Long Time – No See

Once again this site has been put on the back burner. It’s hard for me to devote any time to my “main” blog at the moment, let alone this one. I wanted to try and give a brief update on things here.

Firstly, I have myself a book deal. I know! Anyway, as things tend to be in life, it might have come along a bit ‘too little, too late’ in terms of subject and my devotion to it (perhaps – although one could argue that if the SM blog is still going then I am very much still right in the heart of the old SM fandom) but I will give it my best darn shot.

Secondly, uni. It’s at a real ‘ebb and flow’ stage at the moment. Waves of enjoyment and fulfilment mixed with exasperation and disillusionment. At the moment it’s a struggle as we are on a block that has poetry as part of the coursework and I am not doing that well with it. I keep trying to be enthusiastic about it and learning all the elements that will help me to improve but I am finding it a hard slog.

My mental health constantly wavers. Every day is a fight. The last time I posted here, I was going through the deepest, darkest spell I have been in for some time. Years, in fact. I probably haven’t been in such a dark place since around 2006. I was suicidal. I knew I had to pull myself out of it somehow. Bizarrely, what helped to pull me out of it was someone else’s indifference. That and the offer of the authorship came along right at that point too. It was crunch time. Did I want to have the chance of being a published author? A truly ‘once in a lifetime’ chance, even it it feels as if every man and his dog writes a book now.

It hasn’t been easy. Some days I do wonder why I bother at all. But I just keep on trying to work at it. I just keep on writing. Getting things down. Out of my head and down on paper or on the screen.

We’re just over halfway through the course with three assignments left to do. The final two following in fairly quick succession, just over a month apart. From there I have about 12 weeks to focus solely on the book, although I plan on doing as much writing of it as I can before the academic year ends.

In the meantime, I may come and vent here if the frustrations get too much and the time allows. We’ll see!

For now I just wanted to say ‘hi’ and try and keep this blog alive.

Waving – not drowning.

You Know What Your Problem Is?

You think too much. You have too much time to think! You should stop that thinking business. Take a walk. Clear your brain. Not…dwell on things as you walk. Sort your life out.
Yes, I know you’re a writer and ‘thinking’ is part of your job. But you OVERthink….yes? Don’t you…think?

A Haze and the Stone

During the summer, I entered a writing competition run by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. The objective was to write a piece of prose, poetry or a hybrid piece on an object from their medical collection.

I was initially attracted to a pair in pince-nez and thought I might write about them but I decided on a bottle of laudanum. Why laudanum? Well, I was aware it had been a ‘tool’ used by certain writers, particularly during the late Georgian Era of the 19th Century. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was said to have written Kubla Khan while under a laudanum haze. As far as he was concerned the poem was incomplete as he had been disturbed by a “person from Porlock”. It was this anecdote about the disruption of the writing of Kubla Khan that inspired my piece.

The RCPSG have announced their shortlist of stories and suffice it to say my story didn’t make the shortlist. That now leaves me free to share it here. I do hope you will enjoy it.

So, I present to you: A Haze and the Stone. Let me know what you think!

A Haze and the Stone

The building is small and rustic. The central fireplace keeps the space warm. Outside, the air is already bitterly cold. It feels like winter has arrived early. Ah, for the days of the summer that has just been.

It is quiet here. I have time to think, to dream, to be. I can take in deep breaths and … oh, what is that smell?! Urgh! That cow dung gets to one at times. Disgusting stuff it is, but it keeps the land fertile. It also invades one’s olfactory senses abhorrently.

Where was I? Oh, yes! As you may detect, not only do I have time to think and dream but I also have time to ponder many things. As of now, I need the remoteness of this location. I cannot work whilst at home with Sara. She robs me of all inspiration, and I cannot tolerate it. I require the solitude offered here to purge my mind. To extricate all that churns within it. Allowing for freedom of thought is vital. So, this little Lynton farmhouse is my haven at present.

Whilst my mind is now unhindered to expel its deepest thoughts, the ability to capture what is to be expunged eludes me. My mind is constricted, and this pains me. My friend, my glorious friend, awaits upon the mantle. He gleams in the low, fragile morning sunlight. ‘I am here, Sam,’ he says to me. ‘Here to give you solace, to unlock your mind and free you of your turmoil. Take comfort in me. Allow me to assist you in escaping all your ills. At least for a time.’

He is ever so enticing a friend. I admit to having a strong dependence upon him. He has the look of a setting sun on a late June day. A warm glow that is irresistible in contrast to the increasingly glooming October sky. Shall I avail myself of his salve now? Freeing the bottle stopper, I take a generous sup, then quickly another. As pungent as the waft of manure that permeates the air around me is, it is nothing compared to the horrific taste of this liquid. A moment later, its vileness is forgotten and all that remains is pure delight.

Before my legs buckle from under me, I seat myself at the dining table in the centre of the room. My friend washes over me from the top of my head down to the soles of my feet. A luminous joy slides through my body and into every nerve. It then rises back up again to envelop me whole in a blanket of bliss. I am both calm and euphoric in equal measure.

Such visions I see before me! My wish for a sunnier time and the heating of my skin is made manifest within my illusions, welcoming me in. So bright and so vivid. Can it really be but a dream? And she, with her voice and strings. Yes, this elixir. This ‘milk of paradise’ I speak of is he. My sweet inspiration, my nectar. Acrid upon my tongue but mellifluous in my mind.

Tap, tap. What is that? Tap, tap. Stop. Go away. Tap, tap. I must not be distracted. Tap, tap, tap. Please, I implore you. Be gone! Tap, tap, tap. Damn you! What is this intolerable racket! Leave me in peace at once!

How I am to accurately locate Mr Coleridge’s whereabouts is anybody’s guess. I have been made aware that he is making his way back to Porlock imminently, but the urgency of the matter requires me to find him and inform him of the circumstances surrounding his finances forthwith. Consequently, I am setting off east towards Lynton, hoping it proves to be Mr Coleridge’s locale before I stray too far off course in my search. Word has reached me that he is convalescing in a farmhouse on the coastal path. First, I will need to head north to the coast, then continue east.

Perhaps I may introduce myself? My name is Arthur Stone, and I am a senior accountant for the firm Rogers and Morton based in Porlock. I have been in their employ for fifteen years. The firm has been responsible for balancing Mr Coleridge’s accounts for two years. Of course, the exact reason for my need to speak with him is something I cannot divulge to you at this point in time. Suffice it to say that the need for Mr Coleridge’s awareness of certain aspects of his financial affairs are required in haste.

I could have gone by carriage or set out on horseback but decided that by the time I had my carriage or ride prepared, I would make it a third of the way there on foot. Although it is a rather dull October afternoon I am looking forward to the long walk, if not what awaits me once I find Mr Coleridge and inform him of the reason for my intrusion.

Most are aware that, for Mr Coleridge, ‘convalescing’ does not solely imply rest and recuperation but of writing and – as with all creative types, one should be cautious when it comes to the point of requiring to disturb an artist at his work. For me this is the most delicate issue of the errand. Knowing that I will undoubtedly disturb or otherwise disrupt Mr Coleridge from some masterpiece of writing or some such induces my apprehension. In the meantime, I will try to set my mind at ease and admire the splendour of the countryside that stretches out before me and accompanies me on my walk to Mr Coleridge’s current retreat.

The colour of the afternoon is a varying blend of greys, blues, and rustic hues. No hint of summer remains. Where I tread the path before reaching the coast, the trees have shed their leaves of pale yellow, burnt orange and vermilion. When I reach the coast and observe the view before me, the aqua sea fills my right-side vision as I continue my journey east. I understand the need for Mr Coleridge to relocate to areas such as these. They do inspire the mind and the senses, do they not?

An hour passes and I see a farmhouse ahead of me. The chances of it being the one in which Mr Coleridge is currently situated would be wonderfully fortuitous and I confess to making a small spritely prayer for such fortune to fall upon me as I make my approach. I knock on the door several times to no avail. As I step back and turn to walk away to continue my search, the door flies open. “For God’s sake, what is it?!”

