Monday, November 29, 2004
When we visited my Aunt Marjorie she told of some of their exploits in South America. It sounded a bit like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, busting out of jail and fleeing the country back to Scotland. I don't know if any of it was true, since they were stories passed on from my grandfather to his children. Everyone wants to make their history more exciting tan it really is. But then again history itself can make your life more exciting than you would ever want it to be.
It has been said that for any Scotsman to succeed then he has to leave Scotland. That was what was drumed into me by my father, who felt trapped in the village, condemed to a life of unemployment. Get educated and get out.
Education was the key to open doors. If you had no education then all that was on offer was a life down the mines, and you could see too many old miners standing on the corners coughing their lungs up, due to the amount of coal dust they had swallowed in a lifetime. Mining ruined your health. Education made you healthy.
Thursday, November 25, 2004
Today I watched my wife make bread. I looked at her as she kneeded the dough, cut it into decent sized portions, and formed and patted it into the shape of a roll. Flour was on the table, and on her fingertips, and a smudge on her brow.
The rolls were laid out on a grease proof paper to rise and then placed in the oven to bake. The smell in the kitchen was good.
In the afternoon I made shepherds pie. Peeled the potatoes and boiled them, and when they were ready mashed them and added butter and milk. The mince meat I fried with onions and spiced with salt and pepper. I greased a earthen ware dish with butter and mixed the mashed potatoes and mince together, and topped it off with some breadcrumbs and cheese.
We ate it together with homemade beetroot. It was a fine satisfying meal.
What can you say about people who do not cook? Those that have the money to eat out... those that can't make dough or peel a potato or slice an onion. Those that have never cut an onion in half and looked at its layers... those that have never cut those layers in criss-crosses to obtain diced onion.
The ones who never lay the table for a meal, who throw something in the microwave, and eat it off their bellies while slouched in front of the TV. Those that eat alone, where eating is a chore rather than a pleasure. Something you do to survive. Something to fill in time.
It is strange to say that there is immense satisfaction to be had from preparing veretables for a soup. Working with a good japanese knife to cut and to slice... and what do you think about as you cut... you think of shapes and sizes, you think of colour. There are so many ways to slice a carrot. The Chinese even have time to carve roses out of carrots.
My father as he got older, first of all he stoped working, and as Alzheimers set in he stoped cooking, and when he stoped cooking he stoped eating, and he wasted away. That was when we had to get meals-one-wheels for him because he lost track of time, and did not know when it was time to eat. If it was dark and six o'clock it could either be morning or night to him. He did not remember anymore. When we visited him he told the most elaborate lies about the wondeful meal he had cooked yesterday. He would describe making soup in great detail, but the plain fact of the matter he had not cooked for himself in years. We would sit an politely listen. It would be pointless to challenge him on the matter. Only the things that he remembered were real to him, and if he remembered making soup yesterday then he must have made soup yesterday, and he would not be convinced otherwise.
I remarked to Maija that I found it pleasurable to cook a meal every day, and she asked me when would I find it pleasurable to do the washing up.
I think that washing up is just a short step away.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
There was one mid-summer we took all of the kids for a picnic in the forest. We had bread, and a rice and tuna salad. We cycled into the forest to find a good place. We climbed up some rocks and found a good flat place and as we spread out the food on the ground, a black thunder cloud rolled over our heads.
Just as we started to eat, large heavy drops of rain began to fall. The raindrops were warm, and they made a sound like bubble wrap popping as they hit the ground. There was no discussion about packing up and heading off home. So we sat there and ate our food, hoping that the clouds would pass, but the rain picked up, and soon it was bucketing down. That sheet rain you could feel when it hits you.
The kids were wondering what the hell was going on. Mum and Dad were sitting in the rain, getting soaked and eating their food. They were not moving. They were not giving instructions to pack up and head back home, so the kids got stuck into their food, and got soaked as well. Their hair got wet and was plastered to their faces. Their T-shirts took on that transparent wet look. Trousers and jeans became slick and wet. We were looking at each other, observing how wet we all looked. We didn't actually get around to laughing at the absurdity of the situation, but there was a giggle bubbling inside.
