Tag Archives: fiction

Are You Going To The Edinburgh Book Festival 15-31 August 2015 ?

29 Jul

There’s always something on at the book festival.

Edinburgh, Edinburgh Scotland, Edinburgh Book Festival

Alasdair Gray 1982, Janine

Alasdair Gray told me that he thought 1982, Janine ‘the best of his novels’. This was in the 13 or 14 seconds that you get when an author signs a book for you. 34 if you’re lucky or at a smaller event.

Edinburgh, Edinburgh Scotland, Edinburgh book festival

Martin Amis Money

Note: When Amis said ‘Troilus and Cressida’, I remarked, ‘oh yes, Dunbar?’ Amis said, ‘no, Henryson.’ So embarrassing.

Edinburgh, Edinburgh Scotland, Edinburgh book festival

William Mcllvanney Dreaming Scotland

Edinburgh, Edinburgh Scotland, Edinburgh book festival

Allan Massie Nevertheless

 

You’ve Got to Have a Strategy

13 Aug

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I was living as a lodger at the time in one of Edinburgh’s less discriminating quarters, trying to make something happen in my career and my love life. I had a strategy and I was trying to stick to it. And I have to say things were going reasonably well. Somehow I had managed to find a position at a reputable firm of Edinburgh lawyers – a commitment I fulfilled  a couple of days a week – and to make ends meet I picked up a couple of shifts in a trendy bar near the station at the weekend. There was a barmaid there that I had a crush on and I pursued her amorous attentions chiefly through the medium of instant text messaging.

I used to send her jokes in the evenings. Tuesday, Tommy Cooper:

  • Said to my gym instructor: “can you teach me the splits?” He said: “how flexible are you?” I said: “I can’t do Tuesdays.”
  • You’re a loser
  • Want to go to the cinema?
  • Maybe, probably not though

Progress. Minor, yes, but definitely progress. Wednesday, Woody Allen:

  • Went to the zoo today. There was only one dog there: it was a Shitzu.
  • Sounds ruff
  • Yeah it’s the kind of thing that really TICKS me off
  • Just beagle-ad it’s over

The heart flutters; a pun, tiny as it is, is in my world just short of an aphrodisiac. I fell asleep sometime after that feeling energised, content, unswerving. My strategy was working.

A few hours later I awoke in darkness, a constriction in my throat, my legs damp with sweat, my back arched towards the ceiling, my entire body gripped by a freak paralysis. Materialising somewhere in the corner of the room was a soft voice, disembodied, very low, and terrifyingly there – at the door? in the closet? in my mind?  – it was difficult to know. It fired questions at me, made terrible claims:

“Who is she?”

I couldn’t reply, I had never felt such fear.

“Tell me who she is?”

I gasped, make it stop I said.

The voice left on a plaintive note.

“She can’t have you.”

Mercifully the paralysis subsided a few minutes later and the strange voice fell silent. What dark force was out to sabotage my budding oath with the barmaid I could not fathom. But it had not been a dream, no no. I had been wide awake – that I was convinced of.

I am quite a rational man – perhaps it’s the lawyer in me – and it is not often I find myself stumped. Shivering under the covers, I went through all the possible explanations I could think of for this horrifying visitation. Was I simply going mad? Perhaps – although I had no prior history of depression or anxiety. Had I been drinking too much? Certainly I had put a few back in pursuit of the barmaid, propping up the bar whilst she served in that charming way of hers. But not enough to prompt this unannounced horror.

I had read once of a phenomenon called lucid dreaming. In lucid dreams the dreamer perceives the dream image in uncommonly vivid detail, almost as if they were actually awake.  This I thought to be the most convincing explanation for what had occurred, although the realisation did nothing to calm my nerves. The only other thought was that something of the occult had taken place. But as I say I am a rational man.

Sleep proved difficult that evening as you can imagine. At one point I sat right up in my bed and finished off the glass of water I had laid out for the following morning. As I licked my lips I noticed there was lipstick around the rim of the glass. Not mine I assure you – my landlord Mark’s.

Mark would leave red stains like this all over the home, like calling cards. On occasion I would open my papers at the office to find lipstick in the margins. Did he do this to his previous tenants? Did he torment them the way he tormented me? It was a very small flat, one couldn’t fail to notice these things.

He often complained that I didn’t take any notice of him, but as you can clearly see from this piece of writing, I did. Indeed, as I pen this account it strikes me that just as I had devised a strategy to court the barmaid so Mark had devised one of his own to court me: the lipstick stain. His smear campaign.

Look, right – I work, I work on collating my jokes, I go to meet the barmaid – it’s difficult for me to make time for anybody, let alone my landlord. Two people sleeping in the same house is that not enough? You know, a bit of company?

Not for Mark.

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Losing my train of thought for a moment, I noticed that Mark was still awake, sitting in the living room listening to music of a choral nature. I threw on my dressing gown and emerged from my chambers.

I knocked on the living room door. ‘Are you alright Mark? It’s 3am.’

His reply was … unbalanced. It sounded as if he was speaking Latin.

I entered the room. ‘What are all these candles for Mark? Christ, there’s hundreds of them.’

Mark said nothing. He was sitting in the lotus position, his back towards me.

‘Is there something you’re not telling me Mark?’

Finally he spoke, his voice deep and gravelly like Darth Vader’s.

‘This is the fourth moon of Garniroth, it is prophesised in the Book of Memneer that a sacrifice must be made,’ he said. As he spoke, his body levitated above the candles. He rotated and fixed his gaze on me. The choral music – which I had at first thought charming – became shrill and demonic.

I turned to go and put the kettle on but my feet were rooted to the ground.

‘Mark I can’t move.’

Mark’s eyes glowed with unnatural brightness.

‘Mark help me I can’t move.’

He levitated towards me and attached large chains to each of my limbs. It was then that I realised Mark and myself were not batting for the same side. It is of course clear to me now that Mark was a foot soldier of Satan. While I had gone about the town boasting that he was trying to seduce me he had in fact been lining me up for a starring role in some sort of depraved ceremony.

