Friday, 30 October 2009

Kentucky Freakin' Fried

After a swim, the wee fella is usually starving and I’m usually in full-on lazy, let’s get take-out mode. Not a good combo. On you go, son, I say, have a swim, get some exercise and then we’ll fill your gut full of cheap carbohydrates. I am a bad parent. Nonetheless, I remain undeterred and full of post-swimming sloth.

The problem is that I LOVE KFC. Did you get that? I heart KFC. The problem part of this comes from the fact that I hate poor service... and that’s consistently what I get every time I visit my local store. I can cheerfully claim that the Ayr store has the worst service I have experienced since I first had some hard-earned to spare. My last experience was so bad, dear reader that after this week’s post-swim laziness got to work on my brain, I took the wee fella to McDonalds. Aye, I know. Shock horror. No need to throw the plates out with the dishwater, I hear you say. But there you have it. I've sold out.

The last time I visited KFC, Ayr there was a queue of about eight people and only 1 of the three tills had someone in attendance. The whole thing about convenience food is the convenience, right? It ain’t very convenient if in the time you wait you could have visited the supermarket, driven home, prepared the ingredients and served up a wholesome meal. And of course every five minutes you are stood standing in said queue you debate with yourself – I should just go, I’ll give it another five minutes. And of course five minutes pass with all the fury of a feather floating in a weak draft. Then you say to yourself, I’ve waited all this time, I may as well stay. Meanwhile, the wee fella is moaning in a theatrical bellow – dad, what’s taking so long? As if it’s my freakin’ fault. The other adults around us are wearing expressions that are the very definition of “Stoic” and I’m thinking, why don’t you dumb fucks go somewhere else? But of course they are on the same internal journey that I am.

Now I can see the till. The ...let’s give him a name...the Operative at the till could give a flying fried chicken wing (see what I did there) that every eye in the room is on him and they are all now being switched from “Stoic” to “Glare”. The reason for this lack of concern, I assume, is because he has a horrific case of acne and its so bad the whole world can go fuck itself. Try and imagine someone took a straw, filled it with a tomato sauce and then sprayed it with care over his t-zone. Then they left him out in the sun to dry. Then they painted a wee yellow dot at the centre of each “spot”.

By now the chicken cooking crew are running out of chicken so the Operative takes a person’s order, passes their receipt to the side and then takes the next person’s order. A wee girl swaps her chicken cooking apron for an Operative’s badge complete with the appellation “Trainee” and walks out front to help.

Chaos ensues.

The trainee takes on an appearance of concern and stands in the one place and looks from the Operative to the chicken to the crew in the back cooking the chicken and from there to the queue who to a man are silently willing her to Freakin’ Move. She’s giving gormless a whole new flavour. Eventually, she rouses herself to action and places some orders on some trays and some people get to carry their food over to a table, relief making them appear about ten years younger.

The queue is now stretched to the door and every time I glance over my shoulder to see someone else has joined I want to scream at them - Get out. Go. Go now before the Crap Service/ Chicken Hunger trap gets you. I however, am caught as if my feet are glued to the floor.

A woman from the middle of the queue loses patience and walks up to the counter. She ignores the people who are next in line to be served and demands that more people are brought out to help man the counter. The operative looks at her and shrugs. He purses his lips. Well, he sticks his bottom lip out and then he goes back to take the order from the next person in the queue. The woman learns her lesson –that basically she has as much importance as a bluebottle drowning in batter – and chastened she returns to her place in the queue like she has been sent there by the headmaster rather than a spotted youth who has yet to master the art of making facial expressions.

My beard has grown a centimetre, the wee fella’s belly has shrunk by the same measurement and eventually we reach the counter. I lean against it to make sure it is solid and not a mirage brought about by chicken and batter deprivation. The operative looks in my direction. Chews the inside of his lip in what I assume passes for “May I take your order”. So pleased that I have actually reached the stage where a meal is actually achievable, I pass on the opportunity to tell him what I think of the appalling service and I give him my order. He reads the cost of my food from the till and I realise that this is the first time I have heard him speak. Feeling that I should offer some form of congratulation I hand over the cash. He gives me a receipt and looks at the person behind me. A look that I assume is meant to mean “next please”. He is yet to look me in the eye.

I need to relax my jaw. It’s clamped shut with the effort of not shouting at someone. I turn to the wee fella and time I suggest we come here will you slam my hand in the car door? My son looks at me with that expression... and I experience a moment of recognition – a moment of pure horror. I look from him to the Operative and a voice screams in my mind. Noooooo.

Some folks behind me have their order taken in the same desultory manner. But the trainee has risen to the challenge and more and more people actually get their food within an almost reasonable time.

Then I realise that people who’d had their order taken after me are getting their meals before me. Hunger has made my mind like a steel trap, has it not. Hey, I say, where’s mine? The Trainee blushes. The Operative maintains the same expression he has worn since I walked in the door. In Scotland we have a great word for it; glaikit. (Pronounced glay-kit, it means stupid beyond measure) They look at the receipts and ignore the chicken free zone in front of me. They confer. And agree that I am right and the Operative fills a tray with my order. He has a slight and temporary squint in one eye that I optimistically read as an apology.

Before I pick up the tray, I assess my order.

