What are the motivations for writing?
Anger? Love? Necessity?

To experience events buried deep in your own subconscious?

Christ, dear Christ. I feel sure boredom must be one of the motivations. Dull, grey Scottish days. Granite walls and granite seas. Anaemic complexions. Football spoken on the bus, football in the pub, in the news. Drunks kicking bus shelters on their way home after a football game. Fans singing sectarian songs, looking for a take-away and thinking, like some spineless, dribbling disciple that they are expressing their opinion.

Cold, dull Scottish days. Literature must thrive in such dark, wet, uninspiring environments. Lift a discarded concrete slab, prise it up from the damp, musty soil. Rip it apart from the sprouting weeds and find a dense, teeming evolution of life underneath. Wood lice, centipedes, worms, slugs, cotton-bud balls of eggs or larvae. A feast of decay and rebirth.

Frothing, fermenting stories.

Let the slab fall back in place. With any luck it might crush a few of the critters.

Short story.

Her father always called her Georgia. Even her mother called her George or occasionally Georgie.

In private her Scottish boyfriend called her Dode. In spite of her objections he had persisted. As she had grown to trust him and rely upon him, she began to like it. Oddly, when he flirted or turned to her and said it, she felt feminine. Yet it was so absurdly masculine that she would giggle and question his motives when they fooled around.

Always Georgia, however, to her father.

When he had spoken her name she felt secure. She was still just a little girl needing to take her fathers hand in order to face the world. The loss of him was breaking her apart. She had not been prepared for the intensity of the grief.

When asked if she was religious she had previously taken pride in proclaiming her atheism. Now she was less certain of anything. Certainty now appeared arrogant. Nothing was permanent. Why had it taken her so long to realise such a fundamental aspect of life.

Since she was taking a role in organising the funeral people had been asking her about religion. Was her father religious? Had he a favourite hymn? Any biblical passages?

No, none.

Her mother had discussed the possibility of a Humanist service. Some of the “nicest” funerals she had attended had been humanist. Yet, after some discussion, they both wanted a local minister to lead them through the day.

Today provided closure. She was told by so many people that the funeral would allow her to grieve and to begin the process of “moving on”. Such a thoughtless way to speak to a person desperate to hold onto a father. The last ten days had felt false. So many sentimental messages. So many embarrassed hugs. A wave of artifice. The only voice she could hear was her fathers.

This afternoon. Would his voice suddenly stop? If she visited him here, at his grave, would she feel close? It was the biggest step of her life. Far more important than leaving school. He had been so proud at her graduation. It now seemed so unimportant. At this moment she found there was no heart left for anyone else in the world and she needed the only man who had made her feel safe. She could ask no more of him. Had he realised how deeply she loved him? It was that thought. That thought was what started her cry. A loud, total breakdown of pain and loss and anguish. She realised nothing would stop her collapsing and she no longer wanted to try. She would never stop crying, ever.

Stephen’s arm wrapped around her and held her upright. She had forgotten he was there. He bent forward and looked into her eyes and she realised he was close to tears. They were for her and not for her father.

She felt his arm move and he took her hand. He held it tight and she squeezed. As hard as she could.

“Georgia” he said.

Down to earth with a bump

Realising how unimportant you are is painful.

Being in company. Feeling you know your place. Relaxing, which you find difficult, only to realise you mean nothing to people you felt close to only moments earlier. That is painful.

Immediately you feel foolish. It is a reflection on where you stand. Your rank. Possibly you have sacrificed something for those people. You hope that your efforts have been recognised. Worse, perhaps you believe they have been recognised. All those days, nights and weekends spent working. You are shy and you hate to blow your own trumpet. Then, within minutes of being dismissed you realise that your work, your effort, has never even been considered. Others are talking at length about their sacrifice. Their efforts. Yet they all seem to have evenings when they can go to a cinema – when did you last go to see a film? They were away at the weekend. Goodness – even on holiday you were working until 11pm on a Saturday evening. Then they start to laugh at you. Right there, in front of you, they are mocking you. It is a self-congratulatory act by them. At that moment you realise just how foolish you have been.

What was the point of that sacrifice. You turned away from contracts and offers since you had a debt of participation. You stupid, silly fool.

The bubble has burst. You kept your head down and you never commented when, time after time, others did not fulfil their part of the bargain. “People are stressed”. “They have a lot to think about”.

The weight you have put on since you cannot even get time to walk the dog. The fact you are making no profit and cannot repair the house or replace your ageing computer. The fact your accountant earns more from your efforts than you do. It was accepted since you felt part of something. It mattered that you were a part of something.

That was an illusion. It is difficult to handle but it is educational.

Still, it hurts.

Electoral Farm

Inspired by our recent electoral experiences post Brexit

Credit: BBC

A tale of Lemmings

The Human Lemmings – all excited and gathering truffles to take back to their piggy god-idols.

The fleshy, bald, pink masters – whom they all love so well – wolf down their truffle offerings and trample their adoring little lemming worshippers. An orgy of oinking and squealing and flatulence and fur and steaming blood.

