25 March 2009

jostling tracks

The light falls sparsely on the borders, the clouds creating a patchwork upon the countryside. This trip is old hat, almost a commute. The jittery train dashes north from London to Scotland and the landmarks are comforting and familiar. Once we pass Berwick the tracks hug the sea most of the way to Edinburgh. I stare out over the horizon and down the crevices that dot the coast, watching the waves crash. I wonder at the houses built by the water between the train and the sea, envying the seclusion and beauty - the starkness that comes from living on the very edge.

The trip to London was short, business-like. The city, even the Underground, seemed quiet -even when crowded. The tube reminded me of commuting to school. Trying to stand against the shake of the train, refusing to hold on, testing balance in the way that you test anything you can when you're young. The utter embarrassment when, with a jolt, you lose your balance and knock into a disapproving fellow passenger, the laughter of your friends, the mumble of apologies. In my earphone cocoon I thumbed through the memories, their distance and clarity both a surprise.

I visited two pubs, one a local. Neither was The Dove, much to my surprise. There simply wasn't the time. A few quick texts to friends, confessing my presence and apologising for the fleeting nature of the visit. The beer tasted good, though. Earned and deserved after a long day feeling a fish out of water. The wine trade can be quite vast and daunting on occasion. Yesterday was just that sort of day.

We cross the bridge across the Forth and the waters are busy. Ships and tugs and launches all scattered across the blue expanse.

Back in Fife and inching towards home. The weather's better than London and the sun's bright.

There's something about time on the train. It's mine: no one else's.

23 March 2009

the moments along the way

The last week flew by.

I'm not even sure I can attempt a chronology of events.

There were birthday parties and beach parties and ill-health and whisky mishaps. I worked and rehearsed and worked and wrote and worked and baked bread. I failed to shake this relentless cold which, even now, drives a steal spike through my sinuses and takes an electric sander to my chest and throat. I lived entirely on bread, cheese, peanut butter and jam. And the odd unwanted petit four. And espressos.

I saw my flatmate once or twice, but never for more than five minutes.

I walked into a party full of folks dressed as Peter Pan, Lost Boys and the odd Wendy. Everyone was drunker than I was. This doesn't always happen.

The hostess and birthday girl - one of the Peter Pans - gave me an immense, heart-warming hug and offered me 'cake, vodka jelly or scary punch.'

There was a time, not too long ago, I would have said yes to all three. We danced a bit of a jig and had a laugh before I told her I'd rather grab a beer if she had one. I said it sheepishly, embarrassed at my own timidity in the face of cake, jelly and scary punch. Everyone was drunk. Drunk and young.

I grabbed a piece of couch and watched for a while, chatting to a friend about very little in particular. Girls, mostly. He left to go to the pub.

Later someone drunker landed on the couch next to me and ranted a bit about writing. His eyes lit up with inebriated inspiration and the words spilled out as his arms flailed with the intensity of his mission.

'Steam punk, man! It's all about fucking steam punk! We have to do it!'

While I have a vague notion of the current steam punk trend, I had no idea what he was talking about. He grabbed my shoulder.

'Dude. Seriously. You need to write a steam punk novel. Imagine it.'

He held my shoulder and stared at me and I could barely keep from laughing out loud. I took a sip of beer and hoped it wouldn't shoot out my nose.

He stared.

'Can't you imagine it?'


'Look, it's simple. There's a massive cannon set up in the castle and they shoot it at this invading ship, BANG! And then, 'cause it's steam punk, the cannonball has this massive charge of electricity and it, like, stops - right in the middle of the fucking ship, and all these sailors are staring at it going like, "what the fuck?!" and then ZAP - they're all fucking electrocuted. Because it's steam punk. You've got to write it.'

'Uh... why don't you write it?'

'No, man - we ALL have to write them. A whole bunch of steam punk novels. You, me, everybody! Then there'll be this cult movement. Everyone'll be talking about it. The St Andrews Steam Punk Movement. We're fucking doing it. You know we are.'

'Uh... ok?'

'I'm going to another party.'

He staggered out into the night, looking for the next party, muttering about steam punk cults.

One of those moments along the way, during the whirlwind, that sticks out and brings a smile.