fridge. The couch is further from the sun.

Saturday decisions.

25 July 2008


This is a quiet trip to London. I head towards the local for a pint or the high road for a coffee. Sometimes a milkshake.

The walk to the high road brings me across the lawn of a small park. It's sort of a short cut. Regardless of whether it saves time, it certainly increases the pleasure of the walk. More often than not there's a dog or two enjoying a stroll.

Sometimes it's the chows. One of my neighbours keeps them, and has for the twenty years my family's lived around here. They're bear-like, with improbably fluffy fur and folded faces. Sadly they're short lived. I've seen perhaps three generations of them in my time here. He always keeps pairs. The current are golden and a lighter shade that could almost be platinum. The first pair I knew were black and golden. There's something regal about their appearance. The buoyancy of their fur should be ridiculous; it looks as though they've just come out of a tumble drier. Instead they affect a sense of the regal, a degree of nobility. Perhaps it's their posture, they always seem to walk with their head up, looking forward. Even lying down, they hold their heads to attention, their wizened faces encircled by a mane that spreads back to cover their entire body.

I cannot help smiling every time I see them. They, like the park itself, improve the walk.

Further along I check the menus in the windows of the restaurants I pass. Sometimes they've changed, a seasonal specialty appearing. New season lamb seems popular at the moment, and the first of year's wild mushrooms find themselves on the plate. My mouth waters and I move on.

Every other walker seems to be pushing a stroller. Young, fashionable - often in groups of two or three they walk and talk and shop. Mostly ladies, but occasionally it's (I assume) the dad.

I wander by the bookstore and try to find Boswell. They don't have it. They've recently refurbished and it's too bright. The natural light seems out of place in a bookshop. It's like a Gap, or some such place. I always think of bookshops as sanctuaries. A place to hide from the outside, to lose yourself. One of the few places you can browse and feel no guilt about walking away empty-handed. Light plays a part in that. Dark corners, the lower shelves hiding an obscure volume where you can disappear with the tomes surrounding you. The omnipresence of daylight hinders that; obscures the sanctuary.

It works. I buy three books.

Three miles away the government reels from the results of an election four hundred miles away. I find it amusing; less a vote for an independent Scotland and more a vote for something different from the norm. A vote against, rather than a vote for. It's not a great comment on the state of any republic, constitutional monarchy or not. But I think that's way of things at the moment.

I stroll from the bookshop to the coffee shop. Instead of a latté, I buy a chocolate milkshake. I slurp the straw and start the walk back home. A bit of a different route, to see some different menus and drool at different dishes.

Still the park though, and still a smile at the chows.

22 July 2008


I'm in London.

I didn't expect to be in London. I expected to be in India. Hyderabad.

It's meant to be quite a cool place, Hyderabad.

The colours aren't fading yet, and the endless din of the bazaar rings still in my ears. The smells, the whole gamut of them, from enchanting to pungent to wretched all linger yet in my nostrils.

I note the heat by its absence.

The why's and wherefore's, the reasons for an adventure cut short; they echo, fade and sometimes I wonder why I'm back here. I've forgotten already.

Well, not really. I know why I'm here. But it's just not a good enough reason. Not a good enough reason to have left before half-time. I let it slide past and try to realise that in spite of it all, I'm here. I'm back.

And I've little clue as to what I'm going to do and where I'm going to live.

I didn't expect to be here.

I've a notebook to fill. Diary pages to fill, scribbled notes to make sense of before it all starts to fade. The words came and Delhi took 20 pages. There's Lucknow and Varanasi and Khajuraho and Orchha and Gwalior and Ahilya to follow while they're still vivid, bright in my mind's eye. To try, somehow, to distil the experience of ten days in India into words that do justice to the impact I felt.

I expect I'll go back.

17 July 2008

notes ii

Some of the older buildings... walking inside seems like walking into an old photograph. The heat, the damp, saps the colour here. Outside is where it shines bright. But I guess its fleeting. The sun fades it quickly. The colour is incredible,; the light is hazy though, lazy.

Two nights in one place for the first time since I slept on my friend's couch in St Andrews. It feels odd, but nice.

