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Sunday 13 August 2017

Ten years after

All good things come to an end, and all bad things, too, one supposes, and, as a matter of course, the noncommittal and the inconsequential… The More Things Change, Jim Murdoch 

This will be my last post. The last for a while in any case. A good while. Maybe forever. I’ve been doing this for ten years now—my first post was on 6th August 2007 following the death of Ingmar Bergman—which is a long time by anyone’s standards. Few things in my life have lasted longer than ten years: my childhood, being a dad, my current marriage, my love of Woody Allen films… nope, that about it. I get bored, other people get bored or things drift apart. Mostly things drift apart. I’m not sad. Actually that’s not true. I’m always sad. I told my good friend Ken Armstrong a while back that “sad was my thing.” So, yes, I’m sad but I’m no sadder than usual. Mostly I’m tired. Tired’s becoming my new thing and I’m better at being tired these days than I ever was at being sad. Everything’s an effort. This wasn’t always the case but it’s the way things are right now and have been for long enough for me to expect this is the way they’re going to continue unless I do something radical. I’ve tried cutting back. Now I’m cutting out. 

I began this blog with expectations. Ten years ago blogging was the thing to do. And it seemed like a good idea. Which it was. In practice, however, it was hard work and not always rewarding work at that. But I was in it for the long haul. So I girded my loins, put my shoulder to the wheel, my nose to the grindstone, gritted my teeth, dug in my heels, took a deep breath and stood my ground. Oh, and waited to be discovered. In the years that followed, my peers, one by one and then, it seemed, in droves, gave up the ghost, many for Facebook, some for the real world, one of two for the next. There’re only a handful of us old-timers left and my ego—I still have one of those tucked away for special occasions—would’ve liked to be the last writer standing but my common sense put her foot down. (Wonder why my common sense is female?) 

There’re several reasons blogs fail and the main ones are simple and obvious: no one (or next to no one) reads them and the blogger loses heart, they run out of things to say or they burn themselves out. Having experienced burnout-with-a-capital-b more than once I think I can tell the difference between being dog-tired and burnt out and I clearly haven’t run out of stuff to write about and could easily keep going for another two or three years so I guess it must be loss of heart. I do have a small band of readers and it’s so small I could most likely list them all by name but let’s say it’s a dozen people and it probably is although that makes them sound like apostles. They rarely comment but commenting’s a burden and so I content myself with whatever appears and always, always reply; I learned that trick right at the start. Before the Internet I never had anything like a dozen readers. A dozen readers is good. But even with my low ambitions starting this thing I did imagine after ten years I’d’ve managed to do better than that and I might have if someone hadn’t moved the goalposts. 

In the past you could get away with publishing a book and doing little or nothing to promote it because there weren’t that many books being written and mostly we only had access to what was published in our own country. Not so much these days now all the (virtual) borders have fallen. What you end up having to promote is you. If people take a shine to you there’s a much better chance they’ll read your book and tell people about it but you have to win them over first. With charm, wit and good looks don’t hurt. A couple of months back when I started drafting this post I read an article by someone called Jon over at Guest Blogging in which he talks about why his first attempts at blogging failed and what changed:
After about six months of licking my wounds and thinking about it, I finally decided to hire Chris Garrett (co-author of the Problogger book) to look at everything and tell me what I was doing wrong.
Here's what he told me:
Nobody knows who you are.
At first, I didn't get it. I said, "Yeah, but isn't that the point of publishing great content? You write lots of great stuff, and then the word spreads, and popular bloggers find out about you?"
"No," he said. "Popular bloggers find out about who you are, and THEN they read your content, and THEN they link to you. Connections come first. Great content comes second."
Located near the Red Sea in El Gouna, Egypt is an immense land art installation dug into the sands of the Sahara desert by the D.A.ST. Arteam back in 1997. It’s called Desert Breath and I wonder how many people have seen it other than in photos. 

I wonder if more people went to see John the Baptist than’ve seen Desert Breath. I expect so. Because people spread the word and try as I might to convince myself and others the sad fact is I’m really not a people person. At the start, and for a good few years, I did genuinely try to make pals, support others and not do it with ulterior motives although one can’t help hoping others will reciprocate. And some did. And still do. But they were mostly the wrong people. If you’re looking to be discovered or even for a leg up. I’m not sure any of the “right people” are even online. Not in that way. I was certainly not one of them. For all the hours and hours I’ve spent writing thoughtful book reviews I have to wonder how many of my readers went out and bought that book because of what I wrote. Not many I bet. 

