Category Archives: True Tales From The Hebrides

Truer than something blue.

I Am Legend, Hear Me Sing

Most people want to be legends in their own areas of special interest. Or lunchtimes – whichever has the most glory. Lunchtimes can be pretty damned glorious if you’re a top lunchmaker. Awards ceremonies and that.

It’s true. No matter how they may protest that “No no no, I’m very comfortable devoting long hours to my cross-stitch with not a shred of recognition, thank-you very much, even though I know by rights I should have won the state fair last year for my witty rendering: “Jesus On the Cross-Stitch“; Or how they cry “Ha! Not for ME the thrill of international acclaim for my radical new potting-shed organisational model – you can KEEP your glossy magazine features and jolly well tell these adoring Women’s Guild masses to stay right away with their flung panties and all“; No matter what they say, there is a small part of every person who cares about anything at all that would like to be noticed for something positive every now and again. Not always, but just when the subject comes up. Like:

Well in the field of lawn-bowling, Roger, no-one has ever out-bowled the legendary Travis Tee. His blasting kisser on the respotted rink-head at the 1967 Tokyo world championships has never been equalled, has it Sheila?” And all the women in the bowling world will want Travis, and all the men will want to be him.

*

Well, it may come as a matter of some surprise to you to know that I am actually a legend. Yes, it’s true! In a very hush, hush sort of way, of course. In fact not many people know about my being a legend at all, but I choose not to hold their ignorance against them. That’s one of the things I’m legendary for.

I’m not legendary every day; it’s a part-time thing – Tuesdays and Thursdays mostly, which works out well with the girls’ schedule – but, if you are interested at all in the legendary lifestyle, here is how I go about a typically legendary day:

They say that on pale blue morns, I rise at dawn to the music of a silvery gong played by an unseen gong-player, and, as I open the curtains, all of Nature gasps at my beauty even – get this – even if I have partied-out panda eyes. For I am that freaking lovely, so they say.

Some claim I breakfast on milk-thistle omelettes and tincture of wisdom but the truth is milk-thistle makes me feel bloated and I think a good source of fibre, such as Post’s Shredded-Wheat Bite-sized, is more important first thing in the morning. Scours you out.

The next few hours of my day are shrouded in mist and mystery. All that is known is that they utterly transform me and afterwards I emerge like a Fury onto the streets to stalk and wail and frighten young and old alike.

Shall I tell you what I’m doing in these lost hours? I am getting stuck Polly Pocket’s Stable Fun accessories out of the hoover and reading news, pigeoned me from afar. (Nowadays, this means going on the internet but it wasn’t always so and I am of course, like all legends, a very great age indeed, so great that no man may tell of my age at all, without getting a good slapping for it).

These polly Pocket accessories have I been getting out of the hoover every Tuesday and Thursday for thousands of years, and it’s not bloody easy while you’re shrouded in flipping mist, I can tell you. My knuckles have been scabbed over so many times they look like ten raw baboons bums on my otherwise legendary sylphy-soft hands. This enrages me, but what enrages me more is the news and, if you can show me anything more likely than the daily news to turn a mild, minds-her-own-business-legend into a screaming roiling banshee of ferocious, earth-rupturing rage, then you must suffer from a minor sneezonal allergy for which there is, as yet, outrageously (!!!), no pharmacological relief and not even any serious bloody research into electioneering-intolerance being done…

(…And breathe… gasp through it deeply… thaaat’s it -wheeze it all out now…There we are… )

Around about lunchtime, they say, I gallop through the town on a proud, snorting pony, dressed in a lady-form suit of armour with my flaxen tresses streaming out behind me a la righteous pennants and Godly streamers and a terrible, terrible smile like a knife slash, crimson across my ashen – but still very beautiful – face. This is all true, except I’ve taken to wearing a headscarf of pattern paisley because untangling flaxen tresses for hours after an outing dothn’t become a legend much, and I’m not a rich enough to have a wood-nymph to do it for me. Legends feel the credit crunch too.

As I gallop and gallop about, the fearful people ask “Why? Why does she gallop and gallop about?” They have to – it’s in the contract for all bit-players in legends to act like morons – all very union, of course.

Anyway, I gallop and gallop, up hill and down, sparks flying from Bobbysock’s hooves and sweat flecking her withers. And I urge – oh how I urge! – the people to wake from their waking dream! Which puzzles us all as to how exactly waking from a waking dream is to be achieved. Legend has it that Bobbysocks turns and whickers “Eh?” to me right then.

Anyway, I’m still galloping, right. Scattering pamphlets about worker’s rights and registering to vote. And bit by bit, my armour comes flying off, killing unlucky cats and pigeons metally, all around me. And underneath my armour my skin is covered with tattoos of prophecies in a strange, foreign tongue known only to a very few as Pointish.

They say then that, as I streak towards the crossroads, I scream and wail such ghastly noises as would curdle the contents of both the sperm and blood-banks in the next county over’s hospital. It’s the most wounding part of my legend for this is in fact my singing voice.

At the crossroads, there gathered are villagers – some warty, some hunchbacked, some just waiting for the bus. Some villagers don’t believe in me; most do, because I bite the noses off the ones that don’t, snarling with bloody fury, as I toss my head in rage, sending noses and snot arcing through the air to catch the sun and make tragic rainbows in their dying, mucousy swan-songs.

It is said that, once the screaming is over and the noses found and put on ice for possible surgical reattachment, that I grow sad then and dismount my steed. I wander here and there softly singing snatches of songs about wildflowers and about how it’s “Hot In The City Tonight.” I might ask people solicitously about their pets or their grannies in a distracted sing-song way before seizing them by the shoulders and shaking them unhingedly until they promise me they won’t vote for John McCain. For, I vow, if they do – and if they do, I’ll know it – I shall return and flambe their babies.

Some of the old ones say that I am this way because someone tried to eat me as a baby and the memory of it still gnaws at my soul and a bit by my knee. Some say I can never be stopped, that noone should even try if they want to keep their noses. But the truth is, I just get really pissed off when I read the news some mornings.

Oh you might want to try waving amulets or garlic at me – there are some ridiculous theories out there – but only by surrounding yourself in a mound of marzipan and oregano will you ever hope to avoid my wrath when I have an ire-on in the fires of world news.

And so,the legend goes, I am doomed to repeat this embarrassing performance until the day the Isle of Lewis sinks into the sea, the sky turns blood red and I am reunited with my lost love.

But in the meantime, when it’s all done, when I have made my point and strewn my righteous pamphlets, I go home and have a legendary cup of tea.

Live History With PCB!

Come with me back in time, loyal readers! Come all you adoring millions and fly. Fly with me o’er hill and glen and Perth services and some other hills, yea, e’en unto the sea that was known in the time of Our Lord as the Minch. There will be a toilet break in Skye.

Back in time we go…back…back…

*Noo nee noo nee noo nee noo nee swirly twirly noo. STOP!*

The year is 2007 and a startling discovery is about to be made in a cave by the shores of Loch Erisort on the island of Lewis in Scotland. A peasant of the land is out walking with his ipod and a quantity of fungi when some unAtlee-an weather sets in. Taking shelter in the cave ‘neath Mac Hammadi’s cleft, known to the locals as Big Bum Boulder, our young mycology enthusiast unwraps his fungi, gobbles a few and settles in for the duration of the storm.

Very soon – can you see? No pushing at the back- he begins to experience feelings of bliss and relaxation, all too quickly followed by feelings of clammy fear and moist anxiety. As paranoia creeps in through his head-holes, you might want to look away as he punches a giant spider to death. He does this because he has observed it nobly trying and trying again each time it fails and refails to spin a proper web on the wet rocks. This giant spider is mocking the boy, he knows it, and who are we to interfere? It scoffs at him to the insufferable tune of “I’m A Little Teapot (Nashville remix)” for giving up too easily in life; for not finishing his exams; and forgetting again to post his CV to the fish farm people; for always throwing in the towel at the first hurdle; for mixing hs metaphors, and perhaps worst of all, for proving his pa right.

But don’t be too angry with him, fellow lookers. He does not see that the spider is smaller than his thumbnail, nor that he looks like a doofus. He is in thrall to much higher forces than himself. He feels only The Old Rage Of The Rubbish ‘Shroom.

Now watch, time-pilgrims, watch carefully as, cradling his minced fist, the boy stumbles further back into the cave where it’s dry. See him lie down with every intention of being sad until the long, bad journey is over…

…But now… unexpectedly (“!”), the wonder sets in. See him rise and look around him as if he were a full-bladdered puppy in a fire-hydrant factory. Everything appears to him to be way cool, coolest ever. Wow! At about the same time the wonder hits his brain, his saucer-pupilled eyes alight on a series of primitive earthen jars. Oh, man! These are the best primitive earthen jars EVER! He goes to the awesomest one and pees in it. And then the next one. Drained, he tips a third jar upside down because he’s in the mood for that. From it falls a scroll, an ancient codex of some sort. Like, whoa! What ancient codexy shit is this?

