In The Graveyard

Wandering round the graveyard, as I often do, searching for a spot to rest my weary bones, I found a conifer and, under it, a collection of empty bottles with a couple of cans.

What did this signify? Had gentlemen of the street congregated in the graveyard to empty these bottles and cans? Perhaps, though I have never seen anything like this on any of my previous visits.

So what was going on? In the old days, I could have issued an invitation along the lines Answers on a postcard please, but these days are long gone.

For those on the lookout for such things, I realise that there are also gentlewomen of the street, but in our area they are greatly outnumbered by men, though for those women who have fallen on hard pavements or times, we are fortunate to have here in Edinburgh the Indigent Gentlewomen’s Fund.

But be advised, ladies, that you should form an orderly queue. And to Jock McSporran of Leith, who sought my advice on this subject, I should just like to say that no, if you decide to self-identify as a woman to progress your application to the fund you will not be deemed eligible.

Nice try, though.

Words Have Meanings

This may seem obvious, but there are occasions when some people wilfully ignore them.

I have a book coming out soon, the title is Interleaved Lives, and while I have complete control of the text, this is not the case with the cover design. Though I can’t draw to save myself, I did have a visual image in mind. So in an attempt to cover this angle, I sought a cover designer and supplied her with the following brief.

Hi. I am looking for a cover for a novel: ebook and paperback. The title is Interleaved lives. I can’t draw, but have an image in my mind consisting of three pages of a book, caught in the act of being leafed through, though without visible sign of the person doing the leafing. The spine of the book is to the viewer’s left. Each page would have an image of a different character. The cover would not be very colourful, largely monochrome with tasteful blue tint. Are you OK with this? Feel free to say no.

The artist I approached did not say no, from which I assumed she was happy with the brief. In due course she supplied the following cover.

Cover Design 1

Well, correct me if I’m wrong, but I can see no point of contact between the brief and this cover. However, I was reassured to learn that she regarded it as some of her best work. Seldom has my gas been so flabbered!

Nothing daunted I tried a second time: same brief, different designer. And after making some points about what I had in mind, he came up with this.

IL_kindle_1

For him, the words of the brief had meaning. I liked his work a lot and told him so.

Changing Times

In our area, there was a manor house, a manse, a farmhouse and a farm toun, the last being a collection of buildings used in the running of a farm – barns and the like. The picture below shows part of the original farm toun, now demolished, attached to the farm.

085 (R53 fr19) workshops

Until recently, we lived in the farmhouse. The farm toun had already given way to housing, but when we looked out of our kitchen window, that at least was still there, our local hotel which, in days gone by, had been the manse, the home of a minister of the Church of Scotland. And a cold and draughty home it doubtless was.

Northfield 2

We know exactly when the building was completed.

Northfield 3

When we moved to the farmhouse in 1980, any minister who had once occupied the manse was long gone (I will not speculate where), and the building was occupied by an actuary and his family. When they decided to sell, a businessman bought it with the intention of turning it into a hotel. This he did, and a succession of people have run it as a hotel since then.

The prevoius owners added a conservatory, which greatly increased the number of people the kitchen could cater for. They also held quiz nights there which, according to the lady in charge, were ‘famous’.

Northfield 5

The present owners expanded further with an outdoor area, also visible in this picture. It seems there may have been occasional instances of anti-social behaviour, hence this sign, which will disappear with everything else when the hotel is demolished to make way for student accommodation. Because this, we learn to our dismay, is the plan.

Northfield 6

We have had many meals in the hotel over the years, and held the reception there after my mother’s funeral. But even before the virus struck, the restaurant had ceased trading for the general public and catered for hotel guests only.

Sadly, with the coming of the virus, bookings were cancelled even before the lockdown got going so, for the time being, the hotel has not been a viable business. Now the present owners, having gone over the figures, have concluded that this sad state of affairs is likely to continue.

As for demolishing it and replacing it with student accommodation, it is not clear that this will be viable either. In recent years there has been an outbreak of developments for the student market in Edinburgh, many offering a complete range of services including that modern must-have, free Wi-Fi and, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn, full body massage with essential oils. Ylang ylang, anyone?

So it seems to me that this market is already saturated, and given the fact that universities will not be returning to ‘normal’ any time soon, there is likely to be an oversupply.

And it gets worse. Students can join online lectures from anywhere, from Wuhan to Albuquerque, without shelling out over £600 per month for the privilege. Since it will cost a fortune to demolish the hotel and construct the proposed student accommodation, I cannot see the delevopers getting a return on their investment. But that is their problem, right?

Times change, not always for the better. We have to put up with it but we don’t have to like it.

What People Do

Here, in our little enclave, people find things to do during lockdown. This post only relates to the observable since, for all I know some, and behind closed doors, people may be heavily into large-knot macramé or carpet bowls.

When the sun shines, which it has done quite a bit lately, some like to bring their folding chairs down the stairs from the third floor (there is no lift) and soak up the sun.

Seals 2

And nothing wrong with that, though if you want to carry on with your book, you are likely to be buttonholed by other residents – one disadvantage of the grounds being shared rather than private.