I just wish the beer in hotels wasn't so fucking expensive.

I just wish they had a bar in Gwalior.

Never have I seen so much marble.

Khajuraho's temples look as though they've erupted from the earth. There's something organic about them, though they're obviously man-made. It's some manner of architectural optical illusion. Apparently, when they were built, the 85 temples were set in 60-odd man-made lakes, and travel between them was by skiff. Seeing them I couldn't have imagined how they could be more striking.

Then, imagining them set on mirrored water, under a clear sky...

travel notes

The fort in Gwalior is over 3km long and sits atop a plateau, its read stone wall rising from the cliffs, extending them. It's had 300 different rulers since its founding in the sixth century, only 187 of them native. It stands sentinel over the city, though the fort used to hold the city within it. Now it houses a school, a small settlement, two ruinous palaces and the remains of the British garrison. There's a Sikh temple. There are Hindu temples the Mughals defaced in the wake of their conquest. The cliffs that protect it have carved in them over 1500 images of (the?) Jain. They look kind of like the Buddha but with a diamond in the centre of their chest. They too were defaced, though several have been restored.

It looks impregnable, though history's proved otherwise - over and over again.

The late Maharajah of Gwalior was a big train buff. His palace boasts the largest chandelier set in the world.

The main dining table in the banquet hall has a miniature train track, on which travels a solid silver train carrying decanters of wine, spirits, and ice buckets. Lifting one of these from the back of it stops the train, allowing guests to serve themselves.

There were five stuffed tigers on display. Trophies from a bygone time. They upset me a bit.

This city saw action during the mutiny; brutality and war plagued it for more than a thousand years.

And I get upset at five stuffed tigers.

16 July 2008


My software can't deal with the colour. I import my photos and the computer thinks the camera's made a mistake. It evens the levels automatically. Tones everything down. Dulls it.

The rich, burnt ochre of the river beds, the luminous green from the jungle that grows everywhere in the monsoon. The blinding beauty of even the most simple sari. Sandstone temples, a thousand years old yet rich with saffron, red and sometimes stained; dank, dark green of damp.

All muted. Toned down.

Before I figure out the technical aspects of fixing this without having to edit every single picture, I'll ponder the subjective, literary points. Throw metaphors with abandon, read meaning where I make it, that sort of thing.

15 July 2008

light shows

Flying over the Czech Republic the clouds beneath lit up. Lightning storms far below - occasionally a rumble rose above the roar of the engine. Mostly though, it was just a light show.

I walked among still-burning funeral pyres today. The heat was unbearable but the smell bore no hint of the fire's duty. It was aromatic and heady, hiding the reek of the waste strewn throughout the back streets of Varanasi. I felt honoured and intrusive. Though there was nothing left of those I intruded on.

I tipped the pyre-tender - the price of honour and intrusion. Somewhat shell-shocked by all the life around me in this place, the spot of death shook me hard. I walked away quickly and felt tired. It wasn't yet seven in the morning, and there was much more to do in the day.

14 July 2008


I've just been to the spot where the Buddha first preached after reaching Nirvana.

I'm not a Buddhist. I don't really think you need to be. Those rare intersections exist, where myth, legend and history all meet. Intertwine. It's all blurred; the archaeology, the philosophy, the practice. I didn't come here to find.

Just to see.

I have two minutes left online, and nothing clever to say.

13 July 2008

In India... which is rather splendid. I will write a more substantial amount soon, I assure you.

05 July 2008


Three o'clock in the morning, eating cheese on toast and really rather drunk is not the best time in the world to start your eight week course of anti-malarial tablets.

It seemed like a good idea at the time though.

30 June 2008


I watched the sunrise yesterday. Old friends and a bottle of whisky and there it was. Erupting from the water, molten gold spilling over the sapphire sea. 

I'm packing again. Well, I should be. My home, job, place in the universe are all in a state of flux. Questions hang overhead while great voyages and adventures lie just around the corner. I need some manner of space. Downtime. Breathing room. Call it what you will.

It's not going to happen though. 

Life doesn't have a pause button. Only fast forward.

