The Win an the Rain
Author(s): Sheena Blackhall
Copyright holder(s): Sheena Blackhall
I am deeply indebted to Les Wheeler for publishing this poetry pamphlet in an extremely short time, and also for designing the cover and writing the forward.
‘The Scrap Heap’ was published in ‘Fanciful Things of Man’, Forward Press New Fiction Series, 2005. ‘What the Cat trailed in’ was published by Forward Press New Fiction Series in the collection entitled ‘If only’, 2005.
‘Tae them wi nane be Gien’ was featured in the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 2005, in Robbie Shepherd’s weekly column. ‘The Wind and the Rain’ was published in ‘Through Different Windows’, 2005, by Poetry Now. ‘Pets Corner, Hazlehead Park’, was published in ‘Tapestry of Thoughts’, by Poetry Now, 2005. ‘Winter’ and ‘It’s Cauld Oot’ were published by Malfranteaux Fine Art (A Division of Malfranteaux Concepts.
Contents: The Win & the Rain
Kieran Christie Spikks tae the Social
Pets’ Corner, Hazlehead
Milk is Always White
A Visit to a Genuine Indian Home, Jaipur
Wang-Pho Meditation Hall, Thailand
When will the Rain Come?
The Mortgaged Moggy
A Wasted Life
The Shy poem
Stars & Stripes
The Scrap Heap
What the Cat Trailed in
On the Festive List
Tanka in the Trossachs
Tsunami, Galle, Sri Lanka
Tae them wi nane, be gien
The Birth of Death
A Scottish Soldier
It’s Cauld Oot / Blue Toon Hipsters
The Auld Alliance
The Space Between Two Snowflakes
Sangs o Saa, Rain, Cauld
The Wind & the Rain
The Wagtail & the Nightingale
A Klu-Kux-Klan of gulls
Savage Sopranos, hit-men of the habour
Have put a cloud of starlings in a stushie.
Aberdeen gulls are fearless
They will casually slice a cod’s head
Slick’s a guillotine. Their yellow wellies
As lurid as Doris Day’s coiffure.
Their mating call’s a cross
Between a foghorn and a saw
It carries the ache of the ocean
Feeling the weight of its ancient waters
Turning round in its fishy bed.
SS Aberdeen gulls, storm troopers
Of no mean city
She trauchles tae the shop an hame
Shovin the bairn he left ahin
A heavy wecht. Her hairt is stane
Nae skirp o solace can she fin
Fur aathin noo is secunt-haun
Her days are soor. Her bed is cauld
Welcome tae single parent lan!
He’s gane an aa she dis is scauld
Foo pleased she’d bin tae gie him this
The livin pruif her luve wis true!
He’s gane. Noo, sorra kythes frae bliss
Rose gairdens wither intae rue
His een luik up from the bairn’s face
The littlin in the faither’s place
Over the oval house with its wattle sides
A shadow lands with a whirr
Curved claws grip pleated twigs
A creamy belly bobs on the breeze
Like the hull of a bouncy boat
Pinstriped waistcoat thrush
Has a beakful of goodies
For three bald, whingeing fledglings.
It’s like constantly shovelling sand
Into a trio of pink triangular sieves.
The worms of nourishment wriggle along the food chain
Into the guts of gutsy, gap-mouthed cheepers
Embryo songsters, their tunes are fed on bugs
Their pinions wait to burst through walnut-skins
As leaves in spring explode with plump brown buds
Tomorrow each will become a fan of feathers
Annie: for Annie Inglis, drama director, Aberdeen Arts Centre
Like pigeons to Trafalgar, bright eyed the youngsters come
She feeds them joy and story, they hang on every crumb
She opens doors of wonder. She holds that magic key
To pleasure groves of plunder from realm of fantasy.
Enchanted they’re transported first class to Samarkand
One brief hour to inhabit a milk and honey land
Tolerance is her gospel, she quotes from Galilee
‘Suffer the littlie children and let them come to me,’
And come they do in dozens, they flutter round her knee
Along with Annie's helpers, Hope Love and Charity.
One written line was all it took
And when his poems aloud were read
His listeners like a cornfield, shook
His wife, poor mare, did not rebuke
The loves he’d praised outside her bed
High hurdle, yet she did not spook
Another night, harp was the hook
That pulled applause. How the notes sped
Like golden minnows to each nook!
The daughter, reticence forsook
‘Muse is a thief. My mother’s dead
To all but harping. It’s a crook.’
Were there map-signs that I mistook?
One day my son turned round and said
‘If I had been a sodding book
Would I have merited a look?’
Margot, a washed oot lily at fifteen
Publicly coorted in the spot-lit street
Dutch bulb, turned bleedin tulip at sixteen
Annabell’s lads were niver nine tae fivers
She cam hame late, in sporty, phallic cars
Her beaux wore Rolex cuff-links, wir high-fliers
Lana wis blate an couthie, unca plain
Her da’s pipes nott a stream o merriet plumbers
With ane o them she ran aff doon the drain
‘Nae winner yer still single,’ I wis telt.
‘Ye’ve got tae wink an ee, an grind yer hips
Ye’ve got tae smile, tae pout, tae strut yer stuff
Hitch up yer breists. Smear sex alang yer lips.’
I trapped a lad at last, at an Arts Ball
Half-canned, he socht me hame at the last daunce
I stood, a tattie-bogle in a park
Pykit bi craw-pecks. Ah, la belle romaunce!
I am a reluctant nest.
Inside me, days open their beaks
Demanding to be fed.
My boughs are old and brittle.
I practise to be a coffin.
Solace comes with the stars
Shining through the blindfolds of the night
Kieran Christie Spikks tae the Social
The first luve that ma hid wis Steve
A seaman. Oh the tales he’d wyve!
