andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

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Walking in the Wild West End – of Edinburgh

There are many things which have taken on the nature of Edinburgh traditions. Jenner’s (well, until it closed). The Sixties concrete excresence that is the St James Centre (or was, until it was demolished). Moaning about the cost of the trams (until they finally got built and everyone got bored with the public inquiry, apart of course for the lawyers creaming hefty fees from it).

What else? A cup of tea and a proper scone in Morningside? What about a Wild West film set in Morningside?

Yes indeedy folks, this li’l ol’ slice of the Wild West is in Springvalley Gardens Lane, Morningside, just a short step from that scone. Originally created in the 90s to help market a shop selling American-style furniture, it remains, slowly wasting in the desert air of south-eastern Scotland, increasingly hemmed in by a car workshop. You may be seeing some more of this place in the coming months.

Anyhoo, after lunch at Maison Bleu Le Bistrot (which is slowly becoming a pre-match tradition) I met my fellow fan outside Valvona and Crolla’s on Elm Row (an Italian deli very definitely something of an Edinburgh tradition, if one more commonly associated with a day out for the scone-eating ladies of Morningside) before progressing to that hallowed shrine of football, Easter Road Stadium.

Going to see Hibs once a year with my pal, the super-talented writer Kirsti Wishart, is becoming traditional, too. I’ve supported Hibs since I was a kid, but hadn’t been to see them for decades until Kirsti asked me to take her last year. It really does feel like you’re part of something, walking to the ground with all the fellow faithful and installing yourself in the Famous Five Stand.

If you don’t know your history, the team had a brief period of supremacy in the early 1950s with a forward line of Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond. In the early 1970s, when I was of an impressionable age, they had an even briefer period of sort-of supremacy, managed by said Eddie Turnbull, with a forward line of Edwards, Cropley, Gordon, O’Rourke and Duncan. Sadly, I could recite the entire first XI of that time, but I’ll spare you.

I’d love to say it was a classic Cup game to see, but Hibs, managerless last weekend, struggled along in second gear without ever seriously looking like losing to the lower-division Raith Rovers. It ended 3-1 Hibs, with the pick of the goals being from the no.7, Horgan, who also supplied a brilliant chipped pass for the third. There are some good players in there: let’s hope the new manager brings out the best in them.

Walking out of the ground, we encountered one of the best guitar players I know, the selfsame Kenny Mackay. It’s kind of appropriate that the two other people I knew in the crowd were creative types: you have to be something of a poet and dreamer to follow this team. Even more appropriately for an Edinburgh side, the current no. 16 shirt is worn by one Lewis Stevenson – not, so far as I know, any relative of RLS!

Then home, via a pint of something called Barista (coffee flavoured stout – who knew?) at another venerable institution, Joseph Pearce’s on Elm Row, that I’d never been in before.

The bus journey even gave me a chance to attempt a different take on the Scott Monument from the top deck of a no.16: unfortunately, the bus in front didn’t quite line up the way I wanted it to, but next time!

So there you go. Edinburgh: a place where new traditions happen every day.

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(Not Quite) All About the Bass: A Sonic Journey into the Nether Regions

 

Image result for bass

Not that kind, obvs!

I’ve been thinking a lot about drums and bass recently. Almost always the last thing I put in any track I’m creating, they should, of course, be pretty much the first thing. I mean, the rhythm section, right?

There’s a very good series on BBC4 just finished called ‘Guitar, Drum and Bass’ which covers all three instrumental elements of most popular music setups: you can catch it on iPlayer if you’ve missed it.

In it, Tina Weymouth (bass) Stewart Copeland (drums) and Lenny Kaye (guitar) trace their instruments’ history, from early blues and jazz right through to the present. They’re all good, but my favourite was Tina, who as Talking Heads’ bassist has probably had a few musical styles thrown at her over the decades!

I’m not quite sure why bass has been so neglected in my music making. I suppose we all have slightly different hearing ranges, and it may be that mine is tipped towards the treble end. In any event, the Tina Weymouth episode inspired me to experimentation on a track I’d had half-done for some time. In particular, a section on 90s DJs, and their search for ever more profound bass sounds got me twiddling about with the available knobs on my music editing software (of which, as I’d just shelled for the Pro Edition of Mixcraft 9, there are several).

Firstly, I used the Korg synth to record a really basic bass part, as low as I could go on the keyboard. Then, using Mixcraft, I duplicated it, then dropped the second track an octave – or twelve semitones, something I should have known without looking up. That sounded … interesting: basically, I now had a bass part that would have my left hand hanging off the end of the keyboard for most of the notes. And then I thought, how low can you go?

Third track, another octave down. You could still hear it, but it was WAYYY low, growling away to itself. I imagined swimming ever lower and lower, down into the sonic nether regions, beyond the range of the human ear where Beelzebub and his minions lurked, sending messages to the unwary through the sub-bass demonosphere.

Pleased with myself, I got as far as finalising the track with all three octaves of bass on it, growling away underneath the song. I was going to put it up on Soundcloud.

Then next day I decided it didn’t work, cut the two lower tracks and stuck it up with the ‘normal’ bass. Hey ho. Perhaps one day I’ll dive towards the nether regions once more, torch in hand, but not on this song!

(The track itself, by the way, is one of a number of contenders for my next album, Otto’s Biography. It’s not in yet, so any feedback gratefully accepted)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down below here are only the demons of advertising

 

In search of the perfect Haggis wine: the never ending quest

Tonight is Burns night, when Scots and Scotophiles – or even just Burnsophiles – celebrate the poet’s birthday by eating something very specific: a haggis.

The excuse for this is that the dude wrote a poem about it, extolling its virtues over all that fancy foreign muck. It’s also, of course, an excellent excuse (as if we Scots, according to stereotype, needed one) for a piss up, generally featuring lashings of that other Scottish staple, whisky.

Well, I’ve got some conflicted views about Burns, and whisky for that matter. Probably a case of overexposure to both at a relatively young age. However, I’ve got real unconditional love for haggis: and I’ve always been on the look out for the perfect red wine (which, by the way, Rabbie was just as keen on as uisge beatha, as they say in the Gaelic) to accompany our national dish.

This isn’t completely straightforward. Haggis, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, is a combination of various of the, er, lesser eaten bits of a sheep, spices, suet, and oatmeal – not something that finds its equivalent in many wine making countries. However, that doesn’t stop me pursuing this quest relentlessly, and tonight will be no exception:

Image result for sainsbury's zweigelt wine

First up, a Sainsbury’s Austrian wine we opened on Tuesday and have had vacuvin’d since: part of their Taste the Difference range, this Zweigelt wine has a quid off at the moment, which brings it down to £8.