Or it may be that you’re into exercise, as this resident is. Though in this case her attention has clearly been caught by something other than her training regime. A stag beetle, perhaps? A seed pearl?

ExerciserShe has laid out her mat in front of one of our windows, from which I can see that her routine demands a flexibility not available to me. Ah, but it was when you were young, you are kind enough to say. Well no, it was not.

Some like to entertain, laying on drinks and griddle scones for their guests. Yes, that’s more like it, I can cope with that.

K's T Party

And others break sweat playing croquet, this time seen from a window to the front.

Croquet

Really, with so much entertainment laid on free of charge, who needs Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Disney or Britbox?

Overflow

If waste water is coming from an overflow it is telling you there is a problem which needs to be addressed. Ideally, the overflow pipe should be situated in a really annoying place – the idea being to force your hand. If an overflow is hidden from view then the problem is likely to be ignored.

The overflow in the picture is in this category. It is close to ground level and not overseen by a window. It has been spilling out waste for months.

OverflowIt may be useful for putting cigarettes out, and the local vegetation may like it, but the foundations won’t. And then there is question of wildlife. For example, this enterprising crow.

CrowIt has been using the overflow as a drinking fountain, which might not be such a sharp idea. The source might be a sink, in which case it will probably be swallowing not only water but detergent.

While Trump might consider this a useful strategy for countering Covid 19, most people would not. On which subject:

image1The credit is in the image. I like it because, in its witty way, it illustrates how Trump’s mind works.

Cast Iron Alibis

I haven’t looked it up, but assume this phrase comes from the fact that cast iron is very strong and therefore hard to break.

Having had many encounters with cast iron over the years I can confirm that it is strong, but also that it rusts over the years. In the case of gutters, many proud house owners will paint the exterior and seen from the ground they look great! But as a rule they will not check the interior, invisible from the ground, where the water flows and also where it stands for long periods. Why does it do this? Sometimes the gutter is not completely horizontal on its way to the downpipe, other times it faces obstacles such as autumn leaves or, very often, grass and other plants finding a wet gutter offers a happy home.

It’s when things go wrong that we discover how hard/impossible cast iron is to work with. There is absolutely no give in it and it is also brittle and easy to break if you try too hard. It can be cut with an angle grinder, thoough. The most I have ever been able to do is patch it, provided the hole made by the rust is not too large.

A case in point. On my way to visit my daughter I pass a house with a cast iron problem. As may easily be seen most of the water does not make it all the way down the pipe, and the wall won’t like that. On a rainy day, neither will passers by.

Cast Iron 1But even if it did make it all the way to the ground, it hits another problem.

Cast Iron 2How did this pipe end up in such a bad condition? I don’t know, of course, but I can guess. It may have been where it is now since 1897 and age has taken its toll. (Know the feeling!) Another possibility is that the drain is entirely or partially  blocked below ground level. This will mean water filling the downpipe for hours, days , weeks, because it can’t run away. And this will lead to rust.

For this here pipe there is no hope. And if you’ve just bumped off your husband or wife, the same will be true of your cast iron alibi.

As for cast iron guarantees . . .

Wry Thoughts on Losing Control

Like many of us, I’ve had to deal with large documents, usually course submissions for an exam board.

But people like me (I ran a recording studio) are not to be trusted with such things, so the college employed a woman whose jobs was to check through our submissions on the look-out for errors, weaknesses and possible improvements.

And I can’t deny that she found them. She could have marked up the text with revisions, suggestions and so on, but preferred to slap explanatory Post-its on the sections she wanted amended.

I was not alone in thinking she went a bit over the top here. Our documents would be returned positively bristling with Post-it notes, despite the existence of other colours all yellow, and one such occasion, rather than top myself, I went for a cunning plan.

I accepted Pat’s major suggestions, but there were many others, most of a nit-picking nature. So, life being short, I artfully removed quite a few of these notes before returning the document to her. Since she couldn’t remember all the Post-its she’d placed in the document in the first place, she didn’t notice that several were missing. Sneaky, right?

Pat was so well known for her system she was referred to as Post-it Pat, no doubt based on the children’s character Postman Pat.

Another example. A certain education administrator I knew many years ago had a long, rectangular office, along one wall of which he had a long rectangular pin board. This was his pride and joy. Written on small plastic pins of various colours were the class, classroom, teacher and subject of every class in the college. In short, the timetable for the entire institution.

Yes, he had it all under control – until certain students who’d figured out the weakness in his system, snuck into his office one evening, removed every single pin from the board and left them in a heap on the floor.

The following morning, he came close to a nervous breakdown because now he had no idea which of his many pins went where. In one fell swoop, from total control to no control at all. His world had collapsed on his office floor.

So the fact that a system is physical does not make it safe. Even in the real world (the world not involving computers) backup is essential.

Of course, we all lose control in the end, but that can’t be helped. If you find the thought disturbing, take the advice of Swami Rod – just relax and have a bad time.

Bookshops changing with the times

They don’t have it easy these days and are obliged to follow certain trends to stay in business.

