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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."


Sunday, 31 December 2017

Team Building - The Dorty Bizzums

As well as doing thievery and general evilness instead of modern apprenticeship toilet cleaning, Tuppence has decided to start up a band again.  Anyone who began reading these tales back in 2008 (I know - that's nobody) might remember that Tuppence used to be very into Prog, and enjoyed dressing up as Rick Wakeman and playing his Moog down at the Puff Inn.
He now feels he'd like to be in a band rather than working solo.  Personally, I think this is a terrible idea because he's such a control freak he won't be able to cope.  He's just not a team player, despite the mandatory so-called 'team-building workshop' he attended last month as a modern-style apprentice.  It didn't help, of course, that he and Val Nark were the only people attending.  Dave had a tummy upset on the day, and couldn't manage -  or so he said.
'I learned the principles,' he said afterwards, 'At least that's what Val says. She's going to monitor how I apply theory to practice, and I think starting a band is a great way of doing it.  Not that I care what she thinks or anything.'
'I see.  Who are you going to ask to be in your band?' I asked, thinking to myself that options would be limited given Tuppence's complete lack of friends.
'You and Uncle Geoffrey first of course.  Geoffrey can play triangle and you can be on theremin.  And Val Nark will play drums and sing lead.  I'm on electric piano.'
'Have you asked her yet?'
'Do you know if she can play the drums, at all?'
'No.  But it's not that hard, and anyone can sing.  It doesn't matter much anyway.  Prog's about how you feel and think, rather than what you actually play in terms of actual notes and actual keeping in tune or time to a beat or rhythm and that.  It's about vision Uncle Tuppy.  Bleak winter fields and silence and stuff.  It's about philosophy. '
 'I see.  What about your Moog?'
'It blew up several years ago, how on earth could you forget THAT?  Exploded due to excess zeal on my part, during an outdoor performance of ELP's Pictures at an Exhibition. '
'What's Dave saying about all this?'  I asked nervously.
'Dave says he's looking forward to being a valued member of the team, and he might play violin.  We're doing an Auld Year's Nicht concert down at the Puff Inn, Stormy's chuffed to the gutties. He's got triple stocks in of everything - pork scratchings, Scampi Fries, Madeira, Sweetheart Stout, meths, lager even.  Dave says he won't feel right about coming out or anything till his tax return is in. Hopefully he'll manage it, cos we really need the extra depth and texture you only get from the likes of a violin.  And Dave's got loads of experience - he used to be in a folk-rock combo in the late 60s, down in Norfolk.  He even knew someone who auditioned for Fairport.'
The thought of Dave screeching and scraping away on his violin providing 'depth and texture' and capering about the stage in his threadbare home-made 'loon pants' made me feel a bit faint.  I reached for the medicine chest.  'This is madness Tuppence,' I said, rapidly unscrewing a vial of sal volatile and taking a deep sniff, 'Utter madness.  You've arranged a gig at the Puff Inn, and not just any night but TONIGHT  - Auld Year's Nicht, which is New Year's Eve in normal parlance and one of the biggest party nights of the year, if not THE biggest, and one of your band members might not be there, and the other one doesn't know she's supposed to be in the band?  Not to mention me and Geoffrey. We don't even have any instruments.'
'That's right.  What you don't know can't hurt you - that's what you always say isn't it Uncle Tuppy?'
'I do, but - '
'Well then. Fashion a triangle from a couple of coathangers and consider yourself a member of The Dorty Bizzums.  And if Dave doesn't finish his tax return, Geoffrey will be doubling up on violin.'

