Don’t Keep Your Head Down

The Blacksmiths Dream-by Douglas Thompson-300714 copy


My great grandfather was a blacksmith
they worked in threes around the anvil
taking turns to swing their hammers down
but something made him hesitate
and in that fatal instant his whole life hung
in purgatory along with his descendants
their very existence
including me.

The hammer struck the back of his head
and he never woke again
paralysed for three years until death
catching fragments of voices perhaps
his family at the bedside
descending into destitution
without a welfare state.

His wife died in a workhouse
after God knows what desperate resorts
the children survived
all except the one conceived after his death
who contracted tuberculosis
and was nursed by my grandfather
the girl’s sire must have been
some other man who ‘comforted’
my great grandmother
though not enough to save her.

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The Keys Of Night

Usual drill. I had a strange idea for another ‘digital painting’ (my apologies to real painters out there, these things are more like designs, and I don’t know where they’re coming from), did it, then wrote a poem inspired by it. It’s a kind of collage of the roof forms and atmospheres of the Dovehill area of Glasgow where I’ve been spending time recently.

The Keys Of Night


Turn, turn the keys of night
unlock the ancient machinery
the untended vennels of the heart
rusted hinges screeching
indignant as nocturnal cats
open the doors as peeling bells
raise up the cowering dead
to look above: see there
the towering tollbooth’s debts
unleashed as white ledgers
fleeing like mad pigeons
pages flapping from barred windows
distant drunken singing
muted music spilling
from the infinitesimally-open
doors of pubs, focussed beams
of photons in single-file
doing the conger eel
a thrashing snake of many heads
opening mouths and closing eyes
reaching out as aching fingers
to where dappled streetlight
plays on rain-wet pavements
and October leaves
fall as pages of sheet music
turned over by a thousand
ghostly white gloved hands
connected to no one
who will disappear in the morning
disown the world invisibly
having changed the scenery
ready for one more play
in which all the clowns fall down for us
every comic stands up and dies
and nobody laughs about it.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Poetry, Psychology | 2 Comments


Sunday Herald reviewA review of my historical novel The Brahan Seer has appeared today in the The Sunday Herald. The statistics of persistence speak for themselves: 25 years of published writing, eight novels and more than fifty short stories, to finally get one paragraph in a national newspaper.

Lesley McDowell writes:

“This poetic yet often visceral and brutal novelistic account of the mythic 17th-century Scots seer, Coinneach Odhar, begins in violence and ends somewhere else, in a mixture of regret and reconciliation. But it also explores the relationship between an unusual individual and his world, which he repeatedly disrupts, in touching and often illuminating ways.”

My sincere thanks to Lesley. But one of my favourite sayings is “the terrible thing about good luck is how it looks so much like something we’ve earned”, and the time has come perhaps to turn that logic on myself. Would this book have been reviewed had I not had the good luck to briefly make the acquaintance of the reviewer Lesley McDowell herself, and shame-facedly mention that I had a novel out in need of review? And how many brilliant books are out there in Scotland right now, unrecognised and unread because the writer does not have good luck or the backing of a major publisher who has arbitrarily decided upon their saleability and resolved to shove the book down everyone’s throats through buying up publicity channels? Let us all pause and spare a thought for the living tomb of the unknown writer. My other books are just as good… never believe in the myth of a meritocracy until it has arrived. I’ll keep you posted.

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Poem for October

from Clisham-by M A Macleod

Under the emergent stars
the long drive over Clisham
the sea lochs still as my heart
in blue dusk the winking lights
of hamlets scattered as jewels
who make the night not lonely
but resplendent in this peppered land
where each human life is savoured
to serve an unutterable God
the hymns the music of my Gaelic
companions’ voices. My communion
the tears in your eyes, mo chara daor
as I finish reading to the room.
And on the moors we passed
the Yes-signs and Saltires
sang out, a land blossoming
with hope, even as the leaves fell
from the trees around the castle
the watchmen blind to root and vein
our secret spring.

-Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, 17.09.14.

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Cultural Culloden

flowerOkay, one last political post:

So we wake up and smell the coffee, the day after the day of the Scottish Referendum result, to pick up the pieces and get on with our lives. Let me share two anecdotes from yesterday. Walking down Raining’s Stairs in Inverness, I passed a man who looked in his early thirties, obviously poor (though by no means a down-and-out) so quite probably long-term unemployed. He was sitting on his own on a wall in a dejected pose reading the “wee blue book” from the Wings Over Scotland organisation, reading over all the things that an independent Scotland might have been.

Then on the train down to Pitlochry, four young women on their way to Edinburgh airport were sitting at the table opposite me. One of them was going to get married and they were heading off for a hen weekend in a resort in the sun. They hit me on the head with one of their champagne corks. Of the four of them, and it is increasingly hard to tell, two were the children of English parents who had settled in the Highlands and the other two were the daughters of wealthy Scots. All had gone to private school. Their accents were almost indistinguishable, long vowels aping those of the south of England, because in Scotland that’s how you try to sound well-educated: by sounding English.

