The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

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Archive for the month “March, 2013”

An existentialist’s take on Easter

JesusIt’s a funny thing, but even though I eschewed religion quite a few years ago there are some deep rooted feelings that still linger. Is it because these things were learned at an early age or is there something particularly potent about the whole Jesus story? All the elements: political agitator – a bit of an outsider, prefers the company of the dispossessed to the rich and powerful, kind, mystical, intense – dies a gory death, and then there’s the heartwarming and supernatural final twist. It’s a screenwriter’s dream and even if it isn’t ‘the greatest story ever told’ it’s pretty close! And even though I’m a bit of an old cynic and am still convinced that the miracles and the resurrection bits are too far-fetched – they are still clever and timeless dramatic symbols. I didn’t think that they had fluenced me that much but when I came across a short story that I had written for the start of 2000 I can see they definitely did. So, in tribute to a historical figure who – if nothing else, made martyrdom a powerful political tool that has been repeated down the ages, from Joan of Arc to Jan Palak to the many martyrs of the Arab Spring – here is my take on the Jesus tale. I know the setting is a bit unseasonal but then so is our current weather… hmmm – I wonder what JC’s take of global warming would have been? Anyway – take five/ten minutes out – turn your framed picture of Richard Dawkins to the wall – and enjoy!

Mhairi woke at 8.20 am 01.01.2000. Probably not that many others doing that at this time she thought, probably sleeping off the excesses of the night before. Well, in Britain of course and in Europe. It would be a lot later and a lot earlier elsewhere. Mhairi didn’t really want to start working out who would be doing what and where. She had her own problems just being able to get up out of bed.

The arthritis had hit her badly, triggered by the car accident ten years ago. She had been on her way to her first proper “do”, a New Year party as it happens. The road was icy and the driver in the other car was four times over the limit. Paul, Mhairi’s boyfriend and the one who was driving the car she was in didn’t make it. Death was instantaneous said the Coroner at the enquiry. Mhairi took some comfort at this along with the pink beaded dress, spattered with the blood of her lost love, she had kept – Jackie Kennedy fashion – in a box at the back of her wardrobe.

She often took the dress from it’s box to caress it and cry into it, the jagged little sequins and beads offering no comfort to her tear reddened face. Once or twice she had tried the dress on but she was horrified at the sight of herself in the mirror. Apart from her twisted limbs she had a deep scar down one side of her face. She remembered herself at eighteen, getting ready for that fateful night, how new and exciting everything seemed then. She also remembered how Paul had raised his arms to protect her face from the flying shards of glass and how she had held his lifeless bloodied hands in hers. Now she was left with her memories which were vague and getting more and more distant with time. Why should she look forward to a new year or millennium? She would rather go back than look to the future.

She sighed and got up from her bed. Without washing she pulled on some old clothes on top of the leggings and T-shirt she had been wearing in bed. Mhairi lived alone, her parents were distraught at first when she told them she wouldn’t stay with them after the accident but they came to respect her feelings. What really did hurt them was that she refused to spend the Millennium Eve with them.

Mhairi liked being alone and she found that her physical condition was a good excuse for not going out and socialising. She often went out walking under the main bridge on the High Street. A lot of homeless people slept there and she would talk to them, she found them honest and non-judgemental. “ Or perhaps they’re just so wasted they can’t even see straight and see what I look like,” she would laugh to herself. This particular morning there weren’t many people under the bridge. “ The local Council tidying them off the street in time for the Hogmanay bash, giving them shelter for a couple of nights at Christmas and New Year, big deal!”

Mhairi hurried along, dragging her foot as she went. It was icy cold and she wanted to get home. In her hurry she almost tripped over what she thought was a bundle of rags. “I’m sorry,” she stammered, reaching down to help. “It’s all right,” said a kindly voice. Mhairi looked down, the face she saw was both kind and strangely familiar. It was an unwashed face, as was the long matted hair, but a light seemed to shine from his eyes. A light which seemed to envelop her and warm her against the cold.

I’m really sorry,” Mhairi repeated. “Please let me buy you a cup of tea.” Her words sounded almost flirtatious and she blushed at her own boldness. “I’d like that,” replied the stranger, rising from his crumpled heap without any discernible effort, “I know a little cafe nearby, it should be open, it’s always open.” And sure enough along by the train station there was a little greasy spoon open for business. A few people were dotted around, sitting at the Formica tables. People who worked no matter what day of the year it was. The young man went straight to the counter, got two teas and brought them back.

