Monday, August 31, 2009



In the lee of John Knox’s yew
we toss our cabers as though
it’s the natural thing to do after breakfast.
Over the firth, Dumbarton Rock
is mired in mist, or ghosts,
like the braes of Ben Jiggery Pokery
or the sheen in the American’s eye
as he imagines the cabers of his forebears
abandoned in Lochaber years ago.
Tomorrow we will rake a rickle of stones,
be blood brothers in a chapel buried
in the wilds, and toast our common bonds
in fists of malt, for are we not all wedded
to the same shifting territory of mind,
a country that is and isn’t, as substantial
as a sea-loch’s soughing,
the whisper of an editorial,
the distant ring of tills in the gloaming?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Things that make me laugh

I't’s childish and immature, of course, but there is a paragraph from Martin Amis' ‘Money’ that has made me laugh all week. Not continually, of course, but out loud in a kind of intermittent fashion. It has brightened a week which otherwise has been filled by autumnal storms, work and low level disappointments. I don't know how long it will last, but it's been good. You probably won't find it funny at all.

The main character John Self is trying to cast a movie. He is talking to Martin Amis (small conceit here), who plays himself in the novel, about a projected fight between two of the stars, Lorne Guyland and Spunk Davis.

“”Which fight?”
“The one between Lorne and Spunk. You know, the big fight.”
“No-one’s going to believe that name.”
“Yea yea, we’re talking to him about it. You see, lots of Americans are called names like that. They’ve all got names like Orifice and Handjob. They don’t notice. They think it’s cool.”

The Amis family is good at providing me with longstanding amusement. Jim Dickson’s reaction on finding an archery target in the his pretentious professor’s attic in Kingsley Amis’ ‘Lucky Jim’ has stayed with me for 30 years.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Once upon a Time

Once upon a time, children, there was a country called Afghanistan. It was a very big country full of tall mountains and proud warlike people. It was very poor but big bad countries, like Britain, used to invade it and try and take it over. They always failed.
Now quite recently, in Daddy's lifetime, Afghanistan had a very bad government called the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. It did some very bad things like starting land reform and building roads and hospitals. It also decided that forcing people to get married was wrong and that girls should go to school. Even worse it tried to stop people playing in the poppy fields. This evil government was supported by a very very big bad country called the Soviet Union which tried to show off by spending more than a billion pounds on drilling wells and other public welfare schemes.
Luckily there were people in Afghanistan who didn't like this evil behaviour and wanted to return to the old ways of wife beating and playing in the poppy fields. These people were VERY religious so you could tell they were good. They formed a heroic band of brothers called the Mujahideen. The Mujihadeen fought bravely until the whole country was in chaos. The bad Russians brought soldiers into to fight the heroic Mujihadeen. Wasn't that wrong? But luckily all the good countries in the world - especially the United States of America-were horrified by this and decided to try and help the plucky little Jihadists. Everyone gave them the latest anti-aircraft guns and money and they were allowed to make lots of cash out of the beautiful poppies. No-one cared that they burned schools down, destroyed priceless cultural artifacts and hated women, because they were fighting for freedom.
There were many great heroes in the Mujahideen. One of them was a very funny little chap with a beard called Osama Bin Laden who wasn't even from Afghanistan but a very good place full of oil called Saudi Arabia. He received money from the good countries in the world to form an international organisation called Al Qaida to continue the fight against the evil Russians. The bad Russians called Al Qaida and the Mujahideen terrorists but no-one listened to them because the Russians were evil, lived in log cabins and didn't know what they were talking about. Thanks to the Mujahideen the bad Russians were beaten and went home. Wasn't that good? The heroic Mujahideen changed their name to the Taliban and formed a very religious government. Everyone was pleased.
But then something extraordinary happened. The United States of America suddenly decided that the Taliban and Al Qaida weren't very good after all! They stopped calling them freedom fighters and decided that it was time for them to be called terrorists.They changed their minds about encouraging them to be so religious, and even decided that they shouldn't play in the poppy fields! They invaded Afhanistan to free the country from the people they'd set up to free the country. It was very confusing, children.
And do you know, some people are so confused they don't think there should be any more fighting and invading until everyone has a big meeting to decide what words like freedom and terrorism actually mean and can stick to them, in their dealings all over the world.

