28 February 2014

Tall tree time

Some of the old tall trees among which the students come and go, along with me, from building to building, and issue to issue, and day to day, as another academic year flows by and another tree ring is laid down inside, making twenty-one rings in all in there, I think, since I first passed by these towering trunks. Twenty-one thin tree rings to mark my passing. That's all.

27 February 2014

Just more water going under the bridge

Bubbles of Then

Bubbles of Then
all gone, again
The practice of Zen
and the powers of ten
The factors of zero
the fiddling of Nero
The heart of a coward
enclosing a hero?
Meaningless words
or a secret within?
The bubbles are rising
as the new ones begin

24 February 2014

strata of the self

Ashley Lily Scarlett, who already has her wonderful blog Syncopated Eyeball, has launched a new blog entitled strata of the self which uses posts from various blogs to conduct "an exploration of our selves in images and text."

Ashley has been kind enough to include myself as a contributor.

The blog already has great things on it, and I will enjoy watching it develop. I recommend a visit.

16 February 2014

The Sampling of 717, and elsewhere, moves on...

The tale that began with the novella Report on Sample 717, then continued with After The Lady Lord (as advertised in the sidebar and available in print and digital formats on Amazon sites worldwide) will continue and will be modified and will eventually appear as a full length novel, surely destined to become a timeless classic of sci-fi comedy and philosophy and revered for centuries to come on Earth and other planets beyond. And you get the sneak previews here on this blog. I do suggest purchasing the first two novellas in their original and printed form for their long-term investment and historical value, if nothing else.

Chapter 47 of the combined version, after the ending of After The Lady Lord, begins thus:

A bleak Winter came and went, with Edrig living reasonably contentedly in the emergency refuge for the homeless. He persisted with his policy of just telling the truth whenever any fellow residents or anyone else that he met asked him about his life. And so he became widely known as ‘The man from another planet’, although the title was invariably said with a smile and a shake of the head or a sneer. He would stand looking out at the grey skies of Scotland and might be asked, ‘Ah… what will the weather be like on your own planet today?’, to which he would usually reply, ‘sunny’, often adding, ‘but not with your sun, of course.’

Having found his accommodation rather dirty he had suggested that a role might be found for him in keeping it as clean as possible, as means of repaying, at least partly, for the hospitality that Sample 717’s governmental charity was providing for him. And so he became the man from another planet who cleaned the floors and the seats and sofas and toilets, and who would also often be found quietly washing pots and pans and cups and plates and cutlery as he gazed out of the window above the sink and admired the tracery of tree branches against the changing 717 sky.

And he would wander the streets quite often, surprisingly discovering that if he sat down by a shop window with a paper cup in front of him people would occasionally drop money into it, sufficient to buy some beer or coffee or a sandwich.

He was dressed in clothes from a charity bin at his lodgings. A thick pair of green corduroy trousers above heavy brown shoes. A loose denim shirt several sizes too big for him and a red sweatshirt that proclaimed ‘NFL 79’ in bright blue letters, for a reason that he was ignorant of. And on top of that he had a blue zip-up jacket that came equipped with a useful hood that could be tucked away and zipped into a little compartment beneath the collar.

And he was dressed in that muddled outfit when he ventured out one late March morning and walked the short distance to sit on the benches of the parkland that they called The South Inch, where he had once sat with Adrig. He was admiring the multitude of colourful little flowers that surrounded the high trees and enjoying the warmth of the sunshine on his face, while thinking of old Adrig once again rather sadly, when a smartly-suited young man who was accompanied by a rather beautiful young woman walked towards him, then stopped just a few paces from Edrig and gazed at him.

‘Well hello!’ the young man exclaimed.

Edrig looked up and surveyed this man, taking in his short haircut, clean-shaven face, blue open collar shirt beneath a fine dark suit jacket above equally fine suit trousers and smart and well-polished rather pointy black leather shoes. Edrig was rather bemused by this friendly greeting from a man he did not recognise, and a man accompanied by such a beauty with long black hair above a smooth white face atop the most lovely delicate slim body dressed in a tight brown leather jacket and jeans.