‘The great Zoldan, wraith of the fourth quadrant demands your liver. To Xerxag, Doge of Asteroth, go your teeth. Your remaining organs will feed the dead armies of the night and I, Mark, will wear your rancid skin as a cape for a thousand years.’

The mystery of the visitation had finally become clear. By some twist of demonology Mark had managed to speak to me directly without actually being present. That much was clear to me now. And he had wanted me all to himself not because he was jealous – how foolish of me to think the disembodied voice had concealed a lonely heart – he had merely wanted my human flesh for sacrifice. But I had little time to evaluate this delicate situation.

Mark had wafted through to the kitchen and was rootling around in the drawers for sharp utensils. He returned with a kebab skewer, a cheese grater and a tupperwear box.

‘Mark,’ I said, as he prepared to insert the skewer into my nostril, ‘sincerely I am ready to bend to your will. But I have one final request. I want to hold you in my arms and kiss you, for old times’ sake. Grant me that much old boy. ’

He looked at me quizzically. ‘So be it.’

As soon as the chains dropped from me I bolted for the door, in the race I took a skewer to the neck and chest.

Staggering into the stairwell and out onto the street I fell to the ground clutching my mobile phone. I didn’t have much time; I was bleeding to death. My movements had to be strategic or else, surely, I would perish. Going out guns blazing I texted the barmaid. My hands trembled over the buttons:

  • Help, please, oh god, I need to get to a hospital!
  • what is it?
  • It’s a big building with lots of doctors, but that’s not important now!

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Members Only

20 Oct

snooker

On Friday nights I lock up around six or seven and buzz round to Janine’s on the scooter for an hour before moving on to Frankie’s. Janine’s a tight little piece who thinks I look like Euan Macgregor. She squirms and  protests but we usually get somewhere in the end. Afterwards I light cigarettes for us and we talk for awhile about her dreams. She wants to be an actress  but this is Edinburgh and I tell her it’s pretty hopeless and that dreams are for losers and that she should get a job in Sainsbury’s and keep with me. She gets all tetchy when I tread on her dreams and tells me I should go – so I do, shutting the door firm.

I hop on the scooter and whip round to Frankie’s for eight or nine, cue strapped round my back in its leather case.

Frankie’s skulks in a backstreet behind a dim pub nobody goes to – if you’re not from round here it’s not likely you’ll have heard of it. I leave the scooter perched in the empty car park and cruise in. Jock the Clock puffs his fag at the entrance below the flickering sign (FRNKIS): ‘alright Jock’, people say. He appraises whoever it might be and croaks hello.

In the bar the regulars are at large. Young Cecil stoops over the fruit machine, walking stick by his side, dribbling his heavy down his chin. Fucker Burke’s at the dart board. Morningside Fats prowls in his sharp suit and crumbly suede shoes looking for a frame of straight pool – not my game. Spaz Monty, Tony the Church and Quinn the Welshman prop up the bar, waiting for punters to get a card game going with.

Round here they call me Pecker. I came through to Edinburgh a couple of years ago to go to the art college. I can’t draw, can’t paint, or sculpt or take photos or that but as I see it you don’t have to do any of those things to get by as an artist these days.  I mostly work with what they call ‘found objects’ – shit I pick up from skips and building sites. I basically do what I can get away with. I tend to throw off the odd art history reference now and then – I’ve only got a couple but I recycle them and it seems to do the trick. I tell them Van Gogh was a nobody until he died and I tell them that Picasso was a fanny but that doesn’t make him a bad artist. The boys at club think I’m some sort of Michelangelo.

I’m the best snooker player at Frankie’s too by the way, by a mile. Number 1.

Friday’s my night.  When I get to the table it’s hot and swift. I snipe and knife and cut anything in, almost unconsciously – I don’t mean to brag it’s just like that. I could give you thirty points and sink you on yellows alone. And the boys know this. And if you are at all handy as a snooker player and you reside in Edinburgh you are aware of this. And some of the geezers in Glasgow are aware of it too.

Enter the hotshots  – the poor things that slot the jazzy long ones in with a wink to their birds – and not much else. You could call them my  fish. I reel them in, net them then bash them countinually until they stop wriggling and lie prone. I’ll give you an example: Wee Davy. Aye, Wee Davy was a puffed up little bastard who thought he was the next Steve Davis. His cue action was pretty sharp and he could pot – but he had no balls. Wee Davy shouldered into Frankie’s one Friday night in a trenchcoat and placed a fifty on the bar. He ordered a coke. The boy Liam, the bartender, looked over to Table 4 – my table – and gave me the nod. Go through the back he says to Wee Davy. I wrapped things up and walked through to the Members Only room. Fab place: single table, spotless baize, leather seats round the walls and a personal hatch through to the bar for your bevs.

Davy was already practicing as I entered. ‘I’m Davy’ he says.

‘Aye?’ He knew me alright.

Wee Davy reckoned he was worth fifty quid a frame and I wasn’t in the mood to argue. I let him win the first one, and the second – and I made a pretty show of putting up a fight. I’d hooked him: hundred a frame – cash on the table. Davy had to nip off to the bank machine.

When he got back the audience had gathered.  Along the right wall it was Tony, Fucker, Young Cecil, Gettis, Jock the Clock, Big Phil and Johnny Hummingbird. Along the left sat Spaz Monty, Quinn The Welshman, Deek Chisholm and Crooked Andy the Milkman. The boy Liam had closed up early to take up scoring and refereeing duties. When Davy got back from the Cashpoint I think he nearly shat himself. But he was game, he was already conviced he would win.

‘Five frames, hundred each,’ I said. He nodded. I ordered a double Talisker and placed it down by Davy’s coke.

