Northern Soul

Portrait of a Wicker Man


Photo by the author


Note:- compared to the rest of the UK, the North of Scotland has a high level of social problems particularly affecting men.  Unemployment, alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and suicide are on the rise due to the decline of fishing, farming and the oil industries.  Men are feeling increasingly powerless as they lose their traditional roles.  So although it is a beautiful part of the world, the Highland region is a tough place to  survive.

I met the friendly guy in the photo while I was trying to photograph a window display in the tiny shopping precinct in Wick.  He offered to pose alongside the rather creepy mannequins.  He’d just bought cat food as he does voluntary work for a cat rescue charity.


I am one speck of dust passing through.
I am silk thread unraveling
the caterpillar inside her cocoon.

I am the blood of winter
sun beyond the horizon
and I float a murmur of starlings.

I brood a melancholy song
whispering blue into the wind.
I glide the last seeds from the sycamore.

I hunt the moon with moth-silver wings
and streak midnight skies with electricity.
I skim my love with words touching skin.

I breathe one thought between me and you.
I am one speck of dust passing through.


Photograph by the author

Before the Storm

Mast bells peel strange lands, humans float
confetti in dark pools. Through the crimson door
beyond the promised mountain, the sun stills
my enemy, my friend. The oak tree
marches shadows across blue fields. Birds sing
grey lullabies to the dispossessed
and marsh marigolds play torch songs.
Stone eagles wait for night, fly, swoop high
in peach schnapps skies. My breath, in out, in
out, my chest shrivels old party balloons.
Skin stings, cold bees devouring ears, eyes
don’t see, fingers don’t.
My pen is not mightier,
the world ink fades.
I become invisible
wind turning pages,
the last ship leaving.


Photograph by the author

For Your Eyes Only

These found poems are based on the real letters of Annie Mackay.  She spent her brief life working the small family croft in a remote area of the Highlands.  Sadly, she developed cancer and died at the age of 21 in 1957. Her orphaned six month baby boy was left to be raised by an aged uncle.  At the time illegitimate children were considered social outcasts.  No-one ever discovered the identity of the baby’s father which might be hinted at in these letters.  They were written to Annie’s married sister Violet who had moved to Edinburgh.  I love these letters because they are full of joy and humor even though Annie was already aware of her illness. They also paint a picture of the preoccupations of a country girl and life in the 1950s.

December, 1956.

Dear Violet,

I sold eighteen turkeys
so we can have a night
out in the pub,
going from bad to worse (puff).
Ronald says Ray is a born lunatic,
that was his opinion when he saw
the photos and then the blue jersey.
Your hair looked very nice,
is that a new dress you had on?
I hope it’s nylon
I’m not in favor of wool.

Lots of love and kisses,
from Annie


January, 1957

Dear Violet

I can tell you about it. There was turkey for dinner, then at 3 o’clock tea.
I had my cake with 21 candles. All the family were there listening to Lux
and singing The Railroad Runs Through the Middle of the House.
I think its super, don’t you?  Lena brought the record Walking in the Rain.
I like it do you?
Jesse gave me £5 and Connie £2 and Grandad two aprons and Mary a nylon underset
and Margaret a necklace, sparkles all colors and Donald a mohair scarf (awfully warm)
and Sheena nylons and Jane a cameo brooch and Granny a Terrylene blouse.
I’m not in favor of blue.
And from Julie a ‘Le Page’ compact and from Johnny, Black Rose perfume,
very good of him and from Lynn a Coty lipstick, nearly ruby and from Alan a purse.
What a present, not much use with no money and then of course, your presents.
Johnny stayed till midnight… everyone else went off at six.

Lots of love and kisses,
from Annie


PS  A Separate Special Instalment for your Eyes Only:-

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Photograph by the the author