So I’m stopping. For a while. Maybe forever. We’ll see. A part of me feels I’m letting the side down but that’s just me. It’s in my nature to feel guilty even when I’m doing what’s best for me. I’ll get over it. Ten years ago Michael Allen (known to many as Grumpy Old Bookman) wrote a similar post to this one. He entitled it ‘Sabbatical’ and suggested after a necessary break he might be back. His next post was in 2012. I’m making no promises. But I would like to thank everyone who’s popped in here even if it was only for five minutes: your attendance was noted and very much appreciated. 

I feel I should leave you with some profundity, something to remember me by, but I’m drawing a blank. I’ve just got this picture in my head of a guy lying on his deathbed running his last words in his head over and over again to make sure he gets them word perfect because he knows he’ll only get one shot at it. He’s ready and realises the end is nigh—although not exactly how nigh—but decides it’s probably safe to take a wee kip and maybe things’ll be clearer when he wakes up but—you’re already ahead of me—he never does. 

Yeah. Nuff said.

Wednesday 9 August 2017


The North Sea

It's strange
how such a cold and formidable thing
reminds me of you,
its icy breakers failing
on a beach we've never walked on
nor likely ever will.

And yet perhaps that is it.
That after all these miles of travelling
defeat should come
at the final moment.

Aberdeen, 29 February 1995
This is the only poem of mine where I’ve felt the need to record the place it was written. I lived in Aberdeen for six months and it was probably the worst six months of my life. I’ve sworn I’ll never go back to the Granite City and I never will. This is the only thing I wrote while I was there and it makes me shudder every time I read it. I remember standing looking out from the harbour and how cold it was. The “you” in the poem is F. I called her once from there but never spoke. I just wanted to hear her voice and I still can. It was a nice voice, soft, a little smoky. In March I returned to Glasgow and I’ve never left. 

Two years later a strange American woman took a chance, got on a plane and probably saved my life.

Sunday 6 August 2017


The Dawning

(for Cilla)

Albeit far away I still sense you –
a silent warmth that stirs me to life –
I know you're behind me and it's time.

The shadows of my past stretch before me.
Should I turn around they'll still be there –
I know that – but ask me; say the words.

Light blinds us but by light we both see and live.

Shine on, my love.

Shine on.

26 October 1994

Many years before I wrote this I wrote a poem called ‘The Eyes of the Blind are Upon You’ (#476) which opens with the following stanza:
It's not the dark
that fills you with fear,
but the light,
for the light makes you blind,
and therein lies the real fear.
It’s not a very good poem but I’ve never been able to shift this image from my head: it’s all to do with perspective; light can illuminate or it can blind; it all depends on where you’re standing. ‘The Dawning’ is not a good poem either. Maybe one day I’ll find the words to do the idea justice. Or maybe Goethe said it best and I should leave well alone: “Truth is a torch but a tremendous one. That is why we hurry past it, shielding our eyes, indeed, in fear of getting burned.”

Wednesday 2 August 2017


Sticks and Stones

They say lots of things
and some of them are true.

They say love is blind
but it's them that can't see.

We're real but all that's
left of them is words

and words can't hurt us.

12 October 1994
What happened with J. and me? People happened. It’s people that usually happen in my experience. When F. and I broke up she got all the friends. I didn’t want any of them anyway. Well, maybe one or two but they came as a set. J. was, as I’ve mentioned before, on the periphery of my life but everyone who knew us knew her and when some of them found out she was in contact with me they did what people generally do, they interfered. Of course some of what they said was true—I’m not the hero of the piece—but truth isn’t everything. We’ve all told lies at some point in our lives but does that mean we’re all liars? No, it means were human and humans make mistakes. A weak person is not a bad person. Not automatically. And vulnerable people don’t always make the best decisions either. J. erred on the side of caution. She listened to the badmouthing. I don’t blame her. I don’t even blame them.

Sunday 30 July 2017



(for Cilla)

They say love is blind to truth
so tell me the truth:
what is it you see?
Let me hold the words.
I need to touch them to know them.

Help me.

I'm finding my way in the dark –
it's like coming home,
whatever "home" really means,
a real word, one that
you can feel and live and lose.

