Tuesday, 31 May 2011

In The Line Of Duty

I don't like being melancholy in my writing, and I rarely comment or touch upon current events. However my sorrow today is real, the shock I feel is real, and I think the only way to somehow alleviate it, is to write about it.

I live just a stone's throw from the Gold Coast here in Australia - South Brisbane. It's a world away from the streets of Glasgow through which I plodded as a Police Officer back in the late 70's early 80's.  But criminals are more or less the same the world over. Since moving to Australia I've had reason to 'call the cops' a few times - and each time they have dealt with my problem professionally and courteously. I have a huge admiration for them and especially the 'jovial' way they go about their business here.

Yesterday an armed robbery took place on the Gold Coast and hostages were taken - responding to the alarm Police Officer Damian Leeding and his partner Nikki Jackson were first on the scene. Constable Leeding, a new father to his second child, was shot in the face and head before even getting through the door of the hotel involved. A brave man, he didn't think twice about confronting the danger facing him, or the responsibility he had in ensuring the safety of the hostages.

They are talking about turning off his life support as early as this afternoon.

I want him to pull through, as everyone does.

God bless you Constable Leeding, God bless you.

Update - Tragically, Constable Leeding passed away at approximately 1pm today after his life support machine was switched off. He leaves behind a Widow Sonya (also a serving Police Officer) and two young children.

Constable Leeding died fulfilling the motto of Queensland Police - "With Honour We Serve"


Sunday, 29 May 2011

Shellfire Smiting Us - The SatSnap Challenge

This is my entry for this week's SatSnap Challenge - The Challenge is that you are given a photograph and must build a 300 word essay, short story or poem around the image.

Still owned by the Hogarth's but no longer maintained, the Estate had seen better days. In its heyday it was the pride of the Channel Islands and the comfortable home of the renowned and prolific artist Sir Edward Hogarth. The German invasion of 1940 had put an end to it all. Local legend has it that Sir Edward hastily buried all the family valuables he could gather, within the estate, before the sound of Jackboots could be heard pounding up the driveway. He couldn't stop the looting of everything else of value by the Nazi's however; his own paintings as well as many old masters had been 'requisitioned' and shipped off to Berlin never to be seen again. So utterly destroyed and desolate was he that he could only bring himself to complete one more painting "Shellfire Smiting Us" - a convoy of trucks being shelled in Saint Peter Port - before dying of a broken heart in 1943.  He left no clue as to where the valuables were hidden.

Clutching a scrap of paper his thirty-something great granddaughter Sarah smiled up from the recliner at the only heirloom to have reached her after seventy years.
'Shellfire Smiting Us'
Strangely he had signed this one Ed - rather than his more often used Sir Edward - Now she knew why - and her heart wanted to leap from her chest. Trying hard to compose herself she held the scrap of paper close to her eyes  and reread her own scribbled words...

'Shellfire Smiting Us - Ed'
Minting us Fetishes
The Milling - The files
minting filer
The Missing Files
Filing Missed
The Missing
The Missing Fleur De Lis

"The Missing Fleur De Lis" She said aloud.

Standing up she remembered the old fence running around the perimeter of the estate, she remembered the gate, unable to control herself she let out a scream of joy.

The page for this weeks entries can be found by clicking here - SatSnap 

Living like a King....

Should no more blog posts appear after this one, it is because I have been imprisoned in the Tower of London, please campaign for my release...

Royal protocol demands that conversations between the Royal family and the 'little people' remain confidential - I'm about to break that rule. I'm hoping The Queen, her hubby and the rest of the Royal Family think the World Wide Web has something to do with giant spiders and my indiscretion will go unnoticed and more importantly, unpunished.

It was 1993 and I had been invited to dine with a very, very, prominent member of the Royal family. Through their own postal service I received a long list of the 'do's and don'ts' for the occasion - and there at the top were the words YOU WILL ADDRESS *** **** ** ********* AS "Your Royal Highness" thereafter you will refer to him as 'Sir'. When he appears directly in front of you, you will bow. You will not speak until spoken to.
"Well," I thought, "this could get interesting - because I'll be doing none of that"

'Interesting' was an understatement - Although I was dressed properly for the occasion, it seems the Royal Protection Unit had never experienced anyone turning up for a Royal meal on a bicycle, which is precisely what I did.  When I'd recovered from the Police Officer's tackle upon me I ranted at him;
"Do you not see my invitation - it's taped to my handlebars!?"
Sheepishly he eyed it two or three times before offering a profuse apology and let me through. As I cycled on past him I heard him talking into his radio 'I'm not joking...he's here on a bicycle...Yes, it was on his handlebars, it's genuine...Rory Grant...be advised - could be one to watch'
Could be one to watch? Why? It may not be a limo but this is a damned expensive mountain bike!

Before taking our seats, we lined up waiting for the handshake and our 30 second chat with the Royal. Oh if it were only so simple...

