The Roots Issue

WELCOME TO THE HAAR 

a bijou creative arts e-zine named after the Scottish sea mist

Photograph of Cromarty by Martin Russell

Martin Russell writes:-

Cromarty was always a popular place to go for our family, but my best memory is of The QE2 heading towards the Soutars, all lit up like a Christmas tree. Photography is a sideline for me, though I upload one picture and some speil onto Blipfoto every day, under the name: martinski. I’m not very arty, I just look for beauty where I can find it.

Roots connect. Healthy tree roots may grow far beyond the base of the mother tree.  They provide water, nourishment and security. They also form invisible mycorrhizal fungal networks that link with other trees in the forest and share information.  Just like people they are part of a wider community who need each other to survive. Trees talk to each other via their own Wood Wide Web!  So I’m proud to announce that this autumn issue of The Haar, like growing tree roots, now extends further afield than ever before. The e-zine began with one woman in a small village in Caithness but now it has contributors and readers from Newcastle, Perth, Aberdeen, London, Orkney, New York, Finland, Argentina, Canada…The Haar is thriving and connecting creative people all over the world. This Roots issue of The Haar has attracted diverse types of work including music videos, portraits,  provocative conceptual art,  poems that celebrate family, history and nature,  stories that will tug at your heart strings or stop you getting to sleep!  There’s an in-depth interview with renown visual artist Geoff Weston and amazing tree sculpture from Ursula Troche.  I hope there will be something challenging and enjoyable for everyone.  

Please keep on scrolling down to the very end and don’t miss any of the treats in store. Feedback is appreciated and may be left at the bottom by clicking the ‘comment’ link or on The Haar’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/thepurplehermit/

Contents in Order of Appearance:-

Photograph of Cromarty by Martin Russell

Root Power by Ursula Troche

Up To the Roots by Ursula Troche

A Firm Rootball by Finola Scott

Natural History by Finola Scott

Loose-Leaves by Ian Tallach

Portrait by Shanya Hussey

Great, Great, Ever So Great Grandmother by Gerry Stewart

Growing Up Iowa by Gerry Stewart

Keighley Gala by Lydia Popowich

Inside Out – interview with artist Geoff Weston by Nikita Shackleton 

Sometimes, a Reminder by Grahaeme Barrasford Young

Untitled Photograph by Alan Thorburn

Special Baby by Lydia Popowich 

Whisperings by Ellen Forkin

Cycle of Life by Rita Bradd

Origin by Rita Bradd

Roots by Moira Weir

Dora in Lockdown by Kevin Crowe

The Quilt on my Bed by Jay Wilson

Mary Webb video by Duncan Harley and friends

If I Were, Would I Be? by Mandy Beattie 

Dear Babushka by Lydia Popowich

Rootless by John Crofts

Portrait by Kammo 

Soul Waiting to be Born by Meg Macleod 

Root power by Ursula Troche

Recently I have been doing a lot of ‘tree sculptures’ – that is, I have been layering wool around trees, around their trunks, branches, or between trees. This idea developed out of a desire to show connections between trees under the ground which we cannot see. Trees that appear to be different ‘individuals; as far as our eye can see, are often connected below the earth’s surface. They connect with their roots and they have lots of them. There are at least as many roots as there are branches, and usually there are more roots. The network of connection is so big that it’s easy to underestimate. We now know it’s a mychorrzal network, and it’s referred to as the wood wide web. Roots are powerful, and far-reaching!  So the wool I put on trees – for a day or a week, at art events, festivals and so on – is a colourful representation of imagining these connections. The tree roots are a good example of us as well I think: we may look like individuals, but we are really connected to one another in many different ways. Underneath we are all one, and one origin.
It’s not surprising then, that trees are used to show the generations of a family. And who might be at the root of it all? Somewhere, Africa will appear for all of us, if we go far enough, this is where roots are. And here are all of us! Can we see the wood for the trees? And can we see the roots too?

Photograph and sculpture by Ursula Troche

Up to the Roots by Ursula Troche

It’s difficult to distinguish
Between the sound of wind and the sound of water
In the forest and its surroundings
Open country, open-ended grass- and earth-land

Sing a song sister, brother, worker, try!
Forest feels like warm womb-enclosure
Open country as wide expanded land
Going side by side together to form a unity

With the river as the flowing element, running wild
Into the wild, making river-scape
Layers of elements appearing together
Encourage useful illusions

Mirror-images appearing in unexpected places
Such as the outline of a tree in a leaf
The formation of clouds like islands and continents
Fallen branches resembling snake-shapes on forest floor

Forest flower arrangements finding echoes elsewhere
Echoes gathering, and multiplying into symphonies
Outlining underlying wonders, of and in the earth
Forest, fauna, river, fantasy: on land and in the sea

Trees carry life, nourishment and growth, and they
House amongst them same-selves dead trees too, now posing
Like grand obelisks or some sort of made-up sculptures
To enrich the awesome aesthetics of the woodland

Constituting treasures of this old land 
As much as the trees are disappearing
So do the original structures they represent
The lines they make, the shapes they take

Earth must be here to stay, have a look!
It’s still singing its incantations with the birds
Still singing, and spinning around for us
To our delight, relief and survival

Three-dimensional circle of earth
We need you, to have a leg to stand on
Your forests to fully breathe in
And your countrysides and seasides

Side by side with us within
Womb-like dwelling places that we have
Surrounded by soft song, gentle tunes
If we can hear the sounds, distinguished

forest incantation
the ends and the beginning
up to the fingertips and roots!

Photograph and sculpture by Ursula Troche

Ursula Troche, writer, artist, and double migrant on the Irish Sea Coast in West Cumbria. Inspired by space and (translation) places and the in-between, inner lives and hidden stories. She has work published in English and German, and a collection is being translated into French. More details at: About | ColourCirclesite (wordpress.com)

A Firm Rootball by Finola Scott

I could say I recall our first rowan
but it wouldn’t be true. I know the story 
of its tiny baby, roots tucked in a tin, 
taken to the house, that was to be
my parents’ forever home.

Years on it overtook us, blessing 
with summer shade. My brother and I 
inhaled Spring from frothy blooms.
We stole from birds those bright berries,
sweet explosions of scarlet autumn.

When we in turns left, saplings came 
with us to each new garden. 
As trees spread city wide, I dreamed 
I heard the rowan bid its little ones well.
I lost count of those staying behind
in move after move. No going back.

Mummy tucked Dad’s ashes 
deep in its roots. I think of him
there, nurturing as always.

Natural History by Finola Scott

We walk through grass   turned bronze
and hear   the clamouring boasts 
of early geese   rowdy   returning
to their always   winter place
My grandchildren count   the fungi 
blossoming   at woodland’s edge  
I talk of their roots  spread  invisible  
as hand in hand  home we walk.

After a lifetime at the chalk face, Finola Scott escapes into words. Her poems are on posters, tapestries and postcards and published widely, including in The High Window, Fenland Reed, Lighthouse. When not tickling her grandchildren, she gardens and dances in the kitchen. Red Squirrel Press published her pamphlet Much left unsaid.  She’d love to see you on Facebook at Finola Scott Poems,

Loose-Leaves by Ian Tallach

To my right, Al Pacino is holding a Colt AR-15, complete with grenade launcher, not a trace of tension on his face. Instead, he exudes an air of supreme confidence– the impression, at least, that he owns everything he sees and can do with it as he wills. And who am I to argue? The weapon is a heavy one and normally you’d see at least a vein stand out on someone’s forehead or a muscle under strain somewhere, but not with Al– AKA Tony Montana– ‘Scarface’ to his enemies, though no-one dares use that one to his face. Of course, there is that incidental ball of fire that’s aimed in my direction, vaguely, like a sort of routine devastation. Thankfully, it’s just a picture, though I must admit I did feel momentarily immersed in it and therefore menaced. Deep breaths.

The sounds of crockery and cutlery, of conversation, laughter from the other patrons, engines revving angrily outside (what do they expect? – this is Shoreditch – London E2- life sped up so much, it’s slowed right down again) … where was I?… SOUNDS… yeah, there’s a lot of voices here and I can’t understand a single language… only, I’m inclined to think the shouting from the kitchen, like the opera compilation, is Italian. Next to that framed black and white from what I still consider one of Al Pacino’s poorer films, there is a map of Europe and a number plate. (I can’t wait for him to play King Lear.) 

I look around. Across the aisle, a family (they look and sound, to me, like Nepalis, although I might be wrong) are synchronously picking through deserts. They nod at me in unison. Their smiles have in them deference and shyness– self-deprecation, much in contrast to that photograph. I feel pleasantly dizzy. The wall behind them is painted greenishbrown, like ditch-water. Somehow, though, it forms a charming backdrop to the maps and artefacts, the random stamps, postcards, bunches of plastic flowers, one solitary passport, train tickets, bottle-tops- all-sorts, nailed incongruously, here and there, at jaunty angles, like a sort of frozen spontaneity. This place is just so wrong, it’s right again! It’s just occurred to me– this isn’t kitsch at all– it’s jumped right over kitsch and looks back at it, from a more ironic place.

###

‘I’m sorry to be a pain, but I asked for a pot of tea.’ The voice is delicate, but somehow strong. The speaker is invisible to me, although she can’t be far away. Her accent is unplaceable.

‘Yes, ma’am! That IS a pot of tea. Lapsang Souchong, right? You ordered Lapsang Souchong?’ (I take it this waiter was the target of the outburst in the kitchen; he seems unfairly harsh.)

‘Yes, this is a pot… with tea in it… but, for reasons much too complicated to explain…’ she tails off, but only to draw breath, apparently. ‘LOOK– this is a teabag! When I was here before, your tea was excellent– the best in town.’ Her voice is fragile, yes, but something tells me it would be the only one still audible if some disaster were to strike… if, for example, Scarface were to burst in with his Colt machine gun. 

‘A teabag? Yes. A teabag… tea… Lapsang Sou… I’LL SHOW YOU THE BOX!’ He sounds positively exasperated, now. I think he might be from Australia. 

‘Look… it’s been a long day. No-doubt for you as well.’ (Empathy… she’s showing empathy. I think I like this woman.) ‘Loose-leaf tea,’ she says. ‘Contrary to your assumption, sir, I’m not, in fact, a prima donna. It’s just… very important… that the tea is…’ Her voice begins to break,but comes back stronger- ‘…as before- loose-leaf.’

‘Lapsang-Souchong tea for the l-a-d-y– Loose-leaf! Remember that– LOOSE-LEAF!’ he yells, presumably to someone in the kitchen.

‘Thank-you!’ she says.

Now, most people I know would have slipped away by now;the prospect of enjoying a cup of tea, with all eyes focused on the pictures just above your head (because it would be rude, of course, to look you squarely in the eye) would be too much.

I have to see this woman for myself. So, I’m thinking that I’ll use the toilet, or pretend to do so, anyway, and catch a glimpse of her in passing. But, as I stand, I realise I reallyhave to go. In fact, I’m desperate for a slash. 

She smiles at me, as if she knew I’d pass her booth exactly at this time- as if she had anticipated my arrival in her life precisely… now. Anyway, she has me frozen to the spot. Her hair is everywhere– it takes up all the space available, with jet-black curls, tight ringlets, strands that reach out like astonishment itself. But at the centre of it all, her face is perfectly at peace– warm dark-brown eyes, generous lips and skin that would suggest, perhaps, a North African origin. Her arms are delicate. She rests her hands in front. I take in bracelets, rings, impossibly long fingers and lapis nail-varnish. I’m shocked to notice that I’ve noticed all this in a fraction of a second. And at this point I wet myself.   

It’s not a deluge, though. At least her eyes remain there, on my face- that’s a relief. 

‘May I sit here?’ I hear my voice before I’ve consciously engaged it.

‘You didn’t really decide to ask that, did you?!’ Her laughter is a long, delicate trill.

‘No… I did… not.’ I’m laughing too. I sit down opposite her, knowing somehow that she won’t refuse, or even be surprised. 

‘Would you like some tea?’ she asks. 

‘Yes.’ The monosyllabic response is not like me at all, but her expression tells me words might be superfluous, or even inappropriate.

Just then, the pot of tea arrives. The waiter drops it on the table with a thud. Neither of us deign to look at him. She pours a golden stream (I’d forgotten what Lapsang-Souchong looks like), swills it round the cup and pours it on the floor. Then she fills the cup and takes it to her lips. It occurs to me that there’s a certain rudeness here- offering tea, then drinking first, but then I realise the exact opposite is true of her; having taken just a sip, she holds it out to me, using both hands. I wonder if I’m dreaming. It must be fine bone china: there is hardly any weight to it. I don’t want to wake from this. I look across at her. 

‘Loose-leaf tea,’ she says.

‘It’s wonderful,’ I blurt.

‘Takes one loose-leaf to know another.’

‘What did you mean by that?’ I ask, although I know exactly what she means.

‘How many countries have you lived in?’ Her question is intuitive. 

I try to look the opposite of smug. ‘Sixteen, I think.’

‘You win!’ She nods and rolls her eyes. ‘One more than me.’

‘Where you bound for?’ I ask, knowing well there couldn’t be a crueller question. (Why? WHY am I compelled to say things like that?! THE most stupid things!)  

She winces. I cringe, realising that I’ve killed something. ‘I don’t know.’ She sighs and rolls her eyes the other way.

The pause is long. We pass the cup in silence. Eventually, I speak. ‘You first, or me?’ 

‘I’ll go: you pay.’

She knows that I’d insist on doing so, anyway. ‘Thank you.’ I mumble.

She stands and when she does, a scent wafts in the space between us – something like sandalwood. She touches my gnarled and weathered hand and then is gone. I breathe out. Keep breathing out. That ache is back– that exquisite, tragic ache that no one understands– only the loose-leaves of this world.              

Ian Tallach worked as a paediatric doctor for seventeen years. He became medically retired with Multiple Sclerosis in 2015. The two positives arising from this have been time for his children and the opportunity to explore writing. He also loves Toucans.

Portrait by Shanya Hussey

Shanya Hussey is a first year art student at Hostos Community College, South Bronx, New York, USA.

Great, Great, Ever so Great Grandmother by Gerry Stewart

Traced on lifeless documents
from five years old until your death,
everything beyond dates is conjecture.

An internet cousin’s unknown Aunt Lizzie
connected dots with a sepia-pixelated print.
Flamboyant ribbon at your neck
while your sisters sat in stiffened black,
already distanced, a married woman.

He took you away with smooth words,
inked his flexible truths,
dodging the record keepers.
You remain steadfast
to your limited female facts,
your parents’ names and place of birth,
fourteen years wife and mother.

You see the century turn
on another rented Illinois farm 
until death in childbirth with your seventh
makes you another footnote.

They welcomed you home,
space in the prairie plot for your son
and even your husband, 
all forgiven and then forgotten
until there is only yellowed paper.

Growing Up Iowa by Gerry Stewart

Crumpling heat, clothes sticking,
tar melting between our toes.

Eating dust and corndogs at T-ball games, 
powwows and truck-rusted rodeos.

Riding the Wapsipinicon
and the muddy Mississip,
old words and rivers rattling on,
fishing for blue gills, sunfish
living in shorts with farmer’s tans.

Building forts In the ditches’ deep shade, 
starting clubs to keep out brothers.

We shucked bags of corn,
trying to be entertained by husk dolls. 
Corn on the cob, creamed corn, 
corn casserole, corn bread 
and three types of baked beans at every picnic.

Riding in the VW Bug without air condition, 
fighting who gets to sit in its doghouse.

Mom telling stories of long lines
of kings and family trees, 
us listening, soaking it all in
before laughing it off.

Before the changes, the upheaval,
white-washing why I left. 

Gerry Stewart is a poet, creative writing tutor and editor based in Finland. Her poetry collection Post-Holiday Blues was published by Flambard Press, UK. Totems is to be published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in 2021. Her writing blog can be found at http://thistlewren.blogspot.fi/ and @grimalkingerry on Twitter.

Keighley Gala by Lydia Popowich

I’m seven feet high astride your shoulders bombing
through electric crowds in Victoria Park. The air 

dynamites with diesel, sweat and sugar. I’m assaulted 
by neon fantasy,  a vertigo of blue and orange. Your hands 

grip my calves, fingers laced with scars. The cloying scent 
of Brylcreem like candy floss wafts from your hair.

There’s a rumour of Hell’s Angels, a tremor in the summer
night. Families are leaving early. I’m the only child riding

gilded ponies. You don’t see me waving as you inhale 
another Players. Six pence a turn at Hook a Duck, goldfish 

beaming from bubbles. You hand over a shilling, wait 
for change that never comes. He mutters, bloody foreigner.

On the long walk home I feel a dribble down my thigh.
Goldie’s little mouth opens, closes and then stills.

