Friday, 24 December 2010

Now When The Wine Is Drawn

(suggested by The Wind In The Willows)


It was bitterly cold that winter, and by mid-November, Toad had resolved to quit the riverbank for sunnier climes and so left to visit a cousin in Constantinople. The Rat and the Mole were sad to see him leave, however, autumns hot-air ballooning fiasco had thinned their tempers and a little less Toad was perhaps not too terrible a thing.

Of course no Toad also meant no Christmas feast at Toad Hall. At first Mole and Rat intended to spend Christmas at Rat’s home on the Riverbank, but the river had risen, then frozen solid and so Badger had kindly invited them to enjoy advent and yuletide at his home within The Wild Wood.

Badger’s winter provisions and wine cellar were legendary and for all his fire and thunder, everyone in the Wild Wood knew that he made sure there was enough to go around in the lean years.

So it was then, that just a few days before Christmas, Mole, Rat and Badger were sat by the fireside exchanging stories and songs. Badger had just finished an exciting tale of his father’s exploits during the Crimean War and now it was Rat’s turn.

“Well I have been dabbling with one or two poems, but I’ve nothing that’s actually finished…nothing ready for sharing…”
“Nonsense Ratty.” Said Mole “We’d love to hear whatever you’ve got written…ready or not!”
“Oh all right then.”agreed Rat “But you must remember…you asked for it…”
Rat removed the little leather notepad he always carried in his satchel, and cleared his throat to read.

“To move as the landscape
Balance and bob on the wash
Of the new, forever
Eroding the old.
There is nothing but stone
Left standing still,
And that, silent and alone.
Those old shadows will fall
For as long as the sun rises;
Temple silhouettes, broken stones
Burned forever against the dawn.”

“Bravo Rat!” said Mole “Though it seems sad somehow.”
“Yes it does rather.” said Rat “Especially now I come to read it aloud. Ah well…there’s time yet to change it.”
The three friends sat and drank a while longer, laughing and reminiscing about Toad’s passions across the preceding year and speculating on what would be next. All too soon it seemed time to retire to bed.

It was not so very much later that Mole awoke to hear a scuffling sound. The noise had not wakened him, rather it was the glow of a light. An underground creature such as the Mole was used to that special darkness which can only be experienced beneath the earth in the dead of winter. Someone must have left a candle burning in the study. Mole decided to go and extinguish it but as he opened the door of Badger’s guest bedroom, he could see that there was no candle burning. Rather, it was Badger wandering off down one of the many passages which wound in and out of his home; the light from his lantern cast dancing shadows against the tunnel walls. Where could he be going at this hour? For a moment, Mole was in a dilemma, with his desire to be a polite house guest getting in the way of his natural curiosity. As Badger turned the furthest corner of the tunnel and the glow of his lantern began to diminish, Mole decided to risk the displeasure of his host and scurried after him.

Badger wandered further into the labyrinth of chambers and passageways than Mole had ever been before. He walked at such speed, that few times, Mole would turn a corner and find the chamber before him empty and dark. Momentarily panicked, the Mole would have to use his nose to keep track of his wise friend.

Just as it seemed that he could walk no further, Mole wandered round a bend and found Badger’s lantern hanging from the wall. This chamber seemed less grand than many of the others they had passed through – some of those had been filled with old and broken statues, long faded mosaics barely visible upon the walls. Here though, was more like a little cave. There was one carving on the far wall and in front of that, a little stone table at which Badger was currently busying himself.

It was only now that Mole could see that Badger had carried with him a knapsack which was now being carefully unfolded. From it he took two plates, two goblets, a bottle of wine and a selection of food. A picnic in a cave? Very curious.

