Tuesday, 31 August 2010

What Friends Are For.

I was at a wedding on Sunday.  

During the speeches, a friend at another table caught my attention and pointed to my socks, which were bright yellow.  He gave me a thumbs up and nodded, with an expression of stern approval – Like a wizard acknowledging great wisdom in a young apprentice.

Monday, 30 August 2010


Swearing can be tremendously satisfying if done properly.  Overdone, it can lose its impact, but generally speaking it serves a noble purpose and can add weight and even humour to the most mundane utterance.  It can serve as a mild anaesthetic, like when one stubs one’s bastarding toe on the bastarding corner of the bastarding bed.  It can help show disdain or even contempt by its mere presence, without any other words being necessary, such as in the case of Phil fucking Collins. 

As a child, I was vaguely aware of this family of strange-sounding words which had the power to shock and to silence whole rooms, and I was keen to get involved.  Sadly I decided to start before I really knew what I was doing.  

I was about 6, and my elder brother had just given me the latest in a succession of dead legs, when I decided the time had come for some swearing.  I had had quite enough of being treated like this, and it was high time he started taking me seriously.  I realised my vocabulary might not be quite up to it yet, but I figured that could be got round with some improvisation.  So I called him a bunky stooker.  Initially the effect was exactly what I was after – Stunned silence.  Flushed with this success, I had another go, and called him a drumby pranks.  

Swearing can be tremendously satisfying.  And it can add weight and humour to the most mundane utterance. But if you try it without actually knowing any swear words you will be laughed at for the entire duration of the school holidays.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A mistake I only made once.

1981 was a cold winter and it had been snowing for the last few days. Leaving for school one morning I noticed some huge icicles hanging from our garage roof. I got my Dad to break one off for me so I could carefully carry it to school to show everyone. However, on arriving at the school gates with the precious foot-long icicle wrapped in paper under my arm, my instinct for showmanship got the better of me, and I thought “wouldn’t it be better to wait til lunchtime and get the teacher to do a special announcement?”.

I thought of the professionalism that my teacher could lend to the occasion, she was good at that. She’d probably gather the class round and do a speech, and then the grand unveiling to amazed gasps and wondrous eyes. There would probably also be a round of applause for me, for having a garage that got ace big icicles on it sometimes. So I waited.

The morning passed more or less without incident – Rebecca knelt on a drawing pin, Shaun locked Lewis in a cupboard, Euan spelt his name wrong again. As lunchtime approached I decided my public had waited long enough, and I went to Mrs Paisley’s desk to tell her the good news and hear how she wanted to organise the unveiling.

“Mrs Paisley, I’ve got a really big icicle and I’d like you to show it to everyone please.”

“Really? Where is it?”

“In my bag. I brought it in this morning”

Far from being impressed, she seemed concerned. Probably jealous, I thought, as I followed her over to the cloakroom. She picked up my bag from the small puddle that had formed around it, and opened it for me to see inside – No icicle, just the wet newspaper I’d wrapped it in.

She started explaining what had happened but by that point I wasn’t listening, I was introducing new parts of my brain to each other and making them promise they’d stay in touch.

Lesson learned.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

All style and no substance.

I've come to realise something about my writing recently, something that bothers me.  How can I best illustrate this…

These Creations
                     emoTional truths,

But then I suppose you can read too much into these things.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

If Only

The writing would be witty and entertaining, that’s for sure.  From left to right all along the first line and then on down through the paragraphs the prose would sparkle, an erudite effervescence. The scope of the subject matter and the accomplished style would probably fuel suspicions that the author was a professional writer of some kind, any suggestion of which he would modestly bat away.  
Such would be its popularity, it would be discussed far and wide – on online forums, in the morning papers, on the news.  Couples would discuss it over breakfast, strangers would read it over each other's shoulders on the train to work, children’s faces would glow under the covers after lights-out as they caught up on the latest instalment.  
It would make people smile, it would make people frown.  It would cause laughter, tears, and missed appointments. Some would be inspired to write themselves, others would see the futility of trying to reproduce the inimitable, but for those few minutes everyone would be in the same space thinking the same thing and in a small way the world would be all the better for it.
Yes, if I wrote a blog it would be much better than this one.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

I Am Often Wrong

I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I am often wrong.  Until I was about 25 I thought that tripe was a fish.  I put this down to it sounding a bit like “trout” and “pike”, which are fish, and to not believing anyone would actually eat offal.

