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Back to the Future

What was my new book about? Alan asked me, realising we wouldn’t be able to sit down for a cosy Hogmanay chat – why? Because I was phoning him to explain how we wouldn’t be turning up for his little party, that’s why…. What’s my book about? Ah Alan, that dreaded question…. It’s about…. well, it’s a story – it’s a fairy-tale…. Er. Um. Just read it. – All right, I will.

I have to do a bit better than this, I know.

Our Hogmanay, which began straight after I finished my last blog, turned into a bit of a disaster, but interestingly, so I thought, might also have given us a small peek at Things To Come. We set off for Nether Tomlea, the Ashtons and the Roys, to bring in the year with the Patersons. We (the Ashtons) knew we had barely enough petrol in the tank to get us there, let alone get us back again but, hey, there’s an unmanned 24-hour petrol station in Huntly nowadays, thanks to Mr Asda.

Wrong. The unmanned 24-hour petrol station was indeed unmanned, but it wasn’t 24-hour – not on this night of the year, at any rate. Maybe something to do with that thing in Hamlet about the Christmas season – “and then they say no spirit dare stir abroad; no fairy takes, nor witch has power to harm, so hallowed and so gracious is the time” – I’m sure if there’d been petrol stations in Shakespeare’s time he’d have included the closing of same in his list of Christmastide blessednesses. In the days before I learned to drive I used to look forward to the twelve days of Christmas as a time when I did absolutely nothing practical that involved stirring from the house, but that was a long time ago.

The Peek into the Future? Yes, that was the driving around between one coned-off petrol station and another as the gauge wobbled between Empty and Really-Truly-Empty, undergoing the lottery of uncertain supply. Will says that Peak Oil has now actually occurred and from now on we shall see a gradual, barely perceptible, spiral into Third World conditions as the price-screw gets tighter and the consequent supply situation lets everyone Know His Place in the economic pecking order. No, only joking: of course we’re going to be rescued by the invention of some magic fuel – water-derived, or something mined on the Moon and transported hither at incredibly low cost…., though that it may not be happening quite yet.


Anyway, what was my book about? That wasn’t really why I was writing this blog. I was writing this blog because Anna tentatively asked me if I didn’t think it might be a good idea to mention some of the e-books which, thanks to her efforts, are now available for purchase, at extremely modest prices, on Amazon. And yes – I do think it’s an excellent idea, now that she’s mentioned it, it’s just it hadn’t occurred to me before. I’ve been so busy fuming over my failure to make a decent-quality recording of Hobble, Yobble and God, like I promised last blog, that I forgot about something that had actually come out right.

We have three little stories available: Manhunt in Golden Mall, which is a boy’s quest for his missing father in a distinctly bizarre shopping mall somewhere in a city that might be London. Then The Sundial, which is about nuns and baby-eating ogres from the Longside, which is this particular story’s name for our world’s shadowy companion-world. And then The Page Boy and the Stars, which is about a trip to the end of the universe, and conversations with Lucifer and the mysterious Spinner of Yarns, and about Good King Wencislas and about a rather remarkable telescope which has the uncanny ability to telescope a person’s whole life up into a few minutes…..

There, I’m getting quite into this explaining What the Story’s About milarky. Maybe I should stop writing stories and just do synopses. I could frill them up a bit and call them poems.

Just a mention for the snazzy covers, which with a bit of luck and some more jiggery-pokery from Anna you should be able to see flashing right beside this text: they were Anna’s design too, the one for Manhunt in Golden Mall being based on one of Rachel’s new-style pictures.