He tuik me tae the watter front
Thegither we wad cockle-hunt
He vowed he’d niver leave.
He kissed Janine. Ma hid tae heave
Him oot. Nae cam-back, nae reprieve.
My secunt da wad booze an grunt…
I wish I wis a Spanish ship, a -sailin the high seas
Skweel says I bully an I thieve
That I’m ower hyper tae achieve
Da nummer three says I’m a runt
That I maun takk the things I wint
That happiness is makk-believe
I wish I wis a Spanish ship a-sailin the high seas
Duthie Park, Aberdeen
In the park, a beech tree wearing broccoli for a hat,
Reclines against the white plate of a cloud.
Stone lions stare at the roses,
Where a greying pair sit picnicking on sandwiches,
His and hers.
The lawns, scribbled with shadow,
Shudder under the whir of buggy wheels.
Sun worshippers lie flat on August’s altar.
Doggy people perform doggy tricks,
Flick leads, click tongues, throw sticks.
Hipster toddlers hang from their mothers’ sides
Like holsters loaded in a cowboy movie
Little girls in shorts on ostrich legs
All knees and knobbles swing from white balloons.
Bandstand’s an empty keg,
Its songs decanted underneath the trees
That haven’t stopped their rustling to breath.
Twenty-four senior citizens from Ohio
(Their t-shirts labelled like evacuees)
Advance on the ice cream seller
Wearing the too small hat.
On park patrol, the seagulls scan the ground
For scraps to scoop up in their yellow squawks.
Granny outings huddle in the cafe
Skin hanging like fruit from a tree.
Absentee dads are struggling to cram weeks
Into a weekend's serious gaiety
It's much too hot for lovers' dalliance
Winged in the musty air, small insects dance,
Attending August’s open invitation,
The hospitality of park and sun.
Pet Corner, Hazlehead Park
It’s a carnivore thing
When Mac Donald Duck comes quacking
Beak, eyes, feathers legs,
Are rendered almost invisible by the chubby breast
A feast on stilts, prospective calories.
She swivels round exposing her waggling rear
Like a fat old lady lifting her skirts with a swish
To warm her white behind at a roasting sun
Legs down dangling, a shameless hedonist.
A seagull sits on a branch, pretending to be a hawk
Its back is zebra-striped by a shady beech
Three donkeys crop the cropped grass into mud
Nine rabbit families swelter in their hutch
Trying to wriggle out of their furry pants.
A ring of toddlers is putting a brave face
On being a target board for a charging goose.
Llama shares her pent house with two goats
Rabbit and guinea pig in communal hutchery
Are contemplating bestial debauchery.
Pot bellied pig, a tubby, dandruffed porker
Slumps to a standstill, stuffed by dreams of buns
A hen like Noah’s ark, moors in the sun.
A boy in nappies barely off the breast
Giggles an coos, amazed at fur and fin.
A wasp has stung a scream from a flailing girl
Tears make two zig-zag streaks between her pleats.
It gained free entry, didn't even pay!
Milk is Always White: Cha-Nam Beach, Thailand
Thin brown fishermen
Garish ragged shirts
Nets flung on the sea
Some fish are caught
Some fish escape
Thin brown massage women
Skin like seasoned teak
Hoist torn parasols along the beach
Some trade is caught
Some trade escapes
Milk is always white
Though tugged from different cows
Yen, dollar, sterling, bath,
Money is money
A Visit to a Genuine Indian Home, Jaipur
When we reached the genuine Indian home
For real madam, we take all tourists here
The grass was shorn like a Windsor palace lawn
The hostess was as delicate as china
The occupants’ manners were impeccable
Their limbs were comely and straight
There was a Congressman’s picture on the wall
Garlanded, so surely a close relation
The car in the drive looked new
A paid fakir to amuse
Tea, coffee, fruit juice madam
You may choose…
It was cool and clean and calm
Music was playing softly
No strange noises
The sun shone softly
The clock ticked in the hall
A cosseted beetle crossed the Persian carpet
The family were Jains
It was cool and clean and calm
When I sniffed the flowers in the pot
I found they were only paper, after all
It was cool and clean and calm
Wang-Pho Meditation Hall, Thailand
Two young geckos bob and genuflect
Like monks in training
Showing the way in
Out of the sizzle and rattle of the moon
I cool like a lobster on ice in the empty hall
On a floor of burnt sienna tiles
I sit and face two candles cupped in brass
One glass Buddha
Three brown incense sticks
Outside a cricket clacks
Like a turning prayer wheel
The day falls like a prayer shawl round my feet
Frayed edges set aside
When will the Rain Come?
When will the rain come?
The wooden doorknob creaks in its iron groove
The summer rose opens its dragon mouth
Foxgloves droop parched heads across a fence
Lentils dream of water in the pot
Too hot for walking, floppy laces trail
The Mortgaged Moggy
There once was a tom cat called Wills
Whose hunting showed marvellous skills
On a trip up the Niger, he captured a tiger
And sold it to pay off his bills
A Wasted Life
A cat in the high Pyrenees, smoked cannabis weed if you please
When the moggy was stoned, every blanket she owned
Was invaded by legions of fleas
The Shy Poem
Do you write many poems? I asked
One crept out recently, came his reply
As if it had sneaked out of the house
Carrying its slippers in its hand
So as not to disturb the neighbours
And it intrigued me this shy one, this quiet one
That didn’t bang its drum
Or jump up and down to be heard
As I never learned what it said
Or where it crept off to, out of the workshop door..
Maybe it went to Mull to sing with whales
Maybe its knitting sweaters up in Shetland
Maybe it’s thumbing its nose at poetry readings
Just sitting there being a poem
Just sitting there
I think of it often, shy poem that crept away
I would like it to come back
Sit in the middle of the circle
And explain itself
Stars and Stripes
Bonfire season. Dry logs cackle like witches.