Photograph by Lydia Popowich


Lydia Popowich is a writer based in Caithness. Her work has appeared in anthologies and journals including Ambit, Magma, Northwords Now, The Interpreter’s House and Under the Radar. Keighley Gala is one of the poems in her latest collection The Rush of Lava Flowers available from Amazon.

Inside Out – interview with artist Geoff Weston by Nikita Shackleton

Geoff at age 7

N:- Hello Geoff. Thank you for Zooming with me today across borders… 400 miles or so between Caithness and Newcastle! It would be great if we could start with you telling us about your childhood.

G:- I grew up in a mining village in Derbyshire. My dad’s dad was a miner. My mum’s dad worked at Denby pottery. My dad was a centre lathe turner making different objects for industry. My mum, like many women during the war, worked on aeroplanes in a skilled job. After the war she went back into the home as women were encouraged to do and later became a cleaner.

N:- Was she around a lot for you?

G:- She was. I don’t ever remember a time when she wasn’t.

N:- At what point did photography start to feature in your life. Was it a family tradition to take photographs?

G:- I remember my dad developing films in the pantry but I don’t recall too much about it. I didn’t do well at school but the one subject I was good at was art. I left school at sixteen with two GCEs, did one or two dead end jobs and at eighteen I joined the RAF. My older brother had joined the Royal Navy and he was writing to me from different parts of the world. I didn’t fancy the navy but I knew I wanted to get away. I didn’t have the confidence to go off on my own even though it was 1968, a time when many young people were breaking free. The RAF was a way to see a bit of the world. My dad had been in the RAF for National Service and he encouraged me. I was only in it for five years, doing a trade that I was in no way suited to, but I’m glad I did it. When I came out I was far more worldly and confident.

N:- Did you travel much when you were with the RAF?

G:- I spent three years in this country and two years in Germany where I bought my first good camera. I worked as an airframe mechanic and while in Germany I joined the gliding club and learned to fly gliders. When I left I didn’t have any transferable skills such as electrics or radar to equip me for civvy street. But looking back now I can see that lack pointed me eventually to a career in art and teaching, which became so important in my life. After leaving the RAF I worked in various selling jobs, cigarettes, insurance, packaging. I was living in Bristol and doing well, company car, promotions were promised, but I just couldn’t see myself in selling for the rest of my life, meeting sales targets week after week. So I decided to become a photographer and did a two year commercial photography course in Reading which led to a job taking pictures of packaging for catalogues. I hated that, it was even more boring than being a salesman!

N:- So how did you gravitate from commercial photography to Fine Art, to an understanding of photography as metaphor?

G:- While I was living in Bristol I visited the Arnolfini Gallery and saw an exhibition called Stand Before the World by John Blakemore, black and white photographs of landscape. I was really taken with this show and found out that John Blakemore was teaching at Derby College so I applied there and got a place in the second year. It was John who suggested I go into teaching afterwards, something I’d never considered, given my own difficulties with education. In the meantime I got a job flying in helicopters taking pictures that someone else would try to sell. When that ended I was offered a part-time teaching job at my former college in Reading. That was in 1980. In 1985 I applied for a full time post at Newcastle School of Art and Design on the Foundation course and was successful. In 1987 I had the chance to do a Masters Degree at Newcastle Poly and I’m so glad I did it. It was a turning point. I learned a great deal about art, about class, about culture. For the first time it enabled me to bring my own class history into my work. It really opened my eyes to many things that then fed back into my practise and teaching.

N:- So you became a better role model for your students, a better teacher as well as a better artist?

G:- A Foundation Course is primarily about ideas, not just skills. I was making work and getting it shown. I was very active in the art world. I hope that rubbed off on the students!

N:- Do you think of yourself as an artist, a photographer, a Fine Art Photographer? How do you like to be referred to?

G:- I’ve never been comfortable with the word ‘artist’. But once I started doing video, sound recordings, text based work I couldn’t call myself a photographer anymore. Jo Spence, a hero of mine, called herself a cultural producer and I like that term.

N:- One of my favourite pieces of yours Geoff is the video, Canary about the old man at The Rising Sun Country Park. I found it poignant and powerful. How did that work come about?

G:- I was photographing that park for a long time, primarily because it used to be the site of a coal mine which closed back in 1969. I wanted to find some way of working with that history. I took a lot of what I thought were interesting photographs but they never got to the core of what I was trying to deal with. And then I took the pictures of the man with the model aeroplane. I had them for a long time, partly because I was trying to track him down. I didn’t want to use the pictures without his consent. I tried all sorts of ways to find him again but I never did.  So after more than ten years I made that video. And that’s the one piece of work that for me suggests the multiple histories I wanted to explore,

N:- And it also ties in with your personal history. So it works on a lot of levels.

G:- It does.


N:- The sky, flying, working class culture were also themes in your popular exhibition about pigeons back in the nineties. I loved that show!

G:- Yes, the overall title of the show was Pigeon but the individual photographs of the birds were called Messenger. Around that time Anthony Gormley was starting to work on the Angel of the North and I was irritated because his first pronouncements were that he would change the space where it was located into an art space, ignoring the heritage of the region. It seemed like arrogance to me. After he was criticised for this he began to talk about paying homage to the industries of the northeast. A Messenger is another word for an angel and by calling my pigeons Messengers I was referencing both the use of carrier pigeons and another type of winged being that had more relevance to the area.

N:- Did you have any direct experience as a boy of pigeon keeping?

G:- Yeah, yeah. My school friend from three doors down had pigeons and so did my next door neighbour. I remember sitting with him on a Saturday afternoon, looking up at the sky and waiting for the pigeons to return. That is a very pleasurable memory.

N:- One of the things that seems to unite your work is that you play around with scale. You make people look at objects in a different way by changing the scale. Like the pigeons for example, by making them so big you turn them into magnificent beasts. Yet they are a bird some people despise, even label as vermin which is sad because they’re so beautiful. But you make them into regal creatures and by removing the background we see them in a different context.

G:- The other thing I was trying to do was reference not just the birds but the people who kept the birds. Paying homage to an important part of working class culture. Changing the scale made people look at them differently.

Messenger by Geoff Weston


N:- Do you think you’ve ever set out to deliberately shock people, eg the close-up vomit photos in Bad Taste?

G:- Not sure ‘shock’ is the right word. When I finished at Derby and moved to Reading I started using colour and a large format camera. Serious Fine Art photography was usually black and white at that time. I wanted to use colour to say something about the landscape. In the early 1980s the area around Reading and Swindon was becoming Britain’s Silicon Valley and I was recording that but even though I thought they were interesting images they didn’t seem to provoke much reaction when I exhibited them. That wasn’t surprising because I didn’t feel much connection with them myself.

One of Geoff Weston’s early works, now part of the permanent collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

G:- So when I moved to Newcastle in 1985 I was shocked by how much Thatcher’s policies had devastated the northeast. I’d been living in the generally more prosperous south and although I thought I was aware of what had been happening I realised that I really wasn’t. And then when I started doing my MA I got annoyed that many of my fellow students were making abstract paintings that didn’t have any social relevance. In a sense the vomit pictures were a comment on that. But I don’t think the pictures are just about that, they’re about a lot more but that’s how they started. I noticed a similarity between the surface of vomit and abstract expressionist paintings. There’s a heavy drinking culture in Newcastle so I went into the city centre early on Sunday mornings looking for pools of vomit.

 N:- The vomit photos certainly make people think twice about what they’re looking at and can cause quite a visceral reaction,

G:- The other thing was I had to re-evaluate my class position, another effect the MA had on me. I had a working class background but now I was part of the middle class art world. Working class people don’t generally go to art galleries. So I needed to announce my presence in those sort of spaces. I didn’t want to just add wallpaper. I wanted to make work, for good or bad, that raised questions about class, about galleries, about art. Perhaps I’m making big claims here but that’s what I set out to do.

Image from Bad Taste by Geoff Weston

N:- You seem to be fascinated with the inside of the body…vomit, the raw meat photos, your images of a diseased miner’s lung, road kill in America…

G:- I’m interested in the abject, the lowly. I’m interested in so called low cultural activity. I think that’s as valid and important as high culture. One of the things I’ve tried to do in my work is use low cultural activities to raise questions about high culture.

N: I’m hoping things have changed and that we no longer have such a strong divide between high and low culture, what do you think? Do the traditional elitist standards persist?

G:- Given this government is telling museums and theatres what they should be collecting, showing and producing, I don’t think it is changing. We can’t be innocent about what’s going on. Of course all governments have an agenda but this is the first one I can remember that wants to directly determine what we should be engaging with.

N:- It’s this idea that all art should be beautiful, I really don’t buy into that. The whole concept of beauty and what is beautiful when the truth is that beauty is relative, cultural. It’s a dangerous ideology because it denies reality. Life is not always pretty.

G:- It denies a lot of people’s experience. Experiences that are just as valid. Of course dealing with the abject is not to everyone’s taste. When I had a retrospective show at the Stills in Edinburgh in 1998 the local newspaper headline was ‘sickest show in town’.

N:- Finally Geoff could we talk about your lung piece, perhaps your most important work,

 G:- As I said, my dad’s dad was a miner. He died of pneumoconiosis, black lung. When I was teaching, one of my students had access to the labs in the RVI hospital in Newcastle so I was able to photograph preserved diseased miners’ lungs. Later I was invited to be in a show in Atlanta, USA. When I was teaching in America people would ask where I was from and when I said Newcastle, they’d say, ‘is that like coals to Newcastle?’ So I had the idea of sending coal over there, but in a different form. I made a series of photographs and joined them together to make a seam of coal on the gallery wall. It was 18 inches high which is the height of many coal seams in the region. I placed it low on the wall so the implicitly middle class viewer had to bend down to look at it. I left the space above it where normally art would be hung empty. That was my way of saying that there would be no art if it wasn’t for the labour of miners, factory workers and all the other working people who maintain our society and enable the cultural elite to produce art. The title – When the Dust Settles – referenced not just coal dust on lungs but also the fight between miners and the State which had occurred not long before during the miner’s strike.

N:- I think you’re clever in your use of language with your titles Geoff. Not all artists do that so successfully. They always add an extra dimension to your artwork. And it’s so true what you say – it’s the labour of the working class creating the physical world which we enjoy that gives us the time, comfort and space to make art.

G:- Yes, it’s been important for me to value and comment on that through my work. We can’t ignore class, we can’t ignore our roots, our early experiences and how they influence our ways of seeing and understanding the world.

Image of diseased miner’s lung from When the Dust Settles by Geoff Weston. The black areas are coal dust.

More of Geoff Weston’s work can be found on his website at http://geoffweston.co.uk

Sometimes, a Reminder by Grahaeme Barrasford Young

After magnificence, out-walk glen
dreich without rain, sullen in summer;
slopedown humped peat and dead deer,
menacing with not-quartz white;
path slumped to deer dead in water,
pain in bypassing, stab-tight,
crawl-speed through antithesis
of sky encompassing stride-up.

Sometimes, Place Must be Dream

A mountain’s magma root,
sea-trenches’ compressing ooze,
are forever barred to us.
Dream can see one day
a mountain stub shadowed
by a shaley upturned peak.
No ammonites to please with shuttered spirals,
just plastic motes:
even the most spaced-out mind
cannot tell what patterns they might form.

What Comes After

indifferent storm spawns,
seed-snow caresses cove, corrie, cwm, 
accumulates: ice births, grows massy,
squats over sea, squashes land, grumbles down,
rips eon-gathered soil from rifts,
grinds it out to plains, retreats,
parents fertility to feed ape, ass, men,
hibernates until next need 

Grahaeme Barrasford Young’s most recent collection is Starspin (Stairwell Books, 2021)

Photograph by Alan Thorburn

Alan Thoburn is a documentary photographer based in Tyneside who aims to take a ‘conceptual’ approach to his work. The work is intended to be metaphorical to some extent. He is currently exploring other ways to make art. Website: https://alanthoburn.com/

Please keep scrolling to see more wonderful writing and artwork…the best is yet to come!

Special Baby by Lydia Popowich


Good weather for planting, thought Eva. There was a sudden chill in the air as a haar drifted up from the sea like a dream. Eva straightened up to admire the deep square holes she’d dug. She was an expert at this now. It was the seventh month of the seventh year since Mother passed. Every summer she’d planted two more roses gradually transforming the path to her front door into an aromatic avenue. Roald Dahl, Gabriel Oak, The Lady of Shallot, The Ancient Mariner, Emily Bronte and Desdemona would soon be joined by Belle Isis. Fourteen roses to welcome her home like family after another soulless stint at the bank. Belle Isis bore blooms of the purest pink, Mother’s favourite colour.

A half-empty glass of strawberry protein shake tips over, pooling a viscous pink slime on the polished wood of the bedside cabinet, dripping down onto the cream shag pile. The bendy straw waves like a flag of surrender while plastic teeth grin from a beaker. Mother’s gummy mouth twisting, pleading. The pillow frilled with pink lace is speckled with blood. My heart beats hard, loud, thrashing like a trapped bird.

Eva sank down to her hands and knees, raking her fingers through the soil, removing sharp stones into an old paint can. She never used gardening gloves, she liked to feel the life of the earth, see the dirt gather under her fingernails and in the grooves of her palms; life line, head line, heart line, fate line tracing an inscrutable map. She didn’t mind the occasional worm or leatherback, letting them slither over her skin unharmed. The two Belle Isis roses were soaking in buckets of water, ready for their new life. Eva sprinkled a generous quantity of John Innes No 3 into the bottom of the holes. Now she just needed to fetch her special bone fertiliser from the shed at the far end of the garden, hidden behind the clump of willow trees.

She makes me promise. She makes me promise. I promise. How can I? Too much. I don’t have to do it. I don’t have to do it. But I do it. Will you miss me? she asks. I bet you won’t even miss miss miss me, she says. Too much. She makes me promise. She makes me promise. Together forever, she says. In pieces. Fourteen to be precise.

Eva retrieved the last two packages from the freezer in the shed. She’d forgotten to defrost them first so she made a detour into the kitchen and gave them a five minute spin in the microwave, still wrapped tightly in brown paper and string. She didn’t want Belle Isis getting frost bite. A flash, crackle zapped the oven. A loud bang! OMG! She’d forgotten about the wedding ring still circling that arthritic finger. She didn’t have the guts to remove it at the time. What an idiot she was, just like Mother always said. Always cocking things up no matter how hard she tried to be perfect. There was a smell of burning so she unplugged the microwave at the socket. Never mind, it was an old appliance, easily replaced.

The packages were still partially frozen so Eva popped them in a zip-lock bag and then into a bowl of hot water. That should do it. In the meantime she made herself a mug of tea with a couple of apricot and almond cookies. She preferred her tea strong, no sugar. She drank with noisy slurps and scoffed the biscuits almost without chewing. Then she burped twice. No one to complain anymore. Mother liked her tea weak and sweet from a small porcelain cup edged with rosebuds. It was almost impossible to make the tea just right for Mother. Too strong, too milky, too hot, too cold, or else it had a chemical aftertaste a bit like sucking on a car tyre, apparently. If Mother didn’t enjoy her first cup of tea in the morning, Eva would have no peace for the rest of the day.

Eva looked out at the back garden. Crows were circling over the lawn, swooping and arcing in an unusual way. Perhaps there was a hawk nearby. A predator. The haar concealed all manner of things. The willow trees hovered like misshapen ghosts at the bottom of the garden and beyond there was nothing but a grey void. The mist seemed to seep into Eva’s brain. She found it difficult to think clearly, to remember.

The water in the bowl had cooled so she replaced it with hot from the kettle. Another ten minutes and the packages had a delightful squishy consistency. Ready or not, here I come, she thought. Belle Isis was waiting. Mother was waiting. Eva found the meat tenderiser she used to prepare steak and placed the packages on the chopping board. She smashed down on them again and again and again. This was the fun part. She heard the snapping and crunching of fine finger bones. And then the phone rang. Who the fuck could this be on a Saturday? No one ever called at the weekend. Janice was the nearest thing she had to a friend. She was another cashier at the bank but she was always busy at weekends; four children, a husband, a dog. The screen on the cordless phone displayed a number Eva didn’t recognise so she answered gruffly. ‘Who’s this?’ No one spoke. White noise on the line, a strange vibration seemed to emanate from the handset travelling up her arm, shoulder, neck and then a swirling sensation in her head. Like vertigo. Eva dropped the phone on the table and stared at it for a long minute. The image of Edvard Munich’s The Scream flashed into her mind’s eye.

