Monday, 31 December 2012

Here Endeth the Year

And so, I reach the end of this year’s sequence of sestudes.  I have spent many hours wandering around the Museum of Scotland, reading up on each object in the Research Library, and sitting in various nooks to scribble in my notebooks as inspiration struck.

I even visited the Collections Centre in Granton (on Doors Open Day) where there are a million-and-more pieces of treasure that haven’t made it into the Museum.  Maybe I’ll write a sestude or two in the future. I don’t think I’ll tackle a full hand of 26. 62 words may seem an easy task, but in fact it is a challenge – and a discipline.

For my final piece, I chose something that wasn’t there, that doesn’t exist. For the entire year, tucked away in a corner was a case that was, as the label said, ‘awaiting completion.’  As far as I’m aware, it remained empty, incomplete all year, giving me a concluding idea.

I’d like to end by thanking ALL the staff and volunteers at the Museum for the job they do.  It is a National Treasure, of which we all, whatever our background, politics or perceived nationality, should be proud – and visit as often as possible.

An Empty Case

Delicate as a coddled egg in my white-gloved
hands I place the future into an open kist;
a seed, an infant soul, an empty book.
Unpreserved memories-to-come, to reconstruct,
to renovate from un-materialised artefacts:
friends I never had, lips un-kissed,
the unborn child, lovers lost or yet un-loved,
conserved for now at least from reminiscence: this
is what I haven’t written. Look.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Mother and Child

All this year, I have wandered around, stood still, listened-in, watched, observed and taken note of the many comings-and-goings-and-stayings-still in the Museum of Scotland. Over the months, I have chosen twenty-six objects on which to write a ‘sestude.’ 62 words, 26 Treasures, 12 months, 52 weeks: all meaningless numbers, really, but 1,612 words of poetry is no mean feat!

Naturally, I chose more than 26 objects – it was a hard task sticking to the number – and in all cases wrote many drafts before whittling each piece down to the requisite number of words.  But my eventual choice was by no means arbitrary.  I wanted to write about what it means to be Scottish when one is not.  And yet I don’t know if I can. Because? I don’t know if I am, or not.

Scotland’s incomings and outgoings have long been part of its history, and make up its tartan tapestry: diverse, unique, and disputatious to a tee.  If you watch the video on the Sixth floor of the museum,  a collage of alarming, charming and sometimes disarming contradictions, you will see how everything anyone says is cancelled out by another’s opinion, attitude or belief. 

At 6:25, the actor, Gary Lewis, says, “I don’t like the fact that we are a, em – a subjugated nation;” followed by one Kiran Singh: “I don’t think Scotland has really got to grips with tackling its problems of sectarianism, of racism and high levels of social apartheid, including poverty.” This, it seems to me, is the heart of the matter; something which Independence is unlikely to change.  In fact, I think these issues may increase.  But I’ll leave that argument to another day.

Sometimes I wonder if Scotland has worked out what it is yet.  I came to Scotland to pursue what I saw as my ‘heritage.’  I’ve been here nearly twelve years.  If I stay, according to a controversial essay by Alasdair Gray, I’ll be a ‘settler.’ But if I leave, I’ll have been a ‘temporary colonist’ – and that makes me quite uncomfortable. So I guess I’ll stick around then, Mr Gray, if that’s okay?

Gathering her…

She sent them out
Shifted or shipped
To the far-flung corners
They sent letters from
London or Corby
Africa, the Americas
The Antipodes
Opportunists found fortune
Prodigals their fate
All sought advancement
Enterprise, Adventure
Diluting their accent
But not their nomenclature
Woven to a weave
They never wore
Sutherland no more
A land that once rejected them
Became again what fettered them

Friday, 14 December 2012

Begging The Question

Having spent many hours of the past year wandering around the Museum of Scotland, looking for objects to inspire me, it is often more than one piece that affects my choice of 62 words.  In this case, the influence goes back much further, to the introduction of Big Issue vendors.  At the time, I (perhaps unfairly) thought of them as the realization of the ‘Licensed Beggars’ that Ian McEwan depicted in his novel, The Child in Time. 

