Why have I entitled this “At the Knacker’s”? Well, there are reasons, but one of them is that it’s February. I don’t know if anyone would expect anything good to come out of February anyway, but what’s been mainly getting me down – apart from dampness, wet snow, darkness and, yes, flu, and no, I don’t get a flu jab, why do doctors and others take one look at me and say I should get a flu jab, my eyes are just naturally large and bloodshot – has been the ongoing impossibility of getting a decent sound quality for my audio stories. Whenever I think I’m there, Anna shakes her head and says no I’m not. It has been obsessing me, I admit it, and stalling me from doing any of the other things I should be doing on these pages.
After the most recent recording debacle I was up in the little caravan checking on conditions (mainly sound conditions: we don’t like the booming-gale effect for recordings; though humidity conditions are now another factor with the snow melting and reaching the parts that rain usually doesn’t) and there I had the sudden insight that I should put the obsession aside and get on with the other stuff. So I started looking out the text of a story. I had been meaning to include it here in the near future but had been first going to print out a hard copy for Rachel, who claims to be running out of reading material. It was called “The Old Boys and the Death-Men” and I’d saved it on old floppy discs and got given a little device by the Digital Croft in Huntly to retrieve it. Of course the little device didn’t work unless it had some extra software, so I got that, retrieved the story, or so I thought, only to find I hadn’t really; and by this time the extra software had stopped working and I was starting to get really pissed off. So anyway, original intentions forgotten, I was pretty sure I had an old hard copy (I’ll relate on some other occasion how I’ve started to process old hard copy, it’s an entirely fascinating story) and I started to search for it on the mouldering-shelf. Being on the way back from a bout of flu which we’ve all had (apart from Charlie R – freak, he washes his hands, or outlaws kissing, or something), I was increasingly feeling the effects of not having a hot water bottle stuffed up my front and that combined with the endemic chill of my sad little den was starting to turn the search into a bit of a Grand Antarctic Epic. Finally, at the very bottom of the second pile (there are two) I found what I was looking for and made off as quick as maybe for warmer climes, where I spent the next hour in a strange delirium trying to sort out the three different versions of the text, all intermingled, only some of them page-numbered, and trying to put together something comprehensible. I call this kind of activity resting and convalescing. I finally delivered a text to Rachel complete apart from the total absence of pages 110-120. (WHERE DO THINGS GO? Did I ever tell the tale of the three brand-new gents hankies I purchased in John Lewis when I was in Glasgow last summer, and brought home – I mean, where do things go….) “Will I not be able to just work out the missing bits?” says Rachel. Oh yes, silly me, why did I bother writing pages 110-120 in the first place – or pages 63-109, 1-40, 43-62 or – hell, why did I ever write the thing at all? Then she said, “Oh – this isn’t the futuristic story where the characters go around wearing transparent panels over their genitals?” “What!?” says I, “I’ve never written that kind of story in my life!”
….Guess what. It gradually comes back to me. And of course she’s already read it, had just forgotten the title (I don’t understand titles – I don’t think many of my published books have my own titles). So then I started reading it over, and a distinctly disturbed story it is. Probably I was right to follow Marilyn’s advice all those years ago and forget about it and start on something else. Maybe if I ever come out of the post-flu delirium I’ll do some work on it and try and lighten it up a bit. Actually I’m sure the “transparent” panels were really a sort of video effect, they actually didn’t reveal the Inner Truth – I think it was supposed to be some sort of futuristic fashion joke, probably started at GSA, if it’s still there in the year 2040, and it was only a passing reference at that – I should have known that’d be the only memorable thing about the entire story….
Well, that all brings me to where I was meaning to go: the blue folder which had managed to entangle itself around The Old Boys and the Death Men. It contained a random collection of poems, but what should I find in it but a scribbled note – I’ve no idea who it was to, and presumably it was never delivered: “A small collection of self-indulgences and time-wastings”, it runs, “just to prove I’m finally getting to grips with my 50th birthday present.”
That 50th birthday present was my glorious Tascam eight-track recorder, which I never did quite get to grips with, at least not before the sorry saga of its rather complex AC-AC transformer unfolded. There is no other point to this narrative than to make my protest about the extreme viciousness of the fairies. I mean: the missing pages, the failing technology (digital and analogue alike, it makes no difference), the welded manuscripts under the ceiling-drip, the chill and the delirium, the missing hankies…. I’m reproducing another ten poems using the new processing method mentioned above, and I’m sure Anna would want me to introduce them in a gracious manner (she’s starting to talk about producing some little volumes of my verse, which sounds a bit alarming – I don’t know if I wanted them taken that seriously). At the Knacker’s is one of the few poems I’ve had published in a proper posh magazine (Stand, I think it was), and in this context I want to say something a bit ungracious about Douglasbrae at Keith, which used to be a respectable knackery from which you could purchase meat considered unfit for human consumption for feeding to your dogs, etc (they’d spray it blue, on the assumption that it’d put you off it but the dog wouldn’t even see the colour). The amazing thing is that Douglasbrae is considered a great Success Story on the grounds that it has survived and expanded (everywhere, as far as I can see) while most other knackeries have collapsed, this being due, I suppose, to the oppressive regulations following all that self-inflicted damage from BSE. I’m not sure what happens under those rather sinister-looking new roofs at Douglasbrae nowadays, it certainly doesn’t have that open, drop-in-and-say-hi feel that it used to: but I devoutly hope – while darkly fearing – that it’s not all about incineration, which would anger me as much as the thought that horse-meat probably won’t now be finding its way into beef-burgers any more.
As someone who’s always produced poems in series and assumed that the individual works don’t stand up very well by themselves, it’s an interesting game I’m playing with myself, throwing an arbitrarily-fixed number of randomly selected and largely unrelated poems in together. All from different times, too: At the Knacker’s might have been around 1980, A Model (which I almost feel I ought to scrap, but it’s already been in print so I should probably just stand tall and acknowledge past mistakes) from very slightly later. Actually I guess all the others must have been from the first half of the ‘eighties. . But At Drumrack Gate was early 1973, after I’d been reading some translations of classical Chinese poetry; and The Tower at Day’s-End was 1988 or ’89, because I remember composing that at Boharm House, which is another story – maybe for another time.