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Jun 5 15

Fife Circle

by admin

At Waverley
She sat opposite me
Her knee
Brushed mine
She smiled.

Her beauty winded me.

I guess she worked in the financial sector
A Risk Assessor? Tax Inspector?
Grey suit, pink trainers, house in Fife
En route home to married life
I can’t remember but I think she
Was reading something by Maeve Binchy
Then suddenly.
She glanced at me
And send the briefest flicker of connection
Like a dart in my direction

An invitation?
In a station?

In the tunnel before Haymarket
I wondered if I could Alan Clarke it
Predatory erotic shark it
Pass a light sexual remark, it
Needn’t be creepy…
Just something to crack the moment, spark it,
But as the train broke from the dark it
Was clear that – No… I would say nothing, as usual.
But probably write a poem to mark it.

At South Gyle
We noticed rabbits
And smiled.

She looked away, her gaze deflected
I noticed that her face, reflected,
Overlaid the airport runway to the west
And made of her a palimpsest
An image which I thought – in hope – meant
That she dreamed of our elopement.

But dizzied by her evanescence
I was wordless in her presence.
And so the moment passed.
My lust kept schtum.
Da da da dum.
Da da da dum.
Da da da dum.
Da da da dum.

Must all train poems
Be poems of failure?
Is poetry the sex derailer?
Turning lovers into muses,
As, afraid, the poet chooses
To make of the poem a coital bed,
And let the sex
Be in his head?
Or, is it just that youth and age
Must keep relations on the page?
I don’t know.
But, perhaps, if poets answered glances
In quotidian circumstances.
There might be less poetic longing
And so less sub-Prufrockian songing
No poems like this, no ache, not any…

Instead, a touch, a kiss, a fuck, Dalmeny.

May 12 15

Notes To Self: A To Do List for Scottish Culture

by admin

On Sunday 10th May I was invited to provide a provocation to the ‘Culture: What Next?’ gathering at The Scottish Storytelling Centre.

Such events often feature speeches telling ‘us’ things ‘we’ need to do. I dislike this blanket use of ‘we’ when very often it really means ‘I’ or ‘you’.  So instead I wrote a To Do List which is explicitly directed at me – this is what I think I need to do over the next 10 years… but as Walt Whitman said: ‘I contain multitudes,’ so if you read this and any part of it resonates with you, feel free to hear it as  ’we’.

It is offered in a spirit of joyful self doubt and passionate ambivalence. 

Scottish Culture: What Next?

I need to stop drinking.

I need to get off twitter.

I need to write plays.

I need to write.

There’s a pile of plays needing written and theatres that want them. The plays don’t even need to be that good. They just need to be interesting. They just need to need to be written. And some of them probably need to be about the referendum.

I need to write a poem.

I need to write an article.

I need to write an article about Scotland and where she stands now – fuck it, I need to stop writing articles about Scotland and where she stands now. I’m sick of writing articles about Scotland and where she stands now. I’m sick of reading articles about Scotland and where she stands now. If I have to write or read or write another article about Scotland and where she stands now I’m going to puke a pure mixture of Irn Bru and Lorne sausage over my copy of The National.

I need to stop using Irn Bru and Lorne Sausage as an easy trope of identity.

If anyone asks me where Scotland stands now I need to say.

a) Roughly in the same place it was the last time you looked.


b) It’s too soon to tell.

I need to write an article about Syria

I need to write an article about Lebanon

I need to write an article about hill running

I need to write an article about paleolithic sex

I need to write an article about the violence reduction unit

I need to write an article about The Incredible String Band.

I need to drink less.

I need to write plays.

Did I already say that?

I need to write films.

No – wait – I’ve written plenty of films. I need to get some films made.

I really really really need to get some films made.

I should maybe do more telly.

I need to get off twitter.

When I am on twitter, I need to remember my friends in England

I need to remember my friends in England whenever I’m about to post something smug, or couthy about how great Scotland is right now, or how it is, in some inneffable way special or different.

I need to remember my friends in England whenever I notice I am about to use the words ‘England’ or ‘English’ in a tweet. I need to remember each and every one of them as an individual, including the Scottish ones who live there. I need to remember each and every one of them as an individual and I should only post the tweet if I could imagine saying it to them in a pub one evening without them wanting to punch me in the face.

I need to stop confusing England and London.

I need to stop confusing London and Westminster.

I need to visit England.

I need to visit Ireland.

I need to visit Wales. Fuck it! I really ought to visit Wales. I’ve never been to Wales. I need to visit Wales and re-read Edward Thomas and Dylan Thomas and… hang out with contemporary welsh writers like… Tim Price and like…

I need to educate myself about contemporary Welsh writers.

