Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Good Life

It’s Tuesday. Day two of my annual leave and I showered with a smile on my face this morning – and the smile has barely left my face since.

Sloth was the order of the morning. Sloth and caffeine. And the Herald. And a croissant with jam. And then some more sloth. The most energetic I got was to press the lid down on my coffee bean grinder and then to turn the nozzle on the milk steamer. Meanwhile, the wee fella was brushing up on his American accent with some cartoons. (An excerpt from a subsequent conversation: In Scotland we cut the grass, son, we do not mow the lawn. And for the record, a trunk has got feck all to do with a car.)

Eventually I raise myself from this stupor to actually do something. Which I manage with unerring precision, to time with when the sun decides to blast off the clouds. How good am I? When we arrive at Culzean Castle the sun is doing its hammer on an anvil thing and the day is glorious (just the way it started, actually).

We go to the duck pond and believe it or not we have prepared. With bread and everything. If it was an outing where a woman was present we would have had sandwiches, crisps, fruit, water, a rug, a hat, possibly a wee fishing pole, a ball, suntan lotion, wet wipes, plasters, disinfectant, anti-histamines, a change of clothing for the wee fella, a portable loo and a minesweeper. And it would all have been in her handbag. No wonder women can never find their car keys.
What were we carrying? Four slices of the white stuff for the ducks.

A swan was the first to approach, followed by a cluster of ducks. What is the collective pronoun for ducks? I’m liking cluster. Can we change this convention on this one? Anyway, my son got a wee bit nervous with the size of this swan and threw the bread a tad too short. He’s sizing up the length of the swan’s neck and the size of her beak and feeling kinda unsure. I suggest he edges closer and pushes the bread forward with a foot. I would have done it myself, of course, but he was nearer. At this suggestion he just looks at me and says -hell no, the swan can freakin’ starve before I get any closer. Just what cartoons were you watching this morning? I ask. He mumbles something and points out a group of ducklings. A cluster.

Bread spent, we head back to the car. Whenever we do any sightseeing it’s at breakneck speed. See the ducks. See the swans. Right, let’s get the hell out of here. On the way to the car park we pass a family of twelve. Mum, Dad and cluster of weans. I’m liking this word cluster. They’re carrying bags and bags and boxes of food and drink. Mum sees me sizing up the goodies and smiling says I can join them if I want; they have enough to feed an army. I look at the kids and think that’s exactly what they have and leave them to it. Ten kids! Let me repeat that exclamation mark!!! Mum looks like she is in her element. Dad looks like a haunted wraith. He looks like he stepped out from behind a desk only five minutes earlier to find himself wearing shorts and a t-shirt and to have suddenly acquired a life’s worth of children.

Next stop is at the opposite end of the Culzean estate. There are 125 steps just beyond the visitors centre that lead down to a white cottage, called Segganwell where I used to go for my holidays when I was a kid. This always prompts memories... like the time me and my cousins tried to walk along the coast to Maidens but got caught in a cave when the tide came in. Apparently the adults were worried sick about us, but we just climbed our way out to safety singing Patridge Family songs.
I am a slave to this blog am I not, admitting shit like that?

Today the tide is out, way out and we walk to the water’s edge. We spot a pair of herons; a couple of swans and a cormorant perched on a rock with its wings out to dry. I have a moment. I am in the now. Life is good. I’m in a beautiful setting. The sun is strong and warm on my back and my son is hale and hearty and quoting some crap from a cartoon he watched earlier.
-nice to see you, Mrs Jones, he says in one voice.
-it’s Mr Jones. I’m a man, Doctor, he says in another.
-you just keep telling yourself that, sweetheart.
He giggles.
-Son, exactly what cartoons are you watching?

I’m wearing shorts. I know, I shouldn’t. Frightens the horses. At one point in the day I look down and notice that my legs are SO white they look like they’ve been covered in enamel. There is a local phenomenon called an Ayrshire tan. Brown face, neck and arms, while everything else is so pale it’s almost translucent. Actually, scratch the Ayrshire and go for Scottish. Apart from the folk who live along Dumbarton Road in Glasgow. It’s one of the longest streets in the city and it has a tanning parlour every twenty yards. And each tan shop has a Chinese takeaway on one side and a kebab shop on the other. It’s so the local population can look healthy while they eat their way to a heart attack. (Did you hear our Jessie died last week? Clogged arteries. She looked great in her coffin, but.)

We walk for a couple of miles – I’m sneaky and take the long way back to the car – he’s giving it, are we there yet? Just round this bend, son. An hour ago it was just at the top of this hill, he moans. As he says this he’s making quotation marks with his fingers.

Got home. Got pizza and salad. Got a movie. “Get Smart”. My son laughed himself into a coughing fit.

He’s now in his room settling down for the night while I write this. As a parent there can’t be a more pleasing sound to hear than their child, safe and secure and playing in their room overhead. He’s making those lovely wee noises he makes when he pretends he’s murdering aliens. Bless.

Time for bed and I’m still smiling. Ain’t life good?

Saturday, 27 June 2009

the state of TV

Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire. If you haven’t seen it I‘m about to save you the effort. Watch something else. Paint a wall and watch it dry. 'Cos Krod is crud.

For those of you who are blissfully unaware (my advice, stay that way – apart from while you are hanging on to my every word, of course) it is a fantasy spoof. You know, warriors and wizards and trolls and a sword that bursts into flames. Which I’m guessing makes it particularly difficult to wield. Singed fingers doth cripple the fighter methinks.

Krod Mandoon should work. It has a strong cast, excellent production values (even to my unpractised eye) and sets and costumes that must have cost a few bob. The problem is a collection of characters displaying all the conviction of a tranny with a goatee and a script as funny as a kick in the danglies.

Think Terry Pratchett after he’s had his sense of humour removed and replaced with that of a random schoolboy.