Time for some music. Eva chose Paulo Nutini’s Sunny Side Up CD with the volume turned high. Fuck the neighbours. She went outside carrying the defrosted fertiliser, leaving the door wide open so she could hear Paulo’s warbling vocals. Pale sunlight was starting to disperse the mist and the roses glowed like celestial beings. Eva pranced a funky jig up and down the path, waving the two brown parcels above her head as Paulo sang 10/10. By the time he’d started on Growing up Beside You she had tipped the contents into each hole. She tried not to look closely but couldn’t resist a quick glance. The pulverised hands sprawled in the dark earth like monstrous crabs. The gold wedding ring glistened. She covered them with compost and gently planted the Belle Isis roses in the centre, backfilling with more soil, smoothing and firming with her hands. A good watering and the job was done; complete, all the pieces back together again. The pink flower heads nodded and bowed in the breeze, perfectly at home.

She says she loves me. Her baby, her special baby. No one else will love me. No one else could ever love me. I am stupid but I am her baby. I am ugly but I am hers. She loves me. Loves me to bits. No matter what. Always. No one loves like a mother. Forever a mother.

That night Eva couldn’t sleep. Before going to bed she rinsed and dried Mother’s favourite tea cup and saucer, matching milk jug and sugar bowl, arranging them on a tray lined with a lace doily. She added a crystal glass containing a single pink rose. She filled the kettle with fresh water and lifted the best teapot down from the top of the dresser. Everything was ready. Eva had no idea how long she would need to wait for the return. The resurrection. The version of the Osiris story she’d read on the Internet failed to mention that particular detail. Eva prayed it would be soon. When she heard the doorbell chime at 3.33am her heart trembled like a trapped bird.

Photograph by Nikita Shackleton

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Whisperings by Ellen Forkin


We have no bones to creak, yet creak we do. We moan with the wind and whisper with the mice. We are a sudden chill. A flicker of movement, just out of sight. 

We watched from the windows, smudged and grimy, as you stood by the old rowan tree. You stroked the fronds of leaves, made them shiver. Squished a berry, red and plump, between finger and thumb. One of us planted the rowan by the door. To ward away witches. The door that groaned, as we groaned, when it fell shut behind you. 

You frowned in the dark kitchen, while we deepened the shadows. You did not notice the quernstone in the corner. The dust was thick, choking, the cobwebs blotted with flies. The quernstone has a dip, where we left a spoonful of porridge, a mouthful of ale. You will do no such thing. And no guardian, small and ancient, will lap up the drop of milk, thick with cream, in the darkness of night. 

You moved to the bedroom, fusty with damp. We clung to the combed ceiling; our ether tickling your hair, your head, the tips of your ears. A draught, you thought. You stopped at the cot, small and wooden. Stroked its crudely carved hood. You bent down to gather up the blanket, moth-eaten. Stood up sharply to see a knife, blunt iron, placed beneath the mouldering pillow. You did not notice the hook. The hook where we hung the scissors, also iron, over the sleeping baby. Safe from thieving fairies. 

You heard us scuttle and scratch as you entered the dim, dark loft. Not rats. Nor nesting birds. Your mouth was grim, your eyes blinking in the dust-mote murk. The beam of your torch lit up the corner of the trunk. Half collapsed, woodworm weakening it to dust. You did not know, could not know, the stories. How we talked about the sealskin, once tucked safely inside it. A sealskin belonging to a woman, seal no longer. Her husband stole it. He kept the trunk tightly locked. Until shefound the key. The woman, the wife, slipped on her sealskin, velvet soft. She plunged herself into the sea. A selkie once more.  

Back down the ladder, into the belly of the house, you eyed the chimney. Your mind was still on birds and their nests. We howled, a choir of wailing. Still, you crouched in the fireplace, cobwebs in your hair, your face, your eyes. You reached up and found the shoe, snug in its hiding place, and brought it into the light. Wrinkled, dull black leather. Small and pointed in your hand. Witches. We were never sure, any of us, how one might try to sneak into our home. Sometimes we filled the shoe with sharpness, pins and nail clippings, but mostly we were comforted that the footsteps of our past would ward away any evil. Would ward away evil still. So we howled. And screeched. And raised our voices to roar with the wind.

#

You burnt the trunk; its stories a pile of lumpen ash. The quernstone is propped up in front of the house, pretty, its uses forgotten. The cot, polished and empty, you sold to an antique’s shop. You threw away the iron knife. The shoe is in a local museum. It stands, brightly lit, in a box of glass and keeps away no one. Yet you never visit it. And the old rowan tree by the door, the one that cast gloomy shadows in the kitchen window… 

Its tangle of roots tremble in the cold, pale sunlight, its leaves mingling with grass. We tremble with it. We have not one finger and thumb between us to squish a berry, red and plump. Instead we shiver as it shivers. We whisper as the breeze catches our souls. And we are chilled, as we fade, chilled and creakingand whispering, while we watch still. We watch you standing, smiling, as the sunlight turns golden. The sunlight warming your new home.

Ellen Forkin is a chronically ill writer and artist who lives in Orkney with a love of all things folklore. She recently had a piece published for the ‘Words Into Music’ project which was part of the George Mackay Brown Fellowship’s celebrations for his centenary. 

Photo by Lydia Popowich

Cycle of Life by Rita Bradd

It begins again,
a small casket filled
with life.
Just a germ, useless
without the elements.
Fire. Water. Earth. Air.

Wind lifts this seed.
Carries it.
Slams it into receptive soil
where it rests 
until rain comes, falls.
Drums it out from dormancy.
Hydrates. Expands. Feeds.

A head breaks ground,
worships the sun.
Below, roots thrust down.
An anchor.

A new network leaves the past,
spreads, makes the future.
Joins the path.

Photograph by Rita Bradd

Origin by Rita Bradd

Don’t ask me
where I’m from.
I just know
I am here
and here
is now.

But tomorrow
I may go.
Elsewhere.

I can pull up my roots
let them flap
in the breeze.
I can shake off the dust.
Plant me.
Anywhere.

I won’t settle too long
or there will be seeds.
No I won’t do that.
I won’t spread.
I won’t be held back.

I want to be free.
I won’t seek
where I came from.
I’ll never find 
the real answer.
The truth is 
too far gone.

Rita Bradd is author of Clipper Ship City of Adelaide : Beneath The Southern Cross, The Three Craws plays, in Scots, are performed live and on radio. Poems are published in :-
Salt & Soil (2017); anthologies; on a banner; complement a sculpture.
http://www.ritabradd.com     https://en-gb.facebook.com/RitaBraddCityofAdelaide/

Roots by Moira Weir

“Roots are not in landscapes or a country, or a people, they are within you.”
Isabel Allende

Within each of us is a sense, a feeling, an understanding, an awareness, whatever you wish to call it, we all possess it. Some of us will be more aware of it than others but one thing is sure we all have roots. It’s something deep inside, perhaps connected to our soul, that deep rooted anomaly that shares our lives. Experiencing everything we feel, storing those experiences to mould and shape the person we eventually become. 

Our roots stretch way back to others that have walked before, those people connected to us, our ancestors. Have you ever walked through woods, or entered a building, in a place you’ve just visited and it all seems familiar? Or had a conversation and instinctively know the next words that are going to be spoken? Some call it “Deja vu” or is it connected to past lives, I believe it’s connected to your roots. There is a strong sense of belonging within us, most want to feel that we belong to something, somewhere. This sense can bring comfort when we most need it and a feeling of being safe and coddled. Some may say the person who feels comfortable in their own skin and at ease with themselves are lucky and have that sense of belonging. We have many sayings that all ultimately infer the presence of our roots. 

Our roots can shape the qualities we possess, strength in difficult situations, compassion, empathy all these qualities that we call upon depending on what we are experiencing at any given time. It’s lifelong learning that continues on and on, each day. Imagine a library; we have different sections with different headings for different situations. Our roots allow us to check through the back catalogue and draw on the experience and help us react to the new situation. 

Do we inherit these qualities? Are we moulded from our ancestors? I would like to think that all the diverse and wonderful people who may appear on our family tree have left behind small pieces of themselves to linger on in us, our roots. To walk in their footsteps, to hold objects they have touched and treasured makes your mind and soul connect to them. When wearing a wedding ring that belonged to my grandmother it made me think about her as a young woman, and not the elderly lady I knew. Her hopes for the future going forward together with my grandfather and how their lives weaved together, their children, work, home and the private moments they shared. My roots belong there too because ultimately without them I would not exist and similarly, it goes on, to my children and grandchildren. 

Our roots are constantly growing, just like the roots of trees and their very presence will always exist within ourselves and others close to us.

Moira Weir has been a lecturer for many years and has a great love of words and art. She paints, draws, felts and designs jewellery. She stays in the Central Belt but enjoys visiting Orkney which is her soul place

Dora in Lockdown by Kevin Crowe


“They’re wrong.” She didn’t know whether she’d actually spoken the words or just thought them, and being on her own she couldn’t ask anyone.

She knew they were wrong. “They” were all those politicians, journalists and commentators who kept comparing Coronavirus to the 2nd world war, calling on people to emulate the spirit of the Blitz. 

She knew better. She’d been almost fifteen when the war began, and she’d seen some incredibly selfish and anti-social behaviour, as well as criminals taking advantage of the chaos. The only comparison she could see was that back then, as now, the politicians had said we were all in it together, but the wealthy had been able to bypass rationing, just as now they were able to alleviate the worst aspects of lockdown. 

She made her breakfast last as long as she could, but there’s only so much time you can take over eating a boiled egg and toast. She did the washing-up and put everything away in the right place, just as she had done all her life, back when she had helped her mum even though she was too small to reach the handle to the larder door, when she was raising four children of her own and during the past ten years as a widow. She believed in a tidy mind, body and home.

​​​​​She hated the use of military metaphors when talking about ill health. All this nonsense about fighting disease was inaccurate and gave the wrong impression. Thirty years ago she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and she hadn’t had the energy to do any fighting. She did what the doctors told her, had her George and her children to support her and was one of the lucky ones who recovered. Some friends of hers with cancer weren’t so lucky and died, sometimes in pain despite the drugs they were pumped with. Just like her George had from prostrate cancer.

Fed up with all the talk about Coronavirus, she switched off the radio. She picked up her newspaper, flicked through it and seeing nothing but Corona this and Covid that, threw it on the sofa. She immediately picked it back up, folded it properly and put it in the magazine rack. Everything in its place, that was one of her mottoes. 

Even though the house was spotless, she decided to give each room a thorough clean. It was something to do.

Living on a quiet road in a quiet town, she didn’t expect to see anyone, not that any visitors could have come in, anyway. Yesterday, one of her granddaughters had delivered her shopping and collected her prescription. She had rung the bell, then stepped back to allow Dora to collect the bags from the front step. Social distancing they called it, but Dora couldn’t see what was social about not being able to hug your granddaughter. They’d had a bit of a chat at a safe distance, then she had left. 

She missed church, and she missed her visits to George’s grave. She knew some people who went to church on the internet, but she didn’t have a computer and if she had, she wouldn’t know how to get online anyway. She had her phone and people rang her regularly, but once she put the phone down, the loneliness could be even worse for a while.

​​​​​​ She made herself some lunch, just a sandwich and a pot of tea, and switched on the TV. She let it drone on while she ate, afterwards falling asleep. She woke up with a start when the phone rang. It was someone trying to sell something she neither needed nor wanted, but she talked to them for a while, anyway. It passed a bit more time.

She tried reading, but her failing sight made it an effort. She knew she needed new glasses, but her appointment at the opticians had been cancelled. Besides, she had read the few books in the house more than once already and the library was closed.

She fetched her photograph albums and began to look through them. Some of them were faded and discoloured, particularly the few taken before she had married George. She wished she had more, but back in those days cameras were expensive, as was getting the films developed. 

They were all in strict chronological order and as she turned each page of each album, the story of her life and those of George and their children spread out before her. 

She recalled the day they met. Her father had forgotten to take his sandwiches to work, so her mother told her to take them to him. When she got to the mill with its blackened smoking chimneys and rusty iron gates, she saw a young lad heaving pallets from the yard into the factory and was immediately transfixed, unable to move or speak. 

When he saw her, he asked if he could help. She blushed, and then he blushed. As she gave him her father’s sandwiches, their hands touched for a few moments. He looked like a young Errol Flynn to her. 

He was even more dashing in his uniform when he was called up. The years he was away in the army were among the worst of her life: she missed him so much, she cried herself to sleep most nights and the occasional periods of leave were always over far too quickly. As soon as he was demobbed at the end of the war, they were married and within a year she had given birth to a son, followed in later years by three daughters.

She only realised she was crying when her tears fell on the photograph she was holding.

She longed for the day she would be reunited with her George.

Kevin Crowe is the author of the short story collection “No Home In This World” (2020, Fly-on-the-wall Press), is editor of the Highland LGBT+ magazine “UnDividingLines” (https://undividinglines.wordpress.com/) and has read at the Scottish Parliament, Glasgow’s Aye Write Festival, John O’Groats Book Festival and Highland Pride.

The Quilt on my Bed by Jay Wilson

The quilt on my bed is not an heirloom, yet it spreads 
like a forest floor in autumn’s seasoned rust and green, 
gold and brown. It was made when secrets were shared 
word by word in letters. Sentence by sentence. 

The quilt on my bed is not an heirloom, yet we’d meet 
in grey dust below a grey gum, my accent pulled her in, 
she said, just like dad’s. Our girls were wee, with more 
to come, as we shared time in the shade of bark splitting sun.

The quilt on my bed is not an heirloom, yet it treasures 
memories cut and tacked at the heart of her sewing room.
Unasked for, a present of our past, patched and shaped 
to embrace dreams. Stitch by stitch.

Each night, as her sun dawns down under, I curl up and sleep 
beneath the quilt on my bed that’s not an heirloom yet. 

Jay Wilson is a Banff based dog walker and allotmenteer who forages stories from the shire and grows them into poems, fiction and non-fiction. 

Video about Mary Webb made by Duncan Harley, Charlie Abel and Kenny Wilkinson

In 2020 the Doric Film Festival asked people to make a film on the theme “Jist far I Bide”. Scripted by Duncan Harley this is the tale of Mary Webb, the writer of the iconic Aberdeen anthem ‘The Northern lights of Old Aberdeen’. She died a pauper and to this day there’s no blue plaque or official recognition of her in Aberdeen or indeed anywhere in the UK.’

If I Were, Would I Be? by Mandy Beattie

If I were a barefoot 
fisher-lassie zigzagging down the stone-stairway would I have soles of pumice 
and scuffing hem, or would my wren gown be tucked up and under? Would I watch 
molly mokes revel in mackerel sky, as blushing thrift of sea pink kneel in cracks?
If I were a barefoot 
sorority sister would I hoist men-fowk like peat-stooks onto The Saucy Jack 
to keep their soles dry? Souse barrel-baskets with rollmops of silver darlings while
gutting knives glint? Would rhymes and rhythms become waulking without wool? 
If I were a barefoot 
fisher-lassie zigzagging up, zigzagging down with splayed phalanges would 
my barrel-basket become turban, plaid or sporran? On the seven mile quick-step 
to Wick Harbour there’d be no dilly-dallying with witches thimbles at Whaligoe Steps

Mandy Beattie’s poetry is a tapestry of stories and images rooted in people and place, often with a dash of otherworldliness. Her poems have been published in Poet’s Republic, Dreich, The Haar, Wordpeace, Wordgathering, The Clearance Collection and Spilling Cocoa.

Photo by Nikita Shackleton

Dear Babushka by Lydia Popowich

Did you sense the jeopardy 
of porcelain as you buried 
two cups and saucers deep 
in your suitcase? Your hands 
trembled folding children’s 
clothes, cocooning memories. 
Sirens echoed in darkened
boulevards and tanks circled 
Kiev like wolves. Germans 
are a civilised race. Remember
Bach, Brahms, said Dedushka 
as you were herded west
to a secret destination. 

Lying awake in the twilight 
hut shared with strangers,
did you unwrap your treasure 
while they slept? Did you inhale
the crisp scent of pine and snow, 
see yourself inside the perfect
dacha? Did your fingers stroke
the cool porcelain like a lover?
How gentle was your first sip 
from this cup on your wedding
morn, warmly risen from white
sheets? Dedushka was the joker,
the poet, coughing up stones.

Stones can roll many miles, mossy
or not. Hanover, Dover, Yorkshire
and a terraced in Aireworth Road.
Two  cups, two saucers. Four 
parts to the whole; your family 
buried in your heart. Memories 
died within a nest of mirrors
guarded by ghosts as you slowly 
faded. Your prize has found 
a new home; a northland never
reached. I am the last rolling 
stone. My dusting hands tremble
with the weight of porcelain.

This poem didn’t quite make it into Lydia’s latest collection, The Rush of Lava Flowers which explores the subject of hereditary trauma and is available on Amazon.