Deep breath. 

It's all just going to move faster. 

Before I know it I'll be somewhere else.

Even if I'm still here.

22 June 2008

a wedding memory

I was a bit drunk, so I'm not sure I remember her name.

In fact, I don't.

But we had a lovely chat.

She was too lovely to be so upset at such a lovely party, and I told her so.

17 June 2008

confined to memory

I remember the night. A flat party of some description. Bell Street - it was the first time I'd ever been there, but not the last. If I wasn't drunk it was because I couldn't afford it. Thirteen years ago. There was a lot of banter. It was mostly a theatre crowd. It may have been a cast party, I'm not sure. If it was then it was only twelve years ago, not thirteen. 

Furniture wasn't necessary. A bunch of us sat on the floor. She lay on her back with her knees up, chatting away. She was conducting. The conversation in our group centred around her, she guided it. She shot down my lame attempt at chatting her up with a smile. 

We flirted anyway. Kind of. Circular banter, that went round for the joy of it. It was almost like a contest. Almost. Maybe it was for her. It might have been for me too. It was fun chat. That sort of vivacious conversation that gets the head and heart going. We introduced ourselves. 

Her name was Fiona. One of maybe a dozen Fionas I knew at that time. She was from New Zealand, so she was Kiwi Fi. 

We both did theatre, but never the same show. Our circles of friends overlapped. We worked together on a committee. She was incredibly bright, witty and fun to be around. When I think of her, I think of that night we met in a flat on Bell Street. 

She took me aback. 

It's so clear, that night. I remembered it again when she dropped me a line a few months ago. A brief electronic chat. She seemed well. 

She died this past weekend. 

The world is poorer for it.

There's a tribute to her here.

14 June 2008

a word on pictures

Due to indecisiveness I am now using both flickr and picasa. This is hardly newsworthy I suppose, and certainly not the sort of reflective chronicling I do on this page, but I thought my faithful dozen or so readers should know. I like picasa for its file management and flickr because it's quirky and the photo quality is far superior. Its file management is, sadly, rubbish and unintuitive. 

So I've broken it down like this -

Party, people and events shots are going on picasa. It's easier for people to browse and whatnot.
Arty, landscape-y, abstract-y pics will go on flickr. Because they look better there. And context is less of an issue. There may still be people shots, but probably not portraits. Unless they're particularly arty, landscape-y, abstract-y or some combination of the three.

I'm updating both sites today with shots of France and the wedding I attended. Have a look. The flickr page allows you to comment, so please feel free. 

Preferably more frequently than you do here. 

13 June 2008

waiting somewhere.

Delayed flights bring all manner of reflection and observation. Humanity drifts by, most of it generally impatient, waiting for a call on the loudspeaker or staring at the departure board. Some catch up on work, or read. Blackberries abound, laptops (like the one I'm typing this on) slowly drain their batteries. The sight and sound of someone shuffling a real deck of cards is pleasant, and has the ring of timelessness and antiquity. 

It's all some manner of escape. Some form of being somewhere else, of building a wall, of avoiding the grubby, anonymous sterility of their surroundings. They're somewhere that's on the way to somewhere else. Occasionally, there's a look of impatient excitement. They're on the way to somewhere special, perhaps for some special reason. It's nice to see. As refreshing as the sound of cards shuffling. 

I've travelled a lot recently. Well, relatively. I've driven thousands of miles round-trip, crossed four countries. Somewhere special, for something special. I haven't quite taken it all in yet;what I've seen, what happened. There's no respite. Reflection happens infrequently or all to often. You see more in it than what was there in the first place. 

And so I sit, waiting for the plane to board. My headphones are in and my fingers tap the keys. I've built my wall and I'm safely not here. 

I stare in the mirror and see more in it.

Too much. 

08 June 2008

small note

I am in the South of France. I'm leaving tomorrow. I don't want to leave, but that's the way it goes. 

One of the greatest weddings I've ever attended took place yesterday. The memory already gives that warm feeling - a glow of comfort and fondness. I played my part. 

I want to stay here. 

But I'm looking forward to home.