As Badger continued to set his queer table, Mole again tried to examine the detail of the carving. It was a man slaying a bull, but there seemed to be other beasts as well, Mole leaned forward, squinting…and clattered his head against Badgers’s lantern. Badger turned immediately.
“Who’s this?” he growled “Show yourself!”
Mole stepped cautiously into the light.
“Sorry Badger. It’s Mole. I wondered where you were off to so late…I….I didn’t mean to intrude.”
For a moment, Badger was silent, then he smiled in his gruff manner, and Mole knew all was well.
“Not at all Mole…it’s been a long time since anyone joined me for this meal.”
Badger gestured to his table, now set for a small feast.
“Badger…I must ask…” began Mole.
“Why a feast in a cave in the middle of the night?” smiled Badger.
“Well…yes. I mean…not that it doesn’t look wonderful…”
Badger sat down upon the stone floor and motioned for Mole to do the same.
“Mole, many years ago now, when I was still a boy, my father brought me to this cave, on this same night in the middle of winter. We enjoyed the first of many feasts, just as he and his father had, and his fathers father. A tradition going all the way back to when these great underground halls were still a city.”
Mole looked at the carved relief.
“And is it somehow connected to this chap and the eh…poor bull?”
Badger chuckled.
“Let’s have a toast Mole.”
Badger opened the wine and filled both goblets. He passed one to Mole and held the other aloft.
“Sol Invictus!”
“Sol Invictus?”
“Yes Mole. The coming in of the light. This here, is Mithras” Badger pointed to the stone relief. “The men who once dwelled in this ancient city used to celebrate in his honour with a midwinter feast.”
Mole smiled.
“Well that sounds like a jolly way to remember anyone.”
“Indeed Mole. Indeed. All animals, man and beast must struggle against the winter and fight on into the springtime, counting ourselves lucky if we do. We feast and dance and sing to keep ourselves warm and the silent darkness at bay. Old Mithras here is a winter Sun King, giving hope that the sun will return and that all the life and greenery will be born once again. He wasn’t the first, nor the last, but my father taught me to remember him…and so I do. And in those moments Mole, I remember him too. I remember him too.”
For a time Badger sat silently, smiling, then he roused and bade Mole tuck into the feast, which Mole did, more out of  a sense of ceremony and propriety than actual hunger.

When they were finished, Badger took a moment to recite some latin verse, which Mole enjoyed immensely, and then he stood, and once again raised his goblet.
“To Osiris! And Belwe! Attis, Prydeni, Mithras! And many more. Sol Invictus Mole…the winter days grow longer and we are each morn now closer to Spring.”
“Sol Invictus!” cried Mole, quite taken with the occasion.

The two friends drank to the Sun King, while outside the snow and ice covered The Wild Wood. Finally, Badger solemnly packed everything away, and together they walked back through the tunnels, already feeling warmer than the season would suggest.



Historical Note
Kipling celebrated Mithras as the God of Roman Soldiers in his Song To Mithras


Many other people believe this to be absolute nonsense.

The wonderful Arthur Rackham picture above hangs happily in my living room. It's my favourite.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Snow Days

The reality is of course that most people who work don't really want to do it - that's why we get paid to be there. However, society demands that we all pretend otherwise. Normally, we can all chunter along fine, like a bad marriage, gritting our teeth, ignoring the obvious, going on nights out, occasionally having sex...and then it snows and we all stop pretending.

Personally, I think it's quite straightforward; it generally snows in winter when it's dark and cold, and like many other animals at this time of year, we should be hibernating - why would we want to work? In the dusty unused neural centres of our primitive consciousness, part of us knows it's wrong. I'm winging it though, I can't really find any scientific basis for that theory, other than this.

So its winter, we're cold and tired, we would rather be asleep, little wonder then that from the moment the first moment we see a snowflake, we're collectively working out how this can get us an early finish or a whole day off. At first, it always seems so promising; a blizzard, roads are impassable, no grit...it's a whiteout...there is no way we can make it out in that. Then the snow thins, cars drive up the road, gritters and ploughs gradually turn up....but by then it's too late, because in our heads we've already decided we can't get to work...so we're not going. Now though, we have to excuse it to ourselves, we scour weather websites - "there's more snow on the way"...in a different part of the country but y'know. Or maybe our part of the town hasn't been gritted, it's a sidestreet - "they never come down here its a disgrace, what do I pay my council tax for" etc.