Like many people, I was put off Austrian wine by the diethylene glycol scandal in the 80s, when several of their producers were caught adding what amounted to antifreeze to their wines – I can’t remember why, now. However, be put off no more: this is a belter!

We first came across the Zweigelt grape in neighbouring Hungary, a couple of years ago, on a fantastic wine-tasting trip my sister inveigled us into. It’s a really good combination of fruit and heft, and you should totally give it a try.

However, there’s only half a bottle of that left. What else should be put up against the aforesaid haggis, served in our house with tatties (Charlottes in our case, although it should probably be some floury Ayrshires traditionally) and carrots (as opposed to the more conventional turnips, or swede).

Discovering Zweigelt in Hungary

 

…and up against it is…

(drum roll)

 

 

Yes, that’s right, ladies n’ gennlemen, the tried and trusted Campo Viejo brand of Rioja, this time a 2013 Reserva going for the same as the Zweigelt – £8 on offer at Sainsbury’s.

There are a couple of reasons why we’ve gone for this one: a) it’s on offer at the moment, so it’s worth testing out to see if it’s still drinking well, or if it’s on offer because it’s starting to lose its legs a bit and they’re keen to get it off their shelves (non-expert tip: a Reserva of this age should still have a bit of fruit left in it as well as a good whack of oak. Smell the cork, and if it smells of anything other than cork or wine, treat with extreme suspicion); and b) we’ve found in the past that Rioja is a good foil to the fatty, spicy, but still meaty flavour of haggis, and can even cope with the sweetness of carrots in the mix. They do, after all, have their own version of black pudding – morcilla – in Spain.

And the winner? You’ll have to wait till tomorrow, obviously – I’m too busy drinking it to blog about it on a Friday night! What kind of saddo do you take me for???

 

 

 

P.S.: and, after thorough research, the winner is… the Rioja. Not convinced it’s the greatest of its kind – that will be put to the test tonight, when I try it with something it’s more suited to – but the oak gave it the structure to stand up to the haggis better. Mind you, after the main course, the Zweigelt was very agreeable drinking on its own…

 

 

Still Behind That Curve: The £150 Laptop

HP Stream 11-r050sa 11.6" Laptop - BlueHP Laptop: CRUCIAL UPDATES MISSING

Me: I’m busy with this cat meme on Twitter at the moment, okay?

HP Laptop: No, I’m not letting you do anything else until you click on this message about CRUCIAL UPDATES

Me (sighing): Yeah, ’cause it’s not like you’ve not told me I can’t get these updates, like, 5 million times?

HP Laptop: Maybe the updates would include software to deal with sarcasm and exaggeration?

Me (clicking on the thing): You seem to be dealing with these okay at the moment.

HP Laptop: YOU CAN’T GET THESE UPDATES! IT’S AN EMERGENCY! THIS WHOLE THING COULD LITERALLY BLOW AT ANY MINUTE!!!

Me (closing dialogue box): Now who’s exaggerating? Now f***k off.

Laptop (in a hurt tone): Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

My occasional series about the cheapest laptop in the shop. Not an advert for HP as such, but an advert for sometimes, just sometimes, how buying the cheapest thing isn’t a false economy. Until it breaks and it is, of course.

It looks like it’s nearly three years since I posted about the acquisition of this little beauty: isn’t she lovely? And, guess what, she’s still trucking! I suppose it shouldn’t be amazing that a piece of technology should still be working after two years and nine months, but it feels that way…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This blog is not sponsored by HP. Or anyone else, for that matter. But everyone has their price … in my case, guitars

 

 

Albums of 1979: January

1979 Ford LTD Sedan related infomation,specifications ...Why 1979? Because it was forty years ago. And because, scarily, that was the year I became 17, and therefore marks the time when music really took on a whole new significance for me.

1979. Back when cars were proper cars and, er, women were gratuitously used as bonnet ornaments. Great hair though.

That perfect storm of toxic hormonal poisoning (or being a teenager, as it’s generally known) the onset of life-changing exams, and reaching an age when it was legal to do various things (or, in the case of alcohol, close enough for jazz, in Scotland at least) meant that music took on DEEP SIGNIFICANCE for me and my mates.

Of course, I could have chosen 1976, with punk’s first wave; or 1977, when some truly great albums came out, or indeed 1978, when I became 16. However, I’ve only just caught up with the concept, which I’ve frankly stolen from fellow blogger Vinyl Connection, who did something similar for 1968 last year.

Plus if I’d done it earlier I might have had to ‘fess up to something truly musically awful being the music I fell in love to (or, in the grown up world, had a serious infatuation, or bad case of the hots, to). I’ll spare the unwitting (and, in some cases, unknowing) recipients of said feelings the embarassment of naming them: they did nothing wrong, after all. Even the ones that crushed me by wanting to just be friends…

https://d3c1jucybpy4ua.cloudfront.net/data/6346/feature/home_taping_is_killing_music_and_its_illegal.jpg?1335807675

A word on the 1979 teenage, Scottish schoolkid musical landscape: music came out of radios via either the generalist Radio 1 (if you were pretending to be cool, the John Peel show was sacred territory) or by means of television shows, principally the generalist Top of the Pops. Albums – or LPs – were generally bought on vinyl, but often lent to mates to allow reproduction on long-dead tech called ‘C90 cassettes.’ Remember HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC – AND IT’S ILLEGAL? That was a successful campaign, right enough. They should try it with free downloads and streaming.

I don’t remember people making up mixtapes back then: the idea was you taped the whole album (or LP: the names were mainly interchangeable at that point) in its original sequence. So you could listen to it, in its original sequence. Because that was how the musical gods who had made it intended. Which could be a bit of a bugger for any albums over 45 minutes long, because you couldn’t squeeze all the tracks onto one side.

Technology problems aside, 1979’s teenage musical landscape was a multi-layered, nuanced affair – at least if you were still at school or university. It was tribal beyond belief: were you a punk, a metal head, a folkie (not many of those in late 70s Glenrothes, let me tell you!) or, perhaps, just a Serious Rock muso? My friends and I probably pretended to the latter, although none of us had any problem in adopting the new wave acts that had grown out of punk – step forward The Clash, Costello, Blondie, Boomtown Rats, and so on.

ABBA - WikipediaNo one was allowed to like Abba. At least officially. So I bought all their albums unofficially and hid them when my cooler friends came round.