Like "love."

10 October 1994
I’ve not been home in a long time, almost twenty years. Of course I call where I live now, where I’ve lived for some fifteen years, “home” and I think of it as home and it feels homely but it’ll never be “home.” Carrie’s the same. She’ll talk about going home by which she means America but when she’d there talking to people she refers to Scotland as home. It’s very confusing. Love’s the same. It takes on a personal shape that goes beyond mere definition. 

You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. It’s an interesting expression and we all think we know what it means or we’ve all decided what it means to us. Of course once something’s gone you can simply go and look for it and it’ll probably be behind the sofa. That’s the first place you should check anyway. My hometown is exactly where I left it. I was looking at some photos online yesterday—I know a guy who’s taken it upon himself to collate historical snaps and to photograph what’s still there for posterity or maybe just to give himself something to do weekends—and I was struck by how empty the place was. Of course most of the photographers have waited until people are out of the way to get the best shot but there’s definitely a side-effect: it looks like a ghost town.

Thursday 27 July 2017



(for Cilla)

Was it with words or a kiss
we tossed it away,
that part inside us both
that's gone for good?

Or did they rob us?

You know where I am of course:
I'm apart from you.
But what is it you see
when our eyes do meet?

What do they reflect?

I have a present for you,
there's not much left,
call it "love" if you will;
it's just a word.

But it might be enough.

9 October 1994

Poems #748, #749 and #751 and unique in my oeuvre in that they were written to order. This is not something I usually do and for good reason but there was a guy where I was living at the time—I use the term “living” loosely—who learned I wrote poetry and asked me if I’d rattle off one for his girlfriend, Cilla, a woman I’d never met, would never meet and know the barest details about. He, like me, was far from home and by choice although I never asked for the gory details. That’s the thing about bedsits and dosshouses and the like: everyone’s got a story and mostly they’re stories they don’t want to tell you and you don’t want to hear. In the end I wound up producing three poems in a very short time and let him pick. Maybe he sent her all three; I don’t know. I don’t remember anything about him to be honest, not even his name or what he looked like but clearly he didn’t have much going for him. It was easy to put myself in his shoes. 

It’s an okay poem but far from being a masterpiece. I’m sure it served its purpose.

Sunday 23 July 2017


The Visitor

(for J.)

He said he was a ‘visitor.’
She didn’t know the expression
but then there was no one to ask:
her world was empty.

It seemed he had come
a long way to see her.

He called himself ‘Love’
and had strange ways
but there was only the past
to compare him with.

He looked out of place
like truth in a bedroom.

Then he spoke of things
called ‘loyalty’ and ‘trust’
and strange rites of passage
but couldn’t stay long.

Her world way dying;
it was time to go.

15 July 1994

This is the last poem for J. for now. She broke off contact and it would be two years before we reconnected. (For the record she phoned me.) In 1996 I wrote her another four poems plus she provided the inspiration for my short story ‘The Pooh Brooch’ and then we parted for good although, as I mentioned in an earlier post, we did run into each other at my mother’s funeral—briefly, very briefly. It was an odd relationship by anyone’s standards and yet it was an important one. I would be exaggerating if I said she saved my life or I saved hers but we provided necessary distraction at a time it was needed. It had the chance of becoming something else but she had a choice to make and she made it. She didn’t pick me and I do think that was the right decision; it certainly worked out for the best. I found her on Facebook a couple of years back and was pleased to see she’s happily married—the same guy, I assume—with grandkids and seems to be living up north, Aberdeen way. I’ve been with Carrie for twenty years and I’m certain we’re far better suited that J. and I would ever have been but I do think it would’ve been interesting for a while.

‘The Pooh Brooch’ incorporates a letter, a lightly-edited copy of the last letter I sent J. The names, of course, have been changed. In the story Jack sends Jill a brooch of Winnie the Pooh hanging from a balloon. In reality it was a cat clinging to a branch.
Dear Jill
It’s hard holding onto things in this life. There’s always something pulling you down. The same can be said of letting go. It’s just as hard to know when to let go or how. You have to decide. You can hang onto what you have and see where the winds of change carry you or you can let go and hope there’s someone there to catch you. If what you have just now is precious then hang on with everything you’ve got but, if you have any doubts, then let go before this thing carries you too far away. I’m still here. Just be sure. 
Love, Jack
You can read the whole story here.
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