Saturday, 31 December 2011

And the Winner is...

Well me, of course. When I offered a prize back in April to whoever could name the location of the phone box pictured in that month’s entry, it was a hollow offer. Being an anonymous blog, I can hardly identify the person who left a comment with the correct answer. But having ‘moderated’ it, you will find it by clicking 'April' (right.) And if you are reading this for the first time and want to know what this waffle is about, you might like to start in January (click 2011 and Ctrl+Pg down), and follow the phone-box trail, while I tuck into my crème egg, twisted.

The real winner, however, has to be my Dad, who (for those who follow this waffle top-first) is thankfully on the mend, and managed to escape hospital in time for Hogmanay. Having posted on here some of the black-and-white snapshots that make up childhood memories, it seems that certain elements of his formative years have caught up with him in old age. Or is it too easy to say that a childhood in a deprived area of a large city, with malnutrition, economic depression and impending war should result in osteoporosis some seventy-five years later? Probably – but who knows?

As children, we like to blame our parents for the way we turn out; conversely (or do I mean; likewise) our parents shoulder a disproportionate responsibility for the things we do, be they right or wrong: parental pride and shame go hand in hand it seems. Maybe it was my ancestors who were responsible for clearing their own people off the land that was theirs; an act for which all Scots ought to be ashamed. This is the ever-deepening coastal shelf that Larkin speaks about (I took his advice and never had kids myself), or the crumbling spine that links my father to his apparently ‘deprived’ childhood. I’ve never, in stories of his youth, heard him describe it as such.

Everything changes, as the poets and pop-song lyricists say. Some put it this way: we plant trees for those born later. Others say, they took all the trees and put them in a tree museum. But a third, on the subject of growing older, said ‘Every day won from such darkness is a celebration.’ The same poet (points if you know who) said ‘God punishes regret.’ I took these lines to my heart from the second I read them, and they have been a mantra every bit as meaningful as the prayer for serenity attributed to Thomas Aquinas (the only ‘prayer’ I have ever heard my father attempt to quote)

My dad’s old secondary school is now a pub, something of a museum itself, with memorabilia, old photos, and a host of accoutrements that reflect the past, just as the mirrors behind the bar show us just a little bit of who we are as we order our beer, before our eyes get too misty or maudlin with nostalgia or alcohol – or a heady mixture of all four. This is the trouble with the past. Some dismiss it as irrelevant; others resign it to history; but there are those who spend each day regretting it, trying to re-write it, wishing they could scrape the slate and start again.

So I end this year’s bloggage with the final photo from my dad’s Glasgow Schooldays Calendar, ‘The Old Schoolhouse Pub,’ with a tinge of sadness that, although I chose this picture for the month of his birthday, he hasn’t seen much of it from his hospital bed. Furthermore, I can’t help but regret that the phone box in front of the building is not the one that may or may not have stood there when he sneaked in through the side gate (to avoid the prefects reporting him ‘late’) but one of those I most despise (or dislike).

If I could be bothered, I could do a wordpaint-job and turn it into a tacky picture like they sell in TK-Maxx, with red phone-boxes, routemaster buses, or pillar-boxes super-imposed on black-and-white pictures. Sometimes, you just have to accept things as they are. My dad has never needed God to give him that serenity. I don’t know where he gets it from; it would be like asking someone ‘what is jazz?’ As the great Satchmo said: if you have to ask, you’ll never know. Of the many things my dad has taught me over the years, it is for the most inexplicable that I remain eternally grateful. Here then, as this year turns into the artificial past, is a ‘prayer.’

Teach me, Dad, serenity…
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

What is Normal?

This year I’ve made a distinction between ‘normal’ and what I call ‘posh’ schools.  I don’t wish to qualify this, except to say that neither ‘public’ nor ‘private’ schools can be described as ‘posh’ any more.  Both are exclusive, in that they exclude those who do not (or cannot) choose to use their money to improve the education of their offspring.

I think my views on how tax is spent on warfare, to the detriment of decent education, public services and healthcare for all make my position clear when it comes to what I see as ‘normal’ schooling.  But this, like the nomenclature of privilege, is just a name.