Objects on a Screen

So now, let me tell, well – Alan, and anyone else who cares to hear – what the Kings of Drumdollo is about. I guess it’s following a theme begun in The Smoke People (still sitting in a publisher’s Pile, dutifully waiting its turn) which is about – well…. It’s about – or rather the opposite of about, really – our human readiness to turn the living world, and its components, into objects. This readiness underpins the myth of the Achievement of the human race – including the fact that we’re able to call ourselves (at least, no-one else seems to be talking about it) the Dominant Species on this globe. So, it addresses this matter of communication – ie. the fact that no-one else apart from members of the human race is talking about the wondrous achievements of the human race. I think there’s a mathematical term for such a conundrum. We talk to our own kind, but to no-one else. So for example we think it’s all right to do stuff to animals in the name of science: because presumably if the animals clearly told us otherwise we’d back off, but they don’t so obviously they must appreciate our efforts to further our happiness. Again, I’ve always been a bit diffident about the whole ‘anthropogenic’ Global Warming argument. There’s a bit of me which relates it to those fears we used to entertain in the ‘seventies about how a nuclear war could spark off an Ice Age – and a niggling thought that this is just another little myth we’ve made on the theme of How Great We Are. Look. so wondrous are we, and so dangerous, we could trigger an Ice Age / runaway Global Warming / at any rate the extinction of all species…. Getting our knickers in a twist about Global Warming and the cracking-up of the earth’s Carbon Cycle to burn a few million years’ worth of carbon in a couple of centuries – yes, that is a sensible thing to do, though it does lead to nonsenses like carbon trading or whatever conscience-salving fad will be replacing it next week, whereas enduring the discomfort of twisted knickers would undoubtedly do us a lot more good. The global warming debate for me simply boils down to this objectification of the living world. We basically think it’s all right to do stuff because no-one’s stopping us. And with our stuff well and truly done, we jump into the role of the cavalry coming over the hill because we realise we may have gone a bit too far in plundering the earth’s resources. But in either event the living earth is somewhere away off in the third person – The Environment – doesn’t that have a good, impersonal, scientific ring to it – it’s an object; and whether we’re making the mess or sorting it out we sit like drone ‘pilots’ in the Arizona desert with the object of our attention neatly confined to a computer screen.
So, I think that’s what The Kings of Drumdollo‘s actually about. But it’s only a fairy-story for kids. I will try and get it posted up here some time, and eventually into e-book format, but there’s a whole queue of other stuff that’s still impatiently – well, queuing up.

Seasonal Treats

On the subject of an objectified world – we went to see The Hobbit as our new year family treat. Gollum is what I’m thinking of in this respect: the nasty little creature in his autistic bubble from which he views his entire world as Object. Actually that bit was faithfully, and well, rendered. Otherwise, while we had a fine evening out, I have to say the film was business as usual: Tolkien’s Hobbit, but stripped of its charm and lightness of touch. Then the special effects (of course – can we survive without them?)… And oh, the clichés! Cliché piled on cliché – and for whose edification, exactly?. If I see one more vertiginous descent, one more hanging-off from a crumbling cliff/tree/ridiculously oversized building, one day I sincerely think I’m going to throw up my overpriced popcorn onto that strangely sticky cinema floor.

A lot cheaper, but regretted not because of that but because we missed it, was Natalia Kieniewicz shivering the timbers of the Tin Hut last Thursday – no, two Thursdays ago now. I’ve always thought that place has the most wonderful acoustics, so I hope she hasn’t damaged them, especially since it was I who urged her and Adam to go and sing there: we had a bad conscience about not going ourselves, but we couldn’t leave poor Ben sitting his lonesome at Coldhome with his broken leg and our challenging toilet facilities.

Oh and – yes, I almost forgot the highlight of the season: We watched Back To The Future when we got back home, furiously disgruntled, on Hogmanay. – Clichés? Loved ’em. If I’d properly understood, back in 1985, about the value of a fist in a man’s face, I could have really made something of my life. Funny to think we’ll have flying cars in two years’ time though. I wonder what’s going to fuel them?