“Mr Coleridge, sir. I do apologise for disturbing you. My name is Arthur Stone. I am a senior at Rogers and Morton accountancy. I have come to alert you, sir, of a very delicate matter concerning you, your finances, and your current whereabouts. Sir, there is a gentleman by the name of Trevor Fowler that has visited our office, claiming you owe his client a vast sum of money for… certain goods, shall we say. His claims appear to be validated by papers he has in his possession with your signature showing that you have signed for prescriptions from an apothecary in Nether Stowey. The money owed, sir, tallies no meagre sum.”

“Is it not what I pay you for, man? Why are you here? You have disturbed me from work for this?! Can’t you sort it?”

“Sir, I believe that Mr Fowler is on his way to you. Rogers and Morton have informed him that he cannot be paid until you have given your consent to do so. I hastily left the office and made my way to you to inform you of his possible arrival. Mr Coleridge, do you confirm these debts are yours? Did you sign papers to the apothecary, Mr Drummond, at Nether Stowey for a sum amounting to one hundred pounds?

“Of course, yes. If I cannot pay the whole sum, then pay what I can, what you must to allay the man’s concerns and get this… what is his name? This…”

“Trevor Fowler, sir.”

“Yes, this Fowler man off my back. I cannot work without my tools.” Mr Coleridge pauses. He takes a moment before he continues.

“I need it, Stone. I need my elixir. Of course, I can go to another apothecary. I could go to several other apothecaries, but Drummond understands my needs and knows my requirements. Please, pay him what you can to settle my debt. Reassure him the rest will come to him. Can you do that for me please, Mr Stone, my dear fellow? I thank you for coming to me with your warning and your concern.” He closes the door.

I slump on a chair. Why? Why now? Why here? This most precious time!? I try to clear my mind of what just happened. Try to banish Stone and his words from my thoughts, but this Fowler, he could arrive at any point. What can I do about that now but run?

And now … She has left me! My exquisite beauty. She has now forsaken me. My mind is devoid of it all. Where has my beautiful Xanadu gone? I cannot retrieve her. Lost in my mind forever. If I cannot recapture the vision of her, I cannot complete my recording of it all. Perhaps if I try the aid of my friend once more? There is no other way. I cannot find her without him. I cannot return. I can read what I captured so far. It is there on the page writ before me, but my mind is at an impasse. Blocked from what lays ahead. Fugacious vision turned to verses now incomplete.

I move toward the mantle, take hold of the laudanum bottle, remove the stopper once more and sup again. New joys, new ruptures flood my mind. Swirling, circling, tangling, and mangling my thoughts. No ice, no dome, no caves, no river flows. All gone. Another sup. Why won’t you help me now, rancid syrup? Why won’t you help me return to her?!
My body is heavy. Every fibre leaden. I slump forward upon the table. Perhaps if I let my mind wander to its new visions, I will return to the most glorious of dreams? A new euphoria gallops forward and I am conscious of yet more knocking until, slowly, it fades away.

More On Blackpool

I haven’t really spoken too much about the trip to Blackpool, have I? 

To begin with, I decided on Blackpool for a place to go and see Hamish Hawk perform after a rather thorough investigation on where we (ie: myself and Em, my partner) could go for the most affordable price. I looked at getting back to Luton and seeing Hamish in Bedford, or perhaps going closer to Northampton or Leicester. Northampton used to have a balloon festival during August and I looked into matching that up in line with Hamish’s gig there. That wasn’t going to work out and I think the balloon festival is back off in Northampton anyway. I then looked at heading to the south-west of England and looked into getting to Falmouth or Exeter for one of his shows but flying was costly even though accommodation was relatively affordable. 

That then left the last two dates of the tour; Chester and Blackpool. I looked at Chester first but it was fairly obvious that Blackpool was going to be easier to get to. And with the MASSES of accommodation at a seaside resort(?) like Blackpool, accommodation could be sought out more affordably. Also travel was cheap enough and I could break up the journey between coach and train. A coach to Manchester and then a train to Blackpool North. The train station was just a short walk to the venue so I hunted around for accommodation near the train station. The Happi Hotel and Spa was literally just around the corner from Blackpool North station. I then got the tickets for the gig and then sorted the accommodation through ‘booking.com’. Finally I purchased the train tickets and then the coach tickets. I booked two nights at the Happi Hotel and Spa. The gig was on Friday night, so we travelled down on Thursday, stayed Thursday and Friday nights at the hotel and travelled home on Saturday. Sweet!

As we got closer to the time of the trip, both Em and I were not feeling particularly enthusiastic about going. Everything was all paid for by then. The accommodation was paid for two weeks before we were due to stay and obviously all the transport had been paid for so…we would be out of pocket anyway if we decided not to go. 

The weather was forecast to be a bit iffy while we were away so that was kind of not having us feel that good about the prospect of going away. Who wants to be at the seaside in grey, rainy weather? 

To be honest, I have been wanting to go to Blackpool for YEARS! I’m ashamed it has taken me this long to go! I’ve lived in the UK for nearly 25 years now and it’s taken me this long to get to Blackpool. Bad!

The coach journey down was smooth enough. I guess the slight delay we had in setting off should have possibly given us a little indicator on how the trip was going to pan out  for the return, but I was trying to remain upbeat and calm. It was just a short delay. We set off about 20 minutes later than scheduled and had made the time up in the ensuing journey down to Manchester. I made sure I left enough of a space in time between the coach’s projected arrival in Manchester to the time of the departure of the train to Blackpool. It was all good. We arrived in good time and had no worries about getting our train. 

What we did find out on our arrival was that our train back to Manchester from Blackpool on Saturday was not going to be running. Northern Rail staff were going on strike on Saturday so that caused us a panic and we needed to sort an alternative way back to Manchester on Saturday, FAST! We looked into National Express and whether they had coaches that went from Blackpool to Manchester. They did, yes! And they were regular as well but they had sold out in the morning and early afternoon for Saturday. The only coach left was departing at 2.20pm and that was projected to get into Manchester coach station at 3.35pm. Our coach back to Glasgow was departing at 4.30pm. But…more on that later. Suffice it now to say that with little option, we booked the coach and then tried to enjoy the rest of the time away and put Saturday to the back of our minds.

Blackpool North train station is very handy, as was the Happi Hotel’s location and proximity to the station. There’s a big Sainsbury supermarket right there as well. 

The sun was shining when we left Glasgow and it was still shining when we got to Blackpool. After checking in we took a wander down to the seafront, which was just a 10 min walk from the hotel. We then walked around the town centre, checking out where the venue was and looking at what was around it. We heard many Scots accents while there. It seems to still be a popular destination for Glaswegians in particular. 

For the first night we decided to just wander about and then head back to the Sainbury’s and get some sandwiches and snacks to eat and have an early night. We’d been up early to set off. Our coach to Manchesrter left Buchanan bus station at 8.20am so we were out the door at 7.30am to get the train into Queen Street at 7.41am.

During our late afternoon stroll around town, we stumbled across a cafe within the main pedestrian square called Ziggy’s Cafe Bar (which can be sung quite nicely to the opening line of Ziggy Stardust … “Ziggy’s cafe bar…can be found in the centre of Blackpool / it’s not very far (from the Winter Gardens)”). Lol. etc. It was closed for the day but the owner was inside cleaning up and as we were standing by the door trying to have a peek inside he said “you can come in and have a look if you like” and moved the chair he had blocking the door out the way so we could walk in. It looked fabulous and I said to him that we’d be back for breakfast before we left Blackpool. 

The hotel room was pokey. I booked a twin room as it had private facilities. I had initially booked a double room but it had shared bathroom facilities and…I didn’t really want to share. I had done it before but I wasn’t prepared to do it this time, so I upgraded the room to ensure we had both tea and coffee making facilities as well as a private bathroom. It was such a small room that the twin beds  were side by side. More than okay for me and Em but probably wouldn’t be great for friends or people who are not that close to one another, you know? The beds were comfy enough. We had a good and long sleep. 