In Autumn’s pyre twigs sigh, give up the ghost
Summer bounty’s past its sell- by date
Frost crackles across the lake
Where the striped badger snuffles in his set
Hunchback hedgehog turns into a conker.
In the gloved and booted night
Fireworks soar like shooting stars of light
Pumpkins leap off supermarket shelves
Guy Fawkes turns in his grave
Uncle Sam’s cheerleaders whoop it up
Trick or treating down our Old World’s lanes.
Breaking cover, owl unwraps his wings
Bat drops from his hanger
The eyes of the wood gleam slitted and slatted
Through twigs of half light,
Briers of concealment.
Fox walks into his paw prints
Nosing the air aside like a delicate trowel
Claws carve and curve
A vole is being eaten in the undergrowth
Black velvet lined with red
Spider descends his ladder making a sheer drop
From the top of his bramble bush
Where thorn unsheathes his dagger
Midnight ink, dew forms on nibs of grass
Somebody’s pussycat sits like a gibbet
Tries on a victim for size through butcher’s eyes
Hare screams. Sun sinks like a stone
A day dies.
The Scrap Heap
'U.R.A.C. United Royal Armaments Corporation ... that's quite a mouthful, isn't it!' giggled the young recruitment advisor. 'I think they'd be just the ticket for you. They're looking for a receptionist. People of your (and here the recruitment advisor paused, toying with the dilemma of whether or not to use the word 'age' or not. She decided, not) experience are so reliable, so people oriented.'
It had been a spur of the moment decision for Deirdre Coutts to consult an agency. Lately, her boss had spoken of 'scrap heaps' and 'voluntary redundancies in the pipeline.' She had decided to jump, before she was pushed.
The interview with U.R.A.C. went surprisingly well.
'I see you've no dependants,' the office manager, Mr Cuttle, murmured. 'That's such a plus these days. You wouldn't believe the headaches family problems cause in-house. God, if people aren't asking off for maternity leave, their offspring's down with Hong Kong flu or their partner's having a liver transplant. I mean, they really should sort out their priorities. No sentiment in business. The world doesn't stop in its tracks because Fred Bloggs is having a hernia repair. I think we can say you're hired. You can start tomorrow.'
Next day, she was given a brief induction. The obligatory rubber plant sulked in its ceramic pot of pebbles in a far corner. The whole office was so warm, that working there was akin to being in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest. Her mentor was Eleanor Bridlington, a young go-getter whose brown hair was hauled back in a tight pony tail, making her look like a gelding about to gallop off round a show ring.
'Our general manager , Mr Robert Ormiston, is a very busy man. Your job's to shield him from too many interruptions,' she told the new employee. 'We call him B.O. for short.'
Mr Ormiston was not only busy, he was very elusive. He was always 'in flight' from somewhere, she was to discover, forever 'in transit' or 'on secondment to Kuala Lumpur', or ' in a meeting’. Getting through to B.O. was rather like breaking into Colditz.
After the induction, Beatrice McSherry, Eleanor Bridlington's immediate superior took over. Deirdre had never met anyone like Beatrice McSherry before, all bob and gob. The last person who she had seen with that colour and consistency of hair, was standing naked in a shop window being dressed as a circus clown. If it wasn't a wig it was seriously in need of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Beatrice McSherry had a squat, pug nose, a huge Mick Jagger mouth glittering with bold fillings, and long, dangling silver filigree earrings. Every plump finger on both plump hands was festooned with jewellery. She sparkled like a human Xmas tree.
'I've scribbled down some instructions. There's a book of procedures on the shelf behind you. A child of five could do it ... there's just the mail. the couriers, the taxies, the faxes, E-mail, some photocopying and of course the phones. There's a list of extension numbers on the wall. Oh...and the phones can't be left ringing longer than 3 seconds, as a matter of top priority.'
In no time at all, the switchboard was red hot and jammed with six incoming, very irate lines. She put an Arab businessman from Dar-es-Salam through to Nancy Baxter in Human Resources instead of Daniel Denver in Business Development. She cut two callers off completely.
'I counted ten rings. Ten rings' a furious U.R.A.C manager screamed down the phone at her. 'What sort of a telephonist are you anyway? Time's money. Our business has an international clientele. They can't be kept waiting. They're not accustomed to waiting. Waiting isn't a word in the U.R.A. C. management vocabulary. We are not waiting people.'
He slammed the receiver down like a thunder clap. Stunned, Deirdre 's fingers pressed red lights and green lights on the evil little switchboard that was as busy as spaghetti junction, juggling lines and callers keeping all six balls in the air and sometimes dropping all at once in a confusion of epic proportions. Fifteen times in the space of an hour, New York buzzed B.O. He was always 'in a meeting, 'not available' or 'out'. When the sixteenth caller, a rude and obnoxious Slav who addressed her in broken English screamed 'What is this not obtainable? Why he not obtainable? You tell me you stupid woman. I very important man!' her patience finally snapped.
'Mr Ormiston is not obtainable, sir, because Mr Ormiston is dead. Savvy? Comprendez? Mr Ormiston will never be obtainable again. And now sir, I am going to hang up the phone as the time is now 5pm in Britain.... it may not be with you, sir, but here in Britain it is 5 pm., when the offices of U.R.A.C. close. Should you have any messages please ring back and put them on the night service answering machine. Thank you.'
So saying, she hung up, thereby drawing to a close her first day as an employee of U.R.A.C.
The second day started reasonably well, until Beatrice McSherry checked up on her progress.
'Those faxes aren't straight. Some of the pages are stapled squint. Well, really, there's no excuse for that, now, is there. It's easy enough . Watch me. You pick up the fax, you tap all the pages like so, one....two...three, and when they're all tickedy-boo, nice and tidy, then you CLICK with the stapler.'
