Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012/Be glad your nose

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.

Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you'd be forced to smell your feet.

Your nose would be a source of dread
were it attached atop your head,
it soon would drive you to despair,
forever tickled by your hair.

Within your ear, your nose would be
an absolute catastrophe,
for when you were obliged to sneeze,
your brain would rattle from the breeze.

Your nose, instead, through thick and thin,
remains between your eyes and chin,
not pasted on some other place--
be glad your nose is on your face!

Jack Prelutsky
Photo by Alistair.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012/Grain of sand

A Grain Of Sand

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
'Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life's mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.

Robert William Service
Photo by Alistair.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Wishful Drinking.....

My father and I sat in the corner of the long lounge bar of the Cherry Tree Inn, each nursing three-quarters of dark beer topped with the remains of the foaming head that showed it had been expertly poured by the barman now leaning his elbow sociably on the bar as he chatted with a couple of regulars. Dad and I sometimes dropped in here from the next village where I’d been brought up and he and Mum still lived. Not often enough to be considered regulars but often enough that the barman would greet us with a “Hello again” and ask how we’d been since our last visit while he poured. Normally we would have gone to Dad's favourite place, a lovely little pub out in the rolling countryside, but tonight he’d wanted to stay closer to home.

We were probably talking about something fairly inconsequential: like why the beer was called 80/- {eighty shilling} as that’s how much a barrel of it would have cost when the beer originally came on the market. There were various beers named like that and Dad always liked an occasional ‘pint of eighty’ while I would sometimes go for a 60/- instead. These were never big drinking nights. Neither he nor I could be described as any kind of boozer. A pint would last an hour of easy conversation: two would be a rarity before we made our way the couple of miles back over the hill to home. These nights had become more important to us after a heart attack some time before and we both enjoyed affirming our closeness in this way. Just the boys out together for an hour or two, usually just the two of us, but occasionally my older brother would be able to come and join us too.

 I lived a couple of hours drive away on the other side of the country but I tried to come through every other week or so for an overnight stay if I could. Mum would be glad I’d take him out from under her feet for an while as they could be a sparky combination and an hour in my company ensured he would come back chilled out – an effect that could last for days apparently.  Sometimes we’d play pool on the table in one of the back rooms, but tonight we were just sitting talking. Our drinks slowly drained and eventually Dad got up to go to the loo which usually indicated he’d be looking to make tracks for home fairly soon. While he was gone I people watched the interactions around the bar and the comings and goings of Friday night in this popular wee bar. The door tinkled its bell as two men came in. They were in their fifties, one taller and heavier than the other, a lean man of below average height with a shock of unruly greying hair tumbling down to the shoulders of his pale jacket. They found themselves the last two high stools at the bar and ordered drinks while they remained deep in conversation.  

Dad returned, no doubt making his usual old man comment about having ‘needed that’ and we started talking our way through the final inch in the bottom of our glasses. A few minutes later he glanced up at the bar and his head perked up, a sure sign he’d seen something interesting. I was just about to ask what when he reached into his back pocket and took out his wallet and pulled out a fiver. He added a pound coin to it and thrust it at me.

 “Och, let’s have another half, eh? There’s no need to rush back home is there?”

I made some sarcastic comment about not realising it was Christmas in acknowledgement of his munificence and asked if he was sure - to which he nodded, still looking towards the bar.

“And while you’re up there gie the barman money for a pint for yon skinny article wi’ the pale jacket and the lassie’s hair. Don't gie it tae him yourself though. Get the barman to when he’s finished whit he’s drinking the noo.  Jist get yersel’ back here sharpish.”

Bemused, I headed to the far end of the bar and got us another drink, telling the barman to ’stick one of whatever that fella along there’s drinking in the tap for later’ and heading back for an explanation. When I got there Dad was finishing the last of his first drink with an expression of self-satisfaction. As I plopped down beside him I asked what the heck was going on but he smiled at me and said,

“Just wait and see. It’ll not be long.”

 We chatted on and a few minutes later I noticed the barman move along the bar to the long-haired man with a newly poured beer in his hand. He sat it down beside his hand and I saw the man start in surprise. Even though he had his back to us I could see him ask a question which was answered with a few words and a nod of the head in my direction. The man swivelled on his stool and as he did so I saw for the first time that he wore spectacles with lenses just about as thick as the bottom of the glass he’d just had delivered. He leaned forward on his seat, peering at us and, even along the length of the bar I could see his eyes magnified owlishly as he squinted, trying to get a focus on his unknown benefactor. As he did so he raised his new drink in salute and I did the same in return.