Abba looking windswept and interesting somewhere in 1979. From Bjorn’s (or is it Benny’s: I could never tell them apart even when only one of them had a beard) fetching jumper, probably Canada.

For me, it was always Anna-Frid. Since you ask.

So. Enough context already. It was also, I think, the year I first picked up a guitar in any sort of earnest, inspired by Dylan. However, although a much-derided live album of his will crop up in April, I don’t intend to bore on about him all year, don’t worry. Instead, let’s have a look at some other people’s albums in January, and then next month, February, and so on (at least, that’s the plan: I haven’t even researched this enough to be sure there were albums of merit in every month of that year, but given the year it was, I’m pretty confident it is, and if not, hell, I’ll make some shit up).

So, without further ado, ladies n’ gennlemen:

Elvis costello armed forces 1.jpgELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS – ARMED FORCES

…and we’re off to a rippingly good start. Declan McManus’s third album, the second with the Attractions, and stuffed full of those early-period Costello lyrics: ‘Accidents Will Happen,’ and ‘Oliver’s Army,’ were the singles, although I always had a soft spot for ‘Green Shirt,’ which seemed to have just a bit more emotion in it. Plus that great line about fingerprints on his imagination.

Nick Lowe produced, and Costello’s version of his ‘What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding’ (later to be murdered by Curtis Stigers) featured on the US import. Initial pressings included a live single, featuring three of his best: ‘Accidents Will Happen,’ ‘Alison,’ and ‘Watching the Detectives.’

Meanwhile, in another planet altogether, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards had written and produced

SIster Sledge We Are Family 1979.jpgWE ARE FAMILY, by Sister Sledge. Not content with the success of Chic, the boys served up some dance floor fillers for the sisters: the title track, obviously, plus three other hits: ‘He’s the Greatest Dancer,’ ‘Thinking of You,’ and the one you’ll probably remember, ‘Lost in Music.’

Nile Rodgers was quoted later as saying that, of the various he and the rest of the Chic Organisation produced for themselves and others, “pound for pound, I think We Are Family is our best album hands down.”

Yes indeedy people, disco was still alive and well in 1979. In fact, on 6th January, American Bandstand featured the first known performance of the Village People’s ‘YMCA dance.’

Chertakemehome.jpgThose are probably the two most long-lasting albums of January. However, you also had TAKE ME HOME, Cher’s attempt at the disco genre (okay, I mentioned it mainly for the bonkers cover, but laugh all you like, it went gold in the States);

Joe Jackson released LOOK SHARP, Joejacksonlooksharp.jpgwith his classic ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him,’ as well as a rather more understated album cover: taken by Brian Griffin in five minutes on London’s South Bank, when he spotted a shaft of light and asked Jackson to stand in it. Despite being rated by Rolling Stone at number 22 of 100 great album covers of all time. Good to see, by the way, that Jackson’s got a new album coming out, 40 years on.

Defleppardep.pngWhat else? Def Leppard issued their debut EP, confusingly titled THE DEF LEPPARD EP. In line with the punk DIY ethos if not the music, the first 100 copies featured lyric sheets that singer Joe Elliot had phtocopied at work during his lunch break: he and his Mum did the gluing of the 1,000 sleeves.

Those first 1,000 copies, by the way, have a red label and were issued by the band’s own wonderfully named company, Bludgeon-Riffola.

 

Zappa sleep dirt.jpg

Others included Herbie Hancock’s FEETS, DON’T FAIL ME NOW; The Scorpions’ LOVEDRIVE; and John Denver’s self-titled album.

Oh, and Frank Zappa issued SLEEP DIRT, and then everyone in his world sued eveyone else. The excellently named Chad Wackerman did drum overdubs on the CD reissue: an example of nominative determinism if ever there was one.

I’d love to tell you I bought all of these albums at the time, just to show what a musical polymath I am. I think I had an illegal cassette of Armed Forces. What can I say? I was busy studying for my Highers, not to mention coping with those hormones.

Next month, February. See the pattern there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adverts there be down here. Things have moved on a bit from 1979.

 

DIE HARD BY GEORGE

Context: this is a story I wrote some time ago, for live performance. It’s the closest I’ve ever got to a Christmas story. For those who live furth of the jurisdiction, Asda (owned by Walmart) and Morrison’s are two of the UK’s ‘Big Four’ supermarkets.

In the unlikely event you don’t know, the original Die Hard starred Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman and wasn’t set in Asda, or indeed any supermarket.

And yes, furth is an actual word. The English tend not to use it.

Jock McLean, Security Team Manager at Morrison’s, didn’t normally set foot in Asda.  But then, his ex-wife, Dolores didn’t usually invite him to their staff Christmas party.  She had promised him deep fried vol-au-vents, but he was hoping for more.

The store was a mess.  A bag of sugar spilled its guts in Aisle Seventeen.  Aisle Nineteen, Biscuits, Crisps, Snacks and Nuts, had Tunnock’s Tea Cakes trampled into the tiled surface.  Worst of all, a whole pile of Asda’s Own Meat Feast Pizzas had fallen out of the chiller cabinet at the back and lay face down on the floor.

“Dolores would never allow this,” McLean muttered to himself.  His wife’s obsessive desire to tidy up had been one of the things that had driven them apart.  That, and the drinking.  Both their drinking.

Something felt wrong.  McLean found himself approaching the back shop area on the balls of his feet.  It was quiet, far too quiet for a supermarket Christmas party.  Instead of the clinking of glasses and laughter there was just one voice, speaking slowly and clearly.

“Ladies und Gentlemen,” the voice said.  “My name is Hans Gruber.  You are under the control of the End Globalisation Now Brigade, East of Scotland Cell.

“We will shortly be issuing the authorities with a list of demands.  Shut down all supermarkets in the area and re-open the smaller shops selling organic produce at affordable prices.  All banks to give their customers the equivalent of their Chief Executive’s annual bonus in a one-off payment.  If they comply, you will not be harmed.  If not ……….”.

The sound of the machine gun was deafening at close quarters.  That decided McLean.  There was little he could do against these nutters if they were armed.  He turned to go, his trainers squeaking on the immaculately polished surface.

“What was that?” he heard Gruber say.  “You two, go and investigate.  If we haf company, neutralise it.”

McLean needed no further warning.  He ran for the side door, his trainers squeaking every step of the way.  Damn Dolores and her floor polisher.

****

Dolores was comforting Kayleigh in the back shop.  The air was thick with the smell of cordite and melting milk chocolate.