- There’s only TWO pieces of chicken here, I say and wonder who the crazy person is that has taken over my voice and added a strong dose of Ayrshire to it along with a thick lacing of crabbit. - I ordered a three piece meal. Three. Piece. Meal. (I can only speak in a staccato manner because I’m hyperventilating). There’s only ...two... pieces.

Bawheid, (pronounced baw – to rhyme with raw – heed; meaning your head is a ball and you are stupid beyond measure) formally known as the Operative looks at my tray and then looks at my receipt. With alacrity – oh, okay – with a movement that suggests he might have the ability to act with alacrity if say, the building was on fire and the person in front of him was stealing his mobile phone and his ipod, he dumps a chicken thigh on my tray.

I turn and join the wee fella at a table. The first piece of chicken makes it down the back of my throat without being chewed. In fact not one part of the chicken touches one part of the inside of my mouth. My son looks at me in a way that Bart might have looked at Homer and asks,

- Dad, when do I get to shut your hand in the car door?

Monday, 26 October 2009

Happy 100th

100 posts. Who would have thought it? A small milestone in the life of May Contain Nuts. And you can blame R J Ellory (excuse me while I shamelessly name-drop). ‘Twas he who commented after I sent him an email that I would be good at blogging. Before the words had settled in that space other people might call a brain, I was off and blog-running.

The picture above (BTW, ignore the words) is there... just because, if you must ask. Besides I promised Bill Kirton. Between you and me he has a fixation. This is me whispering << the man needs help>>. I, on the other hand? I am much more civilised. You’ll barely notice me staring.

In the interests of equality I should have something for the ladies. I am very interested in equality, but much less interested in the male torso, so if you want a cheap thrill girls you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Anyway, where was I? Yes. Blogging. It’s mad innit? You free-write all this nonsense – spew forth the unedited and only slightly fictionalised (that’s my get-out clause and you’ll just have to guess which parts are made up, if any) contents of your brain and call it that strange mono-syllablic word. A blog.

I started off without much of a plan. I would just write stuff about the things I cared about, like books, movies, writing and my family and see what happened.

And what happened was a shitload of fun. Well it was for me. Oh, how I laugh. And I got all these people coming to read words wot I wrote. People have popped in from places as diverse as Brazil, Denmark, Indonesia, Khazakzstan, Greece (Hi, Sarah), North America... and I could go on. But I won’t. Being a modest kinda chap.

Talking about family, the wee fella could care less that I write about him. I let him see one of our conversations that I had relayed to my (worldwide – get me) audience.

-right. OK, he said barely lifting his sightline away from Spongebob who was chasing Patrick the starfish across the TV screen.

- I don’t want you to think that I’m talking about you behind your back.

-um, ehm, right, OK. He grins at the telly.

-and I’m doing it from a position of love.

-right, Dad. I get it...He has that tone (his mother’s). He looks over and that photo attracts his attention. He looks at me – you’re obsessed, he says and goes back to the TV.

I also tried to make sure that the Queen of Chaos knew what I was doing to her good name. She doesn't have a P.C. so I opened up the blog online to let her read it. She got as far as me describing her as gorgeous and fun... and then she asked if she could google her latest ailment.

I try, dear reader, I try.

What else has happened is that I’ve made some new pals. OK, they are distributed all over the globe (see earlier comments about WORLDWIDE audience) but hey, nice people invite me, briefly into their lives and react to words wot I write. Ordinary people across the world making a connection. 

Way. Beyond. Cool.

I had thought about having a party and offering you all wine and cake, but I find virtual wine to be a tad on the dry side and the cake to be a wee bitty plain. I do feel we should not allow this moment to pass without pause. So, to celebrate our tiny space on that giant gibbering mass that is the worldwide web, I’m inviting you to leave me a comment. About anything. Something random. An unknown fact about you. This is especially for those of you out there who regularly read the post and then pass know who you silent and wordless as a silent and wordless thing.

Don’t be giving me that old chestnut ... adopts woe- is- me tone ...“I can’t work out how to do it”. Just leave me a frickin’ message, ok?

Then you can go back to doing the silent and wordless thing if you want.

100 posts. Go me. Yay us.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Hit an' Miss

*Listening to BBC Radio 2 on the way home – eesh, I’m getting old. Shirley Bassey was being interviewed before her big concert. They were discussing the lyrics to Diamonds Are Forever and in particular the lines...

“Hold one up and then caress it,

Touch it, stroke it and undress it”

Dame Shirl avowed that she had no idea what these words might have meant other than sheer enjoyment of the hard, shiny rocks. Aye. Right. And I’ve got a nice row of shiny buttons the length of my spine.

*To the Italian guy at the gym tonight. Get over yourself, Dude. If I ever see him on the street I fully expect to see him pushing (at just the right angle and with the correct lighting) a full length mirror on wheels.

*I always find it interesting to learn how people find this blog. Remember the one from Italy who found me by searching for “Hairy Man Showing Nuts”? A new one that had me smiling recently was less suggestive. “Mike Malone and Bill Clinton. “ ???? Nothing will be admitted to unless in the presence of a lawyer. However, I swear, no sex act was committed. (But I’ll never clean my suit.)

*I’m taking issue with George Bernard Shaw. It’s not youth that’s wasted on the young. It’s Spongebob Squarepants!

*What have I been entertaining myself with these days I hear you ask? You didn’t. Tough, I’m gonna tell you anyway.

