Short story XXI

Based on a true story

The sea languidly lapped ashore, that summer’s day. Oh, it’s so long ago, it’s nearly out of living memory. Some are still alive that remember it, though. What more alluring for a young lad than to build something that he thinks may float. What more fun than to do it with other pals. How exciting to find it actually does float. The sun beat down, and the sea carried the raft on its broad bosom. Being innocent of the ways of the sea, the boys did not spot the effects of the outgoing tide. They were having a whale of a time pointing out to each other the houses of the village as they slowly drifted by. One lad waved at his own house, but nobody was about. At the last house, someone did spot the little group on the raft. Slowly, the tide carried the craft away, the houses in the village became indistinct and the temperature dropped. The excitement ebbed a little, as the buildings in the town, a mile or two away, appeared on the horizon, looking unfamiliar from this distance. The sun began to dip towards the western hills when the tide finally lost its push, leaving the raft bobbing well out to sea, well out of sight of the town - but not out of sight of a fisherman who was returning home from his day’s fishing. The boys waved, and the fisherman tacked to approach. Swallowing an imprecation, he called to his crew mates to take them aboard, and bring them home. “What on earth are you lot doing here”, the skipper growled. It meant nothing to the lads that they had drifted five miles down the coast. They were more concerned at the reaction from their mothers, more to the point, from their fathers... They soon found out. As I said, some are still alive today that remember it - their backsides in particular! It earned one of them his nickname. I have altered it, for now. Let’s call him An t-Iasgair. The fisherman.

Holocaust Memorial Day (II)

We remember
These few years ahead
Those who answered
a call of duty

When the guns fell silent
It was an Armistice
and even when peace was declared
the seeds for more wars were sown

We remember
in the day ahead
the millions lost
to the lunacy of discrimination

When the guns fell silent
in May and August forty-five
yet more seeds for strife
were sown, further away

The pistol shot at Sarajevo, 1914
echoed in Paris a few weeks ago
We may think we learned the lessons
Beware. We have not.

Arbeit macht frei

Arbeit macht frei
The iron letters
over the gate into hell

Journey’s end
Now you’ll be free
Liberation imminent
Arbeit macht frei

Arbeit macht frei
A non-descript gate
through which the
cattle wagons sway

All stop
All change
Freedom from all
Arbeit macht frei

Arbeit macht frei
Free from your family
we’ll beat them away
Never need them again

Free you of all
that you ever held dear
possessions, people, dignity
Arbeit macht frei

Arbeit macht frei
Turn left or turn right
More freedoms ahead
Freedom from dirt

Altogether now
Shed your belongings
you’ll get them back later
Jede Laus muss heraus

Jede Laus muss heraus
All lice out the house
Close the door to be fumigated
Arbeit macht frei

Arbeit macht frei
Drag them out
Cart them away
Soon to be smoke

Freedoms beyond bounds
The ultimate freedom achieved
Freed from your life
Arbeit macht frei

Arbeit machte frei
It’s now only words
The acts long since stopped
Justification there never was

We’re all to blame
We all allowed this to happen
Remember remember
the Ninth of November

Do not cast blame
lest ye be blamed yourself
Dark the letters stand in warning
Arbeit macht nicht frei


It's all perspective
political expediency
convenient blindness
and many hollow vessels

An old king dies
our flag sinks to half mast
his country exports something
erm, what was it, oh yes - - - oil

A despot dies
Oh he was a bad one
The PM hugged him close
out in that hot desert

A despot dies
Oh he was a tyrant
but he was OUR tyrant
until we strung him up

A dozen cartoonists died in Paris
The world leaders marched
upholding freedom of speech, their motto
Je suis - un charlatan

Thousands died in one African city
But its government doesn't want us to know
So nobody marches
saying I'm with Nigeria

Let's fuse those double standards
Let's ditch the self-serving interests
Let's practice what we preach
Let's be human to each other

Welcome to the Hebrides

Here is your new ferry
It will sail to any Scottish port
Apart from the one
You are booked to go

Sip your G&T
In amongst the bacon and egg
as the ship heaves in the Minch
and you do too in sympathy

Land at beautiful Glumag
An industrial wasteland
At the start of
your activity holiday

Walk into Stornoway
Five miles is all
Through the Castle Grounds
in the dark

No buses go to Arnish
It's a single-track road
Used by lorries
and the lighthouse board

Behold the berth
where no ferry
known to man
can dock

Your destination's now in sight
will your landlady let you in at 3 am?
Welcome to the Hebrides
courtesy Calmac's Loch Seaforth.