The light is dim back in here but please refrain from flash photography, ladies and gentlemen. Even when I tell you that you are witnessing history – the uncovering of a secret 2000 years old. For what this glaikit-fizzogged youth has found is none other than the Lost Gospels of Mac Hammadi, soon to become known as The Big Bum Gospels then hastily renamed the Gospels O’ The Cleft then The Crevice Gospels and finally, after an emergency naming meeting, they were dubbed the Cnocstic Gospels on account of being found under a Gaelic hill.

These texts include The Apocryphon of Iain, The First Apocalypse of Seamus, The Second Apocalypse of Seamus, The Gospel of Mairi-Agnus and the Coptic Cnoctic Gospel of Donnie-Alec. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, some of the precious documents, having being brought back by the heretofore unknown Lewis disciples; then guarded for centuries by those fearsome warrior ministers, the Knights Teuchter; and having survived, seemingly impossibly, the dumb, insolent snufflings of sheep and otter for these 2000 years – after all that – succumbed to the acid in the pee of our young fungus-eater.

Now lets all fly back to our homes and computers and I’ll tell you how the story ends.

*Noo nee noo nee and what have you*

Shroom-boy gets flown to London and interviewed by the BBC where he meets a wealthy “cougar” named Bridget who falls in love with his broad shoulders and his disinclination to converse much between vigourous coitus. He, with time, accepts her shameful second navel and they marry, move to the country and he never, ever invites his father to his posh house to watch the football on the massive High-Definition telly.

The mysteries of the Cnocstic Gospels are still being unraveled. There’s a lot of new stuff on Jesus, his likes and dislikes – couldn’t stand the sight of loaves or fishes, apparently, so that whole parable was personally very trying for him as they just kept multiplying all around him like that. Nightmare. And, although this is just hearsay, there are some quite juicy bits about the shepherds watching their flocks by night – all very shoosh-shoosh but known in scholarly circles as The Brokeback Fragments.

Luckily for us, one hot summer in the 90s, I had a torridish affair with the man who is now the chief curator of the Gospels, in the History Of Butterflies back-room of the British Library. Back then he was just in charge of the Insect Illustration (17th-19th century) section but he got promoted and we’ve remained close. I am therefore deliciously privy to some exclusive information on the Cnocstic Gosels, and have a report coming to you, gorgeous readers, on the most complete of the surviving codices, The Gospel of Peadair and The Twelve.

Bye.

The Gloomsome Tale Of Jed, Goat Of The Night

Jed wasn’t like the other goats. For a start he was called Jed when all the other goats were called things like Buttercup and The One With The Gamey Udder. He’d picked Jed because it sounded at once craggy and charismatic and life-worn and urbane,and he insisted everybody call him that.

Jed liked life on the edge, by the fence. He liked to mooch. He liked to sulk. He liked to draw deeply on his cigarette and read the Beats. He liked to sleep all day and go out at night wearing an old leather jacket that had blown by one day. He was a nocturnal goat who lived by his nerves on the mean streets and this was so against the order of things that it upset the others greatly. They pleaded with him to stay home, begging him not to stop his wild ways.

His mother would say, “Son , I know you want to be our own goat, I know how hard it’s been for you since your dad was eaten. I understand, darling, really I do, but the streets at night are no place for a goat. There are people in that world who would goulash you soon as look at you. Oh please Snowy, I mean Jed, I couldn’t bear it if I lost you too!”

His “uncle” said “Can’t you see what you’re doing to your mother, you ungrateful little craphead. What the hell do want to feel the pulse of the living city for anyway? Why don’t you shape up and join the hoofball team, you
little gayer?”

His grandma said “It’s all very well being hungry for real life, living by your wits, feeling the thrill of the neon-lit streets and …(she had to pause for breath here as she was a very old goat)… never knowing if death will come tonight, but it’s not the goatly way, Snowy. Oh stop it, you’ll always be Snowy to me. However much you want it to be otherwise, we’re not made, evolutionarily speaking, for a nocturnal existence. Look at the shadows under your eyes! What you need is a good skipping-rope ‘n’ tyre casserole and a good night’s sleep. That’ll put the roses back into those pale cheeks!”

“You’re heading for a fall, douchebag,” Jed’s big brother would gently counsel. “Poncing around in a leather jacket, who do you think you are?”

His best friend, Biff, said “It’s madness, Jed. Why you wanna play with your life like that? You gotta take it easy, man. Look, me and some of the guys are starting a band with the fence wires using our horns as plectrums. Whaddaya say?”

All these people would say all these things. But Jed knew that being a nocturnal goat made him special and sexy. He knew the kids said “Look, there goes Jed that cool nocturnal guy. He knew all the girl goats were secretly in love with him. Sorry, ladies, he thought with a wry grin, not tonight. I’m off to prowl the city’s underbelly and see things so unspeakable that they will haunt my eyes and cause me to brood moodily, making you want me even more.

Oh he had loved a few of them back, usually at the back of the gorse-bush but, afterwards, looking deep into their limpid eyes, he would tell them monogoaty wasn’t for him, his twisted heart was incapable of love after the life he’d lived on the streets. He’d read while chewing on an old Maxim one day that a touch of the bastard about him would only make him more of an enigma.

But more than that, the streets made him feel alive, like standing in the field just never had. He hungered for their danger them when he was away from them too long.

One night, Jed slid out as usual under the hidden bit of fence behind the bushes where the wire was loose. Something felt different tonight but he couldn’t put his hoof on it. His normal slouch into town seemed more fraught with peril than usual. The night seemed blacker somehow. A couple of times he was nearly run over by speeding cars and once he rounded a corner to see a group of youths with knives pin a boy to the wall, a blade treacherously close to his wildly rolling eyes. Jed didn’t stop, not even when he heard the boy scream from two blocks behind him. This was the way of the street, though Jed, it was hard, but it was just the way it was. This was the real world and the weak got eaten up by the sharks. The law of the jungle. (Nocturnal goats never worry about mixing metaphors. That’s just not cool.)

Reaching downtown, the police sirens seemed to wail by more often than normal, tonight. Jed stopped for a bite to eat at the bins behind Antonio’s Trattoria, but half way through his spaghettini meal he’d looked down into the dark bin just as the lights of a passing car lit up its contents and had seen a decapitated cat’s head screaming silently up at him. Shaken, he had run out of the alleyway and back onto Main and, turning up his collar, he decided to go down to the docks to see if the salty banter of the night longshoremen could help take the edge off. There was usually some bourbon to be had down there too.

But the docks were silent that night. Just a NO TRESPASSING sign swinging gently from the chain. The squeak of the sign stayed with him as he wandered aimlessly about the city that night. Was he losing his nerve? What was wrong with him? Why was there a cold sweat across his muzzle?

Nah, just an off day, that’s all, he reassured himself. Probably coming down with something. He wasn’t losing his nerve. He was a nocturnal goat dammit, cooler than them all, a witness to dark secrets and he’d done some sinning himself, oh yes. Those nights when the whiskey clouded his vision and he woke up in the park with the bloodied collar of some beloved little lapdog in his teeth, not knowing how or why or whence… There were some troubled corners in his own heart too. He had become a shadowy creature of the dark streets alright, it was in his blood now, but even shadowy creatures of the dark streets got colds. It was time to call it a night.

Day was breaking as he crested the hill behind the field. The sweat on his muzzle was beginning to chill him a little and he was anxious to get back to the familiar corner where he knew his mother would be sleeping, snoring slightly. He would close her mouth and kiss her forehead like he often did, and then maybe he could sleep off this feeling.

As he looked down on the field though, something looked wrong. The goats weren’t huddled as they usually were. They were strewn about the field. Some of their necks were at odd angles…

Jed tore down the hill. Oh God no, please don’t let it be so. Please God, I’ll stay home from now on, I promise, just let me be wrong!

Noooooooooo!

As he scrambled under the fence, tearing his leather jacket horribly, hot tears blinded his eyes. He ran to the centre of the field and spun around looking at the carnage all around him. He found his mother by the bloodied water-trough, her throat ripped open and her unseeing eyes wide as though puzzled about something.

They’d heard warnings of course: a wolf pack in the area, but the fence was good and so everyone had felt pretty safe. The fence. The fence.

He ran back to his own exit. It was too small for a wolf, wasn’t it? He at half their size could barely make it through, the posts were that firmly in place.

His ears filled with the roar of his blood as he looked at the fence and saw what he had missed in his panic before: dozens of stratchmarks and pawprints, a scrabbled out trench that must have taken even the biggest wolves a long time to clear in that stony ground. But he had given them their opening. With his foolish whims he had imperiled every goat he had ever known or loved and now they lay slain, the blood of his family soaking into the ground they knew so well.

“It should have been me!” he cried out. It should have been me..!”

He fell to the ground choking with sobs and there he lay weeping until the Humane society came and took him to a goat rescue facility in another town. His name was changed to Twinkle and he ended his days as an educational animal, going round schools and county fairs with his large-hearted handler, Marge.

The children often asked “Why does the goat seem so sad, Miss Marge?” or “Oh, Miss, Ma-arge, why does Twinkle keep screaming and running at speed as if trying to impale himself on the fence-post?” And Marge never knew why but would often sit long into the evening stroking the damp brow of the dreaming goat, frowning as his hooves struck out against unknowable horrors.

