Every time I stop at a petrol station I ask myself the same question; how can an entire modern civilisation be built on a finite, flammable liquid that relatively few people control and that’s in short supply?
This hideous pandemic has clearly shown that the earth and humanity are interconnected and dependent on each other for survival. Different nations, animals, plants, the climate – we all need each other. There is no room for selfishness, cheap nationalism and bigotry. The World Wide Web is not just on the internet but everywhere.
The dog named Black Balls watched
from a safe distance as Ivan shoveled
manure at Tundra Corner. Stripped
to the waist, sweat beading his grand
moustache, lush despite his eighty years.
When he found the gold ring he stopped
dead, yelled ‘охуеть!’ and then ‘соси хуй!’
The hens fled to the moonshine shed.
The vintage wedding ring, twenty two carat
and inscribed forever, lingered like winter
sunsets in the empty Heinz soup tin
where Ivan kept his razor and comb.
One morning as he waxed his Stalinesque
twirls before the tarnished mirror
he finally decided on the rich widow
with the plump rump from Paradise Farm.
Note:- I am unsure of the accuracy of the Russian swear words so if anyone can advise their help would be appreciated!
It was not an ordinary day.
The east wind sparked salt and I awoke
to dreams of the unicorn. My old bones
rolled the waves and the falcon’s shadow
shifted. I knew what I must do.
Down Fast Eddie I chased the Dragon’s Tail,
surfed by leafy isles, rested in deepening
pools a while, glimpsed churches, spiraling treetops,
salmon swimming through castle walls.
I passed beneath Ness Bridge unseen.
It was the end of an ordinary day. So at So Coco
the waitress wrapped sweet fancies in tissue twists
as the last customer licked cappuccino
from his lips. At The Mustard Seed the chef marinaded
for dinner. At the Victorian Market they folded
tartan as gates clanged and the clock chimed.
In Falcon Square the piper belched away his ale
saw my passing. No-one saw the unicorn
Note 1:- The Loch Ness Monster is a mythical aquatic creature reputed to dwell deep in the cold waters of Loch Ness near Inverness in Scotland. There have been numerous sightings and photographs showing a curvaceous beast rising out of the grey waves.
Note 2:- The unicorn is Scotland’s national animal. A statue of a unicorn is located in Falcon Square, a landmark in the centre of the city of Inverness.
These found poems are based on the real letters of Annie Mackay. She spent her brief life working the small family croft in a remote area of the Highlands. Sadly, she developed cancer and died at the age of 21 in 1957. Her orphaned six month baby boy was left to be raised by an aged uncle. At the time illegitimate children were considered social outcasts. No-one ever discovered the identity of the baby’s father which might be hinted at in these letters. They were written to Annie’s married sister Violet who had moved to Edinburgh. I love these letters because they are full of joy and humor even though Annie was already aware of her illness. They also paint a picture of the preoccupations of a country girl and life in the 1950s.
I sold eighteen turkeys
so we can have a night
out in the pub,
going from bad to worse (puff).
Ronald says Ray is a born lunatic,
that was his opinion when he saw
the photos and then the blue jersey.
Your hair looked very nice,
is that a new dress you had on?
I hope it’s nylon
I’m not in favor of wool.
Lots of love and kisses,
I can tell you about it. There was turkey for dinner, then at 3 o’clock tea.
I had my cake with 21 candles. All the family were there listening to Lux
and singing The Railroad Runs Through the Middle of the House.
I think its super, don’t you? Lena brought the record Walking in the Rain.
I like it do you?
Jesse gave me £5 and Connie £2 and Grandad two aprons and Mary a nylon underset
and Margaret a necklace, sparkles all colors and Donald a mohair scarf (awfully warm)
and Sheena nylons and Jane a cameo brooch and Granny a Terrylene blouse.
I’m not in favor of blue.
And from Julie a ‘Le Page’ compact and from Johnny, Black Rose perfume,
very good of him and from Lynn a Coty lipstick, nearly ruby and from Alan a purse.
What a present, not much use with no money and then of course, your presents.
Johnny stayed till midnight… everyone else went off at six.
Lots of love and kisses,
PS A Separate Special Instalment for your Eyes Only:-
BURN AFTER READING
Me and my mates, we rub together
swell. We’ve been here forever, fretting.
Different shapes and colors,
we jigsaw, see-saw on the front line.