01 June 2008

not much

laugh and the world laughs with you.
bitch & moan?
you bitch & moan alone. 

That's about all the chat I can summon. I'm older since my last post. I've taken a lot of pictures. I've been to London and back. 

16 May 2008

improving moods and sea mammals...

The seals seemed happy. I think they might even have been frolicking. 

We sat out on the deck of the beach bar. I had a beer. The others had drinks of more than one ingredient. Mixers, spirits, fruit - that sort of thing. 

I kept it simple. 

I don't always. 

The clouds hung low but the breeze didn't chill. It was mild. The deck heater helped. 

And a little further up the beach, the seals seemed happy. They frolicked. One slid from one pool to the other, slipping into the water with barely a noise. The other posed, flexing on the high wall, aware of us watching. He looked awkward when he changed position, uncomfortable out of water. After he posed he dropped into the water with a belly flop and a tremendous splash. 

We laughed, for a moment, before he shot like a bullet into the other pool, as graceful as his friend. 

Between their escapades we talked in relaxed tones. The banter ranged, but nothing deep. The shallow questions, tame and easy. No urgency, nothing pressing, no weight of the unspoken suspended in the air. No deeper than the seal pools, and just as contained. No need for the wild, just to unwind. We sipped our drinks and decided it would be a quiet one. 

It isn't always. 

They quieted down, their evening play complete. We finished our drinks and wandered out into the still night.  

15 May 2008


This is my 501st post on this blog. And it's a link post. I know that's a bit of a cop out, but that's just the way it is. I'm kind of in a bad mood. Kind of grumpy. And this cheered me up for a bit. So I'm sharing it. 

I hope you enjoy. You should. Aquatic mammals are cool. You have to be Norwegian, Inuit or Japanese not to think so. 

St Andrews sits under a cold, grey duvet today. That's not why I'm grumpy. It's just why I'm not wearing shorts and flip-flops. 

13 May 2008

this morning

The Sox dropped 3 of 4 to Minnesota. 

That's the first thing I knew this morning. I checked on my phone, still in bed. More asleep than awake. The birds out the window chattered against a dull grey backdrop. It was 440. 

I went back to sleep. 

St Andrews is trying desperately to skip Spring and get straight to Summer. Mornings like this don't help. There's a lazy chill thrown to shore by the sea. 

The sun's come out now though. There's a new restaurant around the corner to try. Lunch beckons. 

I'm writing, editing and selling the odd bottle of wine. 

The Sox lost. I can live with that. 

It's a long season, and the better for it. 

10 May 2008


I bought a frisbee this morning. It's purple. I don't own many purple things, unless you count red wine. And that varies, really. Several shades of red and purple, depending on its age and grape and all manner of variables. But some of them are definitely purple. Grenache tends to have a purple hue. Pinot Noir not so much. 

I bought the frisbee because they never tend to last the winter months. I don't know what happens to them in the meantime. Lost in a season of disuse. I wonder if there's some graveyard of winter frisbees; some dilapidated pile of multi-coloured discs dusted with a fine layer of snow that will never melt. It's an odd thought, I suppose. 

Though I've had odder. 

Last night the wine flowed along with the beer and the whisky and the gin. The guitar strummed and many a string broke. The Guinness tasted good, as did the Springbank. Our banter drifted along happily. The bar was hot, but not too hot. We never waited long to get served. 

I caught a pretty girl's eye and then, later, she caught mine. There was nothing in it. Just noticing, being noticed. 

We got home, three flatmates, in time to open a bottle of wine and finish a bottle of whisky and banter more. Heavier this time, deeper. We paused occasionally to watch drunks wander home, clad in ball gowns and black tie. Placing bets on the couples, watching the spats, laughing at the hapless. We may have been as drunk as them, but we'd won already. We were home. Memories and the future both thrown onto the table, talked about loosely, as we were loose. 

This morning my flip-flops slipped on and my face felt a touch numb. 