THE END

Little Neddy And The Trail Of Tears

Little Neddy stood at the door to the kindergarten classroom, one hand on his plastic gun, waiting for the jeering to start from the boys with the sensible jumpers. He knew he could lasso any one of these pansy-ass fools any time he wanted to. He just didn’t want to yet. They seemed to be distracted this morning though. Prolly looking at one of their towny-ass skate-board magazines, thought Little Neddy. He sneered to show his disdain for their Postman Pat lunchboxes and slouched epicly past the reading corner not caring one way or the other whether Karen-Pam MacQuorqhodale at the red table was watching.

Noticing in the the window’s reflection that she didn’t appear to be following his nonchalant, bouncy-kneed progress to his seat at the blue table, Little Neddy frowned a little. He spun on his red gen-yoo-ine leather boot-heel, inadvertently clocking Karan-Pam’s best friend Monica on the head with his holster.

“Hey!” she cried. “That hurt!”

But Little Neddy had no use for her squawling. Did she think that was sore? Hah! He’d been to Sore and back and laughed at head-clonking the way dusty heroes laugh at the comforts of a reasonably-priced hotel.

Still, he thought, Karen-Pam didn’t like it when he wounded her friends. He pulled up a plastic chair put his foot on it, leaning his weight over the raised leg with the assurance of a fellow who knows his pants, though form-fitting, won’t rip. From his pocket he pulled out a yellow, cornstalk-like straw and chewed it manfully.

“Beggin’ your pardon, little lady. Forgive my rough and clumsy ways.” Little Neddy tipped his hat and turned to her cuter friend.

“Sure are looking purdy today, Miss Karen-Pam, if you’ll pardon my sayin’ so,” he drawled. Then with fingers crossed behind his back, continued with his well-rehearsed speech. “Looks like there’s rain a-comin’ in from over Loch Seaforth way, this day. You want I should walk you home later, holding a large tarpaulin over your head?”

“Stop being so weird, Little Neddy,” said Karen-Pam, lovelier than ever in a dress of yellow roses. “Where would you find a large tarpaulin anyway?” How he loved the way she pretended to despise him!

“Mysterious guns-for-hire always carry tarpaulins” explained Little Neddy allowing himself a knowing chuckle. He’d been hoping she’d ask him this. That was why he’d spent the hour before sun-up this morning wrestling the one he’d spent all his pocket-money on into a Boots’ plastic bag, cursing at his misfortune in not having a jolly but less-handsome side-kick to do these things for him.

“Yessiree, a man can sure find a lot of uses for a tarpaulin out on the lonesome trail. It comes in mighty handy as a blanket and, when the need arises I should have to construct a rude shelter? Well, right about then a tarpaulin’s worth more than all the Transformers in the world.” He paused to look beyond the blackboard.

“Gotta travel light, see. A man never knows when he’s gonna have to skip town fast leaving nothing but sore jaws and broken hearts to remember him by.” Little Neddy gave a deep chortle, as if, dangit, he were remembering all those times.

“Little Neddy, just go and sit down, will you?” said Karen-Pam. “The mangy old rabbit pelt on your belt gives me hives when it’s gangling in my face like this. My mother’s already spoken to your mother about that.”

“Yeah, I reckon my rough, country ways prolly do offend you, Miss, and for that I’m truly sorry… but…” said Little Neddy, looking past the Santa collages on the rain-streaked window, past the Sherwood Forest play structure, to the high rocky places where men were made and flinty characters hewn, to the supermarket building site on the hill…

“…but, I calls ’em like I sees ’em, ma’am, and them’s the only ways I know how. I wudn’t brang up to talk fancy like you townsfolks. My language is the old gnarly language of the trail, of the coyote and the rattler, and of a burning soul-thirst that can never be quenched.”

“What the flip are you on about, Little Neddy?” cried Monica scornfully, rubbing the back of her head. “You’re dad’s a quantity-surveyer and your mum’s the headmistress. The only burning soul-thirst you have is to be allowed out to play after tea-time on school nights.”

There was some snickering from the other table and annoyance flickered in Little Ned’s piercing blue eyes. He loathed snickerers and, outside of emergencies, never snickered at all himself if he could help it. He looked down at Monica doing the best sneery lip-curl he could manage.”

“Hey Little Neddy!” called a fool boy, Seorais MacSween, from across the room, “How much of the lonesome trail did you drive in the back of your mammy’s Nissan Sunny today?” The snickering became intolerable sniggering.

“That’s just the sort of dumb-ass question I’d expect from someone that sits at the yellow table,” spat Little Neddy turning to face his new tormentor.

Just then, Mrs. Jamieson came into he classroom.

“Why aren’t you in your chair, Little Neddy? Sit down there’s a good boy. Oh and before I forget, well done on your extraordinary picture of a coyote ripping out the throat of a bunny. The art teacher said she’s never seen such an anatomically correct rendition of a trachea from someone so young. Now if you’d only pay that much attention to Reading Module 3 you could be learning all the more about bunny’s throats, wouldn’t you?” She smiled fondly at him.

Little Neddy, never comfortable with praise, pulled his 3-gallon hat down low over his nose. He slouched off to his seat and waited for the morning of cruel teasing about his hat and eraser-throwing behind the teacher’s back to begin as usual.

But what did he care?! he sneered inwardly. These boys were jackasses, just aimin’ to make him look like a fool in front of Karen-Pam. – But one day he would take Karen-Pam by the hand, he would! And they would step out and go a-walkin’ together. And he would tell her the ways of the old cowboys; share with her beans straight from the tin and the complicated pistol-twiddles he’d perfected in the holidays. And then, if things were going well, then maybe he would take her to the hidden place near the disused end of the quarry; the little cave with the songs of love for her he’d scored on the wall, and the 17 dead cats hanging across the entrance to keep strangers away.

The morning dragged on. The rain poured on the storm-darkened school-yard outside.

At last it was play-time. As soon as the bell rang, stung with flung erasers and cruel jibes, Little Neddy ran out of the classroom to the far side of the school-yard, climbed up onto the highest limb of the old oak tree and, with tears running down his cheeks, he sneered, he sneered at them all – such sneery, curly-lipped sneers of cold contempt as no rugged cowboy has ever sneered before!

And so it was begun, in the foothills of the great Harris mountains, that a new tv minor-character-actor, whose real dream it was to direct, set out on his very own trail of tears.

THE END

Death And The Anti-Maiden

There are many ways to die in a lonely crofthouse in Lewis.

In all that solitude you might develop Peculiar Ways and, according to the Institute For The Study Of Loneliness, Peculiar Ways are 17 times more likely to cause your death or maiming than Usual Ways.

There was a man, a lonely straggle-bearded man who had long shut up his heart to human love and tenderness. No man nor woman nor child could reach him after a terrible tragedy one summer in his twenties. He bought a lonely crofthouse, retreated from Lewiskind and subsisted on home-made nettle products and the milk from a sweet-natured cow called Aggie-Louise.

He was a man of regular habits but uneven temper and often would he run out of his house screaming terrible words at the world and scaring poor Aggie who would only yield a sort of thin yoghurt for days after such episodes. But although his habits were regular, and for the most part usual, he had developed one habit that is now recognised as being Type 1 Peculiar. This habit was to prove fatal.

Many people who spend a lot of time alone will talk to themselves. Some will talk back to themselves. But there
are a few, a very few who will cease to use regular speech altogether and find all the meaning, all the means of
expression they need in their solitary lives, in the lyrics of Madonna. In particular, the smash hit 1986 album True Blue.

“I’ve heard all the lines, I’ve cried oh (oh) so many times, Those tear drops they won’t fall again, I’m so excited ’cause you’re my best friend” the straggly-bearded man would say to Aggie, and she would know it was time to go to the stool for milking.

“Open your heart with the key, One is such a lonely number” he would sing softly to the mouse that lived behind the radiator. “Ah, ah, ah, ah Open your heart, I’ll make you love me It’s not that hard, if you just turn the key”

And “Don’t want to grow old too fast, Don’t want to let the system get me down. I’ve got to find a way to make the good times last, And if you’ll show me how, I’m ready now” this man with thorns round his heart would tell the spider in the peatstack.

Then later, bitter and brooding over glass after glass of the all-purpose nettleated spirits he distilled in a still made from two welded together tin bathtubs, later he would grow angry. Sweeping plates and cups off the table in a fury and sending the chair crashing against the walls he would fall to his knees and yell “Where’s the party, Where’s the party, someone tell me, Where’s the party, come on come on” with all the savagery of a rhinocerous with toothache.

“And when the samba played” he often spat at those times with a cruel sneer, “The sun would set so high, Ring through my ears and sting my eyes, Your Spanish lullaby”

Pretty soon the straggly-bearded man lost all ability to speak anything other than lyrics from the True Blue album.

One morning, the man stepped out into the garden to milk Aggie-Louise as usual but right away noticed something was wrong. 50 feet yonder Aggie-Louise lay on her side, not moving. So still… So still! The man ran across the yard to her, half-knowing what he would find but half-hoping against half-hope that Aggie was still there…

He sobbed into her cold neck for about an hour before he could bring himself to close her amazed dead eyes. As he rose, he saw that in death she had leaked a little milk and it had puddled, could it be? …in the shape of a telephone? Aggie, this dear dead cow was giving him a message! Telephone somebody! she seemed to be saying.