What’s in a name?
My dad’s old school was indeed called The Normal School (it was thus, on the front of the tram whose route the Normal School was on.)  It is now a business centre.  And my alma mater, which moved several years ago (to a former Naval College – a fine location despite all that); the old building where I studied is now a School of Economics – surely the antithesis of an Arts Conservatoire?

I am of the type of personality for whom ‘normality’ is strange, and ‘ordinariness’ is at best a watchword; at worst, an area of utmost avoidance.  Yet I’m glad my dad went to a ‘normal’ school.  Being ‘ordinary’ doesn’t mean, lacking unintelligence, or talent, or ability.  My dad has this and more.  I just wish he didn’t have to spend the end of this anniversary year in hospital, at the mercy of an under-privileged National Health Service.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Now You See it…

Today, being St Andrew’s Day, the Burghers of Dunedin were allowed to look around their own castle – for free!  It was good to maunder about and hear local accents, in all their rich variations.  My favourite sight (aside from the exhibits, given that it’s mainly an elevated War Museum) was an Asian family who’d gone up there with a take-away, and sat up on the ramparts on a park-bench, opening the foil containers.  Curry on the Castle!  And why not: it’s their Castle too.

As for the rest of our St. Andrew’s Day celebrations in Edinburgh, the launch of a new exhibition at the Museum of Scotland, and the long-awaited re-opening of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery were both postponed due to industrial action.  I’m not sure I go for Nationalistic Pride; it’s mostly puffed up and proud, rather than a genuine sense of taking pleasure in who we are or what we have achieved, as a Nation.

My second-favourite sight was a pair of phone-boxes, tucked inside the Castle entrance, which I snapped with my mobile phone just before it got dark (at about half-past two.)  Surely a National Emblem of who we are, as British, not just Scottish; but sadly, it is mainly seen as sentimental or nostalgic – or a tourist photo-opportunity.  When I first came to live in Edinburgh, there were twelve red phone-boxes along the Royal Mile – including the two inside the castle. 
Now there are eleven.

Where did the twelfth – dare I call it the Judas phone-booth – go, I hear you call out.  It just happens that I have in my sad collection a before-and-after shot.  Some ten years ago, when the over-budget building-site on Abbey Strand was the subject of as much heated debate as the trams are today, a wee red box stood, snuck into a corner by The Queen’s Gallery.  With a bit of Scottish Imagination, they could have used it as a Security Box.  I suspect this was reason it was removed: for ‘security’ – which is another word for institutional fear and public paranoia.

A phone-booth’s a phone-booth, for a’ that, said the Bard (at least, he might’ve).  Maybe, but not when you look at what has replaced our Great British Beacon.  As you travel down this famous thoroughfare (which, I accept, is not altogether consistent in its architectural or cultural display) that links the Castle to the Royal Palace, you'll see the Saint Matthias Phone-booth, one of many ugly and totally impractical designs which have replaced the faithful red box; the 13th Apostle chosen to spread the word in the absence of the betrayer (or betrayed). 

It’s not even a box: it’s an abomination!  But some would say the same about the Parliament Building, the trams, or more importantly, the social, cultural, and economic apartheid that divides this silly wee country, and stops us from being truly proud of who we are.  If Scotland should ever gain independence from England (or do I mean, Britain? Nah – England) it will take more than whisky, tartan, tins of shortbread and North Sea Oil to sustain an economy.  It will need the Guid Scottish Citizens to stop arguing with themselves.  But that is a National Occupation, right enough.

I have a strong belief that the only thing that will save the world is Art – the ‘lie’ that helps us to understand the ‘truth.’  Last week, I went to the Scottish National Gallery to hear a singing harper performing traditional Scots airs, as a prequel to St Andrew’s-tide.  Once I’d struggled past the crowds on Princes Street and The Mound, gathered to see the ‘Christmas Lights’ being turned on, I discovered that the performer had not been able to get through the throng with her clarsach, and the recital had been cancelled (or postponed, perhaps – I do not know.)