“There was no need to shoot up the lassie’s box of Celebrations,” she said, glaring at the man calling himself Gruber.  “They’re her favourites.”

Gruber sniffed, putting the safety back on his AK47.  “They are Nestlé, whose third world ethical record is dubious to say the least.”

The sound of gunfire in the shop made the hostages jump.  There were about twenty of them, all in their best party clothes.  Gruber addressed them.  “Who is in charge here?”

A balding man of about fifty was shoved to the front.  There were sweat patches under the arms of his Hawaiian shirt.

“I’m ……..  I’m the manager, likes,” he said.

“Good.”  Gruber said.  “Go with Theo here –“ he pointed to another of the terrorists – “Und show him the storage area downstairs.  It is a standard Asda storage area but with one difference, yes?”

“What’s the difference?” Dolores said.

“There is a special consignment under a combination lock,” Gruber explained, stroking his moustache.  “Am I right, Herr Manager?”  The balding man nodded.

“Tell Theo the combinations on the lock,” Gruber said.  He turned back to Dolores.  “Or I start shooting your co-workers.  Starting with this woman.  She is beginning to annoy me.”

Dolores started to reply, but she was interrupted by the sound of more machine gunfire, and the breaking of glass.

****

McLean was fit. He had to be, to chase teenagers on the vodka run from the spirits aisle.  All the same, he had no time to reach the side door before the voice rang out behind him.

“Halt!”

He ducked into Aisle Eighteen, Cereals, just as the man behind him started shooting.  Bullets whined past, catching a packet of bran flakes at the end of the shelf and sending it spinning.

“Seal off that side door, Dieter,” he heard a voice shout.  “That must be how he got in.”

The sound of running feet.  McLean set off, only for his shoes to squeak again.  He took them off.  Then he legged it down the aisle in his stocking soles, sliding slightly as he turned the corner and stood at the end of the shelving.

Footsteps approaching, slowly, squeaking on Dolores’ polished floor.  They were coming up the aisle towards him: but which aisle?  He reached up for something – anything – he could use as a weapon.

Footsteps getting closer.  McLean gambled and turned right, away from Cereals and towards Biscuits, Crisps, Snacks and Nuts –

And found himself face to face with one of the terrorists.  Before the man could react, McLean jabbed the corner of the Weetabix box, as hard as he could, square into the man’s face.

Scheisse!”  The man went down, clutching his eye, and McLean was off and running away from him, across the central aisle and then down another.

Which way now?  McLean guessed they would think he would go further away from the side door so he doubled back, lobbing a tin of Whiskas in the opposite direction to throw them off the scent.

They were waiting for him in the last aisle before the end wall, Beer and Cider.  He ducked back round the end of the shelving just in time, but the bullets exploded the shelf of White Lightning he had been in front of a microsecond before, showering him in broken glass and full strength cider.  He shouted in pain and went down, feeling his leg give way below him.

There was nothing he could do to get away.  He heard them run down the aisle towards him, ready to finish him –

Someone was shouting.

“What are you clowns doing?”  It was Gruber’s voice, coming closer.  McLean opened his eyes.  He couldn’t see them from where he was, lying between the two aisles, but they would probably be able to see his left foot sticking out from where they were in Beer and Cider.  An instinct told him to keep that foot still, even though every nerve fibre in his body was screaming for him to unstick himself from the broken glass beneath him.

“I think I got him,” Dieter was saying.  “He stabbed me with a Weetabix box.”

“Then he is unarmed, and presents no threat to anyone but an idiot,” Gruber said.  “I haf more important things for you to do than fight duels with popular cereal brands.  The police haf arrived, und I want you to keep them talking.”

****

Sergeant Powell was looking for a quiet Christmas Eve shift.  As he pulled into the car park, he was relieved to see a man in an Asda uniform standing in front of the building having a smoke.

Powell pulled up next to him and wound down the window.  “I’ve had some garbled report about protesters or something?”

The man laughed.  “No, nothing like that.  Unless it’s Derek’s belly protesting at all the Doritos he’s had.  He’s our manager, yes?”

Powell laughed.  He knew Derek Bogie.  “That sounds about right.  Christmas party is it?”

“Ja, that’s right.”  The man finished his tab and ground it into the tarmac.  Then he said, “Well, I must be a move making or they’ll have finished all the free wine.”

“All right then.”  There was an accent which Powell couldn’t trace.  Probably one of the Polish workers, he thought.  He certainly didn’t recognise him.  Oh well. He stuck the Astra into first gear and was getting ready to go, when the radio crackled.

“This is Jock McLean, Security Team Manager at Morrison’s on the secure supermarket line.  To the policeman in the car, outside Asda’s.  You’re in grave danger.  The man you’re talking to is one of a group of terrorists who are holding hostages.  They are armed and dangerous.  Repeat: armed and dangerous.”

Powell recognised the voice.  The supermarkets’ secure line was part of a new Community Contact Initiative, and had been a great success.

“Jock?  Is that you?  How can you see I’m outside Asda from Morrison’s?”

“Because I’m in Asda, ya tube.”

Powell was still digesting this when the man in the Asda uniform was joined by other men with guns, and all hell broke loose.

****

McLean tasted blood from his head wound.  Sharp glass bit into muscle
every time he moved his leg.  Approaching headlights dazzled him.  A
police car. He took off his shirt, tore it into strips and bandaged his wounds.

The worst bit was his feet.  He picked glass out as best he could and bound them up.

Then he could only watch through the window as Gruber and the others opened fire on the retreating police car.  To his amazement, the Astra reached the exit ramp and kept going, tyres squealing.

The terrorists were coming back in the side door.  McLean, acting on instinct now, dropped a twelve pack of Belgian lagers into a nearby trolley and headed for George, the clothing section at the opposite end of the store.

He heard the side door close.  Then the store was quiet, except for the sound of two hands clapping.

“Well done, Herr McLean,” Gruber said.  “But what you haf done is really immaterial.  Wherever you are in the store, stay where you are and don’t interfere, and we won’t have to shoot you.”

McLean was in the underwear section of George, his mind racing.  He clambered up the shelf of DVDs at the border of the clothing section.  He saw Gruber and two of his men walking down the end aisle, and ducked down again.  Belgian lager was no match for an AK47 at close quarters.

“Make sure the detonators are evenly spaced through the store,” he heard Gruber say.

McLean slid off the shelves and went back into Menswear.  With his shirt used up for bandages, he needed something else.  A pack of three vests was the nearest to hand, so he slipped one on.  He needed something on his bandaged feet, so he stuck on a pair of George slippers.

