My Amazon Author Page

Find my Amazon author page via this link

"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."


SCROLL DOWN THE PAGE TO FIND LINKS TO ALL FOUR BOOKS

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Thoughts expected during the coming year.

Loss of place, loss of community - memories of a time when islands were not, or seemed not, places of isolation.
These are the things that will be occupying my thoughts during the coming year.  When I can shoehorn them in among worrying about bills, getting the car fixed, damp-dusting, the 'ageing process', Death, World War Three, eating too many biscuits, did I use up the emergency UHT milk last Tuesday, bothering the doctor with my rheumy eye, will I die 'early and suddenly' (preferred option) or wither away, alone and ga-ga, in a work-house-style care home et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, that is.  Death and Money, basically.  And as one gets older, Death, naturally, tends to predominate.
If you aren't readying yourself for Death, ur not doin it rite. Life, that is.  I read that somewhere.  Or at least, something along those lines.
I'm forever readying myself for Death.  I have been ever since I was in my 30s when I expected, due to illness, to be dead at 42.  However that did not occur.  42 came and went, and a fairly large number of years have followed.  I count myself lucky.  Now I think of myself as being in a waiting room, waiting my turn, sweaty palms and dicky tummy, reading magazines I never usually read and eating sweets to try to take my mind off the horror of it all.  Lots of people have gone on before, let's face it.  It can't be that bad - can it? We all must open the door alone and find out what lies behind it, alone.  Perhaps it's not that bad after all.  We just don't know what lies beyond, because nobody's come back to tell us.  Fear of the unknown and all that.
Meanwhile, it's probably a good idea to set aside 'readying yourself' from time to time, and enjoy oneself as much as possible.  Otherwise one might become depressed and likely to move on from magazines and sweets to truly life-threatening things such as alcohol, drugs, fatty foods, dangerous 'sports' and so forth, in order to blot out the existential anxiety, thereby increasing it by increasing the chances of an earlier demise possibly through complications arising from morbid obesity.
Can I manage that?  Can I manage to set aside readying myself?  I'm not sure.   I am sure, and I know from experience, that reading and writing are two non-life-threatening activities which can blot it out, if the subject matter is sufficiently interesting and engaging.  Obviously that won't include (at least not when anyone's looking) articles about gluten-free baking,  Katie Perry's beach-ready-body and Cruz Beckham's singing career.  That is an excellent motivation.
On the other hand, why should one bother to avoid life-threatening things, when one is going to die anyway?  It's only putting off the inevitable and you can smoke and drink merrily knowing you will be saving the state a few quid by dying 'early and suddenly' of a heart attack or rapidly-advancing cancer.  Nobody lives forever.  The reason I don't presently tend to over-indulge TOO much is because I enjoy physical activity in a moderate kind of way, walking and nature and so forth, and I want to be able to do so for as long as possible.
On the other hand - or foot, since we've used up both hands - you never can tell.  One might not have to bother setting aside 'readying oneself'.   One might come to terms with one's mortality - biting the bullet, so to speak - as one potters along, and have a terrific time doing it.
Compliments of the season, and all that.


Thursday, 15 December 2016

Roads and Paths 2016





Observations of paths and roads from my daily walks during the past year.  Most were taken in the fields and woods near home.  Farm tracks,  woodland paths, single track roads.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Festive Freebie

I've organised free download of all my e-books over the Festive - starting on Christmas Eve and continuing for five days.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kate-Smart/e/B008MFK3NE/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1
Crack open the Madeira, trim the oil lantern, put your feet up by a roaring driftwood fire, fill your pipe, fire half a dozen fish-fingers under the grill, ensure the dead-fall is operational (in order to repel neighbours), and Read On, while the wind howls and the windows rattle and Death sniffs the air, seeking his next victim...
Not necessarily in that order, of course.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.  

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Germs and New-fangled Fivers

This post was inspired by the so-called new fivers, which are apparently impregnated with meat products, making them a horrible, weird, post-cash-society, both food and money-style hybrid. While waiting for the kettle to boil and leaving aside the obvious, i.e. they probably don't taste better than Spam but you might be tempted to make a sandwich from one if sufficiently intoxicated, I was contemplating the ways in which a meat-product-impregnated new-fangled fiver might be better or worse than a meat-free-but-filthy old-fangled fiver - the kind that emerges damp and falling apart and undoubtedly germ-ridden from smelly men's trousers during pub crawls or in the bookies.
The new-fangled fivers are certainly likely to be less of a health hazard. Or are they?  Perhaps there is a hidden danger lurking in your wipe-clean fiver.  Perhaps its shiny facade masks a deadly, germ-laden secret. Perhaps the Daily Express will do a terrifying feature on it.
Which germs does one really have to worry about, though, when push comes to shove?  Stuff from your backside and stuff from your nose and stuff from off of off food, and stuff that smells bad, obviously.  At least, it's obvious to me. Some may argue, of course, as they are fully entitled to do.  And some may not - and they are the clever ones because they agree with me.  I will reluctantly accept that what smells bad to one may not smell bad to another, and vice versa.  Nevertheless I hold to my point and I refuse to yield.
What else is there to worry about, in the germ realm, now we're on the subject and away from fivers?  Let me see.  Diseases, possibly, that you can catch from toilet seats and the tropics and the like.  Other than that...is there anything?  I dunno.
Some people like to tackle germs, by the way, with an 'evil spray', perhaps incorporating bleach and the like.  Does 'evil spray' kill germs though - the ones that count, at any rate?  Is it of any benefit? Does its germ-killing capacity outweigh the carcinogenic risk from its noxious toxic fumes?  Does one, in short,  get one's money's worth from the evil spray?  Because after all that is what everything boils down to in life.  Getting One's Money's Worth.  
Which is my next topic*, and brings me rather neatly in a forced kind of way, back to fivers.
*unless I get killed by germs.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Random Days Doing Nothing Don't Mean the Same Anymore