For me, this goes back to the Norman invasion of 1066, and the notion that then infected England of their being two kinds of people: a ruling elite whose blood was better, and a vast underclass of peasants whose duty was to serve them uncomplainingly. Or maybe it goes way back to the two Roman walls two millennia ago, when the barbarians were separated from the enlightened. Either way, let me make it clear again that I have no quibble with the English or time for racism of any kind. My fight, and you may call it your fight too if you wish, is against the way of life that promulgates the notion of their being two kinds of human being, them and us. There is only one kind of human being. Our current society however herds them into two categories: the privileged, cruel, vain and idiotic (moulded into such in the snob factories that we call private schools) and those who are denied means and access to good education and opportunities through no fault whatsoever of their own, but by the sheer accident of which bed they were born in. Those who are subliminally told from birth, by every clue around them, that they are an underclass.

I will fight that division, and the insidious political forces that forge and maintain it for the rest of my life. Because there is another way. In Scandinavian societies you will find the rich and the poor certainly, but in much smaller numbers and marked by much less dramatic distinction between them. The majority of society is ‘flat’, socially coherent, hard-working and reasonably well rewarded. This is achieved through high taxation and consequent quality of social provision in terms of public services.

The irony is that this is not mere do-gooderism, but sound economic sense. High unemployment and social division give rise to crime and a waste of, to use that foul phrase, ‘human resources’. Social division left unchecked, eventually gives rise to riots, as we have seen from Los Angeles to London, and worse. Extreme ideologies will always find their first footing where hopelessness among those who are suffering at the wrong end of the “them and us” philosophy is to be found.

The tragedy of events of the last few weeks in Scotland is that they have shown that people have the potential wisdom to overthrow the current order, but that they are too comfortable and cowardly, too easily intimidated by their financial oppressors and their biased media, to follow through and seize that chance. As ever on planet earth, as I have said many times over the years, it’s not that things are bad that breaks your heart, it’s that they could so very easily be so much better.

Or am I being unfair? Was the No vote a last minute out-pouring of compassion towards the peoples of the remaining parts of the United Kingdom and a desire that their social problems should be solved too, alongside ours? I would be all for that, but Trident, and the £100 billion replacement for Trident stand in the way. The dying militaristic dream of the British Empire (and all the UKIP xenophobia festering with it) must go before there can be any way forward, and time, energy and money directed to more useful things.

But no. Let’s face it. Those of us on social media were able to by-pass the vast wall of prejudiced propaganda deluged on us by our newspapers and television, get hold of the real facts and make up our own minds. But the older generation, denied this possibility through lack of computer awareness, set in their ways, reverted to fear, selfishness and stupidity, and have blighted the immediate future for their own children and grandchildren.

I’m grateful for this campaign for having shown us in a crystal clear light the true enemies of Scotland: Alastair Darling, Gordon Brown, Jim Murphy, Margaret Curran, Johann Lamont, and many others. Those who knowingly told lies in order to strike fear into a populace less knowledgeable than themselves. That will become even clearer over coming days and months. But time is on our side. The old order has been shown to be weak and frightened themselves, rotten at their very foundations. We smell blood. They will get old and die. The writing is on the wall, and the green shoots of new life, no matter how long it takes, regardless of whether we find ourselves in Scotland or Britain, will in the end sweep them all aside.

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Poem for September

At The Witch Stones-by Douglas Thompson-210714As if light itself can grow weary
burn out from over-use
too much laughter bring reflective tears
remembered childhood’s endless holidays
seep out as fading photographs
into cold new terms and sober uniforms
see now the subtle yellowing in the sky
the grandeur of summer’s glorious
oncoming death expressed in symphonies
of cirrostratus armies falling tier on flank
upon their swords of melancholy light
no season takes our breath like autumn
nor expresses better our human plight
who begin our slow cascades of cell decay
before even twenty years of youth
have held their sway, so now we see
our misting breath and frost encroach
as warnings of fragility, senility
here is the beauty so well expressed
across the canvas of the very sky
that what we feel in life
is too precious and ingenious
for any God to let it die, have faith
that all that we must lose, have lost
love and friendship, the hopeless cost
is colour, texture of the leaves that fall
to feed new life wherein
there is no death at all.

(the image above is a digital ‘painting’ I did last month called ‘At The Witch Stones’ based on the rural landscape of Baldernock with Glasgow’s towerblocks on the horizon)

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Tonight I voted Yes

Img_0324-reducedI’ve just returned my postal vote for the referendum on Scottish Independence, because I will be up north promoting my novel The Brahan Seer on the day of the vote. This is the blog of a writer and I generally do not want to pollute this space with too much politics, but for this special occasion I am going to make an exception.