Deirdre smiled weakly, and nodded. There were signing in books for absolutely everything, and they all had their own systems, carved in stone. That night, tucked up in bed, Deirdre dreamt that the walls of her house were built of office ledgers, and that a huge fax machine sat in the fireplace spewing out paper, threatening to smother her altogether. Death by fax, slow, and inexorable as being immured alive in a Pharaoh’s tomb.
On day three, Deirdre rolled up her sleeves and tackled the mail. The franking machine was like a wee new toy. You slid the envelope in at one end, and the machine obligingly passed it along its inky insides, stamped the date on it, and excreted it at the other end with a whir and a click that was soothing and repetitious and foolproof. Fifty stamped envelopes later, Deirdre smiled triumphantly. There WERE some jobs she was capable of accomplishing well. Janice Meikleweight, a small dark busy woman with a moustache who worked upstairs in Finance appeared at the desk. She did not look best pleased, not best pleased at all.
'I see all fifty of those envelopes have been franked first class.'
'I know,' said Deirdre proudly. 'Quick smart time too.'
'I'd check the addresses again, if I were you,' said Janice Meikleweight. Half of them are destined for the Arab Emirates. I don't think a first class stamp will quite cover that, do you?'
Six lines began to ring like the combined howl of half a dozen new born babies in a hospital nursery at feeding time.When Deirdre finished answering them, she decided to award herself a cup of coffee from the office kitchen. Somebody, had stolen her mug. Somebody, on £20,000.00 per year, earning twice her salary, had bloody well stolen her mug. She had deliberately bought from Oxfam a particularly hideous mug too, of the Loch Ness Monster wearing a tartan toorie and written in indelible ink 'I AM DEIRDRE'S MUG' round the bottom of it. On that sour note, day three drew to a close.
Day four was excessively hot. The office fan behind her whirred frantically like a Dutch windmill in overdrive.An earnest young man appeared from an office marked 'African projects'. He placed a bundle reverently before Deirdre. 'Could you book an international courier for this?' he asked. 'It's top priority. Oh, and I need a taxi to take me to the airport. Can you arrange that?'
'No problem,' Deirdre lied, frantically scrabbling through the white plastic 'office procedures.'
Four times she tried to phone the taxi firm, and the international courier. Each time she had to abandon the attempt, to answer incoming calls. Finally, the aged switchboard, unused to being rung for so long, blew up. All the lines went dead. The answering machine gave an agonised screech and forever fell silent. The entire system, crashed.
Beatrice McSherry raced to the reception area, white with anxiety. 'B.O.'s expecting high level calls through any minute from Geneva. This can't be happening, it simply can't be happening. I'll have to ring the engineers on my mobile. God,God, God!'
Just as she entered the office, Deirdre dropped Mr Ormiston's personal mug and smashed it into a million pieces. It was his favourite mug. It had been given to him by his doting mother when he joined the company fifteen years before. It had been emblazoned with a Rupert the Bear motif, and had been inscribed 'to mummy's best boy'. B.O. adored his mother. B.O. adored his mug.
When the engineers were attempting to resuscitate the switchboard, Beatrice McSherry approached the reception desk.
'Mr Ormiston would like a word. As soon as you can, please. Upstairs.In his office. I'll cover your post.'
The interview with Mr. Ormiston, general manager of U.R.A.C. was mercifully brief. 'There's no two ways to put this, Miss Coutts, no two ways at all. You're simply not U.R.A.C.. material. So it's hail and farewell, Miss Coutts, hail and farewell. You've got one week's warning and any money owing will be posted on after that. Sorry it didn't work out. Close the door on your way out. Oh, and don't put through any calls this morning, I'll be unobtainable for the rest of the day.'
Deirdre Coutts went through the door, stunned, like a shot sow in a slaughterhouse. She had never been sacked in her life before. She felt like a bluebottle that had just been sprayed in D.D.T. What had they taught her at college? A new job's always a learning curve? A learning curve? Her curve must have been positively horizontal! And now she had the prospect of a further seven days in the job, with the extra humiliation of everyone knowing she was working her notice.
Beatrice McSherry's eyes gleamed with malevolent glee. 'Back to the scrap heap, is it?' There was no doubt, no doubt at all, that she had wanted Deirdre Coutts out from the word go. Deirdre thought for a moment, then collected her coat.
'But what about your week's notice?' stammered Beatrice.
'Sore back. Tricky things backs. You should watch yours..... Bye!'
Beatrice herself had to man the switchboard until the agency could locate a temp.
When Deirdre stepped out into the street, she almost fell over a scruffy looking little boy kicking a tin can along the gutter.
'Excuse me,' said Deirdre. 'Would you like to have some fun?'
The boy nodded.
'Well, here's a phone card.' She jotted down U.R.A.C.'s switchboard number, hastily. 'I want you to phone this number all day. Just a little game. Every time the lady answers it, hang up. And then ring back again.'
The boy grinned, nodded, and grabbed the card. It was the sort of game he liked. Deirdre walked off past a seagull. The seagull gave her a sly look. It was standing on top of scrap heap, and it grinning, definitely grinning.
What the Cat Trailed in
The invitation on the computer was perfectly plain: All College Personnel are Invited for a Few Drinks at Tink's Lounge after Work Tonight to bid Adieu to Basil Biggins Head of Art who is leaving us this week to join a PR company. Apologies for short notice. Be there or be square.
Mags Dooley switched off the computer, gathered up her raincoat and handbag, getting ready to leave. She had started work with the college only that week with Lily, who handled finance and purchase ledger. It was the first time they'd temped together, but in the space of three days they had discovered they had much in common..the same night-clubs, the same restaurants, they had even gone out with the same boy, though not at the same time.