I heard a chuckle and an “Anytime now” from my side as the man turned back to his drinking crony and spent a moment clearly excusing himself as he carefully detached himself from the high stool and turned to make his way carefully across the room in our direction. A moment later the man was within hailing distance and as he again squinted myopically at us he said, “Hello friend. Thanks for the pint but I don’t think I know you…..”

At that my father leaned forward from where I’d been accidentally obstructing the other’s view and said, “Hullo Charlie. That pint was from me!” The man leaned forward and focussed a second before saying, “Oh……Sam. It’s yourself. I…um…. never saw you there.” He made a face like his drink had just gone sour. “I’ve……. Well…….. I’ve been meaning to phone you.” Dad smiled a smile of beguiling innocence; one of those beamers that enchanted old ladies and young girls alike. “Have you Charlie? Well, no need now.” He turned to me and gave me a discreet dig in the ribs. “Alistair – get this man a seat will you?”

I pulled a chair over but took it myself indicating to the man that he should take the bench seat next to my father which he did with some reluctance as my father winked at me for my gift of a captive seated right beside him. I knew he was up to something but not what. It soon became clear that the rest of the nights conversation would not involve me, but the area of blind welfare social work that Dad and this man clearly both worked in. Twenty minutes and half a pint later the man left with the remains of his beer and an entry in his diary which matched the one my father had just made in his.

I raised an eyebrow in Dad’s direction. “And? What was all that about?”

He lifted his glass and savoured the last few dregs of his beer like they were nectar. “I’ve been trying to get hold of that bugger for almost six weeks now and he’s been giving me the run-around, never answering calls or voicemails and ignoring emails. I’ve got him now though.” He smiled,"it’s a terrible affliction – a double affliction even: being blind as a bat and nosey as a fish-wife. I knew he would have to come over to find out who sent him that beer. I knew too that once he’d come over he wouldn’t have the balls to refuse the offer of a friendly chat with someone who’d just bought him a drink!” He potted an imaginary black ball in the corner pocket with his hands and said “…in the bag!”

Later as we neared home:

 “So – that was the real reason you were so keen to go there rather than to ‘The Stair Inn’ tonight then was it Paw?”

I felt him smile in the dark and smiled back as I heard his two-tone response.


 See you later.

Listening to:

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Train-ing Day.......

Today I find I’ve got the time for writing a blog as I’ve been down to Liverpool for a training course on writing and reviewing fire risk assessments. This means I’ve a few hours to kill on the train and for once I’ve brought the laptop with me so I’m sitting at a table as I whizz backwards through the countryside in the gloom of a Scottish summer at 70 or 80 miles an hour, typing away and listening to some great music pouring out of my headphones.  I’m not sure but from some of the glances that have come my way I may have been singing along. It’s not a pretty thought, so if you’re reading this and have just spent three hours beside a nutter singing out loud on the train from Preston to Edinburgh then I sincerely apologise

It’s not like me to be organised but for once, after just 53 years of practicing, I have my act well and truly in order, at least in one tiny way. I’ve made use of some odd bits of time here and there to organise scheduling of ‘The Sunday Post’ poem blogs right through to Christmas and have several more sitting ready to schedule to start off 2013. It felt very odd to be sitting here in July posting a blog for Dec 23rd even if the weather is more reminiscent of early winter with the last few weeks of record rainfall.

The poems are the only bit of the blog I’ve consistently planned in advance and usually I manage to keep a week or so ahead, but for once I found myself with a list of poems in mind and some time to both get them transferred into blogger and to organise them into a preferred chronology of sorts for scheduling. Not that the order makes any sense because of structure or anything like that. I like to be organised with the poems so that there is always a regular posting to cover the event of work interfering with blogging or, as is sometimes/often the case, I find inspiration has deserted me. As far as ‘normal’ posting is concerned I tend to just bash away with whatever is in the brain cell at the time. That seems to work for me for the most part. The only exceptions to this are the Scots history tales as they tend to need a bit more in the way of research and structure is more important to make sense. These have been missing of late because they tend to take a while to research and organise and I find myself writing and rewriting to make things clearer or to flow better.