And still they come – the euphoric little rodent flock – bringing more truffles to satisfy their masters. Some bring fermenting apples from the orchards. Others shave the fur from their tiny lemming bodies to become pink and emulate the stubbly, shiny, spotty gods they so admire.

“Oink” squeak some of the shitty-brown vermin disciples. “Oink oink”…

A cry rings out across the shires: “We did it for you piggy-lords. We did it all for you. We shat on our ancestors and we stabbed all who tried to stop us. We stabbed them right in the back! All for you, our beloved better-piggies. Love us for it, please love us!”

But their beloved piggy idols simply turned from them since it was time for brandy and cigars. They turned their backs to the squealing lemming masses and piled their opulent, stinking, squirty turds upon the ecstatic little rodent bodies. They did this, as was prophesied, so that the rich and worthy should always have a good sty to frolic around come the morning.

The lemming leaders looked around. They turned and spoke to the masses who had sacrificed so much. They raised their little heads and stretched their many chins to proclaim their message:

“Tomorrow they shall love us – it was always going to be tomorrow. They shall love us. Trust us!”

Here comes winter

Sitting and listening to the trees and the sea. I have a heater on. Outside is getting stormy.
My 5 minute “poem” – I am no Ted Hughes! I attempted to shape it like half of a fallen leaf.

Splendid, noisy waves.
Unabashed and unapologetic.
Unlike the withering, dessicated leaves’
Whip and rattle this evening
In time with the strengthening breeze
Besieged boughs shudder
Their hospitality withdrawn
And summer is over
Hibernation beckons
Nature remembers
She is a visitor
Counting days
The elements

Los Gatos

The Cats

I arrived in the walled town early in the morning. Autumn was giving way to a frozen Winter. Around the ancient walls a stubborn mist stood guard over white fields tethered by withered vines.

There were no cars permitted within the boundaries. The local workforce had been paid in part with wine from the bodegas which were the sole industry within this high valley. Their basement excavations had hollowed the foundations and turned roads into vaulted arches. This was where they stored their vino. If a road collapsed it would reveal a bloody stream of red wine and shattered glass. The pulse of a subterranean giant sleeping off the excess of too many parties.

Within 50 minutes I had strolled the extent of the town battlements and witnessed the frozen siege set upon it from all sides. I turned my attention inward. Looking for the people and the shops I found only darkened streets and cobbled roadways, grand wooden doors and chipped shutters.

I met nobody. No shops were open and the market took place on Wednesday. This was Tuesday. No sounds escaped the thick walls of the old houses. I smelt no cooking and I saw no smoke rising from any chimneys. The town was in suspended animation.

The town lay on a hill. A teardrop shaped slice of land surfing from the clouds to the valley floor with the Church standing alone at the highest point. For such a small settlement the Church was magnificent. The doors were lined with rows of religious characters. Saints and the suffering sinners. Scholars and priests. Miracles and offerings. In dark wood and in strict hierarchical order. Religion has such a rigid class system.

Here, for the first time, I could hear movement. Turning to capture the attention of whoever was behind me I was confronted with a street full of cats. Hundreds of cats in various scrawny states of disheveled malice.

I have always liked cats and for most of my life a pet cat has been part of the household. Individually, they exhibit boredom and disdain. En-masse they appeared to me more like a pride descending on it’s prey. For a few seconds I was quite alarmed. They bore little similarity to the sleek animals I knew. Some were matted, some slightly bald. Tall, short, torn-eared, monocular, tailed and tail-less. Battered and tattered. All sinew and all looking at me.

The scouts arrived at my feet and I immediately realised there was nothing to fear other than fleas. They settled around me and waited – I presumed for food – but I had nothing to offer. There were so many I feared what might happen if I did pull some meat from a pocket. Leaning to stroke the head of a healthy looking, short-haired cat it backed away. They sought out human company but seemed unwilling to make contact.

“You have many friends. You cannot all enter the Church, I am sorry”

I turned to discover a middle-aged priest standing in front of a small doorway cut into the gates. He was smiling as he approached me.

“They will soon be distracted. It is a quiet morning. Soon the cooking shall begin and the washing. Then they shall forget you and move on.”

I asked if I might see inside of the Church. The priest paused a moment and informed me that there were now, regrettably, visiting hours to adhere to. The tourists were too numerous and their offerings too small to cover many of the associated costs.

He then smiled, ushered me toward the door and asked me to enter quickly before my friends snuck in.

The interior was remarkable. At such an early hour it was dark with only dim light skulking through the grimy windows. The atmosphere was of a smoky, rustic kitchen. It was smaller than I had anticipated. Countless Madonna and figures of Christ seemed to have been randomly scattered. The church felt very old. The pews were a mixture of styles and eras. The chandeliers and candles were an eclectic mix. All of this added to the feeling of entering a massive religious jumble sale.

In those first moments, however, I was reminded of the tale of the biblical Christ and I shared some of the awe which rural workers must have felt upon entering. Countless feet upon these stones. Stretching back centuries. I wanted some time alone and turned to ask the Priest if I might reflect a few moments. He appeared to have anticipated my request. I could see him reading through a visitors book. He indicated to me to take my time by raising a hand and smiling. “It is OK” he appeared to be saying “I understand”.