They just don't.  It's pretty much undoubtedly to do with the sense that there will be fewer of them.  When you're young, or even young-ish, days stretch ahead and boredom seems full of endless possibilities that slowly emerge like sailing ships through fog, adrift upon a mind-smothering and smothered-by-mind miasma which has been formed by doing nothing but sitting for hours in your pyjamas staring at a grey, flat stillness through the window, drinking too many cups of tea, and poking at shapes formed by biscuit crumbs at the bottom of the empty packet, and if you fail to choose one, which invariably you do because it doesn't matter, everything simply slides back into the timeless grey to emerge just the same on another dull day.
It's something to do with infinity and when you're older you know that infinity doesn't exist.  You've lost the courage to imagine it.  You can almost smell encroaching old age it's so close and you fear it.  You fear not managing.  You fear stumbling round the kitchen in a baggy acrylic cardigan and trousers that smell of urine, groping for the kettle with your arthritic fingers and barely seeing where the teabags are through your rheumy eyes and also because you've forgotten and there's nobody there to remind you except the underpaid under-trained nineteen year old care worker who pops in to change your leg bag at lunch-time - at least you hope it's going to be her and not the sixty-three year old care worker who steals from your wallet because she's angry and bitter about the dreadful state of her life and she's got no pension till she's seventy-one and her partner left her for a bloke and her daughter's an internet escort and she's lost all her money buying scratchcards and tattoos and paying off Wonga loans.  During those flat grey hours in your cold and empty house you look back on your cold and empty life and forwards to a cold and empty death.   You look up at the night sky as you struggle up the icy path to put the bin out and you don't wonder as you did when you were young, you don't see wonder, you can't, you only see that the stars are cold and distant and most of them don't even exist any more anyway. they're dead.  You're living on a planet spinning in a hopeless void and you've hardly any time left and it's all been for nothing and you don't know why.

Enjoy your day!

Steve Hillage - Hurdy Gurdy Man





Not as good as the Butthole Surfers' interpretation, for my taste.  However, always good to revisit the Canterbury school of prog.

Pink Floyd See Emily Play 1967 HD 0815007

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Them - Mystic Eyes/Gloria (Music Hall de France, 1965)





Fascinating 60s video of  'Les Them' - great band and I love that the audience ranges from young children to older people.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

April walks 2016





Gradually putting the year's photographs on Youtube.  Photos are not brilliant quality, due to my lack of skill and a cheap camera - it's just for interest.

wind through willow, wind through grass September 27, 2016





Observations from yesterday's walk.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

March, 2016





A collection of photos taken near home through March of this year.  April and the summer months will follow in due course.

Friday, 9 September 2016

The Unique Sound of the Cricket

'All the happiness the earth possesses in not being broken down into matter and spirit was contained in the unique sound of the cricket.'



The Unique Sound of the Cricket: Édouard Manet, Portrait of Stéphane Mallarmé, 1876.Stéphane Mallarmé died 118 years ago today. He wrote the letter below to his friend Eugène Lefébure, in May 1867, at age twenty-five, when he was working as a teacher in the provinces. It was, apparently, stressful, and Mallarmé came to feel that he’d entered “the Void”—a liberating (albeit terrifying) abyss of... Read More »

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Will there be an Apocalypse, and if so, after, will we be able to buy and enjoy cheese?

Of course not!  To both!  Although wait a minute - how can I say that with such dismissive certainty?  Nobody knows if there will be an apocalypse, or indeed what form it might take should one occur.
Say, for example, there was an apocalypse booked in for next Tuesday.  Would it wipe out the entire globe, or just half of Kilmarnock (not the good half, obviously)?  We simply do not know.  Would cheese be available, in either respect?  I think it is quite likely that some foodstuffs might survive, and that cheese might very well be among them.
Especially the hard kind,  such as Parmesan.
Would we be able to buy it?  Only if money and a trading environment survived.  Money and buying might be consigned to the dustbins of history, post-apocalypse.  We might have to stoop to 'looting' it.
As for 'enjoying' it - well, stolen fruits and all that.  And it would all depend on a decent cheddar being available. And on not impairing one's enjoyment of said cheddar by worrying about skyrocketing cholesterol.
I'm bored thinking about it now, and am moving on to 'what if the whole world went underwater due to apocalyptic flooding and to escape Kevin Costner - how quickly would we develop gills?'

Monday, 20 June 2016

Are We Turning into Machines?

Surely this isn't likely.  At least, not terribly.  I mean,  I accept that as organic beings - if you take a teleological perspective - we are wending our way along a Hegelian-style continuum of evolution - that is, probably.  Perhaps.  Then again,  perhaps not.  And whereabouts we are on that continuum, should such a thing exist, or be occurring, is a matter of pure conjecture.
Where does that leave us?  Sort of where we always were I suppose.
I don't think we're that far from the 'fish crawling out of swamp' stage really.  Well, so it seems if you look at social media.
We certainly use a lot of technology - our lives revolve around it now - and technology is increasingly involved in health care and in food production, so that we even ingest technology without knowing it.  The virtual web surrounds us and numbs us like the poisonous silvery threads of an enormous, crushing, stifling spider's web.  The harder you struggle, the more you kick, the harder it is to escape.  (Is that true?  I'm not sure.  Perhaps it just feels like that.)
One of the things that worries me most is that already there are no letters, no diaries with which secrets are shared, no accounts of daily life written in the watches of the night and hidden under pillows. Will there ever be political diaries again?  A Chris Mullin, a Tony Benn?  What about Byron and his Letters?  Nowadays he'd have an Instagram account and probably a leaked sex tape.  Everything's ephemeral - close your account and it's gone,  all gone, all bar that embarrassing photo you were tagged in on Facebook that just will never go away.
Perhaps as we age we will have failing parts of us replaced so that eventually we are completely mechanical, and just require to be 'maintained' and 'serviced'.  Hips, knees, kidneys, livers, hearts, lungs. Teeth.  Faces.  They do all this already, in some form or other.  So, semi-mechanical humanoids, yes, that I can envisage.   What about brains?  Will they be next?  And what about souls?  I think we all have those, and I'm quite sure you cannot manufacture a soul.  A machine may be able to 'think', but it cannot have a soul.
No, I don't think we''re 'turning into' into machines.  I'm not convinced that we're turning into anything, we're not evolving at all.  If we're doing anything, anything at all, we're spiralling downwards, the trajectory is downwards, earthwards, drilling into the dirt and knocking ourselves senseless on rocks.  We don't understand time never mind the infinite, and our place within it.  Our view of existence is limited,  we see only a fraction, like navigating through life via that steamed-up triangular window in the Apollo 13 space capsule.
What gives me hope is the organic world.
Nature doesn't like nasty machines.