I remembered summers, stumbling down to the beach. Heads pounding, maybe a tad dizzy. We'd throw the frisbee around like lunatics. Diving catches, great leaps, acts of heroism for girls that weren't there. The sky so blue and the sea cold and inviting. The pop of the first beer bottle opened rang out and we'd take a break, slick with sweat. We'd try to remember the night before. A night like last night. Then the disk flew again and we'd fall, rend the skin from our limbs on the course sand close to the water. 

Breathless, bleeding, soaking, we sat again and sipped. Hangovers evaporated, sweat stung the eyes. We clinked bottles and cursed work and weather for making life anything but that; what we had then. 

So I bought a frisbee this morning.

09 May 2008

white space

It's not a hangover. I didn't drink enough for that. There's no pain or sense of displacement. Just a touch of weariness and discontent with working all day. 

I find it's days like this I want to write. I want to write everyday, obviously. But days like this in particular I miss just writing. No stealing a sentence here and there, in the midst of pretending to do a job. No looking at my desk at the end of a long day and ignoring it, killing the guilt of not writing with a glass of wine and Scrubs reruns. No excuses. An espresso, a cup of tea, a pint of water and the endless patter of the keyboard. The screen filling with words, white space consumed by more and more black characters. Looking at my word count, knowing my place, the story's place, and knowing when my day's work was done. Not looking at a clock and longing for time to speed up. 

The sun's been around a wee while now. New flip-flops, old shorts and t-shirts and my summer uniform's in place. There's a chill in the shadows though. A bitterness when the sun slips behind a cloud. Tendrils of sea mist, the haar, drift in from the water, cooling the sun-soaked streets. Folk hug themselves and wish they'd brought jumpers, jackets, anything. They feel deceived as the sun turns into a silver disc, veiled in the fog. 

It doesn't come until after lunch, the haar. Sitting on the beach with a bottle of whisky as the sun rises in the east. Maybe a beer or two. The sky's clear then, as the fiery disc rises from the water in the distance. It's all the clarity to be had, and I drink it in with the whisky, with the beer. The tendrils of mist are yet to come.

I'm not hungover. I'm not even tired.  Just a little weary, and a little discontent. 

26 April 2008

reunion pint.

We sat in the bar, drinking beer and talking rubbish. He was drunker than I. I wasn't drunk. I was tired, my legs hurt and I needed my bed. Our glasses clinked during the pauses, toasting the reunion. Every few minutes one of us would say 'decade', or 'ten years', or 'so young' and then shake the head and look into the middle distance of nowhere. We talked about an ex we shared, late nights, drink and drugs and where the hell everyone was now. We talked about where the hell we were now. 

It was talk to start. The words and the stories merely vocabulary and grammar. It took time. The memories returned slowly. Vague, incomplete, more emotion, instinct and hunch than recall, than seeing what was. But they came back to the surface, one leading to another, connected, and all the feelings that were returned. Some were alien, encased in an amber of youth, petrified and strange.

We laughed and ordered another round, incredulous at our lives. That with a beer and words we realised we lived, that it was full life, that none of it could have been predicted. And that there was so much. One memory leading to another, to another; twenty years of living in ten. 

The rest of the pub needn't have been there. It was irrelevant. Talk of sports and gossip lingered in the air around us. 

He switched to coke. I stayed with beer. He grabbed a cab. Home to his wife and child. 

I shook my head and wandered home to an empty bed. 

I didn't go for a run this morning.

24 April 2008


I like sleeping with the window open, even if there's a bit of a chill. Especially when the rain falls. The breeze gives the rain drops a pleasing hiss, like a needle on good vinyl. A proper acoustic crackle. It helps me sleep. It's pleasing to wake up to. The hush of the wind in the window reminds me of the sea, or holding a shell to my ear. 

The current Belfry is an attic room. The ceiling slopes on all sides and it's easy to feel removed from the world. This can be a good thing, from time to time, but the noise from outside provides an anchor to the world without distracting me or drawing me to it. The gardens below don't generate much noise. There isn't much to spy or eavesdrop on. 

