That pure Cane Spirit since 1848.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Re the comments from the last thing a fortnight ago. You know, the panto thing, the last article, that one down there. Below. And also your wonderful wishes for my seasonal success.
I cannot tell you all how pleasant it was to read them yesterday in the library. Not my library, it’s being remodelled right now, no, the public library. I was in Perth yesterday so I couldn’t resist it. Had to. It’s odd how attached I’ve gotten to you all. My nearest and dearest can go hang but I must check on my correspondence.

Fatmammycat your kiss is sweet. As sweet as candy. A full on fantasy etheric snog that’ll take me months to get over. Just like that time at the works do four years ago (ask Kim if you don’t believe me) when this young thing came up to me and gave me a hell of snogging. It came, if I’m honest, as a terrible shock but in a really really good way. (least said soonest mended) Come on, we’ve all done it.

SheBah, you’re right, but as Kim points out, Panto goes on almost to February. It’s the English way. Anyway, it’s all there ready for us, the photocopier, the drink, all of us in fancy dress; we know what’s going to happen. It’s like taking us all off on a Spanish holiday. The food, the lavatories, the unfinished hotel, the language, topless sunbathing, Ambre Solaire, shall I do your back? …

Sam, (a’chaileag òg phosda dhuilich)

Bliadhna Mhath Ur ! Bho’n Dotair.

Slàinte Mhath! Etc. and so on. Yer a guid hertit gurril and that’s a fact. Yer no’ bad lookin’ neither, which is always a bonus.

Pat you gave us kir and changed our lives forever. There’s nothing more to say except to send you my deepest gratitude for such an inspired concoction. The human hand is a harbinger.

Daphne I bet you can rumba like a champion. I for one would love to see it. I, by the way, am a fantastic Latin dancer especially the mamba (that’s the dirty one) and one day I feel sure we shall take the floor and show those silly Wallonians and Flems the meaning of bonding. We’d be like araldite, us. Maracas! Shake ‘em!
(FMC, I’m only flirting, It’s the season for it.)
(Daphers, am in Toulouse 15 to 18 January. Any good?)

Eryl, I have passed your succinct comments to your tutor. A distilled piece of English prose at its best. Should you receive course credits for it, I shall expect an acknowledgement. There WILL be eggnog a-plenty.

Savannah our southern belle. It’s odd to me to think of you out in nice warm air while we dodge the wet rain and flu germs. I know YOU believe, it’s the rest of the doubters that bother me.

I also see now that it was Daphne that went on about the next episodes and not SheBah. Oh me miserum! well. It’s too late to change it now, you’ll just have to sort yourselves out and that’s that!


Ps, happy new year etc, to
Bock, Knudsen (and his shrapnel), Kim, Footsy (all of them) and all the gang.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

In Celebration of the Birth of The Saviour

A Yuletide Mummery !
In Three Acts.
Performed in the English Tradition

* * *
Sexual Innuendo
Grande Finale with Father Christmas and His Reindeer
(Weather Permitting)

Act one.

In which Mr Ayres persuades Mr Bananas to hold an office party.

It was a quiet time in practice, and our household equilibrium was upset with the expensive preparations of the season. Mrs Maroon had gone so far as to employ the services of a local department store who that very morning had sent round a fine strapping lad recently arrived from Poland called Stanislav, with a basket of decorations and half a pit prop festooned with fir cones. If I would leave them to it she said, they would start decorating the tree. Stan could get his magnificent balls out and she would show him where to put his firry log. And so, at a loose end, I found myself once more in Baker Street at the door of my friends, the celebrated investigator, Mr Gorilla Bananas, and his assistant Ayres.

Even here in the Great Metropolis, I mused, the Spirit of Christmas had touched all in his eternal message of hope. The cheerful beggars, (God bless yer, Guv’nor!), the barefoot urchins playing hopscotch in the snow, all rosy cheeks and wrapped up warm in coal sacks, and the red mail coach rumbling by with a fat coachman blowing his bugle on top. What a picture, I thought with a smile; perfect! I pulled the brass knob for 221 and heard the first fourteen notes of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” ring out inside the house.

Mrs Hudson was clearing away the remains of a fulsome breakfast.

“Ye’ll be coming to the soiree doctor, will ye no’? I’ve two plum puddings yonder in my pantry, soaking in brandy the noo. Dr Watson always says my duff is the sweetest he’s ever…”

The last words were lost as the kind-hearted Scottish housekeeper closed the door.