Next post - Will there be an Apocalypse, and if so, after, will we still be able to buy cheese?

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Sundays

For the last twenty-plus years I've lived in a row of Victorian cottages with a gravel path in front which forms part of a traditional route to a church.   The church, like so many in Scotland, is a mid-Victorian building which replaced an older structure, built on a hill on land which has for centuries been a spiritual centre.  Graves in the churchyard date back to the 1700s.  Those are the legible ones. There will be many others which have vanished.
I often watch the churchgoers processing past my window, in an idle sort of way as I drink tea and catch up with Twitter and the like.  They've been getting fewer in number and, like myself, greyer and more gnarled and 'hunched' in appearance.  As I've been watching this ageing and gnarling and shrinking, week by week, winter by winter, I've been feeling oddly more anxious as I realise I'm observing the passing of an era.
I say 'oddly' because I don't really like the church as such - at least, not the one whose traditions I was brought up in.
I grew up in a strict church-going family at a time when Sundays were observed and Bibles were read. You didn't work on a Sunday unless you were a nurse or similar.  Shops were closed.  You had a proper dinner.  It was a day of rest and quiet.  It all seemed very dull.
When I was young I loathed Sundays and I loathed the church - or thought I did.  The benefits were that it gave me something to rebel against - a structure, and a moral code - and it is in their nature that all adolescents need to rebel in order to test themselves, develop and mature.  Perhaps that structure and moral code can be (or was) a too-obvious diversion, an easy target, unhelpfully masking other issues.  But I don't have the time or the inclination to go into all that at this point.
Conversely, the church gave me reassuring places to go when I felt a bit lost.  I stopped attending church services as soon as I was permitted to make my own decision about that but I continued to visit church buildings with their silence and their spires and their shadows and their smell of dust.  Some felt appealing, mellow and welcoming and gave genuine comfort.  Others felt sour, like cold, over-boiled potatoes and the unwholesome aftermath of a very bad meal.  These gave comfort only in that they were grounding reminders of a familiar, leaden dread.
The church-going generation - my parents' generation - is passing.  Church buildings are closing down.  Soon there will be towns with no church, no spire, no bells, no Sunday service.  Cathedrals and abbeys on the grand scale will remain as attractions and museums but small town churches and country churches will be lost, de-sanctified and demolished or turned into houses.
This is a source of regret to me.  I don't like much of what passes for Christianity.  The ministers I have encountered from time to time have not impressed me.  They seem by and large not people with whom I'd like to discuss anything on a spiritual level.
But I need to know that churches are There.  That there is a moral code to follow, or to choose not to follow. That Sundays off matter, as human souls and dignity matter.  That there are spires rising to Heaven in every little town, spiritual symbols that can be observed as sources of inspiration and hope within the mundane and the everyday, reminders of human mortality and redemption, rather than archaic architectural 'features' in a re-modelled upmarket home.
I say all this as a total hypocrite of course.  I've been part of the 'decline'. However, that may change as I teeter on the edge of my own graveside.


Saturday, 7 May 2016

'We live by the spirit.  The rest belongs to death.'

I've been trawling through the blog archives, which go back to June 2008.  I deleted lots of posts during 2010 and 11.  Others have survived, some interesting, others not.  For a while it became a diary, a record of trips made, books read, pretty things like flowers noted.
Then that became too much in terms of the intrusion I felt from people reading it.  And as soon as you feel like that your writing becomes self-conscious and no use and the thing becomes dead and stilted and generally not good to read.
However.   The quote above appears on a Durer etching of his good friend Willibald Pirckheimer.  I wrote a blog post about it back in 2011 after visiting the Northern Renaissance exhibition in Edinburgh in the Queen's Gallery.  I liked the quote then and I liked it now when I found it during my archive trawl.  It feels apposite, at a time in my life when I feel surrounded by death and am looking to find a way through.  To find the light, if you like.
I've been writing this blog for eight years, on and off.  Readers, supporters,  have come and gone during this time. A couple of them have died.
Willibald Pirckheimer died aged just 60.  I don't expect to have a long life either - I haven't lived an especially healthy one and I'm sure bad habits will catch up with me.  None of us know how long we have.  My conclusion about life - well, today's conclusion - is that, well, I can't figure it out.  You have to feel that it's okay to have lived, and to pass away trusting that it's also okay that you haven't figured it out and that you don't know if it's all random or if you really have mattered, as every grain of sand matters.   My on-going task for however much time is left to me is to try my damnedest to figure it out.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Splintered World

