Sunday, 13 December 2009

The Angel of the Northern Line

What is this Angel made of Tin?

A character from The Wizard of Oz, rendered useless by his joints, rusted fast by his own tears? No, Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t, didn’t already have. Was he a horse with no name, or one of a whole different colour?

Or is it the mythical beast hidden deep in the North American Forests, the Squonk, who weeps himself into oblivion? A dying race: have you seen his tears? Hardly a Major Dude, I can tell you.
Perhaps, it is the lonely man in the Bleecker Street CafĂ©, in whom Joni would long to place another heart with her ‘neues liebe.’ There’s a sorrow in his eyes, right enough.

But what sort of heart? Un Coeur en Hiver that even Ravel’s Trio for Piano, Violin and ’Cello couldn’t penetrate?
Oh, that Norah Jones could melt this cold, cold heart, this too, too solid flesh! Or Joni, with this flame you put here in this Eskimo, in this prisoner of the fine white lines of the freeway.

And what is this blog?

Joe Bloggs, the ubiquitous man-in-the-street?
No, that’s Bill.
Is it a whetstone for the Tin Man’s imaginary axe, or a millstone to pull him under?
A sleeve to place his heart upon, an oiling can to release his squeeky limbs (Oh, let me be useful; let me help, let me love, let me BE!)
Or a ticking clock, his heart? Surely he’s done his time!
Not so, it seems.

Then let it be a plaque; testament, not,
no not, to what I have written, but that I have written.
And having donne that, I have more.
If, as I say, I am a writer, it is all of the above.
And more.

But maybe you misread the question: What is this Angel made of Tin.
Do I mean the photograph?
Or the girl?

In Closer by Patrick Marber, the photographer claims to take pictures of strangers. I would like to do the same, but you can never be too careful these days. Many years ago, ascending the long escalator at Angel Tube (after its re-vamp when they separated the North and South platforms) I spotted this extraordinary-looking person and dared to ask if I could take her picture. I figured she would look great standing next to the Sculpture which I knew was up on the station concourse.
She let me take just two shots; I kept the second, this is it.

Then she vanished from my sight; into the streets of Islington.
Who is she? Where? What if someone should recognise her?
Would she be flattered by her photo, or want to sue me?
Ah – the joys of an anonymous blog!
I didn’t even ask her name.
Maybe it began with ‘A.’

Thursday, 5 November 2009

When Will We Learn?

And so, to the final poem from EH7. Last week, two Scottish men were sentenced to life terms for their part in a child abuse ‘conspiracy.’ On the same day, the nursery-worker in England was reported to have named some of her victims. Now the sluice of trauma is opened up for parents of victims and the children alike. I wonder what the student in this poem (written over a year ago now) would have made of that?

The nursery nurse doesn’t have a ‘dick’ to be strung up by. So much for a culture that claims respect for its elders; blind obedience to authority has its problems too. I suspect that in our society, crimes against children incite such fear and loathing because, perhaps, we do not know how to respect our youngers.

As the flood continues through the gates, while the seraphim prevent our passage to the Garden, we remain trapped between eternity and God’s dissolving promise. As for me: I fixed the broken washer on the dripping tap. Unfortunately, the flat above mine did not, and my spare bedroom has been subject to its own diluvian purges. Tonight, I will watch the flaming spectrum over Meadowbank, and remember all the sopranos I have loved - and the friends who have stuck by me this past year.

When Will We Learn?
for a friend, indeed

“No experience is wasted” said the Nigerian
Student, who insisted on calling me ‘Sir.’
“According to my Bible” he added, then
Quoted me Chapter and Verse.

By ‘his Bible’ I’m guessing he means
the one that he believes in. Mocking BBC RP,
I give him a favourite proverb from mine:
“A nagging wife… is like a dripping tapp.”*
In apparent deference to his elders,
the polite man, sunk by hook and line
Concurred: “There’s plenty of truth in that.”
It wasn’t at this point I lost respect for him.

Once he said, “That man” (- the Austrian whose
Daughter was holed up and banged up for years
in a cellar): “Should be strung up by his dick.”
“And in which part of your Bible does it say:

‘An eye for an eye?’”+ He replied, “I don’t care:
I’m a Christian. That man is sicker than sick.”
And there was I thinking Onanistic Catholics,
not retributive justice, made all men blind.

In a pub at the Foot O’ the Walk, the rain
pelting the pavements, filling the drains
that masquerade as roadworks: ‘essential
maintenance’ for the superfluous trams…

This is how the weather works in our
Micro-climatic City. Tonight, there was
a milky light and a sunset rainbow
stretched from Leith to Craigentinny.

