andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Category Archives: Uncategorized

Leonard, the Donald, and that difficult second album

A lot happened in early November 2016. The main headline news, of course, was that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, against all predictions, polls, the Washington establishment’s expectations and, frankly, the hopes and dreams of most of the rest of the world. Including, frankly, me. I don’t suppose that comes as a massive surprise to anyone that even half knows me.

Another significant event for me in that period, though, was the death of Leonard Cohen. Somewhat oddly, his passing was announced on November 10th, a day after it became clear that Trump had won the election, so that, briefly, I entertained the idea that Leonard, hearing the news of who had won the Presidency, had simply turned his head to the wall and left us. The truth was more prosaic: he’d died in his sleep, following a fall, three days before.

I’ve posted before about Leonard Cohen, about why I came to him late, and took great pleasure in hearing his late flowering period albums Old Ideas, Popular Problems, and You Want It Darker. The last of these, released three weeks before his death, is truly dark. Listening to it in full for the first time, driving into Edinburgh one night in March, I own that there were tears in my eyes as I heard the final track, ‘String Reprise/Treaty,’ which took the theme from an earlier track about the singer wishing he could conclude a treaty ‘between your love and mine,’ and embellished it with the saddest strings ever. It’s an album that isn’t easy listening, but more than worthy of your attention nevertheless.

It was like Leonard’s last words to us. In the weeks and months that followed, however, the little orange notebook I keep for lyrical and other ideas began to fill with lines that were, in spirit if not in quality, decidedly Cohenesque. Some of these were translated into ‘Song for Leonard,’ which might yet gain traction as a Venus Carmichael song. However, the lines kept coming.

Which is by way of explaining ‘Final Days,’ which might well be the first completed track of my as-yet-untitled second solo album, to follow Songs in a Scottish Accent. I finished the first draft of it in February or March this year, but certain other commitments, not least the day job, meant it took until this month to record it.

Releasing it now, I’m a bit conflicted, because I’m concerned people might feel it’s some sort of facile reflection on the most recent awful events to hit us here in the UK. Politics aside, we’ve had terrorist atrocities in Manchester and London (twice) as well as the awful sight of a tower block full of (mainly immigrant) families go up in a ball of flame, all in a matter of weeks.

All of the above, especially the last of them, might make you feel that this song is meant to be contemporary. It is, in the sense that Trump’s election might well mean that we’re now living in the final days. On the other hand, there will always be wars and rumours of wars, and the song’s black humour consciously references the type of songs that Leonard Cohen was writing in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. In other words, it’s written with current events in mind, but not exclusively so. Nor is it meant to be some sort of pastiche: it’s Cohenesque, I can’t hide that, but the words and sentiments are my own as much as my accent. Consider an affectionate tribute.

Like Songs in a Scottish Accent, I’ve made the track free to download. However, if you do, please consider giving a donation to some sort of refugee charity, or one of the ones that’s been set up to look after the survivors of the Glenfell flats fire.

You Should Totally … a (p)review of various things

Drink South African

South African red wine’s a bit of an enigma for me. Every so often I come across one that’s a cracker: and then I can never find it again. The Holy Grail for me is the wine region of Robertson, which I’ve never had a bad bottle from.

However, most South African supermarket reds in this country seem a bit, well, so-so. Not bad, but not outstanding. Unfortunately, the recent triallists aren’t breaking that trend for me, but they’re worth a try – and not just because the Proteas are over here to give the Poms a damn good thrashing in the Tests. Although that’s as good an excuse as any.

Both wines are from Morrison’s: first up, Beyerskloof Pinotage Reserve, reduced to £6.50 from £9. A hefty beast, this, that went particularly well with curry. I wouldn’t pay full price for it.

Maybe a bit more accessible is Leopard’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, currently £5 down from £6.50. This is a long term favourite, and well worth snapping up for its damsony, blackberryish fruit (woah, just went a bit Jancis Robinson on you there!)

Image result for beyerskloof pinotageImage result for leopard's leap cabernet sauvignon 2015

Read Mac Logan and Kevin Scott

I’ve just read the first of Mac Logan’s Angel’s Share thrillers, Angels’ Cut. It’s a tense, pacy thriller with a sympathetic hero. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Angels' Cut (The Angels' Share series Book 1) by [Logan, Mac]

Also well worth a read: my Thunderpoint stablemate Kevin Scott’s first novel, Dead Cat Bounce. Two brothers with very different life trajectories, one a charming loser, the other a seemingly successful London futures trader, have to combine to find a missing coffin, the one with their late stepbrother in it. This being Glasgow, there’s gangsters and black humour involved, but Scott cleverly subverts the more obvious tropes and comes up with a surprising conclusion.

Dead Cat Bounce by [Scott, Kevin]

Listen to Cory Branan

A more extensive review coming, but Branan’s latest, Adios, is just great. Here’s a taster, one of my favourites from the album, Imogene.

 

Have been at the Voodoo Rooms to see Callaghan/Jesse Terry

Where were you all a couple of weekends back? Edinburgh’s inaptly named Voodoo Rooms (they’re about as voodoo as a palatial, slightly glacial, Victorian drinking salon can get, I guess, unless they mean the dark magic used to spirit your money away with frankly supernatural bar prices) was half empty to hear these guys. Jesse Terry is a fine, mainly acoustic-guitar-based singer-songwriter: his cover version was Don McLean’s ‘Vincent,’ which fitted well with his own material. He is also, as I discovered when I went back to chat to him after his set, a really nice bloke worthy of your attention.