The next day we decided on just taking things easy. Having fish and chips for lunch, then going on a tram trip before the gig. We investigated what Blackpool’s best fish and chip shop was reputed to be and as luck would have it it wasn’t very far and was only a few doors down from the venue. It was pretty good. Was it the best fish and chips I’ve ever had? Nope. Was it worth the £14 EACH that we paid for it? Nope. I’d probably try somewhere else next time. It was good, just not THE BEST, you know. Certainly not worth its price tag.

We wiled away a bit of time away down at the seafront. We walked along the north pier and enjoyed the views. Read up about the origins of Sooty. I posed for snaps in front of Blackpool Tower and then it was time to get the Heritage Tram for a coastal trip to Fleetwood and back. It was a fun wee trip and I could see that it would be particularly fun to do during illuminations season as the tramline runs along a section of the illuminations displays. We had around a half an hour to look around Fleetwood. Em spied a tattoo parlour named The Gentle Prick. Much hilarity ensued. 

Blackpool itself is very LGBTQI+ friendly. There are LOTS of gay bars and people seem quite free to present themselves however they like without fear of reprisals or any of the sort. It didn’t feel unsafe at all heading back to the hotel after the gig. We only had a short walk but the streets weren’t super lively and there weren’t any sprawling drunken scenes or anything like that – perhaps it was more like that down at the seafront or closer in the town centre?

Saturday was VERY busy. I was hoping that we would get to go to Ziggy’s for breakfast. Check-out of the hotel was at 11am. We check-out around 10.30am and headed straight down to Ziggy’s for breakfast. We got a table inside. I had a light vegetarian breakfast and Em had scrambled eggs on toast. She had tea and I had a latte. We enjoyed our time there, people-watching, etc. We had a chat with a local lady who was waiting for her sister to arrive to have lunch at Ziggy’s. She nabbed our table and we got chatting for a few minutes. She wished us luck on our journey home.

A final wander down to the seafront to kill some time before we went to get the coach to Manchester. The tension in us was mounting. We knew we had just the slimmest of buffers in time between the coaches and if we missed our coach back to Glasgow then….we’d be in for a damn expense to get home. We’d already had to fork out another £26 to secure that coach from Blackpool to get us back to Manchester due to the train strike. 

We arrived at the coach station early. It was really warm. Despite the forecast for a mix of sunshine and showers while we were away, we’d been blessed with mostly sunny weather the whole time we were there. The only time it appeared to rain was when we were inside having our fish and chip dinner on Friday.  

The coach arrived early. It was at the stand by 1.45pm. But the driver had informed us that we’d be setting off a little later than scheduled. But there would be two coaches. He didn’t really explain why we’d be setting off late – but the reason was explained (rather grudgingly) later on. Oh, the whole thing became a real farce. The guy was an absolute fucking jobsworth! The driver of the other coach was not a National Express driver so he was unable to mark passengers off and get us onto the coach. It had to be done by Mr Jobsworth. He wanted to get the Huddersfield, Leeds and Hull passengers boarded on his coach first, which left all us Manchester passengers (and extra Leeds passengers) hanging about waiting to be boarded on the second coach. I mean…the other driver was not allowed to do ANYTHING because he needed to have his allocated break. He had to have his full break time before he was allowed to drive again. That seemingly also meant he couldn’t let us passengers even get our luggage loaded into the coach or anything. By this point Em and I were starting to freak out. Our buffer to make it to Manchester on time for our coach back to Glasgow was shrinking fast. 

It was meant to be a 75 minute journey from Blackpool to Manchester. If the motorways were flowing nicely and there were no jams or any other slowdowns then even with a 20 minute delay in setting out, we might just make it. The added tension was that we were changing from a National Express coach onto a Megabus coach – they use separate coach stations. So once we got into Manchester, we had to leg it to the Megabus station at Shudehill. We also learned from a conversation that was going on with some of the passengers in the queue that it was Pride weekend in Manchester and there was a street parade happening. Oh, fabulous! The streets would be CARNAGE! 

To say that Em and I were quite pent up by this point would be a slight understatement. Em far more so than me. I was trying to keep myself calm and remain pragmatic about the whole situation. 

As we set off, I just kept praying that the roads kept flowing and were clear of jams. It went really well. All the way until we got to Salford the roads flowed and we made it in really good time. REALLY good time! We hit Salford around 3.30pm. Then it was a crawl from there into the coach station. I said to Em at that point that if it took us 40 minutes to make this last bit of the journey we’d still have time to leg it to the Shudehill exchange and make the Glasgow coach. It took a half an hour to make that last little bit of the journey. THIRTY MINUTES to travel like…three or four miles. Manchester was HOACHIN’! I dunno how we bloody did it, but we made it! We got to the coach station at 4.20pm. It was like salmon swimming upstream trying to get to the coach station. I had to ask people on the way as Google Maps was giving me a bum steer. A young woman said to just keep our sights on the Arndale and we’d get there. That’s what we did. I remembered where it was in proximity to the Arndale on our arrival. 

Of course then because the roads in and out of Manchster were a heaving bloody mess, the coach to Glasgow was delayed by over an hour. But by then it didn’t matter. We’d made it. We were getting home! 

It wasn’t quite over, yet. The delay in arrival time into Glasgow meant that we would have to leg it (once again) down to Queen Street to get the train home. We arrived at Buchanan Bus Station at 9.20pm. I knew there was a train back to Ashfield leaving at 9.33pm. We got to Queen Street at 9.29pm. We still had to buy tickets. I was hoping that the ticket counter would still be open. It was. I rushed in. Damn the expense. “Two singles to Ashfield, please” (returns are usually cheaper to buy but I knew it would add to the faff – and Em has her Saltire card which means her ticket should be cheaper again but I just didn’t want the delay!). The man at the counter could see I was in a rush. He got the tickets printed pronto. I tapped to pay. Done! We ran to the barrier, rushed through and made it onto the train at 9.31pm! PHEW! It would have been an hour wait for the next train had we missed this one. 

Apart from Saturday’s stressful journey home, Blackpool was great. I really enjoyed it and I’d love to return there to see the illuminations. I’m hoping that maybe that can happen in the autumn of 2024 for my 54th birthday – but we’ll see.

Believe In Better

For as defeated and melancholy I was feeling yesterday, I just wanted to be kind to myself and allow myself to “ride it out.” Let the storm pass. Hope for a better tomorrow. Because it does happen!

It did happen. Today is better. Still not 100% and it would take the slightest thing of something to topple me over again. There are things that if I dwell on them will bring me down. Jim. The Minds fandom. The state and future of my blog (the Priptona one). How mentally prepared (or otherwise) I am for the recommencement of uni next month. My partner’s mental health (always a VERY big cloud hanging over things, if I am being incredibly open and frank). Finances (or lack thereof). 

But…I’ve had a shower today and I’ve washed my hair. I know there are many people that won’t get that. People that don’t understand the kind of effort that can take sometimes. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I get very angry with myself. A lot of the time, in fact. I was angry with myself yesterday. I wasn’t comfortable with posting what I posted on my blog yesterday. I sounded like I was just wallowing in self-pity. At the same time and as much as I tried to push myself, I tried being kind. Allow myself the time to hope that the bad would pass. 

Some of the feeling also is dictated by having someone else living in my home. A person that makes me feel like a tenant in my own home. I am very mindful of accommodating them and working my day around theirs. They are moving out in a couple of weeks and I am looking forward to being “liberated” and being able to return to doing things in my house when I want to. From when I begin my study day to when I go to the toilet in the middle of the night. All of that! All of that has weighed on my mind for 21 months. Silly little accommodations, you know? 

For instance…I’ll settle into bed around 11pm. I’ll listen to The Arches and a couple of podcasts, then be ready to settle to sleep around midnight. My brain and body are ALWAYS insistent that I need one last trip to the loo. But I’ll try not to go. I’ll ignore it. But that invariably means I’ll awake again a couple of hours later with a more urgent need to go, which I’ll also try and ignore. I feel like I am having the most interrupted sleep. These days, once I do get up and go to the loo in the wee hours I find it very hard to get back to sleep. 

I’m just looking forward to getting up and going as and when I need to without having to consider someone else. I’m looking forward to a better sleep pattern once again. Maybe it won’t happen? Maybe I’m in a menopausal phase and that’s what’s disrupting my sleep pattern? I feel as though I will be less stressed anyway and that will help me. 