Now I’m venturing this opinion as someone who is more than happy to dip into the toilet to tickle his funny bone (strange metaphor; hey it works for me) but this is pretty much the sole source of the show’s jokes and frankly it’s shite.

Example one – a group of important looking individuals send Krod and his mates on a quest involving a Cyclops to retrieve some blah (sorry, I zoned out here) and they ended up debating the difference between “normal” hair and pubic hair around the table. Laugh, I couldn’t start.

Actually, at the cyclop’s pad we veer away from the schoolboy humour for just long enough to fit in a couple of “eye” jokes. The cyclops? The big guy with an eye the size of a satellite dish in the middle of his forehead – get it? Example – go on let me give you an example – the Cyclops and his father – wait for it - didn’t see eye to eye. Boom boom.

As a nation, we seem to be stuck on pointing the finger at public bodies who waste our money. Let’s raise a shitstorm on this colossal waste of cash. I have no problem with my money being used to produce TV programmes that the BBC might want to sell around the world. But can we make it good? Pretty please?

It’s time to take stock and re-direct the money being used on this car-crash of a show to a scriptwriter who knows what they are doing and who might have the ability to raise a laugh from an audience over the age of thirteen.

By the way, my son loved it. Aged 11. And now I feel like a bad parent. Not because of the adult content – although that did raise a couple of awkward questions – but because he now thinks that this is what grown-ups should be watching on telly.
-You don’t think anything’s funny, dad, says he when I moaned halfway through.
-I know, I’m a humourless drone who had his funny bone removed at the age of two by a nun wielding a plastic ladle and a dessert fork.
He pauses, gives me THAT stare and then gives me his considered opinion -You’re weird.

In an ideal world? They get hold of Joss Wheedon and the gang at Dollhouse – this is imaginative, well-produced, intelligent television with a script that sparkles with wit while managing to engage and intrigue – and give them every last bit of wallah they have and maybe they will be able to retrieve a few of the licence payers pounds along with their self respect.

‘Nuff said.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


I’m a member of an online forum of Scottish writers and we “blether” on an ongoing basis about a mixture of writerly stuff and other, well...stuff. Sometimes we amuse ourselves by writing up little skits where we take the piss out of writing guidelines or the world or even each other. During one such session a while ago the target was a certain section of our society that seems genetically hampered. Like how they dress, talk, drink, give their kids the worst names possible.

In my defence I didn’t do this to appear superior or anything, it was simply that they were easy targets. And if you don’t think that is any kind of a justification, you can bite me.

Anyhow, this particular session started off when someone mentioned a crazy name they had come across. It reminded me of the midwife’s relief at my son’s birth all those years ago when she heard we were giving him a “normal” name.

The reason for her concern was a movie. A Disney movie where a young Native American squaw had helped to avert a war with foreign soldiers. It seemed to her that following the success of this movie that there was a rash of wee girls in Ayrshire being given the name of Pocahontas. Which might be fine when you live on the other side of the Atlantic, but not when you have a surname beginning with Mac, red hair and the complexion of a ball of putty.

This started me off...

In a shopping mall, on a planet parallel to earth on the time continuum thingy, Pocahontas McGlumpher was glad she’d left the bairn in the pram outside the shop. It wouldn’t do for Burberry to see her in such a state, ‘cos she was pure beeling. The world was pure going tae hell in a pushchair, so it was.

Pocohontas considered herself a prime example of her tribe – and don’t dare try and shorten her name – Pocohontas also considered herself a nice young lady, but shorten her name and she’d chib you. Which her neighbour recently learned to her cost. No sooner was the word “Pokey” out of her piehole and Pocahontas stuck her fist in it.

Pokey, sorry, Pocahontas adhered to the tribe’s traditions: earrings at six months, first child at thirteen and celebrating every weekend with the tribe’s favourite wine – the fortified variety made especially for them by the monks at Buckfast Abbey. The reason for this last tradition kinda passed her by, for there was nothing to mark the weekend as different from the rest of the week.

She’d followed the tribe’s ways for all of her fourteen years and six months on the planet Chavcoats and now to be spoken to by the shop assistant (who was pure old enough to be her mother – must be at least twenty eight!) in such a way, made her blood fizzy.

The shop assistant looked at the young girl before her and ignored the indignant toe-tapping, the crossed-arms and the stream of curses. She’d seen it all before had Hilton Midnight O’Connor. Having everyone able to guess where and when she’d been conceived, at the merest mention of her name, made her able to face anything.

Hilton put on her favourite expression and waited for a pause in the young girl’s impressive list of curses. Hilton so wanted plastic surgery, but it had become so popular the waiting list was forty years and counting. But the shop assistant could wait. She had her ambitions. Or was it pretensions. She was always getting them two mixed up. In the meantime she’d perfected the look of permanent surprise so favoured by the top surgeons, and it was with this face that she stood before Pocohontas.

‘Sweetheart,’ she said as she wiped a fleck of spittle from her cheek, ‘I didn’t think that this was going to be, like, such bad news for you. But it’s the truth. Shellsuits are like, so last century.’ She pulled at Pocohontas’ arm and directed her to the clothes at the front of the shop.

‘Sweetheart, this is what you should be wearing.’ She lifted a pink crop-top from the rail and held it in front of Pocahontas’ chest. ‘You need to, like, make sure you show off some belly. The whiter and fatter, the better.’ She smiled. And thought she should have been given some sort of service award for making the effort. People don’t appreciate how difficult it is to smile when you’re also aiming for a look of surprise. She’d practised the other night in front of the mirror and for the first half hour only managed to look like she was suppressing a fart.

Then Hilton lifted a tracksuit from the rack. It was in a cream sort of check, sort of tartan. ‘And this is like, the piece of resistance, babes. Any self-respecting member of the N-ed Tribe wouldn’t be seen without it.’