And suddenly he knew.

All this living alone, protecting himself from human love and hurt had been for nothing. He had loved Aggie, he
hadn’t completely shut down, he could still love again!

He knew what he had to do. He would run to town and be embraced into the warm bosom of his family once again, the prodigal teuchter would come home. So he ran and ran and then he stopped and wheezed and all of a sudden his chest felt tight. No. Something wrong. Got to get help! His mind worked furiously.

Up ahead was a pink weather-beaten old telephone-box, his last hope. Dragging himself to the phone-box, he
struggled inside, clutching at his chest and dialed 999 – a free call. It was ringing! Sweet Jesus, thank-you!

A dispatcher answered the phone at last. The man’s left arm was in some kind of spasm now.

“What’s your emergency?

“Tropical the island breeze, all of nature wild and free” said the man.

“Pardon me sir, I can’t make you out, can you repeat please?”

“Papa don’t preach, I’m in trouble deep” choked the man desperately. This wasn’t right. what was wrong with his voice? Why couldn’t he ask for help?

“Papa don’t preach, I’ve been losin’ sleep!” he cried desperately.

“Sir? sir? Are you all right? What is your location sir?”

“Last night I dreamt of San Pedro. It all seems like yesterday, not far away, La-la-la-la-la-la-laaa, Te dijo te amo!” he screamed, his face wet and contorted with wretched pain, his eyes wild with panic.

“Sir? Are you there sir? Sir!”

But sir wasn’t there. He was going away. It would be a long journey but at the end he would reach a happy warm place, a place where the sun shone on golden limbs and where none of the cushions were made of scratchy Harris Tweed.

I want to be where the sun warms the sky, he whispered softly, barely audible.
When it’s time for siesta you can watch them go by
Beautiful faces, no cares in this world
Where a girl loves a boy, and a boy loves a girl…

The ambulance found his body an hour later after tracing the telephone box. Only his elderly mother and his drunken brother attended the funeral.

And that’s just one of the manners in which having a Peculiar Way can kill you in a lonely croft-house in Lewis. Sometimes just one Peculiar Way is all it takes.

THE END

Their Shirts All Soaked With Sweat

Who can tell what sorrows the ghost crofters knew? What secrets? What tortuous lonely silences?

Only one person and her name is Peg, the one-legged woman from Brue. This wasn’t why she was called Peg, but after the accident with the Samurai sword Uncle Uistean brought back from sea, everyone agreed how fortunate it was that she was already called Peg.

Peg! Peg Peg Peg Peg Peg! Where shall I begin with Peg? She was a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in an episode of Countdown and if you don’t know what that means then I can’t help you, friend. She was inexplicable like that. You couldn’t explic her with the OED nor any measuring device. She was outwith the bending sickle’s compass of the finest poets’ circumscription. But I can tell you this, her soul was purple and she detested chess.

Ah Peg was the wild one alright. Many’s the night she would hop about the moor in simple garb before stopping in a bit less boggy than the others. Then eyes heav’nward she would spin and spin until the stars appeared to her to be concentric circles etched into the black night and drawing her, pulling her into their centre, an ineluctable force come for her from another time…or perhaps from all times.

Anyway, one time Peg was out on the moor and some pretty mystical shit was going down. She had just returned from her travels to other centuries and concluded that apart from consumer durables, the Lewis of long ago was pretty much the same as the Lewis of today. Same problems with chillblains and broken veins, same worries about getting home from town on Saturday nights. She vowed to blog this information the very next day.

As she lay exhausted on the heather, she closed her eyes and fell into a terrible dream. She awoke screaming and clutching at her scanty puffa jacket. But when she opened her eyes she found she saw exactly the same thing as when she closed them. For hovering before her, pale and shimmering and see-through were 4 mounted crofters, the wool on their steeds shot through with silver sparks and steam issuing from their flared nostrils. The wind whipped up.

Panicked, Peg scrambled back until a gorse bush stopped her. The four ghost crofters advanced on their edgy sheep, which snorted and pawed at the ground. Trembling, she raised her eyes and looked directly at them. Their faces were gaunt, their eyes were blurred and their shirts all soaked with sweat.

“Howdy, a’ghraidh” spoke one, his hollow eyes transfixing Peg until one of the ghost sheep sneezed and broke the spell.

“If you don’t want to end up like us, damned to ride the stormy Hebridean night for ever, then here’s what you must do,” said the second crofter from the right, and, tipping his flat-cap down over his nose, he told her what she must do, but more importantly what she musn’t do because there are always more restrictions than allowances in supernatural affairs.

One by one then, the ghost-crofters told Peg of their sorrows, their secrets, their lonely silences in a realm apart.

Suddenly, across the sky behind the crofters streaked a flock of red-eyed sheep. The ghost-crofters looked meaningfully into Peg’s eyes for a moment, then turned and galloped away after the flock, their hooves thundering across the sky, leaping over hedge-shaped clouds, condemned to herd that devil’s flock for all eternity.

Peg, got up and hopped back into the village. The first child to see her that grey morning told of the astonished look on her mud-smeared face and how her hair had turned pure white.

Her pupils remain dilated to this day and she never spoke again. And friends, I think that’s just as well, don’t you?

The Silence Of The Clams

I was born on a dark Monday in a land where an unknowable ocean tried to seduce a knowable shore with long caresses and whispers. The pretty shore wasn’t brought up that way though and cried foul. The unknowable ocean claimed it was an insane current that had made him do it, that his head had been turned by a spicy, intoxicating loose-hipped trade-wind. A seachiatrist attested to temporary insandity and eventually the charges were dropped.

Ruling aside – we, the guardians of the shore, didn’t much hold with the insandity defence and we still didn’t trust the sea. Soon after that therefore a long pier was constructed so we could keep an eye on the randy unknowable ocean, and on that pier they decided they may as well erect a new shellfish-processing plant because the old one was broken. This was the shellfish-processing plant that would mark my days and haunt my nights forever.

It happened one night on a Brownie camp-out and sausage-sizzle. We set up our tents on the windy marran grass on the machair just beyond the beach. Picture us, dear reader! See us as we sit round the camp-fire singing “Ging Gang Gooli“, and giggling through “O, ye cannie get to heaven in a girl guide’s bra ‘cos a girl guides bra don’t stretch that far“; all, rosy-cheeked and brown-bobble-hatted, woggles askew, faces smeared with ketchup, cinders and roasted marshmallow but our eyes clear and shining, our young hearts filled with wonder at the stars above and the excitement of a great adventure.

Lying in our tents later that night, transfixing daddy-long-legses with torchlight on the canvas, we laughed and shrieked at Anna’s impressive farts -better than any boy’s – until one by one everyone drifted off to Nod but me. Not nearly ready to sleep, I grabbed my torch and stole out of the tent, hopping in my sleeping-bag over the black dunes and down to the dark shore.

I heard the sea lapping at the beach and sat on the still-warm sand, hugging my knees, thrilling at how the dark brought the world back to sounds and senses and primal things. Brown Owl had told us not to leave our tents and, with a shadow crossing her face, had warned us on no account to wander out near the shellfish processing plant. I remembered her kindly face and thought of how disappointed she would be at my disobedience. But I was determined to see for myself what went on at the end of the pier. I rose and hopped ridiculously up a dune and on to the wooden pier. What work did the processors do in the middle of the night out there? I hopped on.

Creak, complained the wooden boards under my bouncing sleeping-bag. As I approached the building, I could hear voices inside, and made my way towards a window with a lobster pot underneath the sill. Several valiant hop attempts later I was up on the lobster pot and looking right into a long, starkly lit room with great steel tables, at the end of which were massive sinks filled with ice. About half a dozen people stood around in yellow wellies with white smocks and shower caps on, and great yellow rubber gloves that made their hands look grotesquely big and clowny.

Suddenly, the doors at the sea-end of the building were flung open and some men wheeled in a huge metal cart. All conversation stopped. I watched as each processor reached down into his or her smock pocket and draw out a long sharp knive, cruelly curved at the end into a hook, the whole blade like the unspeakable smirk of some devilish slasher-movie fiend. There was a moment of silence as the cart tipped and then a clattering as hungreds and hundreds of pale clams were tipped into the first ice-sink.

And that was when the screaming began. The screaming of molluscs as all hope for them faded. Mummy molluscs, Daddy molluscs and baby molluscs huddling together in terror Knowing that this was the end of their lives. I saw the processor at the first table grab a clam.

