Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Belville Terror

I see them still, those three lonely towers, rising out of the jagged depths and tearing into a grey indeterminate sky. All the windows were gone, the remaining black gaps, rows of punched out teeth seeming to suck in the thin light from all around. Below, the serpentine walkway slunk slowly down to the dark edge of the river.

The pale grasping fingers clawed at the edges of those empty windows and as long as we stayed back, as long as we only looked in upon that world from a distance, we would not be dragged into that formless, endless nightmare. But I did not stay back. I needed to see more.

I stood inside and alone, peering into the broken liftshaft, red and black fronds stretched up out to the roof, ripping through the ceiling towards the stars. Some of them still twitched and shivered, attached no doubt to some distant beast. Those same fronds also tunnelled downwards.

We see only the tips of those great monoliths, the concrete roots plunge deep below the foundations of the town, past those secret tunnels and ancient labyrinths that sit silent and forgotten, save for the disembodied spectres who howl hungrily within. Down, further still, are those coastal cave systems which lead into the cold black of the river. It is beneath the waves that the creatures gain entrance to our world, sliding and hauling their way blindly upwards to inhabit the interiors of the ruined flats; to feed.

I scaled the interior of the tower, dragging myself up through those horrors, the torn shreds of greying flesh, the piercing shrieks of unseen creatures and the rusted rattling of the rotted liftshaft. I hoped that at the peak I would find at least one of the sigils described in the ancient songs and stories of the area, relating to the river and serpent cults long in existence by this particular firth. With even one of those cursed symbols I felt sure I would be able to fight my way back down under the river to lock that black gate. It was all the time too late.

I reached the top of the flats, climbing back out into the night. Two heavy metal rings looped with strangely shaped green chains were fixed to the centre of the courtyard. Ragged leathery strips hung from the rings, perhaps some great creature had been tethered here, a guardian for the sigil. Whatever had been here, was now gone. A broken mosaic already faded by the sun was attracting moss. There was nothing of use, no signs or symbols to assist with any translations. My body could not take another ascent of either of the adjacent towers. In any case, success now seemed unlikely. The only hope now is to ensure that those monuments remain standing, standing apart from the town, for if they are ever to fall, there is no knowing what we will unleash.


My gran and granda lived in Melrose Court in Belville Street for years, and we were over the hiflats a lot growing up. I first read HP Lovecraft's "At the mountains of madness" at my grans - not because she was a fan of eldritch horror, just because I'd bought a copy at a second hand bookshop and read it there one night. The flats look pretty scary now, but they were equally scary about ten years ago, when I delivered meals on wheels. There was a guy who lived on the 13th floor of one of the flats, a younger guy, who'd had his leg amputated. The lift was always broken and you would have to run the whole way up hoping the landings had working lights. Eventually I got friendly enough with the guy to ask what had happened to his leg. "Lost it through the drugs mate." he said "Oh right. Trouble with yer veins I take it?" "Naw mate, someone shot it aff". Anyway, hopefully the demolition will all go fine.

What have we done.....

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Story Boat

There was a Man who had an idea.

The Man lived on an island on a long river that ran all the way out to the sea. All along the river there were little islands, each with little villages. And on every island, the people told all sorts of different stories. They told stories about dancing mermaids and cats that sang and the many tales of the fish that told fortunes.

The Man thought it would be a good idea to build a boat and sail round collecting all the stories. And every time he stopped at an island he would share stories from one place, and collect stories from another. Everyone would get to hear new stories, everyone would learn new things.

He was pretty sure it was quite a good idea and so he went to speak to the Wise Men and The Elders about it.
“Why would anyone be interested in that? That’s much too hard to do.” said the Wise Men.
“No one likes stories.” said The Elders.
The Man went home and thought about if for a bit, and then, he decided to do it anyway.

He thought, and he drew, and he talked and he listened and he got lots of people from the village to help build his Story Boat. And they told him the first stories for his collection. Finally, the Story Boat set sail...