I need to stop Scotsplaining democracy to people.

I need to be particularly careful of Scotsplaining democracy to my friends on the English left. a) They know what democracy is and b) They’re feeling undertsandably tender right now. Now would be a good time for empathy and solidarity.

I need to remember that having a referendum is like getting a Chopper bike for christmas in 1979. Everyone wanted one. if you got one everyone thought you were cool but if you went on and on and on about it, you were instantly a dick.

I need to tell the truth in my writing.

I need to tell the truth in my writing.

I need to tell the truth in my writing.

I need to explore my No side.

I need to explore my British side.

I need to explore the side of myself that doesn’t give a fuck about identity and thinks it’s stupid to even think about identity because we’re on a beach somewhere in Greece and there’s a bonfire, and the spliffs are out, and I’m reading Kenneth White poetry to a girl from Cumbria and who are we anyway, and what is ‘we’ and what is ‘I’ and if you look at the stars it gives you a real sense of perspective you know because we’re all just microbes clinging to a rock in space and did you know that we’re basically 99% air anyway….and god this shit is amazing do you want a blowback?

I need to get out more.

I need to walk in the hills.

I need to swim in the sea.

I need to walk along canals.

I need to walk along the side of motorways.

I need to go to Harthill.

I need to go to Bankfoot.

I need to remember that there are Tories in Scotland.

I need to always remember to pluralize the word ‘culture’ when I’m speaking about Scotland.

I need to make more podcasts.

I need to find ways to pay the people with whom I make podcasts.

I need to take my headphones out of my ears.

I need to stop listening to Kall Kaye.

I need to go to gigs more.

I need to stop reading the Guardian. No – that’s not it – I’m allowed to carry on reading the guardian but I really, really need to stop worrying about what it says. The Guardian is not my Mother. I do not need to act all teenage when it criticises me, or ignores me. See also the BBC.

I need to stop saying everything’s terrible and notice all the things that are good.

I need to stop saying everything’s good and notice all the things that are terrible.

I need to remember how many of my artistic colleagues both young and old have entirely precarious incomes and how much of the work they do is essentially for free. I need to notice how grindingly dispiriting it is when that work goes un-noticed or un-acknowledged.

I need to fight for people to be paid for what they do.

I need to remember the above applies not just to people who work in the arts.

I need to give myself a break.

I need to learn a language.

I need to go abroad more.

I need to visit Catalonia and Slovenia and Greece and Greenland and Brazil and China and…

I need to stop flying and learn to use Skype.

I need to learn Gaelic.

I need to go to back to Kintra.

I need to stop romanticising defeat and plucky outsiderism because the romanticisation of defeat is a means by which I evade responsibility and fall into an easy complacency in which all the bad things are everyone’s fault but mine.

I need to set up writers retreats, and do conferences, and bring people together at every opportunity to talk and drink and argue and flyte.

I need to step back and leave space for other people to do those things.

I need to help set up a community art centre in Inverkeithing.

I need to premiere work in Fife.

I need to stop reading reviews.

I need to not fetishize consensus so much.

I need to enjoy disagreement.

I need to stop calling for ‘unity’ if it’s basically a way of telling someone else to keep quiet.

If I start a sentence with ‘I feel…’ it should be followed by a feeling word e.g. happy, sad, excited. If a sentence begins I feel and then is followed by anything other than a feeling word it is bullshit and an attempt to hide genuine emotion. This is especially true if the sentence somehow contrives to be ‘I feel that you are wrong.’

I need to read more Shakespeare.

I need to read more Burns.

I need to read more books by women

I need to read more books by black authors.

I need spend more time with my children.

I need to not be scared to challenge my friends on my own side.

I need to not be scared to support my friends on the other side.

I need to not percieve the world in terms of sides.

I need to grow up.

I need to stay young.

I need to get faster.

I need to slow down.

I need to get digital.

I need to go back to pen and paper.

I need be more vulnerable.

I need to drink less coffee.

I need to stop making lists.

I need to write plays.

I need to write.

Sep 24 14

Back To Work

by admin

So we lost. It was a hard blow. Much, much harder than I expected. I had never thought we’d win. But, hope weakened my defences and so when defeat finally came the blow felt devastating. Like everyone, I spent some time crying and some time raging and some time drinking, and some time in disbelief. But the sky is blue, the autumn leaves are on the turn, and the Ochil hills still look every bit as bonny in the sunshine as they ever did. It’s time to move on, now, and think clearly about what happened.

We lost.