‘Does it, like, have a name?’ asked Pocohontas, as she craned her head to check if the bairn was ok. The wee lamb, bless ‘im chose that moment to gob at a passer-by. Some daft old biddy had bent forward into Burberry’s space and got some phlegm on her face for her trouble.

‘Awww,’ Pocahontas said to the shop assistant. ‘Right oan the coupon.’ She said this in the manner a darts announcer might shout, “One hundred and eighty.’

‘The wee soul.’ Hilton agreed, hoping the old biddy would spit back. ‘Anyway, sweetheart,’ by this time she was getting face-ache as well as a headache. Looking surprised and happy all at the same time fair took it out of you.

‘It’s a designer called Burberry. Everybody’s wearing it.’

Pocohontas was incredulous. As incredulous as Mandela McConnachie when she told him he was the father. She looked over at the wean. Looked back at the shop assistant. Eventually she managed to speak.

‘You havin’ a giraffe? Burberry? That would be pure tacky!’

Any resemblance to any persons living or dead is purely coincidental (aye, right) however, if your sensibilities have been offended please register your disgruntlement with our customer services division at http://www.awayandboilyourhead.com/

Friday, 19 June 2009

Rambling On Random

It’s another Friday night and the only thing warming my lap is a computer. Never mind. Or should that read, Never Forget, Back for Good, Patience, Rule the World. Dinnae worry, “Babe” I hope you had “The Greatest Day”. You can “Relight My Fire” another time.

I love hearing about the daft names that people saddle their children with. I heard today about a brother and sister called Catriona and Douglas. The names were of course shortened to Cat and Doug. I should explain to those with the misfortune of not being born Scottish that “Dug” is Scots for Dog.

Enough with the celebrity TV. PLEASE. I guess that’s one of the blessings I’ve received since I’ve taken up blogging – watching less telly. When I did turn it on tonight, what was the first thing to hit me? Celebrity Masterchef. With a groan that was surely audible for miles around I switched over to MTV thinking some RnB would be a better bet – only to find a trailer for Kerry Katona’s “reality” show. WTF, MTV? She might be a nice lassie – and she has the plastic surgery scars to prove it, but really, who cares?
Actually, who can blame these so-called celebrities for clinging on to another five minutes in the spotlight? I might be tempted if I used to be famous and I didn’t have enough cash left to fill the Chelsea Tractor with diesel or pay for my Orange, Mango and Cinnamon tea down at the Deli.
I’m going to run a campaign. It will be called “Turn Off Celebrity TV”. It will be hugely successful. People in their droves will switch channels as soon as a celeb’s haunted and desperate face appears on their box. Then the programmers will get The Message and make interesting television featuring people who actually have talent. And Elvis really is working in that cafe. He fries the eggs and burgers that Marilyn serves up to the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.

From the sports pages it’s looking increasingly likely that Shunsuke Nakamura will no longer be gracing the pitch at Celtic Park. It appears that the Japanese footballing genius is about to sign a 2 year contract with Espanol. Sayanora, Naka. You were an absolute pleasure to watch. (By the way, if you have a spare couple of minutes go to YouTube and search “Japanese Binocular Football”. Swear to god, you will laugh yourself silly)

The most recent download on my ipod? George Benson’s version of Unchained Melody must be the best version of that song, bar none. We love you George, but we loved you more when you looked normal. WTF George? Did you see Barry Manilow’s frozen expression of surprise and think, that’s for me?

I had another one of “those conversations” with the wee fella the other day. In the car after school he was quiet as usual then he asked me about the boy in the local academy who stabbed a fellow pupil and was given a custodial jail sentence.
- The boy who was stabbed must have been a real bully.
- Still doesn’t give the other boy an excuse, son.
- But I’m just saying maybe the boy with the knife was being really bullied, Dad.
- We don’t know what happened, buddy, but you should never, NEVER turn to knives. If somebody bullies you come to me, your mum and your teachers.
- But what if he doesn’t stop?
- Then you kick him in the nuts and run away.
- Daaaad.
- Seriously though. Being bullied is nasty. He might have felt he had nowhere to turn, but think of the situation now. The boy he stabbed nearly died and he’s in jail. He won’t see his mum and dad for years and his Play Station and ALL his games will have to be given away to some charity. (I’m thinking the threat of the latter would have more power)
- How do you think that boy would have felt if the bully had died, Dad?
- I think he would have felt really, really, REALLY shitty.
- Did you say...?
- Yes. Sorry.
- Whoa, Dad, he says and swivels in his seat to face me – you’re making me want to say the freaking F word.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The Answer is...

Got home from work tonight. Had a cup of coffee. Paid the cleaner. Yes, I have a cleaner. I’ve decided the world of books deserves my attention more than my manky house does, so employing a cleaner allows me to devote a little more time to my work while keeping the environmental health from my door.

Cooked a meal – well took stuff out of a package and warmed it in the oven. Took some other stuff out of another package and stuck it in a microwave. Presto. A delicious and nutritious meal containing all the food groups. Again, all time saving life choices are being examined. I am, am I not, a slave to my work? Phoned a friend. Exchanged blethers. Arranged to meet.

Everything done that I needed to, I decided I should write some more of my book. Managed about five hundred words. Which is quite frankly, crap.

I’m at a tricky part of the book. It needs some historical details added. I have the research and the trouble with research is using it to give context to a novel rather than allowing what you feel are “the fascinating facts” to take over. When it does that section of the story reads like a report and becomes one of those bits that your reader skips over. I try to avoid writing those bits. So I have to use the research in a way that gives context, engages the reader and moves the story along. It’s all about “showing and not telling”, innit?

When faced with these conundrums I find that the best tactic is procrastination. I go and do something else and let the boys in the boiler room, ie my sub-conscious, come up with a solution. No, really.