The world has changed a lot during my lifetime and especially so over the last ten or fifteen years.
Obvious,  I know.  I'm just trying to get my head around it in order to make sense of the world as it is now, and my place therein.  If indeed I have one.
When I was young, and if you were of the working class, there were unions to represent you and steady, reliable jobs that paid proper wages and at the end of your working life you got a pension.  You knew that, you were sure of it.  You saw your parents' generation doing that.  They'd fought in the War, most of them, and if they were old enough to have done that they were also old enough to remember what life was like before the NHS and the Welfare State and they valued these things.
There was plenty of work.  You applied for jobs on paper, or if it was a temporary job you might just phone or go along and speak to whoever was in charge.  In summer, there were generally plenty of seasonal jobs in hotels or on farms.  And if you couldn't work, there was social security instead of 'welfare'.  You could go to the Job Centre and look at the job cards and if there was something you could go for you took the card to the desk and spoke to someone who would assist you.
Now what do you do?  You fill in some crappy online form and send it to some anonymous agency which takes all your personal details and stores them who-knows-where, and you never hear from them again.
Or perhaps that's just me.  Is it just me?  I don't know.
Property was affordable.  They talk of affordable homes now but they aren't really affordable, not for the majority of people in the way that homes used to be.
People generally did better than their parents, educationally and financially.  If you didn't do well at school there were other chances, if you wanted them. People went to libraries and evening classes and learned new skills to help them 'get on'.  There was no such thing as 'student debt'.
That's all in the past now, by and large, and of course, there's no going back.  Even if you wanted to go back, you couldn't. You never can because things never gel together in exactly the way things used to be.  Some might say that's just as well and perhaps in many respects they're right.
A lot of people were like me and didn't want to 'get on'.  In fact. they spat in the face of 'getting on'. The old certainties were taken for granted.  Looking back from where I am now, I can see that that was quite the luxury - at least, if you so chose, you could 'get on'. At least, for most of us, there was the option of so doing.  Now?  Not so much.  Not at all, for many.  For many. there is nothing but bare survival and little if any
chance of escape.
To me it seems that the world has splintered into layers.  At the bottom, there are those who live among the shards of life,  living among shattered pieces of the old and the new.  Grubbing around in the best way they can.  There is no sense, anywhere, any more, not really any sort of a workable consensus anyway in the way that there used to be, that 'these people' (or 'the poor') have a right to a decent life and dignity and that we should all help each other to achieve that because by helping one we help us all.  Lives are uncertain at best, precariously desperate for many.  The old certainties of job security and having a sense of how one's life would, or should, evolve aren't there any more.  The new certainties are fear and chaos. Patterns have shifted or vanished, like unused paths to an abandoned coal mine.  At the top, are people who seem to have everything, and who seem to control everything, materially.  And there are just enough people in the middle to stop the world imploding. People who can afford mortgages and these big white cars you see all over the place and even second homes.  People with buy to let mortgages, for heaven's sake.  People who have retired on public sector pensions and who can afford to eat out a lot.
But there are far too many people at the bottom.  And the bottom seems far, far grottier and far, far harder to escape than ever it used to be.
Where will this end?  I fear for us all.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

When Houses Were Real




Remember when houses were real?  Made of real stone and wood - materials you could work with and fix and as long as the roof was OK they would stand for hundreds of years? Living, breathing things with a hearthstone and a sunny windowsill with a ginger cat looking out and a jug of daffodils on. Creaky floors and steep staircases.  Open eaves where sparrows could nest.  Dusty corners where spiders could thrive.  Cast iron guttering that didn't collapse under heavy snow and cast iron skylights you could prop open on hot summer days and watch the stars from on winter nights.  Single glazing that would never 'blow'.  Houses that watched over generations of families.  Houses that had gardens where cabbages grew,  and roses.  Houses that witnessed births and deaths and everything in between. Houses that were homes that held memories and ghosts.
Now houses are made from kits, thrown together in a matter of weeks - perhaps days.  Cheap bricks, plastic fixings and MDF.  No carpentry.  No masonry.  No skill.  Will they hold memories?  No. They can barely hold themselves up.
Houses are money now.  That's all they are.  Symbols of money.
Give me dry rot, draughts and woodworm over laminate flooring, a smart meter and a wall-mounted fake fire any day.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Food of Life

And so we beat on - boats against the current...or is it currant? I don't like fruit
Remember when you could survive on pot noodles, Supernoodles, Vimto and crisps without worrying about the consequences - i.e. indigestion, diabetes, malnutrition, high blood pressure and possible very early death?  A whole bag of smokey bacon crisps crammed on to a buttered roll and rammed into your face washed down with a bottle of orangina.  That would do you all day.  Then for tea you might have steak McCoy's - a special thing.  You felt like you were eating real steak. You really did. Curry flavoured pot noodles were exotic - like going out to a restaurant, or abroad on holiday.  And Supernoodles - ah well. They required actual cooking, so were rarely used.  But you liked them when you had them.  You thrived on it all!  Thrived!   Or is it 'throve'. I'm not sure.
Remember when you could smoke with abandon, inhaling the noxious, powerful fumes until said noxious, powerful fumes reached the tiniest corner of your tiniest, pinkest, most delicate alveoli (look it up if you don't know) and coated their tiny delicate pinkness with thick tarry residue?  Nobody minded about the smell and the racking cough because everyone smelled and coughed like that.  Everyone!  Remember when you could drink nine pints after work, eat three kebabs and go home and sleep like a baby, waking up fresh next morning ready for your day?  You picked the lettuce out of your hair and ate your breakfast of pickled onion Monster Munch on the bus to work, and had a mug of instant Maxwell House and a stale custard cream when you got there.
Somebody's life - not mine.  Honestly.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

