Saturday 22 December 2007

Poem: After the Funerals

A raw December day. Lunchtime in Jenny Ha's. A black-clad fraternity gathered like off-duty crows.

What a time of year to die.

His voice wobbles
the undertaker
in the pub
bodies buried
"Bonnie Mary of Argyll"
and now they all sing.

Monday 17 December 2007

Pic: Snow-frosted Melrose Abbey

The cold weather has come, just in time for Christmas. Looks like it will stay for up to a week - perhaps longer?

Visited Melrose Abbey. This mellow 12thc sandstone ruin was destroyed by English armies in 1322 and 1385, partially rebuilt, and attacked again in 1544 by Henry VIII.

One of the most fascinating stories about Melrose Abbey is the excavation of 1996. It was known that Robert the Bruce's heart was buried at Melrose, but not where - and then, in 1996, an excavation dug up a lead cask. Robert the Bruce's heart was inside. It has since been reburied in the Abbey grounds, with a round stone covering.

Melrose Abbey yesterday:

Thursday 13 December 2007

Poem: Holyrood

Great boat of Scotland,
upturned boat,
grounded boat,
ship of millions,
grown from the bedrock.

White hull of granite,
grassy-sloped boat,
shiny-keeled boat,
a boat of substance,
in wood and concrete.

The boat of captains,
debating boat,
undecided boat,
many-tillered boat,
in slippery watters.

Fog clearing,
bollards at dawn,
bright on Arthur:
her moorings loosed
E.T.A. unknown.

Wednesday 12 December 2007

The Real Reason Scots Fear Islam...

Like most Scots, I don't know much about Islam.

Like most, I don't even know any Muslims.

And it is not too surprising. Only 1% of Scotland's population is Muslim - coming mainly from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

This is not a way-of-life-threatening horde.

Yet a recent survey says that Scots are becoming more intolerant of Muslims.

You could say this is a result of press scaremongering. Ordinary people, kept in ignorance, have become polarised since the 9/11 bombings and war in Iraq.

And religious intolerance is hardly novel in Scotland - there's been hatred in the land ever since the Reformation. Look at the treatment Irish Catholics recieved until not that long ago.

However, the influx of Irish (Catholic and Protestant) into Scotland 100 years ago was a genuine mass movement. The influx of Muslims from the subcontinent barely registers outside of a few suburbs in Glasgow.

And the few young Muslims I have met and spent more than a few minutes talking to have been as Scottish as me.

I suspect that the reason that Scots fear Islam goes deeper than the fear of the unknown, or the fear of one's way of life becoming alien in the land one was born in.

It is because Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol.

A more terrifying prospect to a Scotsman could not be imagined!

Yet if Scots loosened their grip on the bottle and looked about themselves, they will see that alcohol causes many problems in Scotland.

And I say that as someone who likes a drink as much as the next man...

Edinburgh at Dusk

Dusk in winter (between 15:30 and 17:00) is a magical time in the centre of Edinburgh. The sun goes down on the stage set that is the Old Town. The lamp lights come on atmospherically on the Royal Mile, with the dark, dark vennels and closes leading away downhill. If it has been a grey and chilly day with little cheer, then the lit buildings and shop displays become more benign; half-shadowed faces full of possibility. The town gathers in on itself, the pubs welcoming. Below, the winter gardens are laid out with gaudily-lit amusements, and the curiousity of the German Christmas Market on the mound offers bratwurst and mulled wine. It is the best time of day to wander around central Edinburgh in winter.

Monday 10 December 2007

Poem: At the Falls of Clyde

Deep breath: no water waits
Flowing, insensate haste
Rushing to fate embrace
Closer, the river waste

Water, rough gathered power
White-brown at Cora tower
Black ink deep foaming trails
Down sweep white charger tails

Boom! to the thunder depths
Leaves fall as snowflakes swept
Forss, for her sisters wept
Roaring Clyde rumble death

Gorge deep; the torrents boil
cauldrons of ceaseless toil
Spray high an atom stone
Pounded it rushes on

Fate grips, the river runs
World turns and turbine hums
Stones grind a battle ground
Roaring through awful sound....

Less urgent. The kettle boiled.
A train bumps, the spring uncoiled.
Up high: the treetop bright.
Ah! Up high the treetop bright!
Sweet bird song 'mongst treetops light.

Visiting the Falls of Clyde

Recently visited New Lanark and the Falls of Clyde. A fine walk along the river from the UNESCO World Heritage village past three sets of falls - Stonebyres, Cora, and Bonnington Linns. These falls are a shadow of their former glory, when Wordsworth wrote:

LORD of the vale! astounding Flood;
The dullest leaf in this thick wood
Quakes--conscious of thy power;
The caves reply with hollow moan;
And vibrates, to its central stone,
Yon time-cemented Tower!

Nowadays, the Clyde at Cora Linn is a mere trickle. The 20th century hydro power station syphons off most of the water.

But six times a year the gates are opened (cannot find weblink to dates), and the Clyde returns to something like its former glory. I strongly recommend a visit at these times of high water. There is, of course, a photo in high water of Cora Linn on


To convey my impressions whilst wandering about Scotland. Will include poetry.