I won the toss in the first and let Davy break off. He made a cock of it and slapped the blue full in the face on his way back up. From there I made a forty six and it was as good as over. The second was scrappier – I made a twenty, he made thirty and so on until I beat him on the pink. I eeked out an eighty in the third and that’s when Wee Davy really started to sweat. The fourth and fifth he was all over the place and bang – seventy three and a hallmark century to finish – the lads were creasing themselves. Five hundred quid. When the shots you picture in your mind are all happening a snooker table is the best place in the world.

Wee Davy didn’t show his face in Frankie’s again. Aye, that was a special evening but on the whole most nights its all pretty elementary – twenty quid here and there; I’ve been known to play cards with the boys on a really slow night. A lot of the time I finish up around midnight and buzz round to Melanie’s who keeps her doors open late. I spend a half an hour or so saucing her up with my art banter. Afterwards, when she falls asleep, I pad out and shift round the city for a bit until I get tired and buzz home.

The days are slow at college. I sit and watch the girls most of the time. There’s this one lass Georgina who’s a proper surprising talent. Her corner’s stuffed with sketchbooks and canvases resting up against the walls. She spends full days concentrating on a shadow or a speck in her airy pastel scenes. She’s right posh and I’d love to get her in the sack. But she’s got a wee thin lover with greasy locks who flits in and out from time to time who’s most likely a poet or something. A wank essentially. Maybe I’ll invite him down to Frankie’s for a friendly. There’s a few girls I fancy a round with at the college but I suppose I can’t complain: I’ve been screwing our pottery tutor in the kiln room on a weekly basis, I think she’s having some kind of nervous breakdown or something. Hey ho.

So I’ve told you about one of my victories. Now you’ll probably want to hear about what defeat feels like.

Well, I was round at Vicky’s for a backrub one evening when I got a ring from Morningside Fats. He was all jittery so I said I’d catch him down the club poste haste. I said to Vicky that I’d pour over her novel manuscript in the coming weeks but that I had to get away swift because there was an emergency of great importance. She wasn’t happy but I thanked her anyway for the backrub and left.

I swerved round to the club on the scooter. Fats was in a tizzy. He’d got wind of a busload of English on their way up to Edinburgh looking for a war. They’d decamped from the Home Counties and rallied at Carlisle to wreak havoc in snooker and pool halls all the way up through the borders and into the Lothians. They’d made a laughing stock of the Glasgow boys he said – Gorbals Joe had snapped his lucky cue in a rage – and they wouldn’t stop, said Fats, until they’d punished every last cueman in the country. They’d just arrived in Edinburgh. Fats was sweating like a pig.

There were ten or twelve of them he said – scary buggers the lot of them. The head man was a bastard called Cutter Kim who could play with both hands. Fats was saying he was one of those chink prodigies who’d slotted his first fifty at six and his first century at nine. But you can’t trust Fats, he’s a born gambler, a liar that can’t help but exaggerate the truth. That’s not to say I wasn’t edgy about all this.

The story was they were laying siege to the New Yorker on Monday, The Ball Room on Tuesday, Diane’s on Wednesday, The Corn Exchange on Thursday and last but not least Frankie’s on the Friday. I said to Fats I’d be waiting and that they’d picked the wrong evening to mess with Pecker.

I put in some fairly serious hours at the practice table that week as you can imagine. I wasn’t about to be shown up at home, especially by the English. Straight shots, cuts, dinks, swerves, right hand side, left hand side, topspin, screw, deep screw, rest shots, massé, my safety game – I honed everything up. I made consistency a throbbing muscle – concentration, steel focus.

To relax I used to go round to Janine’s for an hour or two at the end of the day. She’d picked up a bit-part in Rebus or Taggart or something and was in a state of mild ecstasy. The sex was marvellous.

On the big day I was icy like Paul Newman and went for a late lunch with Kate. As evening drew in I wrapped myself in my good  jacket and walked through the city in a dream – appreciating the theatre of the buildings and the streetlights and the rush of people and all that. I was buzzing. Kate was talking about her first violin or something, in a ring cycle at the Playhouse that night and about how I was absolutely going to love it. She gave me a fancy ticket with a backstage stamp and told me to dress nice. She paid for the food which was sublime and I kissed her on both cheeks like the French do and didn’t bother saying I wouldn’t be there.

I got to Frankie’s at seven and hit Table 4 to get my arm going. The English were arriving at nine. The club was smack full of talk and excitement which I tried to  ignore. We were all nervous. Everybody knew what was coming. I stuck my face in the baize and eased into my rhythm. It was Pecker vs. Cutter Kim and nothing else. Me and Cutter.

Now here’s the rub. The kick. This is where it all goes mental. The English arrived on time right in a tight little huddle and everybody was just staring, just trying to pin Cutter Kim. Now, Cutter Kim’s a scary bastard right? Plays with his eyes closed right? Wrong. Aye, that’s where you’d be wrong. Cutter Kim, ladies and gentleman, was a bird. No jokes. I shit you not. A female cueman. She played with both hands, she had a reputed high break of 132 and she’d scared two shades of shite out of Scotland’s snooker fraternity. Nobody could believe it. And I’ll tell you what – I laughed in her face. I couldn’t help it.

She didn’t move a muscle, didn’t flinch. Everything went silent and everybody was throwing glances about like nobody’s business.

I broke the silence. ‘Right then,’ I said – ‘let’s go’.

The boy Liam shut the doors and served about fifty drinks. Everybody flocked into the members only room. Screw the Playhouse, this was the only place to be in Edinburgh that Friday. All eyes were on Cutter Kim as she knocked in a few practice shots. I tell you she was some player. She moved like a pro.

‘OK,’ she says, ‘I’m ready to play, who’s first?’ She went a few frames with Gettis whose a tight safety man. He’s an intimidating presence round the table is Gettis, stands right behind your back and that, breathes down your neck. And sure enough he put it her in all sorts of trouble but she matched him shot for shot and when he let her in she cleared up every time. She was no chump. I’ll tell you what as well she looked really good, I mean physically. Stout arse, silky skin and those eyes – you could get lost in those and never find your way out.

