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"A Scottish Wind in the Willows on high end skunk."

"I enjoy Kate's stories..."
"A fun and spooky read..."

"The characters are so involving and
loveable that you do want them to really exist. It does read like you've
stumbled across someone's long lost diary from and alternate timeline/universe.
I quickly got into the story and loved every second of reading it...
total gem of a read by an author who deserves a lot more recognition."


Saturday, 16 December 2017

Poem of the Day


The butterfly the ancient Grecians made
The soul's fair emblem, and its only name -
But of the soul, escaped the slavish trade
Of mortal life! - For in this earthly frame
Ours is the reptile's lot, much toil, much blame,
Manifold motions making little speed,
And to deform and kill the things whereon we feed.

S.T. Coleridge

Coleridge is my favourite poet not because of his supposedly opium-fuelled Kubla Khans and Ancient Mariners (though I do love those too) but because he writes about life, and if I'm feeling grim and lonely I find a friend in him.  Nature, struggle, despondency, the Elements, transcendence, the Stars, cottages, fireside, the comfort of a dying flame and the vulnerable, doomed warmth of loved ones. I identify with his struggle, physical, psychological, spiritual, through howling winds and wintry blasts.  I can easily imagine going back to the early 1800s and spending a pleasant afternoon by a fireside chatting with Coleridge about ever-present Death and the difficulties and possibilities of transcending the trials of a doomed mortal life.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Hard graft for peanuts

'I explained to Val Nark that I didn't like being a modern apprentice toilet cleaner for £3.50 an hour.  What more can I learn, I said, once I know how to bleach and clean the U-bend?'
'I don't know,' I replied, unable to suppress a hint of pride. 'I've never cleaned a toilet in my life.'
'Val says there's all sorts to know about toilets though,' continued Tuppence. 'Starting with Thomas Crapper and moving right through'Shanks' to Dave Nark's chemical-free portaloo.'
'Oh yeah.'
'Yes.  The 'Nark' is basically an old-fashioned metal incinerator filled with straw or crumpled newspaper, with a seated compartment fitted inside.  Once the straw has reached maximum soil slash urine-saturation-point, or when the smell gets too bad, whichever  happens first, you set fire to it.  And then the whole cycle can start again.  One hundred per cent hygienic, no nasty 'compost pits' to dig, and no cleaning or harsh chemicals involved at any point.'
'Hey flaming presto.'
'Exactly Uncle Tuppy.  Isn't it wonderful?'
'Who knew.  You sound quite keen on the modern apprentice toilet cleaning and I've got to admit I'm disappointed in you, Tuppence.  In fact, I'm not just disappointed, I'm shocked, and I'll have to have a wee lie down.  Nobody in this family has ever, ever done hard graft for peanuts (or indeed anything) and I really think you're letting the side down.'  I folded my arms and glared at him sternly. 'We don't do cleaning and we don't do work.  I told you not to accept Val's modern apprenticeship offer, but would you listen? No you would not, and look where it's got you.  Thinking everything's rosy in the toilet world and accepting a pittance of £3.50 an hour.  Where's your pride Tuppence?  It's not like you've got a mortgage to pay.  You've got a roof over your head haven't you?  Food in your belly? I don't understand why you're even bothering.  You've gone right off piste Tuppence and I don't want to be controlling your life or anything but I don't like it and I have to tell you, it's unlikely to end well.'
'I've got plans Uncle Tuppy. Never fear.' Tuppence winked and tapped the side of his nose. 'And you know that when I do plans, I do 'em big.  There's more than £3.50 an hour and a roll of Andrex to be found in toilets, you mark my words.'
Whatever could he mean?

next time - Tuppence starts his own mobile lavatory cleaning business with a Raleigh pushbike, a plunger, a bottle of bleach (and is denied Universal Credit due to not reaching the low earnings threshold).  All is not what it seems, however.