He appears before me and waits for my acknowledgement of him but I refuse to bow. He stares at me. I stare back. EVERYONE stares at me and I start to feel my bowels engage but my head steadfastly refuses to move. He does not extend his hand and I don't extend mine. He takes a step forward to pass me then he must have thought to himself;
' **** it! I'm the **** who the hell is this upstart?' because he stepped back toward me again. Then, the Royal gob opened, "What do you do here?"
"I'm a student, I study here..."
His head inclined toward me as though listening intently for the '...Your Royal Highness', but it never happened, and so he inclined even further toward me and repeated "Study here..."
Was it a question? Was he pointing out that protocols weren't complete and I still had words missing from the end of my sentence? What did he want!!??
"Yes, I study here...Sir". There, I said it, now will you move along to the next person please. But oh no, he'd seen that he'd broken down my defences and like a Knight at the joust was moving in to finish off the hapless loser.
"What do you study?"
"Sociology Sir"
"You're a Marxist then". Again, I wasn't sure if this was a statement or a question.
"No sir, I'm a Socialist, so Socialist yes, Marxist as in Communist - no."
He thought for a moment before finding "And when you graduate you'll be rushing to expose my family on TV. You'll do research for shows like Panorama, World in Action, and present awful things about us no doubt?"
It was then I realised the old bugger was relishing this so I upped my game.
"Yes sir. I have no doubt that I will, but then again if there's nothing to hide then there's nothing to fear." I smiled triumphantly. I learned right then though, that no matter how triumphantly you smile, nothing can trump a Royal smile. A huge grin spread across his face and I imagined Edward the First and all the Royals thereafter using that smile before uttering the words "Behead him". Fortunately he said something completely different;
"You'd like to downsize us wouldn't you?"
"Possibly" I answered.
"Oh don't sit on the fence man. You would or you wouldn't?"
"I would sir".
"You'd like us to drop the yacht, the carriages, the Royal cars and ride around on bicycles no doubt?
Ah ha! Had he heard about the bicycle incident outside? "That's a bit extreme sir, but there could be room for cutting back I'm sure."
He could see I wasn't for changing tack, and like the very good naval officer he is - he changed direction himself,
"You're a bit old for a Student. Bit on the grey side don't you think? I would have thought those days would have been dealt with already?"
My head was saying 'You cantankerous old bastard' but my mouth offered "I'm a mature student sir. I didn't get a shot at University until I was thirty three. Trapped in poverty and trying to raise a family does that to you - impedes your development. Even now a Student grant barely feeds us."
"Poverty you say? Thirty three when you started you say? How much older are you now?"
I gritted my teeth, "I'm still thirty three sir. This is my first year."
"It's ageing you" He remarked, and I resisted the urge to whack him one.
"We'll speak again later" and he moved on but before doing so he offered me his hand. His handshake seemed genuine, firm, slightly longer than it should have been.

We did talk later but it was all 'economics and Europe' with none of the tension of the earlier conversation. When it was all over and I readied myself to take my leave and get my bike, a uniformed Police Officer appeared through the doorway and made a beeline toward me'
"Shit." I thought, "Here it comes, what have I done?"
"Are you Rory Grant?"
"Am I to be executed?" I said, only half-jokingly.
"We need your address"
"Can't say. But I can assure you it's nothing to worry about. His Royal Highness requires it."
I imagined the old bugger sending me postcards from his trips abroad with 'Wish you were here' written mockingly on them. But anyway, I gave him my address.

After a drink on the way home I got to our street about three hours after the dinner. Two unmarked white vans were just closing their rear doors and making ready to leave. My wife rushed out to meet me;
"What's happening? What did you do?" She asked with a huge smile on her face.
"You tell me." I said puzzled.
"Come and see this" She said, grabbing me by the hand and pulling me through the front door.

All the way through our hallway and through our kitchen were stacked tray upon tray of the finest food imaginable. There were whole hams, legs of lamb, fresh salmon, sides of beef, cheeses, there was even caviar in one tray.
His Royal Highness had obviously taken something I said to heart. It probably didn't occur to him that a council house dweller as I was then, wouldn't have twenty freezers and fifty refrigerators to store it all in. But hey - my entire street ate like Kings and Queens for the next two weeks. Maybe the old bugger knew that's what would happen?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Tattie Mary

It's strange - the things which define us in the eyes of others. I have an aunt who clambered up the social ladder from very humble beginnings; is she known as Lady Mary? No. She amassed a small fortune through shrewd wheeling and dealing in finance; is she Money Mary? No. To family and friends she's 'Tattie' Mary -  Tattie meaning Potato in Scotland.

So how did she get this awful nickname? How did a tuber come to define her? You need to go back to when she was a young wife and her complete inability to cook anything other than minced beef and mashed potatoes. But even then - this isn't the full story of why she carries the name Tattie Mary. Oh no, that would be too simplistic. Just like her mince and mashed potatoes - there's more...

Her wee husband Bill was nearing tipping point with mince and mashed potatoes and came home from work to sit at the dinner table, to find yet again that Mary's culinary repertoire only ran to mince and mashed potato. Steeling himself (she was a formidable woman) - he held his plate in both hands and hurled it skyward. It stuck to the ceiling. He refused to touch it and on a point of principle she refused to clean it. Eventually it set there like concrete, plate and all. I remember when I was a kid, visiting them two and a half years after the incident, and there it was for all to see - still stuck to the ceiling. My Mum hadn't been joking!

Some of the family insist the plate itself became unstuck after six years, when road renovations outside caused it to vibrate loose (though the mince and tatties were still there). Others will tell you that 'No - it only took four years but it hit Bill on the head on the way down'.  Whatever the truth, neither would move on the issue - both stubbornly refusing to concede an inch.

But I guess the point I'm trying to make is - When you feel angry about something, when you feel hurt or upset with your partner, talk about it, find a solution, because if you don't then the outcomes can define you. And the problem itself, if not acted upon whilst pliable, can set in your life as solidly as concrete.