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April 23


We were all up at the community hall in Glenlivet last weekend, where Annie and Rachel, and some of the kids, were taking part in “An Evening of Women’s Voices” in aid of somebody called “Sea Shepherd” (sounds a bit messianic, if you ask me). I’m afraid Sea Shepherd won’t be quite as much richer from the event as everyone would have liked, as snow was threatening, and if snow threatens in Glenlivet you take it seriously. Only three members of the general public turned up, and two of the acts pulled out, leaving the young people to take up the first half and Rachel and Annie to have to extend their rehearsed programme considerably for the second. The General Public left at the end of the first half, we hope because they had a previous dinner-date and not because “we weren’t expecting a concert from a bunch of kids”, or some such. The kids’ part was in fact very delightful, and far from unprofessional, not that professional was in their minds – they just got up and performed as easily and naturally as they do everything else. Poor Ellie was considered too young to take part, but she launched her own floor-show on – well, the floor, in front of the stage. Jessiman School-trained, after all, is Ellie.

The exit of the General Public didn’t matter too much, as it left a large gang of friends and their kids, but what is interesting is how it changed the whole dynamic of the performance. Both Rachel and Annie remarked on it. What was it: disappointment? Not exactly. Being less “on their mettle”? Probably. Being more prey to the assaults of embarrassment? Certainly. Annie, who is actually a natural performer, “under-did” her act more than she intended. Rachel allowed herself more obviously surprised/questioning/apologetic glances at Annie if things weren’t going quite as rehearsed.

Things were different a few weeks previously, when they took part in a performance at the Tin Hut (Gartly village hall), that time – there being no restrictions as to gender – backed by a couple of chaps, me on the flute to be exact and the wondrous Tim Branston on his slide guitar, and we brought off – I say it with due modesty – a scorching performance. That’s to say, we enjoyed it and if the audience didn’t they didn’t let on.

The Rot

So much goes into the whole thing of Performance, and frankly I think most of it is bad. Take traditional dances, ceilidh-type frolics. You require musicians for these. They aren’t performers as such, they’re providing the music you need and they get paid for it (or should), and everyone does lots of clapping and shouting to keep the enthusiasm level up. That strikes me as a reasonable balance of “audience” and “performer”. This is also the reason I like our monthly sessions in the Tin Hut – and the various other folk-ish clubs in the area too, though the Tin Hut is special because of its acoustics. The balance is good. Everyone gets an equal chance to take part, regardless of their supposed credentials; everyone gets an equal – and fairly muted – amount of applause. Sometimes something that someone plays or sings particularly appeals for one reason or another, and then there are additional sounds of satisfaction, but this isn’t the rule. I call this healthy, and while there’s no denying that everyone loves “a good performance”, even (in small doses) “a great performer”, the general balance of audience and performer, contaminated as it is by the cult of Celebrity, has become pretty unhealthy, wherever you look.

I guess the rot set in back whenever, when music stopped being solely the background to some Count’s dinner party, and big symphony orchestras were brought in to fill the grandiose concert halls that everyone wanted in the big cities. There was something faintly democratic about this, but it also forced the musicians to become performers, and everyone else to sit on their bums and participate by shutting up; and then of course you had the super-musicians, creamed off from all over the Empire, to prance in and head up the orchestra, so the rot got even rottener with a new cult of celebrity. The golden years of Classical music, these. Later on, when orchestras got too expensive, along came the Gift of technology: amplifiy the sound, and then three guys could fill the whole space with the same – no, with bigger sound, with as much sound as you had the electrics for, really.

It seems to me that when true belief collapses, self-belief takes its place, and as self-belief is invariably phoney, a sort of icon-fuelled self-belief – really just an old- fashioned religious-superstitious belief – takes its place: Celebrity is such a case. The geezer up on the stage will do it all for us. We may be inadequate, but he will carry our inadequacies and transmute them into glittering treasures. He is our messiah – at least till we decide, in our religious-superstitious frenzy, to crucify him…. (Or her, one is obliged to add….)

