Thursday, May 28, 2009

Local War Graves

They do not have the clout
of Thiepval or Tyne Cot,
the stones that stand alone
or in a line strung out
like some half smile.

Take those across the river
at Troqueer, smashed flyers,
sailors thrown up by sea,
four countries’ debris
reconciled at last by tide,

men who gambled on adventure
or duty and lost. Remember
them best when the sun shines
on youngsters mad for life:
when the wind is hot outside.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Long Live macDuff!

Glorious scenes of rejoicing yesterday as Macduff was crowned King of Clatteringshaws. Flanked by a bodyguard of handpicked veterans from the 1st Castle Douglas Food Town Mounted Fire brigade and Inshore Rescue Division, MacDuff made a moving and emotional speech, referring sparingly to his career as ex-territorial Army Cyborg killing machine (prototype), choosing to emphasise instead the positive role he hoped to play in this beautiful and remote community.

"We will turn Clatteringshaws into a nuclear power capable of wiping out Dumfries" he declared to a group of rapt sheep.

To the people of Dalbeattie he had a more conciliatory message. "Lay down your arms" he declared, "dismantle your frontier defences. You have nothing to fear."

Dismissing rumours that he had appointed Tesco Willie Military Governor, he said "That I wouldn't ......give him charge of laundry." Macduff did however announce a raft of ministerial appointments, including John Maxwell as Minister of Health with special responsibility for the Eboli outbreak in the Stewartry. Macduff moved swiftly to reassure the 2 people of Clatteringshaws that in spite of a proposed expenditure of 235 billion pounds on armaments, they would not suffer. "This afternoon" he said, "I have appointed Theosyphillis Neill Chancellor of the Exchequer, and even now he is shoplifting in Farmfoods for our dinner."

There then followed an emotional rendition of the Clatteringshaws National Anthem " Clatteringing.....ingshaws" during which Macduff was seen to choke back tears.

MacDuff is 29 and under the Doctor.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

J M Barrie

I have always been interested in JM Barrie, all 4 foot ten inches of him. Perhaps it’s because I tread the same ground as him, and see his name on the prize boards here at the school and his photographs on the wall, even the section of desk he carved his name on. I’ve never been a great fan of Peter Pan although, like many other fairy stories, the play has a rich dark heart. Perhaps it has a darker heart than we think.

Jonny Depp’s recent portrayal as Jimmy with the luscious Kate Winslet as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies in ‘Finding Neverland’ presents the view of Barrie as a kindly uncle who, after their parents’ tragic and early death (both the Llewelyn Davies parents died of cancer aged 44) adopted their five sons, Jack, Peter, Michael, Nicholas and George, having met the family while walking his St Bernard in Kensington Gardens. The truth is more sinister. I do not believe that Barrie was a sexual predator or paedophile, though some passages in his stories, especially ‘The White Bird’, an early version of Peter Pan, are pretty peculiar- “David and I had a tremendous adventure. It was this - he passed the night with me... I took [his boots] off with all the coolness of an old hand, and then I placed him on my knee, and removed his blouse. This was a delightful experience, but I think I remained wonderfully calm until I came somewhat too suddenly to his little braces, which agitated me profoundly... I cannot proceed in public with the disrobing of David.'

In fact Barrie seems curiously asexual and was possibly impotent. His marriage, from 1894-1909, appears to have been unconsummated. His interest in children seemed born less out of a desire to corrupt them and more from his own obsession to return to a childlike state of innocence, before the world intervened. He probably felt he had a lot to escape from. Barrie was damaged goods by his early teens. Ignored by his father and the victim of psychological abuse from his mother, who never recovered from the death of Barrie’s older brother, and who possibly blamed the younger boy in some way for the skating accident that led to his death. His mother addressed James constantly as David, the name of his dead brother and to appease her he often wore his dead brother's clothes.