Photograph by Lydia Popowich

Rootless in Caithness by John Crofts

You 
Rooted deep in time
Countless layers of rock
Endless seas skies bogs
Held fast in the comforting web of generations
Disappearing back into only mouth told stories
Smoothed round by the telling and retelling
You
The safely rooted
Spare a thought for a wandering soldier’s son
Born on a fleeting posting
A man of many addresses happinesses memories stories
But a man with no roots
Nowhere he came from
Nowhere to go back to
Clinging now in old age to these gale swept Caithness cliffs by only his fingers
As tenuous as the sea rocket on the high tide of the Dunnet Dunes
Soon to be washed away by any winter storm
No history of me in this northern bleakness
No ancient family croft
Deserted stumbles of stones
No lineage of grandfathers grandmothers uncles aunts
No wifies manies lassies loons countless cousins countlessly removed
No well worn songs and stories of storms weathered 
Loves found loves lost
Boggles selkies spirits of the bog
Told again and again and again
And loved anew each time
An Incomer still after 40 years
With my atomic accent
From everywhere and nowhere
Let me listen to your stories
Let me listen to your songs
Let me put down just some small roots 
That at least my children may cling to.

Mentality drawing by Kammo

Kammo is a first year art student at Hostos Community College, South Bronx, New York, USA.

soul waiting to be born by Meg Macleod

set me down gently
amongst those fair hills
where the female sigh of the sea
forms the womb and tomb of existence

set me down gently
where sweet myrtle and thyme
mischief of raven and plainsong of gull
are gathered yet beneath 
the curve of one rainbow

set me down gently
where the sun and the moon
in sacred half light mix their glowing
and where they still rise
from the natural hollow 
of a windswept hill

set me down gently
oh, set me dowm gently
there
or not at all.

Meg Macleod was born in 1945 in England. She lived in America and Canada before moving to Scotland in 1974 where she now resides on the north coast in a house looking out over the sea towards Orkney Islands. Meg has a BA in Fine Arts. Her beautifully illustrated book of poems entitled Raven Songs is available to buy from Amazon.

Mother Nature – Photograph by Ursula Troche

Well, that’s all for now folks. Thank you for reading this Autumn issue of The Haar. I do hope you found much to enjoy. As we plummet into a long, dark winter may your roots sustain you.
Till next time…Nikita Shackleton 😊

Other Worlds

WELCOME TO THE HAAR

a bijou creative arts e-zine named after the Scottish sea mist

Photograph by Graham Morgan

Graham Morgan is a writer, dog walker, book reader, cook and seashore wanderer. He lives with his family in Argyll. He would love you to read his memoir, START about love, madness and the Highlands. Photography is a new adventure for him. His website is https://graeme7052.wixsite.com/gmorgan and his Instagram is https://www.instagram.com/graham_morgan_author/

Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”
T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

I readily believe that there are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe.”
Sa
muel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Summer is a time when we need to escape our mundane reality. This year in particular we yearn for a change of scene, to explore Other Worlds. It’s been a long Covid winter and now we just want to get away. You can do that right here at The Haar without leaving the comfort of your sofa. You don’t need a passport or a new suitcase, you don’t need to quarantine or wear a face mask…all you need is your imagination. A talented group of writers, artists and photographers are ready to whisk you away to incredible places, interior and exterior landscapes, the past, the future, the worlds of music and books, wild places not marked on any map. Invisible worlds and fairy lands. To start our fantastic journey we have an interview with award-winning screenwriter and poet Martyn Hesford – there is no better escape than the Other Worlds of cinema and theatre. Then we have stories with twists and turns from Toby Goodwin, Sharon Gunason Pottinger, A. Quiller and Kevin Crowe. Karen Strang shares her darkly beautiful painting, Geoff Weston and Brian Ord intrigue us with the unexpected. There are marvellous poems that will inspire and move you from George Gunn, Mandy Beattie, Georgia Brooker and many others. There is a competition with poetry books as prizes and much more. So sit back, fasten your seat belt and prepare for take-off!

Please keep on scrolling to the very bottom of the page and don’t miss any of the treasures to be discovered in The Haar. Comments can be left at the end and also on the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/thepurplehermit/

Contents in Order of Appearance:-


Martyn Hesford and the Poetry of Everything interview by Nikita Shackleton
Lilac White Competition
Ballet by George Gunn
The Opening by Magenta Kent
Boundaries and Thresholds by Ian Tallach
Around the Circle by Meg Macleod
Untitled photograph by Alan Thoburn
A Walk in the Woods by A Quiller
Startlings by Georgia Brooker
The Crow Garden by Karen Strang
Inside the Kist of Caithness by Mandy Beattie
The End of the Day by Nikita Shackleton
Forbidden by Melanie Fearon
Goldilocks by Kevin Crowe
Butte, Montana, June 2015 by Geoff Weston
Ozymandias Reborn by Sharon Gunason
Ageing Dragon by Moira McPartlin
The Dance by Magenta Kent
The Permanent Room by Tom Murray
Asleep-Awake by Mandy Beattie
Untitled image by Rukhsana C
Escape by Isabel Garford
Decapitated by Mass Index
Turn it Up by Toby Goodwin
Looking for Blind Willie by Ian Tallach
The Lost World by Magenta Kent
Odin by Moira Weir
Globe by John Mcmahon
The New York Times Interviews Ms Ocean by Nikita Shackleton
The Sirens by Brian Ord
Mattaclarksville by Brian Ord
London Blitz 1943 by Melanie Fearon
The Rising Sun Country Park by Geoff Weston
Amongst the Flutterers by Trudy Gritte
Petals Dropping by Chrissie Morris Brady
I Stand Waiting by Meg Macleod

Martyn Hesford

Martyn Hesford and the Poetry of Everything

Interview by Nikita Shackleton

  1. Hello Martyn, it’s wonderful to be talking to you today about your career and your new poetry book, Lilac White. I hope I don’t have too many questions for you! First of all I wondered what were your creative influences as a young boy growing up in Salford in the sixties and seventies?

The pantomime. The beautiful colours of the scenery, the clothes, the makeup, the music. The excitement of “whats behind the red velvet curtain?” A fairyland. While outside in the street, the misty sleet and fog. The orange glow of street lamps. Two separate worlds. Both mixed up together as a child. Still is today. Many worlds.

  1. What made you choose a career in the performing arts?

I wanted to be loved! I didn’t fit in at school. Little fairy boys didn’t/don’t. I went onto a stage. A talent contest at a holiday camp, five years old. Again, I remember the separation from a reality, standing behind the coloured footlights. Protected from the dark (the audience). Everything up on the stage felt warm. I sang a song. And I heard applause. And I thought, “I like this”. I felt safe.

  1. What are your strongest memories of your time at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama?

The opera singers, and pianos, the violins, the sounds floating down corridors. I met other people who accepted me. They didn’t laugh at me. We all laughed together. We were starting out into a new world.

  1. How was your experience of working alongside Richard Burton in your first film role in Absolution?

Like standing in front of a thousand bright electric lights! He was a star. The old school. He arrived for rehearsals in a fur coat. He was a kind man. Sat in the corner of the studio, reading poetry. He asked would I steal him a poetry book he liked off the set. He thought someone would notice him doing it. He wanted to read it that night. No e-books then. So… I did.

  1. How did it feel to make the transition from actor to screenwriter, to move from the limelight to behind the scenes writing words for others to interpret?

I was always writing, making up stories, plays. As an actor, I always liked rehearsing, finding out what the play was saying. I gradually got fed up of acting night after night. I remember thinking, working in television, “I can write better than this script. I’m not acting a part, I’m making poor writing sound natural.” So I did. I wrote my first screenplay. Nobody was interested. Until fate… I entered a competition. It was for new screenplays “The Radio Times Drama Award”. I won. And all the people who had turned down the screenplay, suddenly wanted it. The BBC made it, starring Allison Steadman. It was successful and I was offered writing commissions. I stopped acting. I miss being part of a production, with actors, but I like the solitary world of writing. I can spend the day anywhere.

  1. You have written for Radio, TV, Theatre and Film. Which is your favourite medium and why?

Poetry is my favourite. It’s my true voice. My voice was always lyrical. But television wouldn’t allow for that much. They are obsessed with moving the story along. Theatre is wonderful, but it can only happen with financial investment, and the same for film. Everybody is frightened of failure. Producers make you write the life out of your work, trying to control everything. Radio is imagination, but less and less so. Poetry is me and a pencil and that’s it. The old fashioned way. Myself and a pencil and paper. I write by hand. I like to feel the words. Speak them aloud. Poetry is the space in between the words. The invisible. The unsaid is almost more important than the said. It’s you and your reader. A mirror. People will see what’s inside them, as much as you.

  1. In your most recent film work, Mrs Lowry and Son I was struck by the poetic dialogue employing similar images and symbols to those in your new poetry collection Lilac White? Which came first, the screenplay or the poems?

I never wrote a poem until lockdown last year. Not properly. Although in my screenplays, the poetry was always in the stage directions, to give the script a continuous rhythm. Painting pictures with words. But those pictures are filmed not spoken. My dialogue has always had a lyrical quality, that’s just me. The film came from my London stage play. My theatre voice allowed poetry. We didn’t want to change that. It was the inner voice of the film. In lockdown, I started writing the poetry, and words flooded out. They wouldn’t stop. Poem after poem. All the feelings of a lifetime, I’d buried away. I have a friend who has spent her life reading poetry. I sent one to her and then another. She told me I could write poetry so I just continued and they kept on coming, like magic. My friend is called Penelope and Lilac White is dedicated to her. I cannot spell. I’d send the poems over to her by email and she’d write them out beautifully in green ink (she was keeping a record). There were so many I was losing them. I met Penelope two years ago, after leaving London. She spoke of poetry a lot. I thought, I must write my own before I’m dead. I used to tell people I was a poet when I was drunk. It was something I always felt inside. Lockdown (not writing for a career), let me do it. Find the poet.

  1. In Mrs Lowry and Son there are many powerful passages in the dialogue that resonate with me, particularly the scene where Lowry is on top of a hill looking down on an industrial landscape. “There’s a mystery in everything, a poetry. People think they can do what they want. They can’t you know. Nobody is free. We’re all captured in a picture and everybody is a stranger to everyone else.”
    Please would you elaborate on this. Is it a reference to the class system?

Yes. But all classes are trapped in some way. So for me this quote is about the soul. We think we are bigger and more important than the whole, but we are not. We are all part of the same picture. We are the picture. As one. We are sold a reality, but underneath everything, there is an invisible world that never changes. The poetry of everything. Great artists find that. Lowry knew that and said so again and again in his work.

  1. How did your relocation from London to a northern seaside town three years ago influence your writing?

I was born in Salford. The flowers were called weeds. I have always been influenced by the magic of nature. There is always the sky, wherever you live. City, country, or sea.
I suppose the sea has influenced my poetry. The movement, the vastness. The swirling liquid. It’s a huge mirror. And the disappearance of birds into dots. Have you ever seen a full moon reflecting on the sea? London has many things, but not the sea.

  1. The poems in your wonderful poetry collection Lilac White have an ethereal quality undercut with a darkness reminiscent of old fairy tales. Poem No 22 starting with “there is perfume on a shelf waiting to be opened” unfolds like a film. The reader is taken on a journey around a house where there are secrets. What was your inspiration for these poems? Did you have reasons for using numbers instead of titles and for the minimal use of punctuation?

The poems are a journey for someone. The reader and the poet. It is a mixture, a spell of words of this world and another (outer and inner). Many different worlds happening at the same time. Layers. Some fairytale, some mystical, some sacred. It’s a journey of putting them together, not intellectually thinking, but a feeling. The more you try and explain them, the more they will drift away. They have to float. They don’t have names because that would give each a label. It would colour the poem. It would say look for this, it’s about this. They are numbered in the order they should be read. Lilac White is one long poem, really. Words creating a spell. They magic a feeling. They are simply said, but vast! Ha ha. Less is always more. They will mean different things to different people. I know what they mean to me. A lifetime.

  1. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers of The Haar?

Don’t regret anything in life. Everything that happens to you in art, you can use. Don’t worry about success. Just do it. Don’t judge yourself against others. Just paint it, write it, see it. Keep Seeing. FEEL.

  1. And finally a fun question:- If you were an animal what would you be and why?

A dog. But not really. A bird. They can fly away.

Many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Martyn!

Thank you. I’ve enjoyed it. I was an actor remember – Oh, the attention!

Martyn Hesford is a BAFTA nominated screenwriter and former actor perhaps best known for his film Mrs Lowry and Son. His first poetry collection Lilac White has a stunning surface simplicity which belies a deeply moving anthology of poems, influenced by his personal journey through life. It is available to buy on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lilac-White-Martyn-Hesford-ebook/dp/B08XZLWGGR/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2WDH16U44YQZB&dchild=1&keywords=lilac+white+by+martyn+hesford&qid=1624184685&sprefix=Lilac+white%2Caps%2C166&sr=8-1

ENTER THE COMPETITION TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF LILAC WHITE by answering the following five questions. The information needed can be found by thoroughly reading this issue of The Haar. The first two people to send in correct answers via the Contact Page above will receive their copies of Lilac White by Royal Mail. Here are the questions:- 1. Where did Martyn Hesford study drama? 2. Which book did John choose? 3. Who delivered the note to The New York Times? 4. What colour was Amy’s hand knitted cardigan? 5. What or who will ‘enter the dreaming of the people.’ The closing date for entries is 7th July. Good luck!

BALLET By George Gunn

She sat so small like a bird
watching TV in the kitchen
I asked her to come through
to the living room & the fire
but she drifted out to sea
like a tuft of marram grass after a storm

she was pale blue
as thin as paper
reduced to soap operas
& the useless weather forecast
we were both rendered hopeless
by the grey dog at the door

now I walk between
two newly ploughed fields
a shower of hailstones catches me
the sweeping dance
of the white on the black
the ballet of our lives

George Gunn is from Thurso in Caithness. In 2021 he will publish his 10th book of poems “Chronicles of The First Light” (Drunk Muse Press). He has had over 50 plays produced for stage and radio. He writes for the magazine Bella Caledonia. He is currently the Caithness Makar with Lyth Arts Centre.

The Opening by Magenta Kent

BOUNDARIES AND THRESHOLDS by Ian Tallach

We ventured out into the brittle air, but not together.
You skidded to the river, Ribheag straining at the leash. A tree had fallen on the ice– so many shards in all directions. A veritable winter wonderland.
Morag shuffled to the corner-shop for tissues. She cries a lot these days.
I went to the beach. What happened was too strange to mention. No-one would believe it.


Today we zoom. Just three squares on the screen. ‘How was the river?’ Morag asks.
‘Beautiful,’ you say. ‘I’m thinking of writing a poem about boundaries.’
‘Pray continue,’ we chime together.
You clear your throat. ‘Well, maybe the spaces between us have got frozen, like those shards. I dropped a family picture once and when I picked it up, I cut my finger. Blood seeped along the fracture lines between us. I had to phone them all – I was s-s-so scared.’ You shudder. Morag tries to pass you a tissue. Everyone laughs.
‘I haven’t written anything,’ Morag confesses. ‘I… I just don’t have the… integrity… to write about this thing. And what else can you write about?’
We nod together.
‘What about yourself?’ they ask me.
‘Well, I had a dream.’ I lie.
‘With strangers in it, again?’
‘No. I’m at the beach. Alistair, my neighbour, is approaching, following the margin of the sea and sand, exactly. As the waves come in, his feet move with them and, as they recede, he drifts towards the sea. His progress doesn’t seem to be affected, though. He stops just twenty feet away and looks in my direction, but not at me, really. Also, his hair is blowing, but not with the wind. His shadow stretches out towards the sun. ‘We’re not r-really both here… are we?’ I sputter.
‘We will get through this.’ His voice is sonorous. He returns the way he came.’


In Spring, we’ll walk together, watching bounding hares. Ice will be turned to bubbles– perfect hexagonal prisms, pulling away from each other. We’ll sit on the grass. And I will tell them what I can’t just yet – it was not a dream.

Ian Tallach worked as a paediatric doctor for seventeen years. He became medically retired with Multiple Sclerosis in 2015. The two positives arising from this have been time for his children and the opportunity to explore writing. He also loves Toucans.

I move slowly by Meg Macleod

around the circle
a wolf in the forest
howls at the moon

my pulsing veins are rich in history
and tomorrow’s dreaming
I call back to the wolf

my feet tread the earth
my heart is somewhere else
dancing on the wind

trees break the light of the moon
falling like silver dust around me
I sense the wolf closing in

Meg was born in 1945 in England. She lived in America and Canada before moving to Scotland in 1974 where she now resides on the north coast in a house looking out over the sea towards Orkney Islands. Meg has a BA in Fine Arts. Her beautifully illustrated book of poems entitled Raven Songs is available to buy from Amazon.