So commerce and consumerism had won over Art and Music, once again.  Yet I take hope from one thing that I learned at the Castle today.  When the King of Scotland plonked his hoary arse on a lump of stone and said, ‘Aye, Right,’ he was invested with other emblems of kingship (besides a cold bum or piles, assuming he was a true Scot.)  A sword, representing Justice, or Defence (righteousness or aggression – you decide); a sceptre, to rule with discretion and integrity; a reliquary shrine, for taking of the oath, and finally; a bard, to recite the king’s genealogy.  A poet – hurrah!

Art is important.  More than that, it is imperative.  In his Lament for the Makaris, William Dunbar lists some of the things we celebrate as Scottish: 

          Art magicianis and astrologgis,
          Rethoris and theologgis…
          In medicine the most practicianis,
          Lechis, surrigianis and physicianis…

And he goes on to lament that none of these can be delivered from death.  But if Art exists outwith time (as some view the existence of God), then we have art and music, design and architecture, photography and literature, poetry and sculpture – et cetera.  The best of Scottish.  And there, standing tall in the Museum of Eternity is my old friend, the Phone Box.  Designed by a Scot, I’ll have you know. (Well, sort of: Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.)  Let it wear its perforated crown – with pride.

Friday, 11 November 2011

I Remember

There’s a slogan that gets printed on posters and postcards, tea-towels and tee-shirts that says, “It would be nice if hospitals and schools had all the money they needed, and the Army had to hold jumble sales to buy guns.”  This month’s Glasgow School Days calendar-picture is of the Children’s Hospital that stands around the corner from the flats where my father used to live (which no longer stand), and holds other memories for him.  At least, he thinks it does: it was a long time ago. 

Sadly, my dad (to whom this year’s posts are implicitly dedicated) is in hospital as I write; such is age.  Thank God for the N.H.S; an institution that ought never to grow old, although the current government has kicked it in the ribs.  It would be nice if a fraction of the money spent on private health-care was confiscated and ploughed into provision for all.  

But it’s easier to bang a soap-box than rattle a collecting tin.

However, while I’m at it, here’s another story about an old man who trundles his shopping trolley up the Royal Mile every day in summer (and maybe winter too, though I’ve never seen him) to collect, “For Charity, for Charity.” Tucked in a doorway on Castle Hill, with photographs of unknown soldiers, looking like a veteran in kilt and regalia, he churns out the same old banter: “Open up your hearts – for the wounded soldiers – open up your cold, cold hearts – for charity, for charity…” and so on. 

When tourists stop to take a picture, he shakes his money-box (bona fide, one assumes – it would be uncharitable to suggest otherwise) like a fist: “Ohhh-pen up your hearts,” he sings.  Guilt is a wonderful thing.  He also, I should mention, collects for Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital.  Does he divide his collection exactly by half, as he should, I wonder?  Or does he siphon off some to pay for his woolly knee-socks?  That’s being uncharitable, again – he is very old: “I’m ninety-one, you know,” he tells us – although this is not a constant.  Sometimes his alleged age goes down as well as up.

It seems unkind to criticise.  But the balance between improving the lives of sick kids and those who, as an occupational hazard, have been maimed in battle – no arms, no legs, according to the old man’s prattle – seems disproportionate, if not slightly distasteful.  At this time of year, we are forced to emphasise a desire for keeping alive the memory of those who were killed, supposedly for King (or Queen) and Country, over keeping children alive.  The public act of Remembrance is marred by every war that rages, and every act of violence that is carried out in someone else’s name.

I can hear dissent cry out, in warped interpretation of the Gospel message: ‘They died that we might live.’  Well, sorry, but that’s bollocks.  I may or might not be alive today, whether we had been defeated by Hitler’s troops, lost the Falklands to the Argentineans, or failed in any other of the many disgraceful conflicts in which our country has sent troops, some of them barely more than kids, to die, be maimed, or to suffer appalling damage so that we allegedly might be free. 

Free from what?  I would like to be free from the notion that any form of violence is legitimate or acceptable, and that of all institutions, the Church would disassociate itself from the gratuitous glorification of war when it (rightly) remembers all those who suffer as a result of conflict.  This is why I wear a white and a red poppy together.  At least, I used to, but I got fed up explaining the reason or worse, putting up with the abuse I received. 