I woke up at about 3... it felt like 7. I didn't even notice how dark the room was. It could have been dawn. 3:04 on my phone. I battered my pillows and tucked my duvet a bit. Couldn't check the Sox score. Sleep drifted back now and then and then it was 4 and my eyes shot open. It felt like 7 again. More pillow battering and more fiddling with the duvet... considered briefly stapling my eyes shut. Can't remember if I actually slept or drifted or dreamed. 

Five rolled on and I got up. And I listened. I listened and finally worked out what I was hearing. Like an image coming into focus, white noise becoming music. Birdsong, actually. The light out the window was pale, the haar thick, and through the sea fog came an orchestra of birdsong. I wiped my eyes but there was no sleep in them. They sang in force, heralding the coming Spring. I smiled. 

Then I shut the window. The needle slipped from the vinyl and I slipped back to bed. 

I woke at seven, not at six. 

23 April 2008

Every once in awhile, get drunk and watch The Goonies

A few beers with old friends in the old local, the one where the bar staff are rude, downright grumpy, but the beer tastes good and slips down without effort. Then wine with dinner and banter about the past, silver-lined memories and the ghosts of great times. The wine tastes amazing, more-ish. It's not expensive, just good, honest and makes the food taste even better. Nostalgic reminiscing brings The Goonies to the DVD player. The Goonies brings chat of treasure maps, and adventure. 

Another bottle of wine gets opened and the guidebooks come out. Our own treasure maps. Tracing lines across the highlands; there are castles, snow-capped mountains, lochs and ruins on the doorstep. Another coast to explore. It's decided. 

The next morning sees an early start, fuzzy-headed but hearts clear. A whirlwind tour of the highlands - tiny daft roads barely big enough for a skateboard, camera and notebooks in tow, Rob's on the music, Sarah's got the map.

Adventure calls all the time; you just have to answer it.

I started thinking about my next cup of coffee before I took a sip of the one in front of me... I was quite tired. I'll tell you all about it sometime. One of those mornings where your brain doesn't know why your body's so awake. Still... wasn't this bad. Made me chuckle.

03 April 2008

funny money

Some real posts coming, but in the meantime have a quick read of this.

20 March 2008

return of the red pen

I'm editing again. The last resort of a blocked writer. My manuscript sits in a large, purple binder. The binder still looks new, though I bought it six or so months ago. It should be battered, corners bent, scratched and smudged. Dented, even. Falling to pieces perhaps. 

The pages are battered. Though dusty, and unread for far too long. 

I have a red pen. I stole it from work. Already there are new marks on new drafts. Drafts I planned to send to agents, drafts meant to be perfect. 

They're not. Yet.

11 March 2008

unused books

There's little to talk about at the moment. We're stuck on a seasonal precipice, storm after storm hammering on, each calm that follows a touch warmer than the one before. The wind is so constant that its absence leads to a change of step, a sense of unbalance. There's nothing to lean against while walking. 

I strolled around the bookshop yesterday. The hardbacks caught my attention. I studied them, felt the texture of their dust jackets, pondered their design and tested their weight. The dry whiff of the unopened and unread the drifts through all 'new' bookshops pleased my nose. Used bookshops smell warmer though, with leather and wood and dust lingering longer in the air. The memory of loved pages, thumbed ritually, lingers as well. 

I didn't buy a hardback. Eyes closed, I imagined a different dust jacket, one with my name on it. Just for a moment though, a split-second daydream before wandering over to the poetry/drama section. My two Complete Works of William Shakespeare both sit in a box in a garage in west London. I grabbed another, a paperback, an edition I don't have. Desert island reading indeed; can't be without a Complete Works for very long. I found another paperback, a tome on writing poetry, another book that sits in a box in a garage in west London. I liked the weight and bought both.

01 March 2008

march arrives

The sun returns and it's like white-out. So bright and unfamiliar. The wind's still there, reminding us not to get too cozy. Not to think, for an instant, that we're out of the woods yet. 

Sometimes I don't put my headphones in. I just walk and my soundtrack is the sound of winter on the coast. The howl and its echo, the static crackle of the ubiquitous sea, the scraping of windswept detritus along the road; these things fill my ears. 