He became even more bemused when the young man declared, ‘It’s Edrig isn't it?’

‘Huh?’ was all that Edrig could say.

‘Edrig! Don’t you recognize me?'

'Eh... No...'

'It’s Adm!’

‘Huh? What! Adm!'

'Yes!' said Adm, 'It's me. Adm.'

15 February 2014

It has been a strange day

but a good one

First view of The Kelpies

Which took me by surprise as I had forgotten they had arrived

First snow comes late

What's the matter?

"When a stranger, hearing that I am a physicist, asks me in what area of physics I work, I generally reply that I work on the theory of elementary particles. Giving this answer always makes me nervous. Suppose that the stranger should ask, “What is an elementary particle?” I would have to admit that no one really knows." Steven Weinberg in What is an Elementary Particle?

"Just what are electrons, quarks and so on, though? The best we can do at this stage is simply to refer to the mathematical equations that they satisfy..." Roger Penrose in What is Reality?

"So, what is an electron? An electron is a particle and a wave; it is ideally simple and unimaginably complex; it is precisely understood and utterly mysterious... No single answer does justice to reality." Frank Wilczek in The Enigmatic Electron

8 February 2014

Coffee House Views

I see a blur of me, and thee

The closest thing I have ever had to the feeling of an epiphany came when I looked into the eyes of a friend and suddenly the thought just came to me that it was like looking in a mirror. It seemed, in that instant, on that long lost evening, that I suddenly realised my connection to the sea of consciousness and that we are all just brief upwellings of the same damn thing. And if, for a moment, we could feel what it was like to be another person, that we would just think, "Oh... It's still me!" You see? Just frothy waves in the conscious sea. Maybe. Identity, all blurry, you, and them, and me...

And yes, I was under the influence of chemical intervention with the neurons at the time.

6 February 2014

Photonic propulsion

Old George

In my memory now, from some years ago, I am taking a walk along the riverside with a man I knew as old George, who had sort of befriended me as I took my regular walks. He had approached me this day as I stood looking out across the water. It was a calm day. Cold, but with little wind and some sunshine in between the clouds. George was, and perhaps still is, basically a down-and-out, although a rather civilised one, with a refined accent. And this was the day he decided to tell me why. The reasons rather surprised me, because I had quickly labelled him as just a drunk old hippy. His long grey hair and beard, torn shirts, loose baggy clothes and plastic sandals all led me to that appraisal. But I had got him all wrong. Of course I can't recall the precise words, but I do recall the gist of it all and the most vital phrases, which were all very close to this:

‘I came upon this town when I was released from prison, just wandering around, and I talked my way into some emergency lodgings,’ he said, as if I should already have known he had been in prison. My frown must have allowed him to realise that I had no idea.

‘Two years for fraud. I served one of ‘em. Twelve fucking months. I was a local manager in the construction business. Used to make about thirty five thousand a year, legitimately, in days when that was quite a lot, but it wasn’t enough. My wife was ill, my kids were teenagers with all their bloody needs. I got greedy.’

We were tramping along a stony patch, and my feet were scrunching and slipping once again across wet stones, polished to roundness by millions of years of water. After some yards of silence, when maybe he was expecting me to respond, he continued.

‘Didn’t do it for myself you know. Not really. I saw other people doing it. Jesus, half the fuckin’ world is at it mate, even in a country like Britain. Overpricing contracts for friends, then taking kickbacks from them, giving out inside information to make some pal profits that find their way back to themselves. I got sick of watching other people getting fat on fiddles and dodges as they bought the BMW’s, the houses, the women they didn’t deserve. So I started doing some of it myself. In a little way, then bigger. Jesus though you don’t realize how quickly things mount up when you start that game. Over about ten years they reckoned I had made more than two hundred thousand quid. And maybe I did. But the kids, the wife, the house, the little modest house actually. They all saw the benefit of most of it. Then the wife left me of course. Ha! When I was in prison. Fuck it!’

We marched on, in silence for a while. George’s head was down and the wind was whipping his mop of grey hair. I remember this conversation so vividly. Why is that? Well, it was just a couple of little things that he proceeded to say.