Something my Uncle Dogshit Davie can testify to...but then...that's another story.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Yip - It takes a woman to show a man how it's done.

I'm typing this up this morning because I'm feeling particularly proud - not of myself I hasten to add - but of my wife. I'm the writer in the family, always have been, but I have this terrible 'cultural cringe' which haunts me. It's a cloud of self doubt and lack of belief you develop because of your roots. My roots are firmly entrenched in the deprived, working class housing schemes of Glasgow. From there you're never really meant to amount to much - sometimes you start to believe it...so when it comes to completing my book - self doubt can be overwhelming, I procrastinate, terribly.

Last year my wife more or less said "Goddammit Rory - I'll write a book, be finished before you are, publish it myself and show you how it's done!"

It was published 4 weeks ago, first in Kindle format, then paperback - I had a wee look on Amazon this morning - Amazon has over a million kindle books, and my wee wife, with no previous publishing history, no publicity, no experience of these things, has her kindle version sitting in the top ten thousand best sellers. Ten thousand out of a million!

I'm proud of you darlin' - no more procrastinating from me. Apart from my blog posts being a distraction lol.

I also need to add how proud I am of my step-daughter Brenna who's only 16 - She did the cover art!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Thank You Stars

*Warning* Intensely personal post ahead!

It was 2005 and I'd just been through a painful divorce. I lived alone in the solitude of the highlands of Scotland, and although I had the fun and exciting life of being a performer in a rock band - I was still pretty miserable. Tour after tour, gig after gig seemed to end the same way - rapturous applause then the deafening silence and solitude of my wee cottage in the mountains.

Contrary to what Southerners will tell you, we have electricity in the North of Scotland, we even have phones, TV and computers, and so I'd struck up a 'conversation' with a lady from Australia on an Internet forum - about sleep paralysis of all things. Passing info to one another on the forum became private messages, private messages became e-mails, e-mails became phone calls and pretty soon I realised I was falling in love with this 'persona'.  What was she like in real life though? My mates in the band used to joke about the fact she only sent pictures which showed her from the waist up - "Be warned! She's either a midget or in a wheelchair Rory" they'd tease me. Not that it would have mattered. But it did leave questions about whether the persona of someone on the Internet can be matched by the reality?

Neither of us were in a position physically or financially to spend any time abroad - I had tour commitments and she had four kids to raise on her meagre income as a substitute schoolteacher.

And then a miracle happened.

A mutual friend we had made from the USA on the same Internet forum, had been observing the relationship develop. She figured that if one of us didn't get ourselves over to the other then this whole thing could be heading nowhere - and so it was that Tracey (The Australian Lady) awoke one morning, to find that a plane ticket had been booked from Australia to the UK for her for a month, and that a rental car would be waiting to greet her, and there was more than enough set aside as spending money to cover the period, all courtesy of our mutual friend, someone we had never met before in real life.

On November 3rd I waited at Heathrow Airport to see if the person now about to land matched the person I'd known for 6 months on the Internet. It seemed a great idea at the time to turn up in full Highland dress, but now, standing in an English airport wearing my kilt, sporran and Montrose, well...it all seemed a bit over the top, but at least she could never mistake who I was - or so I thought. She appeared out of customs and I was sure 'That's her!' - and she walked straight past me.

When she finally realised that the awkward looking extra from Braveheart was me - we hugged and headed off for coffee...what followed then seems like a dream...

No words could do the following month justice. Suffice to say that I cancelled all gigs except two smaller ones and we started off on our journey through Britain - along the way we video'd most of the places we went and the time we shared together (which you can see below).

Six months later I was in Australia and we married in Brisbane. The Maid of Honour was our mutual friend from the USA who even came on Honeymoon to New Zealand with us such was the strength of our friendship.

Even now when I think back on it - it still raises a tear. I'm overwhelmed not only to be married to the woman I'm in love with but I'm proud of her. Proud of her bravery in traversing the world to go meet an ageing, falling apart rocker. And as for our friend in the USA, it reversed any lingering doubts I may have had about the human condition. 'We're a' Jock Tamson's bairns'.

For those of you wondering where on earth we are in this video; (Be warned - turn your speakers up and get your handkerchiefs ready lol)
Tower of London
Hampton Court Palace
Lady Jane Grey's Castle
The Highlands of Scotland
Falls Of Shin
A bar in Ullapool
A bar in Applecross (I like my bars :) )
Edinburgh Winter Markets
Edinburgh Castle
Castle Eilan Donan
Kyle of Lochalsh
Castle Urquhart
Loch Ness

All of the video as well as the stills images you see, were taken by ourselves.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Ah, that's why it's called your funny bone?

Much to my surprise they didn't electrocute me today (How can anybody train to be a nurse or doctor then apply for the training to electrocute people? What possesses them lol?) Some bright spark in the electrocution dept (Neurology), realised that they still hadn't done stage 2 of the tests on my arm and hand - 'The Monofilament test'

It sounded like flames or heat might be involved because I remembered buying my Granny filaments for the gas lamps in her wee caravan at St Andrews - so I was pretty apprehensive, but no, 'Michelle', my delightful nurse, reassured me -
'We're going to tickle you Rory'
'Tickle me?' I giggled - and we hadn't even started yet.