As for Callaghan, I’ve blogged about her and her ability with a good tune and a great voice before. Her covers on the night were The Drifters standard,  ‘Stand By Me,’ John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song,’ and, as an encore, ‘Over the Rainbow.’ I know, right? Not exactly my natural musical habitat, either, and my heart sank when she announced the last one as her encore. And then she sang it.

Oh. My. Actual. [insert appropriate deity]. What a set of pipes that woman has. I mean, I knew her voice was special, even when put through the digital music equivalent of a meatgrinder that goes to produce the universal burger we call an mp3. But live? Just stunning. Stunning. She could sing ‘Baa baa black sheep’ and I’d still turn out to see her. If the angels in heaven sing half as well, it might be worth me thinking about giving up all this sinning stuff after all.

Image result for callaghan singer

Go see Martin McGroarty

My friend, colleague and fellow musical traveller Martin McGroarty is pretty much gaining the reputation round here of hardest working man in show business. We saw him at the Ship Tavern in Anstruther at the end of May, and the only thing wrong with the gig was we’d committed the schoolboy error of being the closest to sober in the whole place.

But boy, did he get the joint a’jumpin’ – and he now has such a following, any pub booking him can be guaranteed people travelling from as far away as, say, Dundee to see him! I see that he’s due to play there again on Saturday, June 24th, and I know it’s one of his favourite venues.

For a list of his gigs after that, go to his site.

That’s all for now, folks – more detailed musical recommendations coming soon!

Going Against the Grain: a Preview of Callaghan in Concert

As you’d expect from a guy who’s spent most of his adult life scribbling words down in various formats, my taste in what used to be called Rock and Pop (and still is in some of those rare beasts we used to call record shops) tends towards the lyrical. If I was asked, off the top of my head, to list my favourite artists over the past few decades, it would probably run something like:

BobDylanBruceSpringsteenElvisCostelloNickLoweSuzanneVegaStoneRosesReginaSpektorJasonIsbellCoryBranan… (continue ad nauseam)

In other words, a lot of songwriters noted for their words as much as their music. More, by the way, on the last of those two, in a future post.

However, if you asked me to name my favourite all time song, whilst those guys (and yes, I do note they’re mostly guys) would feature strongly, others might include ‘Go Your Own Way,’ by Fleetwood Mac. Best lyrics ever? Hardly. Despite it being a definite contender for my favourite song ever, I couldn’t sing you it – there’s something about shacking up which apparently continues to annoy Stevie Nicks, (yes, this was Lindsay Buckingham’s break up song about their relationship that she’s since had to do backing vocals to, more or less continuously, ever since) and then the chorus: ‘You can go your own wayyyyy, go your own way…’ etc. And that fretboard-melting guitar solo.

But I’m also a sucker for a piano-led tune with a soulful female voice. Two from ‘Tapestry,’ as written and sung by Carole King, would be ‘Natural Woman,’ and ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ – and yes, I mean her versions. The lyrics are deceptively simple, direct, and personal – and, allied to stunning vocal performances and a great understated arrangement, they get me every time. Which brings me to Callaghan.

I can’t remember exactly how I first heard this British-based but frequently US touring singer: it was through one or other form of social media. Inevitably, there was a free EP to be had, and the song I’ve linked in below was on it: ‘Green Eyes.’ The lyrics are simple,and direct, about someone with green eyes. That works for me: both my wife and daughter have green eyes, so depending on my mood and circumstances, the words can mean different things to me. But, as with Carole King, it’s the music that moves me more.

First off, it’s Callaghan, and that gorgeous voice of hers, accompanying herself on the piano. It’s a great melody, and then the music builds: at a crucial point, the Hammond B3 takes it to church with that spiralling, gospelly chorus, and finally the guitarist brings it on home with a solo so good you could swear he’s has been touched by the guitar-playing hand of an angel. The first time I heard it, I thought it must be a studio crafted track, right up until the applause started at the end, the band is so tight.

And the best news? I missed Callaghan last time she came past, but this time, I’m going to see her, at Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms, on Sunday. I cannot wait: and the good news is, there are tickets left, there and elsewhere on her tour.

I just hope she plays this song.

 

Get Past The Python – “The Wrong Box” book review

First review (other than 4 stars on Amazon!) now in…

Manic Pop Thrills

Writing about friends’ creative endeavours is always a tricky business. Simply put, there’s the risk that someone gives you their treasured piece of work, generated by much blood, sweat and tear, … and you don’t like it. So what does a cowardly blogger do? Ignore it? Be excessively honest?

Over the years I’ve been given plenty of records but, thankfully, the fact that I simply don’t have the time to write about everything I hear is a perfect (and entirely true) excuse. Even if sometimes it IS an excuse. (Which, of course, doesn’t automatically mean that if I haven’t written about something, I don’t like it!)

But no-one’s ever given me a book before, certainly not a published novel, at any rate. And the notion of me writing about a proper writer’s work gives me the cold sweats.

All of which makes ‘The Wrong Box’ by Andrew C. Ferguson a potentially troublesome prospect, all…

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Here is my interview with Andrew C Ferguson

A lengthy interview – everything you ever wanted to know about me and writing!

authorsinterviews

Name Andrew C Ferguson

Age 54

Where are you from

I was brought up in Glenrothes, in Fife; escaped to Edinburgh for five years; and ended up back in Glenrothes where I’m a Council lawyer by day. I’m married, with an 18 year old daughter.

