Bothy Nightmares

Back in the early 1990s a guy who may or may not have been called Bob used to frequent bothies in the Highlands and write poems in the bothy logbooks. They were always apocalyptic scenes of destruction “Vietnam Nightmares” “Russian Nightmares”, “American Nightmares” and so on.

I met “Bob” once at Suardalen Bothy near Glenelg. I don’t know his life history, but he stayed in Glasgow, and seemed to spend much of his time visiting various bothies. He wasn’t a mountaineer, but he liked potter around, looking at “eagles”(which may or may not have been buzzards), fishing (not very successfully) and enjoying being away from the city. He reminded me of a pit pony retired to the countryside. He could be tracked around bothies by his distinctive poems.

Bob was probably in his mid 50s. I guess he might have been retired, but I think its more likely he was out of work given the state of industrial Scotland at the time, or perhaps he’d come out of the army. I don’t know. Anyway, he’s one of those characters who made an impression, so I thought he deserved a poem of his own.

Sourlies---Duncan-McCallum

You came out here from the city sprawl
Anonymous tenement crowds
To find yourself
Some space and blue sky.
To look for eagles .
To soar
Above the now-cold furnaces,
Abandoned pits,
Smoky hard men’s bars
And faintly piss-damp closes.

You joined the flotsam in the hard floored hall
Far from the centre, with no jobs,
The queue snaking between contempt and indifference
Signed on and took the Giro cash.
Bought a ticket to Dalwhinnie or Corrour or Achnasheen,
Who would bother to check you’re “actively seeking work?”
Who would care
In the cold, dark no-name streets?

You walked, walked in the mizzling rain
Over the hill.
Buckles jingling on the threadbare canvas bag.
Its load of tins and whisky gouge your back,
Old leaky boots squelch the morasse,
Towards another time
When Papa and Aunty May
Cut the stooks in pre-war twilight fields
While you chased the mice from the last stand.

And then the Bothy,
The last of the shieling
Within a tumbled wall.
A clump of daffodils by the door,
Abandoned rhubarb erupting from ground
Where once there was more tenderness and care.
Inside, bag on the bare counter,
Primus on the boil, you stoke the fire,
And stare into the flames;

Smoke and the burning buildings,
Screaming children and droning planes.
Nightmares.
Bombs and bodies.
Vietnam, Russia, America
Nightmares fill the notebook
Strong, square capitals on the ruled page.
Here with the eagles and the deer
Monarch of the Glen, you find humanity again.

The Blog Tour

This post is part of a Blog Tour which is a sort of online chain letter where people answer questions about their writing process. Biggar based poet and philosopher Andrew McCallum got me interested in taking part, and posted his entry last week. I only started mucking about writing stuff fairly recently, so please refer to the proper writers like Andrew and Pauline who’s following me if you want to find out who real writers do it!  Also apologies for being a day late posting this – I think it should have gone up yesterday!

Anyway, here are my musings!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 What am I working on?

I’ve got a few more ideas for blogs on environmental politics in Scotland. Plus I’d like to do a blog about a couple of Victorian scrap books which I was given that belonged to two of my great grandmothers, and how their relative permanence compares to the ephemeral online world we have today. Plus I’ve got a few more poem ideas I’m fiddling about with.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure that I have a genre! I’m pretty new to writing anything so I’m mucking about trying different things. I guess with the more overtly political stuff I’m trying to start from common experiences and move in, whereas the more everyday stuff seems to get infused with a bit of a political slant. But then politics should be about everyday life and everyday life is about politics (although not necessarily party politics) whether we recognise that or not.

Why do I write what I do?

I used to write poems from my teens into my early twenties, then stopped for a combination of reasons. At work I write a lot of technical scientific stuff, and I’ve been hankering after writing something a bit more lyrical and free-flowing for a while, but haven’t had time.

About a year ago a friend took me on a tour of Cockenzie Power station in East Lothian just before the demolition teams moved in which was very poignant and gave me a kick up the backside to record this. Since then I’ve written a few more blogs and poems inspired by fairly random things that have happened in the real world or online. Scottish politics seems to creep into quite a few of them, mainly ‘cos its an interesting time for Scotland just now, and somehow or other I seem to have got sucked it. I’m not really a politician – I’m a mum who’s concerned about climate change and likes to have a good debate! Call it a mid-life crisis if you like!

How does your writing process work? 

I think it would be flattering to call it a process!

A lot of the stuff starts with something which happens which kicks off some ideas or strong feelings. If they spark off some word play that’s good, especially for poems. Some of the political posts stem from stuff I’ve been asked to speak about or give quotes on. I’ve found that t’internet is great for being able to do wee bits of background research quickly.

My big problem is finding time to write, although if I switched off Facebook I’d probably do better. Work is also but of an obstruction! Anyway having a bit of time between getting an idea and writing about it gives a bit of time to turn ideas round and examine them. I’ve started jotting down things I intend to write about, but don’t seem to be getting much off the list!

I like the idea of writing with pen and paper ‘cos I spend too much time in front of screens, but although I’ve tried I generally end up writing on the laptop ‘cos its easier to edit. Still, one poem I’m playing seems to be working in a notebook (but another have become two pages of crossing out!)

I probably need to re-read and edit more, but just getting stuff written in the first place is a bit of an achievement!

Anyway, thanks for getting this far!

NEXT WEEK

Pauline Lynch– Trainspotting actor Pauline Lynch is now a mother, playwright and novelist. Her blog is wide-ranging and sporadic, or perhaps unfocused and neglected – but always worth a look.
Simon Brooke blogs as The Fool on the Hill. Like the first little pig he lives in a house he built for himself of straw, and his power comes from the sun and the wind.

If anyone else would like to volunteer to join the Blog Tour next week please let me know and I’ll add you!