However, there is at least an honesty in this, a quiet dignity. Worse are those who struggle into work and then spend all day not working, looking out the window worrying if it's going to snow again and checking the ambient temperature of the building to see if it's legal to be there. Just stay at home. You are lying to yourself and your dishonesty soils us all.

Or perhaps you are at the other end of the scale, and when the Met Office warns us that we should only drive if we really need to, we assume that excludes us. Most of us don't want to face the crushing truth that our jobs really aren't all that important. Snow can challenge your sense of self worth. "Got to get in...if I don't, people will realise I'm largely unnecessary."

In the cold white light of the snow, we are all of us revealed and found sadly lacking.

Still...snowball fight!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Past Inglories

Like one of those horrible "found footage" handycam films like Blair Witch or Cloverfield, a pre Christmas clear out in my loft uncovered a terrifying nightmare. And like in "Ring" I'm sharing it with you to spread the pain and get some closure...

For twenty years now, I have enjoyed dabbling with comedy both as a stand-up and a scriptwriter. For a whole afternoon in the early nineties, it actually looked like I might be able to make a career out of it. But only the sort of career that doesnt provide any kind of living wage. 

Anyhow...when up my loft, I found a recording of myself and my good mate and comedy partner Ray Mitchell performing. I dont miss stand-up all that often, but I do miss Ray...for your questionable viewing pleasure...here we are...



With stand up, I've always quite enjoyed the fact that people are very surprised when they find out I used to do it; however this is partly based on the false premise that stand-up is a hard thing to do. Being a good stand-up is a hard thing to do...but  I was only ever average and so it was actually a piece of bun. One thing I did have going for me though was novelty value, I first started doing stand up in clubs when I was fifteen years old...this perhaps explains my subsequent exam results. However I was quite literally gobsmacked last week, when someone sent me a wee link. STV have been uploading all their old TV programmes, and in the early 90s, I was filmed for a programme called The Funny Farm and it is now on youtube. If you didnt like the first clip, I really wouldnt bother with this,  its basically me doing my best impression of Woody Allen (obviously before Woody Allen would have been considered an inappropriate role model).

Time, time is unkind and retrospectively the funniest thing about these clips is quite possibly my haircut or massive comedy glasses...but I definetly did have a laugh at the time. Every comedy club has open mic spots for people to go up and have a shot...you owe it to yourself to give it a go at least once. You'll probably die horribly and feel awful about yourself...but that will instantly put all your many other problems into perspective.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

/ comedy

Over at STV.com theres a new sketch being published online every day...just the ticket for cheering ye up in the cold, dark endless November.

Huv a wee look.

Something there for everyone.

There's a playlist of everything so far on youtube

I've written a couple of em..also on youtube


Inappropriate Dame 1
Inappropriate Dame 2

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Sandstone Sunset

Here are lovers
Burned against
The sinking
Shredded sun,
Their shadows
Cracked as statuettes
And fractured
Into one.
In broken
Whispers words are
Washing
Endlessly ashore,
Their laughter
Echoes emptily
“Forever.”
Then no more.


Hey...how cool is this, a band made up of folk from my work have turned this poem into a song, go check out Ard Amas.


Thursday, 28 October 2010

Haiku

Those eyes are autumn
and your kiss is the warm breeze
hastening harvest.


for sharon

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Duchal Well



The one surviving gentleman insists that the entire enterprise was his erstwhile colleagues suggestion. It is not for us to cast aspersions upon his character, simply to examine the facts, such as they are.

You would have read no doubt about the strange and unfortunate incident at the Duchal ruins last winter. There is good walking on the backroads and farmland behind the town, and having risen to a particularly pleasant January morning, the two friends Messrs Harkins and Wilson strode out in good humour.

You may also recall there had been a recurring story in the local press regarding the frequent – though unconfirmed – sighting of a large black wildcat in the area. Equipped with binoculars and a service revolver, Harkins and Wilson joked about capturing this elusive beast.

The two reached Kilmacolm just before 11 oclock, and having already worked up a capital appetite, they resolved to enjoy tea in the village before walking on.