The screaming grew louder. I watched in horror as the evil hooked knife glinted in the processor’s hand and he pried the helpless clam’s shell open. Rooted to my lobster-pot I gazed at the pale and shining being inside and time slowed down as I watched the man bring his knife nearer and nearer the tiny animal. Then, for the briefest of moments I saw a tiny mouth open and two tiny red-rimmed eyes flick wide open as the most hideous, heart-breaking wail I have ever heard hit my ears… The screaming….The screaming…

Recoiling in horror I jerked suddenly and my lobster pot toppled sending me sprawling on the damp boardwalk beneath. The screaming!…The screaming!… In a half-seeing panic I tried to get up and hopped a few feet before falling on my face again, gashing my cheek on the rough wood. I had to get away! I lurched and one part hopped to two parts waddled my way back to the shore, my eyes hot and wet with what they’d witnessed and in my ears the terrible screaming, the abominable squelch as the knife sliced through living tissue.

By the time I reached the end of the pier and hurled myself down the dune, I was bleeding and snot-smeared with fear and grief. I vomited then, and every hole in my head seemed at that moment to be leaking me out, leaking out something vital, something I’d never get back. Too afraid to go back to my tent and risk my heaving sobs being heard, I flung myself down on the beach and, pulling my wooly brownie hat down over my ears, I pressed the palms my hands as hard as I could into them. I must have lain like that for an hour or more until, finally exhausted, I fell asleep.

The light was grey when I awoke, bruised from my many falls on the pier, my cheek sticky with blood and my face covered in sand. But what I remember most of all was the stillness of the air that cold morning. And the silence, the silence of the clams…

The waves lapping gently around the bottom of my sleeping bag seemed to rebuke me and all people. Who raped who? they seemed to whisper, solemnly disregarding grammatical concerns. Who raped who?

“Oh, shut up!” I said, but to this day I have never again eaten pork.

What Happened Next?

I am two. I was really two two weeks ago but didn’t notice until today. Last year I missed being one completely. The 1st anniversary is paper though, and paper is of no use to a blogger so that was all right. This year it’s cotton and I’ve just done a big knicker shop so we’re all right there for a while. What therefore can you send me? Money obviously – there’s always money.

But I don’t want your money. What I want is an an ending for a story. This one, in fact:

A Tale.

An empty crisp packet blew down Cromwell Street. The crowd on the pavements was silent except for a lone eerie whistler, and his mother. Up in heaven God shouted at the angels to turn Inspector Morse down so He could watch the scene unfold undisturbed. He’d forgotten how He’d predetermined this one to work out.

Tormod the Tormentor, the Bully Boyle of Ballantrushal stood at one end of the street. One hand moved slightly towards a silver Colt Peacemaker in a sheepskin halter on his not un-snake like hip.

At the other end of the street a pair of clear-blue eyes narrowed menacingly as their owner planted two determined feet firmly on the municipal crazy-paving and wished his Ys weren’t riding up his bum. All eyes were on him – it would look wrong and uncool to start grabbing up there at this moment. He scanned the crowd briefly, his chiselled jaw tensing with the sort of impossible gorgeousness not seen on Stornoway’s streets since the days of Flinty MacFlynt, a fine figure of a man, aye and handy with his tairsgeir; much admired by the townswomen and – almost literally – an original Town Father. Two lady librarians and Joan from the butcher’s fainted clear away.

Ah, but this was his moment. How long he’d waited! It had been ten years since he left Lewis vowing never to return, ten years of demons haunting him, ghosts of the past taunting him, urging him on and on, never letting him rest for a moment, chasing him all the way to, as chance and Southbound roadworks would have it, Aberdeen, that great granite city of the North. There, still a pale, skinny stripling, he’d been baffled and not understood a blessed word the natives said to him. But the Aberdonians had treated him kindly, if incomprehensibly, and being baffled was better than being beaten by bully-boy Boyle.

In the intervening years he had become a highly successful ornamental hedge-trimmer which had given him broad and powerful shoulders; and lately he had joined a gym, which had given him other powerful parts. He’d saved judiciously, bought a little house and, yes, had even known love for a short while before she ran off with the rep from the Union of Topiary Workers. In the main though, he had thrived in these fertile eastern soils and was grown tall and devilish handsome, all the ladies agreed. Not unlike a taller Al Pacino.

And now was his moment! Now he would teach that low-down pustulent Boyle of a human being what it was like to know fear. His finger curled delicately round his Derringer as the wind flapped his long black leather coat cinemaesquely. He sized up Boyle. It was true, his once-famed hips were still snake-like, if the snake had just eaten a moose; his little arms barely reached them on account of the enormous gut that draped around like some monstrous skirt of beef.

He was suddenly reminded of a witticism he’d heard on the ferry on the way over: Some men were sitting around in the bar, one of them a great lump of a man, and the talk had turned to marital relations as it usually does in the choppy waters where Loch Broom meets the Minch. Apparantly the big man was himself married to a big girl, and the others were gently teasing him about how they got the business done. Big Man says “Ah, that’s what all my short-peckered friends ask.”

But this was coarse thinking and he hadn’t become such a renowned hedge-artiste by such coarseness of thought – apart from that one cash-in-hand job for the nuns on their poplars behind the tall, grey walls of the convent on The Black Isle. He blushed in recollection of how he’d fashioned their azaleas. The sisters hadn’t even mentioned azaleas but he’d got carried away.

And anyway this strange turn of thought was by the by, because all the island knew Tormod only had a very wee one. They knew this on account of his mammy, Honest Margey, taking a turn out at the fank one year and never being the same again, her peculiarity being marked by a disconcerting habit of always, always telling the truth. Tormod’s willy, incidentally (and really, it was only a very incidental willy) wasn’t the only one to pass into notoriety by way of Margey. The minister, she declared on the bus one unforgettable Monday, had a very big one indeed, not as big as Simple George from the grocery van’s, but certainly by her reckoning, bigger than average. There was quite the kerfuffle after that, alright. The disgraced minister was posted to a youth outreach program in the Gorbals within the week, and in the emergency the congregation had had to accept a young man from the South, with all the threatening new ideas these people from the South bring. Cushioned pews, indeed! Where were Christ’s cushions as he hung bleeding for our sins on the cross?

But I digress. Which isn’t like me.

Our hero shook his head. Concentrate, man! Any minute now he was going to blast two holes right above and below Tormod Boyle’s sweaty unibrow, like a divided-by sign. He’d read somewhere that to divide-by was to conquer and he was always a chap to go by the book.

Somewhere a seagull screamed, briefly. Again the whistler whistled, now low, now high and tremulously, as if the accounts of all men’s souls were to be settled that day on Cromwell Street. Again the whistler’s mother told him to shut his gob, he was putting people off. Up above, God made a mental note to smite her with a wart as soon as this was all over and she was back sitting for her portrait. God is nothing if not an avid cinema-buff, although He couldn’t see why Citizen Kane was all that special. A tumble-peat blew by.

The town-hall clock struck the hour – high-noon. According to the ancient rule for duelling crofters, on the twelfth stroke the foes were to fire.

Nine…
Ten…
Eleven…
Twelve…

BANG! BANG-BANG!

The smoke clears. The crowd gasps…

What happens next?

A Few Of My Favourite Things

When the dog bites, when the bee stings
When you’re feeling sad
Just simply remember your favourite things
And then things won’t seem so baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.

Okeydokey, but when does life ever work out like a song, eh? Today, in my case, the parameters need to be readjusted to something a bit more like:

When the nose runs, When the unidentified bug bites
Causing unutterable itchiness
I simply remember my favourite things
An pu-hoot them iiiiiiiiin my blog.

Well there are the things that everyone likes like, green paper packages coming from Amazon, finding the 20 bucks you hid from yourself a long time ago when you were flush so you’d get a nice surprise someday (ideally in a bright copper kettle or some warm woolen mittens) Singing Bohemeian Rhapsody like a floppy-limbed maniac with the moshing bit and everything; scalding tea and jaffa cakes. blah de blah de blooh.

Right then. *Taps lectern*. Altogether! Everybody in a rousing rendition of Sam’s Favourite Things adn one and two and…

Old kindly gentlemen wearing tweed jackets
Getting pals drunk with my own first pay packet
Liquorice allsorts all lined up by rank
These are all things better than a plank

Chorus:
When the nose swells, when the spot lurks
When your head, it pouuuuuuuuunds
Just simply remember your horrid cold
Is do-hoo-hoo-ing the rounds.

Telling your mum that he’s not just a phase.
Watching Pink Panther on wet, howly days
Showering your labrador, sodden and soapy
Fills up your heart with all bubbling hopey

Reaching the top of a wild, rainy mountain
Panting, elated as rain like a fountain*
Sti-ings your cheeks just like wee wet bee kisses.
Getting to be-ee your hubby’s missus.

Muddling your scanning and not caring less
Eating nice puddings, drinking to excess
Holding the hand of any small child
A Bock fairy-story, becoming beguiled

Getting the scab off all in one go
French bread, rosemary, a nice white Bordeaux
Eating fish and chips right out of the poke
Hearing the minister tell a blue joke.

Schooners, strawberries and sun on your shoulders
Pregnancy giving you Dolly-sized boulders
Then after a while them going right away
Cos who can be arsed with your back in a stay?

When the spot bursts
When the coccyx hurts
When you’re just not quids in
Just simply remember your favourite things
And pour liberalleeeeeeeeeeee
From the gin.

* A horizontal fountain. Look, it rhymes, OK?

I Wish You Fabulous Ventilation In Your Chimney.