The case against Barrie, most recently stated in a brilliant if speculative new biography by Piers Dudgeon, is that he was fascinated by the power of manipulation and set out to control the lives of a regiment of young children – not just the Llewelyn Davies’- with invariably tragic results. The ghosts of dead or damaged children stalk Barrie’s work. He befriended for instance a little girl called Margaret Henley, who used to call him “my friendy”, lisped as “my fwendy”. The girl died aged 6 but lived on in Barrie’s world as Wendy in Peter Pan.

Barrie was fascinated by the writer George Du Maurier, author of the Victorian sensation ‘Trilby’ in which an innocent girl is controlled by hypnosis by the evil Svengali. Barrie was so obsessed with the book and the man that he followed Du Maurier about but never dared meet him, once reportedly running away when the man approached him. He called the St Bernard dog that he and his wife adored Porthos, after the St Bernard in one of Du Maurier’s other novels, Peter Ibbetsen. This St Bernard was to make an appearance in Peter Pan but more immediately significant is that George De Maurier’s daughter was Sylvia who married Arthur Llewelyn Davies and had 5 boys, the children Barrie “accidentally met” and befriended in Kensington Gardens. Sylvia’s brother was the famous actor Gerald Du Maurier (who met his future wife rehearsing in the Barrie play ‘The Admirable Crichton’). Barrie also befriended this family, especially Gerald’s young daughters, one of whom was to ascribe many of her later problems to the early part of her life and her strange relationship with both her father and her “Uncle Jimmy”. The name of this young girl? Daphne Du Maurer, who was to go on and write another classic of psychological manipulation and control, ‘Rebecca’.

In ‘The White Bird’ Barrie tells the story of his meeting with Sylvia and her family. The story is narrated by Capt. W, much taken to walking with his St Bernard Dog Porthos in Kensington Gardens. Sylvia Llewlyn Davies becomes ‘Mary’ (the name of Barrie’s wife), the young George Llewllyn Davies becomes ‘David’ (the name of Barrie’s dead brother). The Captain’s motives are undisguised:

'It was a scheme conceived in a flash, and ever since relentlessly pursued - to burrow under Mary's influence with the boy, expose her to him in all her vagaries, take him utterly from her.' All while Mary, was 'culpably obtuse to my sinister design'.

Also in The Little White Bird, the narrator declares, 'I once had a photograph taken of David being hanged on a tree', which he sends to the child's mother: 'You can't think of all the subtle ways of grieving her I have.'

The original name for Peter Pan was ‘The Boy who hated Mothers’. Poor Peter had as a baby gone to play with the fairies in the park and had then found the nursery window shut against him and his mother nursing another child. Before the role of Captain Hook was changed, partly to boost the role of the actor in the original play, none other than Gerald Du Maurier, the character of Peter Pan did not represent the force of good against evil and could be more logically seen as a diabolical half-child who, shut out of normal life, stole other childrens’ souls.

While Sylvia was on her deathbed Barrie, then divorced, said that she had agreed to marry her, a story that her sons never believed. He also forged his name on Sylvia’s will to make it appear that her wish was for Barrie to become guardian of her children. In reality, Sylvia had left a handwritten document, which said: 'What I wd like wd be if Jenny wd come to Mary & that the two together wd be looking after the boys & the house.' Mary was the boys' longstanding and faithful nanny, and Jenny was Mary's sister. Barrie changed Jenny to Jimmy. The ‘error’ in transcribing was never challenged, unbelievably, by the Llewelyn Davies boys’ many other relatives.

Perhaps all this is overstated. It's a fact that few people that knew him closely had a bad word to say about him. Perhaps also the era he lived in with the grim shadow of the Great War and its slaughter of the innocents casts a gloomy light on everything he wrote and the events that surrounded it.

