The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

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Archive for the category “Words of Encouragement – exist and be happy”

Letter from America / World Watch Out

I’ll say one thing about that Donald Trump. He’s going to be good for artistic creation. As you may have read in my last post I had the germ of an idea for a Twilight Zone type story which had elements of Back to the Future and Brigadoon (I admit, a bit of an obsession for me!) Well, here’s the finished article.

Hopefully people will find it humorous and a little chilling but I felt incredibly sad when writing it (and not for the obvious reasons of looking ahead to the next four years!). The whole idea of people having to leave a land they love for whatever reason – to make money, chase a dream or perhaps because their own land isn’t fit to live in anymore. So it is anti – Trump but it’s also an early valentine to immigrants, the LGBT community, all those who stand up to bullies – in the past and in the future… and of course the beautiful Western Isles.

Apologies to The Proclaimers for pinching their title – although they pinched it from Alistair Cooke first! (I’ll square it with them if I bump into Charlie or Craig down in Colinton Woods anytime soon!)

Talking of Scottish music legends. Rev Mulvey from Lone Head Records tempted me out of musical retirement to collaborate on this track. Could be a creative four years – if we survive, that is!



Happy Festive Families!

WaltonsWell – did you manage to survive the ridiculous Christmas bubble where people – through an accident of birth and not through any choice of their own – are forced together to make merry and perhaps even make conversation with other? Most people manage one day of festive torture when the pressure is put – witch-trial-like – on some poor individual to stage-manage the perfect day by providing food, presents and refereeing/counselling services and then getting tut-tutted at when she lobs the empty bottle of Bailey’s at dirty Uncle Billy’s head? I believe there are some people who attempt more than one day of this Big Brother-type set-up but then I suppose that is why we have pubs, shops and A&E!

Families have always been something that can drive you off the edge. They are endlessly fascinating though because – even if you’re lucky enough to be an orphan or choose to cut loose from your own – you can never escape. You will be subsumed into someone else’s at some point. And pick up a book or watch a film – your surrogate clan will be there. From Game of Thrones to Eastenders; from The Godfather to I Claudius; from Star Wars to Emile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart dynasty – we can’t get enough.

Personally speaking I like to keep with the fictional and give the real people a miss. As they say – ‘you can choose your friends… ‘

The Lone Sisterhood

M Oliphant

If you’re in Edinburgh and want to celebrate International Women’s Day in a typically Edinburgh kind of way – that is low key, understated, unfussy, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it – get yourself along to the Portrait Gallery on Queen Street. There’s a small but beautifully formed tribute to 19th Century Scottish women called Out of the Shadow. Ironically it’s set out in a small passage way linking two of the main halls, on the far side of the building away from the main staircase.

Of course there are numerous famous and not-so-famous wimmin celebrated elsewhere in the staggeringly beautiful building (go see, if you’ve never been) but this collection is marvelously inspiring and uplifting in a completely unflashy way. Which is apt because these women just got on with it. They didn’t need anyone saying ‘yes, you can’ and ignored anyone saying ‘no, you can’t’. Become a novelist, artist, mathematician, poet, political reformer? Why not?

You know the quote about feminism being ‘the radical notion that women are people’? I prefer the notion that people (not just women) are individuals. Of course movements, groups, organisations are important when you’re battling arcane systems and attitudes. But once you’ve won that battle what better reward than becoming your own person? It’s a luxury but it’s a luxurious gift from the lone sisters who went before us.

I’ll leave the final quote to Margaret Oliphant (featured in the exhibition)

Oh, never mind the fashion. When one has a style of one’s own, it is always twenty times better.


The New Normal? (Looking out for a hero)

Paris Peace imageDoes it seem that this big bad world can’t get any worse? Have the deepest pits of depravity been well and truly plumbed? It’s a living visceral nightmare with wall-to-wall shootings, beheadings, burnings, bomb-blasts, lifeless floating bodies – any horror you can imagine – and more besides.

Was it always like this? Or is just more extensive news coverage?

Back in the 1980s – being young and depressed – I thought this surely had to be the worst of times… imminent nuclear destruction, the Cold War... How could I ever think that in the future I would look back and feel nostalgic? True – there was the Ayatollah, Gadaffi and various hostage-takings but the middle-east wasn’t even the secondary story-line in our western thinking but rather an opening scene in one of the Timothy Dalton Bonds. Africa was a poor starving child who needed help but we could stick some coins in a tin and feel better about that. Any tangible mortal danger to ourselves was the occasional explosion carried out by unwashed people in flares and long hair. These usually happened across The Channel or in London though so if you stayed indoors in your northern town you were OK. Except of course being in Manchester in 1996.