“Ah, Maroon! Thank goodness.” said the marvellous ape in welcome, “Perhaps now we’ll have a little sanity round here.”

I heard a snort, and on turning round, there was Ayres, in his corner making adjustments on a curious machine, the like of which I had never seen before.

“What’s this?” I asked.

Ayres paused, staring at me, then explained:

“It is a device for replicating documents in facsimile form using cutting edge photographic techniques.” he all but sneered. “It is for important documents. You put the document face down on this glass plate here, shut the lid, then turn this handle six times and a replica document comes out this slot here…”
“What does this do?” I asked, pointing to a short lever painted green
“Don’t touch that Maroon!” exclaimed Ayres in his worried way, but it was too late, I’d already pulled it.

There was a loud flash of magnesium followed by a theatrical puff of white smoke which poor Ayres inhaled.

“Idiot!” he coughed, and trailing wisps of vapour, he stumbled over to the sideboard for a sherry and two mince pies, to steady his nerves.

I turned the handle six times, and sure enough a sheet of paper emerged bearing the remarkable image of a human hand!

“Where’s the document?” I asked.

Gorilla Bananas, who had witnessed these proceedings from his favourite seat by the fire, slapped his knee with a chuckle and said:

“By Jove Ayres, you’ve convinced me. We shall have that party after all and Maroon, you must come. It will be like old times.”

Ayres for his part, made no comment.

Because he was eating.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

5 Harry Potter films

Things I have noticed.

Emma Thomson and the big Irish actor with the mechanical eye; by far their best performances in any film.

Ralph Fiennes as well. Very good as voldemorte. All the spells are Franglaise-Latin. Have you noticed? E.g., “speculo-repairo will repair one’s spectacles. Also as the films have gone on, the money Warner Bros. spend on effects has gone down, miserable bastards. Ron Weasley’s sister must be out of contract because she hasn’t said one word for two films and Shamus hasn’t grown a single inch in seven years. The two Weasley twins get on my nerves, as did the Chinese girl’s Glasgow accent. (that’s MY material), anyway she’s blown it by grassing off her friends. Sneak! Oh I know she was truth-potioned, but Christ, you don’t grass on your mates. If she was true Glasgow she would have known that. That quidditch game. It would make more sense if you only got thirty points for catching the golden snotter. What’s the point otherwise? A team could be played off the park and be down 140 to nothing but then catch the flying golf ball and they win the game by ten points? Real kids would go crazy apeshit at such an injustice. Rowling must never have been picked for games at her school. And what happened to Hufflepuff and Ravensclaw? A house called Ravensclaw has balls. That’s the one I’d be in. Hufflepuff? No way! If that scabby hat said Hufflepuff to me? It’s obviously the gayest house in town. And what about Draco Malfoy? In real life he’d be taken aside by the other boys and given the hammering of his life, a beating so bad that his parents would come to Hogwarts to demand an explanation and Dumbledore would give them tea and explain “just high spirited young lads, if you don’t like it, there’s a perfectly good school down the road. A Protestant school.” and that would be that. Least said soonest mended.

Alan Rickman steals every scene.

So does Hermione Granger.

Ron Weasley couldn’t act to save his life but Harry’s getting better, except that in the last one, the goblet of fire, he had a six pack which was a bit disconcerting in a fourteen year old boy-virgin who still eats liquorice and Bertie Bongo’s all-flavour beans. Quite like Michael Gambon’s Forest of Dean accent.

Monday, December 10, 2007

for the delay folks.

Got sidetracked.

I'm on the case. Truly.

Been, well you don't want to know what i've been doing.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

At Culloden, the path leads to a little monument; a rough obelisk just 10 or 12 feet high. The entrance to the graves is on the left of it.

Each family has their own mass grave. They are all different sizes but similar in shape. They are long simple ovals, piled four feet high with loose stones from the hills. There is a slight overgrowth of tough grasses and gorse round the edges but it’s not invasive. Because of the lie of the land and the fact that they are different sizes, the row of graves is not straight, but follows a curve, more pronounced at the far end. Each has a rock headstone with the family name and the number of men. Our family is the first grave.

Even for Culloden, the weather was turning bad. It would neither rain nor snow nor even blow from a steady direction. We found spaces in the stones for our broom, setting them among a half dozen or so bunches already there, and anchored them in the loose cairn against the wind. We had just stepped back from doing this when two hikers appeared; walking from the far end of the row of graves.

