Tuesday, 17 January 2017

11th January 2016

The first instalment for 2017 dates back to this time last year. I wasn't sure why the date in the title was the 11th rather than the 10th, until I was reminded that we didn't hear the news until we woke on the 11th.  Some fiction, some fact, some over-reacting, possibly, to the first of 2016's worst moments.

The star of this month's film - the atmospheric Binning Woods. You can have a humanist funeral among the trees, with your body laid to rest beneath the carpet of leaves and earth.

Some very beautiful small friends are the co-stars - sustained by chocolate buttons and leaping.

Text below as before...



11th January 2016


Above the neat white line that is Seagull Terrace, the last shreds of darkness are melting away when the news starts to leak from the row of radios.


Today, there’s only one story.


The fat housewife at number 4 clasps her hand to her mouth, and her small son looks up from his porridge as she tries to call the news to his dad upstairs. But her throat fails her.


His dad heard the news ten minutes ago. That’s why he’s still upstairs.


By now, the radios only know one singer. And there’s still just one story.


She starts to sing along...there’s a st…and stops. 20 minutes later, the gold paisley scarf she’d wound round her neck to chase away the rain is a wrinkled, damp knot and no longer capable of chasing anything anywhere.


Her son’s spoon drops as he watches her dance...crumple...dance…fold.


A million breakfast bowls turn pale and salty, and his dad stares at a screen and makes some rapid calculations.


69 minus 52 equals...


Not...


His dad tugs at his collar as he adds up the lines and the tokes and the puffs and the shots and he wonders just how many it takes to make 69 the last line of your song.


Did we stop…?


At number 6, an asthmatic teenager looks in disbelief at his bald, bellied uncle’s hands shaking and wonders what that exotic streak could ever have meant to a cab driver from Musselburgh.


I thought he was imm…


I never thought he’d...


The radios keep playing, and though the middle-aged suits’ voices falter, the songs pile up, each wireless wave washing fruits of the sea ashore. One last harvest, a tip of the hat we never saw coming.


The straight-shouldered silver widow at number 8 lifts the receiver and punches in the number of her favourite grandson, the one who used to slip her silk scarves under his grey school jumper when he thought she wasn’t looking, and put on concerts in the garden for her neighbours until their sons began to jeer from behind the fence. He picks up on the first ring.


At number 10, a heavy-browed 12-year-old pulls her stepfather’s guitar towards her, detuning it with her awkward grasp. Cross words are bitten off before they leave his lips when she asks him how to form the chord of G.


At number 4, the fat housewife wipes her face with a knitted hat and starts to tell them about the shy, brainy boy in her class who used to pass her cassettes with the tabs punched in so she couldn’t record over them. The home-made-best-of compilation a long-since-lost friend slipped in her pocket as she set off to conquer the world from a midnight fume-choked bus station.
And how she used it to teach 300 Japanese schoolboys to say ch-ch-ch…


The day is suspended in its own arc; a fortnight of rain fizzes away, a diluted sun in its place. Born into his world, they emerge for a walk, stepping unsurely into a world without.


When night falls again over the red-tiled roofs and whitewashed walls of Seagull Terrace, her son wonders why they’re all outside, heads tilted towards the stars. The row of radios stays tuned; tomorrow, fresh disasters will spill from their speakers, but just for one day, no matter which way they turn the dial, there’s only one story.




Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Winter Time


Just squeezing into the last days of the year, is December's instalment. Fans of Tom Waits will probably know why I wrote this poem - or maybe they won't...but this is the song that set me off.

In ever darker times for people around the world, there are still some very bright spots, and the stars of this month's film are enough to put a smile on the gloomiest face. Take a bow, Dunbar's Christmas lights! Our festive brilliance is funded and organised by local traders and townsfolk - none of your tastefully coordinated themes for us. I'm never sure if I prefer the lights advertising the nuclear power station, or the butcher's lights which depict a chicken repeatedly having its head chopped off. 