The bookshop I know best has a lower ground floor which used to be full of books – not surprising in a bookshop. Now, though, it hosts a large selection of games ranging from Monopoly through Harry Potter to Star Wars. And there are models of X-Wing fighters for those into Star Wars to assemble. Hours of joy all round.

So shelves which used to be full of books are now full of games. I can’t say a single intelligent thing on this subject because I have never played any of them.  What I notice, though, is the astonishing amount of packaging these games come in, a level of waste that books can’t compete with.

When all the packaging is ripped off where does it end up? I’m reminded of a store specializing in children’s toys (no longer trading) which was even worse. The ratio of packaging to toys did not favour the toys, most of which – to make matters worse – were made of plastic.

So if we aren’t following the trend, not playing the game, we can always stick with something safe. A book hot off the press.

 

Autobiography

Some years ago now a friend showed me chapters of an autobiography she was writing, and very good they were too. She said I should give it a go and eventually I did. But unlike her I had no aptitude for it. I began well enough, Hello, my name is Rod and I was born at an early age. But I wasn’t capable of keeping it going. More accurately, I was capable, technically, but completely lacked the motivation to do it. At root, I found myself boring. And if I failed to interest myself, why would I interest anyone else?

A few bright episodes came to mind, especially concerning my travels in Iran, Afghanistan and their aftermath. For instance, when I was finally released from the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Belgrade, a member of staff drove me to the UK Embassy prior to catching a train the following morning. One of his first acts was to drive the wrong way up a one-way street, and while he was at it hoped I would understand that he had a wife and children. Good for him, I thought. But it turned out he was afraid I would contaminate his family with infectious hepatitis. To eliminate this non-existent risk, he put me up for the night in an embassy outhouse, where I slept in a roll of carpet and was wakened with the lark by field telephone.

But if we included events like that in a novel, who would believe us? In any case, taking all such stories together, a string of narrative pearls though it might be, nothing came close to a continuous narrative. I was reminded of a description I had once seen of Berlioz’ Damnation of Faust, which someone had compared to reading Faust by lighting. So how about a succession of dramatic episodes? But that also failed to get me going. Writing biography would be a different matter altogether, provided the subject was of interest.

What follows from this?

Firstly, I think that those bloggers who are most successful are those who take themselves as their subject. Not only do they let strangers into their lives, they open the door and usher them in. If they could offer them refreshments they would. Not everyone can do this, though. I don’t have what it takes.

Secondly, those of us who write fiction give ourselves away all the time. I obviously can’t prove this, it is merely what I think. And some will reveal their hand more than others. I would say I reveal my hand quite a bit. In fiction there is usually an element of self-description at one remove. The reader can infer various things about the writer even if he does not divulge the name of his cat.

 

Grounds for Concern

We used to live in a farmhouse on the outskirts of town. There was considerable hedging and many trees which I used to climb  to prune. Two cats and one pheasant lie buried in the grounds.

When I came home from work of an evening, the bus passed open fields before it reached us. Below is a small part of what used to be one of those fields, now covered in houses with driveways and garages.

The planners insisted that an old footpath by the impressive name of the Via Regis be kept – and it is still there if you know where to look for it. But now there is no field to either side, as once there was. Dog walkers don’t like this so much. Neither do dogs. I was just chewing over this sad state of affairs with Buster the Staffie the other day when he spotted a lamppost and ran off.

If I stayed on the bus past my stop, (as sometimes happened when I dozed off en route), I would see more open ground on the left. Now this is also covered by a large housing estate.

The same has happened with ground to the right, now another large housing estate called The Murrays.

Its route then takes the bus past West Edge Farm on its way to the town of Bonnyrigg. Bonnyrigg used to have a thriving market on a Thursday morning, but apartment blocks are now being built on the the ground. Though in a nod to history  the developer has called this development The Market.

Not so long ago there were fields on both sides of the road, and if the driver of the bus (Number 31, for those who like to know such things) had turned right by mistake at the top of the brae onto the Lang Loan, she would have seen a large expanse of agricultural land to her right. Here is a small part of what is on that land now.

A cottage on the outskirts of one of the fields is now surrounded by construction work and their bus stop has just been taken out of service for eight weeks. There is a helpful sign, though: USE AN ALTERNATIVE. Yes, thanks for that.

Much of the land at the Lang Loan has now been built over and even more is under construction. And the same is true of the land at West Edge Farm.

The collective acreage of all this is considerable, with ground being built on and paved over on a large scale.

At least two questions arise here. Will this land provide a habitat for living things when all this work has been completed? Even if the answer is a limited yes, not so much as before. Hedgehogs used to live here. Now they don’t. It is many years since I’ve seen one and I read that the hedgehog population has suffered a large decline.

The other issue is water. A large acreage of soil which used to absorb rain is now trapped under houses, streets and pavements. Where all the water supposed to go? Floods, anyone?

But people have to live somewhere, right?

Well, yes, they do. Though compared to previous times when tenements were popular, the same number of people are spreading themselves over far more ground than before.

And, to tie in to the theme of The Ears of a Cat, I would contend that there are too many people anyway.

Which makes me part of the problem I am describing.