more later

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Walking with M.R. James


Walking with M.R. James

I’ve been reading too much M.R. James recently.  Christmas, you see.  In years gone by it’s been Dickens.  I’ve a tatty volume comprising A Christmas Carol, The Cricket on the Hearth and The Chimes, and at some point during most Decembers of the last fifteen years, I’ve read all three.  It’s the comfort of habit, part of a blind groping towards the light, a buttress against cold and guilt and loss in the depths of darkness.
This year I thought I’d like a change.
Christmas lends itself to ghost stories.  It’s often foggy and dusk falls shortly after lunch; walks taken in the afternoon leave one feeling chilled rather than refreshed.  Solitary evenings are long by the fire, as the embers die and the clock ticks.  A decent book is the truest (and most economical) of winter companions, and this year I have an M.R. James compendium.
The famous BBC production of ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’ was my introduction to M.R. James. I saw it at a certain point in my development when I was young enough to be both frightened and fascinated by Hammer horror and Dennis Wheatley but also able to see through it, to understand on a certain level, while at the same time holding my breath and hiding behind a cushion, that it wasn’t really frightening at all.    There was no significant threat to one’s overall equilibrium.
‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’ was different.  It scared on a different plane.  It reached areas of the psyche untouched by Dennis Wheatley.   It found the uncanny in the everyday, reminding me of childhood terrors and fears I thought I’d overcome, fears of dark corners in the hallway, shadows in the stairwell, the skeleton of the breakfast kipper a bony reminder of ever-present Death.  In vain we turn to the comfort of habit, the afternoon cup of tea, the buttered toast, the extra hot water bottle and the modest tot of brandy to ward off winter’s chill.   In vain, because we know that after such a psychological encounter, these things will never be the same again.
I found ‘A View from a Hill’ almost as unsettling when I watched it the other night.  I could relate to the setting, you see, and the general theme.  I’m a walker, or rather, a rambler, really.  I ramble and look, and sometimes I poke around.  I find myself wandering in spooky places, sometimes.   Frequently, now I come to think about it.  Wandering, and wondering.   Iron Age burial mounds in the middle of fields of stubble.  Ancient, long-forgotten castles and ruined boathouses.  Abandoned gardens.  Aged ash trees and sycamores with outstretched branches. Crumbling graveyards and gallows hills.  Looming Victorian churches, rarely used, their congregation scattered.  Layer upon layer of Life and Death.  Century upon century upon century. 
I don’t usually get ‘the creeps’. I like to walk alone so I certainly don’t want to get ‘the creeps’.    I’m fairly rational, or so I’d like to think.  I don’t want to feel prevented from rambling, wandering or wondering,  by my own psychology.  Usually I’m looking for wildlife and a certain peace of mind, and usually, I find it.  M.R. James has shaken my confidence in that regard.
That quick rustling among dry oak leaves – is it a blackbird, as I’d normally assume? A scurrying of small brown shapes low across a winter field, seen out of the corner of my eye  – leaves again, surely, caught by an eddy of wind.  Tall dark shapes standing among the trees like silent watchers.   The cawing of rooks.  A warning, another following presence, sensed.  Shadows, surely only shadows.  Surely…
Well, don’t read any more M.R. James, perhaps you might say.  And perhaps you’d be right.
I wonder what sustained him.  I wonder what shielded him from the Dark.  I wonder what attracted him to the Dark?  As I see it, as M.R. James recounted in A Warning to the Curious, you poke around in these arcane realms at your peril.  You pull something interesting out of the ground – is it a random, strangely-shaped  root, or bone (animal, or human?), or a whistle with a motto carved upon it, now you come to knock the earth off it a bit?  Whatever you do – do not – do NOT - blow it.
Should you happen to find a pair of shiny binoculars, and should you happen to see something through them that other people cannot see, and which you yourself cannot see without the binoculars – dispose of them immediately.  Either take them to Jessops to get the lenses fixed or bury them deep in an Iron Age burial mound – right by the silver Anglo Saxon crown.
There’s something about all this unsettledness that is at the same time reassuring.  Rationality, or at least the arrogance of a certain type of rationality is punished by M.R. James and I think he’s right to do so.  It’s good to take pause, to be reminded that there are more things in Heaven and Earth, and so forth, and to remember that the more you learn, the more you realise you know almost nothing.

Also published on Medium along with some other work. 