Lawrence Durrell once said that his ambition was to be very still on the outside and dance around on the inside. As we sat in that summer downpour. Not running for cover, not hiding or taking shelter, just sitting on a bare rock being drenched, it seemed to be the perfect thing to do on a perfect day.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
For me it was ambergris, which according to the dictionary is a waxy substance containing mainly cholesterol secreted by the intestinal tract of the sperm whale, and often found floating in the sea: used in the manufacture of perfumes. Smelling good is not for everyone. It is reported that Napoleon sent a message to Josephine, "Home in 3 days, don't wash." What a weird small man he was.
There was a series of five photos where people had their faces covered by spoons, and I decided when I get home I am going to do a series with my five children. So I took sepia coloured photos of the cloured originals with a spoon over my face.
My children look haunted having a spoon for a father.
Friday, November 19, 2004
I then went an removed all the information from my profile save a reference to Hildegard von Bingen. I have a soft spot for 12th century nuns who made music from heaven. I removed myself from all of the groups I subscribed to save Finland Finland Finland, apparently I can't remove myself from it because I am the admin.
I reduced my sets from 15 to 3 so all that is left is the greatest party trick ever, the Näätämö series, (nobody even saw the aliens I had cleaverly crafted into the photos... jokes are not jokes if you are the only person laughing), and a series of photos about benches in Heitaniemi graveyard.
Now I have to wonder what order to put the sets in. TRICK, ALIEN ABDUCTION and DEATH seems to be the order of the day.
Now I must away, and finish off that Los Monteros red, that I bought myself for my birthday, and play a game of scrabble with the wife.
Monday, November 15, 2004
My dad hit on the idea of making rhubarb wine with the stuff. No matter that it was as bitter as hell with lots of oxcalic acid. It was red and therefore would produce great red wine.
He did not have any fermentation equipment and he used a big green bread bin to do the fermentation in. The rhubarb was cut up and mixed with sugar then topped up with water. Before the lid was placed on the bin 4 slices of toast were floated on top of the liquid. I have no idea what the function of this bread was but apparently it was an intregal part of the process.
After a suitable period of time the liquid was filtered through a muslin nappy and bottled. The bottles were stored in the sideboard in the living room. My father would have kept them there forever, being under the impression that a good wine needed time to mature, but this was not the opinion of Big Billy who persuaded my father that there was a need to crack open a bottle or two to test its quality.
Big Billy was renowned for being able to hold his drink, no matter what he drunk, so it came as a surprise to my father that after the drinking session Big Billy had gone home and spewed up in bed. The story went that his mother had found him bleary eyed and lying in his vomit, and the only word that came out of his mouth was "Bob".
The rumour went around that my father had poisoned Big Billy, but my father always maintained that after consuming 2 bottles of perfectly good rhubarb wine Big Billy had gone and drunk 8 pints of stout, and as anybody will tell you.
Beer before wine
makes you feel fine.
Wine before beer
makes you feel queer.
I believed my father, and still do.
Sunday, November 14, 2004
The miners who went to church worked in their gardens, or went for walks with their dogs over the hills. The miners who went to pubs, well went to pubs and pished their wages agaist the wall. It was the miners who went to pubs that headed off to Blackpool. The miners who went to church would not been seen in such a den of iniquity.
When the day arrived there were about 11-12 coaches lined up along the main road and the miners and their families would pile in with their crates of beer, and as the buses pulled away, there would be waving and screaming from the bus windows "We're aw gan' tae Blackpool". For the 2 weeks that they were away, the village was a ghost town.
My father was not a miner and when I was a boy he was unemployed all of the time. From when I was age 5 until 18. I did not think it strange he did not work. My mother was dead, and he was there to look after me. Got me up to school in the morning, fed me breakfast, cooked me dinner, and sent me off to bed with supper.
I never went to Blackpool... but having passed through the town later in life I don't think I would have liked it.
Happy father's day Dad.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
By profession my dad was a plasterer. A few years after he married he had an accident. He was up on some scaffolding which was not secured properly, and as he walked out along the plank, it tipped up like a see-saw.
He fell with legs splayed, and he was hit between the legs by a tressle. He fell to the ground, and the plank that he had been walking on, tipped over and came crashing down and hit him on the skull.