Of course, licensed begging goes back many years.  In the late 18th/early 19th Centuries, the Church was responsible for social provision, and could control who was permitted to beg in its parish.  It could also commend its citizens, who wished to move on to another parish, on their upstanding character and good behaviour.  While my starting-point for this sestude was a poor-badge from Leith, I was also influenced by the sign in Lady Stairs Close, and a hand-written testimonial for one William Mathers.

As we approach the season of good will, I thought I would turn this concept on its head.  In an ideal world, poverty and charity could be abolished or at least, reduced, if people lived according to their need instead of their greed.  On the top floor of the Museum, there is a short clip of Margaret Thatcher giving her diabolical ‘Sermon on the Mound’ Address to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. 

According to Thatcher, ‘abundance rather than poverty has a legitimacy that derives from Creation.

This is a shocking and heretical re-reading of Biblical truth: St Paul (in his letter to the Thessalonians) speaks of Adam being told to labour for sufficiency.  This is the Biblical alternative to poverty, not abundance. Thatcher was not only dabbling in theology well beyond her ken; she was also being highly offensive towards the marginalized, disenfranchised and under-privileged whose ‘poverty’ stems from inequality, not laziness. 

I do not believe in God as such, but I certainly think that Christianity is based on unconditional love for all.  My ‘God’ is a God of equality.

This means that, while for some people, ‘living off the state’ becomes a way of life (and believe me, life on benefits is as insufficient as the minimum wage is as a ‘living wage’) we cannot allow the Government to realistically cut – and we’re talking, systematically abolish in the long run – the Welfare System on the basis of a small percentage of so-called ‘shirkers and scroungers.’  The real spongers are those for whom beggar-my-neighbour – profit-making at the expense of others – is a way of life.  The Tax-evading coffee-shops, the Corporate Businesses, the Private Landlords, the CEOs of profiteering retailers who pay their workers peanuts, and (at risk of offending some folk) the Royal Family.

How we can allow American Tycoons to run roughshod over our green and pleasant (Scot)land while the Government strips away the social-contract that Beverage provided us in 1942 is simply beyond me.  It beggars belief that the £26bn owed in unpaid corporate tax could pay for the Health Service outright.  Margaret Thatcher once, when asked (by John Simpson) to sum up Christianity in a word, said: “Choice.”  Well I’m sorry, Maggie (and her pathetic successors): beggars can’t be choosers. 

And having got that off my chest, here is my 24th sestude. (a 62-word piece, based on a museum artefact)


Friday, 30 November 2012

An F.E.B. on St. Andrew’s Day

Twelve years ago, I fulfilled a life-long dream to live in the country to which I feel most akin. Edinburgh, where the Posh English Accent is common, was a canny move – there were professional reasons too. But is my Scottishness, like my life, just a big act?

My surname is perhaps most associated with the Highland Clearances; something which I find slightly problematic. I can’t imagine, if I traced my family tree, I’d have a claim to even a pebble of Golspie Castle, so I won’t let this ruffle my socialist leanings.

More of a problem is my true heritage, whatever that means. Born in England to a Glaswegian father (which makes him Scottish) and a mother of Welsh descent (which makes her verbose, unlike my dad); yet, despite my mixed blood and birth I have chosen Scotland as my home.

This week I attended a discussion/debate on Scottish Cultural Identity. I think I ruffled some feathers by saying that the Tattoo – a celebration of military might – was not what I call ‘culture.’ For me, the multitude of Festivals, including history, the arts, science; celebrations of our social, ethnic and sexual identity: that is culture. Bagpipes-and-guns, fireworks-and-fly-pasts are not.