This morning Tuppence burst into the kitchen wearing a full-face balaclava and twirling a brace of pistols.
'I've packed the job in and I'm going out on the rob,'  he announced.
'Low-hanging fruit?' asked Geoffrey, buttering one of those round, chewy, bread-y type things with a hole in.
'Yes!  I might as well get something out of three weeks of humiliation as a modern apprentice toilet cleaner.'
'Not to mention the risk to your health, from the wrong-sized Marigolds,'  I said. 'Well, all I can say is, don't dirty your own doorstep.'
''course not.  What do you take me for?  I'm doing tourists only and before they know what's hit them they'll be away back to wherever they came from - '
'Overthere,' said Geoffrey, adding marmalade to his round, chewy, bread-y type thing with a hole in.
'Quite,' I added. 'Overthere.  You've been to Overthere, Tuppence, only you were too little to remember.'
'I remember it all right!  Oh yes! We sailed off in the coracle to look for the oracle, and we got some crisps or something to eat, and you and Uncle Geoffrey tried to avoid the BMI assessment and compulsory health screening or something*. You didn't care about me - '
'We did!  We did!'
' No you didn't, and that lack of care and insight has scarred me for life. Twisted me, psychologically.  You two, in fact, are responsible for me being an arch-crim -'
'What's wrong with that?'
'- and a total failure in the job department.'
'That's another positive, surely?  It's a blessing to be an independent thinker, Tuppence.'
'That's not what Val Nark says.  She also knows someone who will sort me out with a few sessions of ear-candling and so forth, she's already discussed my case with them because they've been staying at the yurts this week and she says the sixty pounds a sesh will be well worth it.  It would normally be sixty one but she's getting me mates' rates. Anyway, what I was saying is - '
'The tourists will be away home before they know anything's missing.  Hmmm.  Sounds like a reasonable plan Tuppence, and much more enterprising than continuing as a modern apprentice toilet cleaner slash wage slave for £3.50 an hour.  Now I wonder what it is that you're planning to steal, that they wouldn't immediately miss?'

Later - Val Nark's ear-candling mate discovers her ear-candling kit is missing, and Tuppence sets up shop as an ear-candler...

*all true and details can be found in the e-books and paperbacks

Sunday, 24 December 2017


As usual I have arranged a free festive download of all six e-books.  Find them on Amazon along with the two paperback compilations (not free, unfortunately!)  Put your feet up and enjoy them with a pipe of Black Bogey, a steaming mug of Madeira and some salty snax by a roaring driftwood fire.

Wishing all readers past and present a merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Low-hanging fruit, ripe for the taking

'You didn't seriously think that I was going to clean toilets as a so-called career?' sneered Tuppence, slamming a 28p bottle of Tesco 'thin' 'value' bleach onto the table before peeling off a pair of Marigolds and pinging them into the fire, where they melted onto a piece of charred driftwood (which had once formed the keel of our old coracle) before blazing up the chimney in a terrific tower of hissing sparks.  'Gosh what a relief.  Those Marigolds were far too big, and they were smalls.  You'd think they'd make a tiny.  There are lots of people with tiny hands these days, or so they tell me up at the yurts. So there's got to be a demand, it isn't only me.  If they don't fit properly they let in all the chemicals and toilet muck and germs and stuff, it's a total health hazard.  Val agrees with me but there's nothing she can do.'
'Anyway Tuppence.  You're digressing.  Not that it matters much, if indeed at all.'  What on earth has he come to, I thought.  From would-be prog (Canterbury school) aficionado, to arch-criminal, to bomber pilot, to submariner*, to THIS - a pathetic, whingeing wage-slave, fretting over his rubber gloves.  Not that you could call £3.50 an hour a wage.  Not that I knew much about wages.  I'd never worked a day in my life.   'Work is an alien concept to me, Tuppence.  As it should be to you. I can't understand - '
'Shut up Uncle Tuppy. Think!  for a change.   Don't you realise what I have access to, as a so-called humble toilet cleaner?'
'Modern apprentice so-called humble toilet cleaner.'
'Handbags.  Purses.  Bankcards.  Prescription drugs.  Low-hanging fruit, ripe for the taking.' Tuppence strode round the room, waving his arms expansively.
'Petty theft. Small beer hardly worth the candle.   Added to which,  they're going to know it's you within about five seconds. You'll get CAUGHT.   I'm disappointed in you Tuppence.  This isn't a nefarious plan - this is just pathetic and I have to say, very unlike you.  Are you ill or something?'
'If I am you can blame the rubber gloves.  Now that you mention it I am feeling a bit dodgy in the bottom end tummy department.'
'GEOFFREY!  fetch the medical chest.'  Bottom end tummies?  More like brain fever, I thought.  He'd have to sweat it out.