Movies... (my local Blockbuster had a deal on 5 movies for £10, for a week. Being a cheapskate I couldn’t resist the bargain – here’s a sample of what I watched)

“Doubt” with Meryl Streep. Being an ex-convent boy this movie had a certain resonance for me. A quick run-down of the story...Streep was the heid-nun. She couldnae stand the new priest. This was the sixties and the world was changing too fast for her. She became convinced he was interfering with one of the boys. She did everything she could do discredit him. Without spoiling the ending...I like movies that let you make up your own mind. Back to Streep...did she win an Oscar for this? Freakin’ awesome performance. Utterly hypnotic.

“Sugar” – a film from the guy who made “Half-Nelson”. It was about young guys from the Dominican Republic who played baseball in an island academy for the big US baseball clubs. An understated, engaging movie that avoided the usual Hollywood clichés. Gentle pace and humour, well-observed interactions...touching. Excellent.

“Seven Pounds” – Will Smith acting his socks off. Man, was he good in this. Did he get an Oscar nod for this performance? Anywho, if you don’t shed a tear at this you should sell your heart to the nearest hardware store with a sticker on it reading “Breezeblock”. (You don’t even need to bother with anaesthetic because you clearly can’t feel anything you soul-less MF)


Incendiary by Chris Cleave...if there are any newbie writers reading this who are still wondering about “voice” do yourself a biggie and read this. And anything else by this guy. The narrator of this one is a woman from London who is writing a letter to Osama bin Laden after her husband and son were killed in bomb attack on London. The voice is consistent, authentic, humourous and moving. What’s impressive is that he manages a new completely different and hypnotic “voice” for each book. Jealous much? This is one of those all too rare books coming under the heading of “Literature” that is accessible and where you really do give a fuck about the characters. You can’t help falling in love with this woman (if you don’t see above comment about the breezeblock) and she’ll inhabit your thoughts until you finish that last page.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The Best Revenge...

I’ve been kind of combative in this blog over the last couple of days (sorry but few things irritate me more than intolerance) so I thought it was time for a change and that I should write about something that I came across in the media recently that moved me to tears.

Watching the BBC news over my Crunchy Nut Clusters the other morning (product placement: take note Kelloggs - all forms of payment accepted) I was struck by the story of Katie Piper - makes it hard to swallow your cereal when you have a lump in your throat.

Katie is a 26 year old budding model and TV presenter who had acid thrown in her face, yes you read that correctly: acid. An ex-boyfriend took offence at being dumped and “arranged” for someone to throw acid on this beautiful young girl’s future.

I hope the cowardly, bullying, evil prick gets his just rewards, but the reason for this post is not retribution but to say how inspiring I found Katie and her struggle to come through this experience. The acid burned through four layers of skin and she’s since had over 30 operations to rebuild her features. She is now going through a new form of treatment for this kind of injury and wears a compression mask that is designed to help her injuries heal. Eighteen months on and she is still going through this healing process...but she says she made a decision from the beginning not to give up.

She talked about the first time she looked in a mirror after the bandages were taken off. Her surprise at what faced her. “You expect to see your own reflection...’ When her words tailed off you could only imagine the horror that she would have felt at the time. She was articulate and cheerful while in front of the camera, but one can only guess at what goes on in her mind in the weak light and chill of a new day.

Her mother has given up her own job to help her daughter cope and remarked that she is so focused on this that she forgets when she has arranged an appointment for herself to go to the doctor or the dentist.

What Katie then went on to say gave me real optimism for her future and filled me full of admiration.

"In a split second my life changed forever," says Katie. "In hospital having the first stages of the surgery... it could go either way. Either I could let my attackers win and go into a shell... or I could rebuild a very different life, but still have an amazing life."

As someone once said the best revenge is a life well lived and I’m sure that with the courage Katie has already displayed her “revenge” will be a life rich with accomplishment and joy. What a credit she is to herself and her mother.

You can see more on: Cutting Edge - Katie: My Beautiful Face on Channel 4 on 29 October at 2100 GMT.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

A fine state of affairs...

Yet another reason why I won’t ever be buying The Mail was provided by columnist, Liz Jones with an ill-considered, sexist and hateful piece of writing entitled “The Modern Male he’s softer than a slug with a beer belly.”

Cut and paste and read for yourself -

I can just imagine her glee when she came across a review of a book by Australian anthropologist, Peter McAllister called Manthropology. The central argument of this book is that following the measurement of a set of fossilised footprints the author's view is that the modern version of Homo Sapiens is in the sorriest state he has ever been in. This if course gave Ms Jones the excuse she was looking for to indulge in a spot of man-bashing.

She clearly (and conveniently) ignored the part of the book that talked about the change in roles over the millennia which means that men no longer need to go chasing deer with a spear and are therefore no longer required to run faster than Usain Bolt. She has also conveniently ignored the fact that society in general has gotten fatter and lazier in her rush to have a go at blokes.

Full of petty generalisations her article complains about modern man’s inability to change a light bulb or make love to a woman. “Honestly,’ she complains, ‘the number of times I’ve wanted to exclaim when prone, put your back into it, man.” My advice: try some endearments, pet - it might make your man feel less like he’s humping the fridge.

She finishes her rant by saying “What sad poor creatures modern men are. What wimps. What wastes of space.”