He was taken to hospital with a fractured skull. There was internal bleeding from his brain so they bored two holes in his skull to let the blood out and relieve the pressure.
While in hospital the insurance company visited my mother and persuaded her that since most likely he was going to die she should take a lump sum of money to cover the accident instead of a life long compensation. It made more sence since he was going to die anyway. He did not die, and he had to live with his disability.
He never worked as a plasterer again. He said it was because he had developed a fear of heights. He combed his hair forward to cover the holes that had been bored in his head.
He often remarked that the silver plate they and put in his head to seal up the holes was probably worth more than the money the insurance company had paid him.
What had happened was the mine workings had come too near the surface and had broken through into a lake of liquid peat, which then poured down into the pit. Thirteen lives were lost.
The pits closed down one by one until there was only one pit left in Aryshire called The Barony, and all the miners went to work there. When it was closed the miners moved away to England and the village died. The schemes with the miners houses are all boarded up. The place is a ghost town, with no jobs for anyone.
This was the village that my father was traped in. For as long as I can remember all of his letters to me were about getting away. When he was younger it was to Australia or New Zealand, and when he was older it was back home to Wick in Caithness. He never went anywhere.
He died in the year 2000. The year he always said he would live to. He was 83 years old. He was buried in the same grave as my mother. I placed his guitar on top of his coffin, kept his mandolin for myself, and gave his accordian away.
At his burial were many people that I did not know. I recited a Scottish version of the 23rd psalm that he loved to recite to me. That was the best I could do. Passing words back to him that he had given to me.
Friday, November 12, 2004
My mother died when I was 8. I was shipped off to an aunt's while the funeral was arranged. I did not attend the funeral, and nobody ever spoke about her dying. I suppose all the relatives were being sensitive, and protecting my innocence. I did not see the mourning process. There was no expression of grief. I would have expected if I had been at the graveside I would have seen some tears surely.
I never saw my father crying over the loss of his wife, and he never talked to me about it. But I do remember one incident that has stayed with me for life.
We lived in an upstairs house and if you lifted the letterbox lid you could look right up the stairs to the top of the landing. My father loved to stand at the top of the stairs and play the fiddle. He said it was because the acoustics were good.
One day soon after my mother had died I came home and I could hear him playing at the top of the stairs. Instead of opening the door and going in, I lifted the letterbox lid and peered into the gloom. He was playing "the flours o' the forest have a wee'd a'waw" a lament to grieve the dead at the battle of Culloden moor, and what pain and sorrow he had never been able to say in words cames streaming out of him in this one song.
I blinked and tears came to my eyes and I let the letterbox lid quietly drop. I waited until he had finished playing then went in.
He didn't say anything, and I didn't say anything either.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
"Hello Bob nice to see you again"
Thinks: Who the hell is she? Says: And nice to see you again too.
"We've had a long drive up."
Thinks: Where is she from? Says: Was there much traffic?
"Just after Cambridge the M11 was terrible"
Thinks: So she is not from around here. Says: Did you drive all that way by yourself?
"No we split it half and half, Rob drove to Scotch Corner and I drove the rest.
Thinks: So she is with somebody called Rob. Says: How long will you and Rob be here for?
"Oh we thought we could stay the weekend with you, if that is OK?"
Thinks: Stay the weekend with me, they must be friends or relatives. Says: Well the house is in a bit of a mess.
"Well we can have a tidy up, and get the fire going, cook a meal, and you can give us a tune on the fiddle"
Think: She knows alot about my house and my habits. Says: That would be grand
At some point in the conversation it would click in place that Maija was his daughter-in-law and Rob was his son, but he could not hold that idea for long. When sitting beside the coal fire he would confuse me with his brother Andrew and start talking to me and calling me Addie.
He would tell the most elaborate stories about his son Robert who was doing well for himself over in Finland. I half expected some horror story to unfold and I would learn what my father really thought of me, but it never came. He only had good words to say about me. To sit and listen to someone talk to you, about yourself, not realising that the person they are speaking about is sitting right in front of them, is an un-nerving experiance.
What was important though was that the storehouse of memories in my father's heart towards me were good ones, and he verbalised them to me as though I were a stranger.