More later.

*all written down in the Seapenguin books, so it must be true

Monday, 18 December 2017

 seapenguin on amazon

'Today I'm gonna kill the bear!' shrilled Tuppence.
'Say it again,' yelled Val Nark.
'And again,' commanded Val, who was sitting cross-legged on a pile of rag rugs she'd brought back from a wildlife slash hiking holiday in Kerala.
'Excellent work Tuppence.  Now - at home, unpaid, in your own time mind, because this is training - '
'Is it optional, then?' asked Tuppence.
'No, no, it's mandatory.'
'Then surely - '
'No. Stop interrupting or you'll lose your job.  As I was saying - at home, in your own time, file the end of that plunger into a sharp point.  Weaponise it.  Hone it the way you've been honing your toilet cleaning skills.  You're sending yourself a vital message, remember,  and it could propel you on to a whole different level. YOU ARE IN CONTROL.  YOU CAN DO ANYTHING.  You could even win modern apprentice of the month, Tuppence, as well as being allowed to clean out the Portaloos at the building site all on your own.'
'Wot?' murmured Tuppence.
'Yes!' Val continued blithely, 'Imagine that!   Yes, as well as our thriving (-ish) yurt business, Dave and I now have the cleaning contract for the building site Portaloos.  This will be announced in our newsletter but I'm telling you first because you're the one who'll be doing the cleaning. We'll need a picture of you, of course, a lovely smiley one of you outside the Portaloos clutching your plunger.  You'll be doing one hour extra a week, Fridays, hosing them down.  Dave and I managed to undercut everybody else to win the contract, because we have YOU working for us for £3.50 an hour. You'll have to find a hose yourself mind. And because this is over and above your contracted hours you won't get paid. But remember - '

Later - down in the tunnels.  Tuppence is on his own, sitting on a barrel of Madeira, deep in thought, absently whittling at the end of his plunger with a pen-knife.
'If I got enough of these I could make a deadfall,' he murmured. 'Might come in handy one day...Weaponise, is it. Honed, is it. Finding a hose, is it.  Val clearly doesn't know about my brace of pistols and my bandolier of ammunition, and my habit of writing my initials on walls with uncanny accuracy in a hail of bullets. Neither does she know about my past history of arch-criminal activity and my facility for devising nefarious plans*.  I'm not going to be a modern apprentice toilet cleaner for £3.50 an hour, minus training time, for a moment longer.  No!  I thought I could stick it out till Christmas in order to glean more info. for my own evil purposes, but no, I can figure out other ways to do that.  Enough's enough.'

Next time - Tuppence begins to enact his nefarious plans - and Val Nark rues the day she hired him.

*please see e-books and paperbacks for details


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

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Seapenguin (2) now available in paperback

Ah well.  Job finally done.  That's all the old blog material from 2008 through to about 2012 edited and tidied away into two paperback volumes comprising all six e-books (edited again) plus a short story.  Here's the link.
I feel I've now done my best by Tuppy and Geoffrey and their lives, habits, thoughts and adventures, which seem so very strange to some and not at all strange to me.  Although they emerged from my own head I feel I know them externally, as friends, so they might well re-appear at some point.  I've already written about some other Seapenguin characters in material which I hope will appear in print in due course.
My next project is a trip to Skye in September or thereabouts, to leave copies of the books in a couple of places that were significant to me in terms of inspiration for the writing of them.  I might write an account of it, if all goes to plan.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

April, 2017

My monthly record of paths and roads followed when out walking.
Just an update on current activity.
I'm currently working on a range of writing, including the second paperback volume of Seapenguin.
I've got about 25,000 words tidied up and ready to go but I need to beef it up a bit with some more material - and there is So Much to trawl through it's doing my head in.  
I've published several pieces on Medium recently.  I quite like it as a writing site.  I'm focusing on alternating short humourous fiction and non-fiction. 
There's also a short story I've been working on for three years!  I'm not a fast writer.
I'll get April's 'roads and paths' video done over the weekend, hopefully.