A tree - i.e. a thing that newspapers used to be made from. 
Is it a good thing to 'have news'?
For fairly lengthy spells in the '70s  I lived in parts of the Highlands where you didn't have news. You'd access a TV maybe once every few weeks and a paper maybe once a week.  You might have a radio and get the odd snippet from that, or someone would mention something in a pub.  That would be about it.
'News' as we now know it didn't really exist.  It happened somewhere else.
I'm still aware of what occurred back then.  I have a sense of the history of the time, I think. I don't remember ever feeling I was missing out.
You didn't worry about 'the news', as such. You kept in touch with friends by letter and occasionally by phone. It was enough.   Nowadays your every move is tracked on Facebook, which is why I don't use it.
'I see you've been here.  Seen that person.  Liked that thing.'
Sod off and mind your own business.
It's beyond my comprehension.  As people say now, 'I can't even.'
But that's a digression - that's the personal side of news.  In terms of proper 'news' - 'news' news, or perhaps rather, 'the' news - we now have local, national and global news, 24 hour news. You can now get 'news' on a watch, for pity's sake.
How did we manage before?  Why do we need to know all this STUFF?
We don't, of course.  It's simply put in front of us, larded with targeted adverts and cookies and other tracking devices.
I find it quite addictive sometimes.  It can be gripping following dramatic events online.  On the other hand the rolling news on TV is dire, especially their inane, flailing questions when they desperately try to fill in time.
Can you imagine if there had been Twitter during World War Two?  Nobody would have done ANYTHING except look at their timelines.  Hitler would surely have run even more amok.  Well no, perhaps not.  Someone would have started a petition to stop him. LOL.
And it concerns me that we don't know if what we're ingesting online, news-wise, is accurate. Who's answerable if it's not? Everything's so fast, so plastic, so disposable - it's almost as if it doesn't matter who says what because it's gone in an instant.  Gone before you know it.  It used to be said of newspapers that they were tomorrow's chip wrappers.  Virtual news seems even more transitory and perhaps that might sometimes be a good thing;  if you're the subject of an intrusive news story of course you want people to move along quickly, nothing to see here - yet there's something unhealthy and invidious about it, as if the awfulness of it all doesn't really matter because it was only awful for a short while.
AND I really don't like that it's all chosen for us, all this rubbish.  Who's behind it all?  I'm pretty sure it isn't usually a human being. Of course there are still 'proper' newspapers, of course there are, and thank goodness for them but they're being increasingly squeezed into a corner as all 'news' seems to meld together in a gelatinous squelching mass, produced and prioritised by algorhythms and..er...stuff that I don't understand and am not quite sure I want to, although I think I really should.  Perhaps an algorhythm is an improvement on Bob Maxwell or Rupert Murdoch,  I really am struggling to decide.
If you look at what is fed to people in the guise of news on Facebook, especially, it's astonishingly crass and shallow.  And cynical.  Can the people who produce all this tripe be held responsible - sued, even - for inaccuracies - not to mention for intrusions into people's personal lives, in the way that newspaper editors and owners formerly were?  Will apologies be published to the person who was pictured parked badly in a disabled bay at Tesco, or with their bumcrack on display as they bent over to pick up their shopping in Asda?  I doubt it.   I worry that people don't trouble to look beyond all this.  Why should they?  Their lives are busy enough.
Move along here, nothing to see.
Well - nothing I'm prepared to admit to online anyway.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

This is a story I wrote a few years ago and put on Shortbread Stories.  It's based on my experiences working in an NHS day care centre many years ago.  I'm sure things have changed hugely in the intervening years.  At least I hope so...
Shortbread Stories is sadly neglected these days.  It's a shame.

Short Story: Suzy Day Care: Why Bother Waxing If You're Not Going To Get A Spray Tan?