Let’s try a wee experiment. Replace the word “men” in that first sentence with “women”, “Blacks”, “Asians”. What do you think the response might have been? Why is it deemed OK to have a go at one section of society in that manner? Would the article ever have gotten past the legal department?

As a wee side issue it is interesting to note that when Jan Moir published her piece of tripe about Stephen Gately the shitstorm on Twitter and Facebook was well-represented by men regardless of their sexual preference. For Liz Jones’ slice of bigotry the response has been muted by comparison. It seems men are happier to defend their gay brothers than they are to defend themselves. (Liz generously exempted gay men from her diatribe.) As they say in the US, go figure.

For what it’s worth, Liz I get it, you’ve been let down by men in the past. No-one envies you a philandering partner, but it’s time to be a big girl, wipe off the snot and get on with your life. I assure you it will be a whole lot easier if you are not full of bile for half of society.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Doing it Wrong

The fall-out from Jan Moir’s despicable article in the Daily Mail on Friday continues with the Press Complaints Commission announcing that they will be asking the newspaper concerned for a response. It seems that the PCC is unable to act unless someone directly affected makes a complaint (21,000 complaints received – which is a nice neat number – more in one weekend than they’ve received in the last 5 years).

I’m thinking that Stephen Gately’s family will have more to concern themselves with than a journalist who’s so desperate for something to write about that she’ll attempt to trash a young man’s memory on the eve of his funeral.

For those of you who might have missed this, in her column, Moir called Gately's death "strange, lonely and troubling".

"Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this," she wrote.

Later, she concluded: "As a gay rights champion, I am sure he would want to set an example to any impressionable young men who may want to emulate what they might see as his glamorous routine.

"For once again, under the carapace of glittering, hedonistic celebrity, the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see."

Reads to me like what she was saying is that Stephen Gates died of Being Gay. Clearly whatever qualifications Miss Moir has accumulated in her life they include some kind of forensic science and far-sight because she knew better than the coroner and his verdict of "natural causes" (who was, lest we forget actually in the presence of the body) and that certainty drove her to share that knowledge with the public.

Advertisers asked that they be removed from the online version of the article, which I’m thinking may be what prompted Miss Moir to publish her “apology”. That she made any effort to apologise at all is down to the power of Twitter and Facebook. Thousands upon thousands of people showed their outrage at what this “journalist” had to say by tweeting etc and I was there to watch it unfold. Fascinating. Every couple of hours I went in to Twitter to see that hundreds more people had been on. Much spleen was being vented.

Back to her “apology”. It was risible. Nowhere in her statement did she actually apologise instead she alluded to a mischievous orchestration on Twitter.

Her final sentence read: ‘In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones.”

She went on to say that most people who complained hadn’t read it and they were gay themselves. “Your arse”, I say to both of these assertions.

I was part of this so-called ‘heavily orchestrated’ campaign – and what happened was this... Miss Moir wrote an article for a newspaper which is read by thousands of people. The article is posted on the internet by that paper. People read it. They become offended; irate even. They post links to it on Twitter. People like me who don’t read the Daily Mail become aware of the article. We (being intelligent and able to think for ourselves) go online and read it. We – regardless of our sexual preference – read her inference and wonder how in this day and age people with these views weren’t made extinct by a giant meteor. We post on Facebook. Our friends read it. They tell their friends to read it. We Twitter. We blog.

There was no orchestration, it was all about reaction and a channel in which that reaction could be aired rather than simply turning to the person beside you and asking, ‘Who the fuck is this woman?’

Watching Matthew Wright on Ch5 today I was impressed with the summation of the entire situation by one of his guests. She remarked on how touching the media coverage of Stephen Gately’s funeral service had been. What particularly moved her was that when Stephen’s mum got upset at the thought of her son lying in his coffin, cold and alone, all night in the church the other members of Boyzone brought their sleeping bags with them and spent the night with him. This guest then asked the question....

‘This is what the members of Boyzone did for Stephen’s mother on the eve of her son’s funeral. What did you do, Jan Moir?’

‘Nuff said.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Golden Balls Grows a BEARD

What’s been going on in the UK this week? Nothing much apart from David Beckham growing a beard, if a quick trawl of the news media is any judge. Beckham grows a furball and the UK media goes ape. (My beard comes and goes and not a peep, whassat all about?) Acktuuaally, if people would stop and look he often has a beard. It’s only that for this one he’s thrown away the trimmer so that he’s looking all wild man and unconstructed. In fact he’s an inch or two away from qualifying for the Taliban.

We’ve been subjected to feature articles, editorials and TV news features because Davie boy has a wiry bush obscuring his jaw line.

We’ve gone ape, I tell ya. I know I’ve complained about the state of the news in this country and how the word “news” is permanently and forever qualified by a silent “bad” in front of it, but please geezabreak. A multi-millionaire sportsman growing some face fuzz does not qualify as “good” news. Or “news” for that matter.

Ok, I get it. He’s talented and handsome, but do we need to have endless debate over every step the man takes? And just waits till we get to the World Cup...if he gets picked for the England squad...because then Beckham mania will really heat up. In previous World Cups we’ve had the Prime Minister issuing press releases about his concern for DB’s broken metatarsal. We also had people burning Beckham effigies after he got sent off during a game with (was it?) Argentina.

This is me wearing an expression that suggests I’m dumbfoonert.