A fire crackled in the hearth as the two tucked into the warm buttered crumpets for which this particular tearoom is famed. Not wishing to forget the purpose of their expedition, Harkins asked some of those gathered in the tearoom if there had been any further news of the beast. The ladies present simply giggled or ignored them, but one of the older gentlemen provided them with a very severe stare which served to put an end to that particular attempt at conversation.

Undeterred and all the better for tea and crumpets, the two friends set off once more, now leaving the old straight track and marching cross country. It was in this fashion that they came across McPhee the ploughman. Sensing that he would be more inclined towards lively conversation than the genteel tearoom crowd. They once again enquired after the beast.
“Oh aye,” said McPhee “Somethin’s naw right. Next farm doon’s lost three sheep in a fortnight. Nae tracks or anythin obvious.”
“But has anyone actually seen it?” asked Harkins, gesturing with his pistol.
“Plenty think they huv.” smiled McPhee “But efter a few drinks ye see a whole lot o things on the hills.”
“You see.” Said Wilson “It’s not a wildcat we’re chasing…it’s a wild goose.”
“Mind though, there’s older folk reckon this isnae a new beast – that its been runnin’ ower the hills for hunners o years.”
“And how could that be possible?” smiled Wilson. 
“Whit makes ye think it isnae?”
“Come on man! Everything ages…all of us. Its hard enough to countenance a creature at all…never mind entertaining the notion its been around for centuries!” 
“Well,” said McPhee “There were witches in these parts not so long ago. A coven used tae meet doon at the Duchal ruins…that’s where most folk think the beast sleeps.”
“And you are suggesting this beast is a witches black cat gone feral?”
“Not a cat sir. A familiar. The witches demon. Familiars wid take the skins o’ them it wished tae be. Birds, beasts, aw sorts. This ones enjoyed living as a wildcat these last centuries. And why not? Good feeding oot here, good open land fur running, but plenty o places tae hide as well.”
“And precious few witches to tell you what to do anymore eh?”
“Oh ah dont know sir...wee Mrs McLatchie certainly gies me the evil eye if ah tramp into her shop without scraping my boots properly first.”
The three laughed, McPhee showed them where to walk to avoid the moorland bogs and with that, the two continued on their way.

An old stone bridge spanned the black water of Duchal at the point where the fields gave way to forest, the two followed what remained of the path up into the trees towards the ruins. It was here that they found the body of the deer. The poor creature had been dead for some days and it seemed very obvious that it had been the victim of some sort of predator either before or after death, for very little of its hind quarters remained. 

Wilson in particular was a little shaken by the discovery, and briefly the two discussed moving the deer or disposing of it in some way, before resolving that it was not up to them to interfere with the natural order of things. Harkins examined the corpse a little more closely, noting large teeth marks on the gnawed bones.  

The two were now acutely aware of the distance they had walked from the village and also, the dark of the trees. No doubt they would perhaps have left there and then, had they not heard the cries. It did not come to them immediately, it was while they sat, Wilson steadying his nerves with a nip from his hip flask. Muffled at first, easily mistaken for wind, but gradually becoming clearer as low, whining cries.

The two followed the noise to the remains of the castle’s rear wall. The ground by the Duchal water had crumbled considerably over the centuries, and so this wall was now perched on the edge of a hilltop high above the rushing winter waters below. Just in front of this wall, there was a hole.
“It’s an old well.” said Harkins “Mind your step.”
The whining was most certainly coming from the depths of the well, and even this close to the source it echoed in peaks and troughs giving the most immediate effect of the sound seeming to be all around them. One thing at least was certain, it was no human cry. Immediately, Harkins believed they had found their beast.
“Its fallen in the well! The beast is trapped down there and we’re the ones to find it!”
Wilson maintains he was less convinced.
“Steady on Harkins, it might just be a fox thats fallen down, or another deer”
“Deer and foxes don’t sound like this and you know it. We need a way to get down there.”
“Dont be ridiculous man...lowering yourself into a hole when you don’t know what manner of beast is at the bottom. Absolutely out of the question.”
“Well we need some way of getting it back up here.”
“We could go back to the village?” suggested Wilson “Fetch some help.”
Harkins was reluctant to leave his potential prize for someone else to find, and insisted on staying by the well alone.