Once she’d finished with Gettis she went to the bar and slurped down a Malibu & Lemonade. Some of the boys went a few rounds with the other Englishmen and it was all sort of fifty-fifty come midnight. Cutter Kim was just sitting there straight faced, polishing off the bevs. It was pretty impressive. I walked over. ‘You and me darling,’ I said. She stood up and wiped her mouth.

Best of seven. No money involved between me and her; she wanted it that way. But the punters were going bonkers – I reckon there must have been over five grand changed hands that night.

I chalked up a storm and broke off in the first and left the white up against the top rail. But I’d stuck a red in the open which she could see. Silence. She didn’t take it on but she hit the safety sweet as a nut. I returned the compliment and so on and vice versa for five minutes or so until she pinned me right in behind the brown. Bit lucky I felt. I nudged off the pack on the return and left a cut in the middle which she sank and then she was off like a firework – up to the blue smack into the reds and in for a sixty or a seventy. The English were clapping away. I spotted Fats in the corner chewing his hand.

The second was mine. I took it carefully, resisting my natural game, lining everything up with my cue.

In the third she let me in after a brutal kick. But it didn’t seem to phase her. My clearance was textbook.

Two-one. In the next she spotted a mad plant and finished up plum on the black. Ten reds ten blacks and everybody was thinking she might do the business but she missed a stinker into the middle against the nap. Everybody was behind her on that shot, maybe even me.

We shared the fifth and sixth. The match was going all the way.

It was two in the morning. I felt the press of a nation on my shoulders. I felt the back-slap of men everywhere. I felt the wee boy in me. It was a twitcher from the off. The walls were closing in and I knew I was gripping my cue too tight. I broke too hard with far too much side and was lucky to bop the green and finish near the pocket. So tense. So tense. She dumped the white down the other end and sent a red up to baulk. There was a cut on to the left corner but I turned it down in favour of the safety. And this was the right shot. But I clipped it thick and left it for the middle. Tragedy. She made a difficult thirty and left me in a tight little spot behind the yellow. And what do you know, I butchered it and fluked a red. It wasn’t pretty. I waved my hand up like a good boy but inside I was dancing. The English boys were in turmoil thinking it was all over. Far from it. The table was a labyrinth, a cryptic crossword puzzle. Every shot felt like the 147 black. But I silenced everything and got to frame ball. Jabbed it. Choked.

Cutter Kim made a noble clearance.

I don’t want to talk about the boys’ faces, the English cheers, the scraps in the carpark. I just don’t.

Outside in the rain, I sat on my scooter and played that frame ball in my mind perfectly twenty or thirty times. You shouldn’t do that, you should just forget about it and get on with your life. Anyway I was just about to buzz round to Tracy’s for a midnight snack when I got a tap on the shoulder. It was Cutter Kim. ‘You’re talented Pecker’, she says, ‘but you found it hard playing against a woman.’

‘Did I fuck,’ I said.

She asked if I would buzz her back to her hotel on the scooter.

We spent the night together – it was pretty wild – and I as I drifted off to sleep I asked her if she’d stick around for awhile. But when I woke up she was gone. She’d left me to deal with her hotel bill and all. Last I heard she was in Dundee teaching some other uppety bastard a lesson.

The Edinburgh Novel

30 Jul

Book Launch

Menzies Menzies gave his agent the most important thumbs-up of the evening. The one that meant it was time to let the punters and the fans in. The thumbs-up, the back-pat, the clinkety-clink of champagne flute against champagne flute were all stock in trade for this heavyweight of the British literary scene.

As the doors of the grand Edinburgh hall were thrust open into the icy night the harp player Menzies had requested for the evening began to pluck delicately at Pachelbel, Canon in D. Satisfied, tickled by the melody, the author thought about his books. This was the eighty-eighth. Some had been more successful than others but he had no substantial regrets. Confident now with his craft, he was at an age where he could observe and analyse others without feeling, as a younger man might, that he was analysing a part of himself. I’m good at what I do … well, he thought … I do my best … it is as that most model Victorian George Meredith once said;

‘Genius does what it must, and Talent does but what it can.’

He swept his hand over his bumpy bald crown. He was certainly getting older now. Not to worry, he thought.

As people began making their way down into the hall the lights were dimmed and champagne served. Menzies descended from the main stage into the body of people before him. He picked up a glass of champagne himself and began warming up the gathering crowd – shaking outstretched hands, exchanging words and glances. Smile knowingly at the people you know, he thought, nod benevolently at those you don’t. Butter up at will, but keep it dignified. And don’t get caught by anybody dull for God’s sake.

Several people caught his glinting eyes; eminent physicians, lawyers, philanthropists, gynecologists, solicitors, professors;  a fine selection of Edinburgh’s finest and … but what is this! Edith! No! Absolutely not! Plague! Viper!

And what’s more – he couldn’t quite believe it – Trevor the Trousersnake was by her side. A horrified Menzies then let out a most curious sounding guttural groan. This was simply outrageous. More, more than that: this was evil, this was actual evil. This woman and that, that bloody personal trainer had between the two of them ruined his bloody… oh Christ… he could see it now … that shapely sculpted (hairless) bottom throbbing away at something small and wife-shaped bent enthusiastically over the kitchen counter…

‘Edith…?’

‘Ming …oh God…Ming it’s not what it looks like… oh TREVOR!’

Slamming the front door he had walked through the throbbing rain up Dundas St towards the Balmoral where he had booked into the Royal Suite and gorged himself on Kobe beef salads and bottle after bottle of Chateau Latour. Pay-per-view porn of the most vulgar sort took up the bulk of that evening. And as a peach dawn rose over a dove-grey Edinburgh skyline, pished and emotional he had looked about frantically in the bedside cabinet; but there was nothing there.

He phoned down to reception.

‘Where’s my damn Gideon’s bible! Will you bring me a bloody Gideon!’