‘You gotta move on though. Gotta just forget,’ he began again. ‘That’s why I came here. And because they let me stay in the lodgings, so long as I work a little bit at cleaning up the rooms. I'm the longest resident now. I think. I was miserable for a long time. Drank even more than I do now. And I do know that I’m an old drunk by the way. Not so bad now though. Not so bad lately. But Jeez... You have to not look back to the person you were. The things you lost. You have to just accept the future as an opportunity. No matter how bleak the future might seem at times, it does still hold new opportunities that would not be there if you weren’t here. Does that make sense?’

I think there were tears beginning to wet his eyes. And of course it did make sense, it does make sense, although it sounded strange coming from a man who basically spent his days doing nothing but wandering around town half drunk every day. New opportunities? What was he talking about? I wonder if old George had seen the signs of depression in me? I don’t know. Probably not. But those phrases of his stayed with me and often resonate in my head, especially in the darkness of the night.

‘You gotta move on though. Gotta just forget... No matter how bleak the future might seem at times, it does still hold new opportunities that would not be there if you weren’t here.’


5 February 2014

From silliness to sexuality

I had a generally happy childhood, interspersed with occasional moments of terror. I remember catching wasps in empty jam-jars on sunny days, mucking about with Fat Fergus from upstairs, and running like crazy to see what was going on when someone told me that Jenny Thompson was showing the boys what a girl had inside her pants.

That was when I was about four, and I got to her garden shed too late, when all the action was over and she was walking back into her house for her lunch. I'm not sure I had realised that they actually had something different in their pants.

My first frisson of what I would later understand as sexual arousal also came around that time, when I was playing about in Barbara Murray's bedroom and she pulled her top up and asked me to rub a cold spoon on her stomach. She had been eating her breakfast cereal a little while earlier, and she offered the spoon to me and said, 'pretend that you're my doctor.'

I think she was a year older than me. I had no idea what was going on, but as I rubbed this spoon up and down her, (as doctors supposedly did?), and as she giggled with apparent pleasure, I do recall something stirring inside me. She's lucky I didn't give her a full smear test, perhaps, but I put the spoon down after a while and just laid my hand on her belly, at which she giggled some more and said to me, 'maybe we can get married some day.'

I couldn't see the connection, but I enjoyed having my hand there, resting on her belly. It wasn't doing anything. There was no movement at all, but I was feeling the smooth soft skin and I felt we were doing something secret, and a little bit wrong, but I had no clue at all as to what these interesting feelings were all about.

Late primary school was where I learned what my loins were supposed to do with girls (without actually doing it until 17). Of course I learned to count, and spell, and all about the British Empire, the two World Wars and... well not much else really. But my dominant memory is the discovery of the appeal of girls. One girl in particular, Lesley..., oh... Lesley! So slim, pretty, golden haired and gorgeous. From about the age of nine she was my major preoccupation, and although I was always too shy to properly approach her I am pleased to record that this most beautiful girl in the school was the first girl I ever kissed.

I did not gain her exclusive attention, but I summoned up the courage to chase her across the rugby pitch during a game of kissy-catchy, which I doubt would be permitted nowadays. She didn't seem to be trying to run away very hard, and so I grabbed her and we tumbled to the ground, and as she laughed I placed my mouth on hers and she willingly gave up her sweet pink lips to me. But there was a huge shock in store. She tasted of mint Toffos!

'Oh yuck!' I cried, 'Toffos!'

I had expected her to taste of dreams, of heaven, of girly tempting flesh, of... goodness knows of what. But mint Toffos?

'Well it's what I've been eating,' she said, obviously a little hurt by my reaction.

Soon she was up on her feet and scampering away suspiciously slowly from some other lad's affections.

I never kissed her again, although I certainly wanted to. I met her once in the queue for the Saturday night dance at university. She was a real woman. Nineteen years old and all tits and legs and teeth and pouting lips and golden sweet-scented hair. My goodness how I wanted to move on from our history of kissy-catchy, but all I could muster was some embarrassed and civilised chatter about the old days, and then we were into the building and drifted our separate ways, forever.

