Saturday, 26 December 2009

Favourite things to do at Christmas

  1. Go for a swim at North Berwick with only a swim suit on and feel the buzz
  2. Pick out cross-stich which you have been meaning to for (technically) years. It's an embroidery of baby galahs 
  3. Destroy zombies
  4. Put the turkey in the middle of the table away from Harvey
  5. Eat the rest of the trifle for breakfast.
  6. Play music trivia
  7. Learn how to play backgammon
  8. Relax until you see your swimming trunks on the Christmas Tree
  9. Write on the blog
  10. Drive people mad playing the Bodhran
  11. Speak to family in Oz on Skpye  and the phone

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Fence Key - A short story in the making!

Here are the first few paragraphs. They are my original attempt to start the story with an edit when I decided to include a hint about Jed's amazing gift.

Jed wasn’t expecting to have a good day but he hoped that if he could get through the week, things might improve. It was only Wednesday and the end of the week for him would be Saturday night. He looked in the mirror and saw red-rimmed eyes and a sallow complexion. I have to change, he thought.

Two days earlier, on Monday morning, Jed had gone down the hill to the shops as usual. He had been careful to put on his beanie before he left and when he got to Tesco’s he bought the Daily Star and some rolls. Everything seemed normal, and it was. The pain behind Jed’s eyes was like an old friend who whispered ‘larger… lots of lager.’ It wasn’t any different from any Monday morning… it was ‘par for the course.’ An annoying little cliché that he couldn’t get out of his mind, ‘par for the course,’ Dr. Kelly, the idiot psychiatrist said that during his last clinic appointment. Jed couldn’t take Dr. Kelly seriously. After all he was a flowery font – something that only Jed knew. Dr. Kelly’s thoughts were inconsistent (and no doubt ridden with guilt and self loathing), but one thing was clear the good Dr. had a crush on Jed. When Jed got home from Tesco’s the week started to deteriorate.

Jed looked down at his hands and they were trembling slightly. He stretched them and tried to get them to be still, just as they used to be, but it was no use, they only shook more. His fingernails were dirty - they never used to be. He looked out of the window and saw low, grey clouds. His mind went back to Monday morning.

When Jed got home from Tesco’s he had gone into the back garden and he poked his hand behind the wooden fence to the hook where the back door key hung. Two things happened straight away. He looked over the fence and through next doors window to see if the telly was on, but instead he locked eyes with James, his body building next-door neighbour. Jed looked away and tried to unhook the key, but it wasn’t there.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Do you want to write a short story?

This blog is about writing... stories, poems and any other stuff that is worth reading!! It also gives me a chance to write about Harvey and the places we go and of course the occasional film or concert or café I visit. I’m intending to write about the books I read as well. But the main thing is writing.

In this spirit, I’m going to write a short story and this is the rub… I want your help!. Now I don’t think I’m the first person to take this line. Kate Mosse… not the model – the author wrote about the process of developing her book 'Labyrinth’ online. She has a great web site, which I will put onto my links. So, what I am looking for are comments and ideas from you about the ideas I have for this story and we can see how it will work out. The initial idea for the story came from a small incident in my back garden… I was getting a key off a hook and my eyes locked with my neighbour. He didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t know what he was thinking.

This is where I started with the story a couple of days ago.
  1. The storyline involves a key hidden behind a fence.
  2. In this story, I want to portray the personality of two characters.
  3. There must be four unexpected turns in the story.
    • Someone misinterprets the reason the lead is looking behind the fence.
    • The key goes missing.
    •  Jed turns out to be an alien -  dubbh
    •  Dubbh
  4. Action through dialogue
  5. What is the problem the character has to resolve?
  6. Run two stories in parallel
As you see, this was a flow of consciousness and two of my four turns in the story didn’t occur to me until later. But, a major turn in the story that I want to explore, is the incredible ability that Jed (he’s the main character has.) He may be mad but he can read  the thoughts that people are having. For instance, his psychiatrist has a flowery font, which turns out to be significant.

So, these ingredients may or not figure in the story…what do you think?

Sunday, 20 December 2009

I don't belong to Glasgae

Took my life into my own hands and stayed over in Wegie land last Friday night. They know how to party over there. During our walk up Sauchiehall Street I avoided dozens of groups who were keen on carrying on their office party celebrations. My suggestion to pop into Yates’ Wine Lodge to sample the atmosphere received a definite ‘NO’ from Pat, so we made it to her friends, Terry and Danny in one piece.

I know many people like to strain the national grid these days with their Disneyland of Christmas lights, but not everyone puts on a high class Christmas show inside their home. Terry is one person who does. His two Christmas trees are a superb example of the fine art of Christmas decorations. The whole house sparkled with style and panache. This was topped off with a splendid meal and more that one or two glasses of the fizzy stuff.

Where was Harvey, you may ask? He had an equally exciting time on a sleep over with Skye. He spent a good deal of time on Saturday with Kara, Skye and Corrie, tearing around fields in the snow. He was quite sleepy on Saturday night.

So did everything go without a hitch? Well not quite… on the way home, I got on the train for North Berwick, when I was actually heading for Dunbar… oh well, you can’t win em all, but I did manage to get my own tree up today. Although it isn't a patch on Terry's tree, it does sit rather splendidly in the corner of the room.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


Sir Herald arrived at his condo in good spirits. A walk along the beach with Jackson had done them both good.

“Just let anyone try to stop me taking you to the University with me,” he said and he gave Jackson a vigorous rub behind the ears. The dog looked at him, tongue hanging from his mouth, and exuded pure, uninhibited adoration. After a few moments the Professor noticed the red light on his answer machine blinking. He pressed the message button.

“Hello, Nancy, here. Thank you so much for the invitation darling. I’m very excited because I bought the red gown I’ve been saving up for. I thought to hell with the expense, you only live once, don’t you! The last tranny party at your place was a blast and I’m really looking forward to this one. But I promise not to get outrageously drunk this time. I will be behaving myself and looking very demure. You know how good I look in red don’t you! See you later darling.”

Sir Herald took the phone from his ear and stared at it. It wasn’t true, it couldn’t be true, then his thoughts arrived in a rush. Oh my God, what did Nancy say? See you later darling, he hadn’t sent the invitation to the t-group had he? He couldn’t have made a mistake like that. What would Professor Keen think if he met Nancy? It didn’t bear thinking about. Jackson walked over and nuzzled his master in the crouch, ears standing straight up – a sure sign that someone would soon ring the door bell.

“Who’s coming Jackson? I swear that you’re psychic.”

The door bell rang, and standing with a large box of groceries was Patrick.

“You can thank Gladys for this, she is a very persuasive women. That will be £68.50 please.”

“Of course, come in Patrick. I’m sorry about the misunderstanding at the shop, can we be friends?”

“Umm, you know that I like to be discreet, and you let the cat out of the bag, in front of my staff too.”

“I’m very sorry,” Sir Herald said.

“I suppose everyone deserves a second chance. But be discreet in the future. Okay!”

“Yes of course. Patrick. By the way, have you received an invitation to a t-party recently?”

“Just the one from you, I’m going to wear the black sequins tonight, what are you wearing?”

“Oh Patrick, Patrick, Patrick, I’ve made a terrible mistake, can you help me? I’ve double booked the party; all the most important people from the University have been invited tonight. They can’t bump into our T friends.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Can you call the t-members and tell them the party is off, I’d be eternally grateful.”

“Leave it to me, and don’t worry. We can go late night shopping instead that will keep everyone happy.”

Jackson stopped sniffing around Patrick’s legs and jumped up, paws on his shoulders almost knocking him over and giving him an enthusiastic lick all over his face.

“It’s just his way of saying thank you. He likes you. I don’t know what I would do without him. He even reminds me to take my tablets, but you forgot this morning, didn’t you Jackson. I must remember to take them; I think I’ve forgotten a few days now.”

“Yes, well if you could stop him licking himself in public, he would get on a lot better.”

Patrick left and Sir Herald started to prepare for the dinner party. First things first, he had to prepare the menu…. he was happy, happy… happy.