DH Laurence said that “JM Barrie has a fatal touch for those he loves.”. The Llewelyn boys felt that touch most keenly. George was killed in the trenches in 1915, Michael drowned in a suicide pact with another young man in 1921, Jack died from lung disease and Peter waited until 1960 to throw himself in front of a train. Only Nicholas escaped, his attitude to Barrie unsoured.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Drumsleet Howff Club and the Holy Grail

Amazing scenes at last night's Moodiecliffe Memorial Lecture at the Tartan Bunnet. This annual event, founded in memory of the artist and raconteur Eric B Moodiecliffe, has since its inception been dogged by controversy and the 2009 Lecture, delivered by MacDuff of Clatteringshaws, promised to be the most contentious to date. MacDuff of Clatteringshaws took as his topic 'Drumsleet Howff Club and the Holy Grail'. Drinking from a tankard of single malt, MacDuff proposed that the Headquarters of the Drumsleet Howff Club has an architectural alignment almost exactly similar to the Temple of the Rock in Jerusalem. Quoting from a series of hitherto undiscovered sources MacDuff was able to prove conclusively that Drumsleet Howff Club is the repository of a secret so significant that it could bring down christian civilisation as we know it. Using an ancient map found on the back of a used betting slip MacDuff also claimed that by solving a series of complex codes hidden in the portraits of Max Houliston in the back room of the Hole In The Wa' one could discover a secret vault at the Howff Club that contained ,among other things, the head of John the Baptist.

"But this" he roared over the bedlam "isn't all". Macduff paused, fell, picked himself up with some difficulty from the floor and continued. "It is my belief and the belief of all others in Clatteringshaws that the Peoples' Prospect, that organisation founded supposedly to regenerate the town of Drumsleet, is in fact the paramilitary wing of the Howff Club and its leader is descended directly from JESUS CHRIST!"

At this point the lecture descended into chaos, with fights breaking out in several corners of the room. "And you" screamed Macduff, jabbing a finger at Theosyphillis Neill, local thistlemilk entrepreneur, "you are a **********ing double agent. You've **********ing sold out for a *******ing fistful of guinness you *********ing ******."

Spokesmen from the Drumsleet Howff Club and the Peoples' Prospect denied Macduff's claims citing, quite correctly, that MacDuff is a dangerous lunatic.

Macduff is 34, and suffering from delusions.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hedge Fund?

Postcards from the Hedge has made it into the Callum MacDonald shortlist. Hoorah.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Black Loch

There'a a poem to go with this, but I've entered it into a competition so I'll not reveal it here until it's not won.
The Black Loch is a very ancient loch said to have its own water sprite.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Timor Mortis Conturbat Me

My daughter Jasmine calmly announced to me last night while eating a chocolate biscuit that she would keep me in her heart after I'd died and that she wanted to be "dug up where I'm dug up". Where these children get this sort of stuff I've no idea: I try and keep the conversation light but they seem to be displaying all the signs of west highland angst already.

Yesterday was a worrying day altogether. Although it was Tuesday I was convinced it was Monday and was in a hopeless dwam all day. It made me think about what they say about early alzheimer patients: if you remove them from familiar routines thay accelerate downhill fast. (It also made me think of a terrible joke the local postie told me- Alzheimer's Protest March: What do we want? Don't know! When do we want it? Want what?)

It's a shining part of the human condition that we can make jokes up about just about everything but alzheimers seems to me one of the cruellest conditions, and one in the treatment and care of which, as far as anecdotal evidence suggests, the medicos seem most inclined to be negligent. I have a friend whose mother died recently after having been treated very poorly in hospital. It's terrible seeing someone who cared for you with care and compassion die in painful and humiliating circumstances. My own mother died in Dumfries of cancer and though I had doubts about the care she got at the hands of her GP, she was treated at the end in the Hospice here with great consideration and she died as she slept, or dreamed. I read the other day that Dylan Thomas' dad died while he was dreaming out loud that his mother was pouring him some onion soup. That sounds good. When I die I would like to be about to tuck into my mother's home made broth. However I cannot allow myself to die until, at the earliest, April 2024, when Jasmine will be 20 and presumably no longer inclined to dig me up. And what a time we'll have between now and then! There are many exciting anniversaries to go through, the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn ann many others...

You may wonder why i am inclined to this morbidity. Confusion is one reason, continual light to steady drizzle is another, and the last is a disturbing thing that happened to my computer yesterday. A massive box came up with a warning:


I ran screaming from the room of course. Even now, Drumsleet will be vanishing in a Black Hole, or evil giant frogs will be parading their captives along the Whitesands.