Next summer in South Africa while the English media will force every Scot, Irish and Welshman to watch the soccer with the sound off, the newspapers will be full of every movement of Golden (I’m guessing shaved) Balls. Headlines to watch out for may include; Beckham Ties Shoelace in Shape of Posh’s Naughty Bits, Beckham Eats Prawns with the Heads On and Beckham is Getting A Brazilian Regardless of Which Team England Draw in their Group. That’ll be the broadsheets; wait to see what the tabloids conjure up.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Jump For Joy

Last night in the Market Inn...great stuff. An appreciative audience and some cracking poetry. Rab Wilson was in fine form, as was the divine Miss T (Sheila) or Tequila Shempleton as she is now known. Don’t ask. Ok, do. It’s her Bond villainess name.

There was also a Storyteller there called Colin McAllister. I could have listened to Colin all night. A soft Irish accent, a mind full of stories and a gentle but effective delivery. His stories were of the past and the present and reminded me that there is an art to delivering an anecdote.

The evening, as I mentioned earlier was part of the Mental Health Awareness Film Festival. When I first heard of this I kinda had the chills. No-one wants unremitting gloom and tales of woe, no matter how empathic they are. See me? Dead good at empathy. Not so good at gloom. So, it was a pleasure to hear that the main point of all this was to help people focus on the way out of the mire of poor mental health. Shoving your nose deep into a rose bloom. That kind of thing. Focusing on what makes good mental health. I can do that.

There’s a fascinating book by Martin Seligman called "Authentic Happiness" I would commend to you. His main thrust (imho) is that all the years of psychotherapy hasn’t moved us on that much. His contention is that concentrating on this form of approach means we examine what makes a mind sick. Focusing on the negative, see? Did someone not say that to continue doing the same thing while expecting different results was the definition of insanity? Time for a change, methinks. Seligman's argument is that we should look at what makes us truly happy and turn our minds to that.

Made me think about the time I had a skirmish with this kind of illness. I won’t go into the root cause of it. Basically, shit happens. The doc put me on Prozac. Horrible, horrible stuff. I could almost deal with the body odour. Actually, no I couldn’t. I smelled like I had out-of-date chicken breasts taped to my underarms. Then there were the dreams. WTF was that all about? People getting shot and stabbed in front of me. Graphic violence every time I closed my eyes. I woke up every morning with the worry that if someone put a knife in my hand I’d find a chest to stick it in. Not nice.

Then there was the stomach ache. The doc had to give me pills to counteract the pills. (And that is the one thing about modern medicine that worries me. Side effects. We put all this shite in our systems that cause other shite to happen. Is it just to distract us from our main area of concern? While we have a medical system that relies on drugs to mask and treat symptoms, rather than the cause of the condition I doubt we’re ever going to have truly effective medical care. Anywho, what do I know?)

I lasted 3 weeks on the hateful drug.

Turned instead to 5 visits to the gym per week, a diet low in additives, sugar and wheat, regular meditation, hours of Billy Connolly. Healthy body...and where the body goes the mind soon follows. Or is that too simple? In any case it worked for me. Folks who've have to stay on the bad stuff have my sympathy.

Today, following said MHA event, I’m full of appreciation. When did you last appreciate what you had in your life? Someone once advised that you should imagine that you have lost everything...and then gained it back. How good would you feel?

The sun is shining. The wee fella is trouping about his bedroom, making all those wee contented noises he makes. There’s food in the fridge. I have a pile of unread books. And lint in my belly-button. This is me smiling and thinking...happy days.

(As a footnote to that last paragraph you have no idea how difficult it was to stop myself from listing the things I feel are missing from my life...but that would have defeated the purpose, no?)

Monday, 12 October 2009

Sometimes you've just got to do it...

It’s Mental Health Art and Film Festival time in Scotland. The whole idea of course, is to get this condition out in the open, to de-stygmatise it and to give the ignoramuses out there a big kick up the backside. The shoe delivering the kick has the words There But For the Grace of God...printed on the sole.

As part of this festival the Makar Press Poets (for those of you who are new to this blog and to those of you who have been sleeping up the back, there are three of us: Sheila Templeton, Rowena M Love and my good self) have been invited to perform our work at a couple of events.

The first one was on Sunday past and was in the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine, Ayrshire. We were in the bar (which was nice) and we were accompanied by a 6ft 4, skin-head, 22 year old blues-guitarist from Ardrossan called Tragic O’Hara.

At first I was a wee bit worried – and not because the blues guitarist was from Ardrossan - it was a Sunday afternoon, in a bar where people come to eat Sunday lunch. Several questions were running through my head. Would people want poetry inflicted upon them while they munch into their chicken a la whatsit? Which course would fit best with a villanelle? Should I wait until they’re eating their syrup sponge and custard before I read the one about the vasectomy?

As time approached we decided just to do our stuff and stop worrying about how it would be perceived. And the good news is that we needn’t have been concerned because it went down as well as a slice of honeydew melon with parma ham and a wee side plate of sorbet. All the tables were taken and we even had a few peeps standing at the bar.

Can I just say that Tragic was fantastic? I thought you had to be mid-life, with 3 ex-wives, 10 kids and 1 old dog to sing the blues (or is that Country and Western?). In any case, Tragic has the goods. Check him out on Youtube. Better still keep your eyes and ears open and when you find out he has a gig coming up, get yourself along there. There ain’t no substitute for a live musician. Or for live poetry for that matter. We got the usual (and I love it) comments from people saying...hated poetry at school, but you guys really brought it to life and made it relevant. One lady accosted Sheila in the loo to say, who knew poetry could be such fun!