Fiona: Tell us your latest news?

That would be the publication of my novel, The Wrong Box, by Thunderpoint.

Paperback: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wrong-Box-Andrew-C-Ferguson/dp/1910946141/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493705727&sr=1-1&keywords=andrew+c+ferguson

Kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wrong-Box-Andrew-C-Ferguson-ebook/dp/B06VTVR6NX/ref=sr_1_1_twi_kin_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493705865&sr=1-1&keywords=the+wrong+box

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Andrew-C-Ferguson/e/B06XCZWFVH/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1


Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

I started as a teenager. Why’s a good question! I guess it was something I was told I was good at – I had an inspirational English teacher, my father was also a writer in his spare time, so maybe it was a way of getting approval too.

As life went on, my motivations changed, I guess – it was an escape from the day job, and, when I started…

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Springtime for Red Squirrels: Or, The Art of Poetic Garden Avoidance

To the Scottish Poetry Library on Saturday, for the launch of three new books by Red Squirrel Press: Diana Hendry’s new short story collection ‘My Father as an Ant;’ Stephen Barnaby’s new story pamphlet ‘I never realised it was as bad as that;’ and Kevin Cadwallender’s new poetry collection ‘Polishing Demons.’

There are multiple reasons for not making it to a book launch. In Scotland, for 6 months of the year at least, these are often weather-related: snow, hail, that icy rain that gets into the gap between your collar and the back of your neck, high winds closing the Forth Road Bridge, yada yada. On Saturday, as Sheila Wakefield said, the opposite was true: the unseasonably warm spring weather made it hard to leave the back garden, especially when there’s a lot to be done.

Still, there were firm motivations for me to shoehorn myself into the 11.25 X59, packed as it was with fellow Fifers seeking their poetry, one suspected, in Marks and Spencer; to then, using advanced ruck and maul techniques not learned on the playing fields of Eton, blindside the scrummage of early-season tourists heaving towards a pushover try in the tartan shops of the upper Royal Mile; and then, as the crowds thinned out around the abandoned Avengers film set on the lower reaches of the Mile, to find my way at last to the SPL, reflecting as I did so that it and its sister institution across the road, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, could be the last spasm of Scottish cultural architecture for quite some years, whatever political colour’s in charge at the bottom of the hill in Holyrood, that other modern architectural landmark (remember all that fuss about how much it cost? What was that about, then?)

Image result for scottish poetry libraryScottish Poetry LibraryPublic entrance at the Scottish ParliamentThe Parliament

Image result for scottish storytelling centreScottish Storytelling Centre

One such motivation was Stephen Barnaby, whose speciality on the spoken word scene is mini-epics of 50 word fiction (the last paragraph could fit three of those in, just so you know!). I’d shared a stage (or corner of a pub with a mike) with Stephen on a number of occasions, and I’d always enjoyed his work. This time, though, his short story pamphlet had allowed him to stretch out a bit, and to good effect: the story he read, A Country Walk, concerned a visit to a friend in a psychiatric hospital, whose idea of a country walk was along the side of a motorway. Treading the fine line (literally) between humour and some pretty dark material, it was a perfect example of how Barnaby wraps up serious topics in a layer of charm and wit, and then roasts the two so the juices run into each other. Of course, his considerable performance chops don’t hinder.

My second motivation came next. Again, I’ve known Kevin Cadwallender as a fellow member of the Edinburgh spoken word scene for many years now. A much-garlanded performance poet and slam champion, he opened his account by telling us his new collection didn’t have any funny poems in it. He then proceeded to read a succession of funny poems – not laugh out loud, exactly, but full of that wry Geordie humour that we’ve come to expect from him. A poem like A Cynic’s Guide to Proverbs, with lines like ‘The wicked seem to rest quite a lot,’ clearly aren’t meant to be served up po-faced.

His closer, Ishtar on the No. 35 Bus, showed Cadwallender’s depth of vision, however. A much longer poem, it documents life on Easter Road, one of Edinburgh’s more mixed areas (and I say that as a life long fan of its most well-known occupant, Hibernian FC). The lines are grittily realistic, and yet uniquely beautiful: the Road’s ‘elephant hide’ a recurring theme throughout. Again, Cadwallender’s performance skills came into play: in the relatively douce surroundings of the SPL, he didn’t need to ramp it up as he would at a poetry slam, but, instead, peeled away the layers of meaning in this brilliant piece of work subtly and expertly until, at the end, there was that moment, that electricity in the room, you get at the end of any performance, spoken word or musical, when the collective breath is taken away. Then the applause.

I wasn’t so familiar with Diana Hendry’s work. However, she shared with the others that northern English sense of humour that, like those of the Scots, always has a dark edge to it (if we do go for independence, we totally need to move that border down a bit. Just saying). Her story, about a lady of mature years being ‘rescued,’ was more conventional than the others, perhaps, but no less enjoyable for that.

All of that, and then time enough when I got home to get the grass cut anyway.

You can buy all these fine volumes from Red Squirrel Press. And if your appetite’s whetted for literary events, my own novel launches are coming up next month: follow me here, on Twitter (@andrewferguso4) or sign up to the novel’s Facebook page for more details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anything below here’s WordPress advertising. I’m guessing not poetry.