Out with the old! In with the New Year! Be sure to add that second bit or poor grampa’ll be feeling a chill wind coming in with the bells.

All right, I’ve had a wee snifter already but I’ve looked at the clock and it’s officially Hogmanay! A time when all tall dark-haired men are seized upon at doorsteps and their pockets rummaged thoroughly for lumps. The coal etc. found they will be ushered in as harbingers of good luck for the coming year. Tall dark men are favoured because it’s said the true Scots are dark-haired and tall blonde men at the door used to mean Vikings and more bad luck than Telly Savalas’ head-lice. Blonde women are considered lucky though – possibly because of the fertility suggested by the child-bearingness of their Nordic hips. Luckier still are the couple that come a-first-footin’ up the path with a nicely clinking plastic bag.

It’s Hogmanay!! When Scots all over the planet grow jolly on barley juice (“Wha’s like us, eh?”) then maudlin (“O howly! Waily!”) then emotional (“This could well be the last one I see! Oh uh-huh. Yes it could well be. It could well be the last one any of us sees. It’s all going to hell, all of it” *Great sweeps of the arms to indicate the enormity of the number of the things that are going to hell* ) then Bolshy (“Nemo me impune accessit! D’you hear? NEMO!”) then defiant, tedious, then back to jolly again before singing the ould songs and passing out to be found the next morning by a sensibly-shod tweedy lady’s labradors, lying in a ditch, foetal, thumb-sucking and softly snuffling the old year’s dreams and drams away.

(Hogmanay is also the very best time of the year to use run-on sentences)

It’s Hogmanay!!! The only time of the year anyone ever drinks Advocaat.

It’s Hogmanay!!!! A time for shortbread on the good plates, whisky in the best crystal and flushed aunties getting better and better measures from ruddier and ruddier (and often ruder and ruder) uncles.

It’s Hogmanay!!!!! A time when it’s OK to snog perfect, but often imperfect strangers in the street. One year in a freezing Aberdeen I was kissed right on the gob by a passing fellow who, I grew hideously aware, as his face drew back and I began to get a look at him, had a great, crusty cold sore over half his lower lip. God knows how I didn’t get it but I reckon the cold in the Granite City that night wasn’t allowing many germs, complex or simplex, any chance to flourish. They were probably huddling together for warmth deep in his pustulent lip behind the wall of scab. Pah-phthoo! Pah-phthoo! Phthoo!

For the Problem Household it’s been a year of mixed blessings. Chief joy was the kids. The Problem Children have transformed from pre-school mud-puppies into proper sticky-out-tummied little girls rushing off to Kindergarten each day, hardly remembering how they used to cling to their mammy’s legs and want to stay home with me all day. Problem Child the Second lost her first baby tooth today and tooth-fairy dust is settling still on her pillow of great hope. Nothing I will ever do in my life again will be better than the girls.

My granny died in June. I loved her with all my heart. She lived with us all throughout my childhood (our house was built onto the back of my grandparents’) and played a huge role in bringing me up. She taught me to read, to love books and was a constant source of wisdom and fun. We were best of friends and I remember days when it was as if there wasn’t anybody else in the world but us and the cake we were making, or the book we were reading, or the daffodils we were tying or one of the collections or projects we were always working on. I was allowed to do all sorts of messy things in her kitchen I wasn’t allowed to do in our’s. My brother and I were free to poke into nooks and crannies all over her creaky, old house and I never felt so safe and secure as when she was playing the piano for my grandpa and me to waltz to. She was always very proper but had a twinkle in her eye and a razor sharp wit that seemed to grow sharper the older I got, but of course, I was just growing up and getting the joke more. She was a granny for all ages. My friends loved her and a few would go and visit her whenever they went home to Lewis, right ’til she was near the end. She had infinite time for me, it seemed, until her’s ran out and I will miss her deeply til the hour my own run’s out.

But Hogmanay was a great favourite of my granny’s. She liked Glenlivet at Christmas and Glen Morangie at Hogmanay. She would hold court, holding forth on all sorts and all the time holding her whisky – she assured us it had no effect on her whatsoever except a little swelling round the ankles – and she’d have us all rapt at her stories and fun. So this year, I’ll be raising a glass to my granny, thanking whatever God sent me my unexceptional but wholly amazing children, and as the ancient tradition demands*, sweeping away the dying year to make way for the promise of the new.

And I will be raising a glass or seventeen to you lot of fine blogging pals, declaring “Lang may your lum reek!” which means “I hope your chimney will always smoke” and is by way of saying long life and prosperity and stuff.

So then. Blogpals I salute you! You make me chortle and guffaw and think and engage on an almost daily basis. You rock. Slainte mhor agus bliadhna mhath ur! Which is by way of saying “May your neighbour’s sheep never eat the washing off your line.”

Scoff you not, you ungrateful bleggarts! You never know when you’ll need that. It could happen day or night but I’ve protected you now see – your scanties may air unmolested.

*Scottish people take this more seriously than others I think although I dunno why. Something to do with the Scottish Kirk not letting us have Christmas for a few hundred years, saying it was a papist ceremony or whatever. Something like that. It sounds like them. That’d make you want to make up for with a big splash at the New Year. But I remember being horrified when I was wee when I heard my uncle’s fiancee from Nottingham had said on the phone she didn’t wait up for the bells and usually just went to bed. I had an idea of her all dusty and cobwebbed with the old year like Miss Havisham before she caught on fire and I remember being genuinely surprised at her relative freshness when I finally met her to be her bridesmaid.

The Witches Of The Glen Of The Mad

The Witches Of Mad Glen continued.

Only slightly hiccupping 80 proof green bubbles covered with gentle little gooseberry hairs, Chrissie-Peigi drew herself up to her full 4 foot 11 and waggled a brass contraption under the noses of the other two witches perched precariously on the tiny island.

“Oi, watch what you’re doing with that thing! You nearly had my third eye out there!” squawked Effie. “What is it anyway?”

Smoothly ignoring Effie’s dramatic reeling and clutching of her forhead, Chrissie Peigi fumbled with the tiny brass lever on her thaumometer. “It seems to me, *hic!* It seems to me that the craziness coefficient of the surrounding atmosphere has increased slightly, meaning one of several things. Either we have been burning up too many fossils in our cauldrons and releasing excess irrationality into the air, since magic is, after all, 4 parts irrationality; or things have become so absurd in the world outside the Glen of The Mad, that people leaving and entering barely notice any difference in the state of things at all. Or, there is a breach in the magic membrane surrounding the Glen of Insanity.”

“Well, which is it?” asked Mabel, adding to the air in general “And Jack Frost, if you ever, ever attempt to put your fingers there again I will majick a big ole pair of Helly Hansen mittens on them and you will never again nip so much as anyone’s nose, you nasty freak. What’s the matter with you, anyway? Get a proper job!”

There was a slight breathy mumble of “Sorry” in a Dorsetshire accent and the surface of the lochan crackled icily as something retreated over it.

“Well, really, it’s a bit of all 3,” continued Chrissie Peigi. “Witchologists and Wizardographers have noted a rise in thaumaturgical energy over recent decades and, if you read the papers, you’ll know how vocal they’ve been about the need to cap necromantic emissions. There’s been an alarming lack of political will to clean things up though. The President of the United Sorcerors of Ardvourlie says that the jury is still out on occultic climate change. He is also, however, also widely considered to be the stupidest man ever to draw breath. The other week he was informed that 3 Brazillian people had died in storms as a direct result of his laissez-faire magical climate policy. His aides were puzzled by the President’s extreme reaction:

Oh no! But this is terrible news! Calamitaneous! How are we going to get out of this one, Ouihomme? You, Sihombre, what’ll we do? I overpay you for this kind of thing. Oh, this is horrible, horrible! Tell me, how many exactly is a brazillion?

“I hear he still has his mammy cut his toast into soldiers which he then sends off on spurious, preemptive missions half-way around the lazy-susan, where lie the vast reserves of the pancake syrup he covets,” said Mabel. “You can’t help but wonder what would have happened if a man more involved in, say, ketchup or double mayonnaise than in Big Syrup was our leader.”

The three witches paused to consider this for a moment in the freezing air, their condensing breath forming shapes of rabbits, toads and a great big wolf that ran after the rabbits and toads and ate them before dissipating. Chrissie-Peigi scowled at Effie, who imperceptibly licked her chops. Without comment though, pleased in her new role as Explainer Of Modern Stuff to her elder sisters and proud of her ability to talk in html, she took another swill of Mabel’s gooseberry schnapps and went on:

“Also, studies show that the real world is actually becoming more and more insane. You need hardly look further than Fox News Channel to see that. It’s very widespread. In the US, for example, lots of people routinely vote against their economic interests because a very powerful wizarding conglomeration known as The Southern Baptist Convention, bewitches them to care more about boys kissing than their own futures. The Irish have gone batshit crazy and just reelected that third-rate conjurer Ahern, who can’t even make a pile of laundered money disappear effectively. And the British, well, The Spice Reunion is now more popular outside the Glens of Insanity than in them. Plus, this is the kind of mad thing dominating their news media lately. And of course, there was this guy.