Short story XX

Slowly, the lady strolled through the tall grasses. To the west, the sun was setting in a dazzling display of colours. The wind howled in from the sea nearby, occasionally carrying a speck of foam. Finally, just as the last rim of the sun disappeared behind the horizon, she reached the top of the dunes. A crescent-shaped beach lay below, pounded by ocean waves. Her hair streamed behind her on the gale. To her, the wind carried more than just the icy cold of a winter storm. It carried solace. Forgetfulness.

The lady slowly walked down the narrow road to her house, the drains on either side nearly flooding after the heavy rain. The crescent beach could be seen some distance away to the north, fringed by the frenzied surf of a winter storm. She stopped by the gate to her cottage. The memories blown away by the wind were awakened again in the relative calm of the valley. The lady lifted her head, and for a moment she was transported back in time. A car pulled up in the turning point, and a friend hopped out. "Hey, how are you today?" The memories fled back into the shadows.

At the time of the previous solstice, the lady had been the happiest person on the planet. It was the zenith of her life, as it had been the zenith of the year. Light never went away, always lingering on the northern horizon at night, quickly returning after a few hours of near darkness. But this was now the winter solstice, and darkness was never far away, even in the middle of the day. Particularly on a stormy day like today, with low cloud scudding overhead, with frequent harsh showers. Hail clattering down as it did, where elsewhere snow would have whirled. It was the nadir of the year; and the nadir of her life. In the summer, things could only get better, she thought. "Come with me, " the friend said, after being offered a cup of tea. "You'll be on your own, and mulling things over." The lady did not take much persuading, and a few minutes later, the two were motoring down the single-track road into town. "When did the stonemasons say the tombstone would be installed?" the friend asked.

Rain streamed down the window, with the wind howling outside. No ferry today - the boat was tied up alongside on the far end of the street. Nobody stirred abroad in that first gale of the autumn. He had just made it on the ferry the night before. As promised. Neither of them paid much attention to the conditions outside. Many, many weeks had to pass before they could meet again. He worked abroad, on the far side of the world, and could only come home once or twice in the year. Today was one of those days. Although as yet unaware, the lady received a present from him. Not one you unwrap in a few seconds. But it was one she had been hoping for, each time he came to visit. And now it was going to happen. In nine months' time.

As autumn deepened and darkened, the nature of the present became known to the lady. Not always pleasant, but some times, the harder roads lead to greater rewards in the end. By the time Christmas lights started to twinkle in the almost day-long twilight, the immediate effects had begun to wear off, and she began to prepare to receive the rewards. Still quite some way off, though, even when the calendars changed onto a new year. Those around her began to perceive the change in demeanour, even though nothing was readily apparent. Yet. Even when a severe storm blew tiles off the roof, ripped overhead cables from their insulators and spat spume and seaweed from the sea onto the village streets, her glow never ceased.

The lady looked at the little face, which had just come into the world. The pains of labour but a distant memory, she smiled at her new son. The midwife and doctor had both left the cottage but minutes earlier, that warm June afternoon. What a present to receive, indeed. And to top the surprise, its giver unexpectedly walked in the door. What a timing, through sheer coincidence. "I've got a new job", he said. "But this is so precious", and for a few moments he got acquainted with his new son. "Next week, I'm starting in the North Sea. I'll be able to come home every fortnight". Emotions gripped the couple as the prospect of a better family life shone brightly before them. Overhead came the sound of the Coastguard helicopter, clattering its way across the islands.