These days, I wear neither, if I can get away with it.  Unfortunately, I will be required to wear the red one, while I am being paid to sing a setting (by Elgar, if it could get any worse) of that horrific piece of jingoistic doggerel, For the Fallen; the most disgusting poetic romanticising of warfare I have come across.  I wonder what Laurence Binyon, with his Quaker upbringing, would have made of Elgar’s highly nationalistic setting, packed with pathos and patriotic fervour.  Very moving, if you like that sort of thing.

Certainly, the verse which most people know (that Binyon wrote before the rest of the poem) contains an acceptable sentiment; that we should remember those who have ‘gone before us.’  Gone where, I wonder.  Then again, I don’t really wonder: they are dead; they haven’t ‘gone’ anywhere.  At least these four lines can be interpreted universally, without reference to “England’s dead.”  In Scotland, a warped Nationalistical Correctness insists we change the words to ‘Britain’s dead.’  Frankly, I’d rather disassociate myself from English military fervour, although Scotland is pretty keen on celebrating the accoutrements of conflict.  Look at the Edinburgh Tattoo.

The rest of the poem is packed with romantic language, pathetic fallacy and euphemism.  England is the Mother who mourns; the sea is foamy (what: like soap-suds washing our bloodied beaches? Nice); their brave young hearts are likened to eternity itself; they ‘fell’ – as opposed to being gunned down, blown up, or gassed to death.  Have a look at the poem (that is, if you are still reading this rant) and see for yourself: is this genuine sentiment, or just sentimental; the embodiment of the ‘old lie’ as Wilfred Owen put it, that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country?

Binyon’s memorial in Westminster Abbey has inscribed upon it what Owen claimed was the subject of his poems, the pity of war.  With this in mind, it seems to make sense that For the Fallen could be ‘read’ in that light – as long as it’s without the stirring sounds of Elgar’s painfully chromatic setting. Or without the screeching noise of massed bagpipes and drums that pound across the Castle walls every evening for a month in the summer, followed every subsequent morning by the long-held notes of the shouty wee man: “Ohhhhh-pen up your hearts!” I suspect he makes a mint at this time of year, and I imagine he wears a rather large poppy.

When it comes to conflict, silence is a dangerous weapon.  What is left unspoken, or is covered up or camouflaged in politics, often leads to deeper divisions than those it seeks to cure.  The rhetoric of Remembrance has, at its core, the notion that, by holding ever-lengthening periods of silence to honour the dead, whether killed ‘in action’ or slain by some other form of collateral misfortune, is an acceptable way to show our respect.  Surely it would be far more respectful to turn our swords into ploughshares?

It would be nice if the words ‘I renounce violence, in all its forms’ were included among the Baptismal vows of the Church.  By renouncing sin, the devil, and other amorphous abstractions, violence seems to wriggle out of the equation – or into it, depending on your point of view.  Well, I renounce silence.  And since all I can do is publish this polemic on an anonymous blog that few will read, and even fewer approve, I will add my voice to the debate, and my craft to the canon of pitiful war-poetry.  This is my version of Binyon’s poem, which follows the form and rhyme of the original, but not, I suspect, the sentiment for which it is commonly recited.

Passing Bells

With pitiful ingratitude sobs a single mother,
Mourning for her sense of lost democracy;
For her misplaced pride when her son signed up
To be slaughtered abroad for the Land of the Free.

The pounding beat of the BBC headlines pump out
Rolling news with eternal glee; the upbeat jingle blears
Our teary eyes of truth – death seen as a celebration –
And the short-lived shame of political smears.

Like the gun-shot preceding the EastEnders theme-tune,
The drum-roll leading to ‘God Save the Queen’ flowed
Through their vain, young hearts. They took a chance,
And turning, faced the truer foe.

“My only son is dead. My flesh-and-blood is cold,
While I grow old and sour – bitterly condemned
To remember. Every November? Every waking hour!
How can I ever forget him?”