The first guest arrived early; naturally it was Dr. fat arse Pope. Fortunately Professor Keen rang the bell shortly afterwards. Next to arrive was Priscilla Jacques, tall, curvy and intelligent; she was high on Sir Herald’s list of desirable females.

“I would be most interested to hear your latest theory and how it relates to practice and naturally, to the fruit of practice,” she said,

Sir Herald couldn’t help feeling that he was being sized-up by Priscilla, whom he noticed had exquisite green eyes. A little group of chatting academics circled Sir Herald and a hush fell over the room. Sir Herald looked around and saw that all eyes were on him. Everyone was waiting for his answer but a disturbing thought occurred to him. Maybe they are waiting for him to make a mistake. Maybe their instincts told them that something interesting was in the air, maybe even an intellectual kill? He looked at them again and the circle looked aggressive. For the first time in his life, Sir Herald couldn’t think of an answer, and his mind was playing tricks on him. All he could think about was his tablets, he hadn’t taken them.

A high pitched squeal saved Sir Herald. Every one looked at Priscilla, whose expression was difficult to read. It was a mixture of shock but also pleasure at the attention she had been given by Jackson.

“He has such a cold nose, and you must teach him not to poke it up lady’s dresses, Sir Herald,” she said.

“Ah, yes, but in answer to your question, theory is essential in itself, it can stand alone. It doesn’t need practice or the fruit of practice to justify it.”

“Preposterous,” said Dr. Edgar Pope.

“Let’s go through to dinner, said Professor Keen.

“Good idea, I’ll go and answer the door first, you all go through.”

Sir Herald opened the door and there stood a six foot two inches high blond apparition with a slightly stubbled chin and a red sequined evening gown.

“Nancy, what are you doing here?” Sir Herald asked

“I’m here for the party darling… what else,” she said and swept past him and into the lounge. Jackson rushed over, enthusiastically wagging his tail, he liked Nancy. They were joined by Professor Keen.

“A very good joke Sir Herald, at least I hope it’s a joke. It is isn’t it?” he said.

“A joke, what do you mean? I must take my tablets professor, please excuse me.”

Sir Herald and Jackson disappeared into the toilet; he was there for a long time. Eventually Professor Keen, knocked on the door and Sir Herald came out, closely followed by Jackson.

“That’s better, forgot my amitriptyline again. I’ll be alright now.”

“But what’s this?” said Dr. fat arse. He was holding a sheet of paper. Each one of them was holding a sheet of paper.

“And who is this?” said Priscilla

“I told them I’m your good friend, darling,” said Nancy

Sir Herald took the easiest question.

“Well naturally, that’s the meal we’re having,” said Sir Herald, taking the sheet of paper from fat arse’s hand.

“But it’s a bloody recipe. We each have one on our plates, a very good recipe, but you can’t eat a recipe.”

Sir Herald looked at Nancy and then at Priscilla and slowly at the other faces in front of him. They all looked back at him in what he could only interpret as a threatening manner. Then he looked at Jackson who wagged his tail enthusiastically, head slightly over to one side.

“Let’s go for a walk,” he said.

The end

©   Ray Harris 

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

GOING DOWN – A Shortish story - Part 1

Professor, Sir, Herald Kelso looked around the packed auditorium and felt a warm glow of satisfaction. He had spun his web over his audience and they were enthralled.
The faces in front of him were mostly young, perhaps in their early twenties, but there were also a few older men, colleagues, who had attended the lecture so that they could listen to the magic of the Professor’s words. This is what the world needs, the Professor thought, sound, irrefutable theory which explains the way things are.

The Professor looked down at Jackson, his Pointer-Setter, lazily licking his balls, without a care in the world. Now for the exit, leave them wanting more, he thought and stood, ignoring the waving hand of a student.

“Come on Jackson,” he said, stepping down from the podium.

“Sir Herald, can I ask a question?”

“No time for questions today, read my book,” he said and swept down the aisle, heading for the door.

“But how does all this apply in the field?” an irritating voice said.

“Chapter 6, page 155,” the Professor shouted over his shoulder.

Little upstart, he thought. I’m sure that was the same student who tried to ask me a question last time. Always wanting to know how it applies… well I’m not going to tell him. Jackson looked up and seemed to nod in approval.

“No time to discuss the finer points with the students, Jackson, I have to get home early and plan my new strategy,” he said.

Professor Kelso walked at a brisk pace along the long corridor towards his office and the glow of satisfaction evaporated. Oh no, he thought, looking at his arch rival walking towards him with a fixed, steely grin on his face.

“A fine lecture Sir Herald, but I would like to go over some of the issues you raised if you have a moment,” said Dr. Edgar Pope.

Jackson’s hair bristled slightly and the white of bared fangs showed beneath his curled lips.

“I can’t stop now, I’m having friends around, it needs to be planned you know.”

“Ah, yes, your campaign, that will need planning,” the Doctor said moving away from Jackson.

The Professor walked on along the corridor with Jackson at his heel, and he wondered if Dr. Pope, or fat arse, as he preferred to call him, really knew his plans. But how could fat arse know? Hadn’t Professor Kelso decided only last week, that the dinner party was the answer to his problem? He needed to meet the right sort of woman He had to meet someone with a broad outlook. Connie had turned out to be a disappointment.

“Herald, I cannot understand what you are saying,” she told him on their last date together.

“I’m afraid that your lack of understanding is not my problem,” he answered.

“But you don’t make sense. Not only that but whenever I ask you to do something you, make an excuse and don’t do it. And another thing, Jackson’s behaviour, in public, is embarrassing. Why do you take him everywhere you go?”

“Love me, love my dog,” he said and that was that.

The plan to invite the most important members of the Faculty and the most eligible women to a dinner party was a master piece. No one would suspect his real motives, he thought. First stop the grocery store.

Dr, Edgar Pope, watched his adversary walk along the main corridor and out of the door.

That dog should not be in the University building, he thought and Professor high and mighty Kelso is heading for a big fall… he knew it and he thought that all he had to do was to work out how to help him on his way. He was an able… to be fair, a brilliant lecturer, but his behaviour was getting stranger. His refusal to answer questions or to carry out experiments was as arrogant as it was unsustainable. Dr. Pope couldn’t understand why he had been by-passed for the Head of Department position and why Professor, high and mighty Kelso had been appointed. Everyone knew that he couldn’t organise the veritable piss up in a brewery. If he didn’t have Gladys he would never make it to the lectures, let alone run a Department.

“He can’t keep all the balls in the air, and I will be watching, when they fall, guess who will pick them up,” he said to himself and an evil grin flickered across his face.

“Bloody car, what’s wrong with you?” said the Professor, “and more importantly, what’s wrong with the bloody garage mechanics? Didn’t I give them clear written instructions on the service I required? They said that they couldn’t carry them out, that they were ‘too complicated,’ and when I remonstrated with them, they said that I could stick my instructions where the sun doesn’t shine… really!”

“Okay, I am going to count to three and if you don’t go this time you are for the junk heap, do you understand?” In reply the car back-fired, let out a cloud of black smoke and then dwindled and died.

“That was your last chance,” the Professor said and he turned the key another time… the engine purred into life.

“So you were just playing hard to get, let’s go to the grocers,” he said.

Professor Kelso entered the shop, and noticed the girl he had left his list with, go over to the manager and look towards him.

“Can I help you sir?” The manager said.

“Yes, you can, I would like my order please.”

“Ah, yes, the order… an attempt at a joke sir, although I must say that our staff failed to find the funny side of it. Oh, and another thing sir, would you mind leaving your dog outside, animals are not allowed into the shop.”

“I gave clear written instructions on the way I wanted my order handled. Is there a problem, there shouldn’t be should there… Patrick?” The Professor smiled at him. He remembered the last time they met, at a t-party, make-up and eye-liner made a big difference to the shop manager. His attention was brought back to the present by a high pitched laugh from the shop assistant girl. Sir Herald followed the direction of her gaze. Why did people always find it fascinating to see Jackson licking himself? There was no harm in it!

“I am sorry sir, but we cannot handle your order, you will have to try elsewhere.”

The Professor did what he always did on occasions like that. He adjusted and tightened his dickey-bow, gave the shop manager a disdainful look and turned to leave.