“Dave “Call Me Dave” Dave’s on Twitter you know. He’s joined the rest of us jaded fucking pervs.”
Suzy’s head snapped up from her paperwork as quick as a shot bolt. “ Jaded fucking pervs? Speak for yourself Willie. I’m not a jaded fucking perv and neither is Dave Dave. We're both highly-trained, professional professionals. I bet he's on it for some worthy professional reason, like trying to raise the profile of mental health. Or lower it or something. Fighting stigma and that. In fact it’s probably a research project. I’m only surprised he hasn’t mentioned it to me, but I’m not at all offended or upset by his choice. It’s entirely up to him who he confides in, as a professional. In whom he confides, sorry. As a professional. And if he’s not confided in me I’m sure he has a very good reason. What with him being professional and that.”
The sneaky, lying toad, thought Suzy, pretending to have a coughing fit in order to hide her furious expression. On Twitter indeed. Without telling ME! Thinks he’s so right-on and trendy, and he gets it SO butt-fucking wrong by the way. Especially with his clothes. Rocking up to the morning meetings in his boring shabby chic Gap cords and a boring Aran cable knit in winter, and boring Gap chinos in summer. And that over-sized Oasis hoodie that he wore to the open day with those tiny football shorts was just an embarrassment. It looked like he had nothing on at all, on his bottom half. I’m sure he waxes his entire body. His legs were like lard. Why bother waxing if you’re not going to get a spray tan? The style-challenged, 1990s throwback. What a plum. I still fancy him though. I’d love to see him in a leather jacket with a plain white T and designer jeans, and sculpted hair, and maybe a pair of geeky specs. I should be his stylist! I do like his Timberland boots. And he smells lovely. I saw moisturiser and shaving gel in his man-bag last week! Not that I was looking or anything but he just happened to leave it open on the desk while he went to the toilet. He bought me a coffee in the canteen a week past Tuesday. So why the FUCK am I the last to know about this fucking Twitter account? This will not fucking do. I’m fucking livid!”
“Nope, it’s nothing to do with work Suzy. He just seems to like a laugh and that. His Twitter name is @Psychoman2, if you’re interested.” Health Care Assistant Willie Dick flicked his fag ash into the daffodil border and glanced inadvertently at the grubby white Primark towelling socks peeping from between his one-size-too-small chinos and his worn, be-tassled Stead & Simpson slip-on loafers. He’d pulled the socks from the wash-pile that morning; he knew they smelled but he reckoned nobody would notice unless they sat really close and in any case if they did, he could always blame it on a service user. He was outside, addressing his remarks through the duty room window while he enjoyed a smoke in the Spring sunshine prior to the Monday morning Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain Memorial Mental Health Day Care Centre for the Criminally Insane staff ‘n’ service user meeting. Suzy was indoors sitting at her desk with her favourite “Squishy-squashy” shoulder-bag on her lap, knocking back her third coffee and tidying printed sheaves of A4 into a ring-backed binder labelled “Creative Group Work: Revisiting the Revolving Door”. Her eyes, outlined in turquoise kohl and three coats of Ginnel No. 3 “Clag-free” Electric Blue mascara, glowed in the white light of the computer screen in front of her. She reached into her bag for her 1950s vintage-style vanity mirror and flipped it open to check she wasn’t looking too puffy after necking two bottles of Value Label Cava, a mega-bag of hot ‘n’ spicy tortilla chips and six crème eggs last evening while lounging in bed watching the box set of Sex and the City in her leopard print onesie and spying on people’s Twitter timelines on the Samsung tablet that she’d got free with her latest Android phone.
“I’m not interested Willie. Why would I be interested in someone who clearly has no interest in me, albeit for reasons incomprehensible to me and anyone else with a semi-functioning brain, but which are obviously paramount in importance to himself? Although I must say I like his Twitter handle. It's miles better than yours. @Biggus_Dickus, Willie- I mean really...” she replied, squinting as she applied some concealer to a spot that was developing under her left nostril; she reckoned it wouldn’t come to a head for a day or two, but with Dave “Call Me Dave” Dave due in at any second, she wanted to be sure. Belt and braces, as her beloved dad would say. Or fanny pad and tampon, as Bigboy Ted, the rather less beloved hospital porter and Union Rep. would say - generally with a horrible and fairly terrifying leer.
Call Me Dave reckoned that Ted was overcompensating with the leering and aggressively sexual remarks because he was an ex-coal-miner traumatised by Thatcher’s emasculation of the unions in the 1980s. Everyone else merely considered him a creep. People said the only reason he hadn’t been sacked years ago was because he knew where the bodies were buried. And he’d probably been the one who buried them, as he would freely admit to anyone brave or bored enough to listen.
Several people said they liked his politically incorrect manner, but they were mostly Ted’s favourites, for whom he smuggled in cigarettes and pretty much anything else they wanted, in the huge metal heated dinner trolleys that he laboriously wheeled round the hospital every lunch-time; they were in the extra-stringently secure stringently secure unit and were unlikely ever to get out except under the heaviest sedation and the most stringently secure security.
“He’s quite the card is our Dave,” Willie continued, “His account was locked for a while so I didn’t know he was there till he started fucking following me. I followed back, then he DMd me…”
“He DMd you? He DMd you?”
“Yes.”
“Fuck off. Oops,” Suzy was forgetting herself. As Charge Nurse of the Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain Memorial Mental Health Day Care Centre, it was her role to rebuke Willie about his foul language rather than joining in with it herself. Mind you, he’d been counselled about it three times and was on his second verbal warning, and it had made no impact on his behaviour whatever. She was beginning to wonder if he might have some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder, or maybe Tourettes Syndrome. Perhaps she should ask Call Me Dave. It would be a good excuse to get him on his own. The two of them, pub lunch maybe, couple of drinks – back to hers for “pudding”, perhaps.
“What did he say?” Suzy tried to sound casual but her eyes narrowed, and she tugged at her dyed blonde fringe, a tendency she had when she was nervous or excited. Which was most of the time. And most especially when Dave “Call Me Dave” Dave was around.
“Oh, hi, thanks for the follow or something, yeah. Nothing much. The usual fucking shite. There’s a whole group of us now, all tweeting back and forth with Dave. It’s a right laugh. Why don’t you log on now and have a fucking look?”
“I’m sure it sounds lovely Willie, but I couldn’t possibly,” sniffed Suzy, dragging herself back into Charge Nurse mode. “I’ve got loads of paperwork and stuff to do before the morning meeting. You know how I always like to stay ahead of the game and quietly keep things running smoothly for others without them asking me or me expecting a thank you or a box of choccies and maybe some smellies and a Next voucher and some decent Markies’ fizz at Christmas or anything like that. Oh, and when you’ve finished your ciggie for God’s sake don’t nick it – your fingers are quite yellow enough as it is. Which reminds me - pick a few daffs while you’re out there, and stick ‘em in a jar or something on top of the Wurlitzer. Cheer the place up a bit for the punters. We don’t want them complaining to their carers and slash or rellies that we’re not seasonal. Oh no maybe not the Wurlitzer – someone might knock ‘em over and electrocute themselves. Put them on a high shelf out of reach. No don’t do that either – they might fall off and land on someone’s head. On second thoughts don’t bother with daffs at all Willie. They’re much too dangerous. Just make sure the downstairs loo is locked. We don’t want Edie blocking it again with one of her Monday morning number twos. We’re not on a main drain here.”