‘Of course Mr Menzies, right away.’

He took to the good book, piously attempting it cover to cover. Doggedly he read throughout the wee hours eventually reaching somewhere around Genesis 7:16, luckily the Gideon had a user-friendly subject index for the casual reader – he went straight for Betrayal;

Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

He knew then that Christianity just wasn’t going to cut it. For affairs of this nature, Menzies surmised, one would need something a little stronger. In the morning, he left the Gideon on the bed and walked calmly out of the Balmoral. Later that week he bought a Porsche 911 GT3.

Why, he thought, why me? I cannot I absolutely will not have this evening soured by Edith and that pony-tailed piece of genitalia standing beside her. I must do something. Menzies Menzies took a second to compose himself;

Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

Spurning many incensed society ladies he crossed the hall at a trot.

Champagne, Chatter

Mathew (20, wiry, a little sneery, wearer of a synthetic leather jacket, Camus’ La Peste peeping out of his back pocket) looked around the hall and up at the chandeliers, casting a wry and cynical eye over everything. One day this would be his life. If everything went according to plan that is, and his first novel Bedroom Journeys took off. He had sent the first chapter (‘Sock’) off to a pick n’ mix of publishing houses about six months ago. Or was it ten months ago?

Ticket stamped he went down to stand amongst the other peeps on the floor – he seemed to be the youngest person at the event but that wasn’t at all unusual for this flinty forward-thinker and renegade iconoclast.

Busy, very busy. But none of these people know M.M the way I do, he thought. They’re just here to be seen here. I’ve read at least twenty of his novels. He peered around for the great man. That was him over there.

Nursing his bubbly Mathew tuned in to the general hum around him. Ming this, Ming that. Much drivel. Desperately he tried to focus on his own vital and penetrating thoughts but eventually the distractions became inviting, immersive, irrevocable…

The blurb on the back said it was fiction. Like no fiction I’ve ever read darling – you might even say it was … non…fiction.’
‘Ha…ha ha …ha. Lloyd that’s rather funny.’
‘Indeed Meredith, I was always famed for my dazzling wit.’
‘Lloyd, dearest, you are wicked.’

‘“Oh Mr Buonarroti!” I said, “you’ve done a lovely job on the roof, I wonder, would you be able to tile the bathroom?”’
‘And did he?’
‘Oh yes, and he did a sterling job. I really would recommend him.’

‘Doesn’t The Trainspotters give you a tickle. Doesn’t it just. Oh I do like to read about the places I know well. Oh – well – when he started talking about the Leith, oh, and in the original accent – well – I nearly had a baby.’
‘A baby?’
‘Oh it’s just one of my many catchphrases. Of course I wasn’t actually pregnant at the time.’
‘I see, I see.’

‘It was a little piece o’ Tartan Noir, Lord Copper. ’
‘The Tartan noir, my yes – how very fashionable.’
‘And the man himself. So very decadent my Lord – an Oscar Wilde for the face book generation.’
‘We shall have a full page spread on him in the literary supplement on Monday William – have it arranged.’

‘That’s funny – my Godson drinks in the Oxford Bar – no, no sorry – The Cambridge bar.’
‘A fine establishment – lots of Accies.’
‘Yes. Yes that’s right.’
‘And you say he knows Mr Rebus personally?’

…The young pretender came to with a wobble. He put out his nicotine stained fingers in a vain attempt to steady himself. They landed on what felt like a raw chicken breast. He clutched it whatever it was. Raw chicken at an Edinburgh book launch? Surely not. No this was a woman’s breast, hot and round, alive. There were a few gasps and salvos of champagne flew up in the air. Disorientated, Mathew looked up to see his favourite author approaching with a smirk on his face.

One City, Two Faces

Peering keenly ahead to see what was going on (and with his keen novelistic brain realising nigh on immediately what was afoot) Menzies Menzies was surprised to see a young man. You don’t get too many of those at these things, he thought. And had there not been so many prying eyes he would have cordially shook the lad’s hand. The sight of Edith’s uncompromising face dripping with champagne had pleased him greatly. A shame though, thought Menzies, for this young flaneur. He must be feeling very isolated. You can’t just go around squeezing the boobs of your elders and expect not to be singled out, especially in Edinburgh. Sartorially speaking this young Byron looked like a frog in a hen-house in his far-fetched leathery get-up, flanked on either side by elegant Edinburgh literati as he was.

Menzies was deeply familiar with the look that young men like this one were at pains to cultivate having meditated on the subject unflinchingly in his thirty-ninth novel Frog in a Hen House. It was a kind of bohemian oddball chic. Scruffy but not dirty – like Tracy Emin’s unmade bed – it was really quite endearing. He had crossed the hall now and was beside the boy.

‘I’m so sorry … I … I …’ said Mathew.

‘My boy, my boy, come now I’m sure it was an accident.’ said Menzies Menzies putting a hand on Mathew‘s shoulder.

‘Well really Ming,’ snapped a very wet and angry Edith Menzies, ‘This young rogue, this … this … adolescent … you must have him thrown out. Immediately!’

‘Oh be quiet Edith. You’re embarrassing yourself. Now what did you say your name was young man?’

‘He has designs on me Ming. He’s a sexual predator. Look at him. Just look at him Menzies! Leather!’

‘Edith!’ hissed Trevor the personal trainer.

‘Come on young man, walk with me. Mathew, was it?’

‘Ming? What are you doing? Don’t walk away from me.’

‘Edith. Why don’t you go and dry off. Go on Trevor, you go with her. You did bring your sports bag didn’t you?’ Trevor blushed and lead Edith off before she could reply. ‘How old are you my boy?’

‘I’m twenty sir.’

‘Ah…I remember it well. Your wrist watch coos “no time, no time.” Do you write my boy? Are you lyrical?’

‘A little Mr Menzies,’ Mathew thought about mentioning Bedroom Journeys but decided that this wasn’t the time, ‘but nobody wants to hear what a twenty year old with not a great deal to say about, well, anything has to say,’ said Mathew, ‘let alone you Mr Menzies.’