That is a long and convoluted explanation for this blog... needing a distraction I was looking through some old emails and found a list of exam answers where the students, having not bothered to read the syllabus went for invention rather than accuracy in their answers. This either takes a certain kind of intelligence or a level of idiocy that is beyond even the most obtuse, grass-chewing village idiot.

1) Classical StudiesQuestion: Name one of the early Romans' greatest achievements.Answer: Learning to speak Latin

2) BiologyQuestion: What is a fibula?Answer: A little lie

3) General StudiesQuestion: Jeff has been asked to collect data about the amount of television his friends watch. Think of an appropriate question he could ask them.Answer: How much TV do you watch?

4) Classical StudiesQuestion: What were the circumstances of Julius Caesar's death?Answer: Suspicious ones

5) BiologyQuestion: Give an example of a smoking-related diseaseAnswer: Early death

6) GeographyQuestion: What are the Pyramids?Answer: The Pyramids are a large mountain range which splits France and Spain

7) BiologyQuestion: What is a plasmid?Answer: A high definition television

8) EnglishQuestion: In Pride and Prejudice, at what moment does Elizabeth Bennet realise her true feelings for Mr Darcy?Answer: When she sees him coming out of the lake.

9) GeographyQuestion: What do we call a person forced to leave their home perhaps by a natural disaster or war, without having another home to go to.Answer: Homeless

10) Religious StudiesQuestion: Christians only have one spouse, what is this called?Answer: Monotony

11) BiologyQuestion: In the Hawaiian Islands, there are around 500 different species of fruit fly. Give a reason for thisAnswer: There are approximately 500 varieties of fruit

12) PhysicsQuestion: Name an environmental side effect of burning fossil fuelsAnswer: Fire

13) GeographyQuestion: Define the term "intensive farming".Answer: It is when a farmer never has a day off.

14) MathsQuestion: Change 7/8 to a decimalAnswer: 7.8

15) GeographyQuestion: What does the term "lava" mean?Answer: A pre-pubescent caterpillar

16) General StudiesQuestion: Redundancy is often an unpleasant and unexpected event in someone's life. Give two examples of unexpected life events.Answer: 1) death 2) Reincarnation

17) HistoryQuestion: What was introduced in the Children's Charter of 1908?Answer: Children

18) Business StudiesQuestion: Explain the word "wholesaler".Answer: Someone who sells you whole items - eg, a whole cake

19) GeographyQuestion: The race of people known as Malays come from which country?Answer: Malaria

20) GeographyQuestion:What artificial waterway runs between the Mediterranean and Red Seas?Answer: The Sewage Canal

21) GeographyQuestion: Name one famous Greek landmark. Answer: The most famous Greek landmark is the Apocalypse

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Introducing...guest blogger, Sara Bain

I thought it might be fun to have a a different perspective now and again in the pages of May Contain Nuts. The first guest spot goes to Sara Bain, a talented writer and a wonderfully generous and supportive friend to other writers. Over to Sara...

Write Place, Write Time

When I first began writing my epic fantasy 14 years ago, I had no idea that the journey would take me to more unreachable shores than the map I had invented.

Many writers will affirm that, when those first lines are on the page, the story takes on a life of its own and the astounded author can only sit back and let it unfold beneath the finger tips. From the onset, my enthusiasm and passion for my story grew each day. Juggling jobs, kids, housework and dinner with one hand and a keyboard with the other, there was not a day that went by that I did not steal a few moments or hours to write.

I am the ultimate optimist: when the National Lottery first started, I bought a ticket in absolute certainty that I would win the jackpot. When the six numbers were called in the first televised show, I was sure that the announcers had made a mistake when none of my numbers came up — not one of them. I suppose this terrible disappointment should have taught me a lesson in realism but, even before my precious manuscript was finished, I sent it off to a publisher in New York, convinced that they would beg me into entering into a three-book deal by return of post. When the polite rejection came, I could hardly believe what I was reading.

Shrugging it off and trusting that perhaps New York was not quite ready for me, I telephoned a publisher of a London fantasy imprint and was horrified at what she told me. The editor, in her brutal description, enlightened me on the difference between the solicited and the unsolicited manuscript in the same way that a prosecution lawyer differentiates between an eminent judge and a low-down, good for nothing, psychopathic child murderer. It was then I learned about the dreaded slush pile — the pauper’s grave of aspiring authors — an unhallowed place where the filth of dirty little non-entities, ie the manuscripts of unpublished writers, takes up precious floor space.

Outraged and eager for a second opinion, I telephoned another publisher who re-affirmed the testimony of the first but encouraged me to find an agent. Agents, she said, were far more likely to get you a publishing deal than going it alone and only take a tiny 15 to 20 per cent of your tiny royalties which, in turn, amount to a tiny percentage of your tiny sales. She recommended that I purchase a copy of the current edition of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and choose an agent to represent me.

She said: “From your sample chapters, it looks as though you can certainly write, the characterisation’s great and I like the story. Get yourself an agent and I’ll consider the manuscript.”

Me (in tiny voice): “But why do I need an agent if you are already expressing an interest in it?”

Her: “All writers should have an agent. You need someone to negotiate on your behalf. Sorry.”

Perhaps, if I pretended that I was an agent, she wouldn’t have put the phone down so quickly.

I did as she told me and sent samples to three agents. One of them said no; another said lovely things about my book, how well it was written and how great the story was but that he was into stage-writing and couldn’t take me on; and the third didn’t bother to answer me at all.

A change of tactics was drastically needed, so I sent one sample page, a synopsis and covering letter to a big London publishing house and squealed with delight when the editor asked me to send the full manuscript. On hindsight, I really should have finished the book before sending it off and should have at least revised it once, but enthusiasm extinguished all good sense and, of course, she ended up rejecting it.