It seems they can map what's going on in your hands and arms by tickling you with ever decreasing sizes of fine hair. So she put a large sheet of card between me and her so I couldn't see what was going on. And then tickled me. Tickled me for nearly an hour. Half my hand and arm responded gleefully - the other half didn't find it funny and was unmoved.
'So what does it all mean?' I asked.
She looked at the results 'Hmmm,' she said thoughtfully, 'it means in two weeks we're going to have to electrocute you'. How could anyone who looked so pretty and was so good at tickling people, be such a sado-masochist???

So there you go - I'm still Robocop for at least another two weeks!

Different kind of day today...

Can't say much today - don't have the time. Me and my Robocop arm are off to the hospital to see if they can fix it. 'Nerve Conduction Tests' they tell me - Medispeak for 'We're going to electrocute you and see if your arm and hand respond'. Not looking forward to it. It would be good to get the arm and hand working again for sure, but I've enjoyed getting out of washing the dishes for a month. But then, there's one thing I'd really like to do again - play my guitar. All my life almost, I've been a musician. Not being able to play my guitar again would be...well, it's unthinkable.

Wish me luck :)

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Those Embarrassing Moments...

Embarrassing moments...we all have them. Buried deep in the recesses of our minds are those moments we'd rather forget. Every now and then they pop up and leave us trembling at how incredibly pathetic, nieve or just plain dumb we once were.

Be you a King or a Cabbage we all have them and I'm going to reveal mine for the first time - I sincerely hope you will either post your own most embarrassing moment on your blog or in the comments section below - because with the passing of time, they can be spectacularly funny. I once thought ten thousand years would have to pass before I told anyone mine, but now from a distance of 18 years I can confront it, square up to it - and confess, yes I really did that...

It happened in Perth, Scotland, a city I have never returned to as a consequence lest anyone recognises me. It was 1993, I was a student and President of the Student Union, and in that capacity was attending a seminar followed by a disco at a prestigious hotel. I knew that future statesmen and women, soon to be powerful figures in industry, were all gathered around me, and I wondered what road my own destiny would take. By the end of the evening I would be lucky to be employed by anyone, anywhere, at anytime.

I spent a few hours drinking heavily at the disco with two individuals; one who later became Secretary of State for Scotland and the other is now Editor In Chief of one of Britain's top newspapers. We were all blind drunk and I was out of cigarettes...
"I'm just going to go get a pack of ciggies," I said, and stumbled off down to the foyer of the hotel to ask the receptionist where I might get them.
"To be honest sir we only dispense them from a vending machine and they are expensive. I'd recommend you just cross the road outside and buy them from the fish and chip shop on the other side of the street. They're much cheaper."
In my drunken state I giggled my thanks at her honesty and spun round to the 'Thump, Thump, Thump' of the bass notes from the disco resonating in my ears. This was a night to celebrate, to have fun, to love life and I noticed that others had the same idea. A group of people 'Conga dancing' snaked their way through the foyer and I thought I'd join in. All holding one another by the waist or shoulder and moving quickly - I jumped onto the end and grabbed the shoulders of the elderly woman who brought up the rear of the conga.
"C'mon darlin' get them legs moving - Yeehawww!" I called out above the din of the Disco music. Someone was holding a door open and the conga snaked its way inside another room off the foyer - I danced my way through holding onto the woman at the end. I was gangly, all arms and legs but that's what dancing is all about - letting it all go, and I sure as hell was. As the door closed behind us and the sound of the music quietened, I slowed my pulsating, rhythmic gyrations but still kept moving in a 'dance like' way.  I didn't want to be the one to end the conga.

It was then to my horror, I realised we were in the restaurant section of the hotel and that this was no Conga. It was a long line of blind people who had been leading one another through the foyer and into the restaurant by holding onto one another's shoulders. What kind of idiotic, brain dead fool must I have seemed; standing at the end of a line of blind people waving my arms and legs around? I turned quickly around and pathetically danced my way back out the door - then ran like hell for my room.

In less than fifteen minutes I had checked out and was on a train back to Stirling.

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Hamster Has Risen.

I was thumbing through some moments in my life I had written down - I came across this one which I had almost completely forgotten about...

Apart from fish, it was my six year old daughter Nicola's first ever pet; a brown and white hamster which she uniquely named -'Hammy'.
'Hmmm', I suggested 'Sure you don't want a cool name like Hamish the Hamfisted?' My attempt to influence her failed miserably as she looked up and said,
'No Dad, it's Hammy.'
We didn't have a proper cage, so I cleaned out the goldfish tank (The fish had died when she fed them Cornflakes and felt tip pens - it was three days before I noticed) and gave her the talk on  'duty of care'.

We couldn't have a dog as we lived in a block of tenement flats with very little greenery or space for such an animal. A Hamster seemed the perfect compromise. And so she was charged with the responsibility of caring for an animal.
Three weeks later, much to my annoyance, Hammy was dead. Perfectly stiff, legs pointing perfectly heavenward, perfectly dead. I cursed myself for not having taken closer notice of him.
'I see he didn't have much in the way of water Nicola' I pointed out while examining the scene like a forensic scientist looking for clues.
'He didn't like water Dad'
'Oh really, what did he like?'
'Coke eh? Is that with a straw or straight from the glass?'
'Don't be silly Dad, from the glass.' After rebuking me she asked, 'Will he go to heaven today?'
There are times as a parent when you inadvertently put your foot in it, times when you should just keep your mouth shut, had I made the connection between six years old, 'heaven', as well as 'today', alarm bells would have been ringing...but I saw the chasm and jumped headlong into it... 
'Of course he'll go to heaven, he'll go this very day, I'll send him there.'

