One little boy, one baby girl Teddy Freda West Coast sunshine Seals Canter on a beach Pages turning Roses Baby smiles Silence River Wild flowers Smell of horses Smell of pages Singing Books In jokes Learning Fingernails on my back Riding fast, far, over jumps, my beautiful Arab horse Very hot baths Wall of sound Metallic punk pop harmonies time alone remote sweet river swimming soul searching black and white eyeliner two magpies persistence Reflection Passion Compassion Loving Free Stony beaches Familiar faces Family names Fire camp smoke smell Wellie boots Courage Strength necessity
Three, by a drain, against the school building. The Oystercatcher has left them unguarded. They are speckled, blue and fragile. Little Boy touches. I say best not. He calls his friends, come and see the bird’s eggs! A knot of four year olds swarm the nest with their eager stomping feet. Don’t touch, says my little boy. The Mummy bird will come back. The bell rings, they stampede to the nursery door. ‘What will happen to the eggs?’ he asks me. The teacher says ‘There will be baby birds. And next year the mummy bird will come back and nest in the same silly place again.’
Today I am thinking about Love and what it looks like. My Mum unslept and worried, There’s nothing she won’t do, to make it better To make it easier. My Dad in his element with a problem to work on My sister with her own burdens, Making mine lighter My friend who always has time, Care for yourself, she says. My baby who smiles and reaches up with chubby hands My little boy says I threw my raspberries at the window, I don’t deserve a bedtime story, Mummy And we hug and hug and read two.
Today I read in the news that twenty-two people, including children, were killed in a terrorist attack at a pop concert in Manchester. Hope is more important than ever. There is a General Election in a months’ time. Hope is more important than ever. Fear, ignorance, hatred, apathy, four faces carved in a cliff. Hope is more important than ever. Every day is a struggle. Some days I want to give up. Hope is community. It’s the ties we can’t see, but that form our safety net. Like a spider’s web of connection. Hope is more important than ever
The weather is great. The kids are bare legged and smeared in sun lotion. It’s hot and we don’t get many days like this. Only my ankles, wrists and collarbone are fit to be seen. Everything else is fat and white and needs to be hidden away. It is not good enough. But when no one is looking I shrug off my black cardigan because I am uncomfortably hot. I feel the sun lick the back of my neck, and between my shoulder blades. It feels good. Maybe I do deserve sunshine on my skin.
I know what you’re thinking. Overwhelmed is not a hopeful word. I am not very hopeful today. I am squashed flat and desiccated like an old rabbit carcase imprinted on a busy road. I am stupefied with exhaustion. I imagine a place which is quiet, safe and comfortable, with someone to look after me until I feel better. That place should be my home, but it’s not. I am overwhelmed with love for my baby and my little boy. I am overwhelmed by the love and support of my family and my friends. Overwhelmed is a hopeful word.
My little boy loves minibeasts. He digs for them in the soil, and scrapes them into pots, offering them fruit and leaves, poking and prodding. Yesterday he found a millipede. He called it Robert and he carried it everywhere. He cried when we let Robert slither away into the grass before bedtime. Robert will die if you keep him in a pot, I tried to explain. Instead we drew, crafted and researched millipedes together. These are the times when I feel like a good mother. They are not an insect, Mummy, he tells me, they are an arthropod.
Jack’s new grooming brushes arrived this week. They work so well on his freckly white coat. He’s beautiful and strong, and now he is almost shining. I spend time over each muscle on his powerful neck shoulders and quarters. We built these muscles together, up hills, along the beach, through the forest, over fences, in looping dressage movements. I work him on the lunge, helping him stretch out his back and his neck. No one can see the muscles he’s built in me, the ability to endure, the strength to keep going. He carries me to pure joy.
My little boy picked me some bluebells from the garden. I put them in a tumbler, on top of the piano. My Mum planted flowers around the front of our house, little pots of colour. My friend brought me a bunch, with white and pink roses. I don’t know the names of the flowers that Mum planted, or the other flowers in the bouquet Liz gave me. If I had time and room in my brain, I would find out more about flowers, wild and cultivated. I know their colours are beautiful and they make me happy. Is that enough?
When mothers meet, they often talk about The Birth. It wasn’t how they planned. We need to share our trauma with someone who'd understand. Nobody tells you might labour for days in mind-bending pain. Nobody tells you it might all be in vain. Nobody tells you you’ll be helpless and scared witless. Nobody tells you about the scars and stitches. Nobody tells you you’ll become worn thin, with lack of sleep and screams kept in It’s beautiful, it’s a miracle, it’s a blessing, they say, and keep you guessing. A healthy fear before, might mean reality is less distressing.
I feel sad for children who are not allowed to get filthy. I like to see mine with mud under their nails, grubby hands and knees, faces sticky with ice cream. I like to watch her tiny hands in sand, tugging at grass or stones. Today he found a giant worm in a puddle, and played in the muck. At the end of the day I run a bubbly bath and plunge them in. The water runs brown off his hands and legs. There’s a place for plastic toys, for screens and electronics, but the only place eternally meaningful, is outside.
My baby is one year old. She does not want to crawl or walk yet. She does not like to cry or fuss about anything. What she likes to do is smile, wave regally, and blow raspberries. She wants to splash in the bath, and sing like a fighting cat in the quietest places. She likes to stretch up her hands for a cuddle. She makes a rainbow mess with food. She turns the upside-down pages of books and chews on them. I know she will take their arbitrary milestones, rearrange them and build them into what really matters.
June evening in the horses’ field. A couple, no, a trinity of magpies. For joy. For a girl. A galaxy of buttercups, an anarchy of docks, an angry horde of nettles. One deer who grazes peacefully within our fences. The horses don’t even look up as he hurdles the fence. Tiny bunnies oblivious to the speck of buzzard above us. The rain is coming. It will be light for hours yet. The trees shelter the horses, and no one else is here. Reduce the world to this, if only for an hour each day.
