15 November 2011

lost and found

The sun's setting just after four at the moment. It pops its head up just before eight in the morning. At the moment. The former will get earlier and the latter later before the solstice and the days once again stretch themselves out of the dark ages. After eighteen winters in Scotland (give or take one or two) you would think the pervasive dark would have no impact, or at least less impact. But no. By two-thirty I know the darkness is drawing in and I flail to finish something, anything, before it falls entirely, and feel when it does that no matter what, I could have or should have done more before the pale light departed. And so the Scottish winter feels like time unfulfilled and unfinished.

It's ridiculous, I know. The marvel of electricity allows bountiful productivity long after the sun sets. And I do work in the dark, often longer than I should. But it feels different. It's got an academic feel to it. Like doing homework or pulling that all-nighter on the essay that you need to get in by nine the next morning. Whether that's because the time of year isn't just winter but also the peak of a school year is the kind of chicken/egg pondering that I don't give a shit about. Though I'm certain that the academic feel makes it far easier to make excuses, to push it aside and crack open a bottle of something.

I can't remember which particular Scottish winter it was, but two or three of them ago I pushed my book aside. Oh, I fiddled with submission chapters, snippets. I got angst-ridden about cover letters for agents and would every couple of months or so work myself into a state about getting it sorted and would do the bare minimum before the sun set and I pushed it all aside again and distracted myself with something else, some other idea still embryonic in my head. People asked about it and I shrugged about it being kind of finished and not really feeling it at the moment and all the other reasons a school kid would put off their homework until the last possible second.

It's a strange thing to do with a book you've written. It sat in a large purple binder - sometimes next to my desk, sometimes next to my bed, untouched but to move it from one place to another. It lost meaning for me. Just a binder and not the words inside.

Last week a friend took me to see Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen's latest is charming, whimsical and, while not landmark cinema, deals with a time close to my heart. Regardless of the premise or even the movie itself, it reminded me of the writing I loved. Books of grand stories and the human condition, writers shaping words to capture a world growing bigger and just beginning to chronicle those changes. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner and Chandler and Penn Warren and Ellison and the others who embraced prose without forgetting poetry and raised the novel to high art. People who made words dance in their simplest (Hemingway) and most complex (Faulkner) arrangements. Passages that leave you breathless with their poise and perfection, winded by the words on the page. Stories so heart-rending you can't bear to turn the page and prose so compelling that you can't bear to not turn it. Books that you hold in your hands for long minutes after they're finished, heart beating strong. They've left you full and empty all at once.

Those are the fucking books they wrote.

Those are the books worth writing.

And so I sit in the dark, surrounded by drafts and rewrites and notebooks and outlines and I have found my book again and am wrestling with the words inside. The days are short but then so are most things. I cannot write the books they wrote, I can only write mine.

But I can make mine worth writing.

29 October 2011

central heating and nostalgia

Last night the St Louis Cardinals won the World Series and today my flatmate turned the heating on. The leaves and lack of frost suggest that autumn has itself a few more weeks, but I'm suspicious. Already my thoughts have turned to winter, with all of November still to come. I crave stews and chilli and roasts and deep red wines that stick to the ribs and crunch like kindling mixed with dry leaves.

At last count, I have about six unwritten projects and one large item to edit. There's a script, a novel, a novella and scattered blog posts that may not seem like priority, but still serve the important role of keeping words flowing. I'm out shape, you see. The words are not flowing. They are a tumult in my head, of course, but I'm not getting them out to where they belong. All my blogs have suffered, my writing has suffered and with them both perhaps a bit of my sanity as well.

Such frustration requires escape and often I find myself lost in old photos or old scribblings. Sometimes both. Nostalgia strikes hard when the future is obscured. It clarifies the past and polishes it as well, giving every little nugget of memory - every warm moment - an added sheen. Because it seems so clear, so close, so grows the illusion that things were clear at the time. So follows a belief in the past's inherent innocence, as clarity quickly becomes purity in the mind's eye and soon you look out and see behind you a perfect narrative. And as soon as you see it as such you begin to wonder where it changed, how did such a perfect past lead to an imperfect and mostly uncertain future?