Photograph by Alan Thoburn

Alan Thoburn is a documentary photographer who aims to take a ‘conceptual’ approach to his work. The work is intended to be metaphorical to some extent. He is currently exploring other ways to make art. Website: https://alanthoburn.com/

A WALK IN THE WOODS by A. Quiller

CALEB TURNER had been looking forward to today –
Not just because it made a change from the drab, grey concrete and steel he’d known all his life… but, more, because he might yet get a chance to tell Jess Waite how he felt about her.
He was sure he hadn’t been imagining it. The ever-so-lingering looks whenever he caught her eye in class. The coy smiles. Her whispering and giggling with friends. The reddening of her cheeks…
He just needed to get her on her own. Away from the others. Away from Mrs Millington’s all-seeing gaze. She didn’t miss a trick, that one; unlike dopey Harkness – he couldn’t give a damn what they got up to… just marking time till he got his pension. What was it they said about teachers leaving their mark on you? These two he’d forget as easily as quadratic equations; control-alt-delete them from his life just as soon as he got out of school. Sayonara, suckers…
But that was still two years’ away.
Easier to bear, though, with Jess by his side.
‘Are you joining us, Mr Turner?’
Today, of all days, he couldn’t afford to be excluded for bad behaviour. He allowed himself a moment; breathed deeply, swallowed his pride; resisted the temptation to sound off, to put her in her place. It never ended well, did it? Detention. Not to mention points docked from his scores. ‘Yes, Miss,’ he replied simply.
‘Well, Class, now Mr Turner’s so graciously honoured us with his presence, perhaps we can begin? I’d like you to get into pairs, then follow on behind me. Mr Harkness will be bringing up the rear. Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open as we go round, as there’ll be a test afterwards. Your information packs list most of the flora and fauna you’re likely to see; anything else, feel free to discuss in your respective pairs…’
A few moments’ commotion; the usual disagreements – some individuals refusing to be paired with others.
Caleb felt a light brush against his hand.
Jess, right there, next to him. Her gaze intense, as if inviting him to pop the question; ask her to be his partner for the walk. His mouth was suddenly dry. He felt his palms grow suddenly clammy.
‘Come on, we’ve haven’t got all day,’ boomed Mrs Millington. ‘Right,’ she was gesticulating, ‘You… and you… you’re a pair. Same goes for both of you. And you two.’ Dissent in the ranks. ‘I don’t want to hear it!’ A wave in Jess Waite’s direction. ‘Pair up with Tulley, will you? Which leaves… you, Caleb Turner…’ A clicking of her tongue. ‘Oh… looks like you’ll have to keep Mr Harkness company. Now, stop moaning, everyone, and get a move on!’
Inwardly, Caleb was cursing himself. Too slow. All he needed to have done was ask Jess if he could pair up with her. Instead, there she was now, walking with Ade Tulley. Still, could have been worse. At least Ade was a geek; no way he’d be interested in her.’
‘Turner?’
‘Sir?’
‘Just get on about your business, will you? I’ve… calls I need to make.’
‘Of course, Sir.’
Calls to make? Caleb bet he had. Rumour had it old Harkness was cheating on his wife. One of the maths teachers; twenty years his junior, and then some.
He set off, following the others; noticing out of the corner of his eye Harkness was already dropping back. A fact that didn’t escape Mrs Millington.
‘Mr Harkness. Mr Harkness,’ she was calling. With no reply, no acknowledgment from him, she seemed to give up. ‘Onwards, Class!’
Even this little way along the path, Caleb was amazed by his surroundings. The vibrant greens of the trees to either side. Their leaves seeming to dance in unison whenever stirred by a breeze. A totally different world to the cramped, confines of the featureless place he called home. How uplifting, how magical it must be to live in an environment such as this.
Gradually, he noticed more of his senses coming alive…
For it wasn’t just what he was seeing… so, too, he was surrounded by noise; gentle, subtle… the chattering of unseen birds hiding in the greenery above him. Watching carefully, he spied several figures darting quickly from tree to tree; too fast to him to get a clear view. Their song, strangely hypnotic; the repeating patterns now becoming clearer. A short melody. An answering call from somewhere near at hand.
As he followed the others deeper into the wood, he turned his attention to the path beneath him. A mix of dry, brown leaves; small twigs; a crumbly soil that, as he kicked at it, seemed to release a strange odour – the likes of which he couldn’t place. Not quite something rotting, but… quietly decaying… but with a purpose; a perpetual, natural cycle?
Shouts from up ahead of him.
He caught up, saw the others had reached a clearing; a stream off to one side, just down a slight incline. He noticed several of the girls were kneeling down; fingers outstretched towards the waters; making flicking movements – trying to splash one another. And, where a drop landed home – cold on a face – they’d flinch; laugh at the sudden feeling.
It was then it hit him. In that single moment. The beauty of the place. And the beauty of Jess. Shafts of sunlight streaming down; ever-changing patterns on the ground. Jess, smiling at him. Her hair, back-lit by the sun. And, to add to the perfection, he was suddenly aware of a beautiful aroma; a sweet fragrance filling the air; filling his lungs; filling his very being.
She was coming towards him.
‘Isn’t it divine?’ she was asking.
He must have stayed quiet just too long.
She giggled, touched his arm. ‘It’s honeysuckle. There, see?’ He felt her turning him, her finger gently under his chin, directing his gaze at a plant growing up a tree.
He breathed long and hard, savouring the aroma; the moment.
Exhaling, he steadied his resolve; prepared to tell Jess how he felt –
Already, though, she was walking away from him.
No matter; he’d follow. He must. Now or never…
Suddenly, everything went black.
The feeling of colliding with something –
Or someone.
Falling to the ground…
‘For goodness’ sake, Turner!’ An angry voice right next to his ear. ‘What’s wrong with you, boy? Watch where you’re going!’
His headset being snatched away from his face now; the attached nasal plugs ripped from his nose – the sight of Mr Harkness, there on the floor with him; limbs variously entwined with his own.
‘I’m sorry, Sir. It’s the VR. Unit must’ve packed in. Couldn’t see. Threw me for a minute, there…’’
‘Don’t give me that! Two weeks’ detention. You hear, lad?’
‘It does seem there’s been a console error.’ This from the resident technician. ‘The boy’s right.’
‘Oh, is he? Well, that’s quite enough from you! One simple job… that’s all you’ve got to do. Load the virtual reality program; pipe it through to the kids. But you can’t even do that, can you?’
‘Alright! Mr Harkness; you’ve made your point.’ Mrs Millington stepping in; seeking to restore order.
Still on the floor, Caleb watched as Mr Harkness tore off his own headset. Getting to his feet, the man strode away angrily; slamming the classroom door behind him.
‘Okay, then, everyone; that’s it for today’s History lesson. You can download the test any time in the next twenty-four hours. Please submit your answers by the end of the week. And remember to place your Neural-Sets back in your lockers. Class dismissed.’
A moment later, Mrs Millington had also exited the room; the technician following closely behind.
‘Here.’
Jess was standing above Caleb, one arm outstretched towards him, waiting to help him to his feet. He could see she’d pushed her headset back. He took the proffered arm; the Velcro and sensor-wires of their neural-gloves briefly sticking together.
Her eyes intense, he had to look away; only too aware he was blushing under her gaze.
Glancing outside, through the hermetically-sealed windows, he could see the inhospitable desert stretching to the horizon – the once-green landscape of planet Earth now but a chapter in the historical record; today’s virtual tour but an approximation of how their world used to be.
Where once there had been beauty, now there was only –
Wait, was that… honeysuckle?
He felt the gentlest of kisses on his lips…

STARTLINGS by Georgia Brooker

Startled from sleep, I woke
in some entreacled act
of running the tracks that rabbits make,
and foxes follow. Pathwork;

A desire line from a dream which broke
with a snap like a branch, thoughtless,
while the forest of deep mind
pined deadening needles over the prints.

Not a fallen nest, not a shard of shell,
not a rock in my pocket
from that flint-toothed hinterland,
but my fist clenched hard on invisible tinder.

In previous chapters, Georgia Brooker has been a teacher, librarian, bookseller, editor, bibliophile, and occasional author of poems and stories. Nowadays, she is mostly mum of two and veg-gardener in-chief, and writes when no one is looking.

The Crow Garden, painting by Karen Strang

Karen Strang graduated in drawing and painting at Glasgow School of Art and did her postgraduate year at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. She has worked and exhibited as a visual artist in many interesting places. She currently works from her studio in Alloa.  Her website is http://karenstrang.co.uk/

INSIDE THE KIST OF CAITHNESS by Mandy Beattie

I AM
The Land o’ the Cat’
scaling Scaraben’s clavicle
under stone-wash blue and slate-grey sky
ice came in Winter
mute swan over hummocks and water hollows
a plaid ribbon hand-fasting
the Greylag Geese of Camster Cairns
their drystane dyke lichen a vine and ivy
on Standing Stones at Achavanich
and yellow blobs of Marsh Marigold
pirns’ of thread in ground-ganseys
of Bog Sedge and String Sedge
among Kelpie’s in lochans
and The Wee Folk on Fairies Hill
playing Cat’s Cradle under a sea-glass sky
of the Pentland Firth
I AM
the mizzenmast in smoor-mist
on the Whale Road
and whirling-dervish-winds
on Drove Roads and Clearance
Crofts stone aikles in salty-tears
in the shebang of sphagnum in the Flow Country
but the Selkie of St Trothan sees not
Black Crowberries and Black Bog-rushes
only Sundew and Dragon Fly under the North Star
in The Land o’ the Cat’
‘Where I AM, You Are’
duck-egg blue ceiling on daffodils
and yellow on the Broom
Aurora Borealis over stone rows
each pleat and plaid of purple heather is I
even after Muirburn
returning to the Heavenly Dancers
my ashes will fly with Golden Eagle and Green Shank
birthing into the next cleat of peat
the pearl inside a seed pod

Mandy Beattie, is a feminist from Caithness, with an MA in Social Work Practice & Research. Her poetry is a tapestry of stories and imagery, rooted in people, place & the natural environment, set at home and abroad. 

THE END OF THE DAY by Nikita Shackleton

Mast bells peel strange lands as 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. Skin stings, cold bees
devouring ears, eyes don’t see, fingers don’t.
My pen is not mightier, the world ink fades.
I become a gust of wind turning pages.

Dusk by Nikita Shackleton

FORBIDDEN By Melanie Fearon

When no one is looking
she wraps a very soft blanket
around her on the sofa
remembers the caring of her father
and falls asleep

When no one is looking
she books a massage
and pays more than she can really afford,
rebels against her frugal upbringing
and relaxes in the sensuous oils

When no one is looking
she stands in front of the mirror
talks bitingly and meaningfully
to people who have hurt her
and takes comfort from this sight

When no one is looking
she lies widespread in the long grass
gazes at the sweeping birds
going their own way
and says I hope to do that soon

Melanie Fearon has 3 grown-up children and 6 grandchildren. She worked as a teacher of young children, some with special needs, and did parent-line. She started writing in a class in Newcastle 15 years ago. 

GOLDILOCKS by Kevin Crowe

I haven’t really lived. I’ve spent my whole life confined between these walls and I will die here.

At least my children have the life I never had, and my grandchildren are even better off. My parents’ hopes for me were to be dashed, as were those of their parents for them. But the future looks bright now. We will survive. I won’t, but future generations will. What more can a parent ask?

I’m the last of my generation, holed up in this shell, hiding from the outside. Scared of the bears, afraid even of thinking of them, I keep the curtains drawn against the world.

Although the ship was large, it still felt cramped. Most of the space was taken up with livestock, genetically modified plants and masses of equipment and raw materials: things we would need when we found a suitable planet, as well as everything to keep us alive during the search. So living space was at a premium. I’ve never known anything else.

When we arrived here over half a century ago, my children were young, too young to be damaged by the confines of the ship they were born in. As soon as we landed, they ran out, expending all that built-up energy, screaming with joy, rolling in the grass, jumping in puddles. “Be careful!” I shouted, “you don’t know what’s out there, you don’t know how dangerous it may be.” They ignored me.

The elders called the planet “Goldilocks”. The captain announced this to us all: “Welcome to Goldilocks. According to the computer, it’s neither too hot nor too cold, but just right. And the atmosphere is neither too heavy nor too thin, but just right.”

“Aye,” I said, “but didn’t Goldilocks disturb some bears?”

“The computer reckons it’s safe, and that’s good enough for me.” He turned away to supervise the evacuation of the ship and the erection of the tents – our temporary accommodation.

Most of the settlers were allocated tasks and in the first year built a town with houses, meeting halls, social clubs, schools, parks, sports facilities, even churches for the few remaining believers. The town formed a circle with the ship at the centre, a monument to those who had not lived to see this moment.

Farmers cultivated the more fertile land, growing fruit and vegetables. At first much of the livestock, all of which had been bred within the confines of the ship, were nervous when released, but gradually began to enjoy the open sky and the limited freedom they had to roam within their generously large pens. The dogs we arrived with turned out to be useless as workers, but we trained the first generation born on Goldilocks and within a few years they were making the work of shepherds much easier.

The ship’s computer directed us to areas where we could mine the natural resources we needed to ensure our survival, to help us generate heat and light and to produce the metals we needed. The community built factories to manufacture all that was necessary for our survival and comfort and banks so money could be produced to facilitate exchange. They also built roads and constructed wheeled vehicles to travel on them. As the community grew, so people moved further from the landing site. The ship’s engineers and technicians trained apprentices and together created state of the art communication systems.

Of course, all this took time: Goldilocks wasn’t built in a day.

I saw little of this: I stayed on the ship, like some of the others who’d been born and reached adulthood within its confines. Over a century ago my grandparents had been among those who had left the planet they and earlier generations had ruined. My parents had been born on the ship and like my grandparents died there. Its metallic utilitarian walls are my comfort blanket, the only place I feel safe. It’s all I’ve got to call home.

The world outside is new and scary. I don’t want to disturb the bears.

At first there were quite a few of us, but over time most of the others were persuaded by their children to move to the town. Some of them returned to tell me how beautiful and fertile the land was, how good it was to look at the colours on the ground and in the sky, to swim in fresh water, to walk for as long they wished. They said much of the land had still to be explored and it would be a task of several generations to do so. They hoped their excitement would be infectious, but I was immune.

I asked how many bears there were. They looked puzzled. “Bears?” they said, “Bears? There’s no bears here.”

“How do you know?” I asked. “Perhaps they’re hiding, just waiting to pounce. Perhaps they haven’t
found us yet.”

They shrugged their shoulders and, tired of trying to persuade me, left me in peace.

My children and grandchildren did get me to leave once. I said I would go with them providing they agreed to protect me and as long as I could return to the ship whenever I wanted. My two sons held my hands and I was led into the city. It was scary. The sky was so big and blue, the white clouds took on frightening shapes. The buildings couldn’t hide all that space – open land which bears could run across, all those trees where bears could hide. My heartbeat increased so much I thought my chest was going to burst. I could hardly breathe. I began to panic. I screamed.

I closed my eyes. That was worse. My imagination took over. I was terrified. I felt myself falling.

When I woke, I was back on the ship. People were looking at me with concern written on their faces, loving hands were smoothing my hair and stroking my arms. A doctor holding a hypodermic needle said: “I’m just going to give you a little injection to help you calm down.” I felt a sharp jab.

Next time I woke, my eldest son asked me if I wanted a drink. I nodded and he returned a few minutes later with the most welcome cup of tea I have ever tasted.

That was the first and last time I went outside.

The small number of us who stayed on the ship passed the time with indoor sports, with games, with reading, listening to or playing music, watching entertainments on the various screens. We also worked. We took on tasks that didn’t need us to leave the ship: admin, keeping the accounts, computer maintenance and the like. We weren’t a burden on the rest of the community.

As we aged we died. Now I am the only one left on the ship.

At first my children and grandchildren were patient with me. They would arrange for marriages, christenings, anniversary and birthday parties, even Christmas dinners, to be held on the ship, so I could be a part of the celebrations. But as my grandchildren married and had children of their own, fewer events were celebrated with me and the gaps between visits became longer until they stopped.

I am close to death. It will be a relief for me and, I suspect, for others. When the time comes I know my body will be taken from here, but I hope my soul – if I have one – will remain.

I was right about the bears: I can hear them rattling the door. Through a curtain I can see a silhouette of one and I think they will soon find a way in here. My carers shake their heads, assure me it is just my imagination, there are no bears on Goldilocks. I tell them they are wrong. I shout at them until they give me pills that make the bears go away. But I know they are still there. It is only a matter of time before they break in. I hope I die before then.

Kevin Crowe is the author of the short story collection “No Home In This World” (2020, Fly-on-the-wall Press), is editor of the Highland LGBT+ magazine “UnDividingLines” (https://undividinglines.wordpress.com/) and has read at the Scottish Parliament, Glasgow’s Aye Write Festival, John O’Groats Book Festival and Highland Pride.