I have never been the most adept at grasping opportunities, although I did have to let a reigning beauty queen "go" to move over to my current lady, and now wife of 36 years, so maybe I learned some things.

The outraged queen said, 'Men don't leave me', so I just said, 'Well this one has, sorry.'

I met her again when I was in a bar with my wife when we were all in our thirties. The passage of time already made it clear that I had made the right decision.

Commonplace Canaletto(ish)

The blue-tinged evening clouds, the wet canal-like road, the light... It all has a similar appeal if looked at in a certain way, unless I am just looking at it in a silly way.

4 February 2014

An unlikely tale

I claim to remember the day I was born, a possibility reinforced by the testimony of my mother.

I have a blurry memory, like a slow video replay, which I discovered in my head at a young age, and after watching it play through many times I mentioned it to Mum, and her response surprised me.

This memory gives me the impression of lying on my back, and there is a high white panel rising up beside me, to the right, but then it seems to move aside in a gradual motion that I could now interpret as perhaps a door that was open being pushed closed. Then a high wide blue blurred shape appears beside me, looming over me, and at the top of the blue there is a fleshy blob framed in black, which approaches, moves down, very close to me, but never resolves itself into focus. And then another big blob moves in from the left, a bright pink one this time, with another roundish hazy blob on top, that moves in on me too, then rises up, and then the silent images stop.

This scene replays within my mind any time I want it to. I have, of course, just watched it again right now. And when I first told Mum about it, as a young boy, I do remember that she seemed puzzled, and frowned, then said, 'Goodness, that sounds like the day you were born.'

I was born at home and my mum explained how on my first day of life I was in a cot tucked in behind a white door to my right, and there was a big fat dark-haired midwife in blue and my mother was in a bright pink nightdress, resting on the bed over to the left of the cot. And on the day after my birth my cot was moved over to beside the window, with its green curtains - a quite different landscape altogether.

'As a baby, you were never right beside a door on your right ever again,' said Mum, 'and these colours and positions exactly match the few hours after you were born.'

And so she implanted my suspicion that I may remember the day I was born.

I don't know if it's true or not. I don't know if anything is true or not, but I have heard tales of other people who claim to remember their birth, or just after it, but then lots of other people are deluded nuts.


Life in Old Leith

I was sitting drinking quietly at a table and idly watching three rough young men - builders I presumed, judging from the mess they were in - surrounding a drunk young girl beside the bar. Drunk or drugged, maybe. Perhaps both. She had a very short skirt, was slumping a bit, and I was pondering the thought that she might be a prostitute.

And then I heard the men laughing, quite loudly, and pointing at her and saying, 'Oh Jesus look at that!'

And then she turned a little towards me and I could see the reason for their laughter. She was knickerless, and with the little skirt riding up her thighs her vagina was exposed as a big puffy slit, and looking somewhat red and sore. And then one of the men put his big hairy hand on her thigh, slid it slowly upwards, and then just shoved his finger into her, right up to the knuckle. And his pals laughed out loud as the one who was inside the girl began to manipulate her a bit, the finger moving in and out as she looked at him, too drunk or doped to react properly, but sufficiently aware to say, 'Get out of me!', which he did.

And then as everyone in the pub watched, she slid from her stool and fell to the floor. The barman walked wearily round from behind the bar, picked her up by the arms, and escorted her out of the door.

It was just another night in a rough pub. Until, that is, about five minutes later, when I saw the girl wander in through the opposite door, stagger a little up to behind the big man who had been fingering her, lift up a pint glass from the bar, smash the top off of it, and thrust the jagged end into her assailant's back, around the kidney region.

That was what took the level of squalor and violence well beyond the usual, and as his blue and white striped shirt grew deep red the woman rather calmly smashed another glass, and I, and most of my fellow drinkers, headed quickly for the door.

Nobody died. Several people bled.

Then there were the two pretty and, I initially thought, rather civilized young girls who pulled up beside me in a car one afternoon and wound down the window. I stopped walking, expecting them to ask directions. But as I bent towards the car the fresh-faced blonde in the passenger seat opened her blouse and showed me two bare breasts with very pink nipples.

'It's all for sale,' she said. 'You want some?'