And so I briefly explained the way of all things as I turned the last little mound of earth over Hammy in our tiny back garden. 'Rest in Peace Hammy' I offered, with all the solemnity of saying farewell to a dear friend.
'He's still there' She said, pointing. 'He hasn't gone to heaven'. Then the tears.

I tried, believe you me I tried everything, I used theology, theosophy, philosophy and even the heart wrenching scenes from Bambi in a bid to explain things, but she was having none of it - Hammy was still under the ground, still dead, not in heaven. I had to think of something else - and fast.

I have a small sleight of hand trick I play with my kids...I can move something from one hand to the other quicker than the eye can see, and in a bid to ease her distress I resolved to dig him up once more, and that I would 'throw' Hammy to heaven. With a little bit of improvisation my sleight of hand should have been able to carry it off.

Encased in his little coffin of an inner tube from a toilet roll, I dug him back out with a spoon. She had been right of course, he was still there, still dead, not in heaven. Unseen by her I had loosened my shirt cuff and prepared my sleeve to receive Hammy during my sleight of hand. 
Holding him out in his little coffin I said something like 'Oh God we commend this little hamster into your care' and swung my arm heavenward and whilst doing so, tipped the inner tube of the toilet roll toward my sleeve to allow Hammy to slide in there.. At that very instant I realised Hammie had shot out of the tube on the upswing and really was making his way heavenward. She watched as he flew and rose...before tumbling back down at our feet with a thump. More tears.
Faced with such spectacular failure I thought of the only thing I could - 'I forgot to ask God to open the door Nicola...Sorry darlin'...silly Daddy' I said, picking him up ready to try once more. 
'We commend wee Hammy unto you God so OPEN THE DOOR!' I yelled, and once more went through the routine. This time I was going to put the entire roll in my sleeve and I felt the roll slip inside - only this time I glanced quickly to check Hammy was safely tucked up inside - he wasn't there. But he wasn't flying through the air either? 
'Yeah you did it Dad! You did it!' She yelled as I stood there wondering where the hell he was. 'You really did it Dad!'

It was a moment I'll never forget - the day I really did send a hamster to heaven, I'd reached out my arm to God and God had quickly slipped his hand down to mine and snatched wee Hammy upward. I felt so pleased with myself I thought about a treat...'C'mon Nicola, let's go inside, Ice cream all round I think.'

A few months later I had a little party and invited the neighbours so as to properly introduce myself. Pouring the elderly man who lived directly above me a drink, he rather fished around for something to say. Eventually he found the words - 'You ever have any trouble with Hamsters down here?' He asked.
'Hamsters? Trouble?...What kind of trouble?' I was genuinely surprised.
'You know anything about them?' he asked in hushed tones.
'Not a lot.'
Dimming his eyelids he scrunched up his face and said 'They can fly you know.'
Almost overfilling his glass I gasped 'What?'
'They can fly you know. Just a few months back I had my bedroom window open and one of the little buggers came flying in - landed on my bed...I killed it with a lamp-stand.'

Poor Hammy, I hope when I get there, he'll forgive me.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Camera Never Lies - Aye right. - SATSNAP Challenge

She was fourteen, I was twelve; having her around every Easter was like having Jesus roll away the stone - only to have it roll right over you. Her presence was crushing.

My cousin Elspeth, from 'Buckinghamshire', pronounced with her chin in the air and her eyes gawking heavenward as if conversing with God - had done nothing but complain for an entire week. She may have been wealthy, she may have been posh - but by God she was thick;

"Rory, do you ever have days when it doesn't rain here in Scotland?"
"February the Sixteenth," I said, plucking a date at random, "you missed it." 
It sounded like the Queen replying,
"Febrooooaaaary the sixteenth you say? I must ask Father to remember."

 Her family packed her off to us in Eyemouth for the 'sea air' every year, and every year we couldn't wait to hurry her back across the border to Berwick station and bid her farewell.  Her family would send her north, with her own toilet paper. Our toilet only had torn strips of Dad's favourite newspaper - 'The Daily Worker', with its communist perspective, which they wouldn't let her use. There were numerous infections you could catch from an outside toilet, it seems Communism was one of them.

Every year we did the same thing before pouring her into the train south;-
"We'll stop for a picture at the border with your cousin Rory!"
"Aye Maw" I'd sigh.

I lost touch with her when she hit sixteen and have never heard from her since - I imagine she now has a beautiful manor in Buckinghamshire, Horses, a banker for a husband and in their toilet you'll find only torn strips from the Financial Times.

'Haste Ye Back' it says - the picture lies.

The above was written today in response to a great idea called the SATSNAP Challenge (Saturday Snapshot - take the image and write a 300 word post around it), which I stumbled across at this link here - SATSNAP

My thanks to 'The Thumber' for this great idea which made my Sunday a real pleasure today!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

From The Mouths of Babes

I adore my step-kids - each in their own way holds unique qualities. I want to dwell in this blogpost however, on the surreal expressions uttered by my 'otherworldly', recently turned 11 year old step daughter - Maddy. Even the simplest exchange can leave me scurrying to find the hidden meanings or deep reflections in her throwaway replies...

Walking to school tends to bring the most cryptic of them out in her...
Me - 'Ah Maddy, there's that wee tree I really like, it's blossoming.'
Maddy - 'Don't say 'wee' in Australia Rory. People will hate you'
Me - 'Oh really? Ok. But why?'
Maddy - 'They just will. Trust me.'