I think we should get some sort of award or to poetry etc. Dinnae wait until we’re dead. Give us the acclaim and the rewards NOW.


Actually, I feel a wee bit of a fraud. I haven’t written a poem for over a year. Call yourself a poet, Malone? I do have the excuse that I’ve just written 134,000 words of a novel, so I’m giving myself a break. A poem will come along shortly, so it will. In the next day or two. Maybe even the next couple of minutes. (Just you sit there while I talk amongst myself).

The next event is in the Market Inn, Ayr on Thursday 15th October. Sheila and I will be reading alongside Rab Wilson. Should be good.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

love sucks

- Love sucks, says the wee fella as he surfs through the music channels.

- Sorry? I look up from my book.

- All this music. Why do all these people sing about nothing except love?

- Don’t know - I say - It makes the world go round?

- That’s Or sex – he says this word with what he thinks is a leer. Looks more like a pantomime bad guy.

- You’re too young to be obsessed with that stuff - I go for a jokey tone.

- I’m not obsessed - judging by his tone, he doesn’t like my tone - these people are obsessed – he waves the remote at the telly - with all their songs about love.

- Cannae argue with that - I say while trying to remember a recent pop song that wasn’t about relationships.

- Anyway - he gets back to his original point - love still sucks.

- Why’s that? I ask, anxious to get back to reading Greg Iles’ latest paperback.

- ‘Cos it always ends.

- Not always, son. I know your mum and me didn’t last but some people stay married for a long time.

- Yeah and then it ends. They always break up. Anyway – he stares at the telly- is that not her from X factor? The judge?

- Cheryl Cole – I answer – she has a song of her own now.

- And it’s about love, isn’t it?

- Yes – I have a wee listen to the lyrics.

- Have they broke up yet? He asks all world-weary and cynical.

- Lots of relationships last, son. Both of my older brothers have been with their wives for like – I can’t remember the exact number so I guess - 30 years.

- Yeah but one day one of them will die.

- Everybody dies, I say with my This Is One of Life’s Big Lessons voice.

- Exactly. And they they’ll be on their own. Love sucks – he crosses his arms and leans back into his chair.

Conversation over.

We both turn to face the TV and watch Cheryl Cole dancing on the screen.

- Dad?

- What?

- Why’s she humping the wall?


Saturday, 10 October 2009

Pic 'n mix

Things you don’t expect to hear from one of the ladies you work with #1

- Oops, I just pumped.

(For my buds across the ocean “pumped” is one of those delightfully inoffensive ways we Brits like to talk about things some people might feel are offensive. In this instance a “pump” is a fart.)

Confession #1. After I stated last week that I wait until Xmas eve before doing any shopping I bought two giant tins of chocolates (Cadbury’s Roses) and hid them in a kitchen cupboard.

Confession #2. I paid to have my sister clean the house today.

Lesson Learned #1. Nothing is ever well enough hidden when the Queen of Chaos is on the prowl.

Let me explain. I called her from work while she was sweating over the shambles I call home. The ensuing conversation went something like this.

-I’m going to be a wee bit late (I normally make her dinner when she is at my house doing the cleaning) the fridge is full, sis. Help yourself if you’re hungry.

-oh, I already ate some of those chocolate Roses.

-what the ones I had hidden in the back of the cupboard for Xmas presents?

-Oh. (long pause) Right. I only had half a dozen. You could run some tape round the tin lid and no-one would know.

-surely, you saw the tin and thought “present”? Who buys tins of sweets and hides them in a cupboard for anything other than a “present”? Why on earth did you think it would be ok to open the tin and eat some?

-Don’t be mad at me, I’ve been working like crazy. Your house is a tip, by the way.

-Compliments are always going to make me feel less annoyed, sis. Why don’t you try one on me?

(It’s Friday and I’m in a good mood because, well it’s Friday. Besides it’s like being angry with a puppy. A puppy with opposable thumbs that can open a large tin of chocolates)

-I did some ironing for you as well, she adds with a pleading tone.

- you are incredible, I laugh.

When I get home she’s wearing one of my t-shirts.

- I’m waiting for Boyfriend to pick me up and my top is all sweaty, she says.

- if your handbag was bigger, I say, you could just pop my feckin’ TV in there.

Later, I looked in the cupboard where the chocs were. There were still two tins in the place I last saw them. One on top of the other. The tin on the top was sealed. It then became apparent that when Sis finished eating the sweets, she’d put the open tin on the bottom, to disguise the fact she’d been munching on them. Wonder what made her come clean? I would have been none the wiser...until I went to play at Santa.

Now that the kettle’s on and the tin’s open...

Things you don’t expect to hear from one of the ladies you work with #2

- a graphic novel ? Is that like one with loads of sex and violence?

Friends who’ve read the Dan Drown latest, The Lost Symbol are all agreed on one thing. It’s shite. Their words, not mine. If this reaction is extrapolated throughout the world, I’m guessing his next work won’t be quite as successful. I’m hoping other writers will get his audience. I’m thinking Mr Drown will laugh his sorrows all the way to the bank, while singing nanananana.

