Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Archie Gemmell and Bananas

Leafing through my mail this morning I come across a letter from an old friend of mine in Regensburg. He tells me of a recent conversation held through the window of a hostel with a drunken Albanian. This conversation went something like "Scotland Archie Gemmell Hugh Shug Bananas". On reading this, my blood ran cold. Surely this cannot have been the same Albanian who terrorised my railway carriage on a long rail journey through Northern Yugoslavia in the middle of the 1978 world Cup? He spent much of the journey tossing bananas onto the floor of ther carriage then jumping on them with a blood curdling cry of "SKARABUJID BANANA!" When, after all this foreplay, he leaped like a monkey on the girl sitting next to me, I was forced to flee. I don't remember if I told him my name but in the heat of the moment, with all these bananas, who can tell?

In ordinary circumstances this would have set my mind racing about the strange power of coincidence, but the answer of course is much more simple. The fact is my friend, Stephen Kirk, writing from Regensberg, is a complete liar, and always has been. So you see, things are seldom what they seem. This was proved to me once in a small Scottish country town called Biggar. I once met there with a woman who I was trying to persuade to commission me to write a book. We were searching, a I recall, for a quiet enough locale to conduct our business and chanced on a small hotel. Looking through the window I saw what appeared to be an ideal venue, a sparsely populated establishment warmly lit by a coal fire with a few old regulars sitting at the bar and a well dressed member of the bar staff leaning over the counter. "Come on" I said cheerily, "this will do fine." Imagine my horror when we entered and saw the barman was trying to stem the blood from a broken nose. "Woops" I said, whereupon one old worthy turned from the Natural History programme he had been watching and cried "Jesus Christ, hen, would you look at the size of that pygmy's cock!"
Such surprises are denied other nationalities, I suspect. For which they must be profoundly grateful.

Mean Mile

As we butt into the countryside,
our snub-nosed bus sounds more annoyed;
it grinds through swamps and ruts,
between dykes and crippled hedges,
down miles of wet tarmac,
from one telegraph pole to another,
from one five bar gate to another,
from one muddy bunkered cottage to another,
criss-crossing land dank and paralysed
below an oatmeal sky.
There seem hudreds of miles,
thousands, but it's the same mean mile
circling, taking us back where we didn't want
to come from, where we didn't want to leave.

Friday, March 17, 2006


In a Blizzard Near Closeburn

The land pole-axed under a buttered sky,
road signs peppered white,
only the bones of trees black,
and the dykes like consonants
pointing to a dim rind of hills.
Over there, a kraal of cottages
with battened down babies
and dogs smoldering in front of fires.
Over there, the faint orange morse
of a car signaling the end to this week’s
technology. Shin deep in it,
I stretch out my arms to feel the punch
of winter. The age old thrill,
and fear, of meeting the Boss.