Many chapters later, I batted off the moths and sent it out to a few choice publishers or agents and received varying degrees of refusal in return. One told me that no one was buying new fantasy these days; one used the excuse that they were “a bit full up with fantasy at the moment”; one even told me that, although my manuscript exactly fitted the bill of their publishing ethos, their offices had been hit by a hurricane and they were too busy relocating to take on any more manuscripts — now that’s what I call an excuse!

My latest effort, about three years ago, was to walk about 20 blocks of New York’s Fifth Avenue (which is about a thousand miles in three-inch heels) and hand over my first three chapters and synopsis to one of the editors of a fantasy publishing house. She was polite in a non-committal kind of way and didn’t appear at all impressed that I had come all the way from Scotland just to present her the manuscript in person (which wasn’t exactly true, but how could she have known that?) A spectacular delivery via Fed Ex made me feel quite important, even though it carried with it a covering letter saying "thanks, but no thanks".

A few more sequels down the line and I have learned that many authors, like artists, find a publisher purely by being in the right place at the right time. Even if the stars did converge to cause such a fortuitous turn of fate, your sample chapters must then land on the right desk, ie an editor or underling who can empathise with your work. Should your proposal get this far (and this is only half way to the moon on a Honda 50 by comparison), then your full manuscript must run the gauntlet of an external reader who must also be someone who likes your work. Say the reader loves it: the editor will then need to speak with the editorial department, the marketing department, accounts, circulation, the shop keeper down the road and their next door neighbours, as well as take a look at the future lists which are fully-packed with spurious biographies from Z-list celebrities up to the year 3001.

There’s a moral to this tale: enthusiasm is a curable psychosis, the treatment for which is the bitter pill of rejection. I, however, refuse to swallow my medication. I have taken the time to reflect, re-write and get things perfect before I dare to tackle the great wall of publishing again. It might take another year or so, but another editor once told me to keep trying and don’t ever give up: “a good book will always find itself on the shelves” he said — that’s if it ever finds its way out of the slush pile, the odds of which still remain lower than winning it big on the lottery. I suppose you have to be in it to win it.

Sara Bain is a journalist, writer and photographer based in south west Scotland. Her evocative, intelligent and witty blog is called Life’s An Idiom. Do yourself a favour and have a wee peep. The address is - http://lifesanidiom.blogspot.com

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Celebrate Ayrshire

“Interesting” is an interesting word. As is “nice”. They are both dipped in positivity, while at the same time being non-committal. Yet there are times when no other words will do the job. Take today at the “Celebrate Ayrshire” event in the grounds of Culzean Castle. It was both nice and interesting.

The whole event was part of Ayrshire’s year-long run of events for The Homecoming. If this event has passed you by, this is the Scottish government’s big thing for 2009 to remind the rest of the world what a fabulous country Scotland is. The message is (more or less) if you haven’t managed to visit, get your arse over here, you’ll love it.

Early summer is often the best part of the year, weather-wise in this corner of the globe and to prove it the sun was in attendance. As were we Makar Press Poets (Sheila Templeton, Rowena M Love and moi). We were part of the entertainment throughout the day as a variety of groups showed off their wares. Strathclyde Police and Fire Brigade had displays as did Ayrshire Beekeepers, Organic gardeners from Stair, Ayrshire Ice Cream from Catrine House, and a Rare Breed butchers was flogging rare breed burgers and steaks.

There was also an archery exhibition and few others bibs and bots. Among the bibs and bots was a cow. A muckle beastie tethered to a trailer. Why? Not sure. The cow, let’s call her Jessie was just hangin’ out taking in some rays and nibblin’ a few shoots of grass. She was positioned next to the ice cream stand so maybe they were going for a before and after thing. Sheila was for standing behind Jessie with an arrow pointing to her udders, while I was to make the milking motion, with Rowena bringing up the rear (so to speak) making shivering shapes and noises. We decided this might be misconstrued and decided to satisfy ourselves with oodles of the after product.

The Marquee was where you could find the poetry and we featured in 20 minute time sandwiches between Maybole Pipe Band and Johnstone Silver Band throughout the day. The day ran from 11am till 4pm. We also had a Robert Burns impersonator kitted out in the gear we’ve come to associate with Burns, complete with ponytailed wig and a ploughman poet’s sideburns and he pitched in now and again with the likes of Tam O’Shanter and My Luv is Like a Red, Red Rose.

The presence of “Rabbie Burns” had a confusing effect on some people. Not with Rabbie himself, but with us. One Irish guy said that one of my poems was so good he thought it was a modern rendering of a Burns classic. Which was nice (oh, there’s that word again) but we had to state on several occasions that we were readin our own original work.

This next comment might be tantamount to treason, but Scottish poetry has more to offer than just oor Rab. Wonderful as he is and absolutely something to be proud of, the danger is that as a nation we concentrate on him just a tad too much. There are a great number of fine writers living and working in Scotland today who could do with some attention and the wherewithal to make a decent living. By all means we should celebrate Burns and the impact he has had on the world, but let’s listen to other voices. Right, that’s me off my soapbox.

It is fair to say that I’m knackered. It takes energy to read poetry in these surroundings, dontcha know. Normally our readings are in confined spaces and we build up an atmosphere in which we and the audience feed off each other’s energy. Reading in a marquee to a transient audience is quite a different matter. First off the acoustics are shit. Secondly, at an invited reading the audience tends to have chosen to be there; in this kind of scenario the attendees were mostly taking a seat and shelter from the sun. There was also the odd barking dog, screaming child and whoosh from the flames at the Fire Brigade stand to compete with.

To be fair, there were lots of people who fully appreciated what we were doing and clearly enjoyed it, particularly earlier in the day. But there were also lots of bemused expressions. Some of which set Sheila off on a teenage giggle. You could see the thought – but it diznae rhyme, passing across some people’s expressions.