They gave me the impression of a married couple in their thirties, hiking in the hills for an Easter break. They were certainly dressed for it. My uncle took the torch from me and put it in his other coat pocket and we stood off the path, backs to the wind, hands clasped in front of us like undertakers, watching them march towards us.

As they passed, my uncle smiled and cocked his head at them in greeting, as if to say, ‘Afternoon, fine day for a walk.’ which given the odd circumstances and his hat brim flapping in the gale, was very Uncle Charlie. They nodded back through the wind as if replying ‘Yes, a fine day, most bracing.’

“Give them a minute, then go and see if they get in that other car.”
“Whoever came up here in that car must be somewhere, go and see if it’s them.”

He moved off down to the end of the row looking for litter to pick up, as he always did. There was never any litter up here. Just once before, he had found a coke can on the path which he put it in a litter bin with great satisfaction. I went back the ten yards to the monument. It was well sheltered from the wind by a wall and I wondered about lighting a cigarette. I put my head round the entrance to look down to the carpark. The kids had gone and the hikers were putting wet cagoules and walking poles into the boot of the remaining car. I took the opportunity for a cigarette after all. I’d hardly got it lit when Charlie’s hat bobbed round the far curve of the path.

Waiting for him to come back up the line, for something to do, I scanned the other bunches of broom placed in the grave. There was one with a dried sprig of rowan complete with red berries, that caught my eye. I remembered the trees, one set in each corner of his garden, and I knew it to be Jack’s.

“It was their car.”

He took the torch out his pocket and circled our grave, shining it every now and then into the wider cracks between the big stones. I thought he was still looking for litter, perhaps cigarette ends, and thanked God that at the first sight of him coming back, I had flicked mine high into the air, to be carried off forever in the wind. He spoke to me over his shoulder.

“Are they still there?”
“Is what still there?”
“The hikers.”
“They were loading up.”

Next, he shone the light in the rough grass round the base of the pile, walking all the way round. Deciding he was happy with that, he switched the flashlight off and handed it back to me, to carry for him, - again.

He patted my shoulder.

“Let’s go, it’s bloody Baltic up here.”

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

It must have been well after five, nearer six, when we arrived. The visitor centre was closed and there were only two other cars in the carpark. He parked into the wind and we got out to get our coats from the back of the car.

We struggled in the wind, gathering our bits and pieces together, sheltering under the tailgate which threatened to come down on us in the wind. We pulled on coats and scarves and gloves, and I noticed that Charlie slipped the small parcel inside his jacket and jammed the jiffy bag into a big overcoat pocket where it stuck out the top. All that remained was for us to take our broom and palms up to the grave and I was shuffling from foot to foot, but my uncle was still rooting in the back of the car, opening little hatches looking for something.

“What are you looking for?”

My voice sounded strange.

“A torch, it’ll get dark quick with the low cloud.”

I looked around at the surrounding hills. It was always bitter cold up here and always overcast with the smell of snow, but I thought we had a couple of hours left.

“You’ve got good eyes, is there anyone in that white car?”

I peered into the wind.

“Yeah, there’s some kids in it.”
“What about the other one?”
“No, it’s empty.”

I mistakenly thought it was vanity had prompted the question for he immediately put on a wide-brimmed canvas hat, a Tilley hat, which he fastened under his chin with broad tapes. It did not go well with the rest of his dress which was now, suddenly, very formal.

He found his big flashlight and handed it to me to carry, then shut the tailgate which slammed in the wind.

The bunches of broom shone vivid yellow in the strange light of the approaching squalls. I was worried that the wind would strip the blossom off them but they were early, tough little blooms. I had incorporated a dried thistle in my bunch along with the palm, folded into a cross. My uncle’s spray, bound tight with black ribbon, had only the simple palm cross. With the wind gusting from our left, we took the flinty path to the graves.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Jack paused for a second then advanced on my uncle. He took hold of Charlie’s arm, one hand doing the handshake while the other gripped his bicep as if testing my uncle’s strength. Charlie did the same, and they stood there shaking hands in this four-handed way. At the time it struck me as continental. The physicality. Here in a Scottish kitchen it seemed especially warm and affectionate, an embrace almost.

“I knew you’d come today, with it being Easter Sunday as well.”

My uncle nodded and indicated me with his thumb, like a hitchhiker.

“My nephew, this is him, you remember, Kenneth’s youngest.”
“Is he? Well, well. How do you do?”

Jack reached out his hand with a sudden, wide grin.