 

Karen Clamp Speaks: a second extract from the Wrong Box

Extract from Chapter 2: My Name Is Karen Clamp

Second extract from my forthcoming novel, The Wrong Box, available in Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon or, if you prefer a ‘proper’ bookshop, Waterstone’s. In this extract from Chapter 2, Karen Clamp introduces herself, and hears something interesting not entirely by accident.

I must finish up and get the bairn in from the green. I have to
get some of this down though. There’s somethin really, really
no right about those lassies down the stairs from me.

My name, for the record, is Karen Clamp. Age: 40. Dress size:
20. Means of support: zero. I live in a third floor maisonette in
Ivanhoe Court, on the Auchendrossan Estate. No exactly your
Edinburgh tourist destination, by the way. Unless you’re a fan
of Trainspottin.

Oh aye. I read that filth. Makes us all out to be druggies and
scumbags. Full of swear words. I heard that that Irvine Welsh
used to work down the housin department in Leith, and blagged
all their best stories. Don’t see him down there much now though.
Well that’s no me. Don’t drink, don’t take drugs, don’t swear.
You can ask anyone that kens me about that, even the people in
the Cooncil. ‘In many ways, Ms Clamp, you’re the perfect
example of community empowerment,’ one of them says to me
recently. In many ways. Sarky cow.

Anyway, that’s another story. Those two lassies down the stairs
from me are involved in somethin and they’re in it up to their
filthy wee necks. I heard them talkin this mornin on the baby
monitor.

Aye, that’s right. The baby monitor. I ken how that sounds,
but hear me out. I have my reasons, believe you me.

The folk the Cooncil have had in that flat below me over the
last few years would make Trainspottin look like A Room With A
View
. Convicted paedophile, at one point, before the locals
nearly lynched the guy. Then a couple of chancers who ran it as
a party flat. Raves every other night. Then, of course, a cannabis
farm. That was actually ok, because they were keepin a low
profile until they’d got the crop fully grown. The worst thing
about it was the police raid, burstin our door down by mistake.

When the Cooncil gutted the flat downstairs, after they finally
threw out the last set of druggies, I took the chance to nip down
when the Cooncil workies were away havin their two hour lunch
break, and install some handy wee devices. Never too early to
ken what the neighbours are up to. Never too early to ken what
the Cooncil are up to either, for that matter. I may be the size of
a number eight to Muirhouse, but I’m no stupid.

See, I kent the lassies had been out on the randan on Friday
night and came in late. Woke me up as usual with all the doors
bangin and that. Luckily, the bairn would sleep through a
thermonuclear strike on her toy cupboard.

Then, this mornin, just when I’m on my second coffee of the
day, I hear them through the baby monitor talkin to each other,
almost whisperin like, except the East European lassie can’t keep
her voice down ever and that other one, wee Debi Murray, it’s
never long before she starts pumpin up the volume too.

‘So, what happen to him?’ The East European one, Elena I
think her name is, says.

‘Never you mind, hen,’ says Debi. ‘The less we ken about what
went on after we left that flat, the better.’

By now, I’m mildly interested, although I’m still thinkin it’s
some kind of low level drug deal. I’ve got bigger fish to fry than
that, especially all that corruption that’s goin on in the Cooncil
that I’m just one step away from blowin the lid on. Then the
other one says somethin that makes me sit up and pay attention.
‘But it’s on the radio, Debi,’ she says. ‘Top businessman found
dead in Stockbridge lawyer’s flat.’

That nearly sends me scamperin for the laptop, to check the
news websites, but I’m no wantin to miss any of this. I’m wishin
now I’d put in recordin devices that are compatible with
Windows. That way I could be recordin all this. Course they
didn’t have them when I needed them. They’re releasin bits of
technology one bit at a time, just to make us buy more. Plain as
anythin.

‘It isn’t our problem, Elena,’ says Debi. ‘We did what we were
told to do. We weren’t to ken he would react that way.’
Just then, the ice-cream van starts up below the deck access
again. If I could get down the stairs fast enough, and if it weren’t
for my confidence issues, I’d stick that guy’s head down his
freezer with the Vanilla Flake. Either he’s got one of these ham
radios, or it’s signals given off by his chimes, but whatever it is,
it throws the baby monitor out of whack every time he comes
round here with them on. Ice-cream van, eh? What a joke. Fags’ll
be the least of what he’s sellin to the kids.

I take the chance to check on Candice again. She’s eight, now,
so you can’t keep them wrapped up in cotton wool forever. She’s
a good wee lassie though, always plays down on the common
bit drying green where I can see her. She gives me a wee wave
and I wave back. It’s the McLatchie lassie with her, from the
looks of it. Low risk.

Anyway, by the time heid-the-baw in the van has gone off
again, the lassies have been out to him for fags and come back
to a different part of the flat where I can’t pick up what they’re
sayin. It’s only in the livin room, you see, that the listenin device
still works. One out of three isn’t a very good success rate but,
given I ordered it off the internet and it’s installed semi-legally
in the flat downstairs, I don’t suppose I can do much about the
guarantee. Probably the batteries come to think of it.

So I go onto the internet and, sure enough, down a wee bit
from the top stories, a wee piece sayin:

BUSINESSMAN FOUND DEAD
IN CITY SOLICITOR’S FLAT.
A prominent Liverpool businessman has
been found dead in a flat in the city in
unusual circumstances. The flat’s tenant, a
solicitor with prominent city firm Benzini,
Lambe and Lockhart, is said to be helping
police with their enquiries. No charges
have been brought and police investigations continue.