Where was I? Ah yes, the Tin Hut. Fraser Wilson has managed this little treasure so well that fairly eminent singers/bands from both sides of the Pond now phone up to ask if they can do a gig; and of course we once-a-monthers who gather for the ordinary Tin Hut Sessions can bask in the reflected glory. I don’t know if this is good. I also don’t see that it’s inevitable that someone who has a “great talent” should be expected to “move on to higher things”, as we say, meaning join in the brain-drain to ever bigger cities. Amongst the musicians of Old, I think my favourite is still Franz Schubert, a man who sweated, bled and snored great tunes, who hated public performance, and whose profoundest works were written for his circle of friends to play, or listen to, in their own homes or the local Kneipe. That sounds ideal. I was interested to discover that Schubert’s teacher was Antonio Salieri, the court musician who features as Mozart’s adversary in Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus. I’m not quite sure what this might imply, but I know I’ve always had the greatest admiration for unsung heroes like Session Musicians, and I think Salieri might have been one of those, while dear Wolfgang A, I fear, may have belonged to that special breed of performing monkeys who constitute the Mainstream and for whom celebrity is all.

Wouldn’t we all go for it if we could though? Who can say for sure. I’ve been having an Abscess recently, so dentists are on my mind, and dentists waiting-rooms always take me back to a cartoon I saw years ago in Punch magazine (it’s generally Chat these days, or Vogue,  Bunkered,  Horse and Hounds, but back then it was always Punch): I can’t remember the picture, but the caption ran, Oh yes, my husband’s an author – but so far, luckily he’s been able to avoid all that tiresome business of publication…

Here’s an “after” picture of my Author’s Den to complement the “before” one of last time, with the snow replaced by mud. I’m taking advantage of all this wetness-from-the-sky to carry up bucketfuls of earth and turves and plonk them on top of the roof whenever I have time, though the buckets are getting heavier as the ground gets muddier and staggering up the ladder gets increasingly hazardous. There’s a weed-grass that grows round about here, I’m not quite sure what it is but it seems to work pretty well on the turf roofs, forming great big mats of short fine growth that likes wet but doesn’t seem to mind drought too much. I hear May is scheduled to be as miserable a month as April, so that’ll extend the season for turfing activities, as well as for tree transplanting, which we still have a bit to do of (there’s the kind of syntax of which a writer may be proud). So the weather’s always perfect for something. I’ll have to move that stack of old windows from in front of the south-facing window and let in some light. Our littlest tabby cat (pictured in escape mode, Ellie being just round the corner) has been trying for months and now seems to have finally attracted the one intact male left in the District (may be a wild-cat, I suppose). This at least is my guess based on the smell in the caravan, which I again left open one night.

I’ve reached the box of old poems that lie somewhere within, two of which I’m using to start a “poems” page. After much thought about how to arrange my old poems on this page (even some new ones too, as I do occasionally write them still), I decided just to fish about in the various boxes, folders and notebooks and pick out at random. As a postgraduate student I used to inveigh against the habit in Literature departments of requiring a historical/biographical context to understand poems or other works, saying it was just another facet of the Cult of Celebrity and that the work should be supremely capable of standing on its own: so now it’s going to be fun reversing that stance and giving as much details as I feel like. What my eye fell on first was a little booklet put together many years ago (1984, I suppose) by a young German artist who was staying with us at the time. Scarlet picked through sheaves of my poems and came up with a handful which she wanted to illustrate with her intricate pen drawings. I’d better not try to reproduce any of these here, as we have long since lost touch so I can’t ask her permission. But her “Erinnerung an Schottland” is now my “memento of Scarlet Mosel”. The poems she chose – like the first, “Lady Isis” – were mainly love-poems, though love poems have never particularly been my stock-in-trade. The second, “Your house grows….“, is one I wrote for my stepmother’s birthday during one of her bouts of back-pain.

There should now, or soon, be a tab at the top of the page directing you to technical stuff, such as the construction of our turf roofs. This was a split-off from last time’s blog when Anna and I decided that getting too technical on your ass about Coldhome stuff wasn’t a great idea if you’re one of those who read this because of your interest in my words of wisdom about writing issues. In fact, we were discussing splitting the blog into two separate but interlinked blogs. It was Abby who put a spoke in there with the enlightening idea that the way it was (is, has been up to now) was “living literature”. We fell for that one, and I think Anna may even have stuck that up as a quote somewhere.


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