Maddy - 'There's a new boy in our class. Quite literally his name is Jerod'
Me - 'But everyone's name is quite literal.'
Maddy - 'Yeah but I mean quite literally his name is Jerod'
Me - 'Yes, as it should be.'
I got a 'How dumb are you?' look, and a shake of the head, 
What didn't I understand???

We were standing on the porch watching the night sky when I asked her 'Do you see any UFO's Maddy?'
'Yes. Come inside quick!'
'But then I won't see the UFO.'
'But if you stay here Rory you'll be adopted by aliens!'

Maddy - 'Rory I have a lump on my foot. What is it?'
I take a look and say - 'Oh it's a wee callous from your new shoes irritating the skin'
Maddy ponders this for a second or two - 'So it's not radiation then?'

Maddy - 'Hey Rory I discovered today that I can tell what people are thinking by looking at their eyes'
Me - 'Really? Okay. I'm thinking of a fruit. Which fruit is it?'
Maddy - 'Hmmm not sure. Sometimes I get writers block'
Me - 'No way. C'mon - that's a cop out. Look at my eyes and tell me what fruit I am thinking of. You said you can do it.'
Maddy - 'You're thinking of a Passionfruit'
Me - 'I don't even know what a Passionfruit looks like'
Maddy - 'Ah well that's why I couldn't get it - if you don't know what it looks like - it means you're a freak'

Me - 'Do you have any homework from school today Maddy?'
Maddy pulls out her notebook, 'Yeah. I need help though - what's ten divided by Friday?'

She'd been appearing very tired every morning and I suspected she was getting up through the night and going onto the internet - so I thought I'd check her browser history to see if this was so. It showed activity around midnight - Google had the following search terms she'd put in;
12:03 Piano Music
12:05 Relaxing Piano Music
12:09 I SAID RELAXING Piano Music

After discussing the idea of traveling to Scotland;
Maddy - 'Would I be able to understand anyone in Scotland?'
Me - 'Well you understand me don't you?'
Maddy - 'Yeah but we've taught you Australian.'

Walking to School;
Maddy - 'One of my shoes is too tight. But I'm not sure which one.'

She was playing recorder in the back of the car on our way home from a trip somewhere. It sounded awful...
Maddy - 'I think this recorder has gone out of tune.'
Me - 'Wonder why it's called a recorder? It doesn't record anything.'
Maddy - 'Duh silly! It's called a recorder because it has holes in it.'

Maddy - 'I need a lucky charm. I've never had one. I need to get a lucky charm.'
Me - 'But you already have one - Me!'
Maddy - 'No Good. You're old and all your luck will have been used up.'

There's so many more - but my Black Lab is looking up at me with crossed legs - Dogs need out.

Back later :)

Friday, 20 May 2011

Do Women 'See' Differently from Men?

This blog was never, and is not, intended to promote my new book. So please don't think by following it you'll be subjected daily to the kind of post you're about to read  - but I have to record this 'wee event' for posterity.

Many years ago I used photoshop to remove from an image - an annoying spot from the end of my nose. It was so well done (you would never have known it had been there) that in my elation at my own abilities, I considered opening up a business removing unwanted blemishes from folks treasured photographs. I was good at this obviously so why not?

Anyway, the new book deadline looms large and a couple of weeks ago my wife brought up the subject of my cover art.
'Not a problem darling' I assured her, 'I'll make something in photoshop.'
'What will your themes be?' She asked.
'Oh it'll need to convey symbols of Scotland, passion, romance. That kind of thing' I replied.
She kinda winced at me and asked politely 'And you think you can do that?'
Well, I was gobsmacked. How could she doubt me? I was an expert in Photoshop and the way I'd removed that zit from my nose maybe I could have been an otorhinolaryngologist had life's road taken a different turn!

Anyway three weeks passed and she asked me how it was 'coming along'? I'd been trying out several ideas, ok one idea, and was pleased with it - so I showed her...

She gave me that 'You really are a cretin' kinda look, so I swiftly pointed out that I'd only been doing it for a few weeks - She disappeared into our office and headed presumably for her own lap top. Two hours later she reappeared with her memory stick in hand, plugged it into my lap top and said 'There's your book cover'. Which was what you see below...

I admit there is a certain appeal about hers, in fact I will go as far as saying hers is slightly superior. But no Tartan? C'mon? 


Thursday, 19 May 2011

How much can I cram in?

 Well this is it then - the new blog. My wife insisted I create one so here it is. I won't bore you to death with all the usual 'I'm this and that' stuff, no, I'll bore you to death with something entirely different.

It's 7am here in Brisbane, Australia, and I've been awake since 2am with loupin' pain in my left arm. I can only type with one hand as my other looks like something which should be attached to Robocop. Splint on my elbow, splint on my hand, splints on my fingers - Cubital Tunnel Syndrome so they tell me. It's new to me and although it's excruciatingly painful, I'm  pleased it's a relatively rare condition as I wouldn't want to disappoint the concerned with 'Oh it's just a broken arm,' or 'Yeah strained my elbow' but 'Cubital Tunnel Syndrome' - it has a threatening ring to it so loved by us hypochondriacs. It reminds me of the Clyde Tunnel Syndrome I suffered from back in Glasgow - Every single time I went under that River I swore this was the moment it would give way and drown us all and so eventually I'd go to Govan via Erskine from Drumchapel, for those who know the area - (for those who don't there's always Google Earth). I take my tunnel syndromes seriously. 