“See you at the next t-party, Patrick,” he said and walked out with his head held high. Jackson, in his usual aristocratic way, followed at his heel.

“I must have a word with you about Professor, Sir, Herald Kelso,” said Dr. Edgar Pope to the head of the Faculty, Professor Keen.

“Not again Edgar, you will just have to accept that the appointment board were slightly more impressed with Herald’s CV and interview than they were with yours. It was his grasp on the theory that did it,” said the Professor.

“That’s not what I’m here for; I’m here to report his strange behaviour. His lectures are of course brilliant, but apart from that he has problems.”

“What sort of problems.”

“Since he was appointed Head of Department, he has been issuing instructions to everyone from the cleaner to the Professional staff and quite frankly, they are obtuse in the extreme.”


“I’m sorry to say, that not only is it an inappropriate way to behave, but no-one can understand what he has written. That is partly his hand writing but also… they don’t make sense.”

“Well Edgar, I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for it all.”

“There’s also the problem of his dog.”

“Oh yes, Jackson, a lovely animal… I don’t see any problem there. By the way have you been invited to his dinner-party tonight? It should be quite a grand occasion.”

“As it happens, I have and I’m considering whether I should go. Will you be there?”

“Indeed, I will and I would advise you, to go too. There will be a lot of very important people attending.”

“Naturally, I will be there,” said Dr. Edgar Pope, fixing Professor Keen with a steely smile.

“Gladys, where are you when I need you?” the Professor shouted slamming the door to his office.

“What is it now Herald,” replied Gladys in her efficient, no-nonsense manner which the Professor had grown to love.

Jackson gave Gladys a big slobbery lick, his tail flapping furiously at the sight and sound of his favourite human female.

“People are not following my instructions.”

“You should have let me type them out and send them by email, rather than doing everything by hand, you must be worn out.”

“I’m not talking about the University staff; I’m talking about the bloody supermarket and the garage.”

“Well, Herald, I’m supposed to be here to help with your University work. But tell me what the problem is and we’ll see if we can get it fixed. “

“I would by-pass the whole bloody lot of them and do it all myself, but you know how things have a tendency to go wrong. It’s all to do with the theory; if I got that right then everything would be hunky dory.”

“Sir Herald, your strong point is the theory; it’s when you try to do the practical things that it goes wrong. That’s why I’m here… to smooth the way forward for you.”

Jackson whimpered in agreement.

“I know, and you’re an angel, what would I do without you?”

“By the way Dr, Edgar Pope rang.”

“What did old ‘fat arse’ want?”

“He said he would be pleased to attend your dinner party tonight.”

“Cheeky blighter, I didn’t invite him. My God, I must get away and plan for the grand occasion. Is there anything I have to do before I go”.

“Only this,” Gladys held up a pink garter.

“Oh, yes the t-party invitation. Is it that time again? I haven’t got a thing to wear. They’ve seen everything I’ve got… Never mind, could you send a note, saying that I fancy the Lana Turner outfit for the next… hmm gathering.”

“Will do, is there anything else?”

“Just wish me luck for tonight.”

“Good luck, show them what you can do, and err… good luck with the ladies.”

“Oh, there is one other thing.”


“Could you have a look at this grocery list for me please?”

“Okay, Herald, I’ll ring the grocers and ask them to drop it off at your house. Is that alright?”

“Thank you Gladys, what would I do without you? Come on Jackson, let’s go.”

Part 2 tomorrow

© Ray Harris  Dec '09

Monday, 14 December 2009

Harvey here #2

That’s a picture of me pulling Ray along on our run at Dunbar. Woof
They have this thing called Christmas fancy dress and they put on clothes to look like fairies and pixies, seems a bit strange to me. Arrff.
Everyone was very nice and said I was cute! Woff woff.
Ray and me went to Belhaven beach the other day and I chased a flock of birds, right into the sea. They didn’t think I was cute, grrr grrr.
We go to the beach a lot. Last week we went to Belhaven beach again, but this time we were by the chalets. Ray wanted me to go over the footbridge with all the holes in it, not on your nelly, I thought and I jumped straight into the river. It was only when I got wet that I remembered I hadn’t tried to swim before, but I’ve got a good doggie paddle and just about made it. Woff grrr.
Since I started living with humans, I’ve noticed that they have some strange habits. For instance, they never pee on trees or lampposts, they always use a big white bucket thing and pull a chain. Woof woof.
Another thing… they never give each other a good sniff, I don’t know have they get to know each other. Arff, woff.
Ray is looking a bit stressed out today. He said he has to get all these things ready for Christmas and he wants to write a short story…whatever that is. grrr grrr.
I’m quite happy lying in my bed until it’s time to go for a walk. Woof woof.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Cinderella at Florabank

There’s nothing quite like a good amateur panto to put you in the Christmas mood…
Oh no there isn’t… Oh yes there is.
I went along to Florabank residential care home on Friday night to watch Cinderella and the place was packed. They must know something I don’t I thought as I sat cross legged on the floor, between my dad and another octogenarian. My dad’s great granddaughter and his granddaughter and partner soon joined us and we were ready for the show, but not before Carols. Now, there’s nothing like Carols to give you that Christmas feeling…
Oh no there isn’t… Oh yes there is.
However, the Carols went on o’er long, and we started to suspect that there might have been a few hiccups with the cast. The compare confirmed this when he announced that Santa was having trouble parking the reindeer. Before too long we heard a bell ringing and Santa appeared carrying a bag of pressies. Santa this year wasn’t his usual rolly-polly, ho ho ho, self. He had a distinct edge about him and a sort of gruff charm. One or two of us had to watch out and avoid the bell. But Santa’s little helpers did a splendid job, even though Santa had forgotten his glasses and couldn’t read the names on the pressies.

After all that excitement, we were more than ready for the panto. It turned out to be hilarious, especially in the unscripted comedy bits. The ugly sisters lived up to their name and the fairy godmother was someone you wouldn’t want to meet on your way home in the dark…
Oh no you wouldn’t… Oh yes you would.
Buttons was a real star and held it all together while Cinderella was very beautiful. So, Cinders went to the Ball and the residents got their pressies, and we all had a splendid buffet afterwards. If you’re wondering where Santa went… he’s behind you.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The running blogger - how's that for a brand name?

If you have read this blog before, you might notice - I have given it a makeover. Those wonderful Google people supply a whole range of templates that you can use. You can even preview the set up before you use it… so I’ve been experimenting. A good looking blog is attractive but it’s the content that’s important. As a fledgling blogger, I’ve been surveying the blogging scene and have found some very good blogs out there. I’m following four literary blogs, which are packed with useful information. Two of these are in the US - California and New York. It’s interesting to compare the different styles, and as you would expect the Californian blog is rather laid back and cool, but gets 250+ comments for every blog he writes and the New York blog is altogether more ‘in your face and let’s do it, style.’ (All my blog links are on the side bar.) I’d like to link to a few down to earth bloggers who like me are swimming in the sea of unpublished aspirations. I hear that the way to do it is to leave comments on their blogs and they will do the same… worth a try!

Everything has a brand these days, including blogs it would seem. Nicola Morgan suggests this is a good idea and she calls herself a crabbit literary agent who likes chocolate and stilettos. So I should get myself a brand name, which will hang well, when I’m getting all those comments on my blog. Perhaps over the hill runner and aspiring writer would go down well, or painter seeking a subject, or writer seeking a publisher. It’s not as easy as it sounds. If you have any ideas please let me know (nothing too rude!)

I got a reply from Jenny Brown Associates today, which is a lot better than not hearing anything for eight weeks and assuming that they are not interested. It was a very nice email thanking me for sending the story and saying that she enjoyed reading my chapters but the novel isn’t quite the one for her. Jenny is now neatly packed away in my publishers and agents ‘word table’ with the other five or six rejections so far. Stephen King used to keep his on a rusty nail, in the days of letters. Incidentally, most agents and publishers I have come across so far prefer the old-fashioned method – a letter, a synopsis and the first three chapters. There is now an envelope sitting next to me waiting to be posted, with just those ingredients in it.

