Monday, 10 September 2012


Just spent a week birding in Luguero, near Leon and Asturias in northern Spain. What a fine way to mark the end of summer and to look forward to the onset of autumn! Didn't see wallcreeper, although we were surrounded by high, sunny cliffs and even spent a morning out looking for them in the likeliest of likely spots. Maybe just the wrong week...

Did see great bustards and black storks, Egyptian vultures and short-toed eagles, purple herons and rock buntings. Every one of the thousand or so pied flycatchers we saw were brown - all females and juveniles? All? Apparently not, since the black and white males moult into this plumage in autumn! I never had any inkling of this before - of course in Britain we only have pied flys between May and August when they head south for the winter. Offhand I can't think of another bird that does this.

Feels like a bit of a Gilbert White moment. We assumed we were looking at females and juvies and that all the males had gone early en masse. Just like the swallows all descend into the mud at the bottom of the ponds and lie torpid underwater for the winter!!

And thousands of mistle thrushes all week, pouring in here and there, at all altitudes and in every habitat. And the jays - pouncing like shrikes on the lizards among the rocks on the foothills.

The sight of a hobby over our chalets, flying high, then stooping and swerving among our house and crag martins before disappearing into the orange sunset. A sparrowhawk which tried to harrass them the evening before had been tempted too close and too fast towards the chalet windows where she hit the glass and killed herself. She was still warm when we returned to find her on the balcony, but the martins were unperturbed by the sight of their fatal bellman stretched still on the ground.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Celtic v Rangers

Celtic reminding Rangers that they have an appointment with the Grim Reaper.

Celtic won 3-0 on Sunday, and the SPL flag is already home at Paradise, but they also got the black flags out for Rangers who may slide into liquidation. No mercy was shown the defeated enemy. A black coffin was passed around the green end, in scenes reminiscent of the Ayatollah Khomeini's undignified end, and the tombstones were out too, some marked with the number of the beast.

Celtic fans demonstrate their lack of faith in the latest bids to lift their Ibrox counterparts out of administration.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were unfurled - Neil Lennon, Death, Craig Whyte -"The Celtic Legend" - and Hector the Taxman. For the Rangers fans brave enough to attend, to take it in the face, and even to cheer their defiant support for their troubled club, it must have felt like hell or the end of the world. In truth, they have been betrayed by their owners who have mismanaged their club and brought it to administration and even to the verge of extinction.

Solidarity, Glesca style!

True Celtic fans will of course enjoy the football, the victory, and the celebrations. There will certainly be a satisfying shudder of schadenfreude as their racial, tribal, cultural and political opponents slide further down the wall which recently wrecked them. But there is no denying the inter-dependence of this Old Firm. They are not two sides of the same coin, nor peas in a pod, but they need each other nevertheless. The huge gates and the manic fervour when they play each other is one thing, but the fact they provide the lifeblood of the game in Scotland is undeniable.

For the life of me I see no sense or justice in punishing the football club for the misdemeanours of the businessmen who bought and sold the company. Two individuals are primarily the cause of this disaster, and neither is facing justice. The punishments are meted out to the players, the manager, the fans and the employees of the team.

It is amazing to me that the Crown has come for Rangers, that the royal Blues are having the screws turned on them by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, and that the Scottish football authorities are choosing to hammer this great British Institution, one of the last bastions of Protestant supremacy in these isles.

Surely there can be no more paranoia from the Irish Catholic camp across the city; surely they can no longer justify their well-shored up inferiority complex, their embattled victimhood, when they see the officers of the Crown and the high heid yins of Scottish freemasonry lining up to take a kick at the half-dead Ibrox club. Truly all former notions have turned to dust, or God, in his wisdom, is indeed a Teague.

Unless of course, it's our turn next. In the meantime...

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Are trends eclectic?

Ultravox! led by the wily John Foxx inspired the young fan Gary Numan to experiment with synths, and Human League and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark were already playing with machines up north, but Gazza eclipsed them all with Are "Friends" Electric? as Tubeway Army in 1979.

John Foxx went solo, smelling the direction of the wind, and released "Underpass" (a bit like "tubeway"?) and the album Metamatic (a bit like "Metal" on The Pleasure Principle album?), but the visual element and the dark undertow were missing, and these were metallic pop where Numan was disturbing and quasi-industrial, even then.

"No-one Driving" and "Burning Car" followed Numan's "Cars" but went off the road and into the abyss.

Even so, I bought these discs all one after the other and was only parted from them when our student flat in Holyrood Crescent in Glasgow got ransacked.

Even though the doors were kicked off their hinges to the street, and the stars could be seen through the ceiling and the roof, I slept there one night alone with only This Wreckage turning on the turntable all night for company.

What could these two possibly be talking about?

Gazza's like : "Nah, Freddie, I've already got Simple Minds doing handclaps on TELEKON".
Freddie's like : "Come on Gaz, give us a break!"

unsynthesized fragments, mainly

Simple Minds, John Webb and James Freud provided handclaps on Gary Numan's TELEKON album of 1980.