My study days will begin earlier too. I will most likely begin my days between 9-9.30am, whereas currently I feel compelled to wait until after 10am (when my lodger’s work day begins). I know that doesn’t sound like much – but when you’re a morning thinker and you have ideas and things pop into your head and you want to get going with your day – thoughts pinging in left, right and centre but you feel like it would be rude to just get up and go and start your day, then yes – it makes a BIG difference. 

I tried again with the Too Good To Go app and have a couple of new surprise bags to collect today. My Other Half will collect one (taking advantage of the free “old gits” travel she gets on the bus network) this afternoon and I’ll get the other one early this evening. I was able to secure a collection with the George Street Oaka, which is much more handy and easier to get to. A train to Queen Street, a quarter mile walk up George Street and I’m right there. I can collect and get the next train home. It can all be done within the space of an hour. Hurray! And this time I am prepared. Showered and ready to go in later today.

Finally, I realise that I haven’t even shared much from the time away in Blackpool last week. Although elements of it were stressful, in particular the journey back home to Glasgow, we did have some fun while we were away and really enjoyed aspects of the trip. I’d like to share select photos of the time away. 

Thanks for listening. I know it’s not easy to read bad stuff and I am guilty as anyone else in trying to give off this air that I am fine and dandy all the time and life’s a peach every single day but the cold, hard truth is…it isn’t. It gets the better of me. I can get very low and dark and I have spent a long time trying to shield people from that. 

I have a love/hate relationship with that “it’s okay not to be okay” phraseology, because although it is inherently true…I myself do NOT feel ‘okay’ with not feeling okay – if you get me? 

Having said that – today is better.

Some Days

Some days I struggle to overcome it. I start the day with all the best of intentions. I get up at a decent hour and don’t necessarily feel ‘bad’ when the day begins. This morning, for example. I woke up just after 7am and was ready to get out of bed by the time the alarm went off at 7.30am. I felt okay. The weather was forecast to be good. If not sunny all day long then at least dry with no rain due. It is now 3pm and although it has been a little overcast at times it has remained dry. 

Last night I booked a collection on the Too Good To Go app for food at Oaka on New City Road. I have been wanting to try them out for a couple of weeks. I got very excited last night when finally I was able to reserve a surprise bag to collect this evening. 

This morning I even booked an extra collection. A surprise bag from Starbucks in the Buchanan Galleries. 

I had put off taking a shower this morning. I wanted to try and do some writing – I managed about 280 words of writing – potentially for a writing competition. It wasn’t really much. I should be happy I did something! Even if it was a meagre 280 words. It’s two hundred and eighty more words than I have managed to write within the past two weeks. At least when it comes to fictional prose.

As the morning raced away and then lunchtime followed, I wanted to get some reading done as well. I started my continuation of Jean Rhys’s Quartet but I was distracted and only read two pages. 

A little earlier, looking up the info of where the Starbucks cafe was located inside the Buchanan Galleries, I noticed that you could cancel a reservation up to two hours before collection. I contemplated it but decided against it. Once I was showered, I’d feel more eager to go in and collect my foodstuffs.

Except I was growing increasingly lacklustre and disinterested in taking a shower. Some days, demotivation is all-consuming. My personal black clouds grew ever larger and darker. I just didn’t want to face that shower. But I couldn’t wander out without one! The thought of my unwashed hair being seen repulsed me. I thought about wearing a hat just to hide it. 

I looked again at where the Oaka diner was on New City Road. A section of NCR is right near Cowcaddens subway station. I got momentarily excited at the idea of it being easier to get to than I had anticipated. It was near Chinatown, right? I could look at the Chinese supermarket there. Erm…no. New City Road continued over the other side of the M8 closer to St George’s Cross. This then meant that if I wasn’t going to walk, I’d have to take the train to Queen Street (hence I reserved the Starbucks bag) and catch the subway to St George’s Cross.

This morning, when in better spirits I had even contemplated walking to the diner. I looked at the time. It was 2.30pm. By the time I had showered – if I was to shower there and then…well. Oh, and there was Starbucks first, which if I walked meant I would need to walk further into the city first, then back again to Oaka. No, I don’t want to shower. I can’t be arsed. 

I was trying to read. I wanted to write something. I looked at my pictures of Jim on my wall. “You are sssooo beautiful. So very beautiful. Just look at you. I miss you so very much.” I cried. Just stay home. Cancel the orders. Don’t bother having a shower. Then you can read. 

Let’s try again tomorrow. It might be better.

What’s Happening With The Other Blog?

I wanted to share this here just in case of any disruption with the ‘priptonaweird’ blog:

Transitional Period – Blog Renewal & Potential Disruption

My blog is up for renewal in a few days and I am trying to get a new system sorted with it. I’m sorting out a new storage host and this might mean a little bit of sketchy availability of the blog in the interim. I’m trying to minimise the effects of the transition as much as possible in relation to the running of the blog. This has accounted for some of my quietness of late.

My quietness had also been down to being away in Blackpool last weekend to see Hamish Hawk. I’ve been really eager to review the gig but also being mindful of adding to the volume of data to my blog until I sort something out with its storage space before the renewal date. I have been fearful over the past few days that I would have to kiss goodbye to the blog entirely and was trying to come to terms with the notion of it disappearing off the Internet entirely. I’ve put so much work into this blog over the years I would be devastated if that were to happen. I’d like for it not to. 

I just wanted to make everyone aware of what’s happening. I’ll also put something up on my University & Unicorns blog just in case this one goes completely offline and readers go to my personal blog seeking out info on what the hell is happening. 

In the meantime I’ll post a wee thing about the time away in Blackpool and the Hamish gig in a separate post that I’ll upload shortly. Thanks for your patience. I really hope that there will be minimal disruption and that the ‘priptonaweird’ Simple Minds Space will remain in place and be a great place for Minds fans and live music fans in general as a great source of information and entertainment. 

Here’s to better times! 


Libraries And Learning

I feel I need to write a little more here. It seems it should be a natural progression that while my Priptona Weird blog is on its downwards trajectory that the University & Unicorns blog should be on the ascent – at least in terms of the frequency of my posts and interactions with said blogs, right?

I’ve certainly been more focused on the aspect of my creative writing and uni study than I have with music and more to the point, Simple Minds music.

A sign of things to come (a street traversed heading to the university library. It was missing an R though…)

Certain other struggles abound. I find my mood fluctuating wildly at present. Mostly I feel incredibly insular and I rarely seek the company of others. I have always been pretty comfortable in my own company which makes it very weird that I should find myself permanently craving the attention of one person in particular and I don’t seem to be able to shut this desire off. That I just don’t have enough self-esteem or self-belief to banish that desire and get away from it. I get eternally angry with myself for not being able to let this desire go because I KNOW how unhealthy it is and I know that this person really couldn’t give a flying fig about me….and yet. And yet.

I just needed to air that thing here.

I haven’t been writing any fictional prose over the past 10 days. I’ve entered two writing comps and want to enter a few more before my new uni module starts. I had intentions of writing for much longer entries for a couple of writing comps – ones with entries that required a minimum of 2000 words written but I haven’t started on any of them. I’m not going to pressure myself. The fact that I have actually entered comps is good and I definitely will be entering a few more before uni starts back up. 

As well as making sure I am continuing to write I am making sure that I am reading as well. 

Last Monday (14 August), I took myself to Possilpark library (my most local branch of Glasgow libraries to my home) with an application form that I had picked up a few days before from the Hillhead branch that I had since filled out – and got myself a library card – AT LAST. Because Covid had struck barely three months after we moved to Glasgow (and also bearing in mind I was in Sydney for a month around Christmas of 2019), we hadn’t had the chance to get signed up to the library when the first lockdown happened. We did get temporary access to the library’s online resources but then the branches were closed for extended periods of time, etc, etc. When restrictions finally lifted and life went slowly back to normal, I was in the middle of study and had other things going on and I just didn’t find the time to get membership to Glasgow libraries sorted. Until now.