Mhairi felt slightly embarrassed that he should be spending money on her. But she said nothing. She felt that social niceties such as who should pay were made redundant, she felt totally at ease with the stranger, like friends who had known each other for years. And so she found herself telling him all about the accident, her solitary life, all her innermost feelings. She hadn’t talked so much in years and she marvelled at the sound of her own voice, speaking eloquently and incisively about how she felt. When she had finished speaking the stranger looked deep into her eyes, “I understand how you feel, but everything is not always as it appears.” He paused, “Would you like to come with me now and see what I mean?”

No sooner had Mhairi heard his words than they were standing on the doorstep of one of the grand Georgian houses in the city’s New Town. The door was answered by an elegantly dressed woman in her fifties who seemed genuinely pleased to see them both. Mhairi drew her scruffy overcoat tightly around herself . The older woman gently pulled Mhairi’s coat and it fell to the floor. The woman whispered “My dear, you look lovely” and steered Mhairi towards a full length hall mirror . She did indeed look lovely, her hair was washed and brushed framing her radiant face. Her scar was still there but it paled into insignificance against the luminosity of her eyes. Her limbs were still twisted but instead of being hidden under shapeless clothes they appeared in defiant beauty against her pink beaded dress which she was amazed to find herself wearing, in pristine condition.

Mhairi started to move around the large drawing room where a party was taking place. Everybody at the party was dressed in fine expensive looking clothes and they all seemed so beautiful even though everyone of them had a disfgurement of some kind. Scarred faces, lost limbs, pink blistered skin which had once been charred. They all moved so gracefully as they talked and laughed together. Mhairi had the feeling that she knew everyone there but was sure that she had never met them before. She was touched by their kindness as they asked her about herself. A lot of them complimented her on her dress and stared at the places where the blood stains should have been. She looked around for the stranger who had brought her to the party. He was sitting on the floor in the corner surrounded by a group of people who hung on his every word. Mhairi felt a pang of jealousy, quickly followed by an overwhelming feeling of pride. She watched as he spoke in hushed tones. Soon everyone drifted away and she was left alone with him.

Come with me,” he whispered. He led her out onto a balcony which seemed extremely high up. “Look down there,” he said, directing her gaze to the street. It wasn’t the quiet , wide Georgian street which they had entered the party from. It was instead a narrow, teeming motorway with cars nose to tail inching along through a pall of heavy exhaust fumes. Some people were getting angry and shaking their fists at each other, although most sat in quiet resignation staring blankly through their fogged up windows. Mhairi switched her gaze from the cars to a large glass and chrome office block beyond. There too people stared out as if imprisoned. They were looking out for something, but what?

These people, they’re not going very far, are they?” He pulled her around gently and looked deep into her eyes. She felt she had known him for a hundred years.

Do you know who I am yet?”, he asked. “I think so,” and with that she started to cry. He quietened her by kissing her. “You’ll have to go soon, won’t you?”, she said. “Yes, but I’ll always be with you. You can keep a lock of my hair and wear it around your neck, or a scrap of material from your dress and sleep with it under your pillow. But you don’t need these things to remember me by, or to give you the power to go to places and to do things. Believe in yourself, that’s what you must remember.” She looked up at him, her face stained with tears, and asked: “And should I believe in you?” “If it helps,” he replied. She touched the rough scars on the palms of his hands and with that he was gone.

J’accuse! – The Joker and Monkey Man

ImageSome old war criminals just don’t have the good grace to lie down, do they? Here we are on the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and the main architect – Tony ‘The Joker’ Blair opens his trap to spout off about how to make the world a better place… presumably by bombing the hell out of it. On the face of it he’s talking about Syria but we all know Tony better than that. So it’s not long before he’s bringing it back to Iraq and asking – nay, demanding – vindication for his actions. Ah, Tony, you haven’t changed – have you? And while we may have had the tiniest, most miniscule, grain of sympathy if he actually appeared to show a similar measure of remorse… he never does – his war mongering rhetoric is still wrapped up in that disgusting evangelical zeal. Or maybe if it appeared that the ghosts of the murdered haunted him and made him wander Lady Macbeth-like, trying to scrub the blood from his hands – not a chance!. There he is, cool as you like – still talking in that way that seems to reprimand us for not sharing in his bloody vision.

I actually saw the other half of the ‘partnership of evil’ – George Bush Jnr – and what he’s doing these days – on a Channel 4 news report. Apparently he spends his days ambling along, doing charitable work in the community and taking on dog portrait commissions. You couldn’t make it up.