Some months before, a girl I was pursuing had introduced me to her brother as a friendly precaution. He was a roof tiler and had unnatural, hard, callused hands. So had Jack. In that childish habit young men have, I immediately put Jack under the heading: Right Hardy Bastard. And on that subject, I confess here that on Jack’s first appearance through the kitchen door, a shallow snobbery I had been indulging at university led me to believe that he might be an employee of the house. It was shameful and these years later I still wince.

He sat us at the kitchen table and without asking, poured out three glasses from a red bottle. I could smell it was rum, the old fashioned kind, like rum truffles. He put the same again of plain water in each glass and set the jug on the table. We all said cheers.

“What’s in the box: hamper from Fortnum’s?”

He meant the Campbell’s Soup box on the worktop.

“Don’t get excited, it’s just a bottle and some stuff for Hilda. Where is she?”
“She’s in town shopping.”

My uncle nodded again and for the next half hour I sat largely forgotten, feeling the rum in my circulation and comfortable in the company of the two men, old friends so at ease with each other. We had two refills each; I remember that because I was counting. Then Jack asked if we had been to the grave yet and Charlie said no, we were on our way, then he asked if we needed any broom and Charlie said no we had plenty, then they both looked out the window and a silent decision was made that we should be making tracks.

“How long are you up for?”

They had turned to face me. I composed myself to answer. As they waited, Jack started grinning again. It was a simple question, but before I could, my uncle answered for me.

“He leaves for France on Wednesday.”
“I see. Driving?”
“He’ll be stopping in Glasgow on the way.”
“I see, right.”
“Won’t you?”

It took me a second to realise that I had been asked another question. I was keen to have someone answer for me for I’d lost the inclination to speak. I somehow managed.

“Yeah, I’m going back down through Glasgow.”

We were standing now, preparing to leave. Jack bent into the cupboard under the sink and came up with a large yellow Jiffy bag and a small parcel that for some reason I took to be a book.

“Nearly forgot. Here’s that thing you asked for.”

He handed them to my uncle, who showed no surprise when I think about it, putting them both under his arm.

“Thanks Jack.”

I watched from the car as the two men said goodbye on the doorstep. I remember thinking, Christ the way they’re going on, handshaking and pawing each other, it’s like the French Resistance or something. All I got was a wave and that grin again.

We were quiet in the car, my uncle and I, heading south, it was getting dark and cold and even in the car I think we sensed the wind had changed. The heater was on and the wipers were making the odd swish as the first drops of rain hit the screen and it seemed an age till the tick-tock tick-tock of the indicator brought me out of myself in time to see the signpost, as we turned off the highway and took the lonely road, up the hill to Culloden.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The True Cross

had an uncle called Casimir who we called Charlie. There’s nothing unusual in that, all Scots have an Uncle Casimir. They are the ones who travelled and never married. Royal or Merchant Navy or sometimes with a remnant of the Imperial Service. They fetch up in rural pubs on Sunday afternoons wearing Harris jackets and cravats. Railway administrators, state veterinary people, public health types inspecting the sewers in old Kowloon. It’s their natural element.

Anyway, one April, a good few years ago now, it also being Easter Sunday, he and I were driving up to Culloden with our broom and our palms and it was getting darker by the minute but nothing would do but we must go past our turnoff and drive into Inverness to see some acquaintance of his before we went up to the grave. I like to think now that I kept any impatience to myself, but I was younger then so I probably moped, at any rate he must of noticed because he chivvied me up explaining that it was a short errand and we should have the other business of the day done in plenty time for a drink and steak pie in the pub later.

“I just want to drop in and see Jack. He’s retired now. It won’t take a minute.”

My academic year had finished at Easter and I had invited myself for a long weekend with my uncle before leaving for France with some college people for a month or two of lotus eating. At that point, those were the full extent of my plans.

On the outskirts of Inverness we pulled in to the drive of a substantial Victorian villa but rather than stop, my uncle followed the gravel driveway round the side of the house to the rear, pulling up close to the back door. He had switched off the engine and was out at the tailgate of the car rummaging in the back while I was still putting my jacket on. By the time I reached the door of the house, he had joined me with a Campbell’s Mushroom Soup box under his arm. He gave the softest of knocks on the door and walked straight in calling hello as he went.

I should explain that my uncle was an old fashioned man of the country. On my way up on the Friday night, I had collected his stores from the village shop. In the age of the supermarket carrier bag, I found a strange pleasure that here in his village, groceries were still packed loose in cardboard boxes. It was one of these boxes that he now put on the kitchen worktop just as Jack came through the other door.