It feels very surreal to have this. Hate my photo. My head is shaped like a bell(end), but hey ho. Lol. I never wanted to win a beauty prize.

So now, not only am I FINALLY a cardholder of Glasgow libraries and have an ASTONISHING 32 branches across Glasgow at my choosing to visit (with Possilpark, Springburn, Milton, Woodside, Maryhill, the GoMA, The Mitchell and Hillhead branches all within my most immediate proximity for visitation and use) – over the past week I applied to have access to the University of Glasgow library under the UK universities SCONUL scheme. SCONUL access allows students from one particular university to gain access to the libraries of other universities around the country. So, I as an Open University student applied for SCONUL access. With that access granted, I was then able to apply to the University of Glasgow for access to their library – all TWELVE FLOORS of it. I was granted a card, which I collected from the library yesterday. I then spent a few hours investigating the library space. Checking out the various floors, the books on offer, the study spaces and…the views of Glasgow therein. OMG – the views from the upper levels of the library! There is almost a 360* view of the Glasgow skyline from there. And a lot of the study spaces face the window, so…you have that amazing panorama spread out in front of you. Okay, you might have your head buried in books for the most part while you’re studying – but when you need to take a breather, there is Glasgow right out there in front of you.

I began my exploration on Level 9. That’s where the English and English bibliography books were. I had no sense of scale from the floor plan of the library. It seemed as if it was going to not be a very big space with not that many books but OH MY WORD! There are THOUSANDS of books in there. I mean, the majority of books on the shelves are from authors and writers considered to be “in the canon”, with several copies of books of their work. Some of them are very, very old! I used up a good hour just on this floor, scouring the rows and rows of books.

Just one aisle of books from Level 6

From there I went down to Level 6 – this is where the Russian and East European books were meant to be but I got lost trying to find where they were, despite looking at the floor plan. I just could not find where they were. I decided to try again another time. Or to wait until I can book a guided tour of the library (they do guided tours twice a day at 11am and 2.15pm). 

Next I went up to Level 12 as there is a viewing platform up there and I wanted to look at the views of Glasgow. When I got up there though, it seemed as if access was via appointment only which seemed odd  – but I think it was the archival section of the library that was only accessible by appointment only and the viewing platform was accessible around the other side – I just didn’t know how to get there. Bugger! I’ll try again another time. 

Down to Level 3 next and to the “high demand” area and group study areas – as well as the cafe. The cafe had just closed, so my plan to get myself a coffee and take a breather was scuppered. The “high demand” section is CRAZY! These books are deemed to be in such … high demand … that you can only loan them for 24 hours and some of them for as little as FOUR HOURS! Can you imagine? Being able to borrow a book for only 4 hours?!

Lastly, I decided I’d check out Level 4 – which I thought rather strangely, for a university, has junior fiction and non-fiction sections as well as the music section. Well, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked down one of the music book shelves and there were archival folders stuffed with copies of Sounds magazine dating back from 1981! I nearly died of excitement stumbling upon this pot of gold! I turn the corner to walk down the next row of shelves and there’s only bloody NME and Melody Maker mags archived as well! Neither of them date quite as far back as the Sounds archive but still. I was stunned! I even found a little bit in one of them that seemed very appropriate and timely. Little did I think I’d be stumbling across Jim at the University of Glasgow library…in a manner of speaking.

Did I borrow a book? No. I was a little too intimidated by it all yesterday. Overall it was quite the jaw-dropping experience and I will DEFINITELY be frequenting the uni’s library as often as I can.

Before heading to the UofG’s library, I popped into Hillhead library. I had a book to return that I had borrowed from the Possilpark branch that I had just finished reading. I know! I read the book in just TWO sessions! I KNOW! It was only 160 pages long – but yes! Hark at me and my “speedy reading”. Lol

I promised myself I wouldn’t borrow too many books – even though you can borrow up to 12 books at any time with Glasgow libraries, we all know I don’t read that fast! I couldn’t help myself though and came away with 4 books. Two books by Jean Rhys. I enjoyed Wide Sargasso Sea so much that when I saw two of her novels on the shelf, I had to borrow them. The other two I was taken with their titles initially – for very differing reasons. But then they both reeled me in with their synopses. The photo below shows the titles. How could I walk past a title like The Pheasant Plucker – I mean, come on! Lol

So now I have much reading to do!

I am a pheasant plucker…

Winched To Safety (aka Special View)

I haven’t worked on it for several months. It got pushed aside once I started working on The Gudmut for my uni assignment. It had been a potential frontrunner but the The Gudmut just grew legs and ran.

I chose to add the photo of myself at Portobello Beach in Edinburgh to this post as it was exactly the beach that I had envisaged all the years I’d been conjuring up a particular image of a beach when listening to the Simple Minds song “Special View”. I always saw young lovers meeting up at a beachfront by a wave-breaker and so Winched To Safety was my attempt to write out a scene involving these two young lovers I saw in my mind’s eye when listening to the song.

So…here goes nothing! As I say, I’ve not worked on it since late April or early May so there’s probably aspects of it I’d change now if I read it before posting it but I wanted to keep it as it was when I left, if for no other reason than to log just how much my writing has changed within the space of a few months. (P.S. You may need to be a Glaswegian or au fait with your Scots vernacular to get the pun intended with the title of the story.)

Winched To Safety

Caught in a reverie she is only vaguely conscious of the sound of the waves lapping at the shore edge. Little gurgling gulps that clap at the already wet and compacted sand. There is a crisp chill to the air. She sits upon the concrete windbreaker that stretches along the beach for hundreds of yards. She told him she’d meet him here at this part of the wall near where it juts out and has a row of bench seats for the sand-weary beachgoers to sit on. Some people that come here just like to walk the promenade and take in the view and never actually walk along the shore or pitch up on the sand. Fewer still take a swim in the ocean. That’s for the gallus and gleakits. Alicia is not one of them. She is among the majority that enjoys the view and the sea air but never sits on the sand. She rarely takes off her shoes and walks along the shoreline. It needs to be particularly warm weather for that to happen and today is not one of those days. Besides, she’s waiting for John and he won’t know where to meet her if she is walking along the shoreline or the promenade.

Taking a second to lift her head from being sunk down and almost buried between her clavicles, she spots him walking towards her. He’s looking out to sea as he strides along. He called her this morning and asked her to meet him at the beach at five o’clock. He had work until four and needed an hour to get from work to here. He sounded tense when he called. It was one of those ‘can we talk?’ calls. Why do people do that? Make a call in which they ask ‘can we talk?’, only to arrange a time for a meeting in which this talk will take place? Why not just say it there and then? Why make such a mystery of it? God, people are bloody weird, Alicia concluded. John was just her kind of weird though. Sort of exotic to her. Not exactly a man’s man. He didnae do the usual guy things. She liked the way he could be both gallus and shoogly at the same time. There was a strange kind of beauty in the way he carried himself. She thought he was stunning and every time she saw him her heart melted away just a little bit mair. It would melt even mair if he smiled his uneven smile at her. It was not his teeth that were crooked. It was the shape of his mouth. The way his lips curled slightly upwards at the sides so that even if his face appeared otherwise expressionless, his mouth always belied a smile of some kind.
As he neared closer Alicia could see he wasn’t smiling but his mouthed always smiled in spite of itself. Her stomach churned into a somersault. Her insides tensed as he reached her. Why did he look so gloomy? He took a seat beside her.

“What’s up? I’ve been fretting about this ‘can we talk’ all day.”
“Oh, ah didnae mean to make you worry. It’s nothing really. Well, ah hope it’s nothing.”
“Okay. So, what is it?”
“Kenny said he saw you with Dougie the other day. He said you looked ‘cosy’. He reckons you were winching him.”

From her bowed-head position in which she had barely been acknowledging John or her surroundings, she twists her head to face him and stares in furrowed incredulity.