Thanks for watching - the text is below...


Winter Time
Things are pretty lousy for this calendar girl,
blue eyes once bright now greying at the sides -
dragged down by tears both wept and those
held back with the bravest of her frowns.
The lips that used to pout and kiss, blow smoke
into the eyes of a hundred cross-eyed sailors,
have blurred and wandered somewhere else
and her lipstick doesn’t know where it should go.
Polished and rosy, plucked from the tree
her cheeks as firm as they were round,
till this blight crept in and swapped the apples
for plums that are only fit for jam.

The famous tits that got her lifts and
bags carried up three flights of stairs,
they grew too big for eyes to linger
And now their daily catch is crumbs.
Summer no longer bares her legs
and the point of skirts is lost in time.
The jeans they once called lucky, discarded
as the weight of loss has settled on her hips.




Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Remembrance Sunday


In which the Mollers take a trip to the North West of Scotland, staying at the Camping Coach on the side of Loch Awe and making our first crossing to Iona, where we laid some red roses at the final resting place of John Smith. I met John Smith a couple of times, though I doubt I stuck in his mind. He stuck in mine.

Look out for Peter acting super sad to mark the gravity of the occasion...



Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Freefalling



The city's hold on me had already started to weaken when my son was a baby, and I spent most of my days pushing him round the parks of Glasgow. One particular autumn, the changing colours along Kelvin Way seemed more striking than usual, and I was so bewitched by them that I took them home with me and put them into my first poem.

Topping the bill this month are the October skies and Carey Lunan's flute. Carey sings and plays with one of my favourite groups, Firefly Fortyfive, who, in their own words, play "traditional and contemporary folk, country, pop, rock, 70s, fitever..." I'm particularly fond of their song The Parting,  a poem of Colin Will's which they set to music.

Lochend Woods in Dunbar take the place of Kelvingrove in this very short film, and eagle-eyed viewers will spot that the cat with the walk-on, walk-off part is not my own dear Stampy John.

Text below, as before...



Freefalling

The goldspun brighter autumn days
Are grabbing all the limelight
Their sequinned hoofers
Falling in the sunshine spotlight

But the warmest corner of this heart
Is reserved for those deaf grey, dead grey days
When the lead in the sky smokes into your ears
Before the first frost starts pinpricking at your nose

Then a single flash of orange
Burns among the flatter browns
As though someone lit a lamp late
Within a dark still crackling afternoon room.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Introducing Rosemary for Remembrance

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.


A couple of years ago, Hannah Lavery of Appletree Writers/Bowdy Kite asked me to be Appletree's Emerging Prose Writer for 2015/2016. Because of how my life was taking shape at that time, I found myself writing most often about people and times and places that I had lost. Last year, I gave a workshop to Dunbar's Writing Mums entitled Rosemary for Remembrance, in which we focused on how we remember people and what sparks those memories. And so the inspiration for this series of meditations was born - a piece to be published each month, with poems to mark the changing of the seasons.





Each piece will be also be made into a short film, 
featuring the people and places and things that light my way in the world.

Marianne and Scent

The stars of my first film are the sea and James Page. James is an artist who works across several media - here he's practising the art of stone stacking. One of the highlights of the East Coast spring this year was the John Muir Stone Stacking Challenge. The way he looks for stones and puts them together reminds me of the way we search for memories. Instigator of the inspirational Dunbar Street Art Trail, James has created many art works around the town, including the legendary Eye Cave, which is featured in the film. 


The text is below...

Marianne and Scent

My sister Marianne was almost 17 when I was born, although of course, we never called her Marianne, my grandmother having decreed that it wasn’t a saint’s name. We compromised with Marie. When my parents confessed they were going to call their last child Emma, Gran exploded, “You wouldn’t call a dog that!” “She’s not a dog, Mother.” “Exactly!”