“What if she needs to fucking go? And she will Suzy. You know she saves it up all weekend so she can use our soft toilet paper. We have to have a downstairs facility available for the disabled. And Edie’s disabled. Technically. It’s the fucking law. Isn’t it?” added Willie doubtfully.
“I don’t know and I don’t fucking care,” said Suzy, tossing her head, “’Scuse my language. I don’t like to rub it in but I’m not like you. You’re only – and I mean it in a nice way - a health care assistant. As the day centre charge nurse with a degree and that, I have to look at the bigger picture, i.e. the overall needs of the service, and a law’s only a law, Willie, if someone finds out you’ve broken it. I learned that at uni. What I’m saying is, I’ve risk-assessed Edie using the toilet, and I’ve done a care plan as a result of that, which is that for health and safety reasons she is not to get access to it, ever, and it is to remain locked at all times. Besides, Big-boy Ted says he’s not unblocking the lav. again unless he gets “extras” – you know what he’s like – and he can whistle for them. Here’s the master key,” she said, unhooking it from a heavily-loaded key-ring with a worn fob marked “Blackpool Pleasure Beach 2002”.
“Fine,” shrugged Willie, grinding his cigarette stub into the pock-marked windowsill and flicking it into the flower-bed, “You’re the boss. Just don’t expect me to clean anything fucking up.”
Suzy closed her vanity mirror with a snap and headed through to the day room. It was 8.59 a.m. and all the service users were seated in the customary circle in their customary chairs. Most were the orange plastic stacking kind, but there were also two worn chintz armchairs and a burst settee that had been gifted to the Centre along with the Wurlitzer and a bone china tea service by a retired hospital secretary from the Records Department, now closed. The tea service had been first prize in last year’s Christmas Raffle, but no-one had claimed it. It was now in the stationery cupboard, awaiting a Silent Auction.
“Good morning all!” trilled Suzy, aware that her three coffees hadn’t quite cleared last night’s Cava cobwebs from her throat. “What a glorious Monday morning! Hurrah for Spring!”
“Fuck off,” muttered service user Mags, a heavily-built woman of about forty with long black hair wearing a purple tie-dyed T-shirt, ill-fitting skinny jeans and a lot of silver jewellery depicting skulls. She was slumped on the settee with her arms folded. A battered pack of Amber Leaf tobacco protruded from her jeans pocket. Next to her sat Edie, the oldest service user at ninety three years of age and unwitting subject of the new toilet care plan. Edie had propped her walking frame against the end of the settee and was dunking a digestive into a mug of stewed tea.
“I’m making a positive decision not to challenge that,” said Suzy, as Dave burst in. “You’ve clearly had issues over the weekend Mags and you can share that with the group. I’m sure we’ll all be glad to offer our support. Good morning Dave. Or should I say evening.”
“Sorry I’m late!” said Dave, throwing himself into an armchair - the most battered, sunken one, with broken springs. “Ow-ya bastard – sorry everyone. Sorry.” He raised his left buttock and moved the cushion over to cover the protruding spring. “I couldn’t just nip out and make myself a coffee could I? My espresso machine’s on the blink.”
“Nobody’s allowed out of the room once the group starts Doctor,” said Edie through a mouthful of digestive biscuit.
“Can I ask about my meds. Doctor?” said Mags.
“Don’t call me Doctor, people! Call me Dave,” grinned Dave, wiping some of Edie’s sprayed digestive off his immaculate cream chinos. “We’re all equal here. All friends.”
“No you can’t Mags,” Suzy butted in, “We spoke about this before, remember? When it is and isn’t appropriate to ask about individual stuff? This is group time. It’s important that we all respect that and keep our own stuff till later.”
“Or never,” said Mags. “I never get to talk about my fucking stuff.”
“Neither do I. Where’s Willie?” asked Edie. “He’s my favourite staff.”
“Probably banging one out in the bogs, as usual,” said Mags.
“I should really have gone before the meeting started,” said Edie anxiously, “But the door was locked for some reason. I wonder if I could just…”
“Willie will be joining us in a moment. We’ll continue without him meanwhile,” said Suzy briskly, ignoring her. “Anyone want to take the minutes? No? Right I’ll do them as per usual.”
“I’ll do them,” offered Mags, “I’m a neat writer.”
“No Mags, because I’ve already said I’m doing them. Try to remember the social skills training we did last week – you wait till someone’s finished talking and THEN you reply. Now. Any items to add to today’s agenda?”
“Yes. How come it’s appropriate for me to share about my weekend and not appropriate for me to ask about my meds.?” asked Mags, truculently.
“Not appropriate Mags. We’ve already discussed that.“
“No we haven’t!”
“That’s enough Mags. I’m going to have to review your care package if you don’t stop this carry-on. Right. Let’s get started or we’ll never get out of here. I’ve put a special item on the agenda today. Poetry. I know none of you will have read any, except for birthday cards and that, but nevertheless I’ve asked a real live poet to come in and do poetry with you. It’s creative and it’ll do you all a power of good.”
“I thought this was supposed to be a user-led day centre,” said Mags after a silence, ”Person-centred it says on the leaflet. I don’t like poetry.”
“What DO you like?” asked Dave, with a poorly-veiled leer.
“Smoking, and drinking, and reading shiny magazines with lots of pictures in,” said Suzy. “She told me that when I did her initial assessment. Isn’t that right, Mags?”
“Pretty much. Only you forgot about the shagging and the pie-eating.”
“Well I’m sure that everyone else here agrees with me that we should give poetry a try so it starts this afternoon. Steve will be here at two sharp, and don’t be late. It’s rude.”
“Oh it’s not Smelly Steve!” groaned Mags. “He’s a washed-up actor who chunters on down the Brickie’s Arms every Saturday lunchtime before the footie starts. He does it for pints. Only nobody ever buys him one.”
“Oh I don’t know,” said Edie, ”I think it sounds rather fun!”
Suzy scribbled a few words on her notepad and then looked up brusquely. “Well if that’s everything? It is, isn’t it. Good. Now that group-work is over Edie can I remind you that it’s in your care plan that today’s your special individual self esteem day?”
“It is? How lovely! Do I get pampered?”
“No. You’ve to set the lunch tables and you’ve to do it quick. Life doesn't grind to a halt just because you're ninety three. Think of it as exercise for the mind AND that creaky old body. It will boost your self esteem through giving you a sense of achievement - if you manage to do it. Which you didn’t last week. We’d all to fetch our own cutlery, remember? And nobody was pleased. You’d better hurry up and get on with it because I can hear the distant rumbling of Big Boy Ted’s heated trolley and it’ll take you a while to get through to the dining-room with your zimmer. You don’t want to fail again.”
“May I visit the – “
“No Edie, you can't. Right everyone - 'til this afternoon then. And poetry."