Harvey wants me to tell you that he had a great time at the weekend. He got to know a lot of people at the Dunbar running club and he thought the fancy dress was very good.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

An Autunm Leaf with Attitude - short version


This season is done, but
I’ll leave in a blaze.
I’ve changed already.
I’m a chameleon of earth colours
fluttering at the tip of my branch.

I was a note in the symphony.
You listened to me rise and fall
with the breeze.
Watched me move,
in the dappled light.

I watch my cousins
sail the burn
to some far away bank.
I smell their bodies
feeding the earth.

When the time is right
I’ll join the fall,
become part of the ensemble.

We will fly on the wind,
cover you like a storm
and feel children play
amazed by our bounty.

Ray Harris © 2009

Saturday, 5 December 2009

To be or not to be... and what will Harvey do?

Getting out and about has proved a bit tricky the last few weeks because I have Harvey to think about. I decided to adopt a policy of taking him with me to as many places as possible and in general, this worked out very well, no doubt largely due to his charming personality. He is a regular feature at the Tyneside Tavern on Wednesday nights after the running club session, but there are places I can’t take him to. Work is one of them, so the decision is should I leave him at home or leave him in the car near where I work, so that I can pop out to give him a quick walk at tea break and a longer one at lunch time? Mostly, I have left him in the car. Last Thursday I left him at home in his usual place with his comfy bed and told him I would be back after work. I didn’t put him in his cage because he has been quite settled at night in that situation. Before I left work that night, Kerry said ‘I hope he’s been a bit naughty, but not too naughty.’ Sure enough he had been a bit naughty. He had ripped up a plastic bag and a bamboo stick… not too bad I thought as I picked them up off the floor, then I noticed the lead to the radio. Harvey had bitten right through it… he’s got teeth that cuts through wire! Luckily, I had switched the plugs off, of I could have had a fried Harvey to come home to.

Going out at night requires another decision about Harvey, which revolves around, should I take him with me or leave him at home or… ask someone to look after him. There have been no end of volunteers since I got him. So, Harvey had his first sleep over last night. He stayed in Innerwick with his pal Skye. That left me free to attend the opening party of the new shiatsu school and practice premises at 35 – 37 Bread Street, Ed. It is a great setting to receive shiatsu and Tamsin Granger, who runs the Shiatsu School is a wonderful practitioner… highly recommended. After that I went to see ‘Me and Orson Wells, starring the remarkable Christian McKay and the wonderful Claire Danes. This is a real quality film about the early career of the great man. It is set in the early 1930’s and shows the action through the eyes of a young man, who becomes an actor. I enjoyed the film immensely, and yes, actors do have ego’s the size of a double decker bus.

Sunday, 29 November 2009


I started writing as a hobby about four years ago. To start with, I wrote a lot of poems. I don’t know if there is a reservoir of them in us all just waiting to be tapped, but in my case once I started it was like a crack in the dam and a whole tidal wave flooded out. These poems were often to do with places I have visited and in particular, places that have inspired me, which have often been in the countryside or beside the sea. There were poems about family and loved ones and some that were just a play on words or a reflection of the things on my mind at the time. It didn’t take long for me to start reading poetry books and I remember Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and Leonard Cohen figuring prominently. I made a great discovery of the poetry library in Edinburgh and I joined Jim Wilson’s poetry evening class at Edinburgh University. There are a lot of people out there writing poetry, and like many skilled people, good poets hone their skills over many years. I think that at the heart of a good poem is a truth that resonates with the reader. It is, to some extent an exercise of discovery for the writer and the audience.

Another discovery was the Tyne and Esk writers group, which I found on the Midlothian web site. I went along to the Dalkeith group and found a mix of people who brought their poems, short stories and novels to read. They are a great group who listen, offer advice, and are prepared to share their own work. Before long, I was impressed with the quality of the short stories people read and so I tried my hand at that genre. As I found with poetry, I had a lot to learn about writing good short stories… I’m still learning. Luckily, there are great resources to help you on your path. I have found some extremely useful writing web sites, including writers circle and authonomy. There are also any number of good books on ‘how to write.’ I rate Stephen King’s ‘On writing’ one of the best I have come across. People write for all sorts of reasons, but at the core of them all is a desire to communicate. If you write stories, you want to entertain and you want people to read what you have written.

I am amazed by the number of people who write. I only come across a small proportion of those who are published but looking at the web sites I use, people from across the world are eager to tell you their stories. In order to be published you have to develop a whole host of new skills and start to put your stories out there. This year I have been doing that. So far, I have had two stories published, ‘Odd Ball’ on the Southpaw journal and ‘Sunset dog beach’ on Pearl Luke’s web site. This week, I sent a letter, a synopsis and the first fifty pages of my novel ‘Mirror Lines’ to Jenny Brown associates. Their blurb states that if they don’t get back to you in eight weeks, forget it. Here’s hoping.

A quirky poem I wrote in April 2005 (Port Patrick is at the west end of the Southern Upland Way}


I’m tired of drinking in the usual way
I think I will drink with my eyes open today
Drinking in beauty on the edge of the lawn
Sipping in seagulls just before dawn
Letting sensations seep into my skin
Soaking it up and letting it in

Over the road is a much darker story
Clogged up pores cry out for mercy
Suffering sights assailing the eye
Thirsting for freshness and wanting to die
Drink till you’re merry; drink till you’re full
The path to Port Patrick was never so dull.

Ray Harris   © 2009

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Harvey Here

I’m so excited I can’t sit still. Got so much to tell you about my new home and the things I’ve been doing . Woof.
I’ve been going on lots of walks and now I am allowed off the lead and I can run around. Just to show how much I like this, I always go back when I am called.  Arrf.
I love the beaches around here, especially the ones with lots of sand that I can run on. A few days ago I went for a run with Ray (he’s the guy who feeds me, so I’m always pleased to see him.) woof woof
He’s not a bad runner, but he doesn’t stop to sniff at the interesting things you find on the beach. Grrr
This morning I went for a run in the park and met Bruno, he’s a Sprocker and he’s a bit bigger than me and a bit loopy. I ended up with paw marks all over my coat, grrr grrr
I’ve made another friend as well, called Sky, we have great fun running around the stubble field, woof woof.
This afternoon I was left in the kitchen and I chewed up a lot of things, I really like the way you can chew up plastic. Ray said that it was lucky the socket unit was switched off when I chewed through the radio wire. He wasn’t pleased with me for that,  arrf, woof, grrr.
I’ve got lots more to tell you but I’m a bit busy just now, I’ve got to go and shake some old socks that are tied together. arrf, arrf.
Ps I’m glad that Ray sewed up my bed after I had chewed it because it’s more comfortable like that woof woof. :. :. :. :.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

My First Tooth

I never expected it to happen, but here I am, one month into blogging. I have posted seventeen times (including this) and I now have a stack of labels as long as your arm. Labels… what? Yes, it’s true, there is a lot of jargon to learn when you try anything new. Labels are those handy little… well, labels that you put on the end of each post (submission to the blog.) But already I’ve got into trouble. The very nice list of labels that appeared somewhere on the blog, which you could hit in order to go to the blog in which it was featured has disappeared. Now, if I want to hit a label, all it does is give me the post I’m already reading. This is a pity because some of the labels are intriguing e.g. blood, horror, celebrities and cafes.
That brings me to my next discovery about the blogging world and me. We want to share our musings. In following this fine and noble cause, I have committed myself to a few things already.
• I’ve promised to start up a review of cafes I visit. There are two reviews on blogs already and I visited another today. So I am going to have to master the dark art of setting up lists on the blog .
• I’ve also promised to put another version of ‘An Autumn Leaf with Attitude’ on the blog and unless someone offers me money not to, that’s what I’m going to do.
• This is the biggie – I am following other people’s blogs. Yes, I have been seduced into the whole blogging world. This is particularly apt because the latest blog I have linked to is ‘.Belle du Jour,’ maybe seduced is the right word.  Confession time – I have nine blogs which I follow and blogger (trade name for the Google blog) kindly manage for me. I’m going to have to control myself.
My proudest moment has been getting my first follower. Zoë gets the gold medal for this. I’ve also had quite a few comments, which always gives me a little buzz.
So, what next? I’ve already got an idea for another list.
• Books, I have read. I hope that the world is ready for this – I am going to share my thoughts on my random book reading exploits.
• The best news yet is that I have a helper. Harvey has been mentioned on the blog quite often and he has agreed to contribute an occasional post. Thanks Harvey.