Monday, 4 December 2017

Medicine, Snouts and Sustenance. Moral Dilemma #145690

Tupfinder Towers
'I don't see how you can say that it's morally wrong to steal from a food bank and sell the stuff on at a profit.  Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing nowadays - starting our own businesses and looking out for number one or whatever?'  Tuppence was sitting cross-legged on the edge of the settee, swathed in blankets and sipping hot Ribena from his favourite pewter mug. 'And what's more Uncle Tuppy - it's not like I've just thought this up myself.  I learned from the best.  From you and Uncle Geoffrey.  We did use to steal Madeira and crisps and baccy and stuff from the tunnels, remember.*  '
'We still do,' said Geoffrey, through a mouthful of chilli heatwave Doritos.
'Yes that's true,' I said, throwing another driftwood log on the fire, 'but I'm sure I read somewhere that two wrongs don't make a right.  Mind you, we've never actually sold on anything we've stolen from the tunnels.  We always consume it ourselves, taking only that which is sufficient to our needs, plus a bit extra in case of emergencies, late night snacks and so forth.  Crates of best brandy and snouts don't count, as brandy is medicine and snouts are treatment for our baccy addiction. And everything else is sustenance.  Which makes it kind of not stealing in a way, and therefore okay.'
'Get away!' said Geoffrey, 'The stuff in the tunnels doesn't belong to us.  Stealing is stealing.  The best you could say about it is,  we aren't involved in 'reset'.'
'Maybe if we gave up stealing from the tunnels and just focused on stealing from the food bank that would leave just the one wrong, making it right.'
'That sounds all very well on one level,' said Geoffrey, 'but let's face it, the stuff we get from the tunnels is top notch.  Best brandy, Madeira by the barrel, Turkish snouts, reams of silk...'
'Tins of korn bif,' added Tuppence.
'Of course!  Crates of the stuff.  And it's the real McCoy, not supermarket own brand,' continued Geoffrey.  'Tins of value rice pudding and cheesy pasta are not worth the candle.  And remember - the stuff in the tunnels was looted from wrecked ships by the rats.  It might not belong to us, but it doesn't really belong to anyone else either.  And better that we enjoy it than the rats.'
Tuppence drained his Ribena and set his mug down with a crash.  'Alright.  You've convinced me.  I kind of feel bad that I ever even thought about stealing from a food bank. Not that it's morally wrong, or that, to steal food from starving people - it just isn't worth it.  Part of me will always yearn to be a Victorian-style entrepreneur and I am DETERMINED, determined, mark you,  to find a way.' 

next time - the Narks offer Tuppence a job as an apprentice toilet cleaner, cleaning the yurt toilets for £3.50 an hour on an 'as required' basis.

*as explained in e-books and paperbacks, at great length

Friday, 1 December 2017

November, 2017

My usual monthly record of roads and paths followed.