Time for blogging has been sparse recently and has coincided with one of those spells where inspiration has been posted AWOL too. I’m not a naturally ‘creative’ kind of writer so imaginary tales or situations aren’t really my thing even though I do like to read a lot of fiction. In the past I often posted tales of interaction with Jess our cat, which proved popular, but work has separated Jess and I to a fair degree and she now spends much more time with The Lovely G so I am bottom of the list of preferred partners. Being bottom of a list of two isn’t too bad I suppose in the big scheme of things. I suppose there are tales to be told of working with Autism Spectrum disorders but I have hesitated on this so far. Beyond the obvious protection of privacy and dignity I’m not sure if that’s a topic I want as part of what’s been to date simply a personal blog. Actually, having just written and read that off the screen, I’m pretty sure I won’t be writing about that. The potential pitfalls may be just too great.

Despite the bad weather, the summer {?} is marching on and the annual cycle repeats itself as Edinburgh braces itself for The Festival. Venues are beginning to put out hoardings and billboards are jumping up all over promoting everything from circus acts to ladyboys or the huge influx of comedy shows.  For me this is the best time of the year to live within easy reach of Edinburgh. I love the city at festival time and, while normally I would grump for Scotland about queues or rude tourists or shop assistants or creaking public transport or a myriad of other things, I will happily choose to spend days among the crowds, put up with being jostled while queuing for anything from tickets to drinks to a place at a public convenience and happily point lost souls in the direction of castles, toilets, pubs, clubs or shows and revel in making conversation for a while with people I would never normally talk to or may never meet again.

My personal highlight to The Festival is the Edinburgh Book Festival, the world’s largest book festival and destination for literally hundreds of authors of all genres to come and meet the public. British authors are a huge part of the book festival and I enjoy going to see a few regulars every year: Ian Banks, Ian Rankin and Christopher Brookmyre. These Scottish authors are constants at the festival and are some of the hottest tickets for us parochial Scots. Luckily as a ‘Friend of the Book Festival’ I’m able to get tickets in advance of public release which guarantees me two tickets at any 10 events I want to see. These three are always the non-negotiable first on the list as they are some of the finest raconteurs and ad-hoc responders to unexpected questioning from the audience. Ian Rankin and Christopher Brookmyre have particularly Scottish voices compared to Ian Banks but he is probably the best of them all in terms of what he is willing to give to the audience. One of those people you would love to spend an evening in a bar with – although he could probably drink me under the table. We share a love of single malt whiskies and his book 'Raw Spirit' - about touring the distilleries of Scotland on assignment to find ‘ the perfect dram’- is one of my favourites as it’s a highly personal tale of the jaunts and japes that often took place while enduring the hangovers that attention to detail in an assignment like that seems to have demanded and covers not only his love and knowledge of whisky but of his love of Scotland and its 'great wee roads', for cars and motoring, family and friends and all in his unique style of inquiry into those crazy trains of thought that sometimes come through in his writing.

This year the festival has potential to be extra fun as I get to go exploring with my new telephoto lens which promises to be ideal for some of the candid people shots that I love to take. Since getting my newest addition to my camera kit I’ve not really had the chance to get out and about and find out exactly what my 150 – 500mm telephoto lens can really do. Weather and work have conspired against it.

Oops - time's marched on  - and I've been goofing off doing other stuff as well as writing a bit now and then - and the train is coming into Edinburgh. Time to pack up and get on my way home.

See you later.

listening to:

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012 / We are the music makers

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams.
World-losers and world-forsakers,
Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers,
Of the world forever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world's great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire's glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song's measure
Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o'erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world's worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

Arthur William Edgar O'Shaughnessy
Photo by Alistair

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Birthdays are such a scream

As it's The Lovely G's birthday today - don't ask, I'm a gentleman and a coward - I've taken the day off and we're braving the forecast torrential rain to go to Edinburgh Gallery of Modern Art to look at the Edvard Munch exhibition and then going out for something to eat.

Some pampering has already taken place and much more to come. I seem to have hit a goldmine of brownie points by arranging a microlight flight for her main present.

Don't be so surprised sweetheart - I'm still trying to justify that telephoto lens.........

And you are very well insured.

Have a brilliant day!

And thank you for your permission to finally post a photo of you.

Listening to:

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012/ A Prouder Man

A Prouder Man Than You

If you fancy that your people came of better stock than mine,
If you hint of higher breeding by a word or by a sign,
If you're proud because of fortune or the clever things you do --
Then I'll play no second fiddle: I'm a prouder man than you!

If you think that your profession has the more gentility,
And that you are condescending to be seen along with me;
If you notice that I'm shabby while your clothes are spruce and new --
You have only got to hint it: I'm a prouder man than you!