Anyway I digress somewhat. I'm here in Brisbane a city I love, but missing Glasgow. As is the way of these things the only real news I get from home is always bad news. No one calls me to say 'Hey I found a tenner on the street today!' only things like 'Your Grannies dead and Auntie Flossie has bad hemorrhoids'. So via this blog I'm going to keep up with others, hopefully, who might add a wee bit of Scottish sunshine to the blistering heat we get over here.

Last real news I got from Britain was the Royal Wedding of William and Kate. I watched the scenes from Westminster Abbey live here on Aussie TV - I hadn't seen that many welfare claimants in the one building since I signed on at Anniesland dole office many years ago. They never ever televised that...

Back soon - fingers are giving me hell...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Tam The Herd

Every summer during school holidays I would be packed off to Granddad's out in the country. The change from the bleak streets of the city was more than just pleasing to the eye. It was physical. After two weeks in the country when I spat, my spit was white. Being a kid I had no idea the smog which choked us in the city was burrowing its way into my lungs. I put the whiteness down to the fact Granddad made hot milk for me each morning. Little did I know.
Granddad's house was tucked snugly inside the village of Dail in South West Scotland. It was just a hop, skip and leap to cool fresh water, rivers where no foam or froth from detergents had ever been, and fish stayed alive long enough to catch with a rod. The main river, the Girvan, snaked its way slowly through lush green meadows as far as the eye could see.
At ten years old he treated me like a grown up. Every morning I would rise at six and make ready for the Gypsies and Tinkers who would pass through the village on a lorry, stopping only outside his house. Waving goodbye I'd climb on board and head for the fields to pick potatoes for ten back breaking hours. This wasn't exploitation in the sense we understand it now. The work was hard but it meant ten year old me came home with a pay packet almost the equivalent of a grown up. It made me old before my time but I loved every single second of it. Not only that, but the weekends were all my own.
A mile from Granddad's a solitary run-down bothy stood rotting gently in the hot summer sunshine. The village kids had told me 'Tam the Herd' lived there and if I ever went fishing, I should avoid passing his bothy as Tam had been known to steal children from the city, and lock them up in his bothy - they'd never be seen again. Very few of those same village kids had seen Tam, he needed no trips to the village shop as he found food in abundance in the fields around him and drew water from a nearby stream. At times I thought he might be a myth used to scare 'townies' like me. It was working.
I saved as much money from potato picking as I could. I always wanted to thrill and please my mother by returning to Glasgow as the famous song went, ‘with gold in great store'. Weekends though, were for hunting, running, fishing and simply soaking up the country air, all of which were free.
It was Saturday afternoon and I was high on the hill at the village play-park, getting ready to race a bicycle downhill, over a bumpy dust-track, all to prove to the village kids us city boys are as stupid as they are. Suddenly one of the kids shouted 'Stop!'. I've no idea how many teeth and stitches that yell spared me, but it was welcome.
'Look!' The yelling kid pointed an outstretched hand in the direction of the main road - 'It's Tam the Herd!'
Sure enough, a figure walked purposefully down the road. Before I could focus properly the kids were running full pelt down the hillside in his direction. I've often wondered since if kids have some kind of psychic ability, some kind of telepathy, because no sooner had he been spotted than it seemed the entire village's population of kids were streaming out of doorways and rushing headlong in the direction of Tam the Herd. Not sure of what was going on, I followed but kept a healthy distance on my bicycle. Getting a little closer I could see an old man, tall, with whiskers down past his chest and wild, shining eyes. He wore Wellington boots, which almost passed his knees, and they made a flopping sound with every step he took. Baggy trousers were held at the middle by a piece of rope and he wore only a jacket with nothing beneath. As he strode alone down the centre of the road he pushed a large stick before him, simultaneously using it for walking and shaking at kids who were now taunting and teasing him. Every now and then if a kid got too close he would wield the stick high in the air before swinging it but never was any contact made as the kids were just too nimble.
I followed the pack as Tam rounded the bend at the foot of the road and watched as he made his way inside the Green Man Tavern. It seemed to me there were hundreds of kids staring through the doorways and climbing up onto window ledges to see what was going on inside. Soon the owner of the bar emerged and threatened us all that if we did not leave he would telephone the police. Given that my Granddad was one of only two people in the village at that time who had a telephone, and that he never let anyone use it, coupled with the fact the nearest police station was 17 miles away, there was no great urgency as the kids started to split up and make their way home. I decided to go back to Granddad's, get my fishing gear, and get ready for some night fishing.
I caught an edible, not a large one but four or five pounds worth of Salmon was still a treasure. It was late and with no way of keeping the fish fresh, I decided that as the full moon was high, I really should get back to Granddads. Taking care not to get caught on the barbed wire fences surrounding the fields, I made my way through the darkness. Although a small road skirted the field I was in, I ignored it. It led to Tam the Herd's bothy and there was no way I was emerging from the gloom to walk past there. Using the field I walked on until I was sure that Tam's bothy was behind me before climbing the last fence and stepping onto the track clutching my rod and salmon. I had only taken a few paces when through the darkness I thought I heard a strange sound. Once more I heard it and it sounded like a moan. My heart was in my mouth. I couldn't see a source for the sound and in such a state of fear I froze. I could neither run for Granddad's, nor run back the way I came, as the sound was so close it could be anywhere around me. Once more I heard it - only this time it was clear and discernible 'Help me!' it said. With the moon as the only source of light I scanned the bushes surrounding the field on the opposite side of the road. The unmistakable shape of a man lay partially covered by grass and down in the ditch by the side of the track. 'Help me son...please help me' the voice pleaded. I moved closer and realised to my horror it was Tam the Herd.