It is understood, however,
that the body was found naked in the bath.

They couldn’t resist that last bit, could they, eh? All sex, sex,
sex. It gets my mind racin though, for a different reason. How
do those lassies ken about it? Solicitors and businessmen –
sounds like it might be the Freemasonic thing again, although it
could be somethin to do with the Cooncil and their Black Ops
Division. I just can’t tell at this stage. No enough to go on…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Simon English speaks – an extract from The Wrong Box

First extract from my forthcoming novel, The Wrong Box, available in Kindle and paperback format on Amazon, or from Waterstone’s. Warning: this extract contains swearing and sexual references – over 18s only.

Extract from Chapter 1: Jimmy Takes a Bath

Simon English, posted north after an unfortunate misunderstanding involving the trainee and the London office’s boardroom table, finds himself waking up after a night looking after his client, Jimmy Ahmed, to find him naked, dead and with his toe stuck up the tap in the bathroom of English’s flat swap. Simon summons the authorities.

There are two of them, of course. They always hunt in pairs:
they’ve seen it on the telly. There’s an older one, with cropped
hair, a whisky-sour complexion, and bags under his eyes he
could take his Farmfoods shopping home in. The younger one
is dark-haired, whippet-thin, and in a suit so nasty you could
probably get a cream for it.

‘Mr English? DS Martin, and this is DS Futret. You have a
body,’ the first plod says, looking tired out already. I’m
rehearsing a line about saying fuck all till my brief arrives, when
the buzzer goes again. As I go to answer it, the two cops barge
in, and head for the bathroom without so much as a by-your-leave.
‘I’m from Gordon Drummond & Co.,’ a metallic female voice
says. I press the buzzer, and hear the door clunk open in the
stairwell.

The two cops are standing in the bathroom doorway,
muttering to each other, and I’m trying to act casual whilst
standing close enough to overhear them, when the flat door
opens and a whiff of Chanel announces my lawyer’s arrival.

The voice had warned me not to expect the old soak
Drummond himself. I’ve seen him preening himself in front of
a set of Session Cases on the news often enough to know he
wouldn’t pull himself out of bed on a Saturday morning, not
even for a thousand of Tony Hand’s favours.

I’m still not prepared for the sight that I turn to see. She’s in
her late twenties, I reckon, although she looks younger. Pert,
upturned nose, brown eyes, masses of chestnut curls.

‘I’m Sylvia McMonagle,’ she says, putting out a china-white
hand. I blurt out something while I take in the rest of her. The
neat dark suit isn’t this year’s, but it’s crisp enough. She’s
obviously dressed in a hurry, because she’s left the top two
buttons of her white (my favourite) blouse undone, as well as
(first real bit of luck this morning) the bottom one.

Thereby showing a little fold of tummy above the skirt line
that, with appropriate guidance, could develop nicely into a
Buddha belly. I take to her right away.

As soon as she’s shaken my hand, though, she goes straight
past me to DS Martin, standing in the bathroom doorway.
‘This him, then?’ she says to him. Martin smiles in recognition.
‘Well, Sylvia, it’s the only one we’ve found so far.’ He leans
towards her casually, his grin getting ever more ugly. The
younger one has disappeared into the bathroom, presumably
getting a closer look at Jimmy. I’ve opened the window since my
last contribution to the world of fishes: don’t want them to think
I’ve gassed the poor bastard to death.

‘We’ll have to treat it as a suspicious death, Sylvia,’ Martin says.
She hasn’t moved away since he came in close, despite the fact
the man stinks of fags. ‘It’s no normal for a man to die in a dry
bath with his toe stuck up the tap. We’ll get SOCOs in.’

I clear my throat. ‘Ehhmm. I was wondering when I’d be able
to use the bathroom again?’ It’s a stupid thing to say, I know,
but I kind of feel left out of things here. Bit of a spare prick at
the party. Martin deigns to look in my direction.

‘Can’t say sir. That’ll be SOCO’s call.’

I should just stay schtum, of course. My mouth won’t flap shut
now, though. ‘Oh I see, yeah, Scene Of Crime. Of course. Only,
would I be able to use the toilet before they…’

Martin’s looking at me like I’ve suggested doing a dump on
the deceased himself. He shakes his head. ‘No.’

Now Sylvia, my lawyer who stands too close to cops, is
looking at me. ‘I suppose you’ll want to interview my client, Jim?
Can we arrange a time now that suits everyone?’

Martin blinks his baggy eyes slowly and glances over at his
colleague, who has poked his rat-like head out of the bathroom
doorway at that moment.

‘How about now? Down at the station, since we’re all up and
aboot on a Saturday? I was hopin to get to Tynecastle later, as it
happens.’

Sylvia smiles, and flutters her eyelashes at him. ‘Yes, okay.’
Shouldn’t she ask me? ‘Can you give me ten minutes with him,
first?’

‘Sure.’ Him now, is it? Mister Fucking Third Person Suspect?
The two cops tramp out, Martin giving me a look like he wishes
he could just lock me up now and save the paperwork, the cunt.

As the door bangs shut behind them, I go into the kitchen to
rescue the coffee, which is getting petulant.

‘Want a cup?’ I say over my shoulder to Sylvia.

‘No thanks.’ The way she says it makes it sound like even
thinking about coffee at a time like this is another character
defect. My head’s pounding like a fucking construction site and
anyway it’s my flat, sort of, so I pour myself one and take it
through to the living room where Sylvia has planted herself, legs
crossed, and notepad at the ready.