Lots of people liked the Story Boat and would come from far away to visit it and ask questions, and some people asked him to come and help them make Story Boats to use on their river. And all the time, The Man was always collecting more stories, and adding new books and rooms and flags and sails to his boat.

The Wise Men and The Elders had forgotten all about The Man’s Story Boat, but then one day when they were out visiting an island on the next river over, they saw a Story Boat someone else had built.
“What a good idea.” they said “I wish we’d thought of something like that. We should get one of those.”
So they went home to plan how to do it.

The Man heard The Wise Men and The Elders were planning to build a Story Boat and he went along to speak to them.
“We already have a Story Boat.” he said “I built it, it sails every day.”
“Not like this Story Boat.” said The Wise Men, “This one will be bigger and probably have a flashing sign and maybe also a cake shop.”
“I know someone who can make signs.” said The Man, “Oh and a girl who runs this amazing cake shop.”
“Ah...well...we already know what kind of signs and cakes we want on the Story Boat.”
“Okay fine.” said The Man, “I could still help you with it. I’ve built a Story Boat before y’see.”
“Yes but have you built one like this?” said the Wise Men.
“Not exactly like that, no. But I understand how all the bits work...I’ve been sailing a Story Boat like this for a few years now. I’m sure I could help.”
“You're not the only one who can build Story Boat's y'know. Besides the one on the next river is a bit different...a bit more...professional.” said the Wise Men, “I think we should be asking them to help us. They really know what they’re doing.”
"Professional. Not sure how that's different from the people I pay to do it..."
"Oh yours is a really nice way of doing it," they said, "there's just a real quality to what they do."
"Right...but...the thing about Story Boats is that you really should get lots of people to help you do it...that’s how you get all the stories...that’s why people go on Story Boats...that’s what they like about them.”
“It’s also going to have special paintings done by the best artists in the country.” said the Elders.
“And railings made by the best ironmongers in the land!” said the Wise Men.
"People will come from miles around to sail on it!" said The Elders and The Wise Men. "This will really put our town on the map."
The Man decided not to bother mentioning all the artists and ironmongers in the village and went back to sailing his own boat.

The Wise Men and The Elders got the people from the other town to help build them their New Story Boat. It had a big flashing sign, and a cake shop and it even had all new stories which had been written especially. It sailed every day for a year and then The Wise Men and The Elders got fed up with it...they didn’t have money to repair the sign when it stopped flashing, or mend the hull when it sprung a leak. And no one from the village really cared because it was never really a Story Boat for them at all.

The Man watched The New Story Boat slowly sink and he sighed.
“I think,” said the Man, “That it’s probably time to build a Story Spaceship.”

Read more Community Fables...

Okay...I'll be the first to admit that was a bit of a "therapy" post. I wrote it during a wee black period last year (2012), and then, against my own blog rules, I left it while I cooled off in case I was having a breakdown and hadn't realised. Looking at it again, I quite like the wee story; the reasons why I wrote it, presumably in some sort of huff, are now lost to the mists of time. And anyway, subtlety is often overrated.

As I think I've mentioned before, I work and volunteer "in the community", and myself and many colleagues I've spoken to working in towns and villages elsewhere, are frequently frustrated by the assumption that to get quality or professionalism, you always require to look and spend outside of the area. A belief assisted in no small part by the Coalition Governments insistence on outsourcing as many things as possible to half a dozen national companies. Maybe not all solutions exist in communities, but many more do than are used. However discovering and working with these solutions takes a bit more time and effort, and generally, we need things done right now - default setting therefore is let's just pay someone to come in and do it for us. After all, real quality always costs right? That's why all these private companies and highly paid banking gamblers are doing such a great job for us all.