Butte, Montana, June 2015. Photograph by Geoff Weston

For more information about Butte click here:- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butte,_Montana

OZYMANDIAS REBORN by Sharon Gunason Pottinger

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

They should have known better. The lessons were there. Black Death, plague. In modern history, too—polio, Hanta virus, flu—Spanish, Avian, and otherwise. And SARS and MERS. They should have known one simple truth: never underestimate a virus.
I called her La Corona. The name came from the shape of the virus, which we got to see a lot of on the media as if a close up from an electron microscope said, ‘We’ve got you now named and shamed and we are in control.’ The name also came to me from La Llorona, the weeping woman, from Spanish folk tales. A ghost story and a parable. All of the many versions are about grief. In some it’s personal betrayal; in others it’s pollution or greed. But La Llorono grieves for something that cannot be put back together again.
I don’t know when they started watching us. They had a lot of places to keep track of. Even with all their resources, they couldn’t know everything. Like why I wanted a silver bell as part of the warning system. ‘You know, I said, like they had for lepers.’ Well, I could tell from the empty space in my head that they didn’t know about that, but soon they were back in my head and just said yes—well, they didn’t say it exactly. That’s not how it worked in our communications. I heard it, but they didn’t say it. I tried explaining that in the first hospital. They thought maybe it was a mild Covid infection and the fever made me delirious. When I tried to explain more, they sent me to the second hospital. No one takes my temperature here. It was a day or two before they gave me back my knitting needles, but then they left me alone. I liked being alone then because I thought there would be people there when I wanted to talk to them.
I don’t know how they picked me—the ones in my head—not the folk who sent me to the mental hospital. The voices tried reassuring me with soft music in my head, but it was not much consolation. As La Corona took more people, the inmates were in charge of the institution. Some people were kind and resourceful; some were sly and secretive from fear or malignancy. You couldn’t be sure which. Me? Somewhere in the middle. I refrained from saying we were being watched and tested on how we behaved. No one would have believed me, and the frightened ones—well, it wouldn’t have helped, would it?
We were lucky. We had our farm and a big garden thanks to the folks who thought work was good therapy and the ones who thought it made it cheaper to run our hospital. And we had a library. Our little piece of land behind the high stone walls became a haven, a sanctuary. We stopped hearing about the outside world, which was probably good. The voices in my head kept up reassuring sounds, but I could tell they were getting worried, too. Something was not going according to plan—whatever that was. By the time they showed themselves there was no one left to whom I could say, Look, I told you so. They said they had a job for me. I asked why they’d picked me. They shrugged—I think it was a shrug—their shape wasn’t quite right. They heard me think that and apologised and then tried retuning themselves like a display getting refocussed. It was better, so I could think that in their direction and they smiled. They explained that it was more like I picked them. Very few people—at least on earth, that is—could hear them. I was more chuffed than weirded out, but I was curious about where they came from and what other places were there? They said they could show me better than tell me if I would accept that. When I said OK, I saw stars and moons and flying through I don’t know what like one of those nineteenth century models of the universe called an orrery but bigger and faster. I screamed and put my hands over my eyes and my ears as best I could. I lay there sick and dizzy and sad now because the aloneness of it all was beginning to sink in. I heard what must have been an argument, and a voice I didn’t know made music in my head that made me sleep.
When I woke, they showed themselves faintly—so as not to hurt my eyes they said. I recognised contrite. Making me ill was not part of their plan. I was beginning to wonder what I was to them and they must have heard that. They shimmered a bit but said nothing and then the mother voice—I don’t know what else to call it—came into my head. Soft, reassuring. She chose her words and the speed at which she gave them to me carefully, making me drowsy and sad but content.
‘The virus’, Mother Voice said, ‘the one you call La Corona, was more dangerous than they had realised. We are not from here.’
‘Where exactly do you mean by here’ I asked.
‘Terra. Earth. Your scientists were right. The universe is bigger and more populated than they had thought. The ones who wanted your planet released La Corona. They were afraid you’d ruin Earth altogether before they could colonize it, or you’d try terraforming other planets or moons. Greed is not unique to your species although I believe I can say without offending you that your species does excel in that regard.’
I started to cry and she somehow whisked away the tears with–what can I call it? A cosmic hankie? I thought about Lord of the Rings and the elven queen or maybe that was what she put in my head so I’d sleep. I was beginning to lose track of what I was thinking on my own and what I was being given.
When I woke again, the shimmer twins were there and offered me something to eat. Mother Voice must have let them out of the naughty corner because they said they were going to take me to see the outside. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. They looked at each other and maybe Mother spoke to them. ‘It is necessary,’ they said, resolute but sad. I didn’t like the sound of it.
They heuked me up, one on either side, and we floated along. It reminded me of those paintings with the angels carrying someone up to heaven. I said, ‘Put me down. If people see me all float-y, they’ll get freaked.’ They ignored me, which made me worry. They’d never done that before.
Once outside the iron gates, I understood. There was no one to see me. Not just late night-early morning before the city wakes up quiet or after the thunderstorm relative quiet while the earth dries out, there was no one. No one in the streets or in cars or in the windows of the houses. No shopkeeper sweeping in front of his store, no one even sleeping rough on the pavement. I had been so busy looking at the silence that the shimmer voice startled me. ‘The ones on the streets were the first to go.’
‘And the others?’ I asked sounding as desperate as I felt. Their silence was too much for me. I broke down sighing and wailing. They whisked me back to what had been my haven, and Mother Voice put me to sleep again.
‘It is necessary,’ I heard them saying among themselves. I don’t know if I was supposed to hear it. Fragments of the shimmer twins and other voices I had not heard before. ‘A warning to others.’ ‘The entire planet?’ ‘We did what we could.’ And then they must have become aware of me. I thought of an image of the ghost of Christmas future from A Christmas Carol, thinking they meant a warning to me. That it was not too late for us to mend our ways. They ignored me, so I said it in words to make sure they had understood. I heard a chorus of sadness and then Mother Voice spoke—even she sounded sad, which really worried me. ‘That was our hope when we came here, but your La Corona was too strong for us.’
‘Everyone except me?’ I said but I already knew.
Mother Voice must have felt the loneliness I didn’t have words for. She came into my head brisk and cheery like a ward sister. ‘We have made arrangements for you to come with us as far as your physical frame can manage.’
‘Abducted by aliens?’
‘Not like that. We enjoyed those stories. We learned a lot from them.’ I heard the shimmer twins tiptoe into my brain to have a look over my mind-shoulder at the headlines in The Sun about alien abductions. I didn’t mind, but Mother Voice sent them out in a hurry.
I didn’t fancy the idea of space, but Mother Voice pointed out that I could die of starvation, of loneliness, or even La Corona. ‘Because she’s still here, we’d like you to accept the positon of sentry.’
‘Sentry?’
‘We don’t know how long the planet will be infected.’
‘The entire planet?’
‘The race that designed it,’ she began, and I felt a wave of anger which she quickly controlled, ‘are thorough. In time they will come to colonise your planet.’
She anticipated my thoughts and said, ‘Too long for you and you would not like them.’
I felt her actively blocking the image in her head and decided that after some of the things I’d seen earlier that I was grateful. ‘So how can I be this sentry?’
‘You are familiar with satellites? We can make a satellite for all your needs. No,’ she said, ‘you won’t be lonely. You can hear us so someone will always be with you.’
She sounded like my mum when she was trying to persuade me that summer camp or something that had to be done was going to be fun. I accepted the inevitability without any enthusiasm. So that’s how I came to be here on Ozymandias—I got to name it myself. I heard them looking up the old poem. I orbit poor, beleaguered earth. The shimmer twins were full of excitement telling me the things they saw out their windows on their way back home. I heard their surprise when they discovered that the virus was not limited to terra. They each said goodbye to me.

Sharon Gunason Pottinger moved to Caithness in 2005. Her writing reflects her attachment to her new home. Published work includes ‘Returning: The Journey of Alexander Sinclair’, poetry in New Writing Scotland, Northwords Now and in anthologies by Caithness Writers. http://tinyurl.com/sharonspage

AGEING DRAGON by Moira McPartlin

Don’t be fooled by the smooth face,
shiny blond locks and dazzling smile.
Let’s call that the Colgate effect.
Under this conceit lurks a dragon,
fierce, angry and in pain.

Let’s start at the back,
the deep, depressed spine, where
it curls at the tailbone,
seized mid swish, hinged tight
above the fist of the buttocks.

Go below her sagging belly
just shy of the zip line, to catch
sight of polka dot warts,
like extra teats puckered
and starved of illusion.

Don’t go too close
or her short limbs will swipe you
for gaping at penny-size scales,
scratched flaking flesh, blood spots
dried on untamed blisters.

Watch her pace on hideous feet.
Clawed toenails chipped and yellowed
by a history of chasing
back time. Cut to the truth of
what must be faced.

Frayed heels crackle the punishing carpet-walk
as she shuffles in perpetual motion,
reciting Beowulf
while unfurling the crooked spine.
Slaying her own monsters.

Moira McPartlin’s work has appeared in various literary magazines and anthologies. She has five published novels: The Incomers; Before Now; and the future fiction Sun Song Trilogy. Moira is also the recipient of a Hawthornden Fellowship. She lives in Stirling.  

Website – www.moiramcpartlin.com

Twitter – @moiramcpartlin

THE DANCE by Magenta Kent

The lawn
no longer green
the grass is a pond
round and round
round and round
float three seagulls
dancing as people do
out on the dance floor
round and round
round and round
dance the seagulls
in time to the sound
of beating wings
of a beautiful swan
as it glides
joining in the dance
round and round
round and round
snapping off each little feathered head
while the gulls’ bodies
continue to dance
swirling in time and rhythm
round and round
round and round
on a lawn
that is a pond

Illustration by Magenta Kent

THE PERMANENT ROOM by Tom Murray

The librarian stared across the desk at him. ‘I have to ask sir. Are you sure?’
‘Yes,’ said John.
‘If you could please speak the words of finality sir?’
Walking through the rainy streets, and up the forty-nine steps to the library entrance, pushing open the heavy oak doors, John hadn’t paused or hesitated once. He had woken up that morning finally sure.
He didn’t hesitate now. ‘My name is John Grant and I walk freely to the Permanent Room.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ said the librarian. ‘You have chosen a book?’
John nodded and said. ‘Art history.’
The librarian looked pleased. ‘This way sir.’
John chose his book from the shelves, Paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, then followed the librarian towards the Permanent Room.
The main concourse of the library was quiet, but John knew the various rooms would be full no matter what time of day. As they passed the History Room the door opened and a man, approximately the same age as John, emerged. They knew each other but neither could remember where from or the other’s name. It did not matter. They had books in common.
John stopped, to the annoyance of the librarian. ‘I’ve been there,’ said John, nodding towards the book, The Wars of Napoleon gripped in the man’s hand. The man’s hand shook slightly, his face flushed, eyes struggling to focus on John as if a million and one images were vying for attention.
‘It’s my favourite,’ said the man. ‘Waterloo, what a mess though. I don’t know why I keep going back.’
John knew why for he remembered the man now. He worked in the bank and had advised John about different types of mortgages.
‘I was at the Peninsular War in Spain,’ John said, as the librarian coughed impatiently behind him. ‘Saw Napoleon himself. Or they said it was him. He was away off in the distance.’
The man stepped closer and whispered. ‘He nearly ran me over with his horse.’ His face flushed even more, and he was smiling.
It had been a mistake going to the Peninsular War John had discovered. The life of an infantry man was no joke. John had cut his visit short, far too much blood and guts for his liking. He needed somewhere to be truly happy and not numb the daily pain by witnessing others even sadder than him. He didn’t like what he had become, secretly smiling at others’ misfortune.
‘What room are you in today?’ asked the man.
The librarian coughed another impatient cough and John indicated towards the Permanent Room, and John said. ‘Must get going.’
The man nodded. ‘I’ve never found a place for me. Not yet. I’m happy for you.’
The sincere tone took John by surprise. He nodded towards the book. The man shook his head. ‘Okay to visit.’ The man attempted a smile. ‘Better get back to the grind I suppose.’ He then turned and walked slowly to replace his book on its shelf and headed even slower towards the library exit.
‘Sir?’ said the librarian.
‘Sorry,’ said John.
‘It’s just that I’m on a break soon,’ said the librarian.
Once through the door there were ninety-nine winding, breath-bursting steps up, up to the Permanent Room itself. The librarian slowly made his way up the steps, every now and then glancing back at John. This was deliberate as was the winding steps. A final test and chance to change your mind.
John didn’t.
The Permanent Room itself was circular with a glass dome that looked towards the heavens. Far above the streak of an already gone aeroplane. A raised leather couch sat alone in the middle of the room.
‘The book sir.’
John handed the librarian the book.
‘If you will sir,’ said the librarian indicating the couch.
John climbed onto the couch and lay back staring up through the glass dome. Clouds you imagine had emptied themselves of all the rain in the world, draining the dregs to drop rhythmically onto the glass dome.
The Librarian glanced at the page in the book John had chosen. ‘You do realise that this will only work if the character remains anonymous?’ John nodded. ‘This not being an unnamed character in fiction, research might uncover the identity of this person in the future. You know what they are like, these scholars. Especially with Mr Van Gogh. If that were to be the case…’
‘I understand,’ said John. ‘I will disappear.’
The Librarian sighed. ‘It’s just…This room used to be so dusty with lack of use. Now…
‘I am sure,’ said John.
The Librarian nodded. ‘I commend you on your chosen page. If ever there was a page to live permanently in, you have chosen well.’
John smiled. ‘Have you ever thought about…?’
The librarian said. ‘Close your eyes please sir.’
John did and the librarian began to read from the page.
‘One anonymous source that has come down to us, from a fragment of a letter of the time, is how this person would witness Vincent walking into the night, easel under his arm. It was a quick urgent walk as if, to quote the letter, “the stars above would scatter if he did not capture them immediately.”’
The Librarian’s voice began to fade, and John opened his eyes and there in front of him was the Yellow House and Vincent Van Gogh emerging into the night with his easel under his arm. Vincent hurried straight past John as if not noticing he was there. John followed close behind and the rest of the page ran though his mind in his own voice.
‘Vincent worked quickly, every now and then staring for a time up at the glorious stars. I must admit I sneaked as close as I could to witness what he had painted. ‘If you want to see properly.’ Vincent said, ‘stop skulking about.’ I hesitated but he urged me forward and I stood at his shoulder, and the canvas was a glorious mirror to the glory of the stars. I admit I had never properly looked at the stars until that moment. ‘Well?’ Vincent snapped. Before I could answer he said. ‘It is…Not what was in my mind.’ He went to rip the canvas in half. ‘Please Vincent, don’t.’ He looked at me. ‘You know my name?’ ‘Yes.’ I said. He looked at the canvas. ‘I will keep it. Now if you don’t mind sir,’ said Vincent and turned back to his work. ‘Can I watch, Mr Van Gogh?’ He thought for a moment. ‘Not at my shoulder, and not a sound.’
John sat on the small hill overlooking where Vincent worked. It was damp as if the rain had recently stopped. He took out the paper and pen from his jacket and wrote the words that would make it into a book one hundred years later. John didn’t care about that though. He had finally found his own page, and where he was meant to be, staring up at the starry sky with wonder as if he were newly born.

Tom Murray is a full time writer living in Dumfries. His plays have been widely performed. His stories and poems published in magazines and anthologies in Scotland, and further afield. His website: https://tmurraytg.wordpress.com His Blog: https://tommurrayborders.blogspot.com

ASLEEP-AWAKE by Mandy Beattie

My eyelashes flutter and flatline crescent moons on crests of cheeks
behind iris-lids is sky inside a pearl-mussel a swirling ocean
swell pitching me deeper, deeper, deeper until I am skinless-skein
and silver umbilicus-ectoplasm from The Cup Bearer I track Ptolemy
to waltz past stones of sleep to swoop and soar I am a Sky-Traveller
in a Starship The Plough’s my jib and I fly elbow to elbow with fluttering wings
I trail mountain folds, isobars, snow caps and seeds, air-swim
over oceans and niblets of sand I am a wind-horse
weaving among clusters of gypsophila with star-petals in my hair
I shadow the Big Dipper to the North Star as I cartwheel around
The Northern Cross a giant harp strums my skinless-skein
and silver umbilicus-ectoplasm and I forward roll to Andromeda to foxtrot
with El Morya and Merlin on a magic carpet through the maw
of the Milky Way until fingers of light edge around bare bones and Saturn’s
curtain rings and Orion’s Belt is the launch pad through the veil
of thin-air when the long and short hand siphons me back into bones
my heart the drum beat of a Shaman and alchemy
as my bones uncurl and unfurl from its question mark – When
will it be, ‘As Above, So Below?