“Let’s hope they don’t squeak,” he muttered.

****

Gruber reappeared in the back shop at the same time as the manager and Theo. “The consignment is there? Good.  Go and start loading them into the vehicle.”

“What consignment?” said Dolores.

Gruber smiled. “You haf heard of Writers’ Bloc? They were planning a new line of badges, to be sold through Asda. It was meant to be top secret, but a dissident member told us.”

“You’ve held us all hostage for the sake of some badges?”

Gruber’s smile disappeared. “These are not just any badges. The ultimate counter-culture spoken word group selling out to a division of Walmart? Not on my watch, I am thinking.”

Just then, more shots rang out in the store.

****

The terrorist called Dieter obviously hadn’t forgotten the Weetabix incident. McLean saw him coming, but the first shot still winged him as he dived into a sale rail of suits by George.

“This time, I am you finishing off,” the terrorist snarled, looming above McLean as he sprawled in a sea of grey. The muzzle of the AK47 came level with McLean’s eyes, there was a click –

and nothing happened.

McLean had a split second. Years of wrestling Fat Malky, Morrison’s most persistent shoplifter, had honed his close combat skills. He rose up and grabbed the gun’s muzzle, ramming it into the other man’s stomach. Using the momentum to pin him against a display of non-iron shirts, he wrestled the gun free and used all his remaining strength to swing it at the terrorist’s head. The gun butt connected with a thunk, and the man dropped to the floor.

“Yippee yiy yay ya bas,” said McLean, softly. He felt his arm where the first shot had grazed him: it was warm and sticky. He ripped open one of the packets of shirts and used the material to bind up the fresh wound, grimacing as the bandage pulled tight against his bicep. Then he threw the useless gun away, and started towards the main part of the store.

In the slippers, McLean had one advantage: silent running. That, and the fact that the men planting the detonators had to lay their guns down.

A Kate and William Celebration casserole dish broke over the head of the man in Aisle One. McLean decided against taking the gun. No time to take prisoners. Instead, he tooled up with a Vileda self-wringing mop handle. Two more men fell to his surprise attacks, before the supermarket was plunged into darkness, and Gruber’s voice rang out.

“Where are you all? It is time to go to the roof for the final phase.”

There was silence, apart from the sound of one of McLean’s victims groaning.

“They’ve got headaches of their own, Gruber,” McLean shouted. “Let the hostages go, and give yourself up. The police will be here by now.” He could hear the sounds of helicopters overhead. Dark shapes were moving outside the superstore’s main window. McLean stole as noiselessly as he could into Fresh Produce, where he could see the door to the back shop.

“McLean? It seems I haf underestimated you. But you should be careful what you wish for. I asked myself why Jock McLean, Security Team Manager at Morrison’s, should be coming to the Asda Christmas party. Then I asked Derek.”

Dimly, McLean could see his enemy open the door to the back shop.  “Theo, bring the hostages out one by one.”  McLean watched as the hostages filed out towards the side door he had come in.  Theo waved a torch back and forth, briefly lighting up scared expressions and party clothes.  Then he shone the torch on the last hostage.

“Not so fast, Dolores,” Gruber said.  “You’re coming with me to the roof.  McLean, stay where you are, or I shoot your ex-wife.”

McLean had been edging out, getting ready to follow them, when Theo suddenly shone the torch in his direction and opened fire. Bullets ripped into McLean’s right hand, sending the mop handle spinning far behind him. He went down and rolled behind a display of King Edwards.

He lay still, listening to the door to the back shop close as Gruber and Theo manhandled Dolores towards the stairs. He tried to stand, but sank down again, as a spike of pain exploded in his right hand. He explored the damage in the darkness. All his fingers were still there, but the bullets had smashed through tendons and bone, rendering it useless for now.

Only a matter of time before the other terrorists recovered enough to track him down. He bound his hand up as best he could with the bags used for loose potatoes. Then, with a supreme effort, he hauled himself up with his remaining good hand.

A fresh burst of gun fire sent him scuttling for cover again. No time to fetch the mop handle: the best weapon he could lay his hands on was a potato from the King Edwards display.  He crept along the chiller cabinets at the back wall, and slipped in the door to the back shop.

Gruber’s voice led him towards the stairs.  Out through the doors of the roof, the air was thundering with helicopters.

“Give it up, Gruber,” McLean shouted above the noise.  “The cops will shoot you unless you let her go. These badges can’t be worth that.”

“Stay back, McLean.”  Gruber held up a small black remote. “This is connected to the detonators. Make one move, and the whole supermarket goes up, taking the police with it.”

McLean hesitated. Gruber seemed to be waiting for something.  Where had Theo gone?  McLean stood still as the terrorist leader backed himself and Dolores nearer to the edge of the roof.  Then Gruber glanced down, and McLean took his one shot, bringing the King Edward from behind his back and throwing it with all his strength, left-handed.

It hit Dolores square between the eyes and she dropped like a stone.  Gruber looked confused for a split second and, with a roar of frustration, McLean charged him, catching him off guard and sending them both off the roof –

And crashing straight through the roof of the refrigerated Asda lorry Theo had made ready as the getaway vehicle.  Gruber landed underneath McLean in a tangle of limbs and Asda’s Finest Stovies, but McLean head-butted him into submission anyway.  Just at that moment, the lorry lurched as something rammed into it: the bullet ridden police Astra driven by officer Powell, making sure Theo couldn’t escape.

The police SWAT team reunited McLean with Dolores out in the car park as Gruber and the others were led away in handcuffs.  She began wiping uncooked ready meal away from his forehead but he caught her wrist gently.

“Leave it the now, Dolores,” he told her.

“They use mince instead of corned beef,” she whispered to him.  “That’s the secret.”  As they kissed, a detonator exploded inside the store, sending a shower of easy cook brown rice high into the air, like confetti at a vegan wedding. One by one the others followed, until the entire store began to crumble as they watched.

“By the way,” said Dolores, looking down, “these baffies really suit you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing down here. Not even inadvertent advertising for Asda

 

 

Random Review Roulette 2018: Stuff I’ve Read, Seen Or Heard This Year

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting, drink, table, plant, flower, tree, outdoor and indoorThe other day Daughter and Heiress – blessings be upon her, may her journalistic skills ever increase by hundredfolds, and keep me in my retirement in the style to which I hope to remain accustomed – showed me just how behind the curve this blog was. Home for some of the holidays, she had performed some form of spell from the technology grimoire on the television set and got Youtube on it (only kidding, even I know how to do that).