She keeps his picture on the mantle-piece, in his uniform;
Leaves his bedroom as he left it, plumps the pillows,
Dusts, every day, the photo of him and his sweetheart,
Keeps his number in her mobile-phone.

But these are the names that we still remember:
Bush, Blair, Thatcher, Powell, Rumsfeld, Albright.
‘Their families have been informed,’ we are told.
Oh well; good. So that makes it alright?

As the death-toll is glibly announced on the news,
We are all collaterally damaged by short-lived stardom.
A lone bell tolls a tally, as it is on earth, but not in heaven.
It is here. Here is death’s dominion.

For more information on the White Poppy, see the Peace Pledge Union

Today, I refuse to keep silence until The Church and The World renounces violence. Honour the dead by turning their swords into ploughshares; their guns into garden forks.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Haunting Memories

Tonight I heard a spooky piece of music on Radio 3 about a telephone. I wondered if I should compose a partner piece about a telephone box. Where do the ghosts of dead telephone kiosks hang out? While we’re on the subject of museums; what happened to the phone-boxes that were mercilessly ripped from our city streets, historic towns, quant villages greens and country-side verges for reasons that I struggle to accept?  Some have ended up in private gardens, cafés and pubs; others, made into cocktail cabinets, shower-cubicals and, in what you might call post-modern irony, domestic phone-booths.

But saddest of all is that, in the newly re-opened National Museum of Scotland there are three old phone-boxes, only one of which is officially defunct. Strange it is to see how, as I wander around the exhibits on a reasonably frequent basis, the phone-booths that attract the most attention are the two that are still yet extant (just) on our streets: the original K2, and the more common K6 (please excuse the geeky jargon: here’s the K6, to illustrate)

Stranger still, in the museum section dedicated to the peculiar world of ‘communication’ the historical device that children and adults alike enjoy is the one that largely resembles two baked bean tins and a piece of string; a couple of funnels and a piece of garden hosepipe; an ear pressed against a glass against a wall. Maybe one day, communication as we know it will be a thing of the past…. Am I repeating, or getting ahead of myself?
Who cares – nobody’s listening, are they.
There's a ghostly silence at the end of this line

Monday, 17 October 2011

Paradise, Paved

We’re over half-way through October and I have realised, in my neglect of the Window, if not the Turret itself that we are behind with the Glasgow Schooldays calendar. To rectify this: a picture of another window, or at least, another view.  With Autumn presenting as it does to some death and decay, others may prefer to think of a deepening of roots, or perhaps, new vistas. Here then is a juxtaposition of the old and the new.

Through the charming art deco window of the Scotland Street School Museum a grim and ugly multi-storey car-park. On one side of a busy road, a parking lot, on the other… well, not quite paradise. Maybe one day, schooling as we know it will be a thing of the past, and they’ll turn every school into a museum (and charge all the kids a dollar and-a-half just to see ’em?) Some schools, of course, charge the kids (or the parents) more than a dollar and half to attend. But I’ll leave that paved paradise for another pro-utopian rant.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Endangered – but not dead (yet)

At the moment, the streets of Edinburgh are dotted with brightly coloured models of endangered animals. It’s a bit like the Cow Parade, only now there are tigers, elephants, crocodiles and exotic birds I cannot name. But spare a thought for the good old telephone box, I say: it’s been in danger for some twenty years or more, ever since Thatcher got her evil claws in and sold off what we rightly owned, even the very water from the sky.

But could they have made the film Local Hero without that iconic landmark?  Even Doctor Who has resorted to its lure. Think of all its uses, besides making that all-important phone-call when your mobile’s out of battery. What other booth has been so perfectly designed to provide adequate cover to urinate, procreate, or change into a superhero? 

And to prove it, Innocent Smoothie pays homage to the humble phone-box, with its cut-out superhero movie kit printed on the side of the 750ml mango and passion fruit carton.

Need we any more evidence: the phone-box is here to stay.