After some preliminaries like name, age and so on, she asks
me to describe the previous night. ‘I’d had a bit to drink,’ I say,
doing my guilty schoolboy look. She peers at me intensely. ‘Any
charlie?’

‘Since you ask, once we’re clear of the cops I’d be glad to – ’
her look makes clear she’s not amused. ‘Ehm, yeah, we did a line
in Jimmy’s hotel room before we got going. That was all for the
night, though. Just good old fashioned booze from there on in.’

She says nothing to that, scribbling in her notepad, so I
blunder on with the story of the evening, the Oyster Bar, the
Thai restaurant, Indigo’s even though it was rammed,
then…then a club, that was it, Rum-Ti-Tum-Tums in the
Cowgate. And then…

‘…and then it all gets a bit blurred, I’m afraid.’ I give her my
best smile. ‘But I’m fairly sure I left Jimmy at his hotel.’ I was
fairly sure, wasn’t I? But weren’t there women…?

I looked at Sylvia, who looks as if she’d been given a lemon to
suck. ‘I’m going to ask Jim Martin to give you a blood test, see
what’s still in your system,’ she says, tapping her pen on her
notepad.

‘What? Why?’ I’m starting to get really pissed off with her now,
the way she’s looking at me like I’m some kind of a criminal. I
mean, I’m a fellow lawyer, after all.

‘Just a sort of intuition,’ she says, shifting in her seat, and
re-crossing her legs. She puts her head to one side. ‘Tell me.
When you first woke up, did you feel anything out of the
ordinary? Disoriented, maybe?’

I think back to the moments before I stumbled into the
bathroom. ‘Sort of, yeah. Yeah, when I first got my eyes open I
didn’t really know for a minute where I was. But then, I’ve only
just been transferred from the London office, so I’ve just been
in this flat for a few days. Why?’

Sylvia’s smiling slightly now, in a way I find incredibly
annoying. ‘Just wondered. Call it woman’s intuition.’

I open my mouth to question her again. I’m not at all keen to
open up my bloodstream to the inquisitive snout of the Lothian
and Borders Crime Lab.

Then I notice that, in shifting position, Sylvia’s blouse has
ridden up a bit to reveal her belly button. I look up, to see
Sylvia’s smile has gone, to be replaced by her what-the-fuck-is-this-I’ve stepped-in look.

‘Why are you looking at my stomach all the time?’ she said. ‘Is
there something wrong?’

‘No, not at all,’ I murmur. ‘Rare eye condition. Look, if you
recommend I take a blood test, I’ll take a blood test. You’re the
expert in this field.’

Little does she know it’s the jewel in her navel that’s convinced
me. Terrible curse, male hormones. Especially the hangover
horn. That’s the worst of all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WordPress may try to sell you stuff below this line. That’s why I moved the line down.

Gie it a bit more Aldi? A wine (p)review

There are some things in which the Redoubtable Mrs F and I are right up to the minute (no,really!); in others, I’m afraid, we remain defiantly old school. In the latter basket is our continuing refusal to embrace the digital age as regards our daily newspaper, which we still have delivered in pulped-wood format by a half-asleep teenager at some indeterminate time in the morning. (One motivation – or excuse – now is our own half-asleep teenager, Daughter and Heiress, studying journalism).

But which newspaper, I’m sure you’re agog to know? Well, during the week, we subscribe to that bastion of bleeding-heart liberalism, the Guardian. However, on a Saturday, we take a lurch to the right in newspaper-buying terms and take the Times. What? Donate our hard-earned shekels to that hard-to-like family, the Murdochs? I like to tell colleagues that it’s because, after a week at the day job, I’ve lurched so far to the right I’m just about ready to invade Poland: but actually, it’s all about the columnists – Caitlin Moran, Giles Coren, and Jane MacQuitty, more specifically.

The last of these is probably of most use to us in a practical sense: even the legendary Coren family wit is unlikely to persuade us to travel 500 miles to eat in a London restaurant, whilst MacQuitty’s wine recommendations have often stood us in good stead. However, last weekend, she let me down, she let the Redoubtable Mrs F down but, of course, most of all, she let herself down.

It all started so promisingly: an article about wines our heroine had been tasting from the two German discounter supermarkets, Lidl and Aldi. I’ve previously waxed lyrical about some of Aldi’s bottles, in particular, so was looking forward to what Jane had to say.

Unfortunately, she focused on the very wines we’d be least likely to buy: whites, mainly, as well as a couple of clarets. Now, I know Bordeaux’s meant to be the best wine region in the world for red wine, but I suppose I’ve never shelled for an expensive enough bottle to really get a taste for it. So, unfortunately, it was a case of reading between the lines in MacQuitty’s article: she liked the Lidl Spanish and Italian ranges as well as the Bordeaux, she said, but didn’t specify which ones. Similarly, whilst mentioning fizzys and clarets aplenty, she only hinted at what else was good: Aldi’s Exquisite Collection ‘continues to please,’ she opined, as well as ‘its finest, beefed-up limited edition Lot series,’ before citing a Chardonnay as an example.

We decided to try Aldi first, given that we had a bit more to go on. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of the Lot series to be seen. In fact, not a jot. Fortunately, there was some of the Exquisite Collection, namely: the Aussie Shiraz (£5.79); Argentinian Malbec (£5.99); and a New Zealand Pinot Noir (£6.99).