 seapenguin (2) three tales of woe

'What's wrong with the world?  What's wrong with people?  Why are they horrible? Why is everything rotten and stinking all of a sudden?'
Tuppence lay on the settee under five eiderdowns, raving in his pyjamas and sweating out a fever.  He's prone to fevers;  often they're psychological in nature, brought on by too much excitement or a need for attention, so we don't get too concerned unless his temperature goes over 150.  Even then, there isn't much we can do except -
'It's 149 and three quarters Uncle Tuppy!' shrilled Tuppence. 'I'm burning up!'
On this occasion it was all his own fault.  He'd been out late last night trying to flog his stolen tins of value rice pudding and he hadn't worn his winter pully.
He'd also used the computer at the mobile library this afternoon with the help of library assistant Craigy McFarlane (Chic's husband) and 'gone on the internet' and 'looked at the news'.  If that wasn't bad enough, he'd looked at 'Instagram' and felt inferior.
That was more than enough to trigger his current crisis.
Yes, we've finally got 'the internet' Hereabouts.  Tuppence wants to be a Youtube and/or Instagram star.  Unfortunately, he doesn't have a 'smart phone' or indeed any other piece of 'tech' as he calls it, and can only access the internet with Craigy's help via the library van. 
In my day, we aspired to being train drivers or - no, that's not true actually.  We aspired to Very Little because our window on the world was not a virtual window, with all the ghastly magnitude and mind-boggling awfulness that generally entails, it was a real window, and all we could see through the grime and bubbles in the glass was a tiny square of light in the morning, dimming as the day progressed,  and a tiny square of darkness at night, occasionally illuminated by a 'Hunter's Moon' or a meteor shower or such-like.
We had to turn inwards to our own firesides and learn about the world from occasional visitors from Far-flung Places, Co-op flyers and dog-eared copies of the Bunfettle Gazette.  And it didn't do us any harm.  Or Did It?  More on that later.
It won't end well.  It can't end well.  Tuppence's brain can't take it.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Tupfinder Towers and the soon-to-be-obstructed view
So what's been going on in the world for the last few years, and how's it been affecting us at the Rocky Outcrop?  The answer to the first question is a fair amount, and the answer to the second is, not very much, by and large, except that everyone's 'poor' and Dave and Valerie Nark have objected to the Council about a housing development (ten percent of which is to be 'affordable homes')  up beyond the tourist car park on the grounds that it will interfere with their yurt/glamping business and also destroy valuable wildlife habitat despite the hundred yard 'buffer zone' mooted by the developers. 
Mr and Mrs Tupfinder-general have also objected, as it will obstruct the view from Tupfinder Towers, and possibly encroach upon fragile overwintering sites for the Tupfinder's South American wasp colony, only he hasn't mentioned about the wasps due to it being illegal to keep them.
More on this later.
Another new 'thing' is the food bank.  It sort of evolved from one of the overflowing bins at the tourist car park (where Geoffrey used to get his crisps from, as readers will know).  It's run mainly by 'incomer' Chic McFarlane (more on him later) and seems to only have tins of 'value' rice pudding and packets of cheesy pasta, which would suit us fine as these are our favourites, only we don't get access to the food bank as despite our threadbare lifestyle we do have a roof over our heads, and aren't actually 'starving' and don't 'qualify'. 
Tuppence has been in trouble - or would have been, had he been caught - stealing from the foodbank and attempting to 'sell stuff on at a profit'.  Not that he made much 'profit' from tins of value rice pudding.
'There's a market for everything if you look hard enough Uncle Tuppy!'  he shrilled, throwing his bulging rucksack to the floor with a massive metallic 'CLANG!'  'I'll stockpile it and cause a crisis in the market!  I'll make my fortune yet, you mark my words!'  and he collapsed on the settee exhausted.
More on that, and plenty of other stuff, later.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Do men and women grow old differently?  Of course they do, in a superficial sense.  Biology, society, politics and culture make it so.  But not where it counts.   We all must face ageing and Death.   
Western culture was pretty much under various forms of patriarchal control for centuries.  Women, supposedly, lacked the capacity to Reason, to manage their own property or to vote, for example.  That has changed, of course, and yet when I look around at the internet and television and Western media generally I marvel at how little change there has been, in terms of how women are perceived and portrayed, since the 1970s. In some respects we seem to have travelled backwards.  But perhaps the media doesn’t really count.  Perhaps real lives are different.  They generally are.