Friday, 7 April 2017

5 star review

Delighted to see that someone has left a five star review of the Seapenguin paperback.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Sad Decline of Shortbread Stories.

I noticed last week, when I tried and failed to access the site, that Shortbread Stories seems finally to have died. This follows a long and dreary decline.
After several years spent pining for the fjords it has finally become the Norwegian Blue of writing sites.  It is definitely an ex-writing site. 
Or whatever.
Shortbread was an online writing website set up in 2008 specifically to publish short stories that would otherwise never have seen the light of day - which with hindsight I now think would possibly have been just as well, in many cases.  By chance I began writing around 2008 and I was one of the first to offer my work.
It wasn't very good.
Much of the work published by Shortbread wasn't very good.  That was part of its original charm.  It was accessible and definitely not frightening.  There was encouragement and support and it gave you a chance to learn through your mistakes.  The self-publishing craze via Amazon, Smashwords and so forth hadn't quite taken hold and as the site grew people with no apparent insight into their lack of ability flocked to put their work on Shortbread - from all over the world.  Because they could.  On top of this ocean of increasingly unregulated words a series of contributors became obsessed with the site - again, because they could, and because people often do, on the internet.  Tensions rose.
From what I observed as a regular contributor (and this piece is based solely on my observations - I was not an 'insider') the first editor, Fiona (excellent, by the way, with the friendly online tone and kind editorial touch that the site initially required), became overwhelmed by the volume of submissions and she together with the other people running the site found it impossible to edit the content for quality or indeed in the end do any form of gate-keeping.  There were debates about how much editing should be done, if any, and in the end it was easier just to give up attempting to stem the tide and to publish anything.  Of course, this just wasn't sustainable and the site began to deteriorate.  The quality of most of the work was even worse than it had been at the start and the site malfunctioned regularly due to the tsunami of submissions.  Fiona left and the founder, Robin Pilcher, quit, leaving the site, mainly, I think, in the hands of trustees from the English department of Dundee University, who turned out to be, from my observation, too involved with their own lives and literary careers to spend the necessary time and energy relating to the contributors, never mind reviving things and slapping the thing back into life.  There was a horrible sense, that hadn't been there at the start,  that those running things saw themselves as being on a superior level to those contributing. Their occasional editorial posts seemed inappropriate, cursory and jarring and there was an overall feeling of neglect and lack of genuine interest.  The site, now run as a charity, was supposed to be 'educational',  but that was really pushing it.  It was a debacle.
I say that knowing that I'm speaking from a place of partial knowledge and that therefore perhaps I'm being too harsh.  I do know for sure that the site meant a lot to many people - they got involved in good faith.  They trusted it with their writing, good or bad, and it let them down.  'You should have saved it to disc' isn't quite good enough.  Thousands of stories have vanished into the - well, where do lost stories go?
What might they have done better?  I think the social aspect of the site - being allowed to comment on stories and message other contributors - was an early mistake.  It cheapened its appeal, putting off 'good' writers who patronised it as a 'social networking' site rather than a 'writing' site and allowing a few members to dominate. Possibly if the site were to be set up today, with all the knowledge we now have of how such things can be abused, Twitter, 'trolling', Facebook and so forth, the founders would not have gone down that route. And the later idea of making the site a charity with an educational focus and encouraging stuck contributors to 'move on' was a non-starter without the required funding and enthusiastic staffing input.  It was simply too late.  The site had gone way beyond that.
In 2010 Shortbread published an anthology via Discovery Press  (the publishing wing of Dundee University's Literary Dundee) - a small paperback called Short Breaks. When Googling Shortbread Stories today in a vain attempt to find it I found several used copies for sale on Amazon, starting price £1.67.
A reminder of the beginnings of an admirable endeavour.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

''I Got You Babe'' Performed by The Rolling Stones, Andrew Loog Oldham a...

For anyone interested in the previous post - this is a terrific clip.

The Andrew Oldham Orchestra - Da Doo Ron Ron

I had a listen to this because I've just been reading the bit in 'Stoned' by Andrew Loog Oldham where he mentions its recording.  I've been reading a series of books about the Rolling Stones actually - 'Up and Down with the Rolling Stones' by Tony Sanchez, 'Faithfull' by Marianne Faithfull, and Keith Richards 'Life'.  I got them all as penny Amazon buys except for the Keith Richards' one, which I borrowed from the library.

