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?’