Mandy Beattie, is a feminist from Caithness, with an MA in Social Work Practice & Research. Her poetry is a tapestry of stories and imagery, rooted in people, place & the natural environment, set at home and abroad. 

Untitled image by Rukhsana C

Rukhsana C relies on Imagination and Photoshop skills to create visual stories.
Please follow her work at:
https://twitter.com/c_rukhsana
https://rukhsanac.picfair.com/
RukhsanaC@Pexels

Please keep scrolling to see more wonderful writing and artwork…the best is yet to come!

ESCAPE by Isabel Garford

It was the day I caught the wrong train,
travelled through a country I didn’t recognise
to a town whose name I didn’t know.

I walked down the empty platform
past the booking hall where years of dust
had pitted the closed shutters
to a uniform grey.

In the town square I lingered
beneath a plane tree whose branches
had been pruned into stumps
like the shoulders of the girl
taken in handcuffs from the train.

Isabel Garford spent many working years hating being a solicitor. She now divides her time between chatting to friends on the phone and sometimes writing about things that intrigue and amuse her. 

Decapitated by Mass Index

TURN IT UP by Toby Goodwin

My bass is in its case between my knees, and every time the car turns it squashes my leg further into the door. My tinnitus is blending in with the sound of the bypass. Screaming, whistling. Used to stress me out, but life’s about how you look at it, ae? I’ve chosen to find the sound interesting. In fact, I’ve found that I can fluctuate the sound by clenching and unclenching my jaw. I lie in bed at night making haunting, high-pitched, celestial music. The sound of dying ear cells, cochlea, as my doctor had called them, prompting a little giggle from fifteen-year-old me. I’m twenty-two now, so I’ve had time to acclimatise. Plus, when an ailment’s your own fault, you tend to forgive it more easily.
“Will we put the radio on?” Jim says.
“Why not,” I say.
Jim’s driving. Long, floppy black hair and he has a certain wiry elegance to him. A certain fluidity to his movements. The practice space is on a commercial estate just off the town centre between a Hyundai and a Mini garage. “You sort it then, Shaun,” he says.
Shaun’s in the front passenger seat wearing khaki shorts and a Steely Dan t-shirt. I’m in the back. He leans forward and puts a finger to the dial, “Gimmie some tunes, you salty cow.” He says. Shaun’s the middle child of the band, the drummer. He’s got short blonde hair and a bit of a goatee. He turns the radio to Heart, “Shite.” EDM. “Next!” Classic FM, a nice Handel concerto; the opening of Op 6. He turns to me, grinning, and starts conducting with his fingers.
“How pleasant,” I say. I’m in the back, still hugging the bass.
“How pleasant indeed,” Shaun says.
“Naw.” Jim flips a paddle by the steering wheel and bares left. “Put some fuckin bangers on.”
Shaun pulls a face and turns the dial again. Top 100, “Naw,” Smooth Chill. “How’s about that?” The radio box lights up with those magical words; Smooth, Chill. It’s nice: lo-fi hip-hop. The kind of thing Uni students listen to in the library after popping their second Ritalin of the evening. “Does what it says on the tin.”
“Smooth Chill,” Jim says, tasting the words. Feeling the smoothness.
Jim had picked me up from the station about ten minutes before. We all live in the greater Stirling area. Dunblane for me and Shaun; Stirling for Billy and Jim. Jim’s the youngest of us all, an outstanding guitarist. His driving isnae bad either. You can feel the G’s on some corners, but it’s mostly stable.
“How d’ya think they came up with smooth chill,” I say. I’m the oldest, big bushy beard and a bit of a belly. Billy, the frontman, likes to say I bring the band some ‘much-needed sex appeal,’ the little bastard. He’s meeting us there. “Was there a board meeting or was it some kind of competition? Maybe an outsourced project management unit?”
“What? Do you mean; Smooth Chill: the name, or the concept of smoothly chilling?” Shaun says.
“The name.”
“It’ll have been done like one of those league tables. A whole slew of two-word titles and a cheer-omiter with the station crew.”
“And the winner came round to be smooth fucking chill, after quite the raucous evening of cheering.”
“What a name,” I say.
“What an institution, smooth chill. It just rolls smoothly out of your mouth.”
“Chill isnae good enough. I want to be smooth whilst I chill.”
I look down at my phone, nestled behind the neck of the bass. I pull out Reddit and start to scroll: a bear and a dog who are pals, some witty responses to an unsolicited penis photograph, a man winning some kind of knife competition, and then fire. A flaming truck, burning bales of hay, a panicked driver. It streams past the camera operator, who hasn’t thought to turn their phone to the landscape position. A great glowing trail follows the truck. I open the comments, top one says, “Apparently the driver noticed the fire but was driving past a school and then a petrol station, so he wanted to stay clear. Explains the manic driving.” I pause the video, letting the trail of fire hang in the silicon air.
“Do we need masks by the way?” I say, looking up.
“Yeah probably,” Jim says.
He exits a roundabout and eases into a car park. It’s evening, early summer, so the sun is bright and low in the sky. I rummage around in my pocket. There’s a fresh medical mask in there somewhere, but it’s been crushed into my keys. Jim rounds the back of the building and parks up. On our left is a group of metalheads smoking cigarettes. We give them a masculine nod, grab our gear out of the boot, mask up, and go straight in. The lobby’s a little room with a desk and a couch. Andy’s sitting there in a mask, his big glasses steamed, “Room 1, boys” he says, pointing to a corridor. “Payment came through fine.” I hike my bass higher on my shoulder and smile at him. It’s hard to smile with a mask on, but you can still see it in the shape of folk’s eyes. There’s something else too. Maybe a certain pheromone is released. An unacknowledgeable smile smell. You can feel a smile the same way you can feel a sound.
“You’ve wasted my fucking life, Jemma.”
It’s been about a year since we last played together and I’m nervous. When you’ve not played together for a long time, you don’t know if the gel’s gonnae be there. I worry they won’t accept me. That’s the way with music. I’ve proved myself a million times, but the feeling doesn’t go away. You can do it or you cannae, proofs in the playing.
I pull out my bass and lean it against an amp. Billy’s already in there waiting for us, wearing tartan skinny jeans and a red denim jacket, blonde hair. The room’s ten metres square with an old PA, three guitar amps, a bass amp, and a drum kit minus breakables (‘breakables’ means snare, cymbals, and the odd cowbell if you swing that way). I pull out my bundle of cables and my pedals and plug in. I’ve got a tube screamer and a tuner. I like boosting the highs a touch with the screamer. Gives the bass a nice, dirty sound.
I never practice loud in the house, so it’s a novelty. Maw needs silence, especially after she’s gone to sleep. It’s only me and her in the house just now anyways. I’ve got one of those families where you can never get more than two of them in a room at a time. Dissonance.
I tune up and feel out a riff. Shaun already has his cymbals hanging. He starts testing, a double stop on the kick and a roll on the snare. He gives a thumb. On the other end of the room, Jim and Billy have their guitars plugged. Billy’s got some distortion and spring reverb and Jim’s got about eight pedals, it’s aebody’s guess what they all do, but after a few seconds, he’s good.
“Let’s do The Socialites,” Billy says. The song’s one of my favourites, but it’s hard, about three minutes of continuous, hammered triplets, but I start to sway as Shaun counts us in. Our levels are slightly out. The bass is too quiet, but we’re in. Time is ours. The opening riff turns into a pattern with Jim’s lead and Billy barks out the first verse. Reality bends around me as a ribbon. A wide length that ripples and shudders with every thump. The air shivers. I’m in the other world. Guitar-land, my teacher used to call it, this old Canadian rocker. “Go to guitar-land and stay there, man. You don’t have to leave if you don’t want to.”
My maw lives in the Dunblane east end, dad’s in Glasgow. I get on with everyone in the family. Youngest child, so it’s a bit odd being the oldest band member. I’m not in charge, doesnae work like that. Billy’s the frontman. This is something a lot of folk don’t understand about music. You need a leader, a conductor, someone to hold the reins of the vibrating world and tell it where to go. Too many cooks spoil the broth and aww that.
Billy grins and hammers out the chorus and then it’s on me. I slide down to fifth for the interlude. It’s a repurposed version of a Paul McCartney riff. That’s another thing wi music that most folk don’t understand. It’s like maths, numbers. There’re no new numbers, there’re no new chords. Musicians need to be inspired from all over the place. We take sounds that we like, stitch them together in a way that we like, and then we call it music. Jim starts to solo over the bass riff, first pentatonic and then diatonic. He’s got these new strings, custom ones that the guy from ZZ-Top apparently likes. He can almost bend two full octaves.
Life’s a lot like music, I think. Play it too loud and there’s gonnae be consequences. Your ears won’t ever stop ringing. Like with my parents. They expected too much of Tabby, my older sister. They were too hard on her. Didnae ken what the fuck they were doing, so she tore away early, not seen her in years. I’m fine. I’m stoned all the time. Can’t argue wi me, it’s impossible, so I stay at my maws.
We get to the end of the song and the humming world recedes, “I think we need two triplets on that fill,” Billy says. “Parapum, parapum, peestch.” He makes the hand movements and Shaun looks on from behind the kit with an eyebrow raised. He’s taps aff already.
“Play the riff then,” he does, and Shaun does the triplets.
“Naw, dot the first beat.”
“Well, it willnae be triplets then, will it?”
I start laughing.
“Play, just play,” Billy says. “Let’s loop that phrase and work it out.”
We go over it again and Billy steps over to me. “I cannae quite hear you, Kev. Gonnae turn up.” My ears are whistling even with my earplugs in, wee specialist ones I keep in a screw-top container on my keyring. At least I can stop it from getting any worse. I kneel down next to the bass amp and tweak the lows and mids. I play a riff, “How’s that?”
“Louder.”
I hate silence, partly because of the tinnitus, but I hated it even before that. Silence is unnatural, it’s death, an empty household. Before the divorce, it was full of screams, sounds. “You fat fucking prick, Clark,” shaking through the floor.
I turn up the bass pickups, a pair of single coils, and then I turn up the master, thrumming with a thumb as I do.
“You’re a bitch, actually you know what? You’re a witch, you’ve fucking cursed me, Jemma.”
I’m twelve years old, half-asleep, thinking about how sound travels further through harder surfaces, especially surfaces with a firm molecular convergence like the wood of my little bunk bed. I can feel the sound of my mother, Jemma, crying. Not the high ends, just the lows. Those ugly wa, wa, wa sounds. I slept like that most nights, at least till I was old enough to buy myself some headphones. These days it’s silent, like standing in the eye of a storm.
“Turn it up.”
“I ammm.”
“Lounder, Kev. We gotta hear it over the kick.”
I hear the sound of a plate smashing in the kitchen downstairs, a dog yelps, and I turn up my headphones. It’s so loud it hurts. I can feel it beaming into my mind. Janis Fucking Joplin.
“Turn it up,” Billy says.
“Right, right,” I turn the master to full and then up the gain on my screamer. It’s loud, there’s wind coming out the amp for every note. I can feel it on my legs.
“Which song next?” I say.
“Let’s do that yin again.”
“Righto.”
Shaun taps us in. I hit the first note and there’s a low, thudding sound. A woof. The lights on the front of the amp go out. The wind on my legs is gone.
“I think I’ve fuckin blown it,” I say.

Toby Goodwin is a twenty-five-year-old musician and writer based in Glasgow. He mostly writes contemporary fiction, but also dabbles in crime, memoir and sci-fi. He likes going for short walks on the beach, and he loves cheesecake.
Here’s a link to Toby’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TobyGoodwinWritesStuff/

LOOKING FOR BLIND WILLIE by Ian Tallach

Big bastard sky come down. Angry as hell, though dry. Pylons crackling, anticipating something.
Highway 61, southbound. And there’s a wall of darkness heading this way. All around the world lights up, peculiar. Things aglow, like burned out boxcars, ribcages or twisted branches, jaunty-angled shacks. Menacing things. It’s like some clever irony, a cruel joke… the nightmare, where you think you should be laughing, so you join in, but it’s you they’re laughing at. Times like this you just feel raw. You realize you needed comfort, after all. Damn your pride! Your independence.
I must be crazy not to stop and wait for this to pass, but who’s to say exactly when. So, I just keep on driving. Heading for the storm. Well, I ain’t superstitious, so I’m praying to survive. ‘Spect that’s what they’re praying too – the droves of dispossessed along the roadside. See the worlds behind their eyes. My heart goes out, but I’m so tired. Try not to look.
The sky cracks overhead. Lightning and thunder all mixed up. Bush catches fire, flares up, but then, thank God, the rain. Hard rain. So thick it’s like a wall. Drums on the roof so bad I think it’s gonna cave. But with it comes the dark. Lights on: no diff’rnce. Nothing for it but to pull onto the roadside. Sit it out and wait. I think of those poor bastards in their shacks all battened down with ropes and breezeblocks. Hope they’ll be alright. Some point, I guess, we all stop praying to survive – start praying that you’re ready for the river. Crossing to the other side. Settling accounts. Huh! Life gets you on your knees. It’s what you say when you’re down there that counts. So says the preacher man

Well, I got through the storm as you can see, but modified in such a way as to be grateful for another crust of cornbread. From what I hear no life was lost. Thank God. (No human life, leastwise.) Seems like a miracle.
The highway crossed the Mississippi twenty times during my travels. I was much too long adrift, jus’ searching for this guy. I found him, though. Imagine if I hadn’t. So much time all flushed away forever. But I did find him… in the end. Before he died I heard his song… ‘I Got to Cross that River Jordan.’ Almost killed me. Blind Willie McTell…. I’m telling you, I met him! Guess it was meant to be. Something like that, leastwise. He looked straight at me. Sho’, he blind, I know, but still, those eyes did not once leave my face. His smile came at me like a benediction. And I’m telling you that voice, not far from breaking all his life, was strong as ever. Like a rumour… of a better life… another world. His fingers made that twelve-string speak. He dug down deep, like he was bringing up the notes from someplace buried, but afterwards they wasn’t tethered to the earth no more. They took off like doves. I’m telling you! That’s when it happened, when the lights came on. Everything got changed. It took a blind man to do that for me.

I stuck round till his funeral. The choir sang this number by a friend of his – Johnson – also Willie. Also blind. ‘Jesus Make up my Dying Bed.’ You gotta cry sometimes. And there was this this one line I never heard before – ‘Oh Lord on my dying bed, I’ll be flying’. You can’t take nothing from a man like that.
I got a lot of thinking up ahead. Lots of thinking waiting for me.

For more information about Blind Willie McTell please click here: – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_Willie_McTell

To hear Blind Willie McTell click here:- https://youtu.be/fnWxZtI3ONY

Ian Tallach worked as a paediatric doctor for seventeen years. He became medically retired with Multiple Sclerosis in 2015. The two positives arising from this have been time for his children and the opportunity to explore writing. He also loves Toucans.

The Lost World by Magenta Kent and Nikita Shackleton

ODIN by Moira Weir

I have visited Orkney for many years as I have family connections there. As a small child I was always fascinated by the standing stones, the Ring of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness. The stones stand tall, some as tall as 4.7 metres, they stand majestic looking over the nearby lochs and holding their secrets of who placed them there and why. There have been many explanations of their purpose, Brodgar supposedly the temple of the dead whilst Stenness the temple of the living. The stones are older than the pyramids and many have fallen but their presence is still powerful, dominating the skyline.
Every year when I go to Orkney I always visit the stones and feel at peace in their presence, they are like familiar friends. A few years back archaeologists started digging in a nearby strip of land and uncovered a series of remains of buildings which they excavate every year producing more and more significant finds allowing us to begin to understand the people who inhabited Orkney as far back as 5000bc. The site is called the Ness of Brodgar, and continues to surprise archaeologists with its revelations. It consists of a massive complex of remains of Neolithic buildings, some of which are believed to be temples, uncovering their treasures of pottery, coloured walls and animal bones encased in some of the stone walls. This is believed to have been what was left over after a huge ceremony where lots of cattle were sacrificed. The Ness sits between the two stone circles in a narrow area of land with a standing stone standing proud at the start of the road.
Over the years I have owned and loved several dogs who I take with me to Orkney, and they have all visited the stones and Ness of Brodgar with me, until recently. One of my labradors, Odin, (yes, I know a very norse god) has been coming to Orkney with me for seven years. From a pup he happily got out the car and started to walk with my husband and I towards the Ring of Brodgar, he made it from the car park to the start of the path and stopped dead refusing to take another step. We thought he had spotted a rabbit or bird until he started to howl, we tried coaxing him further and he made it to the stone circle but continued to howl all the way round. We met a young student from Glasgow at the stones who was going to camp there overnight; when he saw the reactions of Odin he changed his mind very quickly.
Every year we tried to encourage Odin and reassure him that he was safe but he still acted distressed and eventually we gave up with Odin staying beside my husband whilst I walked around the stones with my other dog. Three years ago we visited the Ness of Brodgar to learn of new finds as it was open when we were in Orkney. It was a warm day so we took the dogs with us as it was too hot to stay in the car. Odin had never been there before, he lasted two minutes, looking into one of the trenches and the howling started, growing louder and more urgent. It immediately caught everyone’s attention on a very busy day with lots of tourists. One of the archaeologists enquired if he was alright and we told her about his reaction at the stones. We made a hasty retreat as he was causing a lot of fuss and attention.
The following day we were in Stromness walking back to the car park when a man and a woman approached us. I recognised the woman from the dig as the lady who had enquired about Odin. The two people approached us and I could hear the lady stating to her companion “This is the dog I was telling you about yesterday”. The man introduced himself as another archaeologist, they both expressed their excitement and told us they had never experienced a dog’s reaction to the site, they were fascinated by his actions. The male archaeologist said that he wished he could see and feel what Odin did at the stone circles and the Ness of Brodgar dig. He has never reacted this way to any other area we have visited in the whole of Scotland.
I too wonder what it is that Odin sees or senses when he’s there, is it the spirits of long gone civilisations or is it the essence of whatever ceremonies that were carried out by the people at these sites lingering in that other world? The whole area around the two rings of standing stones, Ness of Brodgar and surrounding historical sites was obviously of great importance to the people of Neolithic Orkney and chosen carefully as the site of their most significant buildings and a place for gatherings and sacred ceremonies.

