Monkey Business – and a message from the Action Man

Change, I’ve always thought, brings its own benefits. These may not always be obvious to us at the time, when the change is for the worse – a bereavement, for example, or someone close suffering a severe illness – but, as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and shade makes you appreciate the light when it returns all the more.

Or, as I said to Daughter and Heiress that time, in the depths of winter years ago, when I pulled the broken dishwasher out of the wall and caused the water – and therefore the heating – to be shut off for several days, it can be character-building.

And it’s not just we humans that can evolve as a result of both threats and opportunities, as I learned recently from Scottish Legal News. Apparently, the long-tailed macaques at the Uluwatu Temple in Bali have come to understand that items such as electronics have more value when you nick them than things like hairpins, according to a Canadian scientist who’s managed to get a sweet gig studying monkey thievery in Bali, away from the harsh northern winters at home.

“These monkeys have become experts at snatching them from absent-minded tourists who didn’t listen to the temple staff’s recommendations to keep all valuables inside zipped handbags firmly tied around their necks and backs,” he’s quoted as saying.

The cheeky monkeys expect better rewards for higher value items. In one instance negotiations with one of them lasted 17 minutes. Now that’s a tricky bit of deal-making. What, you start with one banana, move up to two, and make five your final offer? And how brand-conscious are they? Is the market rate 5 bananas for my budget Honor 10 Lite, as much as the latest spec iPhone?

Anyway, I digress. I’ve mentioned before in the past year that my life recently has felt a lot like a series of shedding skins. First of all, I left the comfortable employ of Fife Council for an uncertain future as a consultant, with no golden parachute attached. More recently I walked out through the metaphorical golden gates of that venerable institution, the Law Society of Scotland. I can no longer call myself a solicitor – although I cling to the more general epithet of lawyer, at least on my Twitter feed.

Of course, I do appreciate we have all undergone pretty major changes in our circumstances in the past year, and I’m very lucky that, pandemic aside, all the changes in my life have been positive, unlike for many others.

Now though, another major change beckons, as, at the turn of the year, we decided to finally make the move to Edinburgh. We’ll sell the house here in Glenrothes when the retrictions make the selling of houses a reasonable proposition, and move over to the flat, once Daughter and Heiress and her boyfriend have got settled somewhere else.

Preparation for this has actually been something of a lifesaver for our state of mind during the last couple of months, as we’ve been able to busy ourselves with clearing the house out during this coldest and darkest of lockdowns. The Redoubtable Mrs F took on the considerable task of sorting through the boxes and boxes of hard-copy photos, as well as videos. She’s also evolved a close relationship with the shredder we had to buy as a replacement for the previous one, syncing with its biorhythms to get maximum shredding time before it needs to ‘rest.’

Much of my clearing out has involved the loft, which of course we won’t have a replacement for in the flat. We’d already done some of that before, but now, tons and tons of paper has gone in the recycling, and with it much reflecting my past life as a writer. All my old manuscripts, which Alison, very sweetly, thought I should hold onto in case they acquired a value, are gone. Ditto the multifarious magazines I had poetry and fiction published in back in the day (I’ve kept the book-length anthologies), reviews (see left), almost everything. All of that has felt surprisingly liberating.

However, also hiding out up there in an old sports bag were a couple of paraplegic Action Men. I know, right? Why do I still have them? Well, two of them (along with a Scorpion tank) formed my first – and possibly best – literary prize, when I was a kid, when I won them for in short story competition run by Smiths Crisps. But that’s not much of an excuse, I appreciate.

I guess I feel a bit of a debt to them, as their commanding officer. I mean, these guys did a few tours of duty, back in the day. I’m talking late Sixties/early Seventies here, when the only way a boy could be allowed to play with dolls was if they were soldier dolls, and they did lots of warlike stuff. Hence the missing limbs: those damn parachutes never did open.

Honestly. I must be going soft in my old age. I even bought one of them a new uniform, because what he had on was, frankly, manky. I’m going to sell on the guns that came with it, though. My guys are all pacifists now. They spend most of their time in my study, building camp fires and sitting around them singing protest songs to each other, or painting flower symbols on their army fatigues.

I’ve joined a Facebook group to try to offload the extra weaponry and a couple of spare jackets, and boy, if you think I’m a bit unusual hanging on to these old toys of mine, honestly, check out one of these groups! These guys are, er, enthusiasts!



Since you’re here…

My country album, If God’s Not On The Angels’ Side (Who The Devil Is) is nearly ready for launch. Here’s a couple more tracks from it while you’re waiting: the first, ‘Scale of One to Ten,’ Isaac Brutal recorded for their album The Falcon Has Landed, and is one of my favourite tracks, even now.

The second one, ‘Prufrock’s Revenge,’ features a cracking, laid-back, bit of electric guitar work by my friend Norman Lamont. I told him recently he underestimated how good his guitar playing is – he’s a very talented singer-songwriter, of course, but I just love the tone he achieves on this track.

More on guitars next week!

Update: final versions of these tracks now available on Bandcamp here –





  1. I’m always interested in the similarities of our lives, and I think that’s one reason I love your blog. I’ve been going through a great purge, too, getting rid of old manuscripts. Lots of rejections for short stories. And I have a collection of action figures called MUSCLES. I’ve had them since 7th Grade, and they are something I didn’t want to ever give up. I want to complete my collection, and I’ve found a thriving community of collectors online. I’m also moved out of my house, as my wife and I have separated. It’s been tough, but I’m holed up in an apartment in a beautiful rural setting contemplating new dreams for my new freedom. I also have lots of guitars to keep me busy.

    • Hi Aaron, great to hear from you, but sorry to hear about your marital breakdown. Yes, lots of important things in common there – including the rejection slips. That’s one thing I had no problem throwing out! Take care, and hope to hear from you soon.

    • The flat is – currently – just outside the residents’ parking zone. However, the plan is once we’re there we’ll give up the car and rely on car clubs and public transport. That’s the plan!

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