But throughout the Museum of Scotland, it is clear that there are as many shades of opinion of what makes up our cultural identity as there are types of whisky or varieties of tartan. And yet, the tartan-for-tourism was given a hard time in this discussion. Horses for courses, I say. Let the tourists buy their tartan tat, attend the tattoo, and take pictures of some wee dug on a plinth.

The rest of us can share, enjoy, and contribute to all the richness that Scottish Culture has to celebrate. (Unless, of course, one is a Fucking English Bastard.)

Philosophical Beads

Am I Scottish?
How do I measure up?
By birth, blood, or inclination
If I speak in Received Pronunciation
(Edinburgh-English or Pure Glaswegian)
Do I contribute to the Wealth of the Nation
Will I uphold the right (ie, left-wing) persuasion
Is a quart of me thicker than water after distillation
Inventor, philosopher, pioneer, champion of innovation

Well, am I a Scot?


Boxed set of Philosophical Beads; a set of hollow glass beads of slightly differing specific gravity. The heaviest bead to float gives a measure of the strength of spirits.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Chaos Reigns

Recently, on the way home from visiting a friend in Leith, I had a Lars von Trier-moment. Cycling up Lochend Road, where at night the cars and vans are packed all along the pavement, I saw a fox in the distance, trotting casually down the middle of the road. Sensible fox, I thought: walk where you can see and be seen. Then I glanced to my left and, behind a parked van, a reindeer was puking in a doorway.

Sensible reindeer, I thought: don’t draw attention to yourself.  As I slowed down on my wobbly bike (for I was not altogether sober) I realised something.  This was not a real reindeer: rather, the drunken residue of the extended Hallowe’en celebrations, whose costume choice had confused Saints with Santas.  The fox, however, remained convincingly vulpine, yet looked at me as if to say: Either he’s pissed, or I’m on drugs.

In case you don’t get the Lars von Trier-reference, the point at which a fox utters the words ‘Chaos reigns,’ in Antichrist, the film’s mood turns from pathos to farce.  Even so, it’s not a film I’d advise watching with your parents; it was uncomfortable enough at Edinburgh’s wonderful Filmhouse where on a Friday afternoon the dominant sound-effect is of Werther’s Originals being un-crinkled.

And yet I hesitate... to mention the Werther-effect regarding Michael Haneke’s new film, Amour. Not the most celebratory depictions of ‘amour’ in the pictures at the moment; I’d advise a stiff drink or two in the bar afterwards:  But don’t go as far as this chap, whose carving is on the bottom floor of the National Museum of Scotland: my 22nd sestude of the year (of 26: nearly there!)

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

All that is not Holy

Last Saturday evening, returning late from a short trip to Englandshire, I found Auld Reekie full of revellers; adults up to nae guid, pretending to be children, or scary, or sober (not.)  It was a premature celebration of tonight’s shenanigans which, like everything else these days, have been eclipsed by commercialism and alcohol.

I always considered Halloween as American as popcorn and pumpkins (I blame Charlie Brown.)  But hold on: the Scots invented ‘guising’ long before ‘trick-or-treat;’ we have apple-dooking, not bobbing; we have neeps, not pumpkin. And thanks to The Bard,  ‘Of brownyis and bogillis’ we have the greatest haunted tale in the book.

But Hallowe’en (ooh, hallo apostrophe), the Eve of All Saints, was stolen from The Church – which probably stole it from some other pagan rite in its turn.

Something I miss, now that I no longer perform the church’s daily office (liturgical, not administrative) is singing some of the most extraordinary poetry each day.  The Psalms contain an incredibly rich palette of images and beautiful language, in which one gets to sing, in plainsong, chant or hymnody, about things like how a man ‘delighteth not in any mans legs, nor in the pleasure of an horse.’

A favourite of mine is the 59th, in which the heathen ‘Grin like a dog and go about the city.’  This gives any organist an opportunity to paint the words with whatever strange registration they have available.  I thought of this line when I saw (in the Museum of Scotland – where else!) the fabulous wrought iron dog, a boot-scraper, designed by the iron-mongers, Haddons of Murrayfield. And this is the sestude I wrote in response.