Four of us went to a comedy show last night. I forgot how much I like to laugh. We all had things to feel sad about, or scared about, anxious about, or angry about. Between us we have lived a lot of hurt. Four friends who have survived. Who keep stretching out their fingertips, hoping this time they won’t be severed, sliced, burned or broken. History tells that love is like a toddler’s toy, something to be gifted, and then we watch as it’s battered and broken and thrown aside. But we all still love, and God, we can still laugh.
During the bright day, people come and go, smile at a boy reading quietly on his own. I eat Dahl and drink Morpurgo. I breathe Lewis and sweat Tolkien. They sustain me but I am lonely. There are no other library boys. I know this because I’ve looked. I try to feel around in the darkness, under the book stacks, behind the counter. I finger the inky stamp that kisses each willing flyleaf. I look through the gaps in the sparser shelves, but there’s no one. I’m alone. So instead I migrate from cover to cover foraging for what I need. I never find out what my name is.
Got up at six thirty. Fed and dressed the kids and myself. Full face of makeup. Drove little boy to school. Housework. Drafted application for a writing competition. More housework. Picked up little boy from school and dropped baby girl at nursery. Rehearsed for a concert on Wednesday night. Drank coffee with my sister. Watched The Handmaid’s Tale recorded from Sunday, on the sofa, with my husband. Finished writing application, made dinner. More housework. Three loads of washing. Fed baby girl. Bathed them both and put them to bed. Sat down and wrote this. Fuck you, slavering black dog. I’m not stopping.
Your problems are not mine – for my Airor Angels The first time I heard it I recoiled. I thought it meant distance, but it doesn’t. It means just because I have hurts, I can still listen to you. I want to listen to you. I am glad of something new to think about. And I don’t want my peaks and troughs to make me an ineffectual friend, a taker and not a giver. I want to be there for you. I want the scales to balance. Your problems are not mine, and I cannot take the hurts away from you. But let me care, like you do.
The wind is booming in the chimney. The clock ticks. The house sighs and creaks. Silence is so precious to me. It’s a luxury, an indulgence, like lobster, new underwear or a pedicure. I fucking love when the house is silent. There is nothing I want to hear more. Alone. No needs to meet. No questions to answer. No smile to force. There is mess. There is a sleeping baby. There is a never-ending list. So much I should be doing. An angry voice in my ear. It comes from me. Shut up. Let me enjoy my silence.
She asks me which branch of the Rural I belong to. I’m just the singer, I say. We share stories.
Her husband died nineteen years ago. She was born in 1934, married at twenty, joined the WI to make friends, the farm was lonely. Four children, ten grandchildren, five great-grandchildren. She likes to play Patience on her computer (not one of those hand-held ones, she says), while watching Murder She Wrote. I wasn’t married when I had my son, I admit, I’m not a church-goer. I go to church, says Mrs Cargill, and that doesn’t bother me a bit.
She drinks Gin and Bitter Lemon.
General Election 2017
I am so angry that ignorance and self-interest hold power. our Westminster half-government may get into bed with hateful homophobes. Enraged that people will exploit with no duty of care.
Who gives a fuck about those who can't look after themselves? Not my problem, mate.
It will become your problem when the hospitals and schools starve and fail, with the old people and children who depend on them.Who will you blame then? Immigrants? Gay people?
Blame yourselves and your vote.
It will become your problem because people like me really give a fuck now. Like the miners did, the students and the suffragettes.
Be angry about injustice. Anger Trumps apathy.
I know he will fear the terrible creatures, their teeth and claws. He is building the little boat that will take him there, and there is no room for me. He’ll launch it without fearful memories, confident he has the tricks to tame them.
I cannot tell him not all monsters have yellow eyes.
I cannot tell him that boats can sink and people drown, and never come home from that place.
I cannot tell him I will always be there, or that I can make them go away.
But I have helped him make his wee paper crown, and fixed it on his head.
Steam off a hot horse and a drying road.
Heavy rain that dies away like a round of applause, leaving the air singing to a beat of dripping trees. Anxiously counting magpies, where is your wife?
Tiny purple flowers among the buttercups. Fireworks of yellow on the broom.
A red squirrel squashed on the tarmac. A rare red one, he should have lived.
Shot-silk silver birch bark flashing by us. Cattle jostling along the fence line, shitting and squelching. Clachnaben hunching wart-nosed in the distance.
The river makes him spook, burbling over some rocks. It’s only water and foam, but he sees a Kelpie.
I have only a finite number of steps for city walking. Glamour, squalor, edification and dereliction crowd me like the filthy pigeons. It looks best from the rooftop, or better still the Crags. Footsore and sticky, we take the Waverley Steps. I’m glad when the train crosses the Forth. The Lomond Hills like a child’s painting. Then the Tay and the sheen of Lunan Bay, the Angus Glens ushering us North to where the soil is Grassic-Gibbon red. We compare notes. Mostly, I have lived here. She has lived so many places. We are both glad to be home.
Mummy, imagine if there was a tree as big as twenty-eight million thousand school buses, and it went up as high as the moon?
Would you climb up that tree to the moon?
Yes, I would climb and it would take lots of days and years. I would go with Polly.
What would you do on the moon?
I would show the aliens my butt.
You’d need a lot of sandwiches to keep you going when you were climbing up to the moon.
Cheese sandwiches. When I got to the moon, I would throw cheese at the space birds.
The problem is we are islands. The silence is hostile. Even the smoke signals get lost.
It takes someone else to suggest a bridge. One that might meet in the middle.
Ask him to join you on the bridge, she suggests. Look at each other, she reminds us.
My island has a stormy coastline. His, impenetrable cliffs.
Join me on the bridge, I ask him.
Okay, but what do we have to build it with? How far will each of us come? Building isn’t your strong point.
Join me on the bridge, he asks me.
I would, if I could see in the dark.
It took me a long time to find a way to look.
Bleach and eyeliner, velvet and leather, black and silver.