People talk about the darkness, the cold, the wet, but they rarely speak the sound of winter. It is a symphony, wild and eclectic. The songs are elemental and percussive. Rain battering stone, waves crashing, wind hammering and howling. 

Soon the birds will sing again. That's when Spring arrives, with its own tune.

23 February 2008

inadvertent hiatus

My goodness. 

Almost a month. 

Moreso, if you count proper posts rather than snippets. 

Much has changed, much remains the same. 

I've moved. I'm in a belfry again, with a south-facing window that catches the morning light. It's cozy, and I'm comfortable. 

I've scraped the rust off my knee and started running again. It's frustrating, running with baby steps. 

My fingers slam the keyboard and new words appear on the screen. CPR on the draft seems to be working, and signs of life emerge. Brick walls and blocks start to crumble. A complete story forms. 

The wind howls at night, tearing from the shore, driving torrents and ribbons of sand from the dunes to the sea. It looks alive, shifting like quicksilver, endless, more liquid than the water it races towards. Running through it you believe in banshees. That underneath the rumbling howl something preternatural shrieks with the wind. That they ride the ribbons of sand into the waiting sea, that they blind you with the fine grain and deafen you to make you theirs. The lights of the town never get closer until you make it back. Then you look behind and see the maelstrom. You can't believe you were there.

29 January 2008

skimming stones and slipping on seaweed - things no one should ever grow out of. pics.

24 January 2008

thursday morning

My breakfast sits heavy and I'm not doing the work I should be. The damp cold chills to the bone the odd moments I'm forced to stray outside. The sun shines and the rain falls all at once. It's too cold to look for the rainbow. I'm writing letters in my head when I should be writing them on my laptop. 

I'm thinking of opening a bottle of Bollinger. 

22 January 2008

evening wander (a Collioure walk)

There's no one around. Just two old friends walking the slow walk that follows a meal. Our chat is quiet, there's no need to be loud. The soft sound of our steps on old stone doesn't travel far in the night's silence. It absorbs it, with our whispered comments. It isn't cold but I feel every bit of the air I breathe in and it's fresh. I can taste it.

The tall plane trees line the banks of the dry river. They stand bare in the January night, their pale bark silver in the cold light. I sense they guard something, stand sentinel against something unseen. It's my imagination, but I let it take me. It doesn't take too much thought. We keep chatting. 

Nothing is open. The bars and cafés and restaurants behind the trees sit in darkness, hibernating for the winter. The streetlights are that peculiar continental yellow. They make everything look old. Much of it is old. The ancient stone of the Moorish palace in the centre of the harbour loves the yellow light, sucking it in, shining a vivid sepia against the midnight blue of the sky and the pinprick twinkling stars that seem set deeper in the night than usual. 

The dry river stays quiet, its empty mouth arriving at the harbour, the sea's muffled ripples falling against it. 

We talk about life, about the lack of people, about weddings and guests, about wine and food, about writing and vines, about our lives. We head towards the church, it's peculiar clock tower off-set from the central nave. I wonder if it's a nave for such a church. It's not cruciform. I wish for a moment that I knew more. Behind the church, at the base of the pier, is a small chapel, barely a shed. Next to the chapel is a large crucifix set in the stone, facing out to see. I wonder, again, whether it is to bless fishermen, or sailors in general. The plough shines bright behind the silhouette of the cross. It's the first time I think of it as the plough and not the big dipper. I shrug at this and wish I had my camera. I look for a saint's name on the chapel and find none. We talk for awhile about the ubiquity of such small chapels in these parts and others. 

Nostalgia leads us down the pier, towards the flashing green lantern at the end. The Med lies to our left, its surf barely muttering. We speak at the same volume as the sea. To our right the town shines glorious in its yellow light, its great buildings highlighted - the castle standing watch on the high cliff above, the palace in its regal austerity, the peculiar clock tower and the silver plane trees, perfectly spaced and regimented. I stare and am moved by it all. 

Walking back towards town we cross the beach. The water sucks on the pebbles in a perpetual tumult, sounding for all the world like a fresh bowl of rice krispies. I smile at the association and make a note to make a note. 