Sitting on the bank of a river and throwing bait into the water to attract fish is not fishing, to really fish you had to be Scottish and "walk the water", and the fish the english caught and thought were magnificent were beneath contempt. The Scots would kill pike and pearch and leave them to rot on the banks of the river. The only true fish that a fisherman would go after were trout or salmon.
Most of the time I went fishing with my Uncle Andrew who was a miner, and all of his free time was taken up with fishing. When you are down in the black dank of the mines you tend to spend all of your free time out in the open air and in the sunshine. He was a worm fisher and loved to go fishing when the Nith was in spate. When the water was muddy. It was then that he caught his biggest and best fish. Even though I tried to emulate his moves, observed how he crouched, cast the line in places that he favoured, I never caught anything. Some people are good at fishing, some people are good at betting on horses. It is a mystry what you have to do to succeed.
My father was of the opinion that the secret was in the worms you used. He was a great fisher when he was a boy, or at least he said so, and he would tell tales of titanic struggles to land a salmon. The reeling in and the letting go of the line, the exact gauge of the trace, the breaking strength of the line and its colour.
I would trudge home with an empty basket and he would say. "Let me see the worms you're using" I would show him. "Too small you need bigger worms" I would use bigger worms but get nothing and he would say "It's cloudy today you should have tried bramble worms" I would try bramble worms which I dug up from the sewage plant on the outskirts of town. They were stripy worms, but they didn't work either. "That's because you are not putting them on your hook properly" He would tell me how to bait a hook and out I went again, but only returned empty handed.
He only ever told me what to do. He never actually went fishing with me. I wonder why that was?
So what do you do on a cold winters night, well you stoked up the fire with coal, and slouched back in your chair with you feet up on the mantle and listened to your Dad tell stories. He would do impersonations of Mary the dyker talking to her black lab Beaut. Mary was a woman, and by profession she was a dyker, which ment she built dry stone dykes which are common on the Ayrshire hills.
Beaut was her dog who accompanied her everywhere. Beaut was a crazy barker. He would loose control when he barked. The Mary the dyker stories were always the same. Mary giving ineffective commands to shut Beaut up, and Beaut becoming more agitated and vocal, and ignoring her commands completely.
The stories contained descriptions of Mary's face, red with rage, veins pulsating on the brow of her temple, and spittle flying, as she shouted at her dog. As for Beaut all he ever did was bark, but to spice up the story there were graphic descriptons of how his testicles moved during a barking frenzy. My dad would bark like Beaut, and scream like Mary, and carry the dialogue between dog and woman for a good 15 minutes.
Even at the end of his life he was still making jokes about dogs. On observing a long haired Scottish terrier barking outside the window he mused that if you shoved a broom stick up that dogs arse it would make a fine feather duster.
I wonder what made him think that way, and having had that thought, why did he let the words slip out of his mouth.
Alzheimer's I suppose.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
How I long for a Ceilldh. A time of people dancing together. Social dancing, raucous and roaring. Drops of Brandy, Strip the willow, Dashing white sargeant.
Shouting out at the top of you lungs "Best set in the hall", and when the fiddler makes the rosen dust fly off the bow, to give that incoherent scream of "HOOOOoooochhhhhh" that guttural roar that is so celtic, it could be a warcry, a challenge to every other dancer, to dance wilder, faster, and more fearsome than me.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
While in London living in lodgings with Norman Blyth at Neasden NW10, and living with an Irish landlady, we would go to Irish clubs and they would sing the saddest songs in the world, they would sing fighting songs, and it seemed each and every one had a great voice, and knew a song that nobody else knew, and remembered words and melody, as though it were running through their blood. Tunes passed from father to son.
On the evening that Norman and I set off to sail around the world we fell in with Terry from Cork. He was fat. He was middle aged. He had a grey stubble of a beard, and greasy grey hair that hung in curls over his brow. His teeth were tobacco stained, and he enjoyed his stout. He had the voice of an angel.