We justify this way of working with a rather lovely non-phrase, "capacity building"; we'll bring people in to deliver and at the same time, 'build the capacity' of the community. And the reality is of course that local capacity is very rarely built in any meaningful way, after all, as the old adage more or less says "Teach a man to fish and he'll not need to pay you to come back and help him again, but give a man a fishing rod and you've got yourself a maintenance contract" 

In a connected world, in a digital age, we can see all the wonderful ways that communities are working to make things better for themselves - and when, against all odds, it works well, or is sustained, its generally because those communities are directly involved in doing it for themselves, not because they've bought an off the shelf solution for someone to bring in and do to them. With new guidance from Scottish Government on the ways that agencies should work with communities, theoretically placing us at the heart of most processes, it would be nice to think something real will change and not just the language. But if it's been broken long enough, why bother fixing it? And can it even be fixed? Probably easier not to talk about it, or overthink it...

Anyway, just to be clear, it was just a symbolic story boat, though I do think a real one would be cool.

Yeah. I think for next week I'll probably just do a poem about vampires or ninjas or something...

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Tin Jimmy - Chapter One

I'm not going to spend the year blognovelling at ye, tried that once, got fed up. But this is the nth draft of a first chapter from a childrens story I've now written quite a few wee bits of. Not enough to call it a book or anything, still footering away. Its my resolution this year to finish it. So I thought sharing the start here at the start of the year, would be a good way to make that more of a real commitment... 

There was something strange about the way Megan's gran had exploded. It wasn't that she was on holiday at the time, it wasn't that it was really unlucky because she had won the holiday in a competition, it wasn't even that she was waterskiing. No. It was that before exploding on faulty water skis on her unexpected holiday, she had not phoned Megan when she said she would. Gran always phoned. Always.

Megan's mum suggested that was "maybe because of all the sangria", but still, it didn't feel right. None of it felt right. Everyone made a sad understanding face when Megan said this, so she decided to stop talking about it.

Now, weeks later, she sat on her bed, holding a letter her gran had left for her. Megan brushed her dark curls out of her eyes and stared at the envelope some more. Not quite ready to open it yet.

The week that followed the explosion was very strange. Exploding on holiday is clearly quite an inconvenient thing to do; serious black suited people kept turning up at the house with forms for Mum and Dad to fill in. Newspapers and a television crew wanted to speak to them as well, because it was such a "tragic" and "unusual" story. Megan was pretty sure her gran would have been delighted to be tragic and unusual.

Then they started getting the letters. Lots of people still remembered Megan's Gran from when she wrote scary books, and sent them emails or cards or flowers to say how sad they were, some even sent little cuddly knitted toys of her monsters. Mum really didn't know what to do with those, even though they were woollen, some of them were still pretty terrifying. Gorskyn had always been Megan's favourite creature, so she took one of those ones to keep in her room, its little tentacles had tassles on the end.

She and her brother Lewis had not been allowed to go to the funeral, because dad said it would be, "too sad", which Megan sort of thought was the point. Even clown funerals must be sad. There were no sad understanding faces when she said this though. She was pretty sure Mum quietly phoned the doctor.

Instead, while everyone else went up to the hillside cemetery, Megan and Lewis had gone to the cafe in Gourock with an elderly aunt, Grans's cousin. Lewis got an ice cream and Megan got a cappuccino just for the foam and sprinkles.

Outside, the river splashed gently against the pierhead, there was not a cloud in the sky. 'It should be stormy on a day like this,' thought Megan, 'there should be lightning and trees blowing over. Not sunshine and ice cream.' The sun just carried on shining regardless.

To take her mind off the fact that she wasn't getting to say goodbye to Gran properly, Megan tried to talk to the elderly aunt about her, but elderly aunt just wrinkled her already wrinkly nose, so that it ended up looking like a walnut, and said 'Best not. Lovely lady. But a strange one. All that sad business when she was wee.' Megan made a mental note to send her a cuddly monster and continued staring out the window onto the river. Seagulls dipped and dived in the breeze. Elderly aunt bought them some strawberry tarts, and then they went home.

Almost dark enough now. Megan stared at the envelope. It was from the stationary set she had made Gran for Christmas last year. It had taken ages, but everything had been handmade, from the paper to the little wooden box it all came in. The letter smelled of Gran's perfume.