“Whit you aon aboot? With Dougie? Why would I? And not even with Dougie but with anyone for that matter?”
“Ah dunno. That’s whit he told me. He swatched you and Dougie winching.”
“And…you believe him?”
“Naw. That’s why ah’m asking.”
“Well, if you’re asking then you must believe him.”
“So, you deny it?”
“Of course ah deny it! It never happened! Ah mean…mon! It’s DOUGIE. He’s a pal and all and ah like him but DEFINITELY naw like THAT! Why would you even HINK I’d get with him?”
“People talk.”
“Whit ‘people’? Whit is this, John? Is this your way of breaking up with me? ‘It’s not me, it’s you’. Is that it?”
“No. Ah widnae do that. Ah dinnae wanna break up with you. Ah…ah…Ah’m sorry, okay. Ah messed up.”
“Aye. You did. A dunno whit Kenny hinks he saw but he didnae swatch me winching Dougie bloody Maguire. IAh’d never do that to you. Ever. Not to you. Not to any guy ah was with. Jeez-o!”
“Ah’m sorry.”

John takes Alicia’s left hand. She tries to resist at first but then relaxes and allows him to take hold. He wraps it into both of his and gently begins stroking the back of her hand with his left hand. Alicia returns to her sunken-head position, outcasting all external distractions and stimuli. It takes a while for her to simmer down. She begins to calm from the feeling of her hand nestling in John’s and from his stroking. Her racing heart is slowly returning to normal. He really doesn’t know, does he? He has absolutely no idea how much she loves him. She fears he doesn’t care but given what has been said maybe he does? No, that’s just jealousy. That’s not love, surely?

John looks away and out to shore, his inner thoughts a mangle of words swirling around inside his head. Oh, man. I’ve blown it. I really like Alicia. Actually, the hing is, I hink I love her. Naw. I mean I actually DO love her. She’ll think it’s pish if I tell her the noo. Why did I listen to that gleakit? What would Kenny know anyway? He’s a bam.

He looks down, gazing at Alicia’s hand in his, then looks up wanting to see her face. She’s looking down at her lap. Loosening his grip on her hand he motions to get up off the wall.
“Ah’m gonna go.”
Grabbing on to his right hand as he starts to pull away, Alicia pleads, “Wait! Please! Can we take a donder along the promenade? I have something to say. Ah just needed a minute.”

They walk a little way along the promenade. All the time Alicia has been trying to conjure up the courage to say what she wants to say to him. The breeze has picked up since she arrived and it carries the saltiness of the sea in its strength. As she wets her lips to speak, the saltiness reaches her mouth and brings with it a brief attack of nausea. Her nerves almost get the better of her. Nothing can be gained by remaining silent. Still holding John’s right hand in her left, she slows her pace and leans upon the windbreaker. He stands beside her. She turns to stand in front of him.
“The first time ah keeked you, ah knew. You were so different to any guy I’d met before. The way you can be so… Gallus but shy. The way you are with your pals. The way you smile at strangers, even the jakies and the bams. The way you treat your maw and da. Everything. Your hair, your face, your eyes. I feel boak saying it but I pure love everything about you. The way your ears stick out. The way you laugh. You cackle like a wee hyena. You melt my heart. I adore you. And I would never, EVER kiss someone else while I’m with you. I’d never want to. You’re everything. The whole package. I love you.”

He smiles that proper smile. Broad and brilliant.
“Ah thought I fucked this up. Ah dinnae know why ah paid any notice of Kenny, the shite wee bawbag. Ah wanted to say it after. Ah wanted to tell you that ah love you but ah thought you’d hink it was me just saying it for the hell of it. That you’d be too fumin’ to care or think ah was being real. You’re braw, you are, Alicia. Ah love you n aww.”

They lean into each other. Sweeping strands of hair away with gentle fingers, John looks into Alicia’s eyes. She’s got eyes the colour of Bucky bottles. Bucky gives him the boak, but he loves her eyes. Their lips meet. Now the salt tastes good, Alicia’s inner voice whispers to her.

She remembers the first time they met and the first time they kissed. Now that was a winch! Not an accused winch. Not a winch that didn’t actually happen but a real one. She’s sure that the thing she loves most about John is his lips. Those ones that permanently curl into that fixed smile of his. John ‘luscious lips’ Lachlan. That’s what he’d been from that day on.

“Ah was never going to stay angry with you. Kenny’s a bolt and ah cannae believe that you actually took anything he said for real. I was fumin’, aye. But if you didnae care, why would you be jealous? That’s what I was hinking anyway,” Alicia said once they stopped winching.

“Can I come back to your bit?” he asks her.
“Aye. You might even get a lumber…mabbies.” Now it’s her time to smile.

Everything’s Gonna Be All Write

The Illawarra – a vision sense of my story’s location for The Gudmut.

My apologies for the length of this. Strap yourselves in – but it’s Sunday afternoon (when I posted this it was anyway), so I hope that means you have some time to read it…(I have two short stories attached to this post, hence it looks so lengthy!)

I’ve been grappling as to whether enough time has elapsed to be able to share this or not. I really don’t want to jeopardise anything when it comes to my university studies, so I am being very mindful of what I share in relation to it. So, this is one aspect of doing creative writing that I am conscious of. The other is the catch 22 situation that is arising from me wanting to build upon my experience of the creative process by entering work into writing competitions but then conversely not being able to share anything that I am writing because most work that goes into competitions needs to be previously unpublished work – that also means never published on any social media sites or on blogs.

So, while I am writing things that I feel really good about and want to share, unless I have no intention of entering it into a short story or flash fiction comp, I can’t share it here! 

What I can share with you now are my very first fictional creative writing efforts for my university degree. I won’t be talking about marks in relation to them – only to say I was happy with the mark that both of these pieces of writing scored – I’m hoping that keeps it vague enough? 

I’m not wanting to share them in any kind of boastful way at all – I hope they’re good. They were wonderful things to produce. I enjoyed writing both of these pieces. The Gudmut required some research which I absolutely LOVED undertaking. I get a real buzz out of researching things. 

I came into wanting to study my DipHE in English by working through the creative writing aspect of the course simply through wanting to improve the way I use writing as a tool of communication. I wanted to be able to express myself better, with better use of language and syntax. To feel like I am really understanding what I am doing with language and how best to use it. All of this was in relation to writing non-fiction and factual writing. I honestly didn’t think fictional writing was something that interested me or that I could or would be any good at – at all! This most recent module of study has really smashed down the wall of my ideas on that and has revealed to me how wrong my assumption was that “every story has been told” and “I have nothing new or different to add to the plethora of fictional writing that exists in the world”. 

Not every story has been told. Although, yes, it is true that there are only seven basic plots in storytelling – like there are only 12 notes in music – the scope, shape and dynamics in which these things can be manipulated (in storytelling it can be through the three act story arc or the 12 act ‘heroic journey’ – whilst in music it’s in relation to chord arrangements, tempo, timbre, etc, etc) and drawn out can provide an endless array in which the same basic story can be told again and again in many, many varying ways. This has been the most valuable insight I’ve been exposed to during my uni studies so far. The realisation that, like with any other creative discipline in life – fictional writing, creative writing CAN be learned and developed. That one is simply not just “born with it”. One can have some element of a natural aptitude towards it, but with tenacity and focus it can be learned, honed, refined and perhaps even eventually mastered. 

And holy fork I wish I had known this 30 years ago!!! I have to believe that at 52, it really isn’t too late and that, like with most other times in my life, I’m just “fashionably late” in arriving at the party. Lol.

I had convinced myself that you needed some kind of “gift”. That all inspiration and skill just … delivered itself to those gifted enough to channel it out of them. That is, of course, utter bloody hogwash! All it requires is drive, focus and tenacity. 

During the pandemic, I lost my way in enjoying writing. I felt like I had too much to say and I was finding it easier to do vlogs. Sometimes I still desire putting things across in a vlog. I am feeling like that again at the moment but not in the way I was during the height of the pandemic. Then I just struggled to write. It was most likely down to the circumstance of the pandemic itself and the fact that I was very badly grieving the loss of my mum which I didn’t realise I was doing at the time. I accepted that I was probably going through a point of grief but at the point of it I felt like it was other things happening in my life that was causing this… “writer’s block”, if you will. The reality of it is, with the beauty of hindsight, I was grieving deeply for my mum. On top of that, I was perimenopausal. Not a great combo, it has to be said! 