The great thing about getting older  is that as time passes you – I – become aware of a multiplicity of selves, and you – I  - might even find at some point that you – I –  can become friends with some of them;  or more intriguingly, from the point of view of my own writing, frenemies.
As a writer you – I – can draw on these patterns of light and shade, and on an evolving  appreciation of process, growth, decay, loss, and the ultimate poignancy of love in the knowledge of mortality.
So much for the positive side.  But what does it mean?  And what are the wider implications?   It means that you become aware that you are subject to yet another of these well-known,  invidious, pseudo-ironical, and rather offensively-flavoured ‘laws’, such as ‘Murphy’s’, and ‘Sod’s’.   For reasons that will become apparent,  I’ll now provide an example of the latter (and also of the former, because, who’d have guessed it?  they are one and the same):  I dropped my toast this morning, and it landed butter side down.   Butter is too expensive and nourishing to fling willy-nilly and without so much as a by-your-leave straight in the bin, but who would choose to eat toast with cat hairs, carrot scrapings and dust on it?  Someone with very strange tastes, that’s who, and I wouldn’t want them living next door.  Perhaps your floor is cleaner than mine; perhaps I’m being presumptuous.   If I’m not, you are, like me, thusly (yes, unlikely though it sounds, ‘thusly’ is a Real Word) thrust into a ghastly dilemma-style vortex of, quite frankly, horrific and unimaginable proportions.  You think I exaggerate?  I do not.  Please Read On.  To remove the butter and save the bread, perhaps re-toasting it under the grill, as the toaster would be ruined by the inevitably residual butter, thereby turning it into shoe-leather, which might come in handy at some point but which is really likely to be quite inedible, or to start from scratch and make fresh, only (imagine!) the post-person is hammering relentlessly at the door with an Amazon parcel for the dreadful shouty woman three doors up, and you are in a hurry to get your washing out before the rain comes on and you don’t want to miss the Jeremy Kyle Show because your disabled cousin’s dentally-challenged adult children are on it with their…oh who cares.  This is a prime example of how Time gets Wasted as Life Goes By.  And as we get older we have no time to spare.
The ‘law’ to which I refer, by the way,  is a strange law for which no name has yet been invented (I might give it some thought) the essence of which is that the more years that go by, the more quickly they seem to pass, and the more aware you become of every wasted second. 
There is an urgency to life as one ages.  You have only just adjusted to the shock of looking in the mirror and seeing one’s mother, when friends, family and acquaintances start succumbing to the various ghastly diseases that inevitably occur in later life, and one wonders how long one’s own luck will hold out.    It was Alexander Pope who said, rather stating the obvious, that terminal illness in the young was like a premature old age.  And Bette Davis said that ageing isn’t for ‘sissies’.  We cannot afford to be ‘sissies’.  We must press on, making the most of every minute, before the Grim Reaper steps on our coat tails and yanks us down to the Nether World.
However, it’s all an awful lot of Hard Work and sometimes one just wants to sit by the fire in one’s velour slippers and winceyette jammies and ‘veg out’, and, if you’re lucky, have someone congenial bring you a mug of cocoa with a hefty slug of brandy in.   It must be understood that time spent ‘relaxing’ like this is never wasted.    It is at times like this that worthwhile ideas tend to swim up  from the unconscious, and puzzles are solved.
It must be acknowledged, equally, that sometimes it is simply too late.  Once you get past a certain age (and I am unsure of what that age is, because it varies from one individual to the next) you have to recognise that there are many things that you will never do again and that much early ambition will be left unfulfilled.  The sense of promise and possibility at a new day dawning, diminishes.  That is for sure.
You – I – must come to terms with all of this, because it is the essence of How Things Are.  We must travel to a point within ourselves where it is somehow all, all right.    And if it is not all right, we must somehow learn to tolerate and accept it.  This is my journey, now.
We as writers bear witness to our lives and to the times in which we live.  Even if we write about the past, we are writing it through a prism, which is our own present perception.  We cannot recapture a moment, ever.  We can only describe it as we think it was, or would like it to have been.