We lost because we didn’t persuade the middle class that independence offered them opportunity. We didn’t persuade rural Scotland that it would reduce their peripherality. We didn’t persuade those who grew up with a better Britain that independence honoured those old values. We didn’t persuade people for whom Britishness is a central plank of indentity that an independent Scotland would nourish and respect that identity. Most crucially of all, we didn’t persuade England, or more specifically the English left, that it could survive without us. The result was, in those final weeks, a feeling arose that if we voted Yes we’d be yoked to a grieving, lunatic, hostile nation to the south.

So it’s no use getting pissed off about bias or nursing conspiracy theories about vote rigging because we lost and we lost by way more than a fraction. We lost by a lot. To birth a country properly we needed 60+ percent of the population who would be willing to face the hard work of independence and we needed the a warm & healthy relationship with rUK to set us on our way. Neither of those things were possible this time. If Scotland is ever to be an independent country in the future we will have to address all of the reasons why we lost with clarity and honesty and we must set about building into the bones of our polity the solutions to those problems.

It’s also no use going on about another referendum in the near future. Talk like that will alienate even many Yes voters. Electorates don’t like being played as mugs. We asked. They answered. The next time the question is asked it can only be because a sizeable majority of the electorate demand it. Apart from anything else, consider the risk. A country can lose an independence referendum once and still, just, consider itself a country. But lose an independence referendum twice? For the SNP to hold another referendum without a near certain guarantee of a positive outcome would be, to my mind, almost criminally irresponsible with the nation’s sovereignty.

Scotland will be independent in the end, in some form or other. Whatever independence comes to mean within a Europe of the future, Scotland wll be that. But for now we have to accept that we are a semi-detached nation. Semi detached is not bad. Not bad at all if you grew up in the 80’s, like me. So now, it’s time for us to stop looking backwards and to make the best of what we do have. Scotland has enormous advantages. We have an educated electorate, a functioning parliament, and the goodwill of a large majority of our people. There is an awful lot we can do. It’s up to us to govern ourselves with all the powers we have to the best of our abilities. We must behave like independent citizens of an independent country in waiting.

See all that talk about protecting the poor & the vulnerable? We have to do that. All that talk about land reform? We have to do that. All those new policy ideas? Get them implemented. Gender equality? Now, please.  The referendum brought  many marginalized voices to the fore? That doesn’t stop just ‘because parties don’t need their votes anymore. See how we finally noticed there’s a middle class elite who run Scotland? That needs shaking up… and there’s so much more.

Scotland needs to be entrepreneurial & forward thinking but that means we as individuals have to learn to take risks and box clever. We have use technology & networks. We have to learn how to make financial models that support our work. We have to try stuff out. Scotland needs decentralised government & localism but that means us taking responsibility for ourselves. We have to get involved with our communities – join the Community Council, work in the community garden, participate in organizing the Gala. Above all, every time we organize a meeting or event we must remember the lessons of Indy and ask ourselves – is there 50/50 gender representation here? Is this meeting structured so that more than the usual confident suspects get their voices heard? Is everybody here who needs to be here?

Lastly, and urgently, we need to get ourselves down to England and Wales and over to Ireland so we can get a conversation going with our friends and neighbours about how the people of this archipelago can develop together in the future. Can we be a British Scandanavia. We need to discuss identity, and shared values. We need come to terms with the past – past hurts we’ve done each other, and the enormity of the past hurt we together inflicted on the world in the form of empire.

So, you know, phew… that’s a lot to be going on with.

It’s comforting to nuzzle into defeat because defeat removes responsibility. What sweeter way to spend a lifetime than drinking to the memory of a glorious future that never happened. That’s the old Scotland. I grew up with that and I don’t want to go back. For a few days this summer I had a taste of what it would be like if we took responsibility for ourselves and it was intoxicating. I want more please! So come on, let’s get out there: join that party, start up that internet project, found that business, stand for election, form a transition town, write that book. Do you remember that sentence; the one we emptied of meaning by overuse? Well, today it feels suffused with possibility; as necessary and new minted as if it had been written for this moment alone -

‘Work, as if you were in the early days of a better nation.’

24th Sept 2018

Sep 23 14

To a Yesser

by admin

(After Hopkins)


Yesser are you grieving

Over all the media leaving

The news, that thing of man, you

With your fresh thoughts dazzled, can you?

Ah! As the activist grows older

We come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though piles of mulched white papers lie;

And yet, I will weep, know why:

Though no longer referending:

The national question’s never ending,

But no leaflet caught, nor tweet expressed,

What your heart made of it, that moment


It was the moment you were born for

It is that passing that I mourn for.


23rd Sept. 2018