In those minutes spent in silence – preying atop an ancient Spanish town in an empty Church which belonged to an unfamiliar religion – I felt I had found a piece of the Spain I had read about and for which I might have been searching. I felt I had found a connection to a past. Rightly or wrongly.

I did not want to return to the mocking modernity of my world. Not for a while.

Outside, for the first time I could hear the collective mewing of the Cats. Perhaps, as the priest had suggested, they were saying their goodbyes as they set off to begin their working day.


More a note. Hoping to form a poem of it sometime.

No sooner have I settled at a desk, or on a step, to write
I hear some argument in the street or from the garden.
Shared now, sadly, by the people who shout.
Shout to greet. Shout when departing and each moment in between.
Why pay for the mobile phone which dominates their day
It seems unlikely they cannot be heard. Far away.

I watched a programme set in Lahore. From there to Mumbai.
The poverty was a sin. Shrink wrapped in miserable heat.
Yet the cruelest strain was the absence of silence.
Still people manage to create, breed, sleep and eat.
Privacy must be borne from fatigue. Sound blind
Not deaf but unable to hear. Senses calcified. Ossified. Paralysed.

No sweat forms on their skin, there is no crust. Nothing cracks.
The temperatures crackle and another generation wither.
Within their shadows I sought solace to cool my envy and my pity.
All the while the people who shout continue. Shouting at their phone.
Shout about money, confirmation, deliveries. In need of medication.
Pointless, noisy declarations. In a silent town. Shouting even while alone.

Snippets. Snatches of memory.

I was reading an article discussing the archiving of the internet.

Once it was an ambition of several organisations to archive the content of everything we put online. This, however, is fanciful. Content changes continually and rapidly. Content is generated to be different for each viewer. Databases and algorithms and sales metrics alter and change what is now a very plastic medium. It is not an internet of published texts which can be indexed easily.

People try, however. And in the spirit of remembering I may write short pieces about people or events. They may be archived. They most likely will not. The internet is full of scraps and junk so these snippets are unlikely to matter to many people. They matter to me.

I would like to write about my maternal Grandmother. I never knew my father but I was close to mum’s parents and spent many years growing up living with them. Their names were Charles Lamb and Helen Lamb (nee Pennycook).

My nan was always called “Ella”. She was very short in height and quite stout. That was when I knew her. In her youth she was very petite. Her wedding dress is testament to how slender she was. A waist equivalent to my thigh.

As a young woman she danced ballet. I only know because she told me – almost whispering – on a couple of occasions. Talking about yourself and doing what I am doing here – discussing it – was to be frowned upon and treated with suspicion. It was a different time and different values.

Her brother Jim had a dance band which practiced in the attic of their large house. She came from a reasonably affluent family. Sometimes dances were arranged in the attic. This would have been in the late 1920’s through to the 1940’s. It must have been wonderful.

Sadly, Jim drank too much and had a short life. He had two sons – Ronnie and Brian – my mum’s cousins. Jim’s decline was reflected in the decline of the family’s fortunes and by the time I knew my grandmother she was living in a small flat in a tenement basement. With my “Pa”. The family business had gone and the family had drifted apart.

Nan had three children. My Uncle Bill was the eldest and he died in 1969. My Auntie Eileen did not live long, either. They all had children. My cousins still all live within 30 miles of me but we have little contact. It happens.

Perhaps the reason I reminisce on this family history is that a piano store based in Joppa, where I grew up as a young boy, is in the news today. It is selling all of it’s 300 pianos. From £300 to £40,000.

My nan played piano. Rarely, by the time I knew her. We had a small, iron framed upright piano which was kept in her bedroom. I recall her playing Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. Especially Tchaikovsky. And she played it beautifully. However, she did not play it often and when she did I could sense loss and some sadness. Even as a very small boy I could sense this in the music.

Which was not how it made me feel. It brought me great joy and great pride. To this day I feel emotional when I hear a performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1. And for that reason I am providing a link to one of my favourite pianists performing the piece – a woman of enormous talent – Martha Argerich. As I type this tiny recollection I am struggling not to shed a tear. I still miss her very much:

Martha Argerich and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, 1975

Perhaps, some time in the future, an archive will be read and it will be noted that Ella Lamb played Tchaikovsky on the piano, with some gusto in spite of her diminutive size and it brought tremendous pleasure to those who heard her play.

Evening lights, November

I fear I shall lose my mind
For if I cast a glance at night
Along the congested lanes, I fancy I find
No choking queues only veins of light
Scarlet and vanilla. Amid the blaze
I find my fireflies and tinker bells
They waited patiently for me to stray
And I long for a chance to follow them
Back into those cotton-wooled, milky days
And see my mother once again young and my brother,
Always together, both distant and within
And play the nursery games we surely played.

If it was not casually given or taken.
If asked, I am sure he would have.

I bow my head to glance inside then travel on
Choked, as the dainty, daydream lights blink.