"Look forward to it - woof."

PS Just found out where the labels list is - in the edit page, which I think is a strange place to put it! (Harvey has the most labels - YES.)

Monday, 23 November 2009


Autumn Leaves Watercolour by Ray Harris

Last Wednesday night I went along to the Tyne and Esk writers group in Dalkeith and read them ‘An Autumn Leaf with Attitude.’ It was the final stage in a project to develop a poem on my blog.
Was it worth doing?
I would say yes, because I enjoyed the whole exercise and I got some useful comments both from my writers' group and from the on-line community ‘Writers Circle.’ I was also very pleased that Zoë joined in and wrote an autumn leaf poem… she has gone on to write another (very good) poem – this time about her experiences and impression of India.
So, what have I learnt?
Some people do not like poems about nature. They get a feeling of irritation and boredom when they come across silky stanzas, which extol the beauty of nature. They have perhaps come across Victorian poets who used rich imagery in their poetry. They think that poems should have an edge and make you think. To the extent that poems shouldn’t be boring I agree entirely. I think that the core of a good poem hits on something real which other people reading it can relate to. I like poems that get the reader to look at a subject from a different point of view. Mandy Haggith in her book ‘castings’ does this really well. Her poem ‘Out in the Open’ describes the coastline where she lives from the point of view of a lover.

this morning she waded in up to her belly button
lobsters biting the backs of her knees
winkles in her knickers
fish having sex in her sex

by noon she was posing reflected in sunshine
only her muddy feet in the water
bladderwrack dress clinging to rocky limbs
underwear a squirm of slaters and stranded
knees crusty with barnacles
and that tell-tale white jelly stain on her skirt

now she’s inching back in, letting it lap up her legs
nudging a hundred heads, a thousand tongues
under her petticoats
letting the tribe of tentacles touch her
slapping as they come into her
splashing as she plunges to meet them

I hope that I will continue to be inspired by nature and I don’t think that will be too difficult because Scotland has such a lot of natural beauty to offer.

The project isn’t quite over. Tyne and Esk’s writer in residence, Brian Whittingham, took a professional look and suggested that I shorten the poem. I liked what he said, so there will be ‘An Autumn Leaf with Attitude2.’ This is the first version which I would like to stand in it’s own right.

An Autumn Leaf with Attitude

I am an Autumn Leaf.
One of many
and like you,
I have a story to tell.
I know a thing or two
about life.

My ancestors - all 123 seasons
left me a message of growth.
Another year unfolds,
I add to the story,
tick a ring on my Oak.

My season is done but
I’ll leave in a blaze.
I’ve changed already.
I’m a chameleon of earth colours,
fluttering at the tip of my branch.

Soon, I will join my cousins,
feeding the earth
or I might ride the burn
to some far away bank.

Until then,
I’m a note in the symphony.
Rising and falling
in the breeze.

Delight your eyes
on my delicate dance.
Watch me move,
vibrant, in the dappled light.

When the time is right
I’ll join the fall
become part of the ensemble
and fly on the wind

We will cover you
like a swirling storm
and children will play,
amazed by our bounty.

© November 2009

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Lennoxlove Book Festival

I’m not impressed with celebritiess per se, but I do appreciate inspiring people. This week-end gave me the chance to attend the first Lennoxlove Book Festival, just outside Haddington and the bonus was that I didn’t have to pay anything! It started on Friday night when my allotted task was ‘Car Park attendant.’ Not what I had been hoping for! It was soon obvious that the book festival would be a success, judging by the number of cars, which filled the car park and most of the field below it. Quite a few people had their best shoes on and found the converted cow field heavy going. So, I didn’t get a whiff of any authors but I did get a lot of fresh air and so did Harvey.
Yesterday was the real business – and I saw four different authors strutting their stuff. My job was to direct people to their seats in the Festival Marquee, this comprised of making sure there were no gaps in the rows of seats so that everyone could fit in. The first two gigs were sell-outs and the next two were three-quarters full.

First off was the well-known children’s author called Michael Morpurgo. I have to admit that I had not heard of him, but the hundreds of children present had. Michael said that the worst thing you can do to children is bore them. He is an ex schoolteacher and he has a way of talking to the audience as if he is a spoilt child. He relates well to the kids talking directly with them and sometimes telling them to sit down. I was very impressed with the questions that the children asked him He entertained us with his latest story for five year olds called ‘The Best of Times.’ This was a magical story about a Prince and Princess which had an ideal at it’s heart. The more Michael talked the more we realised that he wrote about things that meant something to him, including a story from the devastating tsunami and a story about kites and the death of a young boy in Palestine. He also told us the story of why elephants have long trunks.

Next, Simon King, the wildlife cameraman and presenter of ‘Big Cat Diary’ and ‘Autumn Watch’ entertained us with stories about his life. Simon likes living on the edge and he proved this once again by throwing his allotted time open to questions from the audience. He took one step further by doing away with the roving mic. Simon is charming and witty, his stories about Shetland fascinated me, because I was there earlier this year. But when I came home, he went off to the Masai Mara. Simon talked about cheetahs, orcas, crocodiles, foxes, otters and many, many more animals. Strangely, his most dangerous expedition was on a traffic island in Bristol.

Gervase Phinn is a man in a million. We were expecting him to be at the peak of his story telling powers (the festival guide told us so) and we got a funny, clever and thoroughly entertaining hour. Here is a man of deep-seated beliefs about the way we should treat children. ‘They deserve the very best we can give them.’ During his career, he has been a schools inspector and many of his tales showed us the world through the eyes of children. His jokes were side splitting. One of his best was when he and the Lord Mayor of Rotherham asked a small boy why he wasn’t going to the Christmas nativity play.
‘It’s been cancelled,’ was the reply.
‘Why?’ they asked.
‘Virgin Mary’s got nits,’ was the ultimate in one-line answers.

After the festival was over I joined the authors I had recently been enthralled with in the great hall of Lennoxlove where we were treated to a song by Martine McCutcheon. I went off to see how Harvey was getting on, reflecting that I had found some inspiring people who also happened to be celebraties.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Just Back

‘Is it’- I ask myself – ‘a good thing to do lots of different things?’ To find the answer I could look at the sorts of things I have been doing recently. Yesterday, I went to Stirling and attended a networking conference on Telecare – not too bad a thing to do especially as Telecare is quite interesting and I spoke to people from around Scotland, including a woman from Orkney, who brought me up to date with some of the things that happen there. She thinks that the way they are using the ‘oil money’ is much more sensible than the way they use it in Shetland. There may be a bit of Northern Isle rivalry in this. When I got home, I went to the running club and had my first injury free run for six weeks. We did a session in the soft, water soaked park, which was good for my legs…. Good thing.
After that it was the usual trip to the Tyneside free sandwiches and pizza and to introduce Harvey to runners… well he has to learn about life’s odd ball’s some time! Another Good thing
I have spent most of today in various meetings at work. Not a good thing, then I took Harvey around to dad’s old folks home, where he was a hit with all the old ladies and gentlemen… Good thing.
So there are a lot more good things than not good things in the list and I guess that if I went through my daily activities I would have a lot of good things to note down and the bad things would be around activities that I’m not keen on doing, like going to meetings for example. Another example of a bad thing is going to Tesco’s at any time, but particularly on a Saturday lunch time, which I did last Saturday.

Harvey Update: He is doing amazingly well in his new surroundings. He is very sociable and gets on with people and other dogs. He likes a lot of attention. I am teaching him to sit and stay. He has been good at learning these instructions, but I suspect that his concentration will go if there is something interesting happening, such as another dog appearing on the scene. For that reason I haven’t let him off the lead when we are out walking. I’ll hold on for a while longer before I do that. I have let him off when we get out of the car and up to now he has run to the front door or stayed by my side, so that’s a good sign.

p.s. Lia and Harvey get on together… another good thing.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

What’s been happening?