Daughter and Heiress, in Leon

What she was watching was something called a vlog, or video blog, specifically one called the Michalaks. In it, an annoyingly perky couple and their annoyingly endearing kid(s) (I’m hazy about how many: it might have just been one that moved around a lot) strolled about Dubai, staying in an agreeable hotel, and generally being, well, annoyingly perky. It was like watching somebody’s holiday video, except, here’s the thing: a holiday video by someone who decided to take a top-level Hollywood director and film crew with them. I mean, the production values are just amazing!

Well, you won’t be seeing anything as fancy-dan from this soldier any time soon. Maybe when I retire (a phrase I find myself saying increasingly these days) I’ll give it a go, and you can watch me  vlogging away to my heart’s content in various Spanish-speaking locations. Wine will be involved.

Not fucking Dubai, though – aforesaid Michalak family drifted about without a hair out of place, whereas my memories of our two-night sojourn there was sweating like a hog in 40 degree, 90% humidity, whilst stressing about the then much younger D & H’s chances of succumbing to heatstroke in the few remaining tourist areas the locals hadn’t air-conditioned to the max. It was like stepping between an oven and a fridge several times a day, all the time observing the yawning gulf in living/working conditions between us tourists, the rich residents, and the mainly immigrant workers, whose day essentially consisted of all oven and no fridge.

Anyhoo, I hear you say, enough chuntering on about vlogging and all that other stuff you don’t do: you said something in the title about reviews?

Quite right, sir or madam, as the case may be. So, this is basically your year’s worth of reviews, since I’ve not really done that much of that so far this year. Let’s start with films, since I think we’ve only seen two of them in a cinema this year. The first of these was Hereditary, which I’ve already reviewed, and liked, with reservations about the eventual boogeyman. The other one we saw, back last month, Widowswas Widows, which is still around in multiplexes in our neck of the woods. I should say right off the bat that the majority of critics – and audiences – loved it. However, much as it was good to see a heist thriller with four strong female leads, for me it was trying to be several things at once: the heist thriller thing, a feminist fable (fair enough) but also some sort of deep-lying commentary about the links between organised crime, political corruption, and, er, er, all that sort of stuff.

That can be the only reason for a subplot involving a Kennedy-style political dynasty, with a criminally (pun intended) underused Robert Duvall as the paterfamilias, and a confused-looking Colin Farrell as a politican called Jack (just in case you didn’t get the Kennedy reference). He wasn’t the only one confused: I couldn’t work out whether Jack did want the gig, or just wanted to get away from it all with his gangster buddies. But that was nothing compared to the confusion I felt about the ending, which felt rushed, and, somehow, cobbled together. Which of the four aforesaid female leads got their share of the money? Answers on an email please!

Dark Art (The Angels' Share series Book 2)In terms of books, I’ve read two follow up novels by two authors I know personally: Mac Logan and Altany Craik. Mac’s was Dark Art (I think now also called Dice), which picks up on the adventures of Sam Duncan, his sister Eilidh and an elite band of ex-special forces types as they battle the titular dark arts of a high-level Government cabal of corrupt politicains, businessmen, and other reprehensible fellows. A ripping good read, excellent for an escape into an intense world of Mac’s devising (or is it based on truth? He told me he’d tell me but he’d have to kill me.)

 

 

The Eye of the Crow: A Father Steel Novel (Father Andrew Steel)Altany’s hero, Father Steel, is much less square of jawline: a Catholic priest with a roving remit from the Archbishop to battle the dark forces, not of Government, but the Ancient Enemy himself. Grumpy, rather over fond of the episcopal claret, and not immune to the other temptations of the flesh, Steel is an amusing narrator as he faces down Beelzebub and his chums with not much more than a fine line in sarcasm. The first of the series featured a devil-worshipping sex cult in my home town of Glenrothes, and whilst this one, inevitably, doesn’t quite reach the same heights of identification, it’s another ripping good read.

 

 

https://i2.wp.com/assets.signature-reads.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/jo-nesbo-thirst.jpgI’d been saving up Jo Nesbo’s The Thirst for some months because, as a big fan of your man’s work, I wanted to give it my full attention. However, I have to say I was somewhat disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong: all the ingredients are there: a serial killer is on the loose in Oslo, and crack detective Harry Hole is pulled out of semi-retirement as a police college lecturer, dragging all his baggage behind him. Will he get to the killer before the next kill? Is it personal? You bet your ass it is. Is his family in danger? Of course. Are there knowing musical references to Uncut and new(ish) bands like Cage the Elephant? Check.

And… therein lies the problem, really. This is the 11th novel in the series, and things are starting to creak at the edges. Harry’s in his late fifties, now, but despite a history of alcoholism and a dicky knee he still seems to be up for a bit of rough and tumble. Women – all women – seem to find him irresistible. The bad guys – by which I mean the regulars like Police Chief Bellman – are still present and incorrect, give or take an eye or two. And – spoiler alert – whilst this serial killer with a grudge is eventually brought down due to Harry’s brilliant detecting, another one is lined up towards the end of the book, production-line style, for the next novel. Hell of a place, Oslo.

Speaking of music, and Uncut, I’ve been trying to extend my musical knowledge this year via reading reviews in said magazine, and then checking them out on Youtube. This method has served me quite well, although I’ve found sometimes it’s better to take the time to listen to all the tracks, rather than just the ones the reviewer’s picked out, as they’re not always truly representative.

H.C. McEntire - LIONHEARTIn this way I ‘discovered’ H. C. McEntire, whose album, Lionheart, is a fine bit of alt.country. I would probably have listened to it more if I had had it on CD and been driving about a lot, as that tends to be how I hear my music these days. Unfortunately for my music listening, but fortunately for the environment, these opportunities are limited. However, as it’s on my (semi-smart) phone, I tend to listen to it whilst cooking, and my recipes aren’t so complex as to need an album’s worth of prep.

But based on limited ‘spins,’ this is a fine, sardonic piece of singer-songwriting.

 

Margo Price’s All-American Made suffers a bit from the same technological/time-poor for listening problem. The other thing against it for getting a listen in the car, even if I had the CD, is it’s a bit too trad country sounding for Mrs F’s taste, although the lyrics of such tracks as ‘Cocaine Cowboys’ are anything but.

Again, I mean to show this album a bit more love – and listening time – in the coming months. But definitely worth a listen if you like your music country and your lyrics literate.