A quick skim through the history books should have made me feel better. Wars, torture, genocide. Yeah, that was in the past – we’ve got to be getting better, right? Wrong! And don’t try dragging out the old ‘imagine no religion…’ either. Religion doesn’t cause wars or conflicts – it’s just the window dressing. Some people will always be greedy and aggressive and find it necessary to push the less greedy and aggressive around. (I always suspected those unwashed people in flares and long hair were less ‘freedom fighters’ and more weed-smoking petty criminals desperate for a life less ordinary – these days it’s robes and beards but they’re still the same people) Every country, every race, every religion has – and has had – its bad guys. And when you have bad guys – you have to have a hero to take them on. From Spartacus, Beowulf, Boudicca and Joan of Arc to Superman, Batman and Captain America we’ve always needed someone to take on the bad guys and make it better. And even if they are hugely flawed themselves, at least their intentions are good.

If this all sounds horribly western and euro-centric – I’m sorry – I’m a child of my upbringing. But at least I can recognise there’s something wrong when the media here concentrate on the week-long anniversary of the Paris attacks rather than an on-going situation in Mali.

The call has been for artists of all descriptions to carry on doing what they do and show that creation is better than destruction. We can offer up our own take – however naive, small or personal – on how to save the world.

For myself – as much as I’d like to strap on armour and drive a chariot over the goons who want to slaughter their way into the history books – I know my limitations. Instead I’m mobilising my characters from The Rachel Redemption to take on the bad guys. This time it’s The Rachel Revolution and I’ll post chapters up as they’re written. It might not save the world but at least I’ll have tried.






Sixty Glorious Years!

EurovishOnce upon a time it was terribly uncool to say you watched – far less liked – the Eurovision Song Contest. Now it seems the very opposite is true. So when BBC Breakfast presenters like Louise Minchin confirm with a snigger that they will not be watching, all us Eurovision lovers know we are on the right rainbow-coloured team.

So when did Eurovision get its credentials? It didn’t happen overnight, you know. From flickering b&w folks with evening dress and received pronunciation in the 50s. To candy-coloured childhood days of 60s innocence. Onto the difficult gawky teenage years of the 70s. The 80s and 90s were wilderness years in a way with too many nights lost to too much cheap alcohol and E Number snacks; such was the response to the increasingly ridiculous image of Eurovision which in turn was a therapeutic response to the increasingly momentous events in Europe. From New Romantics to Brit Pop Britain was far too preoccupied to be bothered.

A new millennium and a brave new Europe with Eurovision serving as a crash-course for those without a clue. Who knew there were so many countries that had previously been swallowed up by the Soviets? And – shock horror – they could do things cheaper and better. Okay, maybe there were still mullets and stone-washed denim – but they were getting there.

Now well into the 21st century, Britain – and the old Europe core of countries who always pay but never win – are pretty much nowhere. The vast majority are in it to win it; they put forward their best artists, they take it seriously and they work hard. Any parallels with Europe proper can’t be a coincidence.

As for tonight’s favourites – Sweden is indeed special with existential angst lyrics teamed with very clever visuals. Belgium also plays to type with a deliciously surreal feel that has Magritte written all over it. Australia is well crafted with a typically upbeat mood. Italy channel Il Divo, going all the way over the top and coming back for more. And whilst not a favourite, the UK also play to type with lyrics about catching nasty diseases, self-medicating and getting into fights – with a tune nicked from the potato waffles ad!

Whoever wins though it’s going to be a memorable night with the inimitable Conchita holding court. And with the (potentially positive) result of the gay marriage referendum winging its way from Ireland you can be sure Ms Wurst will put that centre stage – about the only thing that could grab the limelight from her!

So get the party started – and wish the old girl (I don’t mean Concheets!) a huge rainbow-coloured happy 60th!!

Stunned by cucumber

I hope of all of you who have been following Cucumber on Channel 4 have recovered from last night’s stunning, heart-wrenching, totally I-feel-like-I’ve-been-hit-by-a-bus episode. I wasn’t too convinced at the start of the run with too much of Russell T Davies‘ trademark soapiness and middle-age angst screaming that it just isn’t fair getting old. Oh, and a bit too much camera time spent lingering on the ‘beautiful’ Freddie Fox (maybe you have to be a gay man or a daft little girl to appreciate… )

But – but – hats off to Russell T for producing one of the most beautifully written, heart-stopping, completely absorbing pieces of TV drama ever. In a week when the first series of Wolf Hall came to a close most people would be saving their plaudits and filling out their award cards for that. But – can I inject some of the Emperor’s New Clothes here? Wolf Hall came with solid gold literary credentials and while it did contain some great performances (Claire Foy in particular) it dripped with its own self-importance and lot of the scenes seemed to be set in aspic. Talking of credentials they don’t come better qualified than Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis but a lot of the time they seemed a bit swamped by the magnitude of it all.