First of all a doggy update; Harvey is coming through with flying colours! Socially, he is charming and competent. He had plenty of opportunities to display his talents yesterday. In the morning he was as a guest of the Tynepark art group and was a big hit. After that he met a couple of friends in Haddington. He isn’t phased at all by any situation he has come across and he has a way with the ladies, something that his owner Paul said he might not be too good at, because he hasn’t met many women before. Today he is going to meet some work colleagues and this afternoon he will meet my granddaughter who is 5 years old. Paul said that Harvey doesn’t have much experience of children, so we will see how he gets on. Up to now, he has wanted to be friends with everyone, let’s hope that continues.

There have been developments with my on-line poem 'An Autumn Leaf with Attitude.' I put it on the poetry section of a writers web site called ‘Writers Circle; and got some useful comments, some of which I have used to revise the poem. I hope to get more constructive criticism at the next writers group in Dalkeith. After that, I will post the final version on the blog. I think I will make that an ‘Autumn Leaves’ day and post a watercolour painting on the same subject, which I am working on at the moment.

CAFÉ - CAFÉ… The second in my occasional series on cafes I visit describes the Tyninghame Smithy country store and café. As the name implies, an old Smithy (Smiddy in Scottish) building is now an ample store of arts and crafts with a more modest space for the café. Tyninghame is a lovely, unspoilt village of stone cottages. It is near the coast and perfect for a visit after some healthy exercise walking on the beach and in the woods. The best time to visit is on a sunny day when you can sit outside in the courtyard. Dog bowls of water are provided (I’m noticing things like that now.) The café inside is a little cramped and the coffee is made in a cafetier there is no Latte or Cappuccino on sale. There was in an interesting variation on the fruit scones with cherry’s used, the verdict from the others about the cakes was – very good. Overall the café is well worth a visit and I would give it **** out of *****.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Doggy’s Tail

Last night Harvey came to stay. His owner Paul brought him to the house and he we chatted for an hour as Harvey and I got to know each other. Harvey is inquisitive, he had a good look all around the house and made friends with me quickly. It was a good start, but how would he take to his new surroundings? The first test was when Paul left, Harvey was a bit upset with a little whimper, and he had a look at the door. But his attention was soon taken with Pat who arrived five minutes later. Harvey was very interested with the cooking going on in the kitchen. He really took to Pat and wanted to be on her knee all the time. He has a winning way about him, and is full of fun and mischief. After the meal, it was time for our first walk. Harvey loved it; he was interested in every little thing we passed and particularly the lampposts. He walks lightly on his feet and is fast. The main test that confronted him last night was being left on his own for the first time in a new house. He usually shares a dog cage at night with several other dogs so it must have been very strange for him to spend a night without them When the lights went out he whimpered for a while and I returned and talked to him. He soon settled and never made another noise all night. What a well-adjusted mutt he is! This morning he was excited and dashed around the place with lots of jumping on laps and licking. We have been for another walk and he is sitting near the fire looking happy. It seems that my life has changed for ever but on the evidence so far it's for the better.

Thursday, 5 November 2009


Sometimes things happen that warm your heart. This week an unexpected and exciting thing happened to me. A friend at work knows how much I love dogs. When her nephew was looking for a new home for his nine-month-old Parsons Russell Terrier, called Harvey, she thought of me. I have seen his photo and he is very cute. He is house trained and lead trained and has an excellent pedigree. His owner, Paul says he has a very good nature and gets on well with other dogs and people. He has grown a bit big for shows so Paul thought he would make someone a good pet. That lucky someone is me.
I immediately responded to him and so did half the people in the office. They are as excited about him as I am. This afternoon, I started a document on the shared drive at work so that we can make a list of the things he will need. After thinking of some of the adjustments I will need to make in my life I phoned Paul and we have arranged for them both to come around next Monday evening. I can’t wait.

I went to the Tyne and Esk writers group last night. It was an unusual meeting because a storyteller called Greg joined us. He told us about story telling and about the creative activities he is helping to develop in Prestonpans. Our new writer in residence Brian Whittingham was also present so we were given a lot of useful advice. There wasn’t time to read my poem, which means I don’t have comments to feed back about it. We will have to wait a couple of weeks for those.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Baby blogger

My status as a baby blogger gives me a chance to ask some basic questions about blogging and I have been pleased to get some responses. People blog because they like writing and I can go with that. They also like having a forum to write about the things they are interested in and inspire them. There is also the philosophical question: why blog? – why do anything? I am intending to write this blog to share ideas about the things I am interested in with people who are also interested in them. It is also a great way to practice writing regularly, which, if you have any pretensions of being a writer is a good idea to do. Writers should also read a lot which makes writing a double whammy, unless of course you enjoy reading, which I do.
I am really pleased that Zoë has responded to my Autumn Leaves poetry project by sending me a poem of her own. Tonight I am going to my Creative Writing group and I will read them my ‘Autumn Leaf with an Attitude’ poem. Constructive criticism is always a good thing. So I hope that's what I get.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

An Autumn Leaf with Attitude

Over the last few blogs I've been developing ideas for a poem on Autumn Leaves. If anyone wants to join me on this project you will be very WELCOME! As promised I have produced the first draft of the poem. I got to it by thinking about all the leaves that fall at this time of year... there are crowds of them. It reminded me of being in a busy shopping centre full of people. So I thought even though it is a mass of leaves, each one is individual and just like people in crowd thinking of themselves as individuals I can take a slant on a single leaf as an individual in amongst the whole scene. So here is the first draft:

An Autumn Leaf with Attitude

I am an Autumn Leaf.
One of many
and just like you,
I have my story to tell.
I know a thing or two
about life.

My ancestors - all 123 seasons
left me a message of growth.
Another year unfolds and
I add to the story as I
watch this Oak grow old.

My season is done but
I will leave in a blaze;.
I’ve changed already.
I’m a chameleon of earth colours,
fluttering at the tip of my branch.

Soon I will join my cousins,
feeding the earth
or I might ride the burn
to some far away bank.

But till then,
I’m a note in the symphony.
Rising and falling
with the wind.

Delight your eyes
with my delicate dance.
Watch me move,
Vibrant, in the dappled light.

I will cover you
like a storm of snow
and children will play,
amazed by my bounty.

© 3 November 2009

Monday, 2 November 2009

Hidden East Lothian

There are some beautiful places to visit in East Lothian. Between the 47+ miles of coastline and the Lammermuir hills is a rich assortment of coast and countryside. I have lived here for 31 years and during that time, I have been out and about visiting all the well known beauty spots and to a large number of the not so well known places which often turn out to be wee gems. It’s great to find new places off the beaten track
Earlier this year I joined the Dunbar runners on their club nights. We ran to some spectacular places that were new to me and it was a delight to get to know them.
I made a great discovery on Saturday when I went to Gifford woods to undertake my Autumn Leaves field trip. The beautiful day and warm sunshine made me feel intrepid and I followed a track, which wasn’t marked as the public path, and I am glad that I did. The first thing I came across was a piece of artwork made out of slate, which comprises of three pyramids with red ornaments on the top. A cockerel strutted around them as if he owned them with several hers in attendance.

A little further on I got off my bike again to inspect an impressive Portico which had been removed from it’s original home and rebuilt at the side of a field, next to the wood – not what I was expecting at all.

Less than a mile further on, I stopped in my tracks and laughed aloud at the picture frame that hung between two trees. It was about five feet by three feet and the hills and trees in the background were the ‘picture.’ Gifford woods are a delightful place to walk or cycle and the artwork was the cream on the top.

Today I have been thinking about the ‘Autumn Leaves’ poem. Tomorrow I will put first draft on the blog.

Sunday, 1 November 2009


(Autumn Leaves in Gifford Woods)

Although I am new to the blogging malarkey or maybe because I am new, I have been thinking about using it to best advantage. If someone told me that anyone in the world who wants to drop into my blogspot could read my musings, I might feel overwhelmed. That is until someone else told me that I am only likely to be read by one or two people and that the chances of being propelled to international fame are as likely as me winning the lottery or getting my book published (both of which are on stand-by at the moment.)