Menzies pursed his lips and looked at Mathew. ‘You must not take it personally my boy. Many years ago,’ he looked up at the ceiling for a moment, ‘many, many years ago I was once where you are now … the wilderness of youth. Ah yes… I had penned a few charming little things by the time I was your age, but alas, nobody would ever dream of publishing them. Just like you, my boy, I had not the faintest idea why. But I kept at it my boy and what eventually transpired was the publication and immediate success of my magnum opus One City, Two Faces – which did very well, I can assure you, made my name. Lots of people wanted to be my friend after that. So my boy, my advice – keep at it, just keep at it. Ha.’ Menzies paused, pleased that he could proffer on this young scriptor some advice that he himself would have gratefully appreciated at the tender young age of twenty.

‘Well,’ said Mathew, ‘Maybe. But I don’t know. I have been considering the Law Mr Menzies. As a vocation you know. Something to fall back on.’ Mathew looked down at his feet, a little sheepishly.

‘A vocation? My my, you don’t want one of those. You must be free,’ the author’s hands rose in conductor like fashion, he moved them gracefully along to the climbing notes of the harp, ‘free like the very birds in the trees my boy. You must never be bound. Oh what a tragedy it is to be bound! You must never be bound to anyone my boy or anything.’ Menzies Menzies – who Mathew now saw in a slightly different light – lowered his hands and continued talking, a little more prosaically, ‘local chap are you?’

‘Yes. I actually went to school round the corner.’

‘Ah…a young Edinburgh man. Well then? Surely you know what you must do?’

‘No, I don’t sir,’ said Mathew.

‘You must write The Edinburgh Novel my boy.’

‘The Edinburgh Novel?’

‘Yes my boy. The Edinburgh Novel. Not The Edinburgh Novel, not The Edinburgh Novel but The Edinburgh Novel. It’s a right of passage for a smart young chap like you.’

‘Ah…’ said Mathew hesitantly, wondering what his favourite author was getting at. ‘I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean Mr Menzies?’

‘Drat.’ Menzies looked at his delicate silver wristwatch and then up at his agent who was signalling something with his hand. ‘No time my boy, no time. I’ll have to speak to you later on. Come and get a signature at the end of the evening. I must go, I’m on the stage in five minutes. Help yourself to more champagne. The Edinburgh Novel my boy, I’m sure you’ll work it out. And don’t worry about Edith, she’s a pushover really.’ Menzies turned to go towards the stage but paused – struck by a thought – and turned back to Mathew. ‘Don’t ever get married Mathew. Remember, remember what I said about being bound boy. And if you do decide on a wife, don’t for God’s sake let her have a personal trainer.’ And off he went.

‘OK.’ Mathew said, quite bemused, ‘thanks then’.

The End

Ralph

12 Jul

When I lived on my own, I was extremely bored. Every evening I would sit in front of the television and stare at Newsnight. Afterwards, I would brush my teeth, put on my pyjamas, get into bed and fall asleep, feeling a little sorry for myself.

At one point, I was so bored, so incredibly fed up with living on my own that I decided to rent out the spare bedroom. I put an ad in the paper and waited. In the ad I had written:

Lovely single bedroom with bathroom,

window, lamp etc. Please contact Barry

Hitler at home, or at Pumps and Tubes Ltd,

my place of work.

Nobody replied.

One day, on my way to the office, where I occupy a middle management position specialising in Pump renovation, I came across a rather lonely looking creature who looked as if he might need a place to stay. I approached him, deciding that if necessary I would offer the room to him on the cheap, for I was very bored, and any company, even from this mangy looking fellow, seemed like a very good idea.

‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘hello there, yes, I’ve got a room to rent, and, well, you look like you need a place to stay mate. Ah, the rent. We’ll discuss that later, why don’t we go for a cup of tea.’

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

We spent the whole day together, swapping stories, laughing at each others jokes, and when we got hungry we even shared a chicken that I had been preparing so as to bring to speed dating that evening – which of course I missed. In fact, as it turned out, I decided to hold off going back indefinitely, now that I had found such an amiable companion in Ralph.

I didn’t go to work the next day either. I actually took the whole week off in the end. Nobody noticed. Not one person. And I didn’t even get into trouble. Being a Pumps renovator you see, you come to expect that kind of snub from your colleagues. It’s not a very exciting job really. Ralph was interested though. He would sit there and listen for hours as I went through the ins and outs of various tubes. We had a ball. Ralph and I had an absolute ball all of that week.

Then the trouble started. Ralph didn’t have a job you see, which I had no problem with, I’d usually just forgo the rent, after all, he was a very well behaved tenant, and he rarely ever caused me any problems. One evening though, I came back from the office and lo and behold, there, sitting quietly on the living room carpet, was a shit. I took great offence to this.

‘Ralph!’ I shouted. ‘Ralph, what on earth do you call this?’ I said, pointing to the offending turd. He stared at me blankly. ‘You know Ralph,’ I said, ‘ this is a two way relationship. I’m very disappointed in you.’

Again, he just stared blankly at me. And when he refused to clean it up, well, you can imagine the feelings of dejection that arose within me. I cleaned it up without further complaint and went to my bedroom for the rest of the evening. I did not make Ralph any dinner.

This began to happen regularly. And always the same blank look. We were certainly no longer having a ball, in fact, in a fit of rage one evening I went so far as to burst the bloody ball and throw it out the window. Ralph was not amused. All he would ever talk about was himself and his needs. ‘Ralph, Ralph, Ralph,’ he would say. ‘Ralph, Ralph, Ralph.’

When I wouldn’t listen anymore he began tearing up the furniture. This was the last straw. I dragged him into the car and threw him in the back seat. We drove out to a nearby forest in silence. I let him out there and we went our separate ways.

‘Ralph, Ralph, Ralph,’ was all he could say. I was very hurt by that.