But the air felt as soggy as a warm fish supper,
“Salt ‘n’ sauce on that.” The heavens opened. I sat
with a pint of English Beer – Bishop’s Finger
if I remember right – when God turned on the tap,

evaporated the promised prism,
plunged us into darkness and floods,
Washed the streets with sin’s original
Guilt. Nothing is wasted? What optimism

Sent the flashing swords of Seraphim
Forking the Firth of Forth as the storm
made its way north to Fife? Tomorrow
the air will be purified clean and bright.

The memory of this downpour will melt,
Dissolved like the proverbial Scotch Mist.
Not long now before the next display of
Coloured Lights will fill the Edinburgh Sky.

I wandered home, thinking I must phone
a plumber in the morning. The God of
Floods and Thunder and a worn-down
washer is out to teach someone a lesson.

* Proverbs 19: v.13
+ Deuteronomy 19: v.21; & Matthew 5: v.38

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Dogging in EH7

A friend recently sent me a link from the local tabloids; one more story about a couple caught in flagrante, in Portobello. While the Old Bill might turn a blind eye to certain practises, they couldn’t ignore it happening on their proverbial doorstep. Now Sex Offenders will be banned from Children’s Parks, Royal Parks, Business Parks, Bristol Parkway, Edinburgh Park, Parks-and-Rides and in addition: Police Car Parks. The Sheriff decided against placing the Portobello Doggers on the Sex-Offender Register. Sensible: less paperwork for the Rozzers, right enough.

This poem refers to an incident that was ‘caught on camera’ by a local vigilante: the gutter press scooped it up, and the Readers’ Comments (many deleted as ‘unsuitable’) were rife. I wouldn’t condone those performing such an act in a children’s play-ground; nor comment on the insobriety of both participants. But for the press to print the (albeit, fuzzy) amateur snap, in the name of journalism – it just seems utterly reprehensible.

Dogging in EH7

“One 59-year-old man, who was walking his dog in the park at the time, said he was ‘disgusted’”

for Victoria, who helped me see both Spring and Summer

What if I’d taken pictures to record
The pecking order in the Pond?
Parental Pride of Dominant Swans
Beating off the impertinent ducks,

Protecting their fluffy flotilla;
Mindful of the Stately Heron who
Strut and dive; the oblivious coot’s
Miniature staccato-tweeting progeny.

Toddlers in pushchairs, tiddlers on swings;
Tough adolescents trying their luck
With the opposite sex while preteens
Knotted in monkey-puzzles preen

For mere effect. Recently a copulating
Couple were caught in the act. Presumably
CCTV was installed to protect the children.
From whom: perverts; or the paparazzi?

At the easter convergence of EH7 and EH6,
The birthplace of a wasted walk,
Owners of dogs release the euphemistic
Excuse from the leash: gape and gawp,

Engage in non-illicit banter with fellow
Handlers whose footpaths handily cross.
Who’d have thought that ‘walking the dog’
Could be thought as ‘dodgy.’ Innocence

Corrupted: what is deemed acceptable
In places, or is lent a blinded eye
By some is celebrated. Like graffiti
Sprayed on gravel, worn away with time.

The squawking gulls emulsify Bass Rock,
Squeal inland, deposit their load in the docks.
On the links, at the end of a tunnel of trees,
More graceful birds flit, swoop and flick,

Squirting their cypseline shit on the tarmac.
The dog-walkers pick up their canine crap
In plastic bags. Soggy chip-papers flap
And crackle with yesterday’s sleaze,

Soaked in drizzle and vinegar, dried in winds
Of? Nothing changes. Nothing stays the same.
The sun rises on Leith Walk, but in Lochend
And Dalmeny Park, sackclothed ash descends.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Twelfth of July

Another weekend in Edinburgh, and another set of doors opened: this time, the ‘Wasps’ artist studios dotted around the city. Tucked behind Easter Road, next to Hibs football stadium, from the window of one particular studio, there was a magnificent view. To the left, the shells of half-built flats at the end of my road; beyond, Arthur’s Seat and in the distance to the right, the Pentlands. The artist explained to me that one of the new buildings had blocked this excellent vista.

But, to her secret delight, someone had set fire to them (just as the housing slump hit in…reported as ‘suspicious’). I was thrilled to hear this story: it makes a lovely introduction to this poem. Art wins over the Economy! Dedicated to my friend Laura, who celebrated her birthday this week – a far more pleasing anniversary than July 12th is to me – this was my view of things on Orangeman’s Day in 2008.

Twelfth of July, 2008

for Laura, my purple friend

There are not many colours describe this
Dull green day, but Orange is not one of ’em.