“But most alarmingly for our duties in this wee corner of the world, of which we all know the regulation of the Hebridean Glen of The Mad is a large part, there appears to be a change in the relative craziness inside and outside of the magical membrane around the valley. As far as I can tell with my thaumometer the magico-osmotic potential of the membrane, the MOP, is still within normal range despite the increasing extra-membrane lunacy I’ve just described, so that only leaves me with one conclusion: Ladies we have a leek.

“You mean a leak, surely?’ said Effie.

“No, I mean a leek. I have reason to believe that the Welsh Glen Of The Mad has sent a spy up to our glen to see how we have managed to win the coveted “Best Kept Mad Glen” and “Most Spiffily Dressed Lunatic Ghost” competitions these last 6 years in a row. The theory is more complex obviously…”

“Hmm, obviously, very, very obviously,” chimed in Mabel, eager not to appear the technodoofus she felt. (The technodoofus she felt was really Torquil MacLeod but she could tell she was one too.)

“…but, whenever the mad soul of someone non-resident in Scotland for 12 months prior to expiring enters the glen, a tiny puncture is made that is unfixable by the puncture-maker. Derangement leaks out. The Welsh witches protect against the English dead-mad from coming to build holiday homes in their Glen Of The Insane in this same way; the English protect against the French; the French against the Belgians, etc. Sistren three, we must face the fact that we have been penetrated. We have a mole in our Glen.”

“I thought it was a leek.”

“Shut up.”

Pan out.

Mabel: “Oh God, they’re panning out! No! Come back!”

Effie: “She is, isn’t she? That bloody Problemchildbride is going to write To Be Continued again and leave us standing here for another week in the perishing cold. She thinks that having 6 adults and 2 children in her house ’til the New Year is our problem somehow. That we have to wait here on a soggy little island in some ridiculous but totally true Glen of The Mad lochan, while she busies herself with decorating and baking and jumping onto the consumer treadmill to engage in the profligate consumption of which she herself is embarrassed but nevertheless does. She’s gonna effeeng well do that, isn’t she? Beeyatch that she is.

Chrissie-Peigi: “The bint! I shall cast a spell to ensure her mince-pies explode all over the inside of her oven.”

PCB: “Not if you want a speaking part in the next episode, you won’t. Who else is going to give you work at this time of year, eh? If it wasn’t for me, it’d be slim pickings for you ’til next Halloween. If not for me-hee, you won’t be able to find the leek, meaning the Authorities will relieve you of your Mad Glen posts and replace you with corporate witches from Glasgow.”

Mabel: “I thought it was a mole.”

PCB: Shut up.”

To be continued…

Inferior Design – Part Blah-Blah Of A Series Notes On The Glen Of The Mad

High on the rocky crags of the Glen of Insanity is an ice-hollowed little corrie with a dark little lochan in the bottom, shining like a black opal. On that lochan there is a tiny island with barely enough room for the three ancient, wind-blasted trees that grow there, reaching their tortured, arthritic limbs to the black sky, which happens to be only 7 inches from their highest twigs.

[See Scotland, for all its majesty and towering crags has a design flaw. Great mountains rear heavenward like some glorious natural cathedral but somebody, somebody went over budget with the rich purple heather swags and noble red deer and, come time to crown their majestic creation (meant to suggest to man something of the great vaults of heaven, after flippen all!), all they could afford for the roof was a low slate-grey ceiling of cloud. A ceiling so low it has brylcream marks on – this is the sky in Scotland.

The land is a tease. The book says to expect lofty peaks and wheeling eagles and the visitor’s eye is swept upwards in an exultation of granite and awe. Then… just when the eye is primed, expecting a soaring celestial firmament of cerulean and Michaelangelo cumulonimbi… well then the eye smooshes up against the soggy grey anticlimax of a manky raincloud ceiling; the magnificent vista is ruined, foreshortened by foreshorten-sighted philistines and shifty bandit builders. The eye is well pissed off and wishes it had gone to Switzerland like its naggy partner on the other side of the nose had wanted in the first place. The vision was Chartres Cathedral, the execution resembled a bungalow sitting-room with pretentious murals.

You see, way back at the dawn of time, due to an administrative error, Scotland’s wild places were contracted out to a heavenly cowboy outfit. (I’m afraid there are bad tradesmen even in heaven. Be sure to have them put some washers and a Black&Decker in the coffin with you when you go – if you’re expecting to go to heaven. For hell, take light summer clothes in some sort of easy-to-pack non-creasing asbestos material.) Haloes rolled, I’ll tell you, when God got wind of it. All heaven broke loose. Wings were clipped and for two weeks there was Reddy Brek instead of Ambrosia at every meal in the Angelic Guild of Roofers and Plasterers. It was a dark blip in the eternal bliss of paradise.]

But, the reason I’ve dragged you up to this particular corrie in such dreadful weather is because I want you to look very closely at the three twisted trees on the island in the lochan. Watch them as they start to twitch in a way quite independant of the wind. Observe how the claw-like topmost branches suddenly look more like flesh than wood, and 3 pairs of knobby hands begin to twist and writhe and tear at the air. Note how filthy are the long yellow fingernails, and how papery is the peelie-wallie skin. If you peer very squintily, a package of reduced-calorie digestive biscuits can be seen clutched in one of the plumper hands.

Then watch with me as the three trees transform themselves, slowly, slowly, all the way down to the mossy ground into three black-robed witches, with pointy hats and hairy warts and everything. Overhead an eagle pierces the night with an unearthly scream.

*

“It’s perishing, Effie, why do we always have to do this at night? I’m missing Eastenders and John-Murdo thinks I’m having an affair, the amount of times we’ve been having meetings lately.”

“We’re witches, you silly old moo, it’s traditional. Witches meet at night in barren spots, that’s what we do” said the tallest, witchiest looking one. “Shut up and pass me the tea flask. And don’t jiggle. I swear this island gets smaller every time.”

“Who’s ‘ot i hours ogh i last neeting?” said the smallest, plumpest witch, trying to open the biscuit packet with her teeth. (Witches’ covens don’t have minutes for their meetings because minutes don’t sound as eldritch as hours.) “Ah got it!” For a moment there was some enthusiastic munching. “Are we using proper names tonight?”

“We’d better.” said Effie, clearing her throat. ” A-hhhhughhh, a-hhhhukh, hhhukh. I call this coven to order. Present are Euphemia Pearworm MacAuley, The Bony And The Fierce; Mabel-Critterhorn MacLeod, The Bony And The Vaingloriou; and Chrissy-Peigi Screwtoe Mackenzie, The Dumpy And The Determined – Dark Sistren Three of the Inner, Outer, Upper and Downer Hebrides. When did we three meet last?”

“You know fine well it was last night,” said Mabel, impatiently tapping a hobnailed boot. “Look, do we have to go through all this? The Glen of Insanity gives me the creeps. Why couldn’t we use the Scout Hall again? At least they’ve got a kettle.”

“Chrissy-Peigi lost the key,” growled Effie.

“We’re witches, we don’t need an effing key!” screeched Mabel, doing a ghetto sistah side-to-side head thing and waving a taloned finger “Oh no, uhn-uhn!”

“Oh lets just get on with it, the rain’s blowing right in my ears,” said Chrissy-Peigi. “Yesterday two more sane people walked right through the glen and came out completely unmad, except for a new-found appreciation for the work of James Blunt. What are we going to do to fix that, eh? By the way, did anyone bring a wee nip o’something to keep the weather out? Oh, lovely Mabel. Nobody makes gooseberry schnapps like you do, dear. Cheers!”

To Be Continued…

Fact Number 349 About The Glen Of Insanity

Before I embark on Tormod’s story I’d better describe in a few short posts a bit more about the Glen of Insanity; its denizens; its geographical curiosities; its surprising chaises-longues.

We’ll start right at the top, high in the air. With the seagulls. Everybody knows seagulls are madder than March eclairs. Why else do they go out on Saturday nights, eat 40 proof vomit and chips from the pavement and then vomit that back down their own babies throats? More cracked than a builder’s bum, are seagulls.

Because:

Seagulls brainwaves are out-of-phase with Reason’s sine waves, which are the kind of waves which keep our ordinary lives together and normal – the waves that make snot green, not blue, and foxes cunning not ice-skating. As Reason’s waves peak and trough, seagulls’ brainwaves are a 1/4 of a wavelength behind, rendering them out of concert, discordant with reason, and thus bonkers.

However.

A strange thing happens to reason’s sane-sine-waves in the Glen of Insanity. Even inexperienced glen-watchers can see that the air in and over the valley shimmers slightly like a road on a hot day. The insane-sine-waves have a different amplitude and length to the sane-sine waves, and – madly – a different frequency too, which plays merry hell with the telly for people in Horgabost. In short, The Glen Of Insanity has a refactive index.

So.

What happens when a seagull’s mad brain-waves fly over the glen is that they are modified in such a way as to come into phase with the Reason sane-sine waves in the world outside the glen. The insane waves cancel each other out and seagulls emerge from the other side of the Glen of Insanity completely sane! They also come out flying at a slightly different angle to the angle at which the entered the glen. Like in a prism. With bending light and
stuff. And they’re red too.