 

John Prine - The Tree of Forgiveness (CD) - OH BOY RECORDSWhich leads us to the boys. I finally dropped the necessary spondulicks to buy Jason Isbell’s last studio album, The Nashville Sound, recently. Whilst I agree with my band leader, Mr Brutal’s, assessment that it’s not Isbell’s best, I still found some fine moments on it, including ‘Cumberland Gap.’ But my pick of all these here south of the Mason-Dixon line characters is John Prine, whose latest album, Tree of Forgiveness, has been pushing itself to the top of the cooking and washing up listening queue for some months now. Great, insightful songwriting, delivered with a load of life experience and dark humour. Love it, and hope to see him on tour next year.

 

Well, that’s all for now, y’all. Tune in early next week for a Christmas story!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing to see down here but adverts. You keep on movin’ now, you hear?

 

Songwriting – is it (That) Complicated?

First off, to those of you coming to this blog cold, this is not going to be a thing saying, like, here’s how you write a song and I know because I’m really successful and blah blah blah and by the way, give me your email address so I can bombard you with more advice you have to pay for!! Hey! HEY! ARE YOU LISTENING? Because you better, buddy, if you want to make it in the business…

I’m not in that business, or indeed any business, except for tax reasons.

What? I hear those of you who’ve been at this blog before. I thought you were one of these poet dreamer types who don’t care a jot about money and it’s all about the art, man. Are you saying this whole schemozzle is a money-laundering operation for some wretched offshore pyramid scheme? Don’t make me come down there…

Well, no. You were right the first time – about me being the poet dreamer type who doesn’t care about the dosh, I mean. But it is true that, on my tax return every year, I describe my ‘business’ as ‘writer and musician,’ and, every year, it shows a healthy loss – ever since I had some local publicity about my first loss-making product, 2003’s co-written Legacy of the Sacred Chalice, drew the attention of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and they invited me to fill in a tax return.

Anyways. That’s not really what I set out to write out about. I blame Neko Case, purely because I’m listening to her on KEXP while writing this. She is quite the songwriter while I, well, I’m still working out how it really works, and why sometimes it seems to work without really trying, and other times not so much.

This song (Not That) Complicated is a case in point. I’ve blogged before about the inspirational songwriting weekend I went to in the Highlands back in May this year, and about how one of the exercises, when one of the group improvised singing lines from a book to another person’s guitar, produced a song, ‘Clara Said Yesterday,’ that a few people have been kind enough to say is one of my better ones. But that wasn’t the song I set out into the stunning scenery to craft.

Me in the Highlands, about to come up with a song. Probably. Pic: James Whyte

About four months later, strumming along with a new chord I’d learnt via Youtube, I came up with a chord progression I liked, and something a bit closer to the original idea I’d had back in May – two people trading smart one-liners, in a way that I imagine goes on in New York loft apartments all the time (I watched a lot of Woody Allen films as a young adult, and they may have had the effect of distorting my view of what really passes for dialogue in New York loft apartments).

So far as the craft of songwriting’s concerned, I still maintain I know virtually nothing about how it’s done. Neither of these songs follow my usual pattern, which is to come up with a melody first, or at least a bit of one, before I lay hands on a guitar. In terms of the words, in the case of the first of these two I wrote the last verse right after the first, then wrote the bit in between on the paper that was left.

With ‘Complicated,’ on the other hand, I had no idea when I started off the lyrics how they might end up, and the pay off actually came as a surprise to me. Which, I guess, means, I really, really, know nothing about songwriting.

But then, as the late, great, William Goldman said about a similar creative endeavour (how to make a successful movie) no one knows anything. Not sure if you can call the current Brexit crisis a creative endeavour, but … you know the rest.

What I do know is that you can now hear Not That Complicated as sung by the divine Kelly Brooks rather than my trademark groan, and even contribute to a good cause by purchasing it on Bandcamp. Or you can hear it on Soundcloud:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anything below this is adverts. They’re probably not that complicated.

 

Free (Blind) Willie (McTell) ! Or, an introduction to Dylanology

So, you’re a fan of the wee man from Minnesota, and  you’re thinking of getting the December issue of Uncut for the free CD of Dylan tracks from his bootleg series. Is it worth it?

Well, for starters, you’d better get your skates on, because Uncut’s peculiar publication schedule means, although we’re only half way through November, the issue featuring the Bobster is already being replaced on the newsagent shelves by the January 2019 one! Of course, my colleague, friend and joint investor in Uncut manicpopthrills (we buy issues turn about and pass them on – canny Scottish tip for you all!) would grumble that another issue with Dylan on the front will be along in a minute, but let’s ignore him for now and focus on the December CD.

Actually, whether it’s worth it or not is really down to how much of a Dylan completist you are. If, like me, you’re something of a lapsed believer, there are some things of interest here: a reminder that, however dreary some of his deity-bothering material was in the 80s, he at least had the sense to hire the best of touring bands (a rocking version of Slow Train); nice too, to hear again the way he ramped up gentle folkie ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ on the Rolling Thunder tour; and an outtake from one of my favourite albums, Oh Mercy, ‘Born in Time,’ which is kind of in the category of ‘good but I can see why he left it off.’

I really wonder though about all these old guys bringing out multiple outtakes, retakes, forgotten reggae versions and so on. Dylan’s a serial offender here: I noted with amazement that his Bootleg series, a rolling record of ‘official,’ cleaned up releases to counter the tsunami of bootleg versions that he’s been subject to over the decades has reached number 14. This included Volume 12, The Cutting Edge, which, in its limited-edition 18-disc Collector’s Edition incarnation, contains ‘…every note recorded during the 1965–1966 sessions, every alternate take and alternate lyric.’ Take a week off work to listen.

Dylan isn’t alone, of course. The Beatles (or at least those with the relevant rights) and the Stones have been raiding their archives for years. Others like Pink Floyd aren’t far behind. It’s a lucrative venture, and you can see what’s in it for the record companies.

But, really, do you need 16 different takes of ‘Like A Rolling Stone,’ when you’ve got the one Dylan and Bob Johnson plumped for? Some artists, of course, are no longer with us, and there’s much to be plundered from Prince’s Vault that would be worth a listen, given how prolific the other little guy from Minnesota was. And then again…

Then again there’s the story of that nearly-lost Dylan classic, ‘Blind Willie McTell…’

1983, and Dylan’s emerging from his aformentioned born-again phase, engaging Jamaican rhythm section Sly and Robbie, ex-Stone Mick Taylor on guitar, and one Mark Knopfler, resting between Dire Straits albums, as producer of what will become Infidels. It’s an okay album, certainly better than the dirge-like gospel that went before, not to mention the dross that follows it up until Lanois drags Dylan off to New Orleans and makes Oh Mercy with him. However, what’s on Infidels isn’t nearly as interesting as what’s not on it.