So where should old war criminals go if they’re lucky enough to escape the victors’ noose or bullet? Which is less distasteful – disappearing from the public eye and making like it never happened – or continuing to plug away, using every new conflict as some kind of redemptive comparison? Either way it still feels like salt being rubbed into the wounds. But while we shouldn’t forget Blair and Bush, today is the day for remembering the thousands who have died – and the many more scarred and wounded – because of what these two started.Image

Looking for Rachel… ?

ImageJust to let you know about a great new blog dedicated to The Rachel Redemption – character descriptions, casting notes, reviews, excerpts from the book and coming soon… music and spoken word downloads. Wow!

Nice To Be Nice…

ImageWe were warned that blizzards would be hitting the east coast of Scotland and sure enough yesterday morning Edinburgh awoke, covered in a snow blanket. A typical day you would say to just stay in bed contemplating how to conquer the world – a bit of ‘me’ time, you know? But a piece of heartening early-morning news heard on the radio gave me the impetus to throw the covers off and trudge into work – the usual grey estates having an ethereal, almost Narnia like beauty. OK, that’s maybe going a bit far… so what was the news?

Finally – finally – the EU ban on testing cosmetics on animals has become law. Hurrah! At last! And it kind of begs the question if you can produce safe, cruelty-free products – why on earth would you do it any other way? What kind of Cruella de Ville type character thinks that’s a good idea? Truth is a lot of these companies are locked into doing it the way they’ve always done it and it’s immensely depressing that using animals can be cheaper than the humane methods. It’s estimated that 80% of cosmetics produced worldwide will still be required to have had animal testing done at some stage – China still insists on this and their market is huge – so the battle continues. Check out the BUAV link for further details.

Funnily enough Ricky Gervais features on their site and in keeping with the ‘be nice’ theme – I don’t know if you’ve been watching ‘Derek’ on Channel 4 which went from ‘watching through fingers’ to ‘I think I may something in my eye’ to ‘excuse my full-on blubbing’. OK, it was maudling and emotionally manipulative in extremis but the little acid drops – usually voiced by Karl Pilkington’s character – made it worth going back for more. Probably the best line was expressed by scuzz-bucket Kevin when he said that the best shortcut you can take in life is to be nice. Not always the most obvious route – or the easiest – but certainly the quickest. So well done Ricky Gervais – I will be tuning in again – but please ditch the Coldplay – I don’t mind my emotions being put through the wringer but not to a soundtrack of vapid whining and plinky keyboards. Dammit – I was trying to be nice – see how difficult it is?

p.s. RG really missed a trick by using the original ‘Fix You’ in the last episode of Derek when there’s a more fitting,  supremely moving – and far superior, in my opinion – version by the Young@Heart ‘senior vocal group’. Check it out!


Looking for Mr Bad Guy – No More Heroes

ChavezSo RIP Hugo Chavez – or maybe not so much ‘rest in peace’ but ‘remain in perpetuity’ as his embalmed presence continues to loom over Venezuela. I don’t know why, but the old Stranglers track – No More Heroes – keeps running through my head. It could be that with the death of Mr C there is one less political hero in this world or maybe it’s more the case that heroes – and certainly in the case of political ones – just can’t exist any more. Why is that? Are we all just a bit too cynical these days with instant access to every unguarded word, every slip-up along with acres and acres of reports and commentary to help us shape our views? (Happy Lib Dem conference by the way, guys!) Are we just too clever for our own good? No wonder many of these ‘grass-roots’ guys make it big. They appear human, they have a joke, they find the right scapegoat… It reminds us of what political movements should be about – struggle, ideology used for good, the desire to just make things better, going after the bad guy…

And that’s where it all breaks down really – we all have different ideas of who the bad guy is. In Mr Chavez’s case it was the US – fair enough – but then when I see the identity of the honoured guests beating their way to Caracas to grasp Mr C’s formaldehyde-filled hand I do feel a little queasy – not least of all at the presence of ‘Gorgeous’ George ‘I’ll be the cat’ Galloway – probably not the most dangerous but certainly on the short list for most nauseating!