Here, Wilson is quite clear, he returned the village and was back at the site less than one hour later with rope, hooks and tarpaulin. He had also alerted the local constabulary who were less than ten minutes behind him.

He rushed to the site of the well, expecting to find his colleague still there. At first, he did not see Harkins so he naturally began to assume some calamity had befallen him, and started calling out. No sooner had he done so, than he saw his friend standing some distance from the well, facing away from him, looking up at the ruined castle wall. He ran to alert him to his presence, still shouting and it was then, that slowly, Harkins turned towards him. Yet almost immediately Wilson says he knew that this was not Harkins. Wilson maintains that while it may have looked and dressed like his good friend Harkins, this was something else...something other.

Even now, relating these facts, Wilson shakes. The man he had believed to be Harkins was smiling, a broad rictus grin, his eyes yellowed and bestial. Moving slowly, awkwardly at first, he stepped towards Wilson. He noted with increasing alarm, the unnatural nature of his gait and movements, his legs had bent backwards at the knees and his arms hung limp and angular as though slightly detached from the shoulder. Despite Wilson calling out to him, he was making no reply, though from his black, smiling mouth there was a foul rhythmic gurgling.

Suddenly, and with absolutely no warning, Harkins ran straight towards him, howling, pushing him down into the dark of the well. For a brief moment, Wilson lay there, looking straight up through the darkness into the inhuman eyes of his now unfamiliar friend, convinced that he was about to jump down on top of him. And then he was gone. 

The well was not so deep that Wilson was badly injured, but certainly deep enough that he was unable to climb free himself. With the approaching dusk, the light was poor enough, and Wilson suggests that this was perhaps a mercy, for it was at this point that he began to become more aware of his surroundings. He was not yet entirely insensible, and as his vision was impaired, it was the feel and the smell of the well that made themselves known. Here were bones, many bones, and the unmistakeable rank odour of old meat. Could it be that this pit, was a charnel house for the beast to regularly return and feed? At this point, Wilson freely admits that he was so overcome that he lost consciousness.

Fortunately of course, the same constabulary whom he had arranged to rescue whatever poor animal they had believed trapped in the well, arrived shortly therafter and freed Wilson himself. He remained in hospital for several days. Of Harkins, no further trace was found. For some weeks the police maintained an eye on his house, assuming that he may return, revealing the whole incident to be nothing more than an embarrassing disagreement between friends. No such approach occurred. 

After enduring the accusatory eyes of his former peers, Wilson secluded himself, no longer interested in the constitutional walks he had once so enjoyed. Of interest, though perhaps only circumstantial, is the fact that since the event in question, there have been no further sightings of the black cat.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Eventually...they came for everyone else

There is a famous statement (often quoted as a poem) by Pastor Martin Neimoller “First They Came...” which is generally agreed to be about the muted response of German intellectuals to the rise of Nazism. It is a tremendously simple piece about how fascism needs only the apathy of "good men".

I like to feel that in our emotionally troubled and financially unstable times, as we reprioritise what is important and worth fighting for, this piece of my own, also has something to say...


First, they came for the people who put non-recycleables into the recycle bin.
And I said nothing, because I always properly recycled, folding up the cardboard and cleaning out the tins and everything.

Next, they came for the people who say “pacific” instead of “specific”.
And I said nothing, because I hate not knowing whether people do that on purpose or if they are just stupid.

Then, they came for all the reality TV people.
And I said nothing, because I think they all thought they were going to be on a new show and it seemed a shame to upset them.

Next, they came for the people who know how to speak Klingon.
And I said nothing because quite frankly if you are going to take the time to learn a language, try German or Chinese rather than a fictitious language that has no practical application on this planet. qoH! I googled that. Its Klingon for “fool”. 

Then, they came for the Daily Mail readers.
Fair enough.


Obviously...it's eh...it's a work in progress. Feel free to pitch in with suggestions.