There I was reading my poem about the woman whose teeth fell out when she was eating a scone (I cover such a wide topic range. Nothing is sacred, not even the regal scone) which normally gets a big laugh. I got to the funny bit and this elderly couple right at the front (who had just arrived, nursing an ice cream cone each) were looking at me as if I had just announced that Christmas and Easter were changing months, but Santa and the Easter Bunny would stay as is. They were sitting mouths open wondering what the hell was going on. I swear I could see the vanilla ice cream melting among their fillings.

Being brutally honest, by the time it came to the last set, I really couldn’t be arsed. After 4 hours of intermittent poetry readings I’d had enough. I was all for untethering Jessie and asking for a ride home. Sheila was on the fence (yes, you were) and Rowena was up on her feet brandishing one of her collections, with all the energy of a zealot.

However, I am nothing if not a pro and we performed our last set for the afternoon.

Did I enjoy my day? Yes. It was nice. And interesting.

Saturday, 13 June 2009


The first “Don’t Let the Door Hit you on the Arse on The Way Out Awards" go to....

...whoever ordered the giant dryer at the local swimming pool. It’s a huge red thing you stand in and for £1 it blasts you with hot air after your dip. How lazy is that? How much energy do you need to wield a towel? A supplementary award goes to the chumps waiting in line to use the dryer. Two minutes or more standing shivering wrapped in a towel when said towel could have been put to better use. Stating the obvious here, but by the time they waited they could have been dry already.

...the policeman who fined the local man £50. This poor fella exited a shop after a small purchase. As he walked he pocketed his change (a £10 note) and his receipt. Sadly, the note fell out of his pocket. The policeman spotted this and tapped the shopper on the shoulder. Said shopper was relieved that his money was spotted falling, as being on social benefits he couldn’t afford to lose £10. Once the money was safely tucked into his wallet, the policeman slapped him with the £50 fine. For littering. True.

...whoever came up with the word “unveiled” when a football (soccer) player or manager is newly signed to a team and introduced as such to the world’s media. I always have an image of somebody standing there covered up by a piece of cloth and said cloth being whipped off to huge fanfare. Can you imagine the size of cloth that will be needed by Real Madrid to unveil Christiano Ronaldo? The size of his head? They’re gonna need a marquee. The worrying thing is that we are now entering the silly season when players and managers will be signed to their new teams on a daily basis. All of them will be announced as being “unveiled” by a media that really needs to stop using this fecking word.

...the organisers of the recent Air Sex competition in New York. You’ve heard of Air Guitar and possibly Air Drums? Air Sex is when the sad bastard, sorry competitor acts as if he/ she is having sex with an invisible partner. We are however to be grateful for small mercies as the numpties/sorry competitors keep their clothes on throughout. "Air sex is the only kind of sex I usually have anyway," said Travis Green, 20 a recent fuckwit, sorry competitor. No surprises there then.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Brown Stuff

Do you like the new look of the blog? I was thinking I needed to get rid of the brown stuff and I was too scared to do anything about it. I worried if I changed something everything would vanish. But it didn’t. Go me. (And thanks to Marley for the prompt.)

Talking about the brown stuff, Gordon Ramsay’s up to his gonads in it, isn’t he. Personally I don’t hold with all this bad language. It shows a lack of breeding, poor vocabulary and is just fucking disgusting.

Actually, as a writer this whole issue fascinates me. These are just words, aren’t they? And words are our tools. If it creates an affect we should use it, right?

Over the years of being a member of and running creative writing classes there are a number of subjects that regularly come up for debate. We’ve already looked at one of these earlier on in this blog – what’s wrong with writing poetry in rhyme - other issues that arise with metronomic regularity (eesh, a four syllable word, I’m going to have to sleep that one off) include; Should We Use Swear Words in our Writing, and Who’s Making the Tea?

The answer to the question of the tea is normally whoever feels an overriding need to please everyone else.

The answer to the swearing question? It depends.

Emotive little syllables “fuck” and “cunt”, aren’t they? Particularly the latter. As you read them just now, you would have had some sort of response. Were you shocked? Horrified? Did you laugh? Did you feel like giving me a lecture to desist, refrain, gonnae no?
Being a writer, a User of Words, should we not harness that effect?

Stephen King in his excellent book “On Writing” (if you want to publish in popular fiction you should read this) argues that there is a contract between the writer and the reader and if the writer doesn’t write in a way that is true to their character they are breaking said contract. This means that if Jimmy the joiner hits his thumb with a hammer, he exclaims in a manner suitable to his character. Already you have a mental image of who Jimmy the joiner is, don’t you? Would he say, ‘damn and blast, that jolly well hurt?’ Or would he give out a yell along the lines of ‘Ya fuckin’ basturt!’

Some writers I know manage to go through whole careers while avoiding the F word. Me? I can’t help myself. While speaking I rarely use expletives. When I do it’s either for a laugh, or when I’m furious – and in that situation nothing quite cuts it like a good swearie word. However, get me writing and the F words flow like champagne in a UK Member of Parliament’s second home.

I recently sent one of my brothers an email in which I was lamenting various publishers who’ve recently shown incredibly bad taste to turn my novels down. In this email to my younger brother I used the F word. Just one solitary, itsy-bitsy “fuck” escaped the internal editor. My brother replied saying that my use of this one word had quite an impact. He has hardly ever heard me swear, while every other (male) member of my family uses “fuck” like it’s the only qualifier that works. In effect, when they swear it’s like verbal wallpaper. But when I do, my brother says, it has power. (I’m liking that. MM the power swearer)

The first time I met my agent was in the restaurant in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. She’d come over from Amsterdam and this was one place in Glasgow she could find her way to without getting lost. By way of setting the scene...she’s a real lady, my agent. Classy. We were discussing my crime novels and potential publishers, but first she had gone through both books very carefully and wanted to edit certain things. She moved from discussing one scene she felt needed to be cut to saying, ‘...and here, there’s too much fucking.’