Bag

20 Jun

‘I’d like to report a missing bag please.’
            ‘O.K then, let me just get a pen and paper. O.K, right Madam, can you tell me what colour it was?’
            ‘Gold.’
            ‘Gold Jag you say. Classy.’
            ‘Bag I said. I said bag.’
            ‘Bag?’
            ‘Yes bag. B…A…G.’
            ‘Oh bag.’
            ‘Yes. Bag. That’s what I said. My bag is missing. I have a missing bag.’
            ‘Sorry, I thought you said Jag, like the car.’
            ‘I know, I know. Look, I’m running a little late, can we get on with this.’
            ‘O.K then, so, what colour was your bag.
            ‘Gold. I told you already. It’s a gold bag.’
            ‘Gold, oh yes, right. Let me just note that down, G…O…L…D bag. Can I ask where you last saw the bag?
            ‘On the number 2 bus. It was stolen.’
            ‘Fine, that’s absolutely fine. But can you tell me where exactly in Poland?’
            ‘You must be joking.’
            ‘I assure you Madam, this is quite a serious matter. Krakow or Warsaw?’
            ‘Neither.’
            ‘Where was it stolen then?’
            ‘The number 2 bus.’
            ‘Well you should have just said that. There’s no need to get snappy. O.K, let me just note that down then, right. Now, what was in the bag, and what exactly were the circumstances of it being stolen? Tell me everything.’
            ‘Well, I was on my way to buy some buttons in Clark’s, on Fir Street. I sat down beside a tall woman at the back of the number 2 bus. She got off four stops before me on North St. When I went to get off, my bag was gone. The bag contained all my money, my cigs, my notebook and my car keys.’
            ‘So, let me get this straight. You were on your way to buy some fur in Button’s, on Clark Street. You were standing up beside a short man at the front of the number 2 bus. He got off on Forth Street while you went south for a few more stops. When you got off you realised that you’d left your bag on the bus. Your bag contained all your honey, your wigs, your coat hook and your barbies. Correct?’
            ‘Are you thick or something?’
            ‘I have been feeling a little under the weather lately, yes – how kind of you to notice.’
            ‘Look, just leave it.’
            ‘Hang on a second.’
            ‘…’
            ‘My colleague has just informed me that somebody dropped in a bag earlier today containing, remarkably, two jars of honey, six blonde wigs, a coat hook and three barbies. But it was a green bag. Are you absolutely sure that your bag wasn’t green Madam?’
            ‘Let me take a look at it.’
            ‘Here it is.’
            ‘Yes, that’s my bag. That’s definitely my bag. Case closed. Look, I’ve really got to run.’
            ‘Glad to be of service Madam. And if your Jag turns up we’ll be in touch. I’ll get on to the Polish Embassy first thing tomorrow morning.’

Dennis Kennedy MSP

30 May

Dennis Kennedy MSP  – a quite breathtakingly fat individual – waved graciously, smiled once more, then slipped out of sight into his campaign car with all the deftness of an oil tanker. At last, he thought, clutching at the door handle with his bulbous shortbread fingers. These voters really don’t let up, do they? He groped his way into the gleaming vehicle, taking many laboured breaths through his nostrils as he did so.

           Daffodils – the air freshener. His favourite brand, modelled on his favourite flower. He used to eat them on his long walks across the estate as a child. 

            ‘Move over will you,’ he said to Carl Plopp, his chief adviser, a man who always smelled very strongly of soap. The most striking thing about Carl’s gangly appearance were his massive crimson ear lobes. When the light hit them one got the vivid impression of a pair of ruby red earrings.

            ‘Sorry Dennis,’ said Carl politely, avoiding eye contact.  Carl had that jarring nervous habit  of addressing one by one’s name on an almost sentence by sentence basis.

            ‘Dennis, I was thinking. About the policy changes Dennis, that we’re seeking to –‘

            ‘Not now Carl, please.’

            Carl looked pensively upwards and bit his lip.  He took a lobe gently between thumb and forefinger and looked through the tinted glass of the campaign car window at the turmoil outside. He picked out two or three faces, good, wholesome, disgruntled Scottish faces. Disgruntled at Dennis or merely the state of the nation? He couldn’t decide.

            ‘Drive on Morris,’ said Dennis to his long time chauffeur Morris Butcher, ‘just honk the horn if you can’t get through.’

            As he shimmied into the car-seat’s leather lap Dennis caught a glimpse of his svelte new P.A’s glossy inner thigh. Oh! How he would like to clap his bulky hand on that little fillet. And what a squeeze he would give it. Now what was her name again? Janine? That’s right isn’t it? Janine. Gosh it’s busy in here isn’t it. Three, four, five people! Laptop each; smartphone each; and all manner of other dingly-dongly things. Busy busy busy. But – Dennis was full of timely buts – where in God’s name is the damn debate? There was never any debate anymore. People didn’t even know the meaning of the word. To hash out, to talk over, to deliberate, to discuss. He was in a bit of a slack mood – he often experienced torpors like this after a fudged liaison with the public.

            ‘Don’t be afraid to crush that woman over there Morris,’ said Dennis, ‘you see her? That one. That one there. The one in the turquoise anorak.  There. You see her? I should have the  secret police come around and bloody arrest her during the night.’

             Carl looked away again shaking his head.

            ‘Oh come on Ploppy,’ said Dennis chuckling, giving Carl a little slap on the thigh.

             A member of the electorate, a squat woman, fiftyish or so (whom Dennis would later invite to dine with him, unsuccessfully, at his townhouse in Stockbridge) was standing talking to the press with a lit cigarette in her hand. She was gesticulating wildly, running her exasperated hands through her short shock of egg yolk yellow hair.

            ‘What’s all this?’ inquired Chris Belcher (Dennis’ gifted media architect) vaguely.

            ‘Oh just some bigoted woman. Used to support me – us – the party – blah blah – but now you’re a disgrace she says – an effing charlatan – oh Belchy, you know the rest.’