And Thatcher? (Is she dead yet? Check here:)


Friday, 2 September 2011

A Whimper, not a Bang

September begins, Edinburgh empties, Festival ends and melancholy rain sets in. I’d like to think that all the recent joie-de-vivre leaves ones cup of creativity half-full, even if ones double-bed remains half-empty. The picture on my Innocent Smoothie at first glance looks like a fringe-flyer, emphasising the reality of singledom. Along with the dubious assertion that the carton is, lacking a ringpull, saving the planet, there is an equally spurious claim that “True love awaits [yea, even] in the supermarket.”

I wonder how many 2011 Fringe shows contained ukuleles and sketches on internet dating. The first piece of drama I saw this year was about the latter subject, and was in my opinion extremely well-written and convincingly performed. I’ll be upfront: my reason for going was not the flier (now buried under a pile of an hundred others on my dining-room table) but the girl who handed it to me.  When she saw me again a few days later, I tried to play it cool by giving a ‘luke-warm’ response to her play. What a fool!

I never saw her again, on any of my subsequent lunch-hour strolls. My wish to give more positive feedback fell, like most fringe leaflets, underfoot.  “But that’s what Facebook’s for!” I hear you holler. (Actually, I’m only convincing myself that, if you exist at all, you are reading this.)  ‘For what?’ I respond: ‘Stalking strangers online?’ There’s bound to be a Fringe play on that, if not a forthcoming production at the English National Opera. And that’s the very reason why this blog is anonymous, and why I’m not on Facebook. (or if I am, I’m not telling you.)

Where does this leave me?

In better place than I was four years ago, when I wrote a poem about the Fireworks that summon the season of mists?  Perhaps.  I’ve heard there’s a code of conduct for cruising in supermarkets; certain aisles suit certain tastes. I’m not sure if I should lurk among the fresh fruit & veg, or the frozen meat section; stand by the savoury packets or hover hopefully by the sweets & biscuits.  One thing is for sure: the fridges are out of the question. Smoothies may be saving the planet, but they’re too cool for me. I guess it’s back to the Bombay Sapphire, the ever-dwindling embers of Festival, and a distant whimper of a voice, lodged somewhere between my memory and the chink of ice in a glass.

Fill it right up, imaginary barman.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Suffer, Little Children

I've often thought it unfair that, in the middle of the month of Festivity, those children (and teachers) who mostly go to what we might call 'normal' schools (a term I will explain in time) return to the classroom mid-august while the rest of Edinburgh continues to party.  At least most of these kids have Friday afternoons free to wander up to the Royal Mile, dodging the leafleters, to watch the street entertainers. 

One year, I recall, a child got pulled out of the crowd to assist in some kind of fire-juggling or magic trick show, and was asked the usual questions: "What's your name?", and "Where have you come from?"  Instead of answering, Camberley, Cumbernauld or Canada, the wean - let's call him Robbie - said, 'School.'  Quick as a firework the Entertainer said, "Let's have a big cheer from Robbie who's with us today, all the way from... School!"

Here, then is the next School-days photo, for all those poor people (especially the teachers) who are back at school, unlike those in the posh schools whose cloakrooms will remain empty for a wee while yet.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Phone Box Fringe

The Fringe has arrived in Edinburgh, over a week before the Festival which it first skirted, and with it, the pouring rain which fails to dampen the human spirit, but thankfully waters-down the crowds on the Royal Mile just a little.  As always, I will be partaking of the Free Fringe (and some not-free also), as well as the Book, International, and Politics Festivals, but I probably won’t be commenting much here on what I see since my theme for this year is phone-boxes and Glasgow School-Days.  In the spirit of History: here, from last year’s Festival Season, is a phone-box which came and went – much like the rain. (Having said that, the rain doesn’t seem to be going “any time soon.”) Here’s proof, then, that the sun does shine, even in August. Even in the rain...

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Out with the Old?

Here endeth a month of unremitting partying – for my parents, at least, who have spent every weekend in July celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary with friends, neighbours and family.  I attended two out of the four Occasions, before returning to the Festival City, which has been warming up for a similar month of partying.  In fact, if you include Film, Magic and Jazz, we’re already half way through.
For many, The Fringe is the festival, while others come here purely to see the Military Tattoo, which isn’t a festival as far as I’m concerned. It’s a far cry from the spirit of the original Festival, conceived as a ‘platform for the flowering of the human spirit’ after the horrific events of World War Two.  Nevertheless, as the hoards arrive, one thing is certain: there’ll be lots to celebrate, with plenty of drinking going on, and maybe an extra phone box or two on the menu.