Dear reader, I nearly choked on my Earl Grey (what can I say, I was pretending to have some class). We decided that it worked to give my main character such a verbal tic, but everyone else should leave it the fuck alone.

As a wee sidebar, while I was typing this my son (aged 11 and newly fascinated with all things to do with bodily functions/ bad language/ boobs) was looking over by shoulder. He pointed at a line and said – you spelled that wrong, dad. Bastard isn’t spelled like that. His hand shot to cover his mouth as if I was going to throw soap in it. Now, I would have been quite the hypocrite if I had given him a row, wouldn’t I? (But we are, aren’t we – parents - and that’s a whole other blog.) Then followed yet another debate about how kids shouldn’t use bad language we think they are better than that and if adults wanted to use it then that was up to them and stop asking me that same bloody question every day I’m tired of this debate gotoyourbedrightnowyoungman.

To swear or not to swear? What I’ve taken a long time to say is that less is more...more or less.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Who Me?

Apparently, and this must be gospel because it was on the internet, there are 184 people in the UK going by the name of Michael Malone. In the U.S. there are 1134. Go me.

There are also a few of us who write. Most notably the American, Michael Malone who wrote First Lady, Uncivil Seasons and Time’s Witness (to name but three). Thing is, I like my name. It’s quite a cool name for a writer, innit? As far as the poetry is concerned I’m happy to publish under this name, but when I publish my novels I may need to consider a pseudonym. (See, that’s me thinking positively)
I first came across Michael (U.S) Malone in the eighties with Dingley Falls. Kinda forgot about him until about four/ five years ago when I picked up First Lady in a bookshop. I saw the author’s name and picked it up. Well you would, wouldn’t you? Seeing your name on the spine of a novel is a moment to cherish. Even if the moment is vicarious. I can pretend, can't I?
Now for a little piece of backstory.
At this point I was writing the first of my crime novels. I was at the stage where I had established my main character and I now had to consider how my victims were going to die. (I know, gruesome eh?) Just what would my killer’s M.O. be? The book has religious undertones, set partly in a Catholic orphanage – me and my past, we have issues – so I thought that the killer should have a religious theme. This of course has been done in the past, so I wanted something a little different. The idea that came to me was that the killer should stage the dead bodies and in doing so replicate the death of a different saint each time.

Researching this was problematic. Any books or websites I came across were happy to mention the saints and their lives, but their deaths were glossed over or totally ignored.
Anywho, at this point I picked up the Michael U.S. Malone’s First Lady. His picture was on the inside cover. Not only do we share a name and a writing genre but we share a hairstyle (bald) and a beard (goatee). He was an older me!
I read the first page. Well-written, atmospheric, characters I wanted to know more about. I buy the book. Take it home. Curl up on the settee while my son watches cartoons. For the next six hours. Don’t worry, he’s used to it. And he has the American accent to prove it.
Forget the other coincidences I mentioned earlier, I find something that is truly spooky. Michael U.S. Malone has a religious theme in this novel. His killer stages the dead bodies. He replicates the death of a different saint each time.
Cue spooky music.
A week later (more spooky music) I receive an email from a bookshop in Wisconsin. Never been. Wouldn’t know how to get there. The bookshop manager loves my books; especially the latest, First Lady and she would love it if I would attend the shop and give a reading. My expenses would be met of course. For a moment, dear reader I was tempted. My solitary visit to the States so far is a weekend in New York. How cool would that be? We even kinda looked alike, give or take a decade. Return flights from Glasgow to Wisconsin; a few days/ a week even in a quality hotel? It would have been rude to refuse, yes? Then my conscience pitched in... at what point would you tell her you were not the Michael Malone she thought you were, the grovelling little shit asked. Before, during, after the reading or on the way back to the airport?
Back to the name. When my agent contracts THAT deal, what will I go with? Any ideas?
ps. Michael Malone (U.S.) if you haven't read him is excellent. Well done, Mikey boy. Keeping the standards going.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Hurdling Mondays

It’s always a bit sore for those of us who are wage slaves, innit? Going back to work on a Monday. What got me up and at’em this morning and what kept me going through the day? (Apart from the opportunity to do a good days work for my employers, obviously.)
Thoughts of the weekend. Sunday was an interesting day joining in the Pitch Party at How Publishing Really Works. (http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com/)I was a guest blogger and received a few hits from it. People arrived at May Contain Nuts from all over the globe yesterday; Brazil, Tel Aviv and Kilwinning. There were a number of folks from North America too. Welcome. Bem-vindo. ברוך הבא. Howzitgaun, doll.
I also got a chance to check out some excellent blogs that I will mos-def (I am so down with the kids) be keeping up with.
I was sooooo well organised this morning – and I think for the first time in my adult life, I hung a washing out before going to work. Go me. Regulars here will know I am no great shakes in the housework front. It’s fair to say if I ever had a break-in the burglars would have to do a tidy-up first. As for the washing, it provided a bit of a mystery (cue spooky music). You know how people complain that they lose socks? Well my washing machine ...wait for it...breeds vests. Small white ones. For fear of shredding whatever miniscule amount of street-cred I possess let me add that I haven’t worn one since I was 11. (Vests, short trousers AND wellington boots – what were they thinking?)
Driving up a country road to work my eyes were drawn to a scene in a field. A farmer was strolling along a field in his jaunty blue overalls. He was being followed by a group of young cows – a gaggle? They were so not a herd. Anyway, they were like ten feet behind the farmer in a tight wee group, keeping the exact same distance from him for the full two or three minutes they were in my sight. In my mind the farmer stopped suddenly and so did the cows. Then he started up again. So did the cows. He stopped. So did the cows. Well, it made my journey to work a wee bit more interesting.
The day passes fairly quickly. I do stuff. I talk to people about stuff. Go home.
On the way home from work, I was held up by a group of bikers. Two learners and an instructor. Nothing, let me repeat that NOTHING, would get me on the back of a motorbike, short of a six-book deal from a major publishers and a movie tie-in. In fact it’s fair to say I’d rather trim my pubes with a blow-torch.
Had a look at the work in progress tonight. A quick word count and I realised that I’d written 6,000 words since coming home from Cliff Cottage. That’s not too shabby. If I was writing full-time that could be done in day, but I’m giving myself a break – I have a mortgage to pay and at the moment my writing doesn’t do that. (I just wish it would FECKING hurry up.) I’m not bitter. Anywho, I had a read through and it actually reads better than I expected. Sometimes I write stuff, look at it and think – what bastard stole in to my house and wrote utter crap on my computer? Othertimes I’m like – whoa, am I a genius or what? Publishers,publishers wherefore art thou, publishers? (Cos they all speak pseudo-shakespearean.) Today was closer to the latter. This is me feeling smug. A wee sidebar for those of you just launching into your magnum opus – accept the credit, but don’t take the blame.
I’m now off to the gym to work off some fatness – and an eight pack of twirls. Cheerio. Adeus. להתראות. See ya.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Life Lessons