We all got roaring drunk an in the moonlight at half past one in the morning the three of us staggered out of the pub. Me and Norman on either side of Terry, and him with his arms around our necks, and as we walked we sung. We sung "I've been a wide rover", and if it so happened we stoped under the light of a lampost we gave the chorus laldie. We sang "Ye rambling boys of pleasure"
It was down by Sally's Garden one evening late I took my way.
there I spied this pretty little girl, and those words to me sure she did say
She advised me to take love easy, as the leaves fall from the tree.
But I was young and foolish, with my darling could not agree.
We sang in harmony with Terry taking the top notes like a good Irish tenor, and there under the light of the lampost Terry grabbed us fiercely around our necks, and pulled us closer to tell us that he loved us.
It was the drink talking. "Take me with you boys, I don't want to work the night shift at Heinz baked beans anymore. It's the freedom of the sea for me. Take me with you" We knew he didn't mean it, but you want to show solidarity when your drunk. He launched into "Hunt the bonny shoals of herring"
Oh, it was a fine and a pleasant day
Out of Yarmouth harbour I was faring
As a cabin boy on a sailing lugger
For to go and hunt the shoals of herring
As we sang we were on the deck of that fishing boat, with the salt spray in our faces. The road was heaving as though in a gale. We held on to each other to stop from falling over, and we sang the words so they could be heard above the whipping wind. Windows from a few houses were flung open and angry english accents told us to "shut the fuck up", and that only served to bring our gaelic blood to the boil and for us to sing even louder.
The Scots and the Irish have only ever had songs as effective weapons against the English. While cannon and muskets and sabers and swords rust, break, and disappear. Songs live on.
We reached Terry's house and he was doing that drunk handshake that seems to go on for ever. Just when you think he was going to let go he would renew his grip and squeeze harder. His hands were crossed in front of him and he shook both my hand and Norman's, and then he took his solo "The parting glass"
Oh, all the money e'er I had, I spent it in good company.
And all the harm that ever I've done, alas it was to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit to mem'ry now I can't recall;
So fill to me the parting glass, Good night and joy be with you all.
Oh, all the comrades e'er I had, they're sorry for my going away.
And all the sweethearts e'er I had, they'd wished me one more day to stay.
But since it falls unto my lot, that I should rise and you should not,
I gently rise and softly call, Goodnight and joy be with you all.
The longing and the heartache in his voice was too much for Norman and me and we stood in the middle of the road weeping softly like idiots, the clear snot running from our noses. The sadness was for wanting there to be more nights like this, and knowing that there never would be another night like this ever again.
I feel I have failed my children since I never taught them songs or poems. What legacy or heritage do they have?
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
His music even though it was recorded in the 50's and 60's has a jagged modern edge to it. At the time most people were releasing records at 33 rpm or 45 rpm, but Marvin becasue of his obsession with prime numbers had all of his records mastered at 37 rmp. As a consequence nobody ever knew what Marvin sounded like live, if they played his disks on a conventional turntable. David Bowie says of the collection "A dazzling collection! It strikes me that Pontiac was so uncontainably prescient that one might think that these tracks had been assembled today."
There are no linear notes with the CD so I have put together some coments on each track so you can appereciate the man and his music.
Track 1 I am a doggy. This track is an underground cult classic, and Snoop doggy Dog has said that it was when he first heard this 37 rpm record from '52 that he decided to call himself Snoop Doggy Dog.
Track 2 Small car This track features traditional tribal instruments from Mali, and is a rare example of Marvin singing after electric shock therapy. Barry White says that he was very influenced by the vocal styling of Marvin during this period.
Track 3 Now I am happy when released caused a sensation and the riff that Marvin laid down was stolen by James Brown, and used in many of his hit records. Marvin tried to sue Brown for copyright infringment, but he lost the court case and became clinicaly depressed. Some believe that he began to have mental problems during this period of his life.
Track 4 Power John Lennon said that he was astounded when he first heard the tape loops on Power, and that Marvin had been the inspiration behind Tomorrow never knows
Track 5 Runnin' round This features Marvin on wah-wah guitar. It is the earliest known recording of wah-wah guitar. Jimi Hendrix during his Electric Ladyland interview said "Marvin is the man, he taught me everything I know about wah-wah"
Track 6 Pancakes Altough released in the USA this record never made it to the Billboard charts, but for some unknown reason it was a phenomenal hit in Nigeria and Japan. Marvin plays a traditional tribal xylophone and gives the track a strange oriental feel. This was made when Marvin was in his Zen period.