Thursday, 9 June 2011


Recently I “bumped into” (okay, I know, no need for the “fingers” thing) someone I used to “work with” (this is getting cryptic now) who once asked me, ‘What’s with the phone-boxes?’ – or words to that effect. I never got round to answering her question, so I took the opportunity to direct her to this year’s bloggage. 
Around the time of that unanswered question, she sent me a load of phone-box pictures, one of which adorns my desktop. God knows where it came from: consider it pilfered.

This month’s poem is about another friend with whom I lost contact. I cannot post the picture in question – that would not be fair – but I think the above picture sums it up.

Don Giovanni and the Phone Box

Somewhere in a farmer’s field
in deepest Devon this one stood,
a little battered, tattered paint
and tractor-spattered with mud,
but the panes were all in place.
One caught a glint of January glare.

It was just another in a long line of photo
Opportunities. You said it was too scruffy,
but I insisted, and you stopped the car.
Of the many boxes I have shot, I have
lost count. But of un-numbered
female friends you pilfered, I would
put the count at one too many.

Testament to our friendship, I let you
pose beside it – even though I like
my phone-box photographs au naturelle
much like you prefer your women –
one in particular, to whom I can’t refer.

She was just another in a long string
of women I unwittingly provided.
Leporello to your concupiscent Don,
each village that we drove through;
every town, I took a phone-box while you,
driven by testosterone or libido, or both,
took whatever you could chat up or talk to.

I was never sure, my former friend,
exactly what you were trying to prove.
My heart was like that phone-booth:
slightly battered, but unbroken, red,
and still receiving in-coming calls.
Yours was shattered; devoid of love,
awaiting disconnection or removal.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


There’s nothing much to say about this month’s picture. There’s not much to say about this month either.  A small matter of a Royal Wedding inspired me (if that’s the right word) to slough my Republican tendencies and jot a little ditty.  Sadly it went right over many ignorant heads – even supposedly educated, intelligent, privileged people – perhaps suspecting an anti-royalist agenda.  From me?!  Maybe they just don’t read Shakespeare, or wouldn’t spot a pun if it kicked them up the bum.

Windsor Wins Her

To tame a shrew,
He said, ‘I Will’
She said, ‘I do,’
– they did.

I’m only assuming that this happened, because I neither saw it on the TV nor read about it in the papers.  Whatever one thinks of this antiquated system, I have to admit that the present monarch is the best alternative to… well, whatever the alternative is. And of the future, as the trend of watering down both the Germanic and aristocratic blood continues, we are made to believe that the Royal Family is moving with the times.  Very enlightened, I’m sure.

Which brings me to the next in my sequence of pictures, Glasgow School Days.

One of my Dad’s old schools is now a pub, and this old lamp is not one of the themed fittings that adorn the bar.  It’s tucked away in a stairwell that leads, one way, to the pub kitchen, the other, to the classrooms upstairs that look much as they used to when my father was educated.  My father is one of the most knowledgeable people I know.  And the great thing is, his schooling didn’t cost him or his parents (at least, not directly) a penny. 

Now that’s what I call privilege.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Eggs is Eggs, surely?

Yesterday, while the Lord was yet entombed in His three-day prison, my new-found Turkish friend was asking me what Easter Eggs were all about. So I explained all the lovely Christian Symbolism that must seem anathema to someone from a Muslim country, but it still didn’t wash. ‘But Chocolate Eggs?’ she questioned: ‘Why do you have eggs of chocolate?’ And that I couldn’t answer; it must seem a little like re-inventing the wheel. Why not eggs made out of, well – egg!
This picture is equally perplexing, since I know nothing of the news story, and can’t be bothered to search. All I can say is, whatever that shifty bloke has got in his rucksack, they’d better not be confectionary, ornithological, or anything to do with the alignment of the planets, and all its connotations – taken up (or stolen) by those Christians.
A Crème Egg (Caramel or
Twisted) to anyone who can locate this phone-box.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Happy Birthday to Moo!