This means that I have an unexpected freedom to use this amazing set up in the best way I can think of. If it is true that one person will read this blog and that person is you, I am delighted to say that I have an idea which might be of interest.

Here’s the deal - I like poetry and I like writing poetry about things that inspire me. If you like writing poetry too, why not use the next few blogs to put together a poem about autumn leaves. This does assume that you are in the Northern hemisphere and that it is autumn where you are, but if you are in Australia or any other country in the Southern hemisphere just enjoy the sun and imagine it’s autumn.
‘But..’ you might ask, ‘how will I write a poem on autumn leaves?
I have a plan.
The first thing to do is to make a few notes about autumn leaves. Here is one I did earlier – during a particularly boring meeting at work.
• Colours – yellow, red, brown and green.
• Leaf fall – wind.
• Mulch
• Spots on leaves
If you think that this is a bit sparse you are right, it was after all an uninspiring meeting. Luckily, I remembered something that a very good poet called Mandy Haggith told me when I was in Lochinver
‘Go out and note down your observations and thoughts,’ she said.
Yesterday, with this in mind, I got on my bike and had a cycle in woods around Gifford. It was a glorious autumn day and the sun shone on the trees and piles of leaves giving me just the right amount of inspiration. I jumped off my bike and looked around and then made another list.
• Colours – green, yellow, brown, sienna, rust, black spots, grey, light brown, teak and all at once on the same leaf. Earth colours everywhere.
• Texture – dry and rustley, damp and glistening, parchment.
• Litter and clutter.
• Storms of leaves like snow.
• A symphony of sizes and shapes
• Wind rustling leaves in the branches and clusters on the ground.
• Breezes touching leaves – rippling.
• Sunlight glancing onto leaves.
• A mixture of visual delights.
• A feast for the eyes – delicate and vibrant
• Waving leaves on branches. Fluttering
• Pure dappled light

Wow – Mandy was right about getting out and about. But it’s a lot of material for a poem, and it doesn’t all have to be used.
Something occurred to me during my trip and that was:
‘Should the poem be a description of autumn leaves and the emotions they elicit in me, or could I write it from a different angle?'
• From the point of view of a big Oak leaf falling from the Oak tree,landing in a burn and travelling to… who knows where.
• Leaves with frost coats, or wet with rain or dancing in the wind.
• At last dropping from the branch, making compost for tomorrow.
• There will be many other possibilities.

If you would like to write your own poem, we can turn these thoughts, and many others into a poem. If you like, we can offer each other comments and constructive ideas and by the end of the week, we will have a finished product ready for an unsuspecting world.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Writing, Running and Blogging

That's me in the red and white halves
at the Trapprain Law race earlier this

I am a member of one or two (maybe three) on-line writing communities, and My Writers Circle are my two favourite writers’ sites at present. I am also a member of a running club and a triathlon club. I often visit sports club’s web sites. A lot of people write on or to these sites. In fact one of the running sites has a regular blogger on it (Mr Stuart Hay) who participated in my social research earlier this week.

As an infant blogger, I have started to look at the sites with new eyes and see if I can discover why people do what they do. I am seeking any insight offered into why people bother to write when they don’t have to and why people go out in the wind and rain in Scotland to run around mean streets and desolate landscapes. I am of course one of them and could ask myself the same question, but I want to get a sensible answer so I am again taking the scientific approach. [I have often wondered why people run and the best I can come up with is that ‘life is far too soft and we need to suffer some of the time.’ When I have offered this explanation to other runners, they have usually told me to sod off]

But why do writers write, particularly if they are not getting paid for it and if they don’t know if anyone will ever read their wee pearls? It’s a bit like me sitting at this computer and writing this piece, not knowing if anyone will ever read it. So whom am I addressing? Is it cyber space? Now that is a scary thought. might offer an explanation. This site offers authors the very remote chance of getting their book published. To arrive at this hallowed place, you must first put the chapters of your book on the site. Then you give comments about other author’s books and receive comments back from them. You can put a book on your shelf, which is a bit like voting for it. Other people can put your book on their shelf, if they like your story. At the end of each month Harper- Collins promise to read the top five books with the most votes that month. They write a crit of the story and very occasionally, they offer the author a publishing deal. Now this is a great idea for dealing with the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts that arrive at publisher letterboxes each week. Something that isn’t obvious when you join up is that although the people who get to the top of the pile, undoubtedly have good stories they are also expert social net-workers who must spend twenty-three and a half hours a day on-line and the half hour they sleep they dream about publishing their book. The comments given and received on this site can be excellent and I have gained a lot from some of the good advice I have been given. So, this is a very good site because it offers you a way of achieving your dream, (the holy grail of publication) and you get a lot of support from like minded people who energetically pursue their hobby, calling, craft … without having to explain to anyone why they are doing it.

Runners’ web sites are pragmatic. They tell you who ran and how far, in what time and when you can do it all over again. There are many expressions of support and congratulations. So once again members of running or triathlon web sites share a sense of identity with other people who do the same thing without asking themselves why they do it.

Maybe people who support writing or running web sites don’t ask searching questions like why are you writing or running when you could be watching the telly or down the pub because that very question might kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. They might decide it’s not worth doing it any more

The question that a baby blogger barely out of his nappies has to ask is why do people and in case me, why do we blog?

This is the deliberatley home made looking cover of my book as it appears in

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Two Kinds of Horror

To further my apprenticeship as a fledgling blogger I thought it would be a good idea to expose myself to genres that I don’t usually follow. With this in mind, I came across a film, which stirred my curiosity. The blurb described ‘Thirst’ as everything you'd expect from from Korean director Park Chan- wook – violent, surreal, different – and full of moments of genius that breathe new life into the genre.
Friends had told me that the vampire genre is all the rage and as the last vampire film I saw was back in the ‘70’s and starred Christopher Lee, I thought I could do with a bit of a horror update.
Newsflash – vampire stories still contain gallons of false blood and deranged non-humans who just want their daily pinta and a place out of the sun. The film started off well and portrayed a priest who wanted to do good, but who ended up as blood sucking sex fiend with a conscience. I have to admit that the second half of the film made me quite squemish and I thought of leaving - something that I have never done in a film. But looking back on on all the blood and gore, I have to give it credit for being well done. The female lead is a fine actor, changing from a down trodden ‘dog of the family’ to super charged and evil vampire with a strong desire to drink blood. One thing that I noticed was that they don’t use vampire fangs anymore, people were dispatched with some very sharp sissors.
So, the lesson learned from this experience is that, I wont be writing any vampire stories in the near future. But now that Haloween is just around the corner, maybe I should dust down my very own (non vampire) horror story. Set in Haddington and called ‘Bridge over the Panny.’

Last night, a different type of horror was descirbed by Avi Shlaim, who discussed his new book Isreal and Palestine, at the Independent and Radical Book Fair, hosted by Word Power books, in the Drill Hall, Leith. Avi is an Oxford don, who was once conscripted into Isreal’s army. He described himself as a revisionist historian who believes in a two state solution to the conflict based on the boundaries which existed before the war 1967. His view's are forthright and he speaks with humour and honesty. Avi quoted another revisionist historian to describe the essence of the conflict, 'The Jews are the victims of the Holocost and the Palistinians are the victims of the Jews.’
Avi talked about the complex history and events of the area for an hour and then responded to three rounds of questions from the audience. Not bad for a 63 year old man suffering from a nasty cold.
He has written several books about the Arab – Isreali conflict, which are all available at the book fair.