How strange.

Jim Kerr of the Minds supported Celtic, John Webb was Gary's adopted brother, and James Freud was in the Models and hanged himself.

In the CARS video, you can see Gary doing his own handclaps. So what gives?

Someone commenting on the CARS video on youtube thinks Numan and his cohorts in black look like the Illuminati.

These all appear to be broken connections.

But looking at Kristen Harris' beautiful works of Numanoid art, it doesn't seem to matter that some fragments may never be synthesized.

Monday, 9 April 2012

the hoar-frost of the soul

I'm beginning to feel that chill - the sense of waste, that I'm not living to my potential.

It returns to me every so often, at a space of some years, and it always presages a major change.

I've been enjoying my time out, so much that it has stretched to four years now. I think it's time to start my own practice as a trainer, coach, and counsellor.

I've been allowed to develop these parts of myself recently as a manager, but the opportunity to put them to good use is limited, and so I have to create my own opportunities. I know I will want to work in collaboration with colleagues and friends from London who were always in the same field as me.

The first time I recall feeling this mildly disturbing hoar-frost of the soul was in London when I ended up on a five-year psychotherapy training course which contributed to the end of my marriage. It was a sense that my talents and gifts were rotting in a cupboard in an empty house like so much fruit that took me into these uncharted waters.

In the end, I left with nothing. But the experiences changed me, and I took psychosynthesis into my work with children, families, teachers and social workers. At its best, it was healing work, but in the everyday richness  and busyness of life at the coalface it often felt like firefighting. Hopefully a little was given and gained everyday.

Now I want to bring together some of my angels and demons and have a conference about where I go from here! I would like to be a trainer, coach, and counsellor again, but I wonder if I have the energy and the will.

And what are my options?

Back to my diary, where I reflect in solitude...

Sunday, 8 April 2012

end before you begin

Finish each day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Ralph Waldo Emerson.

This reminds me never to let the sun go down on my anger - never end the day with an argument unresolved. Like leaving your offering at the altar in order to settle your dispute with your brother first. Like saying an "act of contrition" before taking holy communion!

I wouldn't always forget the absurdities and blunders of the day - but I would hope to forgive myself before the end of the day - or to ask forgiveness.

How do you start the day with too high a spirit as Emerson advises? I've started taking a moment or two to pause on the front door step before setting off down the path to the car. It's moment to see what's around your house, the jackdaws breaking into the eaves where the starlings used to nest, the sparrows fending off a grey squirrel under the roof, or the sparrowhawk gliding over the hedges.

I will always turn along the Bannoch Road and pause here and there along its length, windows down; you can sometimes see the isle of Arran, its snowy peaks through the clouds, and old Kilwinning Abbey tower and ruins. You can hear yellowhammers and whitethroats at the bend where the bridge is. That's where I saw the only jay I've ever seen in the county, last winter. Then you can hit the main roads and drive through north Ayrshire to work, wherever that might be.

That's always a good start!       

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A golden oriole

Try whistling the word "weelaweeoo" like a catcall and one of these might answer back!

I did a watercolour in 1986 of an imaginary woodland scene, a glade, with a golden oriole flying away through it. It was my favourite bird, one of those that you read about as a young ornithologist, and one of those exotic pictures at the back of the field guides - in the section marked "birds you will never see no matter how long you live".

In Lithuania last year we began to hear and see these wonderful creatures - I even had one female in the hand, and spent long periods having whistled conversations with another one low in the trees at Vente Ragas (an observatory).

As we headed home at the end of one of these blissful afternoons, I saw a male like this one off to my left through the trees. When he flew off, I stood there and it dawned on me that I was looking at the woodland scene I had seen in my mind's eye and painted twenty five years ago.

Quite a strange moment.

The only golden oriole recorded on the isle of Mull in Scotland, famed for its white-tailed sea eagles, was found dead under a tree. Surely that doesn't count!

The best time to watch the sea eagles on Mull is mid to late March, before the season starts and before the hides are open. A couple of years ago I watched two adults spinning down out of the sky with talons locked, one upside down, like in the David Attenborough films!

Me and Attenborough shared a great-spotted woodpecker once. Not for dinner or anything. It used to fly from his garden to mine when I lived on Richmond Hill, in a different life and in a different time. Those were the days when a party of jays would flock to my bird table early in the mornings in the late summer, conversing like demented humans and mechanical objects among themselves while they filled their crops with nuts to be buried around the place for harder times.

This is how oak plantations grow uphill - their fondness for acorns leads them to spread forests in autumn by forgetting their caches! 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Gary Numan - this limpid Webb

Gary Numan's album covers from 1979 were pastiches of paintings by Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte.

The reverse of REPLICAS (Tubeway Army)

was from Le Faux Miroir (The False Mirror) by Magritte :

And THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE depicted the Magritte painting of the same name, with one or two subtle differences, such as the man having a lightbulb for a head and the pyramid being a rock or a meteorite - I think.