Boots and lipstick, a diamond in my nose.
Now this is me. Like it or not.
It’s superficial, but it’s an achievement. To know how you want to look.
There are other things I know about myself now.
I don’t like small talk. Pigeons make me flinch and scream. I love Jack Daniel’s
I’ve stopped wanting to like red wine and malt whisky and hip music.
When the light’s on, I look alright. And really, I am quite strong.
I like it when people have harmless rituals against their fears.
She walks past the piano, and plays a G for good.
She will salute a solitary magpie.
She will never begin a journey without St Christopher around her neck.
She will always leave through the same door she came in by.
We can’t carry our tattered, smelly toys or blankets with us. There may not be a hand to hold.
So these must do instead.
I don’t think they are a concession to fear, I think they are a flip of the middle finger to it.
I’ve got this.
Paddling in the cold peaty water, the river stole his left jelly shoe and my right flip-flop.
He uses the slimy wooden weir as a slide.
She doesn’t like the moss and pine needles touching her tiny toes. She’s hot and sad today.
He wades out to a grassy island to share his picnic.
I came here thirty or more years ago, with my mum and dad.
The memory brought me back, with my own babies, to play in the pools and on the rocks of the Feugh.
You can’t make a memory. Memories make themselves.
Did he run somewhere?
The Anchor Bar has cardboard pinned behind a broken window. There are bin bags full of once worn sweatshop clothes outside the Red Cross Shop. Seagulls wrench filthy chips from shattered polystyrene. Their shit streaks the expensive cars that everyone drives but nobody owns.
Is he deid?
There is nothing else for the pensioners, sad young mums and unemployed oil workers to talk about in the car park of the Tesco that strangled the high street. In the Weatherspoon’s pub that’s putting the Anchor out of business. In the Bookies and the Pound shop. At the Crematorium or the Doctor’s Surgery.
What happened to Danny Singer?
I know. But they will never find out.
Mummy, I would like a humming-bird and also, I would like a swan.
Well, there are no humming birds in Scotland, and I think all the swans belong to the queen.
Emm…history? They just do. We can’t keep them as pets. Anyway, they’re fierce.
The Queen is greedy, keeping all the swans for herself. Why does she even want a pet swan if they are nasty and vicious? I don’t want her ever to come to my house.
She won’t, sweetheart. She won’t come to our house.
She’s busy, with all her swans, and being queen. Doing royal things. Get in the car please.
It’s Heathcliff’s fault, and River Phoenix and Pete Doherty didn’t help much. It becomes a habit.
Of course, no one is good or bad, there are only shades and flaws.
She doesn’t need him to spear a mammoth.
She’d like to talk about books and ideas and feelings. Yes. Those.
But she stopped believing, and she chose her own cave.
The shadows in there are livid and writhing.
So, she covers them with cave paintings of the bookish soulmate she doesn’t deserve.
Crushing her fear into red and ochre.
Drinking whisky on her own.
I bought some cream for my face. It was on offer and I’m nearly forty.
Snake Venom, it said, will instantly freeze your wrinkles. I dropped it in my basket and moved on to the nappies and wipes.
Hang on, Snake Venom? Really?
Improved Formula with SYN-AKE, a snake venom-like peptide.
That sounds artificial, and toxic, but I really don’t want to look old.
Instant Effect Wrinkle Filler, for visibly smoother and plumper skin.
Mercury, Botulism, Leeches straight from Medieval Physick onto our twenty-first century faces.
Poison is the acceptable face of beauty.
My body is fighting a virus. My joints ache, my head hurts. Through the night I couldn’t sleep for shivering, my teeth chattered, despite a hot water bottle. I fell asleep and woke in the night to peel off my pyjamas, soaked in sweat. I wake up so grateful that the kids are staying with Granny and Granda. I don’t know how I’ll get out of bed, but I do.
I count the hours between doses of paracetamol and ibuprofen, drink water, grab a sleep when she’s napping. The thing is, whatever it takes, you have to keep going.
‘I think I understand now why you don’t think Gideon was mad. I’ve thought about it, but really, your argument is the same as mine. It’s not really about sanity. It’s still about love. You think he just doesn’t conform, he doesn’t believe what he should believe, and I agree. He’s so fucked up because of his childhood that he doesn’t believe in love, and so he can’t believe in anything. He has no solid ground, so he falls into the Black Jaws to where the Devil is. Then he believes in the Devil because the devil is him. The devil is his own pain and loneliness and he can really feel that, so he can believe in it.’
Politely turning down offers is not an option. I can’t look after the kids, I can’t do anything. My chest is rattling and my skin oozing sweat, my legs weak and unreliable.
I don’t even feel like writing. Speaking hurts.
Doctor saw me within hours, out of hours, efficient and kind. Pneumonia, he says, not flu.
I’ve been cared for all weekend. I have been looked after. It feels good, when everything else hurts.
The best thing about being ill is that you can’t help but be helped. You see the very best in the very best people.
I went to festivals when I was younger, bare faced, muddy and skint in charity shop velvet and cords. No subtlety in our taste for pretty boys and girls with loud guitars. We drank cider, snogged strangers, threw up. We bathed in sweat and lager in the mosh pit.
We would not have taken a good selfie. We did not have sequins around our eyes.
It’s age, I’m sure, but they don’t look like they’re having much fun. From her boyfriend’s shoulders, two rows from the front, she’s updating her status on her smartphone.
They ‘ve been sold so many things, and this is just one more must-have.
Have you lost your mind? Where’s your sense of humour?
My mind goes everywhere it can, it loves to travel.
My sense of humour is not on call; it turns up when it feels like it.
Is your heart really in it? Listen to it, what does it say?
My heart is wherever I am, beating in my chest.
It says nothing. It beats and thumps and carries on. It won’t break or melt, harden or soften.
You’re not yourself these days.
I am always myself. It’s the days that change, and I go with them.
