16 May 2022


 Beside the Tay, at the North Inch, in Perth, settling for silence.

15 May 2022

A land of milk and beef

Each year when the cattle arrive at the bottom of our garden and spread out across the lush grass, with warm sunshine on their backs, I feel envious of their ignorance about their fate. One of them stood looking at me over the fence for a long time, seeming curious and trusting. I looked back, knowledgeable and rather sad.

14 May 2022

Through a cafe, dimly

I am becoming rather deaf. Actually, I am becoming very deaf. So much so that I am increasingly finding it difficult to engage in meaningful conversation with anyone. My brain, marvelous construction that it is, delivers guesses to me in a very convincing manner, but unfortunately it is increasingly betrayed by the ears connected to it. One of my earliest realizations of this emerging problem came some years ago when a student in my lecture group asked me how old the university was. In my usual over-detailed manner I launched into a complex discussion of the difficulty of giving a precise answer due to the differences between the dates of recognition as a higher education institution, the governmental permission to award degrees on behalf of a much older established university, then the granting of independent degree-awarding powers and eventually the formal recognition as an independent university. I had become aware, as I spoke, of developing frowns and then smirks on the faces of my young listeners, until a brief pause in my exposition allowed the questioner to say, in a firm and very loud voice, "The universe... How old is the universe?" Oh, a different and perhaps more difficult question entirely. Anyway, today, in one of the two Henry's coffee shops in Dundee, I realized that I was now observing people more sharply than listening to them, and that I was becoming increasingly adept at lip-reading. Thus I managed to learn, entirely by lip-reading, that one chap told the girl opposite him, "you do make me laugh;" an elderly lady told her companion, "they make a nice fruit scone;" and a rather attractive young waitress told a similarly young man, "I'll see you... mumble" (the last bit was too fast and fluid for me). At least I think that's what I learned from the moving lips, but of course I may have been as mistaken as when I became mixed up between our university and the universe. I should probably also be aware that some people might find it concerning that I am staring intently at their mouths, especially attractive young waitresses.

9 May 2022

67 circles nearly done

Late in the evening of 9th May 1955 a beautiful and voluptuous young woman in Edinburgh realised that the child that had been growing in her belly was getting ready to enter this world. Her second child. The handsome young husband, eight years out of the army and then building a career in the police force, nervously began making arrangements for a birth that would proceed at home, on the 10th. The child was me, already undergoing the breaking of the chemical and physiological bonds that had held me in her belly. It was me, but was it me? Of course it was me. But of course it wasn't me. Nothing now connects me with that emerging infant, other than everything that proceeded from then until now. It is confusing. We change every day, perhaps every moment, yet stay the same, in a way. Late night reflections over beer 67 years later, pondering the journey from birth towards death, the second far closer than the first. A routine and ultimately meaningless tale of madness, badness, happiness, sadness, goodness, mistakes, tragedies, triumphs, sense and nonsense... and so it continues, for a while. And the sun burns, the wind blows, the Earth turns. Drink up, baby, boy, young and old man, and move on... old man.

An understanding

All that happened was that I sat with my coffee sharing many glances with a beautiful brown and white long-haired retriever whose owners were unaware of the secret communication between the species proceeding by their side. The dog looked at me. I looked back, blinked in a rather exaggerated manner and tilted my head. The dog immediately blinked back and tilted its head in the same direction. I nodded. It nodded. After some further moments at our game, I settled back to my coffee and it settled down lower on the floor and gazed at me for quite some time, until eventually shutting its eyes. Then when I rose to go it perked up and looked at me, blinked its eyes, tilted its head and flapped its tail against a chair leg. I did the same (well, with my eyes and head, lacking any tail to flap), and left. I felt that I shouldn't photograph it without permission - without its permission, I mean. Two very different brains but composed of very similar neurons, having a moment of mutual understanding, I feel, during this very strange experience we share, called life. Or perhaps I was only having a cup of coffee.

8 May 2022

Niall and Newhaven

I recall looking at Niall across a busy pub lounge, as he was sitting alone and flicking through The Sunday Times. He was a postdoc researcher who generally worked on a laboratory bench near me, in his mid-twenties, and I thought he looked rather lonely that afternoon, but I also considered that perhaps he was quite happily at peace in his solitude. I didn’t disturb him to say hello.

I then worked away from base for a few weeks and on the next occasion when he entered my mind sufficiently for me to enquire how he was, I was told that he had died.


“He killed himself with a concoction of chemicals.”


“Yes, and not done very well. He survived a few days in hospital, but not long.”

And so every now and then I recall the sight of Niall, sitting alone at Sunday lunch in a pub, flicking through his Sunday Times, with a plate of food in front of him, and bearing a head, it seems, so full of trouble.

And I was prompted to think of this memory from 43 years ago again today, when I noticed a man sitting alone in a pub in Newhaven, flicking through his Sunday Times with a plate of lunch in front of him.

Fortunately the man, whose reflection I noticed in the mirror, was me. But I spent quite a while thinking sadly of Niall, while looking out across a flat grey sea.

Loving Leith