The radiator's kicking off a nice heat and the cat sleeps atop a pile of my jumpers at the bottom of my bed. The wind isn't howling, yet. The clocks go back in an hour or so. Tomorrow I'll run and bake bread and try, with some effort, to write.

06 October 2011


Santa brought my family its first computer on Christmas Day 1984. I was 8, though for some reason it feels like I should have been 7. It was a Macintosh 512, affectionately referred to as the 'Fat Mac'. We got a subscription to Macworld and a bunch of programs as well. My mom spearheaded the integration of this strange new machine into the household while my dad stood back and embraced the ways of the luddite, as he still does to this day. I looked on in wonder and excitement, using the new machine at every opportunity, curious as to why my MacPaint creations never looked as awesome as the sample art. Swapping floppies became habit. Boston Mac User Group (BMUG) discs littered the desk. I begged for a LaserWriter but instead we got an ImageWriter II.

At school I used Apple II's and Basic to make shapes with a turtle.

At home I designed posters and wrote screenplays based on me being Indiana Jones. And I played Lode Runner. A huge amount of Lode Runner.

After an upgrade to 1Mb of RAM could only take us so far and so we used my cousin's educational discount and bought a Macintosh SE. That had an internal hard drive, which blew my mind. Swapping floppies was relegated to installs only. My mother wrote a cookbook on that machine. It was that machine that came with us to London when we moved in 1989.

My first Mac was a Classic II. I got it my junior year of High School. By then Tetris had replaced Lode Runner as my gaming addiction. That was followed by an LCIII, a Centris 610 (hand-me-down), a PowerMac 7100/66 (also hand-me-down), a PowerBook G3 250, a PowerBook G3 Pismo, a PowerBook G4, an iBook G4, a black MacBook and now the 15" MacBook Pro that I'm writing this on. I had the first iPod and quite a few subsequent iPods - Shuffles, Nanos and a Classic, but never a Mini. I'm on my third iPhone and I use an iPad regularly. I've never owned a PC.

In the summer of 1997, my mother and I drove from Key West to Washington DC. We listened to a lot of NPR and tried to identify road kill along the way. I remember saying that she and dad should, if they had the money, invest in Apple. The stock was trading at about $12 a share at the time. This was before the iMac. Steve Jobs had only just returned to the company and the future was uncertain to say the least. My mom asked why and I said, 'They make the best computers. Someone's going to have to notice that eventually. And it looks like Steve Jobs is going to help people notice that.'

Every step of my education and subsequent professional life has been processed on Macs. Writing, web design, general design, photography, project management and wine merchanting have all been made a little more comprehensible, a little more pleasurable, a little more manageable because I have faith and confidence in the tools I use.

Last night I was drinking whisky with friends when one stopped mid sentence and handed me his iPad with the news splash of Steve Jobs' death. I took to Twitter and saw a steady stream of reactions to the news. We poured another dram and spoke in saddened awe. I couldn't sleep when I got home and so wandered online, reading testimonial after testimonial.

Steve Jobs built the company that makes the tools I use and trust. He did it remarkably. He built another company that makes movies I love. The tools that forged the World Wide Web were built by yet another company of his. The sheer scale of his accomplishments is daunting. He changed the world in not one but several fields. For the better, and without question better than the alternatives. A future without him driving forward innovation, shaping the advancements of technology so that it actually matters to people, seems a sad prospect.

It seems selfish, really, to mourn the loss of someone who has done so much because, in part, I wanted there to be more.

Rest in peace, Steve. And thank you.

12 September 2011

mystery meal

I've not seen a single mosquito since I arrived in France.

I have seen several spiders, though none that would shake my proud defiance of arachnophobia. The occasional wasp has made an appearance. Well, more than occasional, as the unfermented grape must at harvest is perhaps their favourite meal. Ant spottings, especially in the garden, are not uncommon.

To be honest, there have been a fair few bugs kicking about. They crawl and buzz about their business and seem to enjoy the late summer and vintage time as much as I do. It's a menagerie of arachnids and arthropods.

Except for mosquitos.

They don't seem to enjoy it all, because they don't seem to be anywhere.