In Art Class we were shown how green and
Orange clashed and caused the eye to flash.

Then, in General Science, other spectral laws
Demurred, denying the aesthetic senses.

Facing Easter Road, the handle bars of
Shopping trolleys and dim-glow of commercial

Signage skew the shapes of kissing cranes that
Frame the charred remains of a razed block of flats.

Hibernian’s Green Meccano’d symmetry
Rises from between the Colonies:

Two-up, two-down, a garden either side - front
Doors accessed on the right by tall stone steps.

One time, when the setting sun illumined
The perspex shoulders of Proud Twin Stands

A teenager, top deck of a No. 34 proclaimed:
“Tha’s Easter Road, ken – it’s beautifu’, eh?

Lacking light, it has neither colour to boast.
Like the ugly brown manila envelopes few

Poets could make rhyme or reason. We owe
So much. No such thing as a beautiful game.

One summer, I told a friend (who vowed to dress
Like Jenny Joseph long before her time came):

“We get purple sunsets in Scotland!” she was
Up here like a shot. That was November. Now in July

Orangemans’ Day is neither beautifu’ nor Okay.
Lacking any haze, it is merely dull and grey.

Like an out-of-season sea-side funfair park,
The Retail Outlet Centre displays just half a bargain.

Then, as credits crunch and daylight dims its
Ebb in the gloom, an Edinburgh gloam attacks:

A shaft of sunlight cataracts through clouds,
Thwacks its yellow-green optimism over one

Small window pane. The Bingo Hall spills out its
Lucky revellers who, in rapid clicks, ignite.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Underground Edinburgh

Last weekend was Doors Open Day in Edinburgh (or to be correct, Doors Open Weekend – D.O.W.) This is one of my favourite events, outwith Festival and Hogmanay: a chance to visit places not generally open to public viewing - for free! There is so much hidden from view in this Great City, and much of it, as it were, underground.

All of the cemeteries mentioned in the following poem were featured in this year’s D.O.W. The news story that inspired it was ‘true’ (it was in the papers, so it must be); a couple who discovered that ‘camping’ on Calton Hill was not what they were expecting. At least, that is what we are led to believe...

Underground Edinburgh

for Jo and Dave, my Festive Friends

Early evening, middle-of-May
on a brightly coveted summery day
Folk parade on Princes Street;
skimpy tops and sandaled feet.
In a week or two the tourists descend.
A few months later the Festival ends
(tradition decrees it opens with sun;
climate ensures it closes with sleet!)
In the crisp air of a late warm spring
someone is standing on Arthur’s Seat
clapping an echoing echoing beat
into reverberant chambers beneath.

From Calton Hill one can almost see
this monotonous applause resound
around gravestones; drift through
the broken monoliths, empty booths,
grandiose towers, hiding the truths
of Edinburgh’s hidden underground.

A tour-bus drifts along Regent Road
announcing its magical mysteries
of spooky graveyards, obedient dogs,
body-snatchers and haunted closes.
History students along the Royal Mile
lead Ghost Tours, robed in motley disguise;
through the unstained, puritanical panes
where two or three gather in Canongate Kirk
for Edinburgh Symphony Baroque:
They do not see at the foot of the graves
the gory remains of recent assignations.

At the bottom of the hill, where the tourists
are not led, hidden from the monuments
of poets, politicians, anthropologists,
these catacombs are littered with shards
of tin foil, needles, swabs and silver spoons;
The wealth of this nation, subverted. A sharps
bin tucked inside a wall provides a vague attempt
to prove “Auld Reickie kens beneath the moon.”

Across the road, straddling the tunnel where
the Route of the Flying Scotsman thrusts
into the firmament like a corny euphemism,
every booth is a self-contained cottage. Here
are empty sachets of lube, bottles of nitrate,
shreds of loo-paper and soiled extra-strongs.
A young man emerges and strolls along
Regent Road, nonchalant: rows of coaches
shielding the entrance. It has its uses, Tourism.

The Boy-Racers perform their own form of
Cruising; posing and preening up and down
While their hens apply lippy and artificial tan.
And in Old Calton, coloured condoms strew
The grasses; mainly used as party balloons:
Bring a Bottle, fancy dress, slap and tickle,
You can picture the rest as the Buckfast
Vomit trickles down the walls and stones.