If you have a swell companion when you see me on the street,
And you think that I'm too common for your toney friend to meet,
So that I, in passing closely, fail to come within your view --
Then be blind to me for ever: I'm a prouder man than you!

If your character be blameless, if your outward past be clean,
While 'tis known my antecedents are not what they should have been,
Do not risk contamination, save your name whate'er you do --
`Birds o' feather fly together': I'm a prouder bird than you!

Keep your patronage for others! Gold and station cannot hide
Friendship that can laugh at fortune, friendship that can conquer pride!
Offer this as to an equal -- let me see that you are true,
And my wall of pride is shattered: I am not so proud as you!

Henry Lawson
Photo by Alistair.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Those magnificent men in their flying machines

This week saw the unveiling of the memorial to RAF Bomber Command take place in London.

During WWII men from all parts of Britain, from allied and occupied nations and from around the world volunteered to become aircrew in RAF Bomber Command and took part in the most consistently dangerous operations against the Nazi regime. Of the 125,000 who served almost 60%, over 73,500 men, would be killed or wounded, a figure that in percentage terms far surpassed the losses of men in the trenches of WWI and the highest losses sustained by any armed forces in WWII. The dangerous nature of their missions meant the aircraft they flew had an average lifespan of just four weeks and six missions while operational aircrew, who's average age was twenty two, were expected to complete a minimum of thirty operations to earn a temporary posting to less dangerous activities - a posting that many chose to forego to keep fighting.

 For a large part of the war, losses of 5% per mission were so high that for front line crews life expectancy was in effect just three weeks.

After the war, when the real effect of the bombing campaign could be seen, many were appalled, especially as a terrible destruction of the German city of Dresden had occurred just weeks before the end of fighting. Politicians who had been at the front in ordering wartime action and the taking of war to the enemy in this way quickly backpedalled and ducked responsibility in moves of neck-saving political expediency, while a war weary public were only too keen to forget in their need to move on and build a better future. No mention of these Bomber Boys or their sacrifice was made by our famous wartime PM Winston Churchill in his victory address to the nation. No medal was given -then or since - the only branch of the Armed Services to be treated in this way. Over generations, while the brave men of fighter command were rightly seen as heroes, the Bomber Boys were ignored, their actions vilified and their courage and sacrifice unrecognised by the British public. A few complained and campaigned for recognition of the sacrifice, but most lived quietly, carrying the scars and weight of memory with the same kind of dignity and fortitude they'd demonstrated as young men. Over time, to our national shame, their story was forgotten, buried for political expediency under the myth of those famous 'few' RAF heroes fighting the Battle of Britain. For more than 50 years their story has largely gone unrecognised except for one heroic raid by a squadron who became known as 'The Dambusters'. They became lost to us because it was the easy thing to do to avoid facing some uncomfortable truths. When a small memorial was erected in London twenty years ago to the wartime leader of Bomber Command, Arthur {bomber} Harris, it had to be put under police guard for several months to protect it from attack.

Slowly support built up around them; families who saw the injustice and servicemen who understood the contribution; politicians who had not been so closely involved as to share responsibility; historians who sought to clarify and analyse fact objectively. People saw bomber crews in the USA lauded as heroes on TV and in film and began to wonder what had happened to our men, what difference in their experience to justify having them treated with such neglect, to be expunged from public consciousness. Despite this burgeoning movement it took years to peel away the history that had been established, to remove the layers and to recognise the truth behind the myth.

Finally today these men have permanent and public recognition.

It's a story close to my heart because of my late father's involvement. I've written extensively here about their story and experiences so long ago. The memorial to bomber command may be seventy years too late but it's there and it's theirs. It belongs to them now as should unconditional acceptance and recognition by us of their stories as part of our history.

I watched a recording of the dedication service. I saw the great and the good parade in their ceremonial uniforms and finery and much of it washed over me, leaving me unmoved for the establishment preening and posturing some of it was but I watched an old man in the crowd standing there, his bowed head covered with an aircrew cap, listen attentively with eyes closed and I saw him smile and nod in quiet satisfaction when a speaker tried to describe the dedication and sacrifice of all those years ago. They're still here, these final few who served with such quiet courage, determination and dignity and who have waited so long in the same way.

See you later.

Listening to

The Sunday Posts 2012/Remember me

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of the future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

By Christina Rosetti.

Photo by Alistair

The Sunday Posts 2017/Mince and Tatties.

Mince and Tatties I dinna like hail tatties Pit on my plate o mince For when I tak my denner I eat them baith at yince. Sae mash ...