Scrape of their feet on the grate,
squeak of a gate, rattle of chains;
a clattering heralds their motley state.

They stand in shop-bought deceit,
fake-blood-stained sheets; piercing through
eye-holes announce: Trick or Treat.

Lacking either, I set the dog on them.
Petrified, he turns to stone; frozen, grins
with wrought-iron fear, inane or immune.

So they wipe their feet with him.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Lowering the Toner

On one of the rare, recent occasions I was printing stuff from my computer, a message flashed up: LOW TONER: PURCHASE NEW CARTRIDGE. However, I know the trick of removing said cartridge and giving it a wee shoogle. Hey presto, printer-magic. It’s not exactly high-tech, though. Computers and all their associated paraphernalia have never failed to confound me.

When I think back on the days when printing ten pages took as many minutes on a printer that weighed half a tonne and sounded like a machine-gun, I continue to be amazed at what printers can produce at the click of a moose.

Next to this strange contraption in the Museum, the first successful rotary printing press, there is a video detailing the first 500 years of printing. For the character in this sestude, the past 50 years have been hard to accept.

The first 5OØ Years of Printing

‘This is where the dye was cast,’ Maureen sulks, recalling her long days in the pool. Not exactly stereotyping – this was surround-sound. Banging memos into waxy stencils; clanking out copies on the office Gestetner. First, the golf-ball; the daisy-wheel, the ink-jet, now laser printers churn out photographs – in colour even.

‘Is this “progress”?’ sighs Maureen, feeling obsolete. ‘Or history in the making?’

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Money for Old Rope

The other day I had a letter from the people who clean the close in my block of flats, basically blackmailing me to pay for a service that I didn’t request.  Why so stingy, I hear you ask? 

Well first, because I don’t believe there is anything in my title deeds saying that I should line the pockets of people who do the job far less well than I used to.  And since I was the only person on my stair who ever swept it out (I’m on the ground floor, mind you) I would rather revert to the old system, as illustrated in this sign on the top floor of ‘Oor Museum.’

Far be it for me to moan on about the perils of capitalism and greed. The bucket and mop next to the sign reminded me of one of our most-beloved characters, and a distant memory of a cartoon picture with empty pockets pulled out of his troosers; an exasperated look on his wee face.  This was my response.


Oor Wullie’s a bit of an entrepreneur
(though he dis’nae ken what that means.)
He went to the Pound Shop, bought a
new mop; filled up his bucket with water
and soap-suds and scrubbed every doorstop,
charging a shilling-a-piece, and ten bob
for each close he cleans.
If only he’d learned to sew up his pockets
before he dropped all his profits.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Long Way Down

You get to see – and hear – some funny things as you wander through the Museum.  The other day, a couple of kids on the fourth floor, as they crossed a “bridge” looked down at the drop to level ‘0’ and one said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to jump down there!’  About a month ago, I too looked down, and saw a couple of workers taking pieces of the horse skeleton that lies in a glass case at the bottom of this drop, presumably performing some kind of restorative process on the bones. 

And I thought: yes, that’s how most of us deal with history.  We preserve it; give it a polish, and present it to the present with a contemporary sheen.  As long as we can gloss over the past and put it in a glass case, we can distance ourselves from the humans behind the story.  But their story isn’t likely to be much different from ours.  This horse came to a pretty pitiful end – it’s likely it was hamstrung and slaughtered, a sacrifice to honour the dead, or as a propitiation to the gods. 

I wonder if, in 500 years, museums will look back on the 20th century and baulk at the things that were done in the name of religious fanaticism, political ideology or ridiculous superstition. Or will they, as this century, this new millennium, seems to be suggesting, carry on abusing animals, minerals, the planet and our fellow human beings with unending, unremitting lunacy?  I wouldn’t wish it on my kids.  But history can teach us nothing.