Anybody out there read The Kindly Ones? It sits at the other end of the literatooore spectrum from Danny boy. It won plaudits and awards up the wazoo. And boy is it hard work. Pages upon pages of know, the bits you skim over? Occasionally you come across a finely tuned paragraph where something actually happens. The narrator is a highly unsympathetic character caught up in Hitler’s Final Solution. Violence is constant and written in simple language that makes it all the more harrowing and affecting. How this violence changes in the perpetrators’ minds from traumatic/difficult to being sought after/ acceptable is worked very cleverly. This is interspersed with philosophy and debate. Again, hard work.

My thinking is that if this was cut from 900 pages to around 400 you would have an extraordinary piece of fiction here. What do I know?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Looking for change

I was at a poetry reading tonight in Prestwick. The poet was Kevin Cadwallender. What a guy. Hilarious and thought provoking at the same time, with a totally original voice. Highlights were a poem about McDonalds, given an Old Testament biblical twist (which would have been banned in certain quarters) and another which he read in the voice of a Dalek. This one originated when he was given the challenge of writing a poem about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski. The challenge was not to mention Bill or Monica or the “alleged” sex act. He therefore decided to write a “relationship” poem where the main protagonists were a Dalek and a hoover. You can make your own mind up which one is Ms Lewinski.

In any case it was a great way to pass an evening. I love it when poetry doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Talking about Poetry, with a capital P not taking itself seriously, we Makars have some events coming up next week. We’ve been invited to participate in a couple of readings as part of the Scottish wide Mental Health week. On Sunday, we are sharing the bill with a blues (insert your own comment here) guitarist called Tragic O’Hara. For real. You couldn’t make that up.

All kinds of glib comments are queuing up for release, but I am going to resist. As someone who’s had their own brush with this condition I’m well aware of the need to be more open about it. So there.

Ankle update: up and about. Back to work earlier than expected. But won’t be dancing an Irish jig any time soon. I’m only a wee bit swollen now and I only limp when I walk fast. Which frankly is not a good look. Let me place an image in your mind of a camp Golem and you will have a fair idea.

Isn’t it weird how contrary we humans are. Normally, if you had offered me a free fortnight sat in the house with a pile of books, an internet connection and a handful of movies I would have bitten your hand off at the shoulder. However, when you HAVE to stay in it doesn’t matter that you have all these distractions, does it. Cos you want to get frickin’ out. You want to feel the wind in your hair (a time capsule is required for me, but you know what I mean), you want to go for a coffee/ beer/ read at the library/ workout, but you cannae because you’re under house arrest.

I had to get back to work. Missed all my work buds. Besides, you can only watch so much daytime TV before you either hate every man on the planet or start sending Jeremy Kyle your toe-nail clippings in a dog-turd sandwich.

I learned this morning that I have a forgetful ankle. No kidding. Matches the brain. Because I went back to work earlier than the date on my original doctor’s sick line, I had to get signed off as being fit to work. My doctor explained, with a lob-sided smile that now I had a weakness in this area I might be prone to suffer the same injury. You know how your body just KNOWS how to do stuff, like walk, breathe, produce mucus? Well the part that knows where your foot is in relation to the rest of your leg sorta forgets whenever you have any ligament damage. So you have to watch where you put your feet.

If you see me walking down any Ayrshire high Street and my eyes are on the pavement you know why. I’m not looking for loose change.

Monday, 5 October 2009

What next?

Oh joy, thy name is Joss Whedon. The Sci-Fi channel is running Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the very start. Thankyouthankyouthankyou. I was all for an evening free of the black box until I did the whole channel surfing thing...which is usually a delay tactic until I give myself a talking to...and whaddya know, there was Ms Summers looking all slayer-ish. And young. The whole cast looked so pink and perky.

Those Not in The Know usually give me a ribbing for enjoying this programme and think I’m all about the nubile young lady kicking ass. Ok, I admit that’s a bonus, but this programme is SO clever, humourous, involving, layered and well-written. If you want to know how to write a TV programme you’d do yourself a favour by studying this series.

Talking about writing, which we almost having finished my latest book and having sent it on to my “first reader” to have a look at, I’m at a loss as to what to do with myself next. I got home from work tonight, had my meal, watched Buffy and then...and then I was all, what next? This would have been the point when I thought about writing, procrastinated about writing, put off actually writing until... just before bedtime I would force myself to squeeze out a couple of hundred words.

I think I’m suffering from Nextbookitis. I don’t know what to do next. Another crime novel? The next part of the historical/ adventure/ true story/ faction book?

It’s a good job I have this blog. I love the whole free-style writing thing where I just type and all kindsa shit appears on the page. And I get you nice people leaving me messages. Which I really do appreciate. The loneliness of a long-distance blogger is a whole other subject you don’t want to get me started on.

While I procrastinate about making up my mind, I noticed that those amazingly clever people at the Sci-fi channel are running series 1 of Dollhouse from the start. We’ll call it research. Joss Whedon, you the man.

Saturday, 3 October 2009


A couple of events in the book world occurred last week. See, if I had my finger on the pulse I would have blogged about these already, I hear you say. In my defence, I can’t be arsed offering a defence. In any case you may already be aware of both of them. In which case why am I bothering to talk about them? Ok then, I’ll stop right now. But I’ve started, so I may as well finish, cos I’ve nothing else to talk about. A blogger’s biggest worry: What to Say Next.