'We're both new here,' Lily remarked, 'So we might as well go together to this do. You don't have to stay if you don't like it. We can check out the talent. It could be a laugh. There'll be tutors there as well. Some of them aren't too bad.'
Until then, Mags had nurtured not the slightest desire to go to the college hoolie. However, with a prospective friend alongside, she decided to test the waters of sociability. They were both in their mid twenties, neither was currently with boyfriend, the party might be a laugh.
Both girls shivered as they left the office block, stepping out into the sudden whiplash of a rainy windy evening. Tink's lounge was quite near. A neon owl blinked its two yellow eyes off and on, off and on, alongside the pub's sign, a scribble of light. It was a relief to enter the pub door out of the Autumnal weather and follow the steward's directions up a shiny glass stairway, to the private function room booked by the college staff in honour of the departing Basil. Lily and Mags jostled their way through the crowd to a corner seat, beside the drinks table.
The drinks table was laden with flagons of white wine, and a bewildering assortment of malts, vodka, rum,a Bacchanalian paradise. The gathering was an odd mixture of academic and ancillary staff, somebodies mixed with run of the mill nobodies, in the usual strange atmosphere of a college night out. Georgina Pirie from the canteen was simpering over a rude joke with Johnnnes De Beerholme from I.T. Elena Southers the new security guard was gazing enraptured at a fat, balding Computing Design instructor, as if his every word would have qualified him for entry to Mensa.
'God, this is dull,' remarked Lily pugnaciously, becoming progressively more so with every swig. of wine. ' Pass the wine over, would you Mags? The college has paid for it, so we might as well get wired in.'
Ned from the Autocad support team slumped down on the table beside the two women clutching a pint glass half full of brandy and Babycham. 'Did you hear the one about the harbour prostitute'?' he leered.... 'went down the quay wearing a raincoat with nothing on beneath it. Flashed it open when this old punter passes, and shouts 'Super-sex'. And the old guy, quick as a flash, replies..... 'If it's all the same to you, I'll have the soup.'..
'Heard it before,' said Lily wearily.
Mags was beginning to perk up, as the wine worked its witchery on her inhibitions. She slid her glass across the table, turned the tap and let the freebie flow copiously.The college had not been her easiest short term assignment. She needed two buses to get there, with a steep walk up a hill to top it off. She decided to snatch all the perks that she could cream off them. Lily staggered to her feet, and began dancing. Unfortunately, there was no music to accompany her.
Ned from Autocad called Elena Southers a sad fat cow. 'That's HIS career on hold', Mags reflected. Elena was weeping on big Tom O'Farrell from Computing's shoulder about the impossibility of finding reliable staff these days, and bemoaning the fact that everyone blamed her for everything. Mags, bored, tired, and hungry, drank glass after glass of college-bought wine on a diet of two or three crisps. Gradually, the room appeared to tilt, to float.. to up anchor and sail away, leaving her with no sea legs to speak of at all, adrift as it were, without a compass.
'Time to go home,' she lisped with maudlin sentimentality,' back to the old homestead. See you tomorrow Lily. You take care of yourself, right? Hear what I'm saying? Know where I'm coming from? You n' me,we've got to stick together, don't let them grind us down.'
A doorpost uncivilly rose up and hit her on the nose on her way out. For every step she took to the right, she took three more, unplanned, to the left. Her chin had gone numb. Ned from Autocad tried to steer her to the safety of the exit in a straighter line, but was rebuffed. 'Get off me,' was the response to the knight in company livery. 'I'm managing fine.Nothing the matter with me..Just need a wee sleep.'
For some obscure reason she did not walk to her accustomed bus stop but wrapped herself around the first one she came to, facing entirely the wrong way from home. However, it was a nice bus stop, a crutch, a prop. It was holding her upright in a sea of cheap plonk and troubles.Out of the murky mists slithering around the harbour, a car appeared.
'Need a lift home?' asked the driver. Mags fell into the opened passenger door, delighted that the nice taxi driver had anticipated her pressing need to return to her own abode. 'Where do you stay?' asked the driver.
She muttered out slurred directions. They drove in silence through the city streets, where each pub and club was decanting its voluble hordes of dishevelled and inebriated punters in disarray onto the pavements. Now semi-comatose, the young girl was vaguely aware that the car had parked by the river, on a particularly private and secluded corner. She then felt something wet and rather slimy, like a greasy chip, clamped to her mouth. From the corner of one eye, she could see, looming above her, the taxi driver. Except that, unfortunately, he wasn't a taxi driver at all, but one of those unsavoury and desperate gentleman who prowl the city streets at nightfall looking for inebriated women to pleasure.
'Nobody's going to make you do anything you don't want to,' he breathed huskily. Dimly, she was just aware that he was wearing a blue donkey jacket and that he hadn't shaved for several days, and probably never washed at all. His breath stank of garlic and sweaty socks. Obviously, he thought that she was further gone than she actually was. With a huge effort. she flung him off her, yanked the door ajar and stumbled out onto the river bank.
In the moonlight, the river looked like spilled petrol. A seagull, surreal and white, glared at her from an island in the middle of the tarry waters. She ran a curious zig zag line, frequently tumbling on her knees, for the safety of her downstairs flat, anxiously glancing behind her to see if her predatory companion was in pursuit. Thankfully he wasn't. Her legs seemed to have taken on a will of their own. They simply refused to obey her, but buckled like rubber, a combination of wine and fright. After much struggle, she reached her own front door. It only remained to get her key out, to win the comfort and security of her nice safe home. Except she couldn't get her key out, as she'd dropped her bag at Tink's lounge, on the first lap of her eventfully erratic departure.