What does seem to be here, in abundance, are mosquito bites. Both feet, both legs, both arms and both hands; riddled with mosquito bites. There's even one below my left cheek at the moment, lending a certain teenager-with-a-zit quality to my visage. In the wee hours of the morning I wake to find myself scratching bites until they bleed.

So, no. I've not seen a single mosquito since I arrived in France.

But I'm pretty sure they're here.

24 August 2011

early morning airports

Prestwick in the wee hours is becoming something of a familiar scene for me. The tortured breakfast buffet steams away; watery bacon, leather-coated sausages and fried eggs shaped like hockey pucks all await hungry travellers with scant regard for nutritional value. I shamefully acknowledge my own dietary crimes and settle into some of that watery bacon and leathery sausage. Yes, even the hockey puck egg. I wash it all down with fruit juice in a vain attempt to cleanse the grease and my conscience.

After breakfast I sit near the bar and try some writing to kill time. The bar is, and this is not a joke, called the Elvis Presley Bar. Sadly, it's not as tacky as it's name suggests. In fact, it's fairly subdued and irksomely tasteful. Well, as tasteful as a bar in Prestwick can be. Perhaps antiseptic is a better word for it. In any case, the disappointment continues: there are no deep-fried bacon, banana and peanut butter sandwiches on the menu. I'm pretty sure it would have been healthier than the breakfast I just ate, fruit juice or no.

Everyone with a paper reads a red-top tabloid. They skim the pages, scanning the pictures and perhaps a headline or two, but never seem to read anything. A fair few pints are sipped, and I confess that were I not working on the other end of my flight, I would nurse one myself.

There's something staged about this place. It looks like the departure lounge in a cheap tv show, the sort of thing you watch and think, 'that's not what real airports look like'. The scruffiness of it all, the shops, the bar, the breakfast buffet, the passengers (yours truly included), is the only thing convincing me that Ross isn't about to run in and stop Rachel from getting on a plane.

I might succumb and grab a pint anyway. It may help me sleep on the flight.

23 August 2011


I own a lot of t-shirts. They sit, folded with reasonable competence, in three piles, on the top shelf of my closet. Two of the piles are the t-shirts I wear regularly, pretty much everyday. Those are the two front piles and they're stacked high. The shirts in those piles are varied - some are beer freebies, many are Red Sox tees, and quite a few possess quirky graphics or phrases that appeal to whatever mood I was in when I bought them. I like my t-shirts to have some sort of meaning to me. I don't know why.

The third pile is smaller and sits in their shadow. I have to take out one of the other piles to get to them. Those shirts are not worn everyday, or even monthly. They get worn pretty much once a year.

Technically speaking, they're clean. They've been thoroughly laundered and detergent, be it Ecover, Bold or Persil, has done all it can for them. They don't look clean. The white ones, if they can still be called that, bear the full brunt; splattered and smeared with uneven blotches of grey, black and jaundiced brown, front and back, sleeve and chest and belly, looking for all the world as though I'd slaughtered something long ago whilst wearing them.

I didn't slaughter anything. Honest.

It's the mark of grapes in their thousands and perhaps millions.

Out came that third pile this morning. I lay them on my bed, smiled, refolded each one and packed them tightly into my duffel bag. Each one has three vintages worth of winemaking stains so deeply pummelled into the fabric that they must be now a part of it. Tomorrow I'll start pummelling the fourth vintage into them, and I couldn't be happier about it.

19 June 2011

umbrellas and a sax

The Red Sox were losing to the Brewers. The cat slept at the bottom of my bed, wrapped up in a ball on his side, breathing softly and occasionally uttering a sleepy grumble. I sipped a Sam Adams and watched as the Red Sox gathered hits but couldn't convert them into runs. I had my headphones on; it was about 2am. My phone refreshed my Twitter feed and I saw the news and the ballgame drifted away. Clarence Clemons, the Big Man, had died following a stroke.

I wrote this almost two years ago, still giddy from the gig. Two years later and the image of the sax under guard still shines bright in my mind: the mass of beautiful, twisted metal, polished so that it almost glowed in spite of the still-lingering rain clouds, requiring not one but three guards - one just to hold the umbrella. The man himself: immense, clad entirely in black and with all the presence and more mystery than the Boss himself. I considered myself lucky then and privileged now. Rest in peace, Big Man.