We’re told that a lot of Scots have still not made up their minds how to vote, and I hope that some of those people will read this post and find it helpful in coming to a decision. Here is why I am voting Yes:

1. To rid Scotland of the madness of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Nuclear weapons are unusable… always have been, always will be. How can this insanity of the 1970s Cold War have survived this far into the 21st century? If we use a nuclear weapon against an enemy nation with nuclear capability, we will ourselves be annihilated within minutes. If we use a nuclear weapon against a nation who do not have nuclear capability, then we will have committed an atrocity beyond all possible moral justification and endangered Earth’s ecosystem. I want no part of either scenario because I am sane. End of argument. Nuclear fission reactors are not safe. Fukushima blew up. The Japanese are not stupid people. Neither are the Germans. The German government decided to abandon all nuclear technology in the wake of Fukushima. The corrupt British government, beholden to vested interests, after a pretend period of mock review, resolved to build a new generation of nuclear power stations. Why? Because, as we are always being told about nations like Iran, domestic Nuclear power is a convenient cloak for production of the raw material for nuclear weapons. Why all this debate over exactly how many barrels of oil Scotland will produce over coming decades? That financial gain surely pales in comparison to the savings available to any nation which abandons the vast and pointless cost of nuclear weapons. Hence the success of the economies of Germany and Japan post WWII. Any nation that commits itself to hard work by exclusively peaceful means, will prosper. Why are the British political establishment so obsessed with, and wedded to, Nuclear weapons? Two words: British Empire. Because holding nuclear weapons enables them to preserve the absurd fantasy of Britain being a major geo-political power in the world. This pipe-dream has been slowly bankrupting the British State for the last 50 years. This is where Scottish oil revenue has gone, along with making an awful lot of London bankers very rich. Enough is enough. We voted Yes in 1979, but those in power (Labour) pretended we voted No and we got Thatcher as payback. Don’t make the same mistake again, or the world will regard us as the stupidest race that ever lived, who deserve all the political disregard we can get. This brings us to point two:

2. Democracy. Scotland votes further to the left than England. Hence the Thatcher years where Socialist Scotland endured openly hostile rule by a government so grotesquely right-wing that their crypto-fascist leader counted the mass-murderer General Pinochet of Chile among her personal friends. We are currently governed by a coalition fixed-up between Tories and Liberals. Did any of us up here vote for these people? Damned few. Therefore this is currently some kind of colony, politically speaking, governed undemocratically and against its will. They will tell us that the establishment of a Scottish Parliament was designed to relieve that tension, and yet the third choice of “Devo-Max” (maximum political devolution, but still withholding such powers as those required to remove nuclear weapons from our soil) was forcibly deleted from our ballot papers by our current Tory Prime Minister David Cameron. The message is clear from history from the previous examples of ex-colonies like India and Ireland leaving the British Empire: Westminster will treat you with contempt until you negotiate from a position of power. Only voting Yes will give us that bargaining power to secure a new deal for a new nation. Which brings us to our third and final point:

3. Scotland, this extraordinary little nation, invented the industrial revolution and the modern world in which we all now live. For a race of people so contorted with self-doubt and riven with national timidity, we have in fact always struck well above our weight in terms of achievement in every area of human endeavour. Wherever you go in the world you will invariably find that some clever Scotsman got there about 150 years ago and single-handedly invented the tram system or a cure for Cholera. It’s time for a new invention. For Scotland to demonstrate to the planet that our current system of Capitalism, doomed to perpetual boom and bust, doomed to make the rich richer and the poor suffer without hope, is not the only way. It will take a wee while, granted, but if we vote Yes we can take the first steps to constructing a new kind of society within a new nation, one that delivers true democracy for it citizens, banishes poverty, and makes responsible use of its natural resources in a sustainable fashion that will ensure the safety and prosperity of future generations. And once we’ve cracked it, like we did before, we can export that formula to the rest of the planet. We don’t make the world safer by threatening each other, we do it by peaceful trade. We won’t make the world fairer by waiting for the privileged to be nice to us, we will do it be democracy and legislation, by force of numbers, by putting egalitarian ideals into practice.

That’s me done, almost. They say that a lot of people are scared to vote Yes. We all understand fear. What I understand about fear is that the people who feel it most are those who lack control over their own lives, who know deep down that their whole world might be upended tomorrow on the whim of some other unreasonable person, or someone whose interests simply aren’t the same as their own. There’s only one cure for that kind of fear. If you are a teenager, grow up and leave home and get a job. If you are an abused spouse, then leave your partner and live on your own terms as an individual and join the larger community in which you may find support and work. In the words of the writer Helen Keller: life is a daring adventure or nothing at all. She was deaf and blind. You are not. Scotland needs to grow up and take responsibility for itself.

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