            ‘Well I’m sure you handled it accordingly minister,’ said Belcher.

            ‘Turn on the radio Morris,’ said Dennis, ‘the noise of all these people outside is giving me a bloody headache. Oafs…fs, fs, office, eugh, eugh,’ he started coughing violently (cigars), ‘office party on Friday’s going to be literally mental isn’t it?’ he said, trying to suppress the cough and looking puffily in the direction of Janine the PA, his newest and youngest member of staff. ‘Literally mental’ was a bit of vocab his twenty year old often used. Things were also frequently ‘random’ for him and of course ‘literally random’. Everything was always so literal with that boy.

            Janine looked up in alarm. Outwardly she came across as a quiet, meticulous individual. After leaving boarding school in Perthshire it was off to Queen’s College Oxford (PPE), then down to London for a few years. As soon as Scotland finally became independent it was back up to Edinburgh, home. Actually this last move hadn’t really been part of the life-plan – the internal spreadsheet – at all. She had only intended to come back to Scotland when she was ready to raise a family. This stint (and she hoped it would be a relatively brief one) was a career move, pure and simple. Janine was in her late twenties, she didn’t have a lover, she was a free agent. And she knew from personal experience that there were only about three  bachelors in the whole of Edinburgh that would be of  any use to her. Nevertheless she was enjoying it here, for now. More than she would have thought anyway; yet the green space, the seaside smell, the flickering reminiscences of idle teenage summers all came together occasionally to make her feel queasy and weak in the stomach. But she had little time to reflect on the rumblings and stings of nostalgia: she had an important job to do, she was sculpting out a career for herself. She blushed under Kennedy’s gaze, ‘yes, minister, yes you’re-’

            ‘Christ,’ whispered Chris Belcher hoarsely, looking suddenly very pale, ‘Dennis,’ he hissed, pointing directly at the heart (and namebadge) of the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, ‘Dennis, turn that bloody thing off for God’s sake. The microphone. The microphone! How could you have been so bloody stupid? Morris turn up the radio.’

 

(jingle jingle) Breaking News (jingle jingle)

 

From our award winning political correspondent Greg Mundell.

 

News just coming in that the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Dennis Kennedy has threatened to crush a woman underneath a motor vehicle whilst simultaneously labelling the voting public ‘oafs’. This shocking news arrives amidst the unprecedented revelation by Kennedy that the Scottish Government has a ‘secret policing’ arm.

            We are coming to you live from Edinburgh where Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Dennis Kennedy has been out talking to voters in the run up to the elections in June. This is of course the first set of general elections since Scotland achieved Independence last year and a vital time for all those involved in Scottish Politics.

            Mr Kennedy believed that he had had a successful day out canvassing voters in front of local television cameras. However, the veteran politician had unfortunately left his microphone switched on as he vacated the rally in his campaign vehicle, which lead to a series of off-colour remarks being broadcast to a nationwide audience of dozens.

            Local hag, excuse me, local bag-lady Mary Montrose, who works tirelessly for a paltry wage at a supermarket on the outskirts of Edinburgh was the unwitting victim of Mr Kennedy’s eviscerating verbal attacks. A lifelong supporter of Mr Kennedy and the United Scotland Party she pitched up at her local rally to show support for Kennedy and voice her concerns about the nation’s future:

            ‘Oi, you, Kennedy!’

            ‘Why, yes Madam? Great to see you out. How are you today?’

            ‘Now, dinnae sell me any of yer snake oil ye big fraud!’

            ‘Whatever do you mean?’

            ‘You’re takin’ this country to the dugs!’

            ‘Now, of course you are entitled to your opinion Madam, but I simply don’t agree. The United Scotland Party are a party for Scotland and we have the national interest at the heart of everything we do. After all, we were the ones that took this country out of the union, out of oppression and let it flourish, let it bloom. ’

            ‘Ye’re a bunch ay bloomin frauds I tell ye!’

            ‘Have you any grandchildren madam?’

            ‘Aye, eighteen.’

            ‘How are they all?’

            ‘Eh …’

            ‘Well isn’t that grand. Good luck to you and your wonderful family. Great to see you out today.’

            Mr Kennedy proceeded to get swiftly into his campaign vehicle and drive off, but not without lambasting poor Mrs Montrose to his colleagues:

            ‘Crush that woman over there Morris!’ said the bloodthirsty minister to Morris Butcher, his driver.

            ‘I should have the secret police come and arrest her during the night!’ he said to Carl Plopp, his chief adviser.

            And as for the general public, Mr Kennedy had this to say:

            The noise of all these people outside is giving me a blasted headache! Oafs, fs, fs!

These unbelievable remarks are bound to be a huge blow for the USP’s re-election campaign. A frank and full public apology is to be expected in the coming hours or days.

 

This is Greg Mundell, award winning political correspondent, from Edinburgh.

 

Good afternoon.

 

Dennis crushed the microphone – little electronic traitor – between his fingers. His first thoughts were ones of repulsion and retreat (specifically, opening the car door, flopping onto the blistered tarmac and rag-dolling away unconscious down the road). Yet the next inkling was like a friend’s calm hand falling upon his shoulder and bidding him to take his time. Dennis, said the ghostly voice accompanying the hand, you will weather this. Remember Dennis, remember how the vultures swooped as you finally revealed that it was you – you were the hero that had liberated Walter Scott’s last pair of pants from The British Museum in London. And that time you misquoted Burns and the Russians thought you were declaring nuclear war on them! This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened (it certainly wouldn’t be the last). He would weather this squall.

            Nobody spoke. Carl Plopp shed an individual tear which he would later disavow. Belcher tore out a clump of his own hair. Even implacable Morris had his head in his tattooed hands.

            ‘Morris,’ said Dennis quietly, ‘the air freshener, is it Daffodils?’

            ‘Yes guv.’

            ‘Good. Keep buying that.’