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09 June 2011

ice packs and jimmy buffett lyrics

It's sunny today, in spite of the big rain clouds. There's an occasional shower, but it doesn't last. The breeze is a mere wheeze compared to the gales that have hit of late.

With these things in mind, I stretched out this afternoon and went for a run. Town seemed reasonably quiet. There was the odd dog-walker on East Sands and a bit of traffic here and there, but not all that many folks. I was able to cross the Old Course without yielding to a drive from the first hole or a final whack to the eighteenth. My pace felt good and the sun felt better as I ran behind the dunes, along the grass down to the end of West Sands. I passed some folks with tricycles attached to sails folding their kit onto the back of a trailer. I imagined the mildness of the breeze annoyed them as much as it pleased me. They were young, brightly attired and wearing scarlet safety helmets.

By the time I reached the last flag on the beach and turned back towards home my mind set itself on my writing, turning over issues of prose and plot as my legs retraced my steps. It's one of the few times I can ponder my words while listening to lyrics by someone else. In this case it was the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Blink 182: good running tunes. Turning from the entrance to the beach to follow the Bruce Embankment, my mind had drifted to nothing in particular. The blue of the sea, the brightness of the sky, the enormity of the odd rain cloud. I dodged the odd pedestrian and wheezed a 'thank you' or 'cheers' if they took evasive action.

And then I got to the car park and something at the bottom of my calf popped. I ran with a limp for a few more steps and it got worse, so I stopped. I stretched it out as best I could for about a minute. I jogged lightly for another few steps and it seemed better. Everything else felt brilliant - runner's high, six and a bit miles in, muscles, lungs, all of it good. I stretched again. I could see the restaurant I used to work at, my old boss, my old colleagues and a wine rep I knew sitting at the window, right along my route (which, at that point, was all uphill).

I ran again, waved at my audience as I puffed out my chest and tried to look somewhat fitter than I am. At the top of the hill I walked for another fifty yards before once again attempting a light trot. That was the last straw. I don't run with a phone; if I did, I would have phoned someone.

I hobbled the last two-thirds of a mile home, petrified that I'd torn the most notorious of tendons. My only consolation was that there wasn't any pain to speak of, just the threat of it. I also took grim comfort in the thought that if I had torn my tendon, even hobbling would have been too much.

Now there's an ice pack under my calf and achilles, I'm staring out the window at the glorious afternoon and Jimmy Buffett's 'Growing Older But Not Up' is running through my head:

Crack went my leg, 
like the shell of an egg, 
someone call a decent physician


Though my mind is quite flexible,
These brittle bones don't bend.

It wasn't a crack at least, it was a pop.

07 June 2011

edge of distraction

I think the mackerel are back. I'm neither a marine biologist nor a fisherman, yet I feel confident in my hunch. Staring out my window to the steel-grey, wind-swept waters of St Andrews Bay, I see two great clouds of gulls dive-bombing the choppy whitecaps. Their method is entrancing. They fly in an arc, vaguely parallel to the water (though not perfectly, it is an arc) and when something under the surface catches their eye they pivot and tuck their wings in, dropping like a rock, or a lawn dart. Does anyone remember lawn darts? In any case, there's quite a big splash and if they're lucky, these feathered lawn darts emerge with a fish for their trouble. It sounds simple, and yet the sight of three hundred odd birds doing this in cyclical perpetuity, or as long as the fish are there, is striking. My brain wants to find some sort of pattern in the attack, though there is none. The birds don't take turns and so no rhyme nor reason emerges. And still I look for one, regardless. I wonder if it would be harder to break my gaze if I found a pattern, or if it's the search that keeps me looking.

As distractions go, I prefer gulls fishing to the temptations of Facebook and Twitter. All too frequently does 'one more look' become 15 or 20 minutes of my life I shall never recover, undoubtedly providing less wonder and insight than lawn-dart birds harassing schools of oily fish.

Distractions are a danger at the moment, no matter how much wonder and insight I can convince myself I've found. I've cast aside my traditional safety nets and in no particular order, I need to start a new book, redraft the last book, find jobs to apply for and continue to harass agents. I'll never be able to reconcile whether I'm a writer or a professional wine geek if I cannot find the motivation to excel at both.