My stammer hides from Stephanie, and she is like family to me. Better than family. She is so patient with me, teaching me to use a mobile phone.
The thing I love most about my new smartphone is the ability to send text messages. It’s so much easier than talking. I would type every word I ever needed to say and send it via text message if I could. The most wonderful thing is sometimes Ryan and I will sit on the sofa, or at opposite sides of the bar, and carry out a conversation using our phones, and for the first time, I can express myself clearly and without fear or shame.
I don’t believe in life after death, hauntings or voices from the grave.
I think what we need from people we loved, is within easy reach.
Sometimes it is easier to get comfort from them than from the living.
Her life was endless gifts to mine, and no one can take her away.
And if I feel, her strong hand on my shoulder, or stroking the back of my hand.
If she’s with me when I wake alone in the dark
It doesn’t mean that I believe in ghosts, just that I loved her and always will.
He won’t sit with them, stand with them, sing with them.
They line up at the door. He does a headstand.
His brain is like a butterfly, his thoughts tangle round his ankles.
And all the emotion of being asked to fit in, comes out explosively. He’s the toothpaste when you squeeze the tube too much.
The ceremonies and conventions have no meaning for him, and I try not to be frustrated or sad.
I’m proud of my tiny non-conformist, but I don't want to let go of his hand, when he chooses the less-travelled way.
After a few drinks last night, we decided there was nobody from a film that we wanted to be.
No women, anyway.
Maybe I’m watching the wrong films.
We wracked our brains and came up with Princess Leia…Princess Merida…Wonder Woman.
No thank you. I don’t want to be a fucking princess. Or wear a skin-tight catsuit.
Your other alternative is a psycho…Winona in Heathers. Una in Kill Bill.
Nope. Not fancying that either. And certainly not Bridget fucking Jones.
But all around me are kick arse women I wish I was more like, who have not been adapted for the Big Screen.
My lungs are strong
I have these words
I can shout them to the sky
I’m not afraid, I won’t give up
Not even going to cry.
My heart is strong and I refuse
To have it compromised
My arms are strong
I can slice the black worms
They bruise and then divide
But one day I’ll stop feeding them
One day, I’ll get wise
Go on, Take me to the deepest darkest place,
dig down deep, bury me alive
I have a love untouchable.
I won’t die. I will rise.
Tom’s Cairn, near Finzean, the third of July
With a best friend, not in our most sensible shoes
I get a photo of a dragonfly for Little Boy
Cuckoo spit, ticks and adders in the heather
On one side the Dee Valley, familiar places shrunken below
On the other the Feugh and the Forest of Birse, the hulking Cairn O Mount
I don’t even try and use a camera- it’s too much for that
Forty minutes in my new old car and we’re here
Where beauty and hope run like the Dee in spate
And the birds fly up from the grass.
When you find some words that everyone has inside them
And a tune that carries those words proudly on its shoulders
Crafted from love and loss and sung in
A voice that’s sweet and cracked with living
It becomes the tapestries on your walls depicting
The lump in your throat driving westwards
Soaring higher than Drumochter, more shimmering than Laggan
Pure like the white sands we rode upon
Hearts swelling like the peacock sunsets over the Cuillins and skin shivering like the Atlantic in October.
With a steady beat like the boat’s hull hitting the waves
Let this be our anthem.
Evening on the stony beach, we’ve rock pooled and found anemones and a dead crab.
We’ve slid on seaweed and identified crustaceans.
I sit on a smooth rock, to watch the sea, to breathe, to think.
Come on! He shouts, I need you, Mummy!
And I sigh and heave myself to my feet and go to him.
I’m only briefly irritated. I’m glad he needs me, and even gladder than he shouts it out.
Even at my age, I still need you, Mummy. Sometimes you’re the only one who’ll do.
To be needed. It doesn’t always feel like it, but what a privilege.
We hear her cough and cry at one a.m.
Daddy picks her up, covered in soupy sick. She’s hot and screaming.
It’s all over her, from breakfast Cheerios, to teatime Bolognaise.
He bathes her while I strip her sheet, wipe sick off the cot and the floor.
At two a.m. she’s sick again. All over our bed. There are no clean sheets.
He drops off on the bare mattress, under a sleeping bag.
I make a nest for us on the sofa, and sleep half-sitting, half-lying next to her
Before she starts sucking her thumb, she giggles and says
You’re welcome, darling.
Everything you are doing is wrong, you see?
You are damaging your child with formula milk, screen time and chicken nuggets.
It should be organic. It should be holistic. It should be academic.
And the way you eat is unclean. No wonder you’re fat and depressed.
You should be diary-free, gluten-free, sugar-free. It will change your life
The way you think is flawed. Be mindful. Visualise. Meditate.
You must let go of negativity, embrace the power of positive thought.
You must revise your life: read more, run more, do more, buy more.
As if it’s that easy.
Today I had a selfish day.
Or, am I allowed to call it a self-care day?
I saw my counsellor in the morning. I’m grateful for it, but it’s draining.
Then I sat in a café with my laptop and notebook, working on Daniel Singer.
Then I sat by the sea reading The Handmaid’s Tale, eating chocolate.
Then I went to the hairdresser, read more and chatted.
Then I brushed my muddy horse clean and fed him. Love his bones.
Then I drove home, ready to be Mummy again.
Today I had a selfish day.
Or a day for myself.
What would it look like, to stop making things seem normal?
What would it mean, what would it feel like?
Would it feel better than this or worse?
If I let go and let everything come out
If I shouted and screamed and slashed and burned?
Because normal is only plastered on top.
The rot is underneath, doing the damage.
I came around the corner driving at forty, the car was stopped blocking my path.
To my left a brick wall, to my right a ravine.
I had no choice but to let the cars crash.
Keeping the sea on my right
The top down, breeze in my hair
Hopes high, music loud
Every precious minute of this time
I’m thankful for, I’ll make it count.