Anyway.

It doesn’t work with crows who are only made more mad, or sparrows, or any other kind of bird. Scientists A scientist* has noticed that seagulls are the only birds to fly out of the Glen of Insanity saner than they flew in. The scientist also speculates that in people brainwaves may act as particles as well as waves cos of us being cleverer and more quantum. So predictions for humans based on the seagull model might well be moot as an irrelevant coot. Or they may be as correct as a right carrot. We just don’t know.

So there.

But what happens to these sane seagulls? Well, there aren’t many of them but sadly they are shunned by their mostly loony seagull feathren and sent to St. Kilda where they can’t shame their families. On St. Kilda, they enjoy quiet board games and Isles FM until they are insane enough to rejoin their loved ones and to eat vomit once again. It’s all part of Nature’s cycle. And so the wheel turns…

* 12-year-old “Specky” Becky MacLean who won the West of Scotland Young Scientists Fair with her essay entitled The Natural History Of The Greater Berneray Cleg.

The Glen Of Insanity

Far, far over the Western Sea, in darkest Harris, there is a glen called The Glen of Insanity. Folks say that the souls of the mad go there to rave and rant until the end of time, and do basket-weaving on Tuesdays.

There is only one house, in the Glen of Insanity and it isn’t a house, it’s a lighthouse. It belongs to Calum-Neally MacTorrid, aka The Caretaker, and its beacon shining in the night draws the maddest souls of Scotland to the glen, like stalkers to a starlet.

“Come to me, ye troubled and ye restless!” the lighthouse seems to call, this strange and stripey lighthouse in a glen far to the West of your wildest imaginings. “Come to where the world is safe for you, come home!” Adding, “Dill pickle!” because it is an exceedingly mad glen lighthouse indeed.

The only living (or non-dead) people that can survive the Glen Of Insanity are simpletons and the hairless so once a week Daft Baldy Dougal from the village of Dalbeag is sent in with a red-spotted kerchief on a stick containing a Charley-Barley steak-and-kidney pie, some bread, eggs, tea and rum. He delivers this to Calum Neally, sometimes stops for a chat with a rabbit he knows, and makes his way out unscathed. People ask him what it’s like in there but he just says things like “Minty” or “Oblong” or “Hurty” and is just too bonkers to speak to.

In actual fact, Dougal is a very accurate reporter on the glen but just because he also fell in love with a blue-bottle once and enjoys gnawing on houses, people just dismiss his accounts, thanking the gods of mild legal stimulants that their parents weren’t first cousins (those whose parents weren’t, that is).

Many others have tried to enter the Glen of Insanity, of course. Bossy women with headscarves and flask tea, paranormal researchers from the mainland and local have-a-go hard-men have all, at various times over the years, crossed the mossy stile at the entrance to the valley. Those that survived to make it back never spoke a word in their lives again. They twitch a bit and have to be restrained on airplanes but otherwise are mere empty shells of the meddling arseholes they once were.

But there is one other very rare kind of person who legend says can traverse the glen unscathed. Under the altar of the ancient church in Rodel, a minister in 1843 found a mysterious parchment, which is of course the very best kind of parchment to find. When he brought it up to the sunlight it fell to dust in his hands but, before that, in the candle-light below ground, amongst many strange squiggles and a section headed The “Protocols of Simon”, he had read a passage which said:

“Only he who is the 7th crofter of a 7th crofter, pure of heart, and hairy of forearm may tell at all of the world inside the Glen of Insanity.”

(The good reverend couldn’t know it, of course, but the strange squiggles he saw before the wholesome light of day destroyed them were primitive molecular diagrams for Prozac and Lithium; and “The Protocols of Simon” bit was an early outline of cognitive behavioural therapy in small supportive group sessions. And it’s just as well for you there’s an Omniscient Narrator in this story to tell what the minister saw, otherwise you’d never have known how advanced ancient islanders were in the treatment of madness either. This evidence explains how the Outer Hebrides were able to survive the many epidemics of madness that periodically swept the land, making men brothers of chisels or worshippers of blue-bells or voters of the SNP for many terrible years at a time.)

As it happened, in 1974, such a special crofter was born unto Jessie-Belle MacCuish in the village of Tarbert. Jessie, a girl of easy affection and six other wee ones, had had it away one night with Findlay Mackay, 7th youngest son of old Norrie “10-tups” MacKay. As an older brother had been lost in infancy to the butter churn one heart-breaking day, Jessie-Belle’s newest baby, Tormod, was only counted as the 6th surviving son and his birth passed unnoticed by everyone except Howling Margaret who lived in the whiskey barrel at the end of Smelly Lane, but she was too smelly to matter.

Young Tormod grew tall and strong and his forearms were considered to be the sexiest from Tarbert to Tolsta and back again. And so it happened that a 7th crofter of a 7th crofter, that is to say a Far-Squinter, came of age only 12 miles away from the Glen of Insanity. The land shivered its recognition of this on Tormod’s birthday and doe rabbits told their wee ones of a great new magic in the land – a magic as yet undiscovered. A magic that came to fruition on Tormod’s 21st birthday…

One day, maybe I’ll tell you the Story of Tormod and The Glen of Insanity*. Right now I need my bed. Night.

* Don’t count on it though, I haven’t made it up thoroughly researched it yet.

Fame and Death

It’s hard to believe but there has never been a movie or a novel, not even a pamphlet, about the everyday trials and tribulations of a Hebridean bungee-jumping, kittiwake enthusiastist. It’s hard to believe but it’s true.

Clearly there is a big gap in the market for this sort of thing and, rest assured people, I’m on it. If I win fame and fortune with my weighty tome – clearly there’s a multi-generational, multi-volume epic in there, just look at the range of material! – well then so be it, so be it. And if I don’t, well then so be that too. That’s just the kind of person I am.

See I would write it for the love of the thing not for any crass commercial purpose. Getting caught up in the drama of RSPB kittiwake-counting expeditions set against the vast and moody panorama of the North Atlantic fringe (which is fraying by the way) would fill my days, while recounting tales of illicit and very (very – heh-heh) much requited love between star-crossed bungee-jumpers on training weekends to Scalpay would occupy my nights.

Universal themes would play out in harshly lit Youth Hostel kitchens and hovering in the background, perhaps peering in at the windows from the dark moor beyond, there will probably usually be a weather-beaten old stringy-haired crone through whose mad and rolling eyes we will watch the narrative unfold. But she will be an Unreliable Narrator and therefore nothing will be clear. Is Robert a psychopathic monster under that parka, or does he just remind the old crone of other psychopathic parka-wearing monsters she has loved in her mysterious past? I expect that questions such as these will haunt the reader and they will make mistakes in performing simple everyday tasks through being so completely preoccupied with the great themes and questions the book raises. The critics will love it. Everyone loves an unreliable narrator. Henry James really cashed in on that wee gimmick.

There will be passion of course, for passion is what rends and mends the fabric of human experience and no story is complete without it. Plus it will look great in High-Definition when the movie-version comes out. We will come eye-to-eyelet with bodice-ripping as the story opens in the late 1800s, and we will track the subsequent generations by means of what type of fabric is being ripped by the handsome kittiwake bounty-hunter/egg-nicker/Edinburgh Uni. research conducter/exotic foodpurchaser for Harrods (, grippingly they will all feature) at the time: cotton through satin through cheesecloth and fishskin(when times get tough) through tweed, tie-die and finally Gore-Tex; all will be torn from some pouty maiden. That right there is called a literary device. The fellow in the Times loves those. (If fame does elude me, it won’t be through lack of research and stalking and rummaging through Harold Bloom’s dustbins.)

But the novel will have a contemporary feel too, so I can make it into another genre heading on Amazon. I will touch on important issues of the day – a Wednesday perhaps – so that historians, looking back at the work, will come to understand what was important to people in the early 21st century. Terrorism, global warming, metrosexuality and hair-removal will all be themes and, throughout, just as 60s-era Rumpole espoused claret and justice, and post-apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy wrote of tinned peaches and tender filial love, I will advocate healthy-eating and an active 5-a-day lifestyle.

It’s sure to be a big hit but don’t envy me, dear friends in blogging. Don’t wish me ill or post me the gonads of my very own beloved cat, for I will remember you all when Barbara Walters and Letterman and Charlie Rose are all banging on my door for an interview. I plan to grant few and maintain a lofty remove from my fans which is dead impressive. I will probably wear black polo-necks a lot more but I will still just be the same old Sam and I’ll send you all something lovely from hampers.com providing you agree to say nice things about me in the papers when I make a tragically young end that leaves the literary world bereft and reeling and drinking too much and falling down and sobbing snottily into its own tasteful, success-scented sleeve. Otherwise, no dice.

But never mind all that – today is the Dia De Los Muertes in many South American countries, when people offer the favourite things – foods and music and snow-drops on kittens for all I know – of deceased relatives to their spirits. When I die I want Leonard Cohen on a loop, buttery-flakey rhubarb pie a la mode, a couple bottles of Bombay Sapphire and a puffer-fish, cos really, what better time to try some?

What would you have?