And so it's time to pivot and tuck in my wings, plunging into cold grey water and sloppy metaphors.

14 February 2011

high waves

The surf is high today, but there's little wind. It's leftover movement from yesterday's gales. The sun peaks out, bright and glorious in the hope that winter is almost gone, and then disappears again, hidden behind a range of towering clouds. The rain's stopped, for now, and there seems no end to the dog-walkers on the beach.

The cat sits on pages of my manuscript strewn along the dining room table. He noses an empty bottle of IPA and then sits up and stares. He's happy to be where something's happening, though it's nothing to do with him.

I sip jasmine tea and look at my list of literary agents and their submission requirements. I want more coffee, but I don't want to get too wired. Hence the jasmine. I have two or three draft letters on the go at any given time. I've been here before, but it's not the same.

Twitter and Facebook and chat and email are all switched off. I listen to music without lyrics. I stare out the window and empty my head of all that's not there. There's a line of small birds stood in the silver sheen of wet sand just above the crashing waves. I want them to be sandpipers, but I've no idea what they are. Ornithology's not my thing, though I do know a heron when I see one.

A lone surfer walks up the beach from the water, back to the parking lot. I think I'd rather write letters to literary agents than surf in Scotland in February, and that's saying something.

13 February 2011

something written

I'm a little on edge. Two cups of jasmine tea have done nothing to calm me. I finished editing the submission chapters for my book about an hour ago. It's been a long time coming. There are still things to do (the rest of the manuscript needs work) and there are cover letters still to write, and then they have to be posted and stuff. Oh, and then there's the onslaught of inevitable rejection letters. But this is a start. A good start to the year. It's not quite the end-of-January deadline I set for myself initially, but it isn't the vague sometime-in-the-future-before-summer-maybe deadline that replaced it either. I'll take it. And I'll write the letters tomorrow.

I think I might need a whisky.

08 February 2011

waiting for laundry

For reasons best known to no one in particular, I'm doing laundry at half past midnight. Not just any laundry, mind, but my bed linens, meaning that my nightly refuge is bare and I'm growing increasingly sleepy. This sleepiness is not aided by either Bach's Works for Trumpet or my remaining dregs of Lagavulin, though that is my company right now. It's good company, irksomely relaxing though it may be.

I had vague hopes of getting some editing done, but editing is not for this time of night. This time of night is where things that will eventually require editing are created. Red pens and rewrites require the harsh light of day and a sober, conscious temperament. These witching hours, for me anyway, see the beginnings of writing. Ideas in their most basic, sentence-fragmented form peek out at the world, triggered by a stumbling of awkward synapses. I need a pen or a keyboard or else I'll just forget them.

And so I'm sitting at my desk, battering out a blog post and keeping one ear on the drier in hopes that it does its magic before I have to pour myself another dram. There are a couple of new docs open, with sentences here and there that will no doubt need examining in tomorrow's refreshed clime.

The cat's asleep on my naked duvet. He doesn't care if it has a cover.

light thaw

I wrote this a week ago. It snowed today, bizarrely, as it was well above freezing. It didn't stick.

There's been a bit of a thaw of late. Aside from the hills to the north, there's no snow to be seen. The cold still lingers though, and there's a dampness to the air that clings to the bones. But there's not been much frost in the mornings and that's something. Some days have been positively mild.

I don't trust thaws. Not until at least April, anyway. This one is no different. Every Sunday spent playing cricket or rugby on the beach has been stolen from the winter, and I've little doubt it will claim them back sooner or later. I've taken the lining out of my jacket and I'll eschew a scarf while I can, but whatever jumper I choose will be thick, of that there's no doubt.

Ideally, I'd run away about now. Key West or Collioure would both be lovely at this time of year (it's a little-known fact that this blog was started on a trip to Key West in January - when I'm famous, that could be valuable trivia). I've seen both in January and they're a damn sight more comfortable than anywhere in Scotland.

Sadly, that's not possible this year. Be it finance, commitment or simply some sense of anchoring, I'll not be travelling far any time soon.

Instead I've got over a year's worth of photos to sort out, many of which show distant shores - some Atlantic, some Pacific. I also have a car that works, which brings the rest of this kingdom closer - never a bad thing.