First up was the Shiraz: Exquisite Australian Shirazinitially tasted last night with one of my chicken curries – no chilli heat, but lots of spice to cope with, in a creamy, yoghurty sauce. We generally find an Aussie Shiraz pretty good to go with this dish, and the Aldi version was up against a strong rival, in that there was a glassful left of Yellow Tail, a Ferguson house favourite in the same vein.

It stood up well – plenty of flavour, hefty amount of alcohol but carrying it fairly easily, good, long finish and as good a match to Chicken Panch Phuran as you could ask for, really. Great value, too.

 

 

 

Exquisite Argentinian Malbec

 

Next came the Malbec. Unfortunately, not up to the same standard as its Aussie stablemate: nothing wrong with it, really, but just a bit dry, a bit flavourless, a bit meh.

 

Exquisite New Zealand Pinot Noir

The New Zealand Pinot Noir was a bit more like it. We tasted it with my roasted salmon, lemon tomato and garlic dish (recipe: slice lemons and put at the bottom of a flattish casserole dish; ditto tomatoes and garlic; put salmon fillets on top; lob on salt, olive oil and a bit of paella spice, and stick in the oven till the salmon’s done) and it wnet well with that. A lighter red than we usually drink, but good for fish dishes.

So there you are – the Shiraz is the star!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anything below this is advertising waffle for wordpress. You can read it if you want, of course.

 

 

Alburne Park Revisited

Sunday, 22nd January, 2017

In the morning, a pristine white feather drifted down from an empty sky in the supermarket car park. Later, as my sister and I left the crematorium, a robin hopped onto a branch and watched us intently. Then, as we were pulling out of the car park, a tiny stag of the species of roe deer we have in our mainly suburban corner of the Lowlands crossed the road in broad daylight, pausing only to gaze at us before disappearing in a patch of scrubby woodland between the Crem and the housing estate that seemed to offer no camouflage whatsoever.

On another day, only the third of these might have seemed at all out of the ordinary. But this was the third anniversary of Dad’s passing.

Memories. Two things have been stirring themselves together in my subconscious recently: Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, which I’ve just finished; and memories of my own childhood, prompted by my (so far) unsuccessful attempt to have an old cottage across the road from my childhood home saved from demolition.

Now, I can’t attempt to match the Boss’s evocative description of his early days – for me the best part of the book, as his early to mid career description lacks the same emotional punch and descriptive flair, confining itself to less interesting – for me at least – recall of bands, band members, recording sessions and contractual niggles. Besides, I came from a very different place.

For starters, my own childhood was pretty much as idyllic as a Sixties/Seventies upbringing in provincial Scotland could get: I had parents who loved and looked after me; kind and loving older siblings who spoil me with their affection to this day; and a schooling which, whilst not perhaps equipping me for Harvard, was probably above the average Scottish comprehensive product on offer at that time.

Anyway, this piece isn’t all about me: it’s also about the – in retrospect – unique place I grew up in.

When we moved to Alburne Park, Glenrothes was only fourteen years old, a product of the post-war drive to build new towns to alleviate the bomb-damaged urban sprawl: planned communities where places to work, rest, play and, most importantly, live, were designed in a holistic way. Light industry (especially after the Rothes Pit flooded, the way the old miners had said it would) provided the backbone of the jobs. There would be town and neighbourhood shopping centres, parks, landscaped areas, precincts of houses designed around primary schools in such a way that parents could walk kids to school without crossing a major road.

A lot – a whole lot – of imagination, creativity and sheer hard work went into all of that. If the end result that we live in today isn’t Utopia, then where is? The town’s problems are shared with most of the Western developed world: poverty that never gets solved, increasing social and economic inequality, a lack of attention to detail by governments of all stripes; conflicting priorities. And the residents themselves being, well, human and therefore less than perfect.

The land the town was built on existed before it, of course. It was mainly farmland, with the river that runs through it being used for papermaking. A blank canvas, but not entirely. In Alburne Park, there was a small ‘big house’ credited to Thomas Alburne, a plasterer for the local laird, the Earl of Rothes, dating from 1677, called Alburne Knowe. Nearby was a farm, Woolmill, and the previous main road ran crookedly through the middle, down across the bridge over the Leven, and on up towards Balbirnie Estate, where the neighbouring big cheeses had lived. There was an orchard in front of Alburne Knowe; fields for pasture and fields for crops.

By the time my family got there, in late 1962, when I was nine weeks old, the Corporation had built two lines of houses on either side of the road. Next came private house plots in what became Alburne Crescent and Orchard Drive, the latter being where my family moved when I was about five.

It was a special place to grow up in as a kid. There were still apple trees in the old orchard, little stunted things long past their useful life; some of them ended up enclosed in our garden as a temptation for local youths to come over the fence and raise my Dad’s blood pressure. Down the brae towards the river, there were rope swings, sticklebacks, and frogspawn to be collected in jars; a field with horses in it. From there westwards, a shelter belt of trees ran along the back of the housing, with a path up the middle. Lots of hiding places, places to ride bikes, and – it was rumoured, though I never found any – scud mags the older boys had discarded amongst the undergrowth.

the wooded strip

Back along the top of the road, fields of cereal crops led to others used for a herd of cows; and, originally, a huge playing field with a massive old tree that caught all manner of kites and formed the venue for Guy Fawkes night bonfires – organised by the neighbourhood’s parents, toppling milk bottles of rockets and all. Leftover fireworks could be later inserted in the neighbouring field’s cowpats for experimental purposes.