Horrible History

Those Vikings had some
horrible ways; pillaging and
raping with their elongated boats
and horny helmets: the stuff
of comic books and cartoons. 
But flog a dead horse?
This equine specimen,
encased with nuts and bolts,
from four floors up looks like
he was thrown from history,
straight into the 20th Century
 – a fate far worse than
anything the Vikings could do.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Shout Out

Today’s Festival Treasure-inspired sestude is about a spiky comb called a ‘heckle,’ used for teasing out the tough fibres before spinning and weaving the flax into cloth. This gave its name to the interruption and debate that occurred among the belligerent workers in the Dundee flaxworks when the daily news was read out by one of the workforce.  Now, I don’t tend to shout-out other blogs, sites or twitterati, but I think today is the right time.

Even outwith the manic month of August, Edinburgh boasts a vibrant spoken-word scene.  Poetry-readings, story-telling, mini-festivals and random literary gatherings occur unerringly throughout the year.  Well it’s no wonder: we are the first UNESCO City of Literature, home of the Scottish Book Trust, and the Scottish Poetry Library 

Last month, I performed one of my short stories at the Storytelling Centre and participated at Red Squirrel’s monthly ’10-Red’ event (here endeth anonymity) I could reel off a handful of other regular events, but the lovely @auntyemily has written perfectly adequately (and less waffly) on the subject:

At a recent poetry workshop, somebody asked if people ever heckle at poetry readings.  The general consensus was, no.  But yesterday, at an event that was part of the Festival of Spirituality and Peace Jackie Kay was, I think it’s fair to say, heckled by our own national poet, the Makar, Liz Lochhead, regarding her pronunciation of the word, “Quaich.”  Quick as a flash, she rhymed it with ‘quiche’ – which made me think she’d read the April entry of this blog  But no. Even so, I hope she reads this.

And if, with all these links, since I’m now onto the 17th sestude of the year, there is any confusion over what constitutes a ‘sestude;’ or if you are unclear about where I got the idea of completing 26 of them, here is the final shout-out:

Anyway, that’s quite enough interruption: here’s this week’s picture-and-poem…

An Epic, Homeric Hackle

Pretty Penelope sits with her heckle,
a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde.
Every day she teases her flax,
combs it and spins it,
winds it onto the loom.
By night she unravels her garment of gloom,
resigned to be left on the shelf,
returns to her former, single self
until somebody shouts,
‘Oi, you with the freckles:
get on with it!’

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Money, so they say

Over half-way through the Fringe, and I have not yet tired of wandering along the Royal Mile and having flyers thrust at me by not-unattractive drama-students shouting out, “Five-star reviews in the…” and there you can insert whatever crappy publication that employs hacks to review things about which they know little. Mostly. 

While I will happily blog, comment upon, give thoughts and feedback, and even my opinions, unless I am writing about something on which I have specific and relevant background knowledge I will not pretend to be a “critic.”  I would urge all people to analyse deeply what a “critic” is saying before choosing not to attend a performance.

But public opinion, even in these days of increasingly discredited journalism, is a real force.  Everyone who has the guts to put on a show during the Fringe, however mediocre or unpolished, deserves applause.  These up-and-coming-or-otherwise-hopefuls need stars, just as they need to learn to dismiss those who pan their efforts. 

If Art is the lie that helps us to understand the Truth, I’m not sure what journalism, steeped in mendacity, hypocrisy, half-baked facts and spurious agendas, stands for.

Morals? Hardly. Art? Nah. Money? Probably. If so, they can keep it.
I believe in Art.

Render unto Caesar.

Pontius Pilate has the best lines in the book:
‘What is Truth;’ ‘What I’ve written I have written;’
and something else about a mango. 
Keen on personal hygiene, he’s always washing his hands;
and – rare for a Roman – listens to his Missus
(though her sage advice he dismisses.)
So why such bad press for the Puppeted Politician?
A fickle thing, Public Opinion.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Busy Times

There’s too much going on at the moment, and not enough days in the week, hours in the day, minutes in the et cetera.  Some sort of Sports-Day thing in London, the Proms on the Radio, and here in Edinburgh: well, where do we start? 