The photo sorting proves harder as time passes. Every image is either laden with nostalgia and fondness or prompts quizzical reflection. Those things take too much time, and they're a bit distracting. I'd rather linger on shots of Boston in April, California in July and Islay in August than the slate grey of Fife in January or February.

Elsewhere is appealing at the moment, but it isn't an option. So I'll write about here and gaze at images of there and get a little lost somewhere in the middle.

29 January 2011

beer, sausages

It was Jo's idea. From Malawi she emailed me, suggesting we have night of strange beers and sausages. Being fond of both beer and sausages, I thought this would be grand. Freya got involved. At one point there was discussion about actually making our own sausages, but that was quickly brushed aside for the sake of convenience.

The guest list proved quite simple - Broomie and assorted other beer lovers. I was given strict instructions that there was to be no chat of verticals or horizontals - my forthright booze geekery had to be left behind for the night, lest I put everyone off the lighthearted hedonism of the evening. I began to plot a menu.

There's only so much you can do with sausages. Don't get me wrong, they're as fine a meat-delivery system and conveniently packaged a foodstuff as you're likely to find. But because of that, they're also a touch limiting. So I decided on a trio of sausages. For the beef and tomato ones, I made a big pot of sausage stuffing with sage, onions, celery and an excellent oat bread, healthily enriched with organic beef stock. Then for the beef and caramelised onion sausages I made a Dijon mustard batter and baked them as toad in the hole. The fine Toulouse I simply pan-fried with mash and a red wine and onion gravy.

I never did check exactly how many different bottles of beer there were. Broomie separated them into different flights and at first things started slowly. We bantered about, munched on our food and chatted about the beers at a respectable, if somewhat conservative, pace. Bottle after bottle was opened and passed around, poured with deference and sipped. Some drew ire from the table, some ubiquitous affection, but most often opinion split, and one's nectar was another's dishwater. We tread on steadily and as more ale was supped, so our minds strayed from sound to merry, and then from merry to jolly. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings provided the soundtrack. Lagers, IPAs, Christmas beers, ales all slipped down a treat.

A pause in the revelry. Jo and I stood on the balcony. We leant on the rail, listened to the sea, looked out towards the water and shared a cigar.

Instead of tasting notes, we doodled strange pictograms meant to express the impression the beer left, though after awhile these images became more abstract. The next morning they would appear meaningless. We all got very drunk and shouted 'Fuck your beans!' at each other with laughter-laden ferocity. We laughed at Stuart on his crutches, making his way to the loo ever so slowly. Of course it would transpire that his bladder would be the smallest, what with his ambulatory difficulties and all. Ben suggested we start a microbrewery, earnest and enthusiastic. Mostly, by the end, we spouted gibberish and so taxis were phoned to take people home.

The next morning saw French toast and the afternoon cricket by the beach. We ate nachos and drank pints and traded our beer-filtered versions of the night before. It's maybe a little distant, now. There's something about how the next day always fades towards its end.

20 January 2011

a morning in winter

My pillow seems to have greatly expanded gravitational pull these days. Everything is heavier near my bed, including myself. The grey at my window announcing morning does little to lighten the matter and rising to face the day must break down into small, incremental phases. The cat disapproves. He feels I should be leaping up with vigour that mirrors his own. He climbs over the peaks my limbs form in the duvet and presses his face to mine, eager and clumsy. His purr is an odd noise, almost silent, internalized. Pedey head butts me and then clambers over my face to lap the water from the pint jug I keep next my bed. The water thievery is the last straw and I pick him up or just push him, meowing in protest, off the bed.

Thus the first phase of getting up is complete and I sit myself up and rub my eyes and run my hands through hair that is no longer there. The grey light is brighter, though no less grey. I check my phone and iPad and might make a move against someone in Words with Friends (a scrabble knock off I'm constantly losing). My legs and shoulders are sore. I make fists with my toes and stretch out. Swinging my legs over the side of the bed to stand up shouldn't take as much concentration as it does. I grab the cat-tainted pint of water and stand up, not taking a sip. The first few steps fall as though my legs are in braces, or should be. The cat couldn't be happier at my resurrection, believing the sole purpose of my animated state is to feed him. He races underfoot, howling, delighted to have a feeder and a playmate. I'm delighted if I can avoid tripping over the wee shite.