That side of our territory also held a useful slope of tussocky grass that, covered in snow, provided mild peril on the old iron-bound sledges that came out of the neighbourhood’s garages as soon as it snowed. As we grew older and less heedful of our parent’s boundaries, a crumbling viaduct led up a railway branch line where a diesel shunter of an obscure class prowled with wagons from the paper mills, all the way up to the nearby village, where, for a brief summer or so, I became interested enough in railways to sneak into the old goods shed and see the A4 class Union of South Africa steam locomotive that, in those years, was housed there.

In short, it was a fantastic place to grow up. We played and played, or that’s how I remember it: football, cricket, tennis when Wimbledon was on – there was even a tennis court left behind by the last owners of the old house – or just explored, talked, wrestled and sat chewing grass stalks in one or other corner of our little empire. There were just enough neighbourhood kids to make up a single gang.

If this all sounds too good to be true, in a sense it was: what was really remarkable about where I grew up was the pace of change all around it. The football field where, according to some, I kicked the future Hollywood film actor Dougray Scott so hard he ran home crying (unlikely, since, apart from not being a violent kid, I’m three years older than him, a vast age difference in childhood games) was presently built over for a new road. Orchard Drive was soon built out, and then the horse’s field disappeared beneath Alburne Court; Alburne Crescent was developed out on both sides, taking down the kite-catching tree and the bonfire site.

Alburne Knowe, flattened to its foundations, was encircled by new housing, including ours: as I began to take an interest in plants, I realised that the rhododendrons clinging to existence in the all-pervading long grass were the last survivors of a garden some unknown owner had once taken pains to cultivate. When my Dad chopped down the apple trees to save his blood pressure, the last of the old orchard was gone.

Year on year, the remaining vestiges of what had been there before Glenrothes disappeared under the new town’s footprint. Not such an unusual story, I suppose: what was different, I think, was the steady, planned march of progress. The Territory, as I called it in a (as yet unpublished) novella years later, shrank and warped under concrete and blockwork. When writing this, it occurred to me just why I’ve been so bent out of shape by the proposal to demolish the old cottage the Art Club occupies, across the road from my childhood home: it’s because what was left behind of the old buildings was meant to be left behind: a reminder of times past. In fact, I remember now that in that novella, I had the central character protecting the wooded strip from development by the local Council – years after I lived there, but years and years ago.

It was, as I’ve said, a special place to grow up. It was then on the edge of town, so as kids we had all the benefits of suburban living coupled with an understanding of the countryside, because the countryside was a step away even childish legs could manage. At night, I used to lie awake on those mythically long summer nights, listening to the pop of  tennis balls in the court nearby; listening, too, for the trains crossing the viaduct on the main line, a couple of miles away: the sleeper to London from Aberdeen, rollicking through, pulled by a Class 55 Deltic, maybe, its distinctive engine note rippling out like a beetle’s droning flight over the fields.

London. As I grew, I knew it only as the place where the films came from; the BBC people with their RP vowels. When I visited it, it seemed like a film set, all the street name plates familiar from a dozen tv dramas. Later, I came to know it was where our laws came from, too. As I drifted off to sleep, a provincial kid identifying himself as Scottish, it seemed a long way away.

The time came soon enough to put away those childish things. I would go to university, not in far-off London, but in the nearest city to my province, Edinburgh. News of the outside world came from the Scotsman (then very much an Edinburgh paper) and the wise and witty ramblings of Clive James in the Observer on a Sunday. My charismatic English teacher had told me I could write: I read books and book reviews, like a trainee chef studying menus.

Now, the territory seemed less like a self-contained world and more like a series of unwanted boundaries. In a household dominated by classical music, I started listening to the grown-up albums of that mid-to-late Seventies golden era of the long player: Rumours, Dark Side of the Moon, and, of course, Born to Run.

At some point when I was 16 or so a school pal gave me my first Dylan album, which he’d been bored by. It was the live album at Budokan, and Dylan had me at the first guitar intro to ‘Mr Tambourine Man.’ Here was this kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, who’d lain awake listening to trains, who’d escaped the suffocating small-town confines of his upbringing, and found his way to fortune, fame and (perhaps most importantly) girls, with little to his name except an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, and a preposterous talent.

Well, I quickly acquired the first two and learned how to play them, and reasonably quickly accepted I wasn’t going to get the third one any time soon. No matter. I was busting out of this place, and if my mode of transport wasn’t a Harley Davidson with a girl called Wendy strapping her hands across my engines, I got the message that Springsteen was sending me loud and clear. I wasn’t ever coming back.

It was only decades later, at my Mum’s funeral, that I heard how hard it had been for her when I, as the last of her brood, flew the nest. She was from the generation of parents that weren’t expected to emote all over the place, of course, so that just wouldn’t have been discussed. By then, a parent myself, I understood.

All things must change; all things must pass. Back when I was a kid, my Dad told me he’d seen deer once, in the harshest of winters, venturing close to the house on Alburne Park in search of food. I’d never seen one in all my childhood there: and yet, here, now, outside the crematorium in the middle of the day, in the middle of the next door town with scarcely any cover to be had, was this little stag, coolly holding us in his gaze, before trotting across the road and disappearing into thin air.

Not all things change for the better, but all things do change.

Alburne Cresent