Meanwhile, back on Calton Hill, some visitors
Have pitched an entirely different sort of camp…
“Someone ought to tell that couple:
If they go down to the woods today,
They could be in for a big surprise.”
But it seemed such a pleasant little spot,
Though the ground was a “wee bit” damp.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Maundy Thursday

Years ago I gave a book of Ansel Adams photography to my parents, for Christmas – they had been on holiday in Yosemite. There is surely no better photographer to capture the immense beauty of these ‘scapes’ of land and sky. If I could take photographs like his, I would be happy. I guess I’ll just have to stick to phone boxes. My dad described the naming of ‘half-dome’ as typical American pragmatism. I owe him this poem!

At the exhibition in the City Art Gallery, I came to realise that photography is meaningless without a viewer; as music is without a listener, or poetry is unread. Seeing his statement – which I quote at the head of this poem – I felt drawn in by his work, the way one is drawn by a warm person, a close friend or even, a lover. But with all art, or for that matter, psychology or (especially) journalism, nothing is quite what it seems.

Maundy Thursday
for my Saintly One
“There are always two people in every picture:
the photographer and the viewer”
Ansel Adams

I stood downscent of you in the dimlit gallery.
The diminutive frames could barely contain
the monochrome truth of this colossal rock.
American pragmatism names it ‘Half Dome.’
But I saw half a Monolith, a broken world,
a shattered heart, sheer; a barefaced scar.

Elsewhere, nomenclature boasted Californian Grandeur:
El Capitan thrust the clouds that should have capped its tower;
the stark twin spires of Cathedral Peak
poked the shattered skies, dwarfed the trees reflected in the lake.
Yet beyond the power of Yosemite or Yellowstone’s omniscience
I felt a darker hour approach, deeper than Creation’s omnipresence.

In steely light, a single lake – Mono – aptly named
lay like a flattened wall. A white, knuckled hand
with branches gnarled and twisted sinews
weighed a balance of sky and blackened waters
pocked with clouds, poised to scratch upon the

Tears streamed down a fissured face, cascading
like a Bridal Veil (a blatant sobriquet):
yet another fall. And there, in the Nevada spume
you saw the covenanted spectrum arched across the foam
in multiple shades of grey.
I saw a temple curtain, rent hopelessly in twain.

Drawn to each other, lured, I sensed a rising surge:
Hernandez Moon hovered in a sky of jet.
Beneath the slow dissolve of wispy light
You picked out a village, trees; a cemetery;
the blades of grass among the crosses etched in white.

Then, an oak tree, in stark symmetry
against a sunset silhouette.
I saw another moon, a single silver piece, a set
Of friends betrayed, deceived, rejected;
Bare branches stripped, punished through neglect.

Finally, as if to mark the end of Lent.
the moon and sun converged, aligned in black and white
(or was it that I should meet this punishment
because I saw darkness rather than light?)
Not everything can be described as such:
Assuming it was a lunar eclipse
I longed (again?) for strong lips
pursed to pipe a song about a lamb.

How wrong a poet can
be. It was in fact the sun
polarised by over-exposure,
like one who tried to dance
with the devil on his back:
the brightest part of the picture
turned to black.
Oh my love.

Exhausted and bleak I caught the bus to Leith
(a choice of two little ducks or the Number 1
- whichever route, I knew I was alone).
Later that night, the friends I had neglected
sang then slept,
while in another cathedral - not the rocky crop depicted -
my Saintly One wept.

Friday, 18 September 2009


This is a poem for my sister, Jo, with reference to Luci, a character in my novel. The title is taken from the ink-blot tests used in optometry and psychology. It is also the title of a song by Rickie Lee Jones. While it is true that the ink-blots are coloured, I should point out that my sister’s drawing was, in fact, in black and white.


for my sister

This is the picture I see.
Just scraps really. Of – from –
childhood; scribbles, doodlings.
Of my sister’s first attempt
at a smiling angel,
which made mummy smile at least.
(now mummy keeps it in a tiny
silver frame, next to a smiling
grandson on the mantelpiece).
I think of Luci’s Roar, or her bloody,
gory sunsets, dripping tears.
Or a crucifix, draped in musical
notation, hung in the music-room.
Rorschachs of the mind;
the silent intellect, shaped, drawn.
You remember, Jo, the one you drew
in your teens, inspired by a line
in a rock-song: “And yesterday
I saw you standing by the river…”
The perspectives were not quite true,
but I liked its skew-whiff charm.
The young boy could have been me,
I don’t know.
And so I took this image today,
walked down to the Waters again,
found a bridge that might have been
the one in your picture. Then
I looked up to the hills; (Blackford,
Pentlands, Calton, Salisbury Crags)
and thought back on my childhood.
How my fraternal love for you found
focus in your profound perspicacity,
far beyond any picture, any image.
Your angel will never quite forget.
And me? I can’t get my angel to smile.
Instead I picture your wise spirit
to give me strength at this time.
It says more than words.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Festival Fireworks

For some time, Meadowbank Stadium, which was built for the 1986 Commonwealth Games, has been under threat of closure. There were several public meetings around the time of this poem’s composition, leaving me unsure of what tense to use since the demise of this frankly rather unattractive landmark seemed to hover in the balance – and remains so to this day (depending on what day you’re reading this.)