Today was the birthday of a particularly special friend of mine, whose love of cows not only helped me to blag our way into the launch party of the Edinburgh Cow Parade, but also inspired me to write this poem (about her, perhaps, or another friend, both of whose names are disguised by epithets in the dedication.)

Triolet for a Cowgirl

For ‘Cassie’ and ‘Ethel’

The day the painted cows paraded through
you wore your hair up in a pony-tail.
This isn’t how I pictured you
the day the painted cows paraded through
beside our chosen bovine Vettriamoo1.
I swore, for sure, you wore your hair in pig-tails.
But no: the day the cows paraded through
you wore your hair up in a pony-tail?

1 For fun, the final syllable of ‘Vettriamoo’ should be given the fullest stress. This cow, based on Vettriano's painting, ‘The Singing Butler,’ stood outside St John's Church, on the corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road during the Edinburgh Cow Parade of 2006. (My picture was taken at the Launch Party - note the glass of wine by her left foot!)  The artist who designed and painted it wanted to name her cow ‘Vettriamoo’ but her sponsors wouldn’t let her.  My poem pays homage to the artist, Ginie Naisby, and so many happy (but fading) memories. 

Saturday, 26 March 2011


This is the second of my Glasgow Schooldays pictures: old-fashioned light-fittings found in the Scotland Street School Museum.  The title of the picture, you might spot, is a play on words: doubtless the pupils in those days may have been subjected to a different sort of switch. 

Today, as the clocks spring forward, I marvel at how everything can suddenly change at the flick of a switch, or at the perilous press of that button marked *send*

Monday, 14 March 2011

Happy Birthday to Me!

On this inauspicious day, perhaps I should consider where it all began. No, not my strange little life; my even stranger obsession with the phone-box.  And what better than to post a picture of the first red phone-box that I would have seen, at the top of our little cul-de-sac in a quaint little village in the Home Counties?  Except that I can’t – and this is the point – because it is no longer there.

Besides, it wasn’t even a proper one; it was some distance from the award-winning Gilbert Scott with square windows and, for ventilation, a perforated crown in the semi-domed top.  The only thing linking our box with the London Classic was the smell of piss: it was one of solid 1970s jobs, with single-glass panels on three sides, vandal-proofed, with a door so heavy that it rendered an emergency-call a trial. 

When BT took over the GPO in the ‘80s, our village got chrome-and-perspex replacements, while the next village down the A1 managed, somehow, to hold on to a little bit of our Great British Aesthetic Heritage and kept their Red Box.  I believe it still stands.  At least, it was there last time I passed through, just a couple of years ago.  But a lot can happen in a couple of years. 

The phone-box is a potent symbol of the past; what the future holds for it, who knows – except the usual death and decay.  But I’m okay with that. The present, however – even on my birthday when it ought to be a welcome gift – it’s the present that scares me the most.

Monday, 28 February 2011

February Phone Box

Before this short month ends, here is the first, the topmost, phone-box. It is, for those who might detect a slight obsession, significant in one regard: the most northerly phone-box of the British Isles, located on Unst, which is part of Shetland.

Of the hundreds of phone-box pictures that I have taken, this has to be one of my favourites, not only for its significance, but the memory of the trip, the friends I spent time with, and the fact that during a week of sideways rain (as mostly happens on Shetland) we found this famous kiosk just as the sun was setting, pale and bright, on a chilly autumn evening.

The Caller shall remain, of course, anonymous (although his name begins with 'A')

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Photos, Foxes, and lots of Phone Boxes

This year, I shall be mostly posting photos – and the occasional poem – maybe a fox will intrude.  I might even open a ‘discussion’ on phone-boxes.  But to start with, the first of a selection of photos that I took in Glasgow, and made into a calendar for my Dad: pictures to remind him of his school days, many years ago.  His old school is now a Business Centre; his old home (its memory) lies beneath a certain busy road. Misty, water-colour memories? But not in black and white…