Keeping the sea on my right
Heading North, following the villages stoic against the sea
And the big sky
It’s rush hour in Inverness. Not everyone is dream-chasing.
Neptune’s Staircase is racked with tour buses
A right turn takes me up an implausible hill road, with Loch Ness falling away behind me.
To Moniack Mhor.
She rarely leaves her home, bit she was lonely today. The empty chair reminds her that her sister is gone. She walked down to the bus stop and waited for a bus that didn’t come. Someone had left a magazine on the bench. She rolled it up and put it in her patent leather handbag. Back home, she had to clean her glasses and move nearer to the window, for the light. The paper is alien to her: both words and images. But she’s curious. She wonders what the world has become without her in it.
My name is Katie
It means determined, passionate, anxious.
It is fish scales, river water, starlight and birch bark.
It is loving Teddy and Freda, my horse Jack, the West Coast.
It is fearing not being enough
It is the memory of my granny who taught me what love looks like when she let me cut her fingernails. She made me laugh at death because of love.
My name is Catriona Mary Keith
It means just love keeps us going.
Surface, forfuckssake, with The Bends, lungless and broken, but surface. Then you’ll have a story to tell. You’ll be a mermaid or a sea-bloated corpse. Kick harder, keep trying until your lungs become a pulpy mess like your mashed-up thoughts. If you trust a passing porpoise, more fool you. A seal is a better bet, bonnie, doe-eyed and benign. Your Selkie friends let you ride their sleek pelts to shore. You give up your body to become one of them, because with them, you can breathe under water. You are a Selkie princess with a diamond smile. You rule together, share the fish, swim loops around the kayaks with your sisters. Your babies drink thick milk on the rocks and grow downy and perfect.
Here you are as if you never left. As beautiful as seventeen. But now I know that when we are cut apart, it will take twenty years of bleeding until we are reunited, cool and immortal.
No one knew my bones like you, itchy and imperfect, loved them still. There’s no time to talk, and before the fall you climb in here with me. The strange fear is trapped in amber back in nineteen ninety-five. It’s the only thing twenty years gave me that you didn’t.
We don’t need liquid gold to patch us up.
My heart is failing, it’ll be over soon. You’re not him now, you’re someone else. And somehow that’s okay, but too late. Because I’ll never wake up.
Frances Ainslie Craig Aitchison Claire Deans Laura Donald Catriona Duncan Hannah Foster Patrick Gale Andrea Johnson Kirstin McKie Kevin MacNeil Tiffany Murray Ruth O’Donnell Annie Sturgeon Lorraine Teviotdale Jackie Thomson
This morning, did you notice the eyeliner was blue instead of black? It doesn’t smudge so badly.
I don’t think wolves eat gooseberries. Okay. Maybe good ones do.
Clouds have different names depending on where they live in the sky
They are made of water and no, you can’t sit on them.
No, you can’t make a baby come out by being sick.
I’m not sure how parrots burp. Probably just like we do.
Later, from the back seat of the car.
Mummy, I like it better when you’re here.
Why’s that? Bet you had fun without me? What was the best thing?
Oh Mummy, just please stop asking so many questions.
I worked with a Brethren boy. On the boat, there was a calendar in the wheel-hoose, one of these with a bible text for each day, about the size of a fag packet. I wis affa tryin to gie up smoking, but the Skipper hid some tobacco so I thocht I’d mak myself a roll-up. I’d nae fag papers so I took een of the texts off the calendar. So me and the Skipper wis smoking awa in the wheel-hoose and the holy boy appears.
That’s nae een o my texties you’ve used for your cigarette, Wullie?
‘Aye,’ says I. ‘Ken fit this is?’ I took a sook on my roll-up. ‘Holy Smoke.’
Something on the track ahead
The horses sense them first. They halt to look at us and we watch them.
A doe and her two small fawns.
The noise they make is like a whistle.
They wait in the long grass, reeds and whins on the moss
We ride on, thinking they’ve run.
Then Jack freezes on the track, fearful, splay-legged.
I dismount to lead him forwards.
Around the corner, leaf ears straining
There they are again, watching us, stalling their flight
Curious and terrified, a mother and her two fawns fleeing
Frightens him. I’m not surprised.
She says we must educate young women to take responsibility for their fertility; postponement of child-bearing is a risky lifestyle choice.
So, we need to take more responsibility, you say?
Yet they make childcare and parental leave a luxury, make sure we still don’t earn what men do.
Tell us to wait for Mr Right, but not too long.
For a 90 percent chance of having a family of two, start trying at twenty-seven. Eh?
More pressure, more should. But only for us.
After all, it’s only women who can have babies. As if we reproduce by cutting ourselves in half.
I wandered away from the others. I wanted to smile at things on my own. I took time to notice the lichen and the weird fungi, the horsetail ferns and the flowers I can’t name. A strange wee bird is following me. I think he’s a robin, although his breast isn’t yet red. I have a question for him.
If a Robin is really somebody’s soul, then who are you?
What have you come to tell me, and why now?
He sat on the bench beside me and said, here I am. The rest you already know.
Almost five, he’s a grubby, bruised volcano,
He erupts in the supermarket, the swimming pool, the playground.
I dodge his angry lava flow and try to control the explosion
And if I can’t, I try to hold him tight, try to give him the words
He needs to cool him down.
Are you angry? Are you sad? What would make it better?
Even when he has all the words, even when he knows better, and keeps it under his shifting plates like I do, I hope he always has someone to do this for him.
What else is love?
Know yourself really well
Protect the things you believe will work
Let your characters lead you
Believe in your voice
Grab something from lived experience
Your premise doesn’t need to be original but you need to believe in it
Target the research to the completed narrative.
Know the conventions before you break them
Learn to listen between the lines
Silence is also a part of dialogue.
Endings should be unexpected and inevitable
It’s not indulgence. It’s not about feeling guilty. It’s doing something for the greater good.
Nothing in life is static
The sky keeps changing
The wind sings here. It just made a key change.