Its greatest asset to the community is the annual firework display around Guy Fawkes Night. A better result would be that a spark ignited and razed to the ground the disgusting brick offices just beyond it. Then, my good friends who live opposite would be able to see right across to Leith – and beyond. The poem was written at the end of the 2007 Festival Celebrations; a summer I’ll never forget, quite.

Festival Fireworks
for ‘The Soprano’

The floodlights of Meadowbank Stadium are still
in the rain-sodden sky, like stuck fireworks.
The weather worse than dreich,
I venture out in the soggy streets

to Sainsbury’s for toilet-roll and gin –
life’s essentials – and imagine the spectators
at the Castle Tattoo; the rhythm of dancers and drums,
as the best of Scottish beats down on both.

If Meadowbank - once host to others games,
given its stay of execution -

hosted the same military pomp,
would equal crowds have flocked,

or hogmanay’s Great Display
fallen to the axe for a gust of Dunedin’s wind?
History and tradition keep folk
afloat, even in this diluvian Festival.

Sometimes we long for fireworks.
Now, all I crave as the water soaks my shoes,
is a warm sofa, Bombay Sapphire, and a kiss,
a breath, a touch of your soft, soft face.

Or better, the ecstasy of your voice
igniting the wet, black sky.

EH7 - Seven Poems

These poems were written between September and August 2007/2008 – not the best twelve months of my life. They are recorded here in chronological order rather than by date of completion. Several refer to some of the events in the local, national and international news.
EH7 is the postal district of Edinburgh where I stay; and also the name of a local community magazine which was going to publish some of the poems, though I never saw them in print.

Festival Fireworks


Maundy Thursday

Underground Edinburgh

Twelfth of July, 2008

Dogging in EH7

When Will We Learn?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The Occasional Poem

The opening title of my last blog, for those who remember or knew, was Pictures, Polemic, and the Occasional Poem. This one may be rather the opposite. If I could place my music on here, that would be ideal since music, as Elaine Feinstein once said, is always deniable. Instead, I’ll be brave and post more poetry than pictures. It will contain, I suspect, a certain amount of polemic anyway. The pictures may have to wait, or be restricted to telephone boxes. The reason for this will become apparent in subsequent scribblings.

To begin: a set of seven poems, appearing over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

If I say I am...

If I say I am a writer, this suggests that everything I write has, beneath the written word, some deeper significance. That is, I may use devices such as allegory, irony and pun to illustrate the things I mean to say. A story or poem, article or essay can be read as just that, or the reader can look between the lines to understand me as a person; as a writer. Which is not to say that a piece is worthless if taken purely on face-value: the words themselves should be readable, the language, beautiful or even, moving.

This statement, with a small amount of tinkering over time, was written many years ago, when I set on my journey as a writer. I still hold to it, a ‘motto’ if you like. Even more so, now that many folk will want to read into my work elements that may or may not explain what has brought me to the position I am in. What position? Having to retain anonymity, although thinly disguised. Yet, in doing so, I welcome any understanding, interpretation or engagement with my work, on whatever level you see fit.

You may be a fellow-blogger, a random surfer, friend; or perhaps some other strange twist has led you to these words. I once said that if I reached forty and had not been published, I might as well give up. Whether I meant, give up writing, or give up living is open to debate. Unfortunately, I began the rapid descent towards the latter a few years before I hit the big 4-0; the rest is history. Now I’m back.

This could be seen as a form of publishing – vanity, you could say – and since it is not the first, I could claim to have ‘published’ before my given deadline. Also, my work has been performed in public, and printed through other forms, recorded and broadcast, and released into the great wide world of cyber-space. Now, there is nothing remaining of that oeuvre; the Grey Ribbon has faded, there is nothing in Black and White, and my Facebook wall has fallen to dust like a crumbled tower. Only a Group of Devotees remains in Limbo, where I – like the urban spaceman – do not even exist. What a strange twist.

But I am still alive, still ensconced in my turret, putting the pieces together again, having been knocked off the wall by all the Queen’s men. I may be hiding behind my words, languishing in my Ivory Tower; a Tin Angel sitting alone in the dark, with darker moods; wallowing, struggling, suffering for my art.

But, as I have said before, not everything in Black and White…

The ellipsis remains.

Even so: the window is open. Come in and have a look around.