What keeps me writing as I age?  Because I have never stopped wondering ‘why’?  Why are we here, and why is life so poignant and short and filled with apparent loss?  I don’t expect ever to find an answer, but my ambition is to keep on wondering, and seeking, and learning, and I thank God, or Fortune, or whichever, for my faculties and my remaining health and the ability to do so.  

This is a revised version of a piece I wrote for Shortbread Stories blog a couple of years ago.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Monday, 30 October 2017

Sunday, 22 October 2017

We Don’t Like Yurts and New-fangled Stuff

(an excerpt from Seapenguin(2) Three Tales of Woe)

May Day has come and gone, with its fires and sacrifices and such-like, and we’re still here. Another year whizzes by, like a juggernaut down the M6, speeding who-knows-where with its load of petrified animals or toxic waste. And who-cares-where, as long as it’s nowhere I have to be.
“The trouble is, Tuppy, the world doesn’t stand still,” preached Geoffrey in his most patronising and sanctimonious manner, as he stood by the stove stirring the lumps out of a packet of Value cheese sauce mix. “It moves on, and…”
“I know that! I’m not thick!” I snapped. “And by the way — you’ll need a whisk for that if you want to get rid of those lumps.”
“…you’re not a mover and shaker Tuppy, and neither am I,” continued Geoffrey, ignoring my culinary advice as he groped his way towards some sort of rather pathetic conclusion, or dare I say it — insight, “We don’t fit in any more. Perhaps it’s an age thing. We’re hardly in the first flush of youth.”
“We’ve never been movers and shakers Geoffrey. We never have “fitted in”. Yes, we’re geriatrics, chronologically speaking, but it’s not an age thing, as such. We’ve always had a geriatric mentality. We’re slow, dull-witted, boring, inward-looking, narrow-minded…”
“Yes!” Geoffrey agreed eagerly, “We’ve never liked strangers, and we hate change. Remember the Narks, who lived in the yurt in the tourist car park? We tried to make their life hell so that they’d go away and leave us in peace, just the way we like it. And they did! Were they communists Tuppy? I’ve always wondered.”
“I don’t think so Geoffrey. I think they were hippies-turned-capitalists, trying to turn a dollar or a groat or whatever from eco-tourism. If we hadn’t got rid of them, that car park would have been stuffed with yurts, and eco-toilets, and people selling crafts and hand-made shoes, and over-priced vegetarian food, and nutters running around on stilts wearing jester’s hats and before you knew it there would have been another car park covered with more yurts, and then another, and another, and then there would have been some sort of summer fire festival, and Dave and Valerie would have built a massive bespoke eco-house from recycled whisky barrels up on the moors, with a view out to the far horizon and its own helipad, and we’d have been driven off to some ghastly council home in a “town”, heaven forbid, and our ramshackle un-eco-friendly old home would have been bull-dozed flat in the name of progress….”
“Stop, stop!” cried Geoffrey, “I’m scared they’ll come back! If they were so powerful, and determined, they might…”
“Geoffrey — they have. They have come back. In fact, I’m not sure that they ever left. Weren’t you listening, when Razor Bill arrived with the post this morning? But never mind that now. Hurry up with that macaroni cheese — my stomach thinks my throat’s been cut.”
After the talent night debacle, Geoffrey and I took some “downtime” in order to refresh ourselves and to give our bottom end tummies time to recover after the unwise ingestion of Mrs T-G’s extra black sausage rolls with extra blackness.
I was drifting into a fairly pleasant semi-stupor when Geoffrey piped up.
“What NOW?!” I really, really, really couldn’t be bothered.
“Dave Nark was asking me how we managed to keep body and soul together when we have no obvious source of income. He was wondering if we work from home, or if we’re maybe on benefits, including tax or pension credit. I said I didn’t know. Do you know, Tuppy?”
“I might do, but I’m certainly not telling Dave Nark. He’s a self-righteous nosey git. Him and his so-called wife Valerie and their so-called eco-friendly-so-called-life-style, living in a so-called wind-powered so-called yurt in the tourist car-park. They eat goji berries and quinoa, Geoffrey! You’re not telling me that’s normal. And besides — they were a mite over-fond of the Peruvian hat before they became weirdly popular last winter. Never trust anyone who wears a Peruvian hat who doesn’t have to for medical reasons, Geoffrey.”
“I also told him that you sold your soul to the Grim Reaper a while back and so none of the above probably applied to you.”
“That is true. I’d forgotten about the vast, yawning, infinite black-hole-style vacuum that I drag around with me like a duffel-bag-ful of mega-spanners, that used to be my Soul. Do you know Geoffrey — it feels heavier than one of Mrs T-G’s rock buns made from Real Rock?”
“That’s terrible! What a dreadful burden for you! It must be all but intolerable!”
“Yes — it is rather — “ I began, hesitantly.
“Anyway — back to ME,” Geoffrey barged on, oblivious, “How on earth do I manage to keep body and soul together? Please tell me Tuppy because I haven’t a clue.”
“Your soul is stitched to your body like Peter Pan’s shadow, Geoffrey,” I said wearily, “I’m afraid the stitching becomes a little unravelled from time to time, which results in “moments”, such as the one at the talent contest the other night.”
“But everything always works out all right in the end — that’s what you’re trying to say — isn’t it Tuppy?”
“Yes Geoffrey. Everything always works out all right in the end.” And I glanced over my shoulder at the yawning darkness inside the duffel-bag that lurked in the shadows behind me….


Thoughts on Coleridge's Frost at Midnight

Thoughts on Coleridge’s Frost at Midnight.

Making time for Abstruser Musings.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of the mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

There’s nothing better for Mind and Soul than switching off all your technology and sitting by the last glowing embers of a late-night winter fire. You might take a book of poems from the shelf and find one that consoles you; you might sit alone, reflecting, or sit as Coleridge did, with a sleeping child in your arms, and listen to the gentle silence of a peaceful night-time house.
The clock ticking, a log falling as it crumbles into ash, a mouse scratching in the skirting. Ice flowers on the windowpane, melting at the edges.
This is luxury in the modern age. It’s the true luxury of living a settled daily life led at a slow pace in a traditional home. The blessed luxury of routine, of natural patterns, of meals well-digested and long nights of restorative sleep — the luxury of time, of finding one’s level and allowing one’s mind to reflect and wander at its own pace. Circadian rhythms, if you like.
Turn the pages of your book and pull your dressing-gown closer around as the fire dies. Forget about what Must be Done, the nine to five or the twelve hour shift, traffic jams, the haters, the ever-demanding boss, the council tax you cannot afford, and the credit card bill. These things are not what Life is about.
Listen to your heartbeat slowing in the silence and feel your Spirit fly.

(first published on Medium)

Friday, 1 September 2017