She staggered to the rear of the house out of the probing glare of a nosy street lamp, and tumbled flat out onto the drying green. Next door's cat, Cinders Baxter, stared at her haughtily. She had lost a shoe in her flight from the river. She was frozen, drunk,miserable, and she had lost her dignity, hand bag, and self respect. The intense cold was seeping through her flimsy work clothes and she urgently needed to find somewhere to drag herself into for shelter. She would never again make superior cracks about Big Issue sellers, she vowed, if only this night could pass without further mishap.Spur of the moment, she dragged herself to her feet and tottered next door, to try the handle. Mercifully it was unlocked. Overlooking the fact that she was entering totally uninvited and that she was barely on first name terms with the Baxter family, she padded into the lounge, and crashed in a heap on the sofa.
Next morning, her neighbour, Mrs Baxter, on her way to the kitchen in her slippers, screamed long and loud on seeing a strange huddled figure curled up on the lounge suite. When she had recovered from the shock and established the intruder's identity, though not well pleased she was gracious enough to brew a cup of strong coffee for her neighbour.
'I suppose you know it's gone half past eight?' she remarked. 'I believe you're due at work for nine o clock? I can lend you a pair o my shoes, but my feet must be two sizes smaller than yours. You'll have no time to change your clothes though. You look like a peed nappy, if you don't mind me saying so. That's a helluva state for a woman to get into. You expect it from guys, but you young girls should know better.'
With a tremendous effort, the unsolicited house guest poured herself off the sofa. Mrs. Baxter's shoes were indeed far too small, but it was either wear them or go into work barefoot. The bus journeys into town were a nightmare. A party of trolls were gouging away at her eyeballs and a troupe of can- can dancers were pounding on top of her brain. Brains were not meant to be pounded. Eyes were not meant to be gouged. She saw her reflection in the bleary window of the bus, and winced. Her hair was sticking up like frightened hedgehog. Her clothes looked us if she'd thrown them on with a pitchfork and then done ten rounds with a Sumo wrestler. She stank of stale wine, grass stains, the Baxter's tom cat and other unpalatable substances.It was almost a relief to leave the bus, to breath in the chilly sobering city air on the uphill walk to the college. Reluctantly, she dragged herself through its chic portals.
'Look what the cat's trailed in,' laughed Lily, uncomfortably close to the truth.
On the Festive List
Half a pound of brussel sprouts
Half a dozen mince pies
Small carton of cream
Goodwill to some men
Six Xmas crackers
a bottle of sherry
a large trifle
a truce in family hostilities
the queen’s speech
Arty-farty cards for very important people
boxed assorted Asda for everyone else
and a blue robin in a bare tree
Ding dong merrily the tills
Give one lucky beggar 20p
Six lords a-leaping through the tabloids
Any child found in a manger
Regardless of religious persuasion
To be given permanent asylum
No questions asked.
Tanka in the Trossachs
Shearing the dreich days
Like a scythe man, Winter comes
Sweeping old fields bare
Leapfrog Spring can reinvent
Halcyon highlands anew
Tsunami, Galle, Sri Lanka, Boxing Day,2004
The roads are rubbled. The pitiless monsoon rain
Runs down mens’ faces. Even their tears taste salt.
A car with its lights punched out
Lies upside down in Galle’s market square
Torn ribbons of saris, sarongs,
Are bloodied decorations round each tree
Hanging for dear life
By a thread, by a fingernail.
From a floating rooftop
Heads of families bob like cocktail cherries
Fishing nets wrap tuk-tuks in a stranglehold.
No-one’s collecting the fare
No-one’s counting the catch
A child is carried ashore
His eyes are filled with shards of sea debris
The sort that clings to sandals on the beach
The sort you shower off before the buffet
Before the lobster’s hoisted in, showing its dripping claws.
Bodies lie like virgins
They will never be touched again in a lustful way
They are wrapped and quiet, laid out in a hall
Waiting to be identified and claimed.
And who’s going to pay for this?
Somebody, or something should certainly pay….
Sunbathers wedge in trees like dripping fruit bats
A market stall is fifty fathoms deep
A teenage office worker’s brown plump leg
Protrudes from a fallen palm. Her mobile phone’s
Forgotten how to bleep.
Where trains go loop-the-loop
Where boats sail into churchyards, spewing fish
Where the sea sails down the streets
Like it God-damn owns the place
Where renting a room in a posh five star hotel
Buys no-body special favours when the sea gate-crashes the party.
Acts of God do not discriminate
Everyone killed, the strong, the sick, the weak.
Tae them wi nane, be gien.
The barfit fishers on the beach, their fyew possessions teen
Greet that the sea has netted men. Tae them wi nane, be gien.
The western pleisur sikkin fowk lived throw thon widdendreme
Bairns, hames an aa wheeched aff like straa.The ocean wyves abeen.
The lauchin bairn, the wirkin cheil, thegither or alane
Dauchled tae watch an Act o God, an in thon dwaum war taen
The sea that washes Thailan’s sides, bathes India’s backbeen
Sweetens Sri Lanka wi its tides, turned traitor this foreneen
Stole frae the puirest o the puir afore ocht cud be daen
Even the bairns frae oot their airms. Tae them wi nocht, be gien
O far’s the Wise Men in the East that cudnae hae foreseen
The sea rise up like a grey wolf wi murder in its een?
The nations roon the Indian Sea, they hae nae siller speen
May loaves an fishes multiplee…tae them wi nocht, be gien.
The Birth of Death
The birth of death came when the waters broke
Nothing can dream them back
From the dead weight of the tide
Where waves like a cat o nine tails flailed the land
Set roofs afloat, an origami fleet.
The world pulled over onto the hard shoulder
Coins in phone booths melted into sand
Their human numbers, silenced, unobtainable.
Hands filmed their own destruction
Starred in a snuffed out movie
The sea was a ripsaw baring the reef’s teeth
Tits were pushed off the tabloids
Children went like starlings swung on a cloud
Virgins went chaperoned by flotsam into a cold wedding
Coastlines were abattoirs.