As a parent I feel it is my duty to ensure that my son has a strong understanding of certain human concepts and how we each fit into society. One such human concept of keen importance I feel, is that of sharing. This quality is key to the human experience, particularly when chocolate is in the house.

We are of course talking sharing on the level of one to you, two to me.

This week’s lesson is being developed with the visual (yet rapidly vanishing) aid of an 8 pack of Cadbury’s Twirl. These have overtaken the firm family favourite of Maltesers for the moment. We had, I must admit a brief flirtation with Giant Buttons, but are now settling on Twirls.

By the way – Maltesers, The Lighter Way to Enjoy Chocolate? My fat hairy arse, not when you eat them in quantities that could fill a pillow. They should really warn you about that.

Which leads me onto an unfortunate side effect of eating chocolate in large quantities. ..
Who knew? ...you look in the mirror and say to yourself, holy mars bars, Batman, you could do with losing ten pounds. Then someone you used to consider a friend sends you a photograph taken on their digital camera after a poetry reading (the work of Satan these cameras, if you ask me...the damn thing is there right in front of your eyes in seconds) and you think, Holy Cadbury's Clusters, Batman, scratch ten pounds, we’re talking twenty.

I really must go back to healthy eating. But who will carry on my teachings? The wee fella still hasn’t fully got the picture on this sharing malarkey.

It has just occurred to me that there is an additional lesson he needs to learn - how to cope with disappointment. When he comes round tomorrow, there isn’t a piece of chocolate left in the house.

He simply has to learn these things. It really is for his own good.

Ps. While I was writing this my TV was providing background music from a digital music channel. I was two minutes into “It’s Raining Men” by Geri Halliwell before I realised. I’m now off to scrub my eyes with vim and stick a pencil deep into each ear.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Happy Days

What are you doing reading this? You should be on www.crimesquad.com to read all of the excellent reviews there. There’s a fresh batch for some books that are released this month. Do you remember I went into paroxysms of delight the other week when I had all those books to read? Some of the results of that reading orgy have now been posted. Hopefully you will be intrigued enough to go and buy one of them. If you do, come back and let me know what you bought and if you agreed with the review.

Just lost 10 minutes of my life watching “Fool’s Gold” with Matthew McConnaghy and Kate Hudson. I was feeling lazy after a long and fruitless day and thought that a frivolous movie would be a good idea. The movie comes under the heading Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time. How on earth does this crap get made? What did this make at the box office, about two shillings?

Whaddya know? There I was feeling like an old letch talking about the M&S bra poster and the gorgeous pair of breasts therein, when that grand dame of British journalism, The Times has gone and published an article about them. See, I'm not a letch at all, I am SO of the moment. My finger is on the pulse. I am the Samuel Pepys of my day. I am so full of shit.

For the record they belong to a young lady by the name of Natalie Suliman. Apparently this young lady’s 32E assets are entirely natural. But, The Times complains, the green silk number in the picture is not that good a fit on her because the front of the bra, where the bow is, does not sit flat against the chest as it should, and the cups are too small. For education purposes only you understand, I have posted a copy of the photo here.
Loving the sunshine, by the way and I'm not going to whinge even for a second, that it's too hot.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Sex Lessons

I find that when I pick my son up from school and try to start off a conversation about his school day it goes something like this...
- How was school today?
- Fine.
- What happened? Anything exciting?
- Nuthin’
- Nothing happened all day?
- Nuthin’
- All day?
- Nuthin’

So sometimes I go for the silent approach hoping that whatever is going on in his mind will pop out. Tonight it went like this.
- Girls get periods, dad. And they’ve not to worry if they see blood down there.
- Oh. Right. You got told this today?
- Yup. (some giggles)
- What else did you learn?
- Welllll, if the penis (he makes an elaborate show of pointing at my groin)...
- I know where it is, son.
- (giggles) if the penis and the vagina ...he searches for the right word...collide
- Collide? (I’m giggling now)
- Some stuff comes out. Sperm. I can’t believe I got it wrong, dad (more giggles)
- Got what wrong? They test you on this stuff?
- Sperm gets made in your BALLS, dad. (He loves saying this word and says it at every opportunity). Each sperm is about the size of a grain of sand. And there’s MILLIONS of them. (I’m sure he’s now got an image of filling a sandpit from his penis.)
- You realise you don’t do these things until you’re in a committed relationship?
- Yuk (he blows a raspberry)Don’t worry, dad (he reaches over and pats my hand) I’m not doing that. Ever.