Check it out!

I discovered this in SYN-ROCK magazine, an amateur issue by Michael from Ealing and friends (a classic collector's piece now I'd imagine) who actually got to interview Numan in about 1980 and were shown how to play I DIE : YOU DIE on his piano by the great pale one himself!

Albeit they spelled the artist's name "McGrete" and led us all to believe there was an undiscovered Scottish genius out there somewhere.

I had a small Magritte collection - postcards, of course - which I found at the Pompidou centre and stuck to my wall in the school in Vitry sur Seine where I spent my year abroad.

Lots of crescent moons, night gardens in daytime and faceless suits.


La reproduction interdite - NO CLONING!

L'empire de lumieres - the empire of lights
Les amants - the lovers

Gary Numan got me playing the piano again, at a time when I'd fallen out of love with lessons and jacked it all in : now I've got my own Korg M3 and I'm in synth heaven every night!

Nearly met him at his keyboardist's 30th at Harvey Wallbanger's at Kensington Olympia. David played in a band called Carwash as well, and my girlfriend was dancing with them. I was talking to him when Gary came into the room. I was stunned! David offered to introduce me but I was instantly starstruck! "Hi Mr Numan, I've got all your records!" - what do you say?

I couldn't approach him.

Anyway, I went to the bar near where he was sitting, but in that two minutes I couldn't find a break in his intense conversation to offer him a drink (he only drinks coke), so the moment passed, and me with my bad cold left soon afterwards. As I drove off, I could see Numan still sitting in the window space upstairs, and his classic CARS started up on my cd player as I watched him in my mirror and drove away.

What a moment - a moment of all but union, as James Joyce said through Stephen Dedalus.

The paths we never took, eh?

Inside A Glass Asylum : stories

I put in my book proposal a few days ago, it's kind of in between fiction and memoir. You know how a good story grows arms and legs, and metamorphoses into something larger than life? Well my "Everyday Stories of Borderline Folk" is a bit like that.

It's set in immigration at Heathrow, in the late '80s when the system crashed, not for the first time but certainly for the worst time.

Thus the borderline folk are physically stationed on that boundary between Britain and the rest of the world, but psychologically on the faultline between neurotic and psychotic. Some of them. Or maybe just me! 

It's a series of Unquaint Customs, Mostly and has chapters in it called A Necro Speaks, and The Head in the Bag Routine.  Quite a grisly humour, but hopefully brilliantly funny all the same. Read it in the pub or on the tube, that's where I picture myself telling the stories. I think I have to develop things a lot more before the agent finds it unputdownable. Hopefully it's not still at the unpickupable stage, but who knows?!

We'll see, it's a start.

I followed the template for proposal-building in How To Get Published And Make A Lot of Money, the author of which I can't immediately remember. It seemed pretty comprehensive and practical, so I'm going to stick to that format even if on this occasion I'm unsuccessful.

Hopefully it won't be a journey ...

...from the slushpile into the blue vortex of oblivion !!!!!

towards the archaeo - psychic zero?

Was the drowned world itself, and the mysterious quest for the south which had possessed Hardman, no more than an impulse to suicide, an unconscious acceptance of the logic of his own devolutionary descent, the ultimate neuronic synthesis of his own archaeopsychic zero?

If this isn't the finest line in the English language, from JG Ballard's Drowned World, then there is pure powdered gold somewhere out there waiting to be discovered on the wing of a bird of paradise.

But it is.

So we can all relax. It's already been written.

 A bee-eater (of paradise)

taste this limpid web

I used this as a mnemonic years ago, I think at Glasgow University in an English Literature paper - but I can't for the life of me remember what it was designed to recall.

I'm almost sure it was Shakespeare play, maybe A Winter's Tale. Theme, plot, that sort of thing.

There must be a syndrome for the disconnection of mnemonic from an actual memory?

Or a word for a mnemonic which doesn't remind you of anything anymore?

Could there be anything more forlorn?!


Spin, spin, liquors of life

Spin, spin, liquors of life; spin, jellies, sweet sirops of my flesh, sweetness, the gramophone...

Sartre's classic existential moment in La Nausee kicked off my first creative foray into serious writing some years ago, and it seems fitting to wheel it out, dust it down and polish it up for this new journal.

I always thought in this English translation it was a luscious line which dripped off the tongue. I remarked back then in 1981 that "it's probably the only line in literature to lose something in the translation back to the original".

It was a collection of fragments called The Gallery. Maybe I could dig some of them out, to remind me of my roots as a writer. 

This is all coming up for me now because I've just submitted my first proposal, and I haven't heard back yet.

It's been a week!!!

You always think you've probably done enough, and then you begin to think of things you didn't do and didn't include. Friends and colleagues begin to come up with brilliant ideas which - had they been mentioned two days before you pressed the "send" button - might have made the difference between stardom and oblivion...or so one imagines.

But in reality, you do your best and move on. You take what comes I suppose and try hard to have no regrets. And try again!