Passports and checkpoints floated on spray
Faces like unclaimed cases stared from billboards
The hanging hieroglyphics of despair.
A terrible matchsticked town,
Housed a necropolis
Normal service cancelled till further notice
The earth wobbled,
The compass cracked
The town clock’s hands stood still
Now they sit round the table,
Guests in their own home
Hunger, Want, Disease
Sucking their thumbs and rocking
Till foreign waiters bring the aid tureen
And the long ladle counting out the drops
All, all, has gone to wrack
Businesses, brides, lives,
Nothing can dream the back.
A Scottish Soldier:
For Pt. Charles Middleton Ritchie, Gordon Highlanders
By joining up he journeyed far
There are no jobs in Highland glens
Other than B & B or bar
He travelled first class into war…
Korean and Malayan tours
There, leeches sucked his Scottish blood
There’s no iced tea or petit fours
Where soldiers die in monsoon mud.
Demobbed, he raised a family
Peace pumped contentment through his veins
Until a slug of Scotch would raise
The spectres of his old campaigns
How, all night long, alone, entire
Ten comrades killed by friendly fire
He had to guard. Who’d think the dead
Would lie unburied in his head?
For 50 years, forever sealed
The horrors of the battlefield.
He’s dunted the shepherds and skelped the kings
Cowped sweet Jesus ooto his staa
Connor McGraw. Fa’ll clip his wings,
The angel fa irritates ane an aa?
The Bethlehem scene’s gaen rick-ma-tick
Foo is the cuddie weirin a croon?
Fa’s thon turnin the ither chikk?
Moonin aboot wi his troosers doon?
He’s echt years auld bit acts nineteen
His ma is staned fin he gyangs tae bed
He watches the bang-bang TV screen
Till three am wi his wide-eed Ted
‘What’s St Nicholas bringing you,’
The teacher speirs, ‘from his great big sack?’
Connor McGraw thinks hard and says
‘He’s bringin ma bluidy game boy back.’
Echt am an Santie’s been
Aathin Connor McGraw could need
Aathin’s awa bi twelve fifteen
Selt fur fags an a fix o speed.
Connor McGraw he’s haived a brick
Throwe the shop wi its Xmas show
Sen fur the social worker quick
It’s nae even rowed wi a festive bow!
Reindeer sleigh’s here, presents galore
A time fur blitheness, a Disney show
Connor’s minder’s the chiel neist door
Bring on the punch an the ho- ho- ho
Xmas star dae ye shine sae fair
Jist for the sake o the lucky fyew?
Is there anither star oot there,
Fur Connor McGraw? Is it gowd or blue?
In the mochy dreichness o winter,
Girse weirs a frost straichtjaiket
In an oot-o-sicht sheuch,
Reeds chitter, like a strang electric shock’s
Bin sizzled throwe their verra banes an marra
Barbit wire grips in weird parks o wae
Blin-drift boos trees wi grue,
The harbinger o sufferin an sorra.
Braes rikk wi cranreuch cauld.
A hawk gaes flichter flachterin ower the wids
His name is Daith. Wallopin hungered wings
His wyme aye gaps fur maet
Clouds stappit wi Yule
Writhe like a wud wife in a jizzen
This is the coorse sizzen
The jinniprous spruce is sherp’s a jaggy glaiss
Dule swypes in wi the derk, in mugger’s claes
Ettlin tae rype the warmth o the braes
Coffin fodder, hirplin rubbits squeak
Snadrops heidbang eyndless, at the grun
Tryin tae leave afore the funeral’s by.
‘No cloth can wipe the stain away
The thieves took more than jewellery’
Is all that the old man can say.
‘No cloth can wipe the stain away
No judge can ever make them pay
For stealing my security…
No cloth can wipe the stain away
The thieves took more than jewellery.’
It’s Cauld, oot/ Blue Toon Hipsters
The hardest hairy in Peterheid is young Tallulah Bruce
She’s a bairn in a pram like Desperate Dan
That she feeds on jungle juice.
Insteid o a dummy it sooks a nail.
It’s got its mither’s luiks
The hair on its heid is post box reid.
A mountain reenge o plooks
Rise ower its chicks like the Grampians,
It’s niver bin heard tae greet
I’s sweir its da wis a batterin ram,
It disna spik it bleats.
Tallulah’s aff tae fetch the tea
Some chips an Bacardi rum
Tae keep the frost o the North East Coast
Fae nippin her builder’s bum
In the 1740s Aberdeen’s slave trade was at its height. Peter Williamson, ‘Indian Peter’, was the only North East child out of an estimated 600 to return home when he achieved manhood. Dressed as a Cherokee Indian he sued his captors and was awarded damages. Of the fate of the others, nothing is known.
Creepin up the Ship’s Raw, bi crooked wynd an lane,
Nigh sax hunner ghaisties they takk the low road hame
Nigh sax hunner ghaisties…their kistit banes lie cauld
Atlantic waves sair pairtin the New Warld frae the Auld
They seek their blythesome bairnhood, afore they war waylayed
Near herbour or bi schooner… the sleekit slavers’ trade
Bit oh, the hames that murned them are nocht bit stoor an win
Nigh sax hunner ghaisties an nane tae lat them in
The Auld Alliance
‘Bonjour,’ says Jean, ‘Fit like?’ says Jack.
The Xmas tree stauns green an swack
Bairns birl aroon the skatin rink
Electric angels sway an blink
Ower Union Street this Northern Yule
Richt hairtily fowk banish dule
Wi Santy hats an reindeers lugs
They buy hot dogs an woolly rugs
Dutch tulips sell far revellers dance
Roon staas an olives frae Provence.