This time last year, amid the Festival Frenzy, the refurbished National Museum of Scotland re-opened its Old Building after many years and was mobbed with visitors.  My only regret (and I feel bad for saying this) was that the Millennium Clock Tower was banished to a siding, like an old train, and now competes with a tacky golden cockroach.

So for the first of my Festival Sestudes, and to wish the National Museum a slightly-belated happy 1st Birthday, I will make a rare exception and venture out of the Scottish Building. Here, slightly perversely, is a before-and-after-time pair of pictures.

Such is Time

I cranked into action. Crowds
gathered as music began.
Two little children ran
like mischievous mice.
“Mum, you’ve got to see the clock:
it’s amazing!”
But time is fleet-footed, ephemeral.
I used to command an audience
the full length of the room –
even the fish stopped to look –
sometimes they’d applaud.
Now they’re gone, and I’ve been
exiled; shunted into dry dock.

Images Copyright M J Richardson. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licence.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Mouthy Mary

Four weeks after John-the-Baptist’s Day, the ecclesiastical calendar commemorates Mary Magdalen.  While John preached repentance; Mary Mags (if we believe she was the penitent prostitute) practised it.  There is a fabulous Rubens painting in the Scottish National Gallery, depicting Herodias spiking the tongue of John-the-B with a fork as his head is presented to her husband, Herod, on a dish by sumptuously-dressed Salome.  The symbolic message of the jabbing fork is clear: that will teach him to speak out.
The witch’s gag or ‘branks’ in the museum is another horrid symbol of how, in the past, women have been silenced.  Some of these awful contraptions had spikes that, when inserted into the mouth, would pierce the “gossip’s” tongue if she talked.  Whether these so-called witches, loose-tongued, or accursed women were truly evil, touched by spirits or just plain misunderstood is hard to say.  Jesus Christ was reported to say, ‘let the one without sin cast the first stone.’  Tell that to the tabloid journalists, 2000 years on.

Madeleine and the Minister

Quoth he: I’ll mak ye haud yer weesht,
an’ he straps the branks on ma heid.
Kens Ah’ve blether fir the baith o’ us;
gin Ah clype oan - he’ll be deid.

His creeshie words are sleekit as oil,
but it’s me wha greets an’ begs.
Ye’ll cry me a gossip, but hae a wee keek
at whit lies between his legs.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Buried Treasures

So we come to the third of this year's Fridays-the-Thirteenth - triply unlucky for those who believe in bad luck - and with it, as coincidence would have it, the thirteenth of my 26 Treasures from the National Museum of Scotland. I've already said I'm not superstitious, and I don't have a mind for numbers, but it kind of makes sense.  Any month that begins with a Sunday will have a Friday 13th.  This year, an extra day in February means that, three months had Sundays-the-first; each three months apart and therefore, the Friday 13ths were thirteen weeks apart. Ooh, scary?  No, just maths. 
What secret or subconscious power led me to post a 13th sestude on Friday the 13th? The simple fact is that 26 sestudes (yikes - that's 2x13!) in the space of a year is no easy task, especially when it involves finding, researching or even photographing one of the museum's vast array of Treasures every fortnight. Sometimes items have caught my eye; a story, or an over-heard snippet or random fact inspired me.  Mostly, it is serendipity or chance.

For today’s Treasure I could have chosen from a multitude of artefacts that symbolise luck or superstition. The ancient practice of burying treasure with the dead pre-supposed that it would be useful in the next life; and so, there are many items of symbolic meaning.  This gave me plenty of words to play with.  For that reason, I have chosen a string of glass beads, and formed my sestude out of meaningful words, half-randomly strung together in three contrasting tiers, to be read in any direction you – or fate – may choose.