Keeping a safe distance, I called 'What's wrong?'
'I have fallen laddie, fallen, and I think I shall never get up without help.'
His voice was not at all what I expected. For someone who had the appearance of an old tramp he sounded polite.It was clear that he had fallen and even through the half-light I could see blood winding its way down his face from a gash on his head.
'You won't try anything funny?' I asked, terrified that at any moment he might leap up and grab me, just as the village kids had warned.
'This is a very unfunny situation laddie. I simply don't have the strength to get up.' There was something in his voice reassured me of its truth. Even so, when the moon caught his eyes they looked wild and fiery. Stooping to help I put my rod and fish to one side and placed an arm beneath his. Doing so I became aware of the horrid stench coming from him. Getting to his knees he pulled himself up and the reek of alcohol threatened to make me sick.
He placed a hand on my shoulder 'Thank you Laddie. Could you find my stick down there?' He pointed to the long grass in the ditch.'
Handing it to him he asked, 'Will you see me to my door? It's not far.'
Knowing no-one would be this way until morning I left my rod and fish by the track side and let him lean on my shoulder all the way back to his bothy. He talked as we walked 'I don't know your face, you don't have a village face' he said between groaning at the pain his movements were causing him. 'I'm Betty Dorans' son' I said.
He stopped in his tracks 'A Dorans!' He exclaimed 'Now there's a family to be proud of! Burma, Palestine and Indo-China!'. I knew vaguely what he was referring to as Granddad had been someone famous in the Black Watch regiment and had been decorated so many times he needed two large wooden boxes to keep his medals in. It was something he spoke rarely of though.
As we approached his door he beckoned me to enter. 'I dunno sir' I said 'I don't think I should'.
'Fear not young Dorans, I simply need some water for my head. If you fetch me it from the bowl in the kitchen, I'll keep you no longer'. After fumbling in his jacket pocket for matches, he lit up an oil fired lamp which stood on a wooden box outside his doorway and pushed open the groaning, rotting door. A musty, damp smell rushed to greet us. 'See, just through there' he pointed.
His unsteady hand caused the oil lamp to swing throwing shadows within the cottage which to my imaginative mind resembled contorted creatures racing around inside. Peering inside I could make out the bowl by a large copper tub, which he used presumably as a sink. He stepped inside, turned left into a room and was gone leaving me with the decision to make. Quickly I made my way toward the bowl but as I did so I could feel my feet sinking deeper into the floor, it caused no small alarm in me. Looking down I could see that his bothy had no carpets or floorboards, instead were layer upon layer of empty hessian potato sacks. Fetching the bowl I made my way carefully to the other room and found him seated by the oil light. It seemed to me his wild eyes burned brighter than the lamp. 'Here sir' I said.
'Thank you laddie, I should have known a Dorans would never desert a needy soldier'. His tone was pleasant, his voice warm and mellow and I stopped feeling so terrified.
'Why do they call you Tam the Herd?' I asked, as he dipped his hand in the bowl of water using the sleeve of his jacket to rub it over it his head.
'Because that’s who I am.’ He almost smiled as he said it. ‘I was a soldier in the great war and after that I became a Shepherd, it's what 'the herd' means. If I was still a soldier then maybe I’d be Tam the Gun. But I’m not, I’m Tam the Herd. Your Grandfather knows me well. Many a day we’ve shared at the Green Man Tavern and we remember...' His voice quietened and the words began tapering off '...friends, fallen, days when we had other names…'
With all the innocence of youth I asked 'Why do you live like this?'
He pulled on his beard and his wild eyes looked upward, he gave a pained expression. I flinched a little at asking.
'Maybe you're granddaddy will tell you' He said looking toward the gaping fireplace which looked as though no flame had danced there in years.
'Please. Can't you tell me Sir?'
His wild eyes turned to fix themselves firmly on me, but his voice remained calm, his gruff tone dropped a decibel or two, 'I fought in the war to end all wars Son. I watched the flower of two countries fall beside me. I saw things I prayed to God would never happen to ones like yourself.' His eyes began darting around the gloom 'When it was over I came home to Scotland from France and with the promise of peace I built this little house, married a fine lady, a fine, fine lady, and had three strapping sons of my own.' At the mere mention of his sons his mouth spread across his face.
I was about to interrupt saying 'that doesn't explain anything', when he raised his hand to quell my words. 'Angus, Fraser and Stuart, my sons, three more beautiful and strong laddies you will never meet. Oh what possessed me? Oh what possessed me?' His smile waned, the spaces between his words filled with pain and the pain clearly formed questions in his mind, his eyes continued their hurried glancing as if looking for the answers. Once more he turned to me and there was no mistaking the tears filling his eyes. 'The evil that filled Europe returned. And my stock Laddie, aye my stock rose to the call. My laddies, my beautiful laddies.' The tears were flowing freely and he reached to hold my shoulder. 'I sent them to war laddie…and they never came home'. As the words left his mouth he pulled me tighter and howled like a hurt fox.
I didn't know what to do. A lump welled in my throat and he clasped me tight whilst weeping openly on my shoulder.
I knew I would have to leave soon but in some small way, for a brief moment in time, I hoped however fleetingly, he felt like one of his laddies ...had come home.