Friday, August 21, 2009

MacDuff released on compassionate grounds

A huge crowd assembled today to greet the return of MacDuff of Clatterngshaws, released from his walk along the Southern upland Way on "compassionate grounds". Clearly distraught after his experience, MacDuff waved to wellwishers as he descended the steps from the Sea King helicopter onto the tarmac outside the Tartan Bunnet where many were visibly moved by the sight of MacDuff's frail frame, ravaged by weeks of isolation and lack of whisky. "I am very pleased to be back amongst my own people" said MacDuff, tears streaming down his face, "I never thought I would see the desert again." A spokesman from the Government of Clatteringshaws said, "Given the medical evidence we have taken the decision to bring macDuff back to the pub." One of MacDuff's first acts was to return the tent he had been using to the child it belonged to. "It stood up well" he said, "and at night the pictures of Winnie the Pooh on the front were a real comfort."
Elsewhere, however, reaction to MacDuff's release have been very mixed. "I don't think he should have been let off" said one man, "it's a total disgrace. I think he should repay his debt to society."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Statues of Krakow

No, not the Ones of the Battle of Grunwald

Statue of Elvis in Nowa Huta

Smok the dragon who'll breathe fire if you text him

Dzok the dog. A modern Greyfriars Bobby. Dzok's owner had a heart attack and died while driving on a busy road in Krakow. Thereafter the faithful hound did not leave the spot on the pavement adjacent to where this happened. He was sustained and fed by a kindly old lady who lived nearby. The kindly old lady died and Dzok was removed by public subscription to a Dog's Home. On the first night he jumped out of the window and was run down by a train.

I've been thinking that a series of eccentric statues in Drumsleet might prove a useful cult tourist attraction. subjects anyone?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Talking Heid

In the 'Zig Zag' Exhibition in Dumfries, Robert Burns appears as, among other things, a talking heid.

A Hologram of Robert Burns
speaks to a portrait of Miss Eliza Burnett
after the Exhibition shuts

Eliza, go away in:
that arty crew have pickled me,
scooped me out like a mannequin.
I’m a talking head, and my mouth
churns out songs and poems,
not in my rheumy voice,
but in the rich and fruity tones
of some Neil Oliver wannabe.

They’ve made me a museum,
a kist of noise and junk.
In the corner of the room
I see the word Immortality,
but what kind of legacy is here?
Some mad collector’s only.
Does the world need a poison jar
for humanity and honest truth?

Or want to put poetry behind
perspex, as if it wasn’t instead
the core and right of everyone,
the oxygen we have to breathe?
Perhaps now the earth is full
of talking heads in towns like these,
sucking old words like gruel.
Eliza, do you think that passion’s dead?

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Wand of Wisdom

Kilmorie Chapel

Castle Sween

Finlaystone Gardens

Finlaystone House

Just back from the MacMillan clan gathering at Finlaystone. Though I did not go the whole hog and travel down to Castle Sween on the Tuesday I did manage the Highland Games, the barbecue and after that read my poetry to an enraptured audience in the Clan Gazebo. In the morning I woke up in a huge and elegant bedchamber and came down to find everyone else had left, leaving the front door open. Of course I locked the castle up when I left, in case a rival clan should be waiting the chance to attack.

Much whisky fuelled chuckling on Monday night on the subject of the clan rituals due the next day in Kilmorie Chapel which seem to involve a lot of fancy clothes, quite a few Americans and a big sword. Oh yes, and the wand of wisdom,of course.

Finlaystone is in a quite beautiful place beside the Firth of Clyde, the grounds of which are open to the public for a small charge.. Of course if you go to the main gate , knock on the portcullis and say you know the Clan Bard who knows what discounts might be arranged.....