I’m sorry, but compared to the beautiful nuanced performance by Cyril Nri that damn near broke my heart – and not forgetting able support from Vincent Franklin and James Murray – the Cucumber lads acted the history boys into a cocked hat. Final thought – Mark Rylance said that he watched a lot of Robert Mitchum and Brad Pitt for inspiration in his role as Thomas Cromwell – he should do himself a favour and study episode six of Cucumber for a real acting masterclass.

My Bloody Valentine

It’s Valentine’s day! And if the best romantic gesture you can think of is a bottle of cheap prosecco, a bunch of service-station roses and some Asda lingerie which – coupled with the candles – really will set the bedroom on fire – think again. This time of year is also when poetry gets a look in. However if you want something more than the old ‘Roses are red…’ stuff you could do worse than check out the works of my own bloody valentine Richard Mulvey.

Surreal, sardonic, funny, sometimes angry, sometimes romantic. The poems aren’t bad either!

An unusual gift  – for relationships that can take it…

Happy Valentine’s, go for it!

ImageLooking forward to another overblown, over-hyped, commercial exercise in flogging more tat? Aw, don’t be so cynical…  maybe that’s the only way that some people can express themselves! If you do want something a bit more heartfelt than an Asda valentine’s card roughly the size of wee Jimmy Krankie here’s one of the most romantic and sensual poems ever written: To his Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell. Many think that it’s about wanting to desperately get into someone’s pants, which it is, albeit expressed very eloquently. However, I think it’s also about getting on with it generally and grabbing your chances when you can. So whether it’s in matters of romance or other things – go for it! We tend to regret the things we don’t do rather than the things we do (maybe apart from having those six extra Jagerbombs…). Anyway, here it is:

To his Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Top Ten Alternative Love Songs

Five tracks about love you may not have thought of:

The Jon Snows – She’s Mine

Hypnotic, compelling and just a little creepy.

Ed Kuepper – Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You

How many songs begin with a line like: ‘I’ve designs on you that come from dirty books’?

Scott Walker – Mathilde

The sheer exuberance of a man anticipating the arrival of his woman – ‘tell them to change the sheets on the bed, Mathilda’s come back to me!’

The Coral – Dreaming Of You

A passionate – if confused – affirmation of falling in love with someone you shouldn’t’ve.

Gnarls Barkley – Who’s Gonna Save My Soul?

When you would – quite literally – pull your own heart out for someone.

Five anti-Valentine songs:

Dr Feelgood – That’s It, I Quit!

‘You just look dirty, say you’re twenty but you’re thirty’ school of splitting up.

Peter Cook – Bedazzled

Super cool detachment – contains the classic line: ‘You fill me with inertia’!

The Stranglers – Shut Up!

When all’s said and done… why dontcha?

Cud – I’ve Had It With Blondes

It opens with ‘I was a teenage stamp collector, I’d lay on my back and you’d stamp on my face’ and gets even better!

Kelis – I Hate You So Much Right Now

Says it all really.

Happy Valentine’s day!

No Sex Please… oh, go on then!


A grand night out!

You have to wonder what’s attracting people in their droves to the smut-fest that is 50 Shades of Grey. That relentless trundling juggernaut of hype, perhaps? Most probably but in my eavesdropping experience it’s a particular shade of person who’s getting hot under her M&S – rather than S&M – collar. Yes, it’s that woman of a certain age who would never have dreamed of dipping a court-shoed toe in erotica before everyone from the Women’s Institute to Mills & Boon started getting in on the act.

The laugh is just about everyone who has donated their money to the 50 Shades trust fund usually finds it necessary to use the following phrases when ‘fessing up: ‘not very good’, tragic dialogue’, ‘cardboard characters’, ‘rubbish’ along with ‘well, everyone else was reading it’. No doubt making those who have written erotica for years want to string up E L James and her ad team with a rusty old set of nipple clamps.

I, myself, am not bitter as that is not my area of writing. I did think about trying my hand some time ago but I tend to think that sex in novels should be treated like a very rich chocolate dessert – a small helping is very nice now and again… but a whole meal?  Another reason is thinking back to the grief I experienced when I put my first novel ‘out there’. I was working in an office at the time and a fair number of co-workers bought a copy and were largely supportive until they reached ‘A SEX SCENE’. I could tell when that happened as eye contact stopped and I was generally treated like I had left something nasty on their doorsteps. Strange because they are the type of people who I’m very sure will be organising a shrieky gang-date with Mr Grey this very night.

That’s the thing with 50 Shades  – it’s naughty, but nice. It’s kinky, but tame enough to be mentioned on Breakfast Telly. It’s Cinderella with handcuffs, Jane Eyre with gaffer tape It’s not going to change the world or frighten the horses. It’s perfect girls-night-out fodder for women who are no longer girls. The younger generation – as depicted on screen – will be too busy sorting out their own real-life revenge-porn cases and wondering what the hysteria is all about.

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