Megan thought again about the last time she saw her Gran. It was the day before she went on holiday. Gran had suggested they go for a walk round the dam to feed the swans. Megan had thought she seemed a bit sad for someone who had won a free holiday, but had just assumed it was one of those strange grown up things.
'It's a shame you didn't win another ticket. I could have come with you.' she said.
'Och it'll be all bingo and karaoke, not your type of thing at all.' smiled Gran.
'You don't play bingo.' said Megan.
'There's usually nothing else to do on these old people holidays. I'm taking my nintendo.'
There were baby swans this year, and they fed them some of Gran's fairy cakes.
'Are you okay?' asked Megan eventually.
'Hmm? Ach fine. Whenever I'm stuck, I come and have a bit of a sit in the park.'
'When do you get stuck?' asked Megan, 'You always know what to do.'
Megan's Gran smiled quietly for a moment, watching the family of swans flapping happily across the dam, dancing in the last of the summer sunshine.
'Do you remember when I used to read you the ugly duckling?' said Gran.
Megan nodded, hoping this wasn't her Gran's attempt to start talking about growing up.
'You always did a funny duck voice.' said Megan.
''s a load of rubbish. No such thing as ugly ducklings. People spend years waiting to be beautiful swans. What a waste of time. Just be a beautiful duck and get on with it.' Gran turned and grinned at Megan, then steadied herself with her walking stick. 'Come on, you can help me finish packing.'
Megan had wanted to tell Gran her secret that day, she knew she would understand, know what to do. Instead, she walked her home, stayed for tea and spent the evening discussing who the best looking vampires were.
'I'll phone you 6 o'clock tomorrow night, once I've had a chance to check out the handsome barmen.' said Gran with a cheeky wink.
Megan laughed, kissed her goodnight and went home.
It was too late to tell her now. All too late.

It was yesterday that dad had taken her to the lawyers office to get the letter. Her letter. Mum and dad had already been to see the lawyer about Gran's will - she had left them a bit of money, not millions of pounds or anything - any money Gran had made, she enjoyed spending while she was still alive, taking them all on holidays or out for dinner and laserquest. Gran always cheated at laserquest. But there was still some there. Enough for them not to worry for awhile. The most important thing though, was her Grans final instruction, that a letter be personally handed to Megan, that no one else was to open or read. The letter was waiting for her at the lawyers office.

The office was not far from the town centre, in one of the bits that was being rebuilt, or demolished. It was sometimes hard to tell the difference, the whole town seemed to be scaffolded, like it was being held up in case it fell over.

Megan was hoping the lawyers office would be all wood panels and old green leather chairs, but it looked a bit more like an opticians, all shiny glass and chrome.
'Your grandmother lodged the letter with us 6 months ago,' said the Lawyer. 'It has been in the safe since then. A few weeks ago, she visited us to give us two further instructions. First, she made it very clear to us that we are to advise that you open the letter alone.'
Megan nodded.
'Secondly, she asked that you return here next year, with the contents of the letter on the 23rd May. Is that clear?'
'That's her birthday.' said Dad.
'Those were the instructions. Can you do that Megan?'
Megan nodded again, feeling suddenly very grown up and serious.
The Lawyer handed her the letter and, surprised by her own shaking hands, Megan took it and put it inside her jacket pocket, holding it carefully, as if it were full of diamonds and gunpowder.

Mum had been really nosey about it, wanting to know what it said, and Dad had told her that if it was a cheque she had to tell them about it. It was Megan's letter though, and she insisted on waiting until everyone else was in bed before opening it. Alone. Just like Gran had asked.

She pulled gently at the envelope, trying to take her time over it. Inside, was a very small piece of paper, some of the vellum parchment Megan had made by flattening out wood pulp.
'There can't be much written on that.' thought Megan, just a little disappointed.
There were two other items in the envelope; a piece of old newspaper and one of those foldout street maps of the town. For now though, Megan was only interested in her letter. Sure enough, it was very short, but the first line said almost everything Megan hoped it would.
'Dear Megan, I know why you can fly.'