The past 18 months of being a university student have been incredible. I really have found a new lease of life with this and I am ssssoooo excited to continue my journey. I am really looking forward to the next phase, moving up a gear to Level 2 study and honing in on the creative writing side of my studies when the academic year recommences in October. 

My apologies for the long blurb. In the future I hope to share some more of my creative writing with you. For now, and without any further ado, may I present to you my first two “professional” pieces of fictional prose writing.

The first was submitted without a title (yes, that’s how green I was at submitting pieces of fictional prose writing!) but if I was to give it a title now? I think I would call it (because I love alliterative things)…

P.S. Getting it to render the titles in headers and italics was a mare. Can’t work out how to centre align the titles, either, let alone the text within the stories that needed to be centred as well, so I hope they read okay and all of it makes sense.

Vinnie Vitae

Vinnie races out the front door and runs to press the down button for the lift. Jeanie is anxious of his enthusiasm but is thankful for it none the less. Where did the time go? Five years has passed by in no time at all! Before she knows it, he’ll be starting his first job, she tells herself.

She locks the front door of the flat just as the lift pings and the doors open. Vinnie jumps over the threshold of the lift as if he’s jumping over the world’s widest and muddiest puddle. Jeanie fumbles at placing the keys in the inside pocket of her handbag. She makes it into the lift just as the doors begin to slide shut. As the lift descends, Vinnie runs circles around her. Averting her eyes from Vinnie, she stares blankly ahead in an effort to ward off the rising nausea.

Nine floors down and ‘ping,’ the doors slide open. Waiting at the lift doors is Vinnie’s best friend Mark and his mother Sally.
“Mornin.’ How’ya feelin’?” Jeanie asks Sally.
“Alright. A little nervous for Mark. Excited for him too. How are you?”
“Okay, I think. Nervous too, more for me than Vinnie. He cannae wait to start school and I am thinking, ‘What am I gonna do without ma wee boy?’ Sad, in’t it?”
“Naw! I get it. Especially ‘cause he’s your only one. I’d be the same if Mark was my only boy,” Sally rubs Jeanie’s arm.
“Do you want to go and get a coffee somewhere after this?”
“Aye. That’d be great.”

It feels surprisingly warm, which seems odd to say in August, but not when you’re in Glasgow! The pleasant weather only helps to fuel the enthusiasm the boys have for getting to school. It’s only a short walk from the block of flats to the school gates. They cross the park from the flats and reach the road where the school is located. Kids and their mums are converging along the pathways of the park, all heading to the school. Exuding a mix of emotions and corresponding facial expressions. Some, a mix of enthusiastic child and furrow-browed mother. Occasionally the reverse. A number of them both appear happy. These are usually the mothers with more than one child accompanying them. They are the happiest mums. Then there are the sad pairs, with both mother and child looking as if they are about to be parted forever. As if they have been told it will not only be their first day apart but their final day together.

Jeanie, Sally, and the boys arrive at the school gates. A school administrator is standing by the gates with a clipboard in her hands, marking off each new arrival.
“Good morning. Are you excited for your first day?” she asks Vinnie.
“Yes! I am!”
“That’s great. And the name?” shifting her eyes to Jeanie.
“Devlin. Vincent. Vinnie Devlin.”
The administrator places a line across a point on the page.
“Okay. Vinnie, you’re in classroom K3, which is over on the left side of the main block. Head through the main entrance doors and you’ll see the directions for the corridor when you get there. Enjoy your first day, Vinnie.”
Too embarrassed now to reply with words, Vinnie flashes back a bashful but broad grin.

They wait for Mark and Sally by the main entrance. “So, which class is Mark in?”
“Do you think it’s better or worse that they won’t be in the same class?”
“Cannae tell. I guess they can’t distract each other, and they’ll get to play at break times.”
“What time is it now?” Sally checks her watch.
“Eight fifty-five. How long do you think we’ll be? Twenty minutes? Meet you back here at, say, nine-twenty?”
“Okay. See you later, Mark. And be good!” Jeanie says with a wry smile, pointing a playful finger at him.
“That’s you telt!” says Sally, stifling a laugh.

The boys wave each other goodbye and part at the entrance hall. Jeanie leads Vinnie down the left-hand corridor and stops as they get to the door marked K3. Standing in the corridor, Jeanie bends down in front of Vinnie to be at eye level with him. She softly brushes back the sandy-coloured hair from his face, adjusts and straightens his pale-yellow school shirt, tidies up the tuck in his shorts, inches up his socks and tightens his laces. She then places her hands lightly on his shoulders, looking into his wide-open ocean blue eyes.
“Now, you do everything your teacher tells you to, okay? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be polite. Remember to say please and thank you. And don’t forget, Mammy loves you! Okay, are you ready?”
“Yes, Mammy.”
“Come on then. Let’s go in.”

Jeanie waits for Sally back at the main entrance. A few seconds later she appears from the opposite corridor.
“How did it go?”
“Okay. Vinnie’s teacher seems really nice, and he already seems to like her so that’s a good start. How did Mark get on?”
“Great, aye. I’ve got a good feeling from his teacher. Ready for that coffee?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
Right now, Jeanie was unsure how she would keep a coffee down. She was hopeful that by the time they arrived at the cafe her stomach will have settled. The only thing Jeanie was sure of was that the day was going to be a long one.

The Gudmut

The morning air is cool and light and the rocks leading down to the riverbank are slippery with dew. Down by the water’s edge, away from the more jagged rocks, three tribeswomen wade into the water. Led by the one called Merindah, the women check the traps early each morning. It’s the height of the yabby season – Murrai’yunggori. The flying foxes are returning to the coast from their inland winter camps. The summer camps of fruit bats swell in numbers and the waratahs begin to bud. At this time of year, the yabby traps are full to overflowing. The tribe refer to it as ‘badoburra’ – a flood or deluge. This morning the yabbies are ‘badoburra’o’ (flooding) in abundance.

Richard Morgan has split from his companion officer, Tom Wilkins, and is surveying a section of the Shoalhaven River alone. Both he and Wilkins, along with other officers dispersed elsewhere, have been sent from the settlement at Botany Bay in search of Peter Burgess. Pickpocket Pete. He was sentenced to five years hard labour and transported to New South Wales for offences his nickname implies. Burgess fled the settlement and is believed to have headed south. He escaped three weeks ago.

From a surreptitious vantage point upon a promontory and obscured from view by dense scrub, Morgan observes the women wading around the river’s edge. He’s never eaten a yabby. He has heard that the locals eat them often during the breeding season. Does this suggest they taste good? The notion sets him salivating. He wouldn’t think they’d be eating things that weren’t tasty, but they eat those big caterpillars, so perhaps it’s a case of needs must.

Morgan fixes his gaze upon Merindah. There is something about her he finds intriguing. A certain expression etched on her face. A squinch that looks as if she’s trying to catch a thought, or perhaps it is just the glare of the sun upon the water’s surface? They’ve been lucky today. There must be at least forty yabbies in those traps. They certainly eat better than we do, he muses. How long have these people survived like this? He’s only been here three months and is already tired of the meagre pickings. As a member of the New South Wales Corps, he knows he’s lucky. The convicts are starving. The crops keep failing. He can’t blame them for wanting to escape the settlement.

He continues watching the women as they weave their way from the riverbank. Are they heading back to camp, he ponders? He decides to make his way down from the promontory to intercept them. When reaching them, he uses a few local words he has learnt.

“Wedaeo. Wurar. Gubba. Wiribanga. Wugarndi. Nandiri?” Hello. Sorry, apologies. White man. Lawbreaker. Runaway. See?
He places a hand on his forehead, shielding his eyes and mimes looking around. He then looks back at the women for recognition that his words have been understood.
Merindah looks around to her companions, Keira and Lilardia. They look back at her bemused. She looks back to Morgan, staring at him with a squinting-eye scrutiny.
“Illa. Bunamara’wa’mi. Dyirrun’wa’mi. Gudmut. Yaluwaninmin!” No. You offend me. I mistrust you. Red bull ant. Get away!