Another helicopter down in the North Sea. The news sent chills up and down the north of Scotland. Who would want to fly in one those things anymore? Who would trust the operators to put safety before profits? So many accidents, and nothing seeming to be done about it. Change the operator, change the choppers, use boats. But all that it did nothing to bring back those lost in the chilly waters of the German Ocean.

A heartrending wail emanated from the cottage near the ferry. The giver of presents was also lost in that crash.

Sobbing disconsolately, the lady wandered through the house, and finally found the cot with her baby son in it. Seeing his precious face appeared to calm her down, or at least help to focus her mind on something else for a few moments. Enough to compose herself to pick up the phone and share the dreadful news. Preparations were set in motion, and after a couple of days, the mournful procession wound its way down to the cemetery by the sands. Shivering from barely contained emotion, the lady stood through the ritual, not being able to look on as the coffin was lowered down. Her friend helped her away from the sad place. The lady staggered in the direction of the crescent shaped beach nearby, her friend in close attendance. "Come", the friend said calmly, with feigned control. "There is one who needs your attention more now. He would have wanted you to do that. Not stay here, you can't do anything here anymore." The gulls wheeled overhead on the summer breeze. "Come" and the lady allowed herself to be accompanied to the car.

The seasons wheeled past, almost unnoticed. From the dusky greys, dark greens and black browns of winter, to the bright blues and yellows of summer. The lambs heralding spring, from the vestiges of snow. The leaves fluttering from sparse trees, blown off on autumnal gales. The lady’s years grew, as did her young son. Soon the time came for him to join others of his age, down at the village school. Some came from far, off the little island buses. Others from the village itself. That first morning, all children sat in a circle, telling about themselves and their home. “My mother is Mary”, finally came Thomas’s turn. “My dad was called Jim. I never met him.” After a few seconds of gasps, the teacher signalled for silence. Thomas continued, unabashed. “He died in a helicopter accident”. The youngster manfully made his way through the big words, looking the teacher straight in the eye.

I wonder

I wonder
what would you make
of what I'm now
where I've gone

I wonder
you wouldn't

I know for sure
you would accept
that what I've done
was what I wanted to do

I wonder
what would you make
of what I have done
the roads I trod

I wonder
you would

I know for sure
looking back
you would not just accept
but fully comprehend

And be proud
of my path through life
however unclear
and dark at times

I wonder
and marvel
you're still here
Although - you're long gone

Winter storms

Mother Nature
is having a hissy fit
blowing and roaring
she's the boss

We can't move
Nothing moves
when the storm
lashes our town

The boat is tied up
The planes daren't fly
The trees bend
and break

Even the windows
roofs removed
to another house

One after the other
a gale a day
daylight barely comes
with rain and cloud

The wind will pass
and the clouds draw away
the sun will rise higher
as spring beckons from afar

You're still here

What are you doing now?
You were there on Tuesday
when we were both at the table
doing something

It's a long hill isn't it?
We trudged up the long slope
towards the Emma Pyramid
with you by our side

No the chair was empty
No-one else to be seen
Only two pairs of feet
rustling the leaves in the woods

What are you doing inside?
You asked that day
we saw you for the final time
when the sun was bright

You're still here
although you've left us
By our side
although unseen

Yes, you're in the forest
that's where we had to leave you
But you're not there
You're just plain here


The sea rose
The loch rose
And met
to take away

We all awoke
that morning
ten years ago
this month

That was a bad one
Look at that wreck
Look at my house
We all awoke

Minus five
They were
in the South Ford

The sea gives
The sea takes
We remember them
Next Sunday

(On 11 January 2005, five members of the same family were lost in the north of South Uist, when their car was swamped by a storm surge).


2015 is here
nothing is certain
it's all up in the air
the outcome is blank

The festivities are over
food and drink gone
fireworks spent
money at zero

2015 is here
it's all for the taking
if you're prepared
to take the plunge

Here's to the future
to hell with the past
Nothing ventured
nothing lost

2015 has arrived
The platform is empty
it stretches beyond sight
But - the signal is at green. Go!