A literary gerbil
She can speak but it’s hard to write, she can write but it’s hard to speak.
I didn’t want to swat the wasp because Kevin is a Buddhist
I’m there. I feel it.
The Cone Gatherers. The Shock of the Fall. On Chesil Beach. Miss Jean Brodie.
You are loved when you find someone who speaks your language
To thine own self be true
God is the same thing as Good
Find and Value who you are
Seals are really cool, but I wouldn’t like to be one.
It’s a long-forgotten feeling, teenage tainted, like angst and acne and period pains.
A shiny knife-edge in which you can see yourself distorted.
Fingers hovering near an electric socket
That last drink that should have stayed in the bottle. Screw the cap on tight.
Hyper-vigilance over a cup of tea.
Combing through words he throws away, searching for meaning.
It’s called a crush because it’s not comfortable, because it’s too much.
There’s no room to breathe.
Like a crowd mangling the railings trampling on flesh and bone.
Trying to escape.
Madame, la vendeuse a dit, elles sont pour les hommes !
Madame, Magi a dit, elles sont pour les pieds !
Mais, bravo, ma biche !
Les chaussures vertes sont belles.
Et puisque tu es danseuse, elles seront aussi confortables et pratiques pour toi.
Danser, sauter, courir dans les talons hauts, c’est la folie. Et ce n’est pas toi.
Je suis fière de toi, copine.
Que tu le sais, que tu les dis, que tu le fais.
Tu donnes envie d’entrer tous dans la fraternité des chaussures vertes.
(Dommage que je ne trouve pas le mot ‘sisterhood’ en français.)
I don’t know what’s happened to Danny, but I’ve never heard him talk so much. His words are spilling out so fast it sounds like another language and I haven’t a clue what he’s talking about, but I just let him talk. He came in carrying a bunch of daffodils and he dropped them on the bed beside me in his hurry to get his surplus of words out. When he finishes, his face floods with joy and he holds me tight, scrambling across the bed, getting mud on the duvet cover with his wet trainers.
I pretend to be reading the spines so that I can listen to a conversation at the desk. The librarian is a young girl, probably about my age, and she’s talking so kindly and patiently to an elderly lady, who wants to look at a newspaper from the year she was born. She was born in nineteen thirty-seven, so I imagine the librarian will have to explain to her that isn’t possible. Instead, she comes out from behind the desk and takes the lady up the stairs to the mezzanine and gets her a seat at one of the tables while she tells her about microfiche and what they will have to do to look at it.
The Mean Reds
Everything is grey (or red, or blue) and she wants to sleep
If she was someone else, it would be different
She’d give them permission to be sad
Not to tick jobs off a list and then add more to it
She’d say they were worth taking care of
She’d say it was okay to have days like these
Be kind to yourself, she’d tell a friend
Other people deserve to be happy
So why not her?
She’s not sure, she keeps moving the goalposts
Of what she must do before she deserves the same.
Leave me alone
Stop poking me with sharp sounds
Stop helping yourself to me
I cannot keep you all happy when I’m dead inside
Nothing is infinite and if you stretch me much thinner I will break
Leave me alone
Let me be myself without guilt, without conflict
I let go of so much, take this away and I will drown
I need something to hold on to
I’m so far away from where I want to be
Leave me alone, give me time and silence
Give me friends and books and outdoors and
Things that cost nothing but your understanding
She takes the pills and waits for the pain to start. They make her pee in cardboard bedpans and monitor the contents. It’s like a bad period. It’s like a bad dream.
She stops taking the pills but the pain still comes, month after month. A streak of red failure. The days are counted out. A day’s delay shoots a bud of hope.
She carries the weight and counts the days, each tweak and twinge, a loosening, a stage nearer to birth. Beginning to open, not like a flower, but like a deep cut, what’s inside
We are watching the sea hopefully
Every crash of white could be a cetacean surfacing
Or a whole pod of them
Or just a white horse rearing
Could even a be a bobbing seagull at this distance
Naked eyes strain to the horizon
Is it? No. What about that? I’m not sure.
No confirmed sightings from our hut
Until we go inside, and leave the hut door wide to watch the sunset pain the Buchan coast
The sky rewards us with an enormous white dolphin made of cloud.
18 August 2012 My son was born, sixteen days late, failed induction, failure to progress in labour, distressed baby, emergency C- section. Lasting trauma, fear and flashbacks. A perfect, healthy and precious baby boy. Peter Edward Keith Sutherland, after his deceased paternal grandfather. We call him Teddy.
22 April 2016, my daughter was born and they put her on my chest. Planned, peaceful caesarean, with music playing and theatre staff smiling and joking. I named her as she lay sticky on my breasts, you’re Freda Lizzie Sutherland. After her great auntie and her granny. They took her away to Neo-natal nursery but I was strong and so was she.
I got woken up before six
I got the kids fed cleaned up dressed and two loads of washing done
I got treated by my Mum to an hour at the Beauty Salon
I got screamed at by a four-year-old
I got a migraine
I got a beautiful cake made by my nieces
I got the mother of all tantrums from my son over said cake
I got the urge to cry, put everything down and walk away.
I got my period and the accompanying pains
I got an hour’s peace while they nap, and
I got this written with no interruptions.
He calls it working on a bomb in the middle of the North Sea
Doesn’t see much daylight. Doesn't eat well. Hot beds.
We don’t talk about the helicopter.
The twelve-hour shifts grow fatter on his insomnia and he comes home
Running on empty
Six or seven pounds lighter, a shade or two paler.
It’s not an old man’s game, he says.
Ride the gravy train while you can.
It’s not his passion, but it pays well.
And he has to slot in and out of our real life
Two weeks on: two weeks off.
What you see is
A cold shoulder and the light turned off when you come upstairs
Dishes in the sink, dust, piles of washing
Another empty bottle
A scratch on the car
The mistakes I make and
The things I haven’t done
What you get is
Fed, clothed, clean, educated and entertained, corrected and comforted and loved.