Monday, 14 March 2016

Batshit Crazy

'Oh she's bat shit crazee
She's batshit mad
The batshit it has taken away
The little bit of ummm....something something...
Whatever.'

To be sung to the tune of Football Crazy, by Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor. Preferably in a cellar with the door shut.

Bright Shiny Things and Dirty Little Secrets

I’ve got another Diary to read*.  
This time it’s Kenneth Tynan’s.
It’s spiky and incomplete and full of quotations that caught his eye.  I’m very much enjoying it, so far (I’m on page 44, just).
The thing that popped into my head is this.  He had a bright shiny life full of dirty little…secrets.
That is not a bad thing.  Everyone has dirty little secrets.  They’re the things that drive us on.  He was only fortunate to have the bright shiny life part, as well.  I’d go so far as to say that he wouldn’t have had the bright shiny life part without the secrets. I’d perhaps venture even further, and say the dirtier the secrets, the brighter and shinier the life.
Dirty big secrets aren’t really interesting.  You want a dirty little secret.  It’s the grit in the oyster.
When you read a Diary you think you’re getting the nitty gritty. You’re really not, of course.  The only Diaries in which you’d get that are raw, pure diaries that you might find under a random pillow of a random maniac, or at the other extreme, a 1920s ‘housewife’ recording her seasonal jam-making** and such-like.  Someone who writes unself-consciously because they don’t imagine themselves a writer and who seeks simply to record the daily grind.  Which in itself is full of miracles that jump from the page as you read.  Published Diaries, of course, are carefully edited. Nevertheless they're probably my favourite type of book***.
I suppose if nobody had secrets nobody would write.  It’s secrets that drive some people to write, some people to paint, and others to hide themselves away in a cave, with a supply of custard creams, a sleeping-bag****, a flask of best brandy, and all of their secrets, dirty or otherwise, locked away in a strongbox.
I could go on.  But I won't.

*Two pounds eighty one off of Ebay, by the way, including P & P.  If ever I come into money, I'll pay full price for books.  She says shamefacedly.  Till then... 
**George Orwell recorded such things in a section of his Diaries.  A wonderful read.
***As I was typing that, I knew it was wrong. I also like biographies and, well, anything really.

**** and earplugs, to muffle the sound of the secrets fighting to escape from their prison.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Remember when....we had privacy

Remember before the internet - when we had 'privacy'? When we had - for want of a better word - 'boundaries'?  Before emoticons and DMs and photographing your own bottom and transmitting it round the entire planet?  Remember when you actually had to make an effort, if you wanted to spy on somebody?  You couldn't just do it from under your duvet using only your thumbs while working your way through a tube of Pringles.
Now we're all being spied on - all of the time.  And nobody cares.  Nobody cares!  It seems normal! NORMAL!
It's not normal.  Nothing about life in 2016 is normal.  The weather's not normal.   Food isn't normal. And being in contact with people ALL the time isn't normal.  It's freakish and unhealthy and creepy. Where's the psychological space?  We're all under constant surveillance, all of the time, whether it's the obvious things like having your shopping 'choices' monitored and scrutinised so they can sell you more, and your so-called friends and family poking their noses in via the internet and thinking they know all about you, or darker things like the 'security services' (who are they?) and stalkers that you'll never ever know about because they live in their bedroom in Nebraska and you live with your son's ex-girlfriend in a semi in the Wirral and earn your living videoing your own bottom and your husband's dead in the freezer with a tattoo of I heart David Attenborough on his left artificial pec, and - and it certainly isn't 'normal'.
Everything's done 'online'. Banking.  Shopping.  Listening to music.  Watching telly.  Making stuff up. Like what I'm doing now.
It's not normal, I tell you.  Not NORMAL!  Nothing is, nothing is.  I used to think I wasn't normal till we got to this appalling stage and now I think I'm the most normal person alive.
Nothing's done 'outside' any more. By 'outside' I mean outwith the parameters of the internet. Because nothing CAN be done outside any more.  Or so it seems.
Remember when you could close your front door and take the phone off the hook and that was IT? Peace and bloody quiet.  If someone wanted to spy on you they had to stand outside your house and WAIT.  Writing stuff down in a real notebook with a real pencil and taking photographs with a real camera containing a 'spool' or 'roll of film' which they then had to get developed in a 'dark room'.
Remember that film, One Hour Photo, with Robin Williams, where he spied on that family via their photographs?  It seemed freakishly hi-tech back then and now it's like the dark ages.
And oh yeah - remember when, if you got fed up, you could get on a random bus to Wick or Land's End or Milton Keynes and VANISH - and nobody would know.  You weren't traceable via CCTV and your mobile phone, and you wouldn't have your coupon blasted round 'social media' until you were 'found', whether you liked it or not.
  

Friday, 1 January 2016

Welcome, 2016

www.seapenguin-thecurioussheep.blogspot.com

This year's resolution (I can only manage one) is to write more.

I've been writing off-line, and I'm thinking I might put some stuff on here again.

I've quite a few ideas, but I'm quite put off by the internet and social media in particular,  because while I enjoy following the news and so forth,  things seem to turn awfully aggressive if you venture to express an opinion beyond the bland.  I don't want to have to engage with that.



Word of the day is 'milque-toast', by the way.