The eldest of five, Marianne was married and long gone by the time I was eight, so my memories of her being at home are fleeting and difficult to grasp. She was a drama student and worked in the Theatre Royal, and had a glamour that was simply inevitable. She would take my older sister to the ballet and me to the children’s shows, then backstage to meet the puppets and see how exactly they produced those puffs of smoke. Her bedroom was downstairs, and I remember peeking in there, catching glimpses of vintage Coca-Cola mirrors, old silk lampshades and scarves with endless fringes. She’d paint my nails palest pink and then dry them on the cool setting of our ancient hairdryer, the kind with the tube and the hood, while we listened to Roberta Flack on the blue Dansette I later insisted on donating to a jumble sale.
By the time I was an adult, I’d practically forgotten that we ever lived together, having formed new memories of delicious visits to her married home in Manchester, where the doors were painted bright yellow and poppy red and sky blue and there was a different kind of cake for tea every day. We’d shop for outfits for my Sindy doll, and I still have them, hidden at the back of the linen cupboard, kept safe in case I had a daughter. I get them out now when other people’s daughters come to visit, and we spread the dolls and their stories out over my big bed, as we drift backwards and forwards in time.
It wasn’t until my university sent me to France for a year that the days of nail varnish and scarves came back. I was thrilled to get my first choice of a swoonsomely beautiful university town in Provence, and, hatbox over my shoulder, I hopped on the bus headed towards the beckoning Mediterranean. But though the weather was warm, the people were decidedly chilly, and I was left to find myself somewhere to live, settling eventually for a depressing, damp studio flat, where the bobbled, tobacco-yellow bed sheets were ripped right down the middle and repaired with a hundred safety pins. Teetering on a borrowed ladder, I whitewashed the walls and painted the shutters pale green; I bought local fabric and made bed sheets and a cloth to cover the narrow table where I sat each evening. But the rent was so ruinous I barely had enough money left over to feed myself, so dinner was often a bit of cheese rind or half an onion fried in the dregs of the oil. I smoked Gitanes furiously to quell the rumbles, and saved my centimes for a glass of vin rouge in the boulevard cafes with a series of anxious young people I’ve never seen since.
I could never afford to buy anything for myself, but I liked to linger in the chic boutiques, trying on creams, squirting myself with perfumes out of reach of my empty, smoky pocket. For a full nine months, the sun blazed down on me, at odds with the dour townsfolk, who, when the sun finally set, became even more mean-spirited, spitting insults at me as I’d pass them in their tastefully-lit midnight streets.
20 years later, I can still picture the shop where I first took a sniff of Eau de Cologne Proven├žale. I’d been wandering around the market, suffering from a particularly painful strain of homesickness, trying to eke out a letter from home, by reading only a few lines at each bench I came to. The shop was for tourists, floors piled high with traditional shopping baskets, shelves stacked with hessian bags of Herbes de Provence and decorative bottles of slick, green olive oil. The oil and herbs in the supermarket round the corner were fresher and nicer, but wouldn’t look quite so good in the kitchens of Hertfordshire and Connecticut. There in the corner, past the lavender bags and the soaps shaped like lemons, was this rather unpromisingly old-fashioned Eau de Cologne.  It looked like the kind of scent that desiccated spinsters dabbed on handkerchiefs before tucking them into cardigan sleeves. But one spray and a window opened that has never since shut. A little research tells me the cologne has top notes of bergamot and cool lemon, the woody aromas of marjoram, rosemary and orange blossom, all tied up with a base note of sweet orange. I don’t know which plant was the key, but wham, there I was, back in Marianne’s bedroom, running my fingers through the silk, wearing strings of jet beads and listening to the scratch and hiss of her favourite records. When she washed her hair, she used to splash German cologne into the rinsing water, and its top notes must have trailed after her, like the fringes of her scarves.
I couldn’t afford to buy the Eau de Cologne that day, and ever since, I’ve been searching for a perfume that will take me back to that place. I rub rosemary leaves, I sniff at my precious bottle of neroli, I sprinkle sweet orange on my kitchen cloths, and I almost get there. Always almost, but never quite.
My mother, too, was the baby of her family of six, her father having died, working on American railways, two weeks before she was born. By the time she was five, her mother had died from exhaustion, and the children were dispatched to an orphanage before much crueller homes were found for them. During the war, with a transient population and fractured communication, some of her siblings disappeared, never to be reunited again, with vague notions of their whereabouts surfacing from time to time. Somehow, my mother survived this harsh start, helped by nuns much kinder than those we see in our bleak dramas. She started teaching in the hometown of a school friend, and Pat, an only child, begged her parents to let my mother stay with them in their family home, a place of unheard-of luxury for my bruised mother. Pat’s dad Joe owned a construction company and every Christmas, he’d receive swanky gifts from business associates. One of the most prized was a silver cigarette box, shaped like a limousine, around six inches long. Joe liked to hold dinner parties, and after the last spoonful of pudding was dispatched, the coffee pot and the limousine would be placed on the dining table. Everyone smoked in those days, and they’d push the car around the table. The guest would open the boot to take a cigarette, then taking a tiny dipstick from a car radiator filled with lighter fluid, they’d strike it on the emery running board. My mother loved to smell the dipstick, but every time she did it, a lump would form in her throat, and she’d feel a sadness that she couldn’t place, a nostalgia for something she’d buried under the horrors of her childhood. She often tried to catch it unawares, as if by rushing up to the limousine and grabbing the dipstick, she could trick her brain into unlocking the memory, but it didn’t work, and the lump remained stuck in her throat.
Until one day, she tried again as she was looking out of the window, leaning over the table, with the sun shining in, and in the spark of the light, it came back to her. Like Proust, whose famous madeleine only took him back to his childhood when he washed it down with some tea, the scent was only activated for my mother when she caught it in a shaft of sunlight and was sent tumbling back in time.