And her companion, the driver, giggled, put her hand between her legs, pushed up a short skirt and said, 'Me too if you want.'

Her dark pubic hair was exposed, as I just smiled, backed away, and said, 'No thanks,' almost apologetically actually, as if I was declining the bland offer of a sales assistant.

Then there came the night when there was suddenly a noise through the wall of my bedroom, from a neighbour who never normally made a sound. There was just a female voice screaming, 'Ahhhhhh My baby! My baby! Oh Jesus my baby!'

I thought someone might be attacking a child, so I sat up, ready to go to the phone, but then there was just silence. Nothing. And in the morning I happened to walk past the woman, or at least I presumed it was the woman, and although her eyes seemed a bit red she just smiled weakly, as she normally did, and offered a quiet, 'Hi'.

Then there was the evening when I was walking away from my car and a scrawny little teenager called out, 'Hey pal, is this your car?'

I called back, 'Yes, Why?', when I was about thirty yards from him, and then had to watch as he calmly stuck a long blade into each nearside tire and ran off.

And yet we are the pinnacle of evolution, apparently, or of evolution on Earth at least, and just the pinnacle of evolution so far, which may not be very far at all ultimately. But still... billions of years of atoms and molecules and ions bashing into one another, maybe, and interacting to make replicating chemicals and living cells and all manner of creatures entrapped within the endless horrors of life and death and predators and prey and driven by nothing other than the tendency of that which survives and reproduces to survive and reproduce some more, maybe...

I suppose it does make sense really, after all. We've done not too bad maybe, but we have a long way to go, perhaps.

1 February 2014

Islay remembered

Kintyre remembered


This is long gone, this day. This today is a dead day walking, I realise most strongly as I recall the sound of my son's heart, while still in the womb, on the evening of his birth when a medic laid a stethoscope cup on my lady's taut belly and the microphone threw out the sound of a racing new heartbeat within her, thundering like a galloping horse's hooves. A new heart pumping so fast and so loud, as it echoed around the delivery room, and I realised completely and fully that there really was another person, my first-born child, about to emerge in that garishly lit small place.

And then the next shock was the total domination of the waves of biochemical insistence that overcame my lady's body, again and again – no going back – this child was coming out. And that our lives are at the complete mercy of chemical change became more vividly apparent to me than ever before.

Nervousness. Excitement. Awestruck as the orifice stretched impossibly wide and I moved my gaze back towards my lady's straining face as the medic peered inwards. And she announced, 'This baby is covered in thick dark hair.'

What! I panicked and the floor seemed to shift a little beneath my feet. Covered in thick black hair? After all the anxieties and all the reassurances, was I to be the father of some gross and hairy mutant?

'Oh yes,' she added, 'a fine mop of dark hair.'

Oh... Just on the head, did she mean? And I dared to look as the head popped out, and the neck, and back all pink and messy but all as it should be. Relief!

Until a few minutes later with the child away from us and being weighed a nurse declared, 'Your son has very long fingers...'

What! Long fingers? Was this the sign of some clinical abnormality? But fortunately she saw my alarm and smiled and reassured me with, 'Nice and long... just nice and long... Nothing not normal...'

Relief! And gradually as he was returned to his mother (His mother! My goodness! Life had changed...), but as he was returned I dared to believe that everything was fine, and that I was not the father of a hair-covered mutant with abnormally long fingers, but was the father of a normal baby boy. A boy who opened one eye and tried to look at me, and to whom I said, 'Hello.' And still he tried to look at me. He opened the other eye, and in his gaze I sensed, or perhaps just imagined, confusion.

And he had every reason to be confused. And at that time of birth and life beginning, my mind was stirring with thoughts of my own life ending, for, gloomy man that I am, I recognised this as the beginning of my own end with the arrival of the next generation. But I managed to be happy. Warm and happy, even amid such a confused mixing of thoughts of life and birth and death.

And in less than two years another child arrived, and she popped out so fast and easily I almost missed it, and then she screamed in loud complaint – a trait that would continue.

And the cycles of biology moved on as we continued with our circles round the sun, having now come 26 times round since I first heard that heartbeat pounding fast like a horse's hooves.