We rise and fall, small tectonic shifts,
comrades waiting for the ultimate surge.
You’ll find me in the fiftieth row from the left
by the turbulence of the harbor wall.
It’s a fine spot, plenty of action.
I pass unnoticed, I’m not the brightest.
Some call me dull. I call it French
Grey, camouflaged by elegant swirls.
Poor Fred and Ginger were striking
red, arty types with a sense of style.
They were snatched away to a suburban
rockery. It’s always better to blend in.
There’s a rumor drifting from below,
the Big One will sweep us to unknown fields.
Hear us mutter, hear us moan,
the rainbow legions of change.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I hate hearing this phrase which seems to be everywhere these days. It’s like the ultimate cop-out, a slick way to terminate any awkward conversation and is used frequently by politicians, the police, sports people, business entrepreneurs and many pop celebrities. I’ve heard it in bleak Scandi-noir TV dramas and once or twice even caught myself saying it. It’s the title of several films, songs and books. Such a pat phrase that just slips off the tongue and makes you seem cool. But why has it become popular and what does it say about our society?
To me, “it is what it is” reeks of negativity, passivity, resignation and defeat. It’s saying, ‘this is a bad situation but there’s fuck all I can do about it”. It’s saying let’s accept reality, let’s just lie down and die. The phrase suggests that reality is a fixed, immutable state and that we have no control, we are merely passengers on an uncomfortable train to hell. I don’t know about you, but that is not the way I choose to live my life. I am not a brainwashed battery hen clucking away in a cage, pretending I am free while I’m really being processed for destruction.
OK, I agree some situations may be out of our control but there’s always something we can do to improve matters. Just because it is difficult to change something doesn’t mean we should give up. We should at least try. It’s like when people shrug and say, ‘oh well there will always be wars, it’s just human nature.’ Was it human nature to profit from slavery, rape women, exterminate disabled people, participate in blood sports and send children down the mines? These are all horrors that we no longer tolerate in a civilised society. They may still happen in secret but are considered crimes. Society can and does change. People can change.
When people say ‘it is what it is’ they are implying that a situation is fixed and knowable. This is not true. Any situation, even something simple like ‘it’s raining today’ is a matter of perception, of experience, of interpretation. Reality is in a constant state of flux and so are we. It may be raining in your street but not on the other side of town. And the rain may stop at any moment. The sun may shine the next time you look out the window. We are never 100% aware of all the facts. We only have a partial view based on limited information. For example, a loved one may be diagnosed with a terminal illness, but doctors are often wrong, the body can and does mysteriously heal itself. The sick person can adapt and learn to live successfully with illness. Life is a multiplicity of greys, a misty landscape and not a row of black and white boxes.
Take this photograph as a visual metaphor. It shows a rather elegant entrance to a building which could be a hotel, a school, a conference centre, a hospital, a law court, a police station…we may speculate on what lies beyond the doors but until we pass through them we do not know. Every day in your life is like those doors. Never make assumptions about the future. Never give up on a situation.
Next time you are tempted to say ‘it is what it is’, hang fire and try to think out of the box. Change is always possible and it sometimes happens in small steps. Humans have evolved and survived as a dominant species because of our ability to adapt. We can be clever and inventive. We can be compassionate. The day we stop doing that and become resigned to an unsatisfactory fate is the day we cease to thrive.
Hope you enjoy my photographs that show the changes in Petrol pump design from the sixties to the noughties. Note the switch from gallons to litres and the introduction of unleaded. I took the pictures at disused filling stations in Northern Scotland. Can you spot the bird’s nest? Would a bird be faster than an Esso ‘tiger in your tank’? Someone should do research!
In the final shot I liked the spectral polythene sheeting shredded and flapping in the wind which often reaches 70 mph in the Flow Country.
In the first shot I was drawn to the signs of corrosion and nature taking over. Turquoise and orange were fashionable colours in the sixties. The fourth picture shows purple pumps, a colour that is still popular today…the trains and bus shelters are all purple (or the colour of Scottish Heather perhaps!)
I was fascinated by the weird shapes of these oil drill bits I saw discarded at the site of an onshore oil well in Northern Scotland. They remind me of alien seed pods from a sci-fi film! The drill bits were originally diamond tipped and cost thousands of pounds each. They were quickly worn out by the toughness of the granite.