I found them all fairly dull to be honest.  Life with the Rolling Stones sounds pretty ghastly.  Drugs and ghastliness and drugs and back-stabbing and drugs and ghastliness.  Of course all these books are accounts of early to mid-era Stones.  I suppose they've been treating it as a business, a capitalist rather than a musical endeavour, since about 1975, and if you look at it like that then perhaps life within their inner circle since then might be tolerable, cushioned by lots of cash rather than, perhaps, as was the case until the mid-70s, drugs.

I might get Andrew Loog Oldham's follow-ups to Stoned (can't remember the title, but I think there are two at least) because there are some interesting nuggets about the music industry over the years that make it worthwhile persevering despite his slightly irritating and indirect writing style.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Seapenguin now available in paperback

At last I've finished re-editing Seapenguins 1 to 4 and have published them as a single volume paperback of 230 pages.  It's now available to buy on Amazon for £6.99 plus P&P.
I wrote most of Seapenguin when I was going through what appeared to me at the time to be fearsomely tricky challenges and I gained comfort from escaping into that world and also from reading about Captain Scott and his companions and their travails through the Antarctic wastes.  Captain Scott gets a few mentions in Seapenguin.
It's a bit of a faff self-publishing but it's the only way to do it for me as I've no agent and nobody in the professional writing world has any interest in my work.  However I know from reactions to the blog in years gone by and from more recent e-book sales and Twitter feedback that some readers enjoy it; it also represents several years of my life, more accurately my inner life and my domestic life with my dear partner Barry, who provided so much inspiration as well as the illustrations, and our friendship with Jim who also provided inspiration in the form of badly-cooked fish fingers and kindly provided the images of St Kilda, so it's satisfying to give the characters, myself, Barry, Jim and the readers some overdue respect and produce this strange and convoluted representation of our lives in what I think is a pleasing and tidy format.  I'll probably have Seapenguins 5 and 6 available similarly in paperback within the next few weeks.
The cover photograph was taken by me a couple of years ago in Carsaig, Isle of Mull, and fans of Powell and Pressburger films will recognise it from I Know Where I'm Going. There's also a thumbnail photograph of me on the back which was taken by Barry at the memorial to Captain Scott in Glen Prosen - featured on this blog some time ago.
More work is in the pipeline by the way - and it's going to be better than Seapenguin.  Onwards!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Sea Penguin Tall Tales Part 9 002.AVI

I recorded myself reading from Sea Penguin - Part One back in 2012.  The quality is not what it might be.  I may re-record it.

A reader has just described the books as being sort of like 'a Scottish Wind in the Willows on high-end skunk', which I think sounds about right.

Still available on Amazon as e-books.  If I can work out how to do it, I'll publish them as paperbacks also.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Quite a few people downloaded the Tuppy and Geoffrey stories during the festive free promotion - about forty I think, in the UK, USA and France.  I've also actually sold - for real cash munny - two further books.  Thank you very much!   I've lost track of how many have sold or been downloaded for free over the five years since publishing them but it's at least several hundred - possibly into the low thousands.  I'm not flattering myself by thinking that everyone's actually read them.  In fact I'm guessing that probably more than a fair few are languishing unread in people's unwanted Kindles or in discarded hard drives on skips (sorry - recycling centres).  Others will have been given up on in distaste and/or scorn after page one. Or possibly after paragraph one.  I can't say I can blame anyone for that.  I know I can do better, and this year I aim to!
I began writing Tuppy and Geoffrey in 2008 after dropping out of a Master's/PhD in philosophy.  My brain wanted exercise and distraction and lots of it and so I began.  
Nine years later and my brain has become sluggish and very very lazy.  It isn't just that though.  I'm getting old and the daily worry of earning a crust and surviving generally has been considerable of late.  Writing requires boredom and a questing spirit and I haven't had the luxury of either for far too long.  I still don't.  Nevertheless I have a strong urge to get going with things again and - if I'm spared - I think I should manage something in 2017, as I lurch blindly from month to month.

Find all six current e-books here on Amazon.