Aiberdeen rowies, French baguetees
Are bocht, wi flooers an glaiss chess sets
Rich pastry an sweet clementines
Weel hanselled by the festive chimes
As Mither Kirk bells ring the cheer
The last wikks o the deein year
‘It’s gran,’ says Jim. ‘C’est bon,’ says Jacques
The Auld Alliance hist ye back!
The city cash lines never sleep, insomniac, they pave the way
Where countless party signs flash out, in disco, bar, and night café
Like fallen galaxies, the shine of Christmas lights, on every street
Where lorries thunder on apace, festive deliveries to meet
And in each great necropolis across the western world, the trees
Of Christmas spread their tinsel gay in central heated dormitories
The annual plastic Rudolphs prance away with credit cards and sense
A million red nosed Santa’s part shoppers from hard won pounds and pence
There is a lochan in a glen, far from hosannas of the tills
It lies in silence, like a child of wonder, cradled in the hills
The boundless sky, so vast, so wide, leans over that black waterside
No other guardians but the moon, and stars,
So fierce they pierce the heart
Those sparks from that primordial forge
Where all things living end and start.
The Space Between Two Snowflakes
The knobbled beech tree smells of mushroom mould
Withered meadow grasses barely move
Twigs weave their willow webs to catch the light
A robin’s fat flame shivers in the cold
Like cherry sprays of ink, dog paw prints thaw
The river creeps with winter in its veins
Aeroplane climbs up into some far place
Thorns bleed for spring in every hip and haw
The rooted trees shrink back into their bark
The bronzed and fraying ferns from Autumn’s page
Like commas, curl in wintertime’s hiatus
That space between two snowflakes and the dark
Sangs o Snaa, Rain, Cauld
The Wind and the Rain: Tune: Hey Ho the Wind & the Rain
* On 9th September 1513 at the battle of Flodden, James IV of Scotland and a quarter of the Scots army were killed...one king, 4 abbots, 12 Scots Earls, 17 Lords 400 knights and an estimated 17,000 men out of a country of three quarters of a million people...almost every family in Scotland was in mourning.
* On 11th September 2001, as a result of an attack by terrorists on the World Trade Centre in Manhattan, New York, an estimated 2,996 people lost their lives.
In the ninth month of the year, English bows bent fast and free
On Flodden field a king lay still and the Scots lords kept him company
In September leaves turn sere. Tall, tall, the twin towers stood
Terrror hijacked plane and air and filled their sides with fire and blood
Slow, slow, the news came slow, the white Scots rose lay stiff and cold
Be't foul or fair the drums of war mean babes unfathered, homesteads sold.
Fast, fast, the wide world saw a technicolour holocaust
Around the globe the oil shares dropped as the death toll rose in human cost
There are four Horsemen ride the earth,
The white, the red, the black and the pale
War, conquest, famine, pestilence
With all the ills that men assail
Man's but a shell on the ocean's shore, sand runs swift and the tide runs deep
In Asia, Europe, Africa, the dead lie quiet and the living weep.
Xmas Crackers : tune, Jingle Bells
Jingle bells, festive smells, turkey’s on the way
Auntie Nell’s a vegan so it’s sprouts for her today
Uncle Bill’s had his pill, keep him off the gin
Abel’s ex is after sex so please don’t let him in.
Granny’s teeth were lost, at horrendous dental cost
They might be in the pudding, so look out- they’re gold embossed
Granda’s drunk the punch, every drop, and here’s the crunch
He’s also had the Chardonnay, there’s none for Xmas lunch
Mistletoe, spots, BO, halitosis and cold sores
Save us from Lotharios, the flu and office bores
Fighting kids, e-bay bids, colic, debt and woe
Let’s cram in a traffic jam in tons of winter snow!
Santa’s in the red. Jeannie’s wet the bed.
The church has sprung a leak ‘cause someone’s stolen all its lead
The carollers were soaked, and now the drains have choked
But the preacher is still merry as with brandy he’s well stoked
Feeling rough? Here’s plum duff with a splat of cream, howzat!
What’s the hair that’s sticking there? A whisker off the cat!
Presents here! Xmas cheer! Oh look what I have got!
The tin of beer I sent last year to Aunties May and Dot!
The Wagtail and the Nightingale Tune: The Buchan Bobby
An Evening with Lisa Milne and Paul Anderson, sponsored by Total. Presented by the Council for Music in Hospitals, Aberdeen Music Hall, 3/12/04
A wagtail an a nightingale met in the Music Haa
The nightingle, a native o the toun o Aiberdeen
Stept oot an shook her plumage, the audience wis braw
Sae quaet ye cud hae hearkened tae the drappin o a preen
Rossini an Puccini soared, their lyric tunes took flicht
The velvet o the curtains like the Heivens up abeen
The jewels on the soprano glittered like a winter's nicht
Fin the wagtail an the nightingale appeared in Aiberdeen
The wagtail wis a fiddler, yarkin up an doon the bow
His music telt the stories o Grantully an Cromar
Fae the shakkins o the pyockie tae the hertbrakk o Neil Gow
As frisky as the whisky at the dowp o Lochnagar
There wis Tosca an McCrimmon an the beddin o the bride
The watch-chyne at his westcoat keepin time tae ilkie tune
Buenos Aires an Connecticut, Loch Earn an Bogieside
An a magpie at the concert pianie playin Clair de Lune
Music is the sweetest medicine fae the cradle tae the kist
Wi the pouer tae cheer in hospice, an tae kittle up a ward
Wi the wagtail an the nightingale the peel wis double blessed
In a nicht o stars an music, in the toon o Bon Accord!
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Cite this Document
The Win an the Rain. 2021. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved January 2021, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=773.
"The Win an the Rain." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2021. Web. January 2021. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=773.
The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "The Win an the Rain," accessed January 2021, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=773.
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