The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, photograph by Moira Weir

Moira Weir has been a lecturer for many years and has a great love of words and art. She paints, draws, felts and designs jewellery. She stays in the Central Belt but enjoys visiting Orkney which is her soul place

.

GLOBE by John McMahon

Lying back in bed, suspended from the ceiling is a colourful globe. I look deeply at it and I imagine I’m in some place wonderful.

Anywhere but Dumbarton, soon my snoring turns into the waves licking at the shore like a thirsty dog. I was really in Australia …

The sun cut through my pale white Scottish body like a samurai sword. Soon I’m riding a huge wave. I’m cool now.

I’m back in my bedroom glaring at the globe. I get out of bed and go to my shoes, turn them
upside down and shake them and what looks like sand forms a little pile on the carpet.

John McMahon is 37 years old and lives in Dumbarton with his wife and daughter. He has been writing since he was seventeen.

THE NEW YORK TIMES INTERVIEWS MS OCEAN by Nikita Shackleton

A mermaid delivered the note, handwritten in wavering purple ink.
She chose a secret location on Long Island at midnight.
Strictly no pictures, no questions and I must come alone.
She said she admired my honesty and the scoop on Leonard Cohen.

The tide was out, the mist was in and it looked like a no show
when suddenly she appeared by the rocks, lapping quietly at my feet.
She wore a blue mac. A fedora pooled shadows over her eyes.
Such an honor to meet you, I began. Thanks for letting me tell your story.

This is not about me, well not much, she said.
Her voice rippled and skipped through the dark.
It’s about you guys. My warnings
aren’t getting through, not 

even the tsunami of 04. You morons
have short memories and no understanding
of omens. We don’t know where we went wrong, me
and Neptune. We were good parents. Fuck knows 

we tried our best. Ever since you crawled
onto dry land you’ve lost your way.
What do you mean exactly? 
I asked.
I told you no questions, she replied and a cold wave rose up and slapped me in the face.

We sent clear signs, reminders every day. It’s hard work
maintaining the tides, the rhythm, all that pulling
and pushing to teach you the value of self-discipline, of balance
and how to give and take. We’re sick 

of your abuse and the shit you dump in the water. I could
go on and on but I’m not here to give another
lecture cos the truth is, you’re screwed. No,
I’m here to tell you I’m quitting.  

Neptune hitched a ride to Andromeda
five years ago. He sent a postcard last month
and says he’s doing swell. I stayed behind, hoping
for change but now your time is up. There’ll be no 

more marinara pizza, no more calamari fritters, no
more weekends hanging out at the beach and no
more yachting holidays for the jet set. There’ll be no
more clouds with silver linings and no 

more rain on your dahlias. You will be forever grounded.
I’m off to Orion for my new job as Head of Desert Prevention.
My advice in these dying days is to forget love, it will fail you.
Read Dostoevsky and respect your cat, he is wiser than you know.

And before I could protest, she disappeared,
dancing and leaping into a vortex of spray.

The Sirens by Brian Ord. Digital Print, Oil Paint & Resin, on Canvas, from Collage
Mattaclarksville by Brian Ord, Digital Print , Oil Paint & Resin, on Canvas, from Collage.

Brian Ord has exhibited his sculpture throughout the UK & the World. His latest body of work is Two Dimensional – Digital Print, Oil Paint & Resin, on Canvas, from Collage. These are called’ Impossible Interiors and Exteriors’ . Website:- http://www.ne-arts.co.uk/ http://www.facebook.com/brianordartist

LONDON BLITZ by Melanie Fearon

Doodlebugs dropping
bright splashes in the sky.
The dancers in the ballroom, lifeless
across the river
in Putney, Battersea and Wandsworth.

Sirens wailing,
then the buzz bombs sudden silence.
I lie in bed and think
is this the end of me
instead of Putney, Battersea and Wandsworth?

People crying.
Uncle Jack with red-rimmed eyes.
His wife and sons lie dead
under five floors of tenement flats
in Chelsea, not Putney, Battersea or Wandsworth.

Air raid wardens dig
me, my mother and my rubber doll
from the rubble.
Unharmed, not like some others
in Chelsea, Putney, Battersea and Wandsworth.

I pick some ragwort for a jam jar.
Tommy Handley on the wireless.
Mrs Thorne collects the chamber pots from empty basements
and the groups of women laugh
in Chelsea, Putney, Battersea and Wandsworth.

Melanie Fearon has 3 grown-up children and 6 grandchildren. She worked as a teacher of young children, some with special needs, and did parent-line. She started writing in a class in Newcastle 15 years ago. 

The Rising Sun Country Park by Geoff Weston

AMONGST THE FLUTTERERS by Trudy Gritte

“I’m supposed to be dead”, Amy would say to the visitors wearing plastic smiles as they edged around the door into Room 1, Ward 5. It was gratifying to see them squirm at the mention of the ‘D’ word. In bleak times a girl must get her kicks any way she can. When Amy failed to defeat her illness, stubbornly refusing to rise and sparkle from the sheets like a New Year firework the number of visitors declined until only the troubled and lonely returned. They stopped bringing cheery cards, gifts of scented soap, lip balm and chocolates. Instead some of them drank her afternoon tea, ate her biscuits and ‘borrowed’ the taxi fare home. They all needed a sympathetic ear. There was Linda who was plagued by too many happy memories, Steve who was working out why his wife left him nine years before and Carol who couldn’t decide her next holiday destination. Amy tried to remember that just because she was dying didn’t mean others weren’t entitled to their own misery. It must be a hard choice between the Trans Siberian Express and an Alaskan cruise, after all.

Amy found terminal illness hard work. The doctors, nurses and visitors must be kept happy. It was considered bad form to show pain or fear. One must be positive and grateful at all times. “When you’re smiling…the whole world smiles” and all that shit. It was indeed true that even now there were things for which she was grateful. For a start, she had a room of her own and was no longer trapped with the dementia patients in Room 8. Amy’s new room didn’t have a view unless you stood on a chair and revolved your head like the demonically possessed girl in The Exorcist. Room 1 faced a brick wall with a row of identical windows. The sky could be seen only as a reflection in their glass panes. The best time was when the sun came up and flared in the windows opposite and a solitary seagull perched on her window sill, feathers so white, so exquisitely sculpted that Amy could almost taste the ocean. She imagined the bird swooping low over turquoise waves and then spiralling up into a pure blue sky.

The other thing to be grateful for was the night. Amy loved the night. It was the only time she felt safe. During the day an endless procession of strangers burst into her room without knocking regardless of her situation or state of undress. Dignity was a lost cause. To the army of uniforms she was no longer a woman but a lump of meat to be processed. During the day, she was lost even to herself, her mind focused anywhere but in this body, in this room. She felt she was looking down at herself from a great height, her body meant nothing more than a discarded old coat, too battered even for a charity shop. But at night as the ward gradually fell silent the real Amy returned. Sometimes she would talk to herself out loud, ‘I am Amy Baxter. I was once a teacher, a daughter, a sister, a wife. I am good at baking, knitting, gardening and pub quizzes. I am a loyal friend. My favourite meal is gammon with pineapple and chips. I prefer dogs to cats….’ After the ten thirty drugs trolley had squeaked its way from room to room, the footsteps, voices, slamming doors and buzzing alarms in the corridor lessened. Occasionally Amy heard a patient crying or shouting but it was not like Room 8 where the poor sods with dementia wailed all night and she never slept at all.

It was in Room 8 that Amy first started seeing the visions. When she arrived they put her in the bed near the window. The day was stormy. The ambulance had lurched violently in the gusts of wind on the journey to the hospital. She’d kept hoping they would plunge off the road on one of the hairpin bends so her suffering could be over. No such luck. It was cold in Room 8. The old metal windows were draughty and Amy pulled the blanket up to her chin. She was glad she’d brought her favourite yellow cardigan to keep her warm. She’d knitted it herself, embroidering the cuffs with small blue spots. She closed her eyes and tried to rest. After a while a nurse brought her a cup of tea. When Amy looked up she suddenly saw a jagged white light pulsating around the edge of the window frame, where the aluminium met the wall. She rubbed her eyes and blinked hard but the light was still there.
“What’s that light?” she asked the nurse pointing at the window.
“It’s the sky outside”, said the nurse.
“I know that, I mean what’s that white light streaming around the window?”
Amy looked up at the ceiling where there was a ventilation vent. To her astonishment strange rays of light were filtering through the metal grid. It looked like a scene from Star Trek.
“And up there, look!” she said to the nurse. “Can’t you see it? It’s like the wind coming in. I can see the wind!”
“There’s nothing there pet”, the nurse said. “It’s not Christmas you know. No fairy lights for you.”
Amy heard her go out into the corridor and say “The new one’s seeing fairy lights and she hasn’t even had her morphine yet!” Then laughter.

Amy hoped the lights would go away. She didn’t like seeing things other people couldn’t see. Did it mean she was on the verge of death or insanity? The next morning she could still see the lights but more faintly, wavering like thin silver strands. She tried not to look and never mentioned it to anyone again.

After Amy moved into her single room the weird lights vanished. She squinted at the window and tried hard to see something special but no, it was all completely ordinary. But then one day she was taken downstairs on a trolley for a CT scan. The lift was crammed with people, people of various age, race and build but one thing united them. They were all illuminated. Waves of intense colour pulsed from each human body, as if they all emanated a personal aurora as spectacular as the northern lights. Blues, greens, purples, all the colours of the rainbow. Tears welled in Amy’s eyes, not from her pain but from the beauty of each translucent soul standing shoulder to shoulder in the lift. She felt their hopes, dreams and fragility as concretely as she could see the nicotine stained fingers of the porter as he pressed the button for Level 1. When the lift doors opened the scene changed. People dispersed in different directions and they were back to being dull, normal humans.

When Steve came to visit, clutching a carrier bag full of photos of his ex-wife for Amy to admire, she tried to tell him about the life-affirming experience in the lift. He interrupted her story by saying it must be her drugs and could he have some please? After that, every time he texted to say he was on his way to the hospital she replied she was too tired for visitors. One time he turned up without texting and she pretended to be asleep. He never came again.

Amy’s evenings in Room 1 became more solitary but she didn’t mind. She didn’t watch the small TV which was set so high on the wall that it hurt her neck to look. Instead she would ask the nurse to open the window. It would only open about four inches to prevent suicides but that was enough to let the scent of rain and the sounds of the street into her room. Amy loved the birds who sang at night, their song mingling with the traffic noise, sirens and raucous drunks staggering home from the pub. One night she heard a man shouting“fuck off” over and over again at seagulls who were screaming loud enough to wake the dead. She imagined him out there with his bag of chips and the birds circling around.

Every night as her room darkened Amy would switch on the small spot lamp by her bed. One by one moths drifted through the open window forming an iridescent cloud in the pool of light. She liked to watch their hypnotic dance until she fell asleep. When she woke in the morning she found moths of every hue adorning her pillow like precious jewels. The nurses complained, some of them were afraid of winged creatures and ran shrieking from the room. The ward manager said it was unhygienic and in future the window must be kept closed at night.

On Amy’s last night she begged the kind Polish nurse on duty to open the window.

“Just one more time,” Amy pleaded.

In the morning when the nurse brought breakfast Amy had vanished, her hospital gown cast off on the bed. A kaleidoscope of moths filled the room, shimmering over the walls, the ceiling and every surface. The largest and brightest was yellow marked with tiny blue spots. She was the first to leave, leading the others and fluttering out into the fresh cold air.

Photograph by Nikita Shackleton

PETALS DROPPING by Chrissie Morris Brady

A shaft of light, torch-like, lights the room
this room, off a corridor, in the huge building.
Alone, save the silent nurse who sleeps, I long
to be home, to be kissed, to take in the scent
of Dad’s neck as he carries me.

My body does not respond no matter my effort
lifeless as a flower cut with petals dropping,
my limbs inert, akinetic, mute my voice, this done to me
without my knowing, and yet I sense each touch
every invasive thing. I am destroyed, a mind encased
inside a tomb that is my flesh, bone and blood.

My thoughts drift back to familiar worlds
of being chosen, the boy sweet on me, golden hair
they shaved away, the branch in that tree smoothed
by our jeans, I could not know it would be you
that died in my arms, and my Dad would die there too.

Chrissie Morris Brady resides on the south coast of England with her daughter. She is widely travelled and has lived in five countries. Her third collection of poetry, Caught By The Moon, was published last August. Her writing has appeared in many publications. Chrissie’s website is chrissiemorrisbrady.wordpress.com

I STAND WAITING by Meg Macleod

at the edge of winter
as the sun rises
I hold out my cupped hands
and light like a river in spate
overwhelms all that was in stasis
darkness in my bones begins to break apart

soon stars will become a brief
apology for night
and long before the town awakens
dusk will give birth to a premature dawn
a chattering chorus of birds
will enter the dreaming of the people

Meg was born in 1945 in England. She lived in America and Canada before moving to Scotland in 1974 where she now resides on the north coast in a house looking out over the sea towards Orkney Islands. Meg has a BA in Fine Arts. Her beautifully illustrated book of poems entitled Raven Songs is available to buy from Amazon.

We’ve reached the end of our fantastic journey with a soft landing back to reality. I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring Other Worlds in The Haar. Thanks to all contributors for making this issue spectacular. And thanks to readers for coming on board. Any comments are much appreciated and can be left below. The Haar will return with an inspiring new theme in September.

In the meantime please help this e-zine survive and thrive by making a donation towards the running costs and the development of a bigger, juicier website. The Haar is an entirely voluntary project with no access to external funding. Anything you feel able to contribute will be used wisely to maintain a free platform for creatives to share their work.

Thank you!

Nikita Shackleton

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Prepare for Other Worlds

The second issue of The Haar creative arts e-zine is coming soon on this blog featuring an exclusive interview with screenwriter Martyn Hesford, new work from George Gunn, Tom Murray, Mandy Beattie, Chrissie Morris Brady, Georgia Brooker and many talented others. Also innovative art from Brian Ord, Geoff Weston and Karen Strang….plus a chance to win a poetry book plus much, much more. Watch this space and don’t miss your chance to explore Other Worlds at The Haar.

Image by the author

Please help The Haar survive and thrive by making a donation towards the set-up costs of a new, juicier website and also towards regular running costs. The Haar is an entirely voluntary project with no access to external funding. Anything you feel able to contribute will be used wisely to maintain a free platform for creatives to share their work. PLEASE SUPPORT THE ARTS.

Thank you! 

Nikita Shackleton

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The Forest of Smiles

My day begins pixelated.
Needle sharp shards of light
refract like monsoon rain
in tropical forest, bending
breaking leaves out of shape
with the violence of descent.
Little red icons beckon.
Visions of perfection
macerate the eye
beyond screens of polish.
Hey, look at me! Me!
Picnics, reunions of red
lipstick with star spangled
skirts, blossom trees, blooming
babies, birthday balloons, home
-baking, sunsets and fragile
creatures perched on the edge
of a black canyon. So smiley.
So breakable. So sad your dog,
granny or dahlias passed away.
So happy you are happy or not.
Who loves ya, baby? Not enough
likes today? Do you exist today?
Click refresh or exit.

Image by the author