The Scent of Blue - Poetry Pamphlet

I've just published (or rather Wordarts has published) my own poetry pamphlet, called The Scent of Blue. In due course, it should be available from my eBay shop, The Scottish Home and from the Scottish Pamphlet Poetry website.

My last collection of poetry was published more than 25 years ago.
Since then, I've written plays for radio and the stage, novels, and histories. But this new collection comes as something of a surprise even to me. I hope that it will be the first of many. There are poems old and new here, one or two of which have already been published in magazines and anthologies including a poem called Thread, which was published in Antonia Fraser's anthology of Scottish Love Poetry. There are previously unpublished recollections of time spent in Finland and Poland And there are poems which reflect my passion for vintage perfumes and textiles, sensual, tactile things and how they can serve to reawaken memories as well as reminding us of milestones in our lives. Incidentally, if anyone is wondering about the cover picture, it's a piece of very old Chinese embroidery, slightly timeworn and rather beautiful - I'm hoping it's appropriate to the collection itself!
Meanwhile, just to give you a flavour, here's an example:


Is it day or night?
The city streets
clasp the heat fast and
late drunks tumble home to sleep.

Is it day or night?
In the warm forest
marsh marigolds jostle for a place,
small lilies crouch in hooded green,
confused thrushes chatter
like shattered glass.

Is it day or night?
Small creatures furrow
lightly on the lake in
random, purposeful lines.
Mosquitoes pilot in and bite.
Black beetles toddle to the
water’s edge.
The surface is streaked with
pollen, soft as a man’s hair.

Is it night or day?
The sun that makes a narrow angle
with the lake’s thin line
considers for a moment
along the slender
very rim of the dark
and rises again.

Art History

Have signed up for an Art History class at Glasgow University, partly because it's something I've wanted to do for ages, and partly because I have a hankering for somebody to teach me something, rather than the other way around! I looked for something closer to home, but all the local classes seemed to be vocational: modules with tests and homework. I wanted a bit of the real lifelong learning that the government is always banging on about. Except that they lie. They don't really subscribe to the idea of lifelong learning at all, or only insofar as it's a way of making people more employable. Which is all very worthy. But it's just possible that we may occasionally want to find out about something for its own sake, to learn for the sake of learning, and not for the sake of the piece of paper at the end of it.
The lecturer on this particular course is in his eighties. He is gentle, non didactic, and brimming with the wisdom of his years. This will be his last course, so I'm lucky to have signed up. In the first class he burst into song, in a beautifully melodic tenor voice - 'she was just the sort of girl me boys that nature did intend, to walk right through the world me boys, without a Grecian bend..' Did we know what a Grecian bend was? No but all of us knew the song, and all of us had wondered. He explained, and proceeded to use it as an introduction to a lecture on Greek art and architecture. Not sure what he's planning for next week, but I can't wait.

Windscale Accident

Having written a play about Chernobyl (Wormwood, produced at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh) I've been following recent radio and TV programmes which have been marking the 50th anniversary of the terrible accident at Windscale (now renamed Sellafield) with some interest. I was a very young child when all this happened, and knew next to nothing about it, although it occurs to me now, that my late father, a scientist, must have been well aware of it, and this was perhaps why - although he worked with radio isotopes for much of his (somewhat foreshortened) life - he still had a healthy scepticism about the nuclear industry and would ask searching and awkward questions about hidden costs, whenever he chanced to be at one of those 'ain't nuclear power grand' presentations.
What struck me most about last night's excellent BBC documentary about the accident (apart from the utterly superb and scurrilous last line, of course) was the way the scientists had been well and truly stitched up by the politicians of the time - and the press had more or less swallowed the whole lying story. That, and the fact that as the surrounding countryside was being showered with radioactive elements which included deadly-beyond-belief Polonium, the residents of nearby Seascale were treated like mushrooms, ie kept in the dark and fed shit. People only removed themselves and their children when workers at the plant managed to get messages home. There was no planned evacuation.
The news at the time was a cover-up that the soviets would have been proud of.
All of which leads me to wonder why so many politicians are now astonished to find that the media savvy population at large don't ever really believe a word they say. Particularly when that word is intended to reassure and prevent panic. Or as they say in Scots, the only language where a double positive can mean completely the opposite - 'aye, right!'