If I've dreamt, I'll ponder them, trying to draw details back from the recesses of my subconscious and attempt to assemble some manner of linear narrative to the abstract. I delude myself into thinking this is a good morning brain exercise, but all it tends to do is confuse me.

Coffee becomes incredibly important about now. Espressos. Or perhaps a run before coffee. The road splits, and this is where everyday is not the same.

Today I ran. It was still dark when I set out. Frost coated the roads and sidewalks and grassy embankments. The sun rose more in the south than east and the sea sat calm beneath it. I could see my breath and by the end my whole body steamed as though I'd just been removed from an oven.

I staggered home and the day started.

18 January 2011

the rattling of a wagon

I can't remember which Christmas or birthday it was, or even if it was one of them at all. In any case, one year I wound up with a red Radio Flyer wagon. I don't think it excited me at the time. My reaction was probably, 'it's ok, I guess' or something similar. It grew on me, though. It wasn't a toy, it was a tool for childhood; as seminal in its own way as my first bike. Not to say I didn't use it as a toy, of course I did. My mom and her hardwood floors were all too aware of my propensity to use it as such. She never regretted giving it to me though; it was too useful. It was the kid's version of having a station wagon. All of the sudden a trip to the park could be undertaken fully equipped with all manner of cumbersome sporting equipment, picnic, toy and even extra clothing. Just pile it in the Radio Flyer and away we went. It made a racket on the brick sidewalks of Beacon Hill, trumpeting our youthful parade. My mother would use it from time to time as well, when she didn't want to take the car. It served to link my boyhood to that of Calvin, from Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes. I never quite managed to find a trail quite as idyllic as the scenes set in the comic, but my mind certainly wandered as I sat in it and gripped the handle careening through imagined wilderness. It was frequently a mining cart from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It leapt many a magma pool in its day.

I dragged it behind me when I walked to the Boston Common for little league games. My bat and glove joined the rattle of the wheels along the brick, bringing their own rhythm. Sometimes there'd be a playmate cooler full of juice and sandwiches. I have no bad memories of those games. Time has polished them into unblemished gems of childhood. Wearing a batter's helmet that would always look too big and trying, at the age of 11, to stare down the opposing pitcher. Lying in the warm spring grass before warming up, tossing the ball up gently and catching it again. We talked about Boggs and Clemens and Oil Can and Greenwell and '86. We all wanted to play for the Red Sox when we grew up, right after being James Bond, Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker. Then we'd play and sometimes we'd win and sometimes we'd lose. Losses stung and wins overjoyed.

Then, in the golden late afternoon, covered in dust and dirt, I would load up the wagon and drag it home, firing questions at my mom, 'did you see that double I hit?', 'did you see that throw?' I never waited for an answer. Breathless, I'd ask another and another until we got home.

These memories come back stronger in the depth of Scottish winter. The golden afternoons, when they're not grey, come far earlier in the day. My bright red Radio Flyer's been replaced by a beat up silver Renault.

There's still a rattle, but it's less endearing.

17 January 2011

still not used to writing the date

I scratch my stubble and look at the number that comes before January and it takes a double take to comprehend. As I start writing this, it's the 17th. It may be the 18th when I finish. Or, knowing me, it could be March. In any case, it doesn't feel like we should be in the second half of this month, not yet at least. I need to concentrate to write '2011' instead of any other year. I wrote '2002' the other day. Where the intervening 9 years went is anyone's guess.

It seems like New Years was yesterday, or perhaps the day before. I've no idea where the last two weeks have disappeared to, though I'm quite certain they're not coming back.

Meanwhile, 2010 fades into the mist of the distant past. The memories aren't gone - they just seem further removed than they should.

It's strange, because I haven't moved in a year. In spite of travel, new people and new places, I've gone nowhere. That's something quite difficult to face and to accept, but it is what it is, and within that I need to find a new gear, preferably a forward one. Reverse and neutral are worn down.

It shouldn't surprise me that the correct year confounds me - it could be any of the last nine and little would be different.

Probably time that changed.