That keeps us warm and safe, fit for purpose
Who’s putting herself to one side, for you, for them
What you get is everything.
The Smokie Shed is made from tarry black planks, splintery and weathered. The half door is open only a fraction. Dinky is on her side. I can see her belly and legs and something slithery and bloody at her tail. Dad shouts for Mum again, she’s up in the house with my little brother. Dinky snuffles and rustles in the dusty straw. I’m so worried about her that I take the wee silver ball out of my dressing gown pocket, instead of the hard sweetie I got from Granny last night. Dad shouts again. The ball rolls down my throat, metallic and seasoned by animal sweat and dust motes.
Where you are, is where you’re meant to be
It’ll all come out in the wash
I was very circumspect
Hello Mr Magpie, how is your wife?
I wonder how far this will ging intae the grun?
You have to suffer to be beautiful
Another pound in the bank
It’s the dark side of genius
I’m off to assume the position
This too shall pass
That’s nae the wey I would ging
What’s for you will no go by you
This is just a load of pish, by tossers, in a shithole.
The tent blew down at midnight in the rain
It was October on the Moray Coast
The haunted bedroom in stormy Thurso
Sick on the ferry sleeping with heads on our paperbacks.
Seal photos - tiny pinheads taken from the Broch
You got annoyed when I wouldn’t go inside the Smoo Caves
I managed Maes Howe, surely that was worse?
Wee red car against the wind and waves on the Churchill Barrier
Vertical hair outside the Italian Chapel
Plockton and Gairloch in the West Coast sunshine.
There is a light that never goes out.
Small budget, big adventure, first love, old photos.
You are weak and you know it.
That’s why you crave control
You’re sick and in denial
So you seek a kind sweet soul
You want a crutch to hop on
You want a bag to hit
You want to blame somebody
So you treat a girl like shit
It’s not your fault, you’re broken
A lost and wounded lad
Your daddy left your mummy
So it’s okay to be bad
You met your match now honey
She’s too good for you, too strong
She’s sick of dragging your dead weight
And soldiering along
She never was your mummy
Your angel or your nurse
There to make you better when
You kept behaving worse
The Queen in shining armour
Is free of you at last
The slogan on her t-shirt
Inhale the future, exhale the past.
From the French verb bouder meaning ‘to sulk’
Because that’s what ladies do.
A boudoir is a place for ladies to go and sulk.
Or a female space used to escape from conflict
And the choice you’re given is- stay sulky or make yourself sexy and emerge
Put your face on in your boudoir, your lingerie and your patent heels
Come to your senses and comply.
They can pull your strings from the outside
But you have a safe place within.
# 45 Cigarettes and Alcohol
Underage drinking, no sleep and no hangover
#79 Girl from Mars
Sex was a theme park, gates just opened.
#123 Smells Like Teen Spirit
Seven of us in ancient Vauxhall Nova
#005 The Drowners
Swimming in the river, campfire smoke and cider
# 86 Born Slippy
Fumbling about to find who we were
#17 A Design for Life
We left home, went to University
#102 Disco 2000
Fresher’s Week scattered us to the four winds.
#92 La Tristesse Durera
It was never, ever like that summer again.
The shed was used for smoking Finnan Haddies, decades and decades ago, when our house was still a fisherman’s cottage. Now the shed is dark and deep with straw and we keep out donkey in it. We didn’t know she was pregnant, but she’s given birth to a foal. Dad has shut the half door to stop me seeing the bloodiness. The foal will be called Matchbox and he will be okay. The seagulls on the roof sound panicky, like me, because I swallowed a wee silver ball instead of a sweetie, and I’m going to die.
A day along the Buchan coast, vast sky, towering red cliffs
Little boy foraging on the beach, baby girl eating cake
Rosehearty, Crovie, Gamrie, Pennan
Bonny sea towns like limpets low on the rocky braes
Holiday homes and artists’ studios, craft shops and cafes
Then the grim hulk of the Broch
Kids doing drugs in the car park in daylight
Grey light, empty shops, litter and graffiti
Used needles on the footpath to the lighthouse
Dereliction or gentrification: two sides of the same coin
One is much easier to turn away from.
I never met my father-in-law, Peter Harrower Peddie Sutherland.
He’s buried in the kirkyard at Gamrie and he died aged seventy-one
Little boy was fascinated by the gravestones and he made me read them out
All the tiny ones for babies ages months or days old
I tried not to imagine the heartbreak, of families who lost three or four that young
My son is almost five, Peter Edward Keith Sutherland
He almost died when he was born, and so did I
If there is anything more important than healthcare free to all at the point of access
Standing in a cemetery, it’s very hard to think of what it might be.
They moved in across the road
But they never cut the grass
Never opened the curtains in daylight
She put the bins out in her pyjamas
With her hair like a bird’s nest. Imagine.
His car was gone all day, sometimes all night
That poor baby. She didn’t even open the door to the Health visitor
Then she walked out into the street holding the wee bundle out to nobody
Please someone take him, he won’t stop crying.
It was late, but a lady walking a Labrador took the baby, and her hand, and led her back inside.
My niece is called Elsie. She’s my brother’s oldest daughter. She’s seven years old.
Elsie loves to write. She writes poems and stories. Some of her favourite topics are: mermaids, unicorns, dragons and fairies. She is also very good at writing about her feelings and what is worrying her, and will often write her Mummy a note instead of verbalising a problem.
She loves to read and gets lost in her chapter books. She can’t wait for the summer holidays to be over, because she loves school work and feels as though her ‘brain is empty’ when she’s not at school
Ally walked through the school car park, stopped to light a cigarette and kept walking. Away from Aberlayne Academy, across the high street, through the November drizzle and biting gusts of wind. Charity shops and Pound Stores, bookies and bars overran the depressing town centre of the once smart wee county town. The inevitable formed in his mind. He walked until the River Layne Bridge crossed to the stark new industrial estate and the pavement ended. There was no shelter from the wind off the river and he was shivering now, his feet cold and wet. The text took seconds to send:
I'm sorry, I made a mistake
Tomorrow my wee boy will be five years old. His birth and the days leading up to it were traumatic, terrifying. I don’t remember the first few days of his life. I still get nightmarish flashbacks.