I was 31 and sitting in an Italian restaurant in Edinburgh when I first discovered that anchovies were not a vegetable.  I think I had them confused with artichokes, and I’d never previously ordered anything in which anchovies had been involved.

Going further back there were constant misunderstandings, such as my belief that the Beatles lived in my parents’ record player, and that my primary school gym teacher, Dundee United’s star striker and our next-door neighbour were all the same person.

Thankfully, as the years go by, these mistakes are cleared up.  Sometimes this comes as a surprise (as in the case of anchovies), sometimes I feel like I really should have known that already (as with the idea that the Beatles were each 1 inch tall and lived in Aberdeen, inside a piece of electrical equipment in my parents’ sitting room).

But there are also times when it’s everyone else who believes the nonsensical, and I find myself in the unusual position of being able to speak without fear of contradiction.  During a recent walk in Greenwich Park we were talking about the old adage that a rich crop of berries was a sure sign of a hard winter to come.  I have given this issue a great deal of thought over the years.  I saw my moment, and I grabbed it.

“A rich crop of berries is not a sure sign of a hard winter to come, because if it was that would mean vegetables had the ability to correctly predict the future”

Argue with that.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

My Dad's Enforced Silence

My Dad is an expressive person. He talks a lot, and sings a lot, and when he’s not talking or singing he’s happy just to scat or make noises. On the way home from the football once, I had to ask him to please be quiet - He was bored, and consequently had been blowing raspberries intermittently for about 20 minutes, on a busy train. He is an expressive person.

Adolf Hitler and my Dad both developed a growth on their vocal chords which had to be removed. In around 1940 in the case of Adolf Hitler, about 2 months ago in the case of my Dad.

So last week he went into hospital to have his one taken out (a procedure which happily passed without incident) and before I knew it he was conscious again and sending me texts.

“No cups of tea for 24 hours, and no talking for 48!”

I can only imagine how daunted he must have felt at the prospect, and how delighted my stepmother was.

The following day, he decided to go out for a walk to get some exercise. Realising that this would expose him to other people, who would expect the usual enthusiastic chatter and might not know about this imposed rule of silence, he prepared a note of explanation:

“Sorry, I can’t talk. I’ve had surgery on my vocal chords, and I don’t like you anyway”.

I love my Dad.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

I Hate Arthur C Clarke

He wrote the book and the screenplay of 2001: A Space Odyssey. He came up with the idea of geostationary satellites, which revolutionised communication, television broadcasting and weather forecasting across the world. He has a type of orbit named after him. He has a species of dinosaur named after him. He has an asteroid named after him. And he was responsible for a disastrous misunderstanding in 1983 which resulted in me standing in front of my entire class at school and crying like a girl. And I’m not a girl.

By far my favourite book in those days was Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World, not a single word of which I understood. But it had pictures of crystal skulls and real actual ghosts and monsters, which was good enough for me. And what’s more, because it was a book for adults rather than 8-year-old children, and it had been on TV, it was Definitely All True.

As with so many other things in my life back then, I wasn’t content keeping this to myself. The world had to know. So I took my tattered copy of the book in to school one day and told Mrs Paisley the deal – ghosts and monsters and stuff are real and it’s Definitely All True and it’s in this book and everyone should know. To my absolute delight, she agreed, and arranged an impromptu reading in the library. I remember my excitement at the prospect of having my book leant the unquestionable authority of being read to us by Mrs Paisley.

But then disaster struck. As everyone was getting settled on the floor around Mrs Paisley’s chair, she gave me back my book and said “here you go, remember to read it loud enough that Samantha and Suzanne at the back can hear”. Then, turning to my classmates “now everyone, Andrew has brought in a book that he would like to read to you all, so be nice and quiet and when I come back we can talk about what you all thought”. The blood drained from my face and my ears started ringing.

Me read it out to them? What the hell are you talking about? I can’t do that, I don’t even know what any of these words mean and the sentences go on forever! Are you insane?”

...was what I wanted to say, but didn’t. Instead I turned slowly to the sea of expectant faces, looked down at what was now my least favourite book in the world, and tried to read some of the stuff that wasn’t the pictures.

I remember very clearly that it had fallen open at the chapter about sea monsters, and I gave the first sentence my best shot. On the third attempt, however, I caught sight of my friend Geoff, who was sitting in the front row and pulling faces at me. So I decided the best course of action would be to set the book aside for the time being, tell Geoff that he was in Big Trouble when Mrs Paisley got back, and then burst into tears.

I still have the book somewhere, and I still haven’t read it. It has caused enough trouble already.