At some point during the recording sessions, Dylan sits down at the piano, with Knopfler picking up an acoustic guitar. Perhaps with those two humungous talents together alone in the room it’s not surprising that magic happens, but boy, does it happen in bucketloads. His Bobness is later to claim that it was a demo version so the rest of the band could learn it, but Dylan only knows why that didn’t happen. There’s another take out there in the ether with Taylor on slide, but it’s the Dylan/Knopfler version that starts to circulate in bootleg form amongst the faithful.

This seems to put Dylan in such a huff that he refuses to release it, or indeed even play it live, for years, and is quoted as saying in a Rolling Stone interview: “I started playing it live because I heard the Band doing it. Most likely it was a demo, probably showing the musicians how it should go. It was never developed fully, I never got around to completing it. There wouldn’t have been any other reason for leaving it off the record. It’s like taking a painting by Monet or Picasso – goin’ to his house and lookin’ at a half-finished painting and grabbing it and selling it to people who are ‘Picasso fans.'”

So, an unfinished masterpiece, then, Bob? Certainly a lot of people see ‘Blind Willie McTell’ as one of the little fella’s best. In a style that’s now called Americana, the vivid imagery  of chain gangs, slavery ships, and bootlegged (ironically enough) whiskey paints a lyrical picture of a lost South that Dylan builds, verse by verse, his trademark croak betraying a rising passion as the song progresses. His own idiosyncratic piano and Knopfler’s subtle guitar accompaniment somehow work as the perfect sonic backdrop to the words.

A note here for Dylanologists – there’s been a debate amongst aficionados ever since the song emerged as to why the Bobster chose Blind Willie McTell for the refrain of ‘Ain’t nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell…’ when the real life McTell was actually quite a cheery sort of song and dance man who played ragtime as much as blues. Blind Willie Johnson, on the other hand, really, really could sing the blues. The answer, I think, is no more complicated than, as any songwriter knows, there’s a lot more words rhyme with ‘McTell’ than ‘Johnson.’

Why is this song so good? You might not agree, of course, but one reason I think this version’s so revered amongst fans is because it’s not overproduced, or overthought. I was talking to my friend and fellow songwriter Martin McGroarty about this the other night: when a song is newly forged, fresh from the furnace, those first few performances when you’ve just written it hold something special that you never get back. There’s a freshness to it, an emotion in the voice, that can come across no matter how primitive the recording method.

By a coincidence, I was out seeing a Dylan tribute band on Friday night. Yeah, I know: I don’t make a habit of it. ‘Bob’ himself seemed a bit off his game: maybe it was him starting the first song of the show with the wrong harmonica that threw him, the way it can. Could have done without all the chat from the bass player, who seemed to feel it necessary to share with us at one point that he wasn’t much of a Dylan fan himself. The guitarist was great, though: and if ‘Bob’ got the lyrics of ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ a bit, well, tangled up, he clearly was an aficionado, and his song choices, including ‘Blind Willie McTell,’ were totally sound. Shame my home town, by the size of the audience, isn’t stuffed with fellow Dylan fans.

On the other hand, maybe that’s no bad thing…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adverts down here. Nowt to do with me matey

A Day of Remembering

Time’s a slippery thing. In many ways, it seems incredible to me that World War One ended as much as 100 years ago; perhaps that’s because, as a child, I knew a grandfather who had fought through it.

Charles Leslie Anderson’s story was well told by my father, his son in law, in A Huntly Loon Goes to War (Loon meaning lad in Aberdeenshire dialect, in case you wondered). I have a dozen copies of the booklet left, and I’ll gladly sell it at a post free price to anyone with whom this story strikes a chord.

Charles’s tale is possibly typical of some, at least, of his generation: born out of wedlock in rural poverty, outside the small Aberdeenshire town of Huntly, using education to make something of himself as a young man (he was a 25-year old butcher when war broke out) and then the four years in the trenches, seeing all the horrors that are being remembered today, and surviving wounds that – but for the grace of a young doctor and his wife’s instincts – could have left him a double amputee.

His post-war journey to being a hard-working man of property, running two shops at once in the town at one point, and even becoming a bailie (councillor) again is reflective of a collective will after the so-called ‘Great War’ to give the surviving soldiers a chance to rebuild their lives.

One of my favourite stories in the book is that, impressed with Charles’s character, his superiors wanted to give him an officer’s commission (at one point he was acting as a sergeant). This was quite something, given his humble origins, and the class-ridden nature of the Army then. Charles turned the commission down. His reasons were entirely practical: the lieutenants were the ones given a handgun and a whistle and expected to go over the top first. There’s heroism, and then there’s just plain daft!

Charles suffered horribly during the war, including from the effects of chlorine gas. This wasn’t anything I understood as a child, when the only eccentricity of this mild-mannered man was a complete inability to put up an old-fashioned deckchair, the inevitable result of which was for him to throw the thing down in disgust, much to the rest of the family’s amusement. What I heard later was that his wartime experiences gave him nightmares for decades afterwards, and his other eccentricity – going out to bang nails into the wall of the shed when some domestic matter raised his temper – would probably nowadays be classed as a symptom of PTSD.

A piece in the Times this week brought back another family memory: writing about another, even more remote part of Aberdeenshire called the Cabrach. It told how the area became a virtual wasteland after WW1 as most of its menfolk were lost in the conflict, and the remaining women and children were forced to seek work of some sort in the Scottish towns and cities. (According to my sister, my Dad’s research indicated this drift away started in the previous century).

Interestingly, the article related how many of the men from country regions like the Cabrach died, not in action, but from diseases which they hadn’t encountered but which their town and city counterparts had some immunity to.

The other point of interest for me in the article was the mention of one William Taylor, because my Dad’s researches had also uncovered family links to the Taylors of the Cabrach, who had gone off to fight in many 19th century wars for King and Country long before 1914.

Maybe it’s just that Scotland’s an old, old, country, and a small one, that I feel such a connection with the previous generations. Much of it, I suppose, is down to that childhood connection with my grandpa, who took a keen interest in teaching his younger grandson about such things as cricket and gardening (particularly the pernicious nature of weeds).

Whatever our connection with that generation, and however distant it might now seem, we do well to remember them today, and the senselessness of the suffering they went through on all sides.

Charles Leslie Anderson in full battledress. Above: in the dress uniform of the 6th Gordon Highlanders.