Track 7 Bring me rocks Although Marvin always contested that he even experimented with psychodelic drugs the words in this song somehow betray an involvement. "My lips are big enough to park a car in them" gives a clear indication that he was edging towards a nervous breakdown.
It has the sad lyric "Rubin has lost his way", but his doctor at the time Dr Taurus Waist claims that Marvin is really singing this song about himself, and lamenting the fact that he feels lost.
Track 9 Wanna Wanna As with much of Marvin's music the hook line from this track has been stolen by the Spice Girls. When questioned about the similarities between their first hit single and Marvin's Wanna Wanna they categorically denied that they had ever heard of Marvin Pontiac.
Track 10 Sleep at night Recorded in 1955 there has been contention over who has played harmonica on this sparse early track. Most critics agree that it is Little Walter, before he had his famous fight with Marvin, before the cookie crumb incident, when the two men came to blows over who had been eating digestive biscuits and playing the harmonica at the same time.
Track 11 Arms and Legs Recorded when Marvin was delusional. It is a chronicle of just how far Marvin's mental health had deteriorated. An uneasy track to listen to because Marvin's paranoia is so self evident.
Track 12 She ain't going home Elmore James said that it was after hearing this track in the 50's that he decided to take up slide guitar.
Track 13 Little Fly Near the end of his career Marvin released a novelty record. He was so desperate to have a hit. Although it is a childs novelty song, it still contains references to aliens. While at the Esmeraldo Institute he feared that like his mother he would be captured by aliens.
Track 14 No kids It is rather insensitive that the compilers of this CD have included 14 tracks. Marvin would never have agreed to this since he was fanatical about prime numbers and would surely have left the album at 13 tracks. However this was the last song Marvin ever recorded. It was after this recording that he stole a bike and rode off naked into the sunset. (The first time when questioned by the police for riding a bike naked in Slidell L.A. he remarked that he rode naked so there would be a better exchange of molecules between him and the bike. It was his firm belief that if he could exchange all of the molecules of his body with those of the bike, he would thus escape detection by aliens.
Marvin Pontiac was run over by a bus and killed in 1977.
"In my formative years, as an aspiring bass player, there was nothing I listened to more than Marvin Pontiac." -Flea
"A Revelation." -Leonard Cohen
"Marvin would kick your ass for nothing. A true genius, Marvin was a pure original." -Iggy Pop
"I don't believe anything I hear about Marvin Pontiac" -Bob Dylan
Monday, November 01, 2004
There were also some photos of some very young children with white painted faces, and dark sunken eyes. Their faces were wan, and a sadness was in their eyes. Party time. Time to go out and enjoy yourselves, and collect sweets. Carnival
The one halloween I remember as a child was when my grandmother tried to do something special for me. I must have been five at the time. She hung some decorations outside the bedroom window. The decorations were the concertina type that you pull out and hang up at christmas. Nothing wrong with that. There was a slight breeze and the decorations made a strange rustling noise against the window. The sodium street lamp shone through the decorations and the the cutout patterns cast strange shadows on the bedroom wall.
If the shadows had remained still it might have been OK, but since the decorations were moving in the wind, the shadows in the bedroom moved about, and I could easily imagine hollow eye sockets and sharp teeth. Phantoms in the room with me. It scared me. I could not go to sleep, but instead watched the shadows flicker on the walls. If I shut my eyes for a moment the window would be broken and evil would rush in and get me. I asked my grandmother to take the decorations down since they frightened me. She explained it was only the wind and the yellow streetlamp and that I should not be afraid. I cried and pleaded for them to be taken down, and in the end they relented and went out and removed the decorations from outside the window. I was terrified. Terrified by shadows. The unknown was outside my window tapping to get in.
Is it not odd that parents who do everything in their power to protect their children from evil, from violence on TV, who prohibit them from playing video games that involve death and mayhem, who walk them safely to school and back again, who protect and cherish them, on this one night of the year dress their little angels up as devils, and instill in them the stuff of nightmares.
Unhappy halloween to everybody.