Friday, 6 July 2012

What a Bore

When I started this project of 26 Sestutes for 2012, inspired by the 26 Treasures competition for the National Museum of Scotland, I had great plans and pretentions.  First, that I could write a mere 62-word snippet based on 26 of Scotland’s Treasures – displayed in a building I enjoy spending far too much time in – every two weeks for a year.  Believe you me: a ‘sestute’ is no easy discipline.

Second, that I would find time to look more deeply into issues of national identity, and explore what it means to be Scottish.  This is particularly hard for someone who pronounces words with a ‘posh’ (or at least, received) English accent.  And third, that I (while being chronologically-challenged) would find items to write about that might slot pleasingly into calendars of events, historical, personal, or ecclesiastical.

I managed to shoe-horn Corpus Christi into the mix; even Lent got a mention but, when it comes to the hagiographical calendar, I sadly forgot about Saint John-the-Baptist, whose date was handed to me on a plate, since I used to work for a church that bore his name if not his fore-running fame. So, with apologies to June 24 (and anything else that rhymes with ‘ore’) I will throw this one in, belated. 

Oh, and if you’ve never heard the wonderful and legendary John Kenny play this beast of an instrument, I urge you to look it up while you’re here on the internet.

The War-Trumpet

I’m not quite sure
who bore the boar
on a John-the-Baptist dish.

A weapon of war,
adored and abhorred, a caricature, 
with bulging eyes and laughing lower jaw;
its sforzando roar let rip
with puckered lip
and petrifying embouchure.

Then, in a peaty grave and frore
was chilled by hoar-frost
and nature’s icy blast;
a silenced sacrifice,
heard – and feared –
no more.

This brass and bronze head of a carnyx - an Iron Age battle trumpet - was found at Deskford in Banffshire. It is the only surviving carnyx head from Britain. The carnyx was used sometime between 80 and 200 AD, and buried as a sacrifice to the gods. The head resembles that of a wild boar, a symbol of strength and fearlessness.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Choir Singing

Although the great delight of the Museum of Scotland is observing how the sunlight does different things to the building throughout the changing seasons (several of which can occur in one day in this city) sometimes, the museum treasures are not so well illuminated.  Some never see the daylight, which means that the humble mobile-phone camera cannot capture my chosen artefact.  So for today, the picture is from a shop-display in Glasgow (and elsewhere).  

Bob, Stitched-Up.

“I’ll sing for my supper,”
he said, peeling the potatoes.
“I’ll sew,” she replied,
winding the bob in.
He took the basso;
she tacked an upper line
on while the sewing-machine
chuckled and whirred a major third.
Closer harmony stirred.
Strands were spliced:
as the singer sowed another seed,
the potatoes stayed unsliced.
But at least they had wild oats for breakfast.

Thursday, 7 June 2012


One of the things l love to do is eavesdrop on people as they wander round galleries and museums.  Modern art is such that the responses of Joe Public are as valid an interpretation as the experts’.  Things ancient can be misconstrued also; here is a story of a small boy who didn’t quite ‘get’ the point of blessing the people with a piece of Jesus.

Today, the feast of Corpus Christi celebrates the institution of the Eucharist. But relatively few churches, Anglican or Roman Catholic, perform Benediction, let alone strew the streets with rose petals as they parade the Host in glorious procession.  More’s the pity, I say: it’s one of the greatest pieces of Street Theatre… and hugely entertaining to see the bemused faces and listen to the passers-by.

I guess we’re lucky that, nowadays, in this country, people are able to carry out their devotion in public, however weird it may seem to others.

Corpus Christi

They jostled into a hole.
The heather-priest screwed the stem onto his travelling chalice.
“Too late: no time.”  He grabbed the reserved sacrament.
“What’s that clock for?” the boy asked, perplexed.
“It’s a monstrance,” he said, as he placed the Host into the casement, and lifted up the Body of Christ.
“A monster!”
Benedicamus Domino, he pronounced, as protestant footsteps angrily approached.