So who decides on the bad guy? Well, if you’re a subjugated – or even ex-subjugated people – the big guys who rule/used to rule over you are a safe bet and an accepted target– you know – the US, the UK, France, Russia… It all turns a little nasty when it’s the little guy who’s targeted. It’s happened time and time again throughout history – particularly in times of economic hardship – the scapegoat. Here in the UK at the moment we have a rather distasteful movement called UKIP led by a man who looks like some evil-robot-boss character who’s stepped out of a surreal episode of Terry & June written by Joe Orton. Quite fitting that, as UKIP want to take Britain back to the seventies, when Jimmy Savile reigned supreme, where any non-Brits employed to do the shitty jobs – that no-one else wanted – at least had the decency to keep out of sight, and where you could walk down the street to your smoke-filled pub and only the hear the Queen’s English being spoken. (Which reminds me – my good friend Commercial Malcolm posted an amusing little piece on YouTube which is less than complimentary about Nigel Farage and co and it prompted the most illiterate and frankly embarrassing commentary, so all in all a pretty good advert for them!)

So no more heroes in politics? Yep, pretty much. I mean, can you imagine a JFK-like-outpouring-of-grief these days, in any of our ‘developed’ countries? Over a politician? I can’t see it somehow. Maybe we are too informed, or too cynical or just too removed from our ‘grass-roots’. We should be careful though because when that happens we lose sight of who the bad guy really is and that can only be a dangerous thing.Image

Dolce Vita or Ryvita?

ImageI nearly choked on my low fat rice cake when I saw the timeless Audrey Hepburn zipping along the Amalfi coast, Galaxy bar in hand, making us believe that by buying a piece of sugar-and-fat-filled confectionery that we too can be living la dolce vita while at the same time cutting a pleasing figure in those Capri pants. The thing is Miss Hepburn’s elfin beauty was predicated on the effects of WWII starvation rationing and later rumours of anorexia so if you’re thinking you too can get the look and the lifestyle by chomping on a chocolate bar you’re probably just the kind of person the Mad Men are after. Actually, maybe the advertising of chocolate bars is much more in keeping with those heady, aspirational days of the 1950s when chocolate was indeed a luxury and an occasional treat, not like today when it’s a food staple on top of a whole lot of other junk.

But what I find most annoying is the endless encouragement – by advertisers and practically all of the ‘celebrity’ cooks – to eat cake, indulge, eat more cake, indulge some more – is how two-faced it all is. You have Nigella insisting that only full-fat will do whilst turning on a designer heel and dropping a couple of stone in order to break the super-lean and super-lucrative US market. Or the two Hairy Muppets extolling the virtues of lard one week while telling us the next that it’s actually not that good for you. It always seems to be a case of treating us like a lot of clueless plebs – like inviting us to the Great Bake-Off Tea Party to stuff our faces but expecting us to purge and throw up in the portaloo round the back when we’ve done. Maybe that’s why they’ve chosen a departed film star for this campaign as she won’t be able to embarrass the company in question by announcing that she’s going on a diet the next week. These guys – embarrassed? Maybe that is going a bit far!

Go, girl… !!

ImageI was so happy to come across this image the other day – I still have my battered original postcard version which I would always pin up wherever I was working at the time. It took me back… not only to endless, miserable hours of office-based drudgery but back to more innocent school-day times. There’s something marvellous about the unprimped and unpimped faces of the girls in the picture – about as far away as you can get from the teased, tweezed and airbrushed little Lolitas that teeter into class these days. Also check out the tick-list of words that make you go ooh – brains, understanding, laughs… chips!!! Wonderful!

So on International Women’s Day this coming Friday (8 March) ditch the Botox, Vajazzles, eyelash extensions, Louboutin, Louis Vuitton, and the tired old stereotypes: cake/shoes, cake/shoes – present your real self to the world, have fun and celebrate being a real woman and not a Barbie! And if you’re in Edinburgh on Friday I can’t think of a better way of doing that than getting yourself along to the Tea Dance Stomp at the Storytelling Centre – all welcome.

‘It’s really good being a girl’ postcard is available from ‘Pinkstinks‘ (I don’t think they mean the singer…) and they have a lot of other stuff as well.

Real Vampires… ?

ImageThanks to everyone who enjoyed reading ‘The Strange Case of Wolfgang Herz’. Rather spookily – not long after posting the piece – I unearthed this experiment in sound inspired by the original story and created some years ago along with my friends at Lone Head Records. If you can spare eight minutes out of your day and fancy a little frisson – have a listen! I think it’s eerily brilliant with spoken testimony from various people who got involved with the whole legend thing at the time. And it may just be my imagination but I swear I can hear voices that weren’t there before…

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