After we brought him home, I was euphoric. I appreciated my life and especially his. He was instant joy. He was infinite strength. I was proud of my baby, and I was proud of myself for coping. Five years ago, there was a song always playing on the radio. The chorus had the line
‘I never knew what I wanted, ‘til I looked into your eyes.’
Thank you, Ted.
You are worth getting blisters for
And losing precious sleep
You are worth waiting in the cold
And listening to music I hate
Reading books that make me sad
And the empty pangs of need
Spending money I can’t afford
Feeling too anxious to eat.
You are worth every reckless thought
And every hopeful dream
The inevitable disappointments
The teenage tongue-tied squirming
Agonizing over every word. Giving meaning to silence. And glances.
I expect nothing, because I love this kind of pain
I can stomach this, and so much more, not to feel numb again.
‘God, he looks rough,’ Chris whispered.
‘So would you, if you lived on Bell’s and fags and fish suppers. Alright, Dad?’
‘Morning, you two,’ he called as he crossed over the road. ‘You’re up early.’
‘Not really. It’s ten thirty,’ Ally muttered.
‘Any chance of a smoke?’
Ally proffered the open packet and held out his lighter.
‘I thought you’d quit, Alasdair?’
‘Yeah, I have…I did…’
Ally lit a second, shaking his head.
‘Your brother inside?’
‘Yeah,’ said Ally, ‘with Mum.’
‘Why’s your mother’s here?’ He raised an eyebrow.
‘To help. The house is a fucking health hazard, and you keep disappearing.’
‘Jesus, I was expecting the Good Fairies, but nobody warned me the Wicked Witch was coming too.’
Shopping for clothes for my children: one of many things, right now, which make me angry.
Maybe my son is Born to Sparkle, or my daughter is an Awesome Dude? Maybe he doesn’t give a shit about trucks and she think unicorns are a load of crap. He looks great in pink. She’s wee and chubby and wants to shuffle and roll on the floor, so why would I make her wear a dress with glitter and tulle?
What if she’s Cool Like Daddy and he’s Cute Like Mummy?
She could be a million better things than a princess and they are both kick-ass superheroes.
Today I cried in Union Square. Denied a cheap plastic toy, my son ran away from me into the crowds. I had just sat through the kind of film I hate to please him and his dad. I hate the loud noise of the cinema, the crowds, the shops, the franchise restaurants. Everything is overpriced and people pay it to have a ‘family experience’. I started to cry, my son ignored me and people walked past. It’s a long time since I cried in public. It’s a long time since I cried at all, I’m well medicated against it. I need to be for days like these. My choices are limited.
K* is a very caring, intelligent and thoughtful person, who takes the initiative, and always goes the extra mile. I imagine she would make an ideal Home Carer and I would trust her to look after any relative of mine. She has enormous integrity and takes a great interest in talking to people and meeting their needs.
You are bloody lucky she is even applying. She’s one of the good guys, although she once got our Book Club thrown out of a pub, but that’s another story.
If you did not give her this job, you would be a total fanny.
Il est grand temps de rallumer les étoiles (Guillaume Apollinaire)
And it is.
This life in black and white
This black hole of hope
This eclipse is momentary
Exister, c’est oser se jeter dans la vie
To exist is to dare to throw yourself into life (Simone de Beauvoir)
It is high time to relight the stars.
Make the fire to do it
Those stars that make the blackness beautiful
On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur
L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux, (St Exupéry)
You only see well with your heart,
The essential is invisible to the eyes
We are all made of stars, they say
That’s why there is beauty everywhere
Even in the darkest and loneliest of places,
When you turn the light on.
If you can’t reach the switch
Maybe you’re standing in the wrong place?
If you can’t light the match
Maybe you are standing in the rain?
If the torch isn’t working
Have you tried changing the batteries?
Your eyes will hurt when the light comes
But the pain is finite
The light was always there.
Soft dark thuds. They do no harm. They excrete dust.
She likes their coming and going at dusk, their velvet noise.
The lonely night they keep her company in the darkest wood
From under the eaves the bats swoop down and
weave in and out of the branches of the tallest tree
where she has lain and waited deep in the roots
Knowing no one will come
But watching the world like the bats do, flying in and out of darkness
Moving nocturnally, roaming the shadows and doing no harm
If she lived in space,man
He'd build a plane
Yeah right, she’s stuck in no-man’s land
But hopeful all the same
She’s writing stories
They’ll never buy
But she tries to keep on feeling alive
Need a crystal ball to see the day that’s dawning
And wiser eyes to read between the lines.
She took a wrong direction
With the right intentions
She’s seeing colours
Not black and white
She’s seeing magpies side by side
If she lived in space, man
He'd build a plane
Yeah right, she’s stuck in no-man’s land
But hoping all the same
I have masses to be thankful for and always have
I know other people have it a lot worse
I do try to look at the positives, all the time
My children are healthy and, mostly, happy
My parents were awesome, are awesome
I have a brilliant support network and great friends
I have a stunning Arabian horse and I live in a beautiful area
I don’t feel sorry for myself, I know what I have
It just flares up, like arthritis, I don’t choose it.
I’d like you to understand.
It’s finished, complete, but I hope it never will be for me.
I’m proud of what I did to keep the black moths away!
There’s a long way still to go, but look how far
I’ve come along the way
One hundred days ago
I had to dig for hope to write about each day
And some days I failed.
I had to search for beautiful things in long, sad days
Pinpoint any vague feeling in a swamp of numbness
To find one hundred hopeful words every day was my challenge
But today my heart is softly singing with them