I’m talking shite, as is my want, but now to be serious. Super Thursday kicked off on, yes you’ve guessed it, Thursday. This was the day when the UK publishing industry took a further knock to the collective noggin (following the Dan Brown Big Discount) and released 800 books on the one day, Thursday 1st October.

That is not a typo. There is not an extra “0” at the end of 80. The figure was 800 books. On the one day. This is me looking like an envelope waiting for an address. Blank. (anyone recognise that quote?) WTF guys? Apparently it’s all about getting into the right position for the Christmas shoppers. But what do I know about that? My favourite position as a Christmas shopper is with me on my backside, in a comfie chair with my fingers in my ears going, lalalalalalala. Think Gordon Brown dealing with the latest political stushie. Until the 24th of December that is, when the hot rush of panic sets in.

Given that we are a society with our heads up our collective arse, there is a veritable plethora, an unhealthy abundance, nay a skip’s worth of books released on Thursday that come under the heading of “Celebrity Memoir”. I can’t wait until this particular obsession fades and we can get back to admiring people who have a talent for something more challenging than being able to get noticed by a camera.

Anywho, there are bound to be some good books that fade without notice in this bunfight. Can you imagine, having slaved over a manuscript for a year or more and it gets released among this storm? How would you get noticed? If you come across a book that’s worth talking about let me know and we’ll use this modest forum to give them, well a forum. Every little helps, right?

The other thing wot happened is that it was Banned Books Week, which highlighted that there are a dangerous minority of fuckwits who are intent on telling the rest of us what to read. If I could remember how to do it I would position a link HERE for you to click on to take you to the website. But I’m unabashed and unapologetically rubbish at this stuff so you’ll just have to cut and paste this to get more info.

Sure this concerns the USA. For the moment. Stuff that happens over there, tends to make its way over here.

In this site you’ll come across a reasoned, intelligent and eloquent response to one such book fascist who was determined that a book that offended her sensibilities should be pulled off the shelf of her local library, thrown to the ground and goose-stepped all over.

My favourite part of this letter by a very wise man called Jamie La Rue follows, along with an address if you want to read the full letter. Again the ability to cut and paste is required.

“Your third point, about the founders' vision of America, is something that has been a matter of keen interest to me most of my adult life. In fact, I even wrote a book about it, where I went back and read the founders' early writings about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. What a fascinating time to be alive! What astonishing minds! Here's what I learned: our whole system of government was based on the idea that the purpose of the state was to preserve individual liberties, not to dictate them. The founders uniformly despised many practices in England that compromised matters of individual conscience by restricting freedom of speech. Freedom of speech – the right to talk, write, publish, discuss – was so important to the founders that it was the first amendment to the Constitution – and without it, the Constitution never would have been ratified.”

For the complete letter go here...

Fantastic stuff. My only concern is that when someone has lost both their brain cells on such a viewpoint they will only dismiss such an articulate effort as the ramblings of a degenerate. So in a world where those who shout loudest get heard (and frighteningly that tends to be the closed-minded minority) it’s up to those of us with wit, intelligence and the ability to listen to the opinion of others to raise their voices.

Let me hear you, people!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Nut News

The critics are telling us our favourite bad boy of pop is back on form. Yes, he says while stifling a yawn, Robbie Williams has a new album out and it’s quite good.

Winnie the Pooh has a new friend. Which is nice. Lottie the Otter is feisty and will cause a stir. Wish I was 5 again. Not because of Lottie, you understand. I just wish I was 5.

An 8 year old in Waterford saved his sister’s life using the Heimlich manoeuvre after seeing it being demonstrated on TV. Under the newspaper headline they displayed a quote from the young hero who said afterwards, ‘I’m not doing it again, she’s been a pain this week.’

A study published recently(no doubt by the Ministry of The Feckin’ Obvious)reported that it is perfectly normal for men to drool over a woman they find attractive. Surprised much? What I want to know is who funds these reports and how do I get a job? What else could we get these morons to study? It is beneficial for the man to fall asleep after sex. Farting is a necessary release and should be tolerated without comment. Chocolate is more effective than Prozac and women should delay munching on it until after their man has fallen asleep.

This next one set me off on a fit of the giggles that lasted for oh, a good hour. So before reading put that coffee down. A Cork radio station was running a competition for callers to phone in with words that were no longer in the dictionary yet could still be used in a sentence that make sense. The prize was trip to Bali. Given that the Irish are one of the most literate nations on earth expectations were high. The first call went like this...
DJ – Thank you for calling 96FM, what’s your name?
Caller – Hi, me name’s Dave.
DJ – Hi Dave. What’s your word?
Dave – Goan, spelt G-O-A-N and pronounced go an.
DJ – that is correct, Dave goan is not in the dictionary. Now for that fantastic trip to Bali, what sentence can you use that word in that would make sense?
Dave – goan fuck yourself.
Unsurprisingly the DJ cut the conversation short and took some more calls. They were all unsuccessful until ...
DJ: Thank you for calling 96FM, what’s your name caller?
Caller: Hi, my name is Jeff.
DJ: Hi Jeff, can you tell us your word.
Jeff: My word is smee. Spelt S-M-E-E.
DJ: You are correct Jeff. Smee is not in the dictionary. Now for a trip to Bali, can you give me a sentence containing smee that makes sense.
Jeff: Smee again, goan fuck yourself.