The women brush their way past him and head onwards to the camp. He can only make out the words ‘illa’ – no, and ‘gudmut’ – a word they use for the officers. What else she said to him is unknown. By her expression and tone of voice, he assumes her words were dismissive.

Morgan waits a moment, then turns to appear as if he’s heading off in the opposite direction and darts behind some shrubbery nearby. Once at a safer distance he begins following the women. As they approach the camping ground, he takes refuge behind the trunk of a tall blue gum. He knows of cases where other escaped convicts have been aided by local tribes. Could Burgess be hiding here amongst this clan? The chances are slim, but worth investigating.

At the campsite, Keira and Lilardia have prepared the yabbies. Four huts surround a clearing at the centre of the camp with a firepit. To the side of the main firepit is a smaller coal fire. Two men stoke the fires, shuffling tempered pieces of coal between them. Once satisfied with the fires they retreat to their huts, reappearing shortly after with an array of weapons.
Merindah enters one of the huts. Her husband Jemmy and Burgess are inside. She addresses Burgess.
“Gudmut. Nandiri’o’mi.” Red bull ant is looking for you.
“You said what? Minyin?” He knows that the word minyin means ‘answer me’ or ‘why’, depending on its tone.
“Tamuna’dya birad’o dali’nga.” Did not speak to him. She speaks to him in pidgin. “No talk to him. Said go away.”
“Bega.” Good.
“Allawah naway. Ngalawa dudba’dya.” Stay here now. Remain sheltered. She translates her words. “Stay in hut. Hide.”

From his spot behind the blue gum, Morgan observes the workings of the camp. Apprehensive to approach until he spots Merindah. He cannot see where she is right now. Perhaps in one of the huts? As he ponders her whereabouts, she exits a hut along with Jemmy. Continuing his observations, his mind wanders. Mystically, this place is a haven to them. Look how they flourish. They never appear in need of anything. They eat well. They may look scrubby, but they’re well fed. They never seem sad, and he’s never seen them argue or act violent towards one another. They make music and dance. The other officers think they’re barbarians. He doesn’t see it. He thinks they are as civilised as the settlers.

Suddenly he feels hindered by his military jacket. This red mark of the gudmut. This weighty attire is far too impractical for the weather conditions here. It may have been cool when he arrived but now the days are already sweltering, and it’s only spring. He is tempted to remove his jacket but resists doing so.

He waits until the tribesmen leave the camp to go hunting then starts to approach. The women are working around the centre clearing, tidying away the remains of the morning feast of yabbies. As Morgan approaches, the women stop what they are doing. He addresses Merindah.
“Illa. Nandiri. Gubba. Wugarndi. Naway?” No. See. Whiteman. Runaway. Now?
“Illa. Walanga’dya’nya’mi. Minyin?” No. You followed us. Why?
Sensing he struggles to understand her words, she speaks to him in pidgin. “Chased us. Why?”
“Nandiri. Dudba. Wugarndi.” See. Hide. Runaway.
“Wurar wunan. Illa gubba galumban’nula worriwarra. Tamuna’o’mi.” Sorry silly man. No white man in the camp just now. Excluding you.

From behind him, Burgess emerges from the hut. Creeping slowly towards Morgan, he carefully loosens the strap of the musket on the officer’s shoulder by gently nudging the musket’s butt end. As the strap falls, Burgess grabs a firm hold of the musket. Alerted to the movement from a change in Merindah’s facial expression, Morgan swings round to find Burgess standing in front of him, the protruding bayonet pointed at his chest.
“I heard you were looking for me. Well, here I am. Now what?”
“How did you manage it?” replies Morgan, unflinching.
“Manage what?”
“Being here with them. How did you get them to trust you?”
“Easy. I’m not a gudmut. They could see that. They wanted to help me, look after me and feed me. But now the question is – what are you going to do? Well, I guess the question is more … How fast can you run? You see the thing is, I don’t really want to kill you. I don’t want to be pointing this weapon at you, but can I trust you enough to let you go? This place is a hellhole without living the way these natives do. I mean, just look at that garb you’re wearing. It’s not even fit for this place. It marks you out. Do you know why they call you a gudmut? You run around with no direction like a little red bull ant. A tiny, weeny insect with a tiny bite that doesn’t hurt anyone. Just an inconvenience. A pest. No one’s scared.
So, run, gudmut. You’ve seen nothing here. Go back to Botany Bay. You never saw me. If you run and come back with more men, it’ll end badly. Mark my words. It’s really very simple. Go now, keep your mouth shut and live. Come back to arrest me and die. Your choice.”

Walking through the scrub, Wilkins heads towards the campsite. He pauses as he spots the clearing in front of him. Taking up a spot behind the same blue gum that kept Morgan out of sight, he observes the camp. First, he spies Morgan. He then sees the three native women standing behind him. His eyes darting quickly to the left, he spots Burgess with the musket pointed at Morgan. He tries to map his way there, quickly configuring a route into the camp and ensuring he approaches Burgess from behind.

Moving forward from the safe coverage of the blue gum, he creeps closer to the camp in short stops, using as much dense scrub as possible to remain hidden from view. The huts are just a few yards in front of him. He needs to tread very lightly from this point. If those native women see or hear him coming, he’ll be toast.

As he inches closer to the camp clearing, he edges along the side of one of the huts seeking to remain hidden from view. He carries his musket ready to fire. When he reaches the front of the hut, Merindah sees him. Burgess gleans a change in her facial expression as she calls out ‘GUDMUT’! He swings round and before Wilkins has time to fire his musket, Burgess fires at him. The impact forces Wilkins to squeeze his trigger. Morgan falls to the ground, shot in the abdomen. Wilkins bleeds copiously. A wound to the chest. The bullet lodged in his heart. Death is imminent.

Merindah is transfixed looking at the rivulets of blood mingling with the dry earth of the camp clearing. A colony of red bull ants are drawn from their nest to inspect the sweet trails of liquid. Gudmuts feeding on a gudmut. Conscious of his shallow breathing, she waits for Wilkins to intake another breath. He doesn’t.

Immobilised by the scene in front of him, Burgess is drawn out of his frozen state by Morgan’s painful cries. He cannot let Morgan live now. They can’t look after him! He looks to Merindah. She’s fixed upon Morgan, concern furrowing her brow. She wants to help him and alleviate his pain. She looks to Burgess.
“Banyadjaminga’ba’wa’nga.” I will help him. “Me help him!”
“Illa! Bugra.” No! Kill. “I kill him. Stay back.”
“Illagara’wa’mi. Murin’wa. Banyadjaminga’ba’wa’nga. Buyi’o’nga.” I refuse to obey you. I will not listen. I will help him. He is dying. “No! Me help him!”
“Then what? Minyin. You free him? Minyin!”
“Nay. Midiwinyi’ba’nya. Karbo madingara’nya’nga. Namuru’ba’mi’nya. Yanma’ba’nya moon wawu. Wingara’dya’mi mandingara’ba’nga.” Yes. We will abscond. After we free him. You will accompany us. We can go anywhere. You considered releasing him.
Her emotions fuel her long reply in her native tongue. She speaks in pidgin. “Yes. Let him go. We run by river. Leave huts.”
Merindah points to Wilkins.
“Gudmut yinya gugun.” Red bull ant there dead.
She looks back at Morgan.
“Illa narang naway. Buyi’o’nga. Manwari’o’wa’nga.” No different now. He is dying. I am saving him.

Merindah moves towards Morgan, but Burgess steps in front of her. Holding the musket downwards, he stands over Morgan and thrusts the bayonet into him several times until his wailing ceases.
Burgess looks at Merindah’s pained face.
“I’m sorry. I had to. We need to leave.”
“Nay.” Yes.

When the tribesmen return from the hunt, they see the blood on the ground. Where is the body? Burgess, Merindah, Keira and Lilardia had carried the bodies into one of the huts.

Daybreak. As Merindah awakens she tastes the metallic bitterness of the blood heated by the morning sun. Soon everyone is out of their huts and ready to leave. Men, women and children of the tribe. Also, the gubba (white man). They head to the river, further away from where the bodies had been disposed. They’ll walk a long way before they feel safe enough to settle anew. The river is long. There is no talking, just walking.