She was four years old, her mother still alive. It was a Saturday afternoon, and she’d fallen asleep in the red velvet rocking chair by the range. My mother looked like Shirley Temple in those days, a mass of pale blonde curls and chubby cheeks that are hard to match with the dark and slender woman she became. She must have looked too sweet to waken, so when her brothers and sisters tumbled out of the house for the highlight of their week, the children’s cinema matinee, her mother let her sleep on by the fire. But when she woke to silence, and realised the nature of her betrayal, she was utterly devastated. It wasn’t just any old film that day; it was the first colour film that had come to the town, a film about a man with a blue suitcase, its name now lost to us. Her mother tried to comfort her, but her misery was complete, and she tore out of the tenement flat, down four flights of stairs and out towards the cinema at the end of the street. As she was running out of the close, she looked up and saw the sun shining through the remains of a shower. There was a patch of garden by the door, just big enough to grow some flowers, and the sun shining on those damp blooms produced a smell that she wouldn’t catch again till the silver limousine was pushed round the table to her 15 years later. I don’t know why the flowers smelled of fuel, but they did. With that scent in her nose, she looked to her right and saw the first children beginning to trickle out of the cinema.
Studies on the power of smell to unlock memories show that the memories associated with smell tend to be older ones, and since smell is our oldest sense, the one we developed before sight or hearing or even touch, that’s not surprising. Even bacteria can smell the chemicals in the air around them, and we all evolved to respond to the scent of the substances which surround us.  A child lacking in descriptive powers and the ability to make sense of her surroundings must record her life somehow. Sometimes things get filed under lighter fluid, sometimes they get filed under bergamot. It’s no coincidence that what both my mother’s elusive scent and mine have in common, is that they take us back to a time when we were the smooth-cheeked babies, the adored and snuggled pets, to a time when everyone was still together, safe in one place, before life and marriage, sickness and disaster sent us spinning off into distant corners, never to return in quite the same shape or form.