Monday, 26 October 2009

A newbie on the block

I’m a newbie, virgin, just off the boat beginner at the blogging malarkey. The blurb says it's just about writing down your thoughts and sharing them with people… aye right!
If anyone is going to read my blog then it will have to offer them something. I’ve already hinted that I’m a bit of a butterfly, landing on the flower that seems to be the most interesting at the time. Is that a good thing for a blogger to be? In fact, what is a good blogger? In the best traditions of social research, I decided to do some fieldwork and find out what makes a blogger.
First of all the fieldwork. I looked at the styles of well know local and international bloggers. This wasn’t as difficult as it sounded. I had four bloggers who I occasionally read and they acted as my random sample.
First the international blogger Natham Bransford. This guy is a literary agent for a high flying publisher and a highly recommended and prestigious blogger. He lives on the West Coast of the US and writes about all things to do with writing and getting published. Having read some of his posts I noticed two things - he is well received and gets lots of comments – okay three things – he writes very well (annoying ), four things – he writes like a West Coast American, with lots of references such as ‘Let’s shoot for the high country,’ or ’ I'm a Times New Roman guy, so I'd shoot for 3-4 pages double spaced TNR.‘ Having read this I must be on the track of something.
Next comes a well known runner (in East Lothian he is) and jazz enthusiast Stuart Hay. Now I can really relate to this guys wit and in depth knowledge of the said running and jazz, both things I like, but maybe not as much as Stuart. Applying the test of noticing things about his blogs… well yes he does sound a lot like a Scottish runner who likes jazz and has a lot to say about running and jazz. So that can’t be a bad thing can it?
Now I come on to Nicola Morgan, who describes herself as a ‘crabbit old bat’ who helps people who need a publisher. Reading her posts, I notice that she tells her readers that getting published is an incredibly difficult business, rent with heart ache and disillusion and the only thing to do is ‘ never, ever give up writing.’ She also mentions chocolate quite a lot. Now this woman is very successful, she has published loads of books and when I met her she was the chair of the Scottish authors society. Does she live up to her title?… well she likes to think so.
My final piece of research takes in my good friend Christine Howson. Now Christine is a mother, a very good swimmer and she likes triathlons. So we have a lot in common, apart from the mother bit and of course I’m not a very good swimmer, anyway, what she writes about is her family and various aspects of family life and events that happen to her, such as swimming and entering triathlons. I must say that she sounds like a mother a very good swimmer and of course, a marine biologist… that is obvious from the photos on her blog.
So what has my research shown? Well all four bloggers are good writers and they write like the people they are, and about the things that are important to them.
And what have I learned?
1. A blogger is a person who likes writing and posting things on a blog site.
2. It’s important to be a good writer.
3. It’s a good idea to write about things you are interested in with a style which is instantly recognisable as your own and not somebody who lives in San Francisco.
4. It helps if the things that interest you, also interest other people who can comment on what you have written.
5. Reading other people’s blogs is good idea.

Now that I have carried out this research I feel ready to move on to the next stage in my blogging career and find out how to become a good writer. Work out which of the many things I am interested in, I should write about. After that I can write a little tag line describing my blog and what it is about… brilliant.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

An Autumn Sunday

Just like any other day, Sunday's can be sunny, wet, windy cold and mild or many combinations and sometimes they include rainbows for good measure.
Last Sunday wasn't bad so having spied an attractive looking gallery with coffee shop attached, in the Art magazine, Pat and I decided to cross the Forth and head to West Fife. We took the turning off to Rosyth and headed along the Fife coastal route looking for Culross. Luckily, it's not hard to find and we didn't need to get the map out. No, we don't own a gps (and I don't own a TV and yes I know it's strange.)
I hadn't heard of Culross before so I wasn't prepared for what I found. But more of that later! The first thing we spotted was the RED LION pub. Now that was an coincidence because only the night before a guest had told us that he had just watched an interesting programme in which every RED LION pub in the UK was visited and it resulted in interesting TV. The plot seemed a bit thin to me but when I saw the pub I was immediately curious about whether or not it had a visit from the camera crew and had they met interesting local characters? Little did I think that this might be an omen of what was to come.
The first thing we did was to walk along the coastal path and look over to the Central Belt. What a sight Grangemouth is. I have seen bits of it from the M9 and even ran a 10k through it once but I hadn't appreciated the extent of the oil refinery. It's huge and makes a stark contrast with the Forth and the surrounding hills. We walked on avoiding a few wobbly Sunday morning cyclists and discovered some leafy woods and a track which lead to the gates of Longannet power station in Fife which appears at number 17 on a list of the least efficient and the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide in Europe. Neither of us knew it was there but we should have guessed when we saw the huge chimney on the horizon.
By the time we got back to Culross we needed a coffee but before we found the famous gallery and coffee shop we went into a National Trust building and began to suspect there was more to Culross than met the eye.
Biscuit Cafe at Culross Pottery and Gallery were worth the wait. The gallery both upstairs and downstairs is packed with attractive pottery and original pieces and colourful, tempting paintings. If I am able to start a cafe rating scale on this blog, then the Biscuit cafe will be challenging the leaders. Everything has been thought though to give a pleasant experience as you sit and sip an excellent latte and droole over wonderful home made fruit scones. Of course you might want to try your own selection. I loved the way they had used a limited amount of space to conjure up a great atmosphere with big windows and plenty of foilage to keep your interest. The staff were really pleasant too. Pat, who is an expert on cafes all over the Lothians and Fife was impressed, so we will go for **** and a half gold stars out of five.
Re-energised, we explored the rest of Culross and what we found was a wonderful village with narrow lanes and pebble, cobbled roads. The houses are sixteenth and seventeenth century and are very attractive. Culross Abbey is at the top of a steep road and looks like it could be from the Borders. It is very interesting to walk around, as is the Church which was once part of the Abbey. You get a real sense of history as you go in and see the names of people who donated Merks (Scottish silver coins worth 13s 4d) to the local populaton in the middle eighteenth century. We were really surprised to find a corner of the church had been given over to contemplation with Tibetan prayer flags swaying above the scene. On the way down the road we came across a garden open day. We walked through the wooden gates and were immediately aware of the delightful smell of the flowers. The garden is wonderfully laid out and has grand views down to the Forth. The man who had built it up for the last twenty years told us he doesn't go in for garden competitons, he had enough of those over the last twenty-six years when he was a PE teacher. He has managed to get an incredible number of flowering plants to grow in late October.
So, the RED LION was a good omen and what we found in Culross was an attractve and interesting place to visit and have a coffee on an Autumn Sunday

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Mother India

Spoke to my daughter Zoe earlier today. She has been travelling around India for the last 3 and a half months. Zoe has just returned to Varanasi in Utter Pradesh from Pokhara in Nepal where I visited in 2001. It's nice to know that she has seen the holy mountain of Macchapuchare reflecting in the lake. When I was speaking to Zoe I could hear the back ground noise from the crazy scenes you get in the cities in India, it's not a bit like here and it is good to be reminded about the different beliefs, lifestyle and culture of that country. Zoe will be travelling through Orrisa and Andra Pradesh where I was cycling earlier this year. When I got back I wrote a poem about my experiences with our group of cyclists. An unforgettable experience.

Some of our party knew India.
Had cycled it's roads.
They knew her intensity.
People crushing together in cities.
Traffic playing a distraught symphony
with their horns and performing a graceful dance.
Lorry and tut tut swaying by each other,
slowing occassionally to let a cow walk through.

Some noticed the vibrant colours of saris
worn by women shifting rubble - baskets on their heads.
My friends had been warmed by children smiling, waving,
shouting hello - goodby.
They had cycled through villages of happy people.

Our party knew the sun as they cycled by paddy fields.
They understood the lengths our crew went,
to prepare our meals and look after us.
They were familiar with the horns of the
buses, lorries, cars and tut tuts,
each horn sending a warning as they passed by.

These people were meeting old friends at the
Leper Hospital and the Health clinic.
They knew LEPRA and it's work.

But I didn't know any of this -
I had 350 miles to ride
before I found out.


Thursday, 22 October 2009

Getting started


I'm Ray, welcome to my blog. It will be great to share some ideas with like minded bloggers. The tltle of my blog might change to reflect where I am heading at a particular time. This is because I like writing, painting, running, cycling and swimming. So depending on whether I'm injured, inspired or knackered the content of the blog might change to reflect that. Right now I'm injured so I'm not running but I am swimming and the desire to write is quite strong. As time goes on I might put some stories and poetry on here and if I can work out how - a painting or two. I'm learing to paint in water colour and it's a great thing to do. Oh the other thing I like is good music, particularly jazz. I'm listening to Smashing Pumpkins right now - not exactly jazz but very good. Did I mention I like reading.. well there you go. Swapping impressions on books would also be a great idea.

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to cycle in India. That's me (on the bike) just finishing the ride, which was in aid of LEPRA.