The bar looks as though it's been carved out of a mediaeval wall. Bare stone adorned by tribal art and abstract brass coils, dimly lit and humming with anonymous jazz and blues. The barman's hyper, speaking in rapid French and laughing at my friend's tales. He asks us about English cheese. CDs line a corner behind the bar and he flips through the odd box here and there. He loves his music in such a way that you want to hear all of it because you feel you'll love it too. The back room could be someone's sitting room, though an odd one. A cozy couch in one corner and a drum kit in the other. Thick rugs and draped tapestries and all the trappings of comfort.  

The doors to the bar stand tall, primeval and daunting, and as we leave I resent my weariness, for I could stay. I could lose nights in this bar.

We walk back to the car with little talk. The night seems thicker and the light colder. 

France pics

Pics. From France.


16 January 2008

small note

The changing times... I'm on a train from London to Edinburgh - it stops at Newcastle on the way. Through the free wi-fi connection I noticed the breaking news on the 'net that Geordie legend Kevin Keegan has once again been given the job as manager of Newcastle United. Within minutes, a chorus of text beeps and odd ring tones rang throughout the carriage, followed by a chorus of Geordie accents asking the people on the other line if they'd heard the news. A few muttered lines of punter opinion followed and there are whispers throughout the train, among fellow Geordies, strangers talking about the announcement. 

Everyone knew within minutes. 

We're on a train. 

13 January 2008

arriving at Perpignan

The airport reminds me of Key West. Small, a bit dirty - the sort of dirty you get when it's warm enough to leave the doors open year-round. The terminal building is a 50's retro throwback, only a storey high. A few tired palm trees, bored of winter, line the outside. You walk straight in from the plane, no gates or such. Passport check, arrivals lounge and baggage claim are all one room. 

I barely mumble bonjour and merci when the man casts a glance at my passport. Too shy to enunciate. 

It's not warm, but it's not cold either. My scarf feels pointless. I could be in a t-shirt, but only for a minute or two. The air smells good, and feels good. There's warmth in it, and a touch of the sea. You can almost taste it. The sky's low, the clouds dark, but it's still mild. 

I feel elsewhere. 

Somewhere different, somewhere new. 

09 January 2008

heads up *update*

Any writers out there working their arses off should read Veronica's latest post about an active plagiarist working the blogosphere. 

The same thief also ripped off Alcoholic Poet - the response is here

If anyone sees any of my stuff kicking about elsewhere, well, you know they were desperate. 

About two days before any of this came up I had a nightmare that I'd opened a book by someone else and started reading the first few chapters of my book. I woke up angry - it took me awhile to settle down. And that was just a dream. I can't imagine what it must be like for real.

07 January 2008

registered complaints and half resolutions

I complained to a friend about the shite weather and he replied,

"It is January in Scotland."

Which, to be fair, is exactly what I would have said to someone complaining about the shite weather in January, in Scotland.  


I'd been working on a post for over a week when an incredibly rare kernel panic (crash) took the vast bulk of it away. It irked me. I look at the paragraph that remains and it taunts me, daring me to finish it, to attempt to rewrite it. To try, and always to wonder whether the first and lost remains the best. It isn't that important - just a post. But coming off a year of minimal literary productivity, even that is cold comfort. 

2007. I wouldn't call it a great year. I fulfilled neither of my resolutions and accomplished far too little writing. Someone dear to me passed. In the last quarter my health slipped and I gained a bit of weight. Finishing the first draft of my book on New Year's Eve last year left me complacent. I had no idea, really, what I was doing and too many of the paths I followed in the meantime were dead-ends. I've learned a lot of what not to do. 

I take more than hindsight from it though. A new and wonderful friendship, a deeper understanding of what I need to do and how I need to do it - it's not all bad - just not great. 


The wind had been from the east, and the breakers enormous, starting a half-mile out to sea and charging through towards the shore. Even when the wind changed, in from the west, they came still, relentless. The westerly blew their spray back and they looked like locomotives charging in on invisible tracks, their heads of steam trailing into mist behind them.


I'm off to France on Thursday. It's been awhile. To say I'm excited would be an understatement.