Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Things That Will Set Us On Fire

By our early twenties, we all know not to set ourselves on fire. A sweeping generalisation you might say, but I would argue that many people recognise the negative connotations of being aflame from an even younger age. And I say good for them.

Despite my oft-espoused view that “the film version of Denethor’s flamey demise in Lord of the Rings is the only way to go”, the actual results of setting oneself on fire are almost always unpleasant. One’s favourite clothes may be spoiled, unsightly scars can be sustained, and there is even a possibility of fatality.

We know that we shouldn’t wear loose clothes around naked flames, not to overload electrical sockets, and that if you nod off with a cigarette in your mouth – which some people do, apparently - your bed, your spouse and your home will be destroyed in a terrifying inferno that will haunt your nightmares for the rest of time whilst you, the perpetrator, will survive (albeit in a lot of pain and very badly disfigured) to reflect upon your actions.

However, there are several ways to set oneself on fire that I’ve only learned about since moving to Edinburgh.

For instance, did you know that leaving shoes beside the front door when you come home is a creamy recipe for certain death? (We only do this, incidentally, because the letting agent told us to - the reason being that our carpet is that brand of rented accommodation beige which sucks in dirt like a sponge in an effort to lose us our deposit in cleaning bills at the end of the lease.) One can only speculate that secret research has determined that shoes often spontaneously burst into flames, possibly out of boredom, and it logically follows on that if they are left beside the door they will simultaneously endanger our lives and block our escape route.

Furthermore, open doors are phenomenally dangerous. We have known for some time that we aren’t supposed to keep our kitchen or bedroom doors open, because ‘mumbly fire hazard something about council inspectors’. This has never been explained to my satisfaction.

Then today I learned that using the hall as a communal area (we have no living room) is a fire hazard, on the grounds that we have a telly and a game cube in the corner and may trip over the wires. The wires, by the by, are also in the corner, tucked between the telly and a wall. Only someone who was really in the mood for tripping over stuff could fall over them.

However, I realise now that I have been hopelessly complacent with regards to combustion possibilities in the home. I feel fortunate to have seen the light before anything got too badly scorched, and am almost giddy with joy that now I can pass on the information to you, journal reader, to help you identify the fire hazards in your own life and prepare yourself accordingly. Good luck.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Odd Numbers

Graffiti in the loos of Henry's Cellar Bar, discovered at a DanDanDan gig.

It is an epic cliffhanger.

The hooves of expectation crush my what?!

Suggestions so far include 'tits', 'baws', 'crisps' and 'pi'.

These are the suggestions of fools.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

This Is The Life

An occasionally prophetic review I wrote for The Vine (University of St Andrews student magazine) in March 2007

Amy Macdonald is a terrible poser (check out her website if you don’t believe us), but she’s probably going to be mahoosive. In the musical sense, rather than appearing on telly with diet bitch Gillian McKeith. The 19-year-old indie pop songstress (as she’ll probably be called) has already attended the Brit Awards and been given a slot at Glastonbury; and the fact that she’s a Scottish girl with a guitar has begun to draw those obvious (but by and large complimentary) comparisons with KT Tunstall.

Her album sampler (watermarked so that The Vine does not fiendishly copy it to share the beautiful acoustic pop melodies with others who will undoubtedly want to buy the CD, shirt, and moody photograph of Amy sitting on a wall somewhere faintly scummy in Glasgow that's about eight miles away from where she actually lives) contains five tracks from the debut, This is the Life, due for release this summer.

The new single, Poison Prince is quite catchy. It’s got a fast, toe-tapping bit to hook you in there, then a quieter bit for variation, then back into the chorus. Yay! Oh well, at least it’s easy. Sounds like a reasonably good track to drive to, and fractionally less annoying than a lot of Radio 1 fare.

Track 2, Mr Rock And Roll, has a bit of a celtic ring to it. Amy is keeping her options open, she might be asked to do Robert Burns’ birthday on BBC 2 next year if she plays her cards right.

By the way, she’s heavily influenced by fellow Scots, Travis. Oh dear. Travis are all well and good, don’t get us wrong, but as your main musical inspiration? Well no, not quite actually, Travis were her first musical discovery, but the title track of the album was motivated by the works of drug-addled media-whore Pete Doherty. She wants to be deep, bless her, but she’s stuck for any proper life-changing experiences to write about. “Although the songs you hear are sweet and happy they actually come from a much darker place,” she trills on her myspace gumph. Bollocks. What darker place is she referring to exactly, Paisley?

The slow track™ is called This Is The Life, and sounds like it was written the morning after, when you get home and realise you’ve lost your keys. And nobody’s in to open the door of course. Bumsticks. This leads you to question the very meaning of existence, and indeed, where you will sleep tonight. Pretty deep, non? So, in a flurry of existential contemplations, you wander about trendy coffee shops with an acoustic guitar, looking moody and hoping someone from Mercury will give you a record contract.

Barrowland Ballroom
is a bit perky again, there’s even a wee honky tonk thing going on there. How cute, and not a bit twee. Amy can rhyme ‘drink’ and ‘think’, and wishes she was onstage instead of at the bar. Fair enough, if you’ve ever been to a gig in the Barrowlands you’ll know how uncomfortable it can get in the audience. If ever you wish to intimately acquaint yourself with the sweat glands of a roomful of strangers, that’s the place to be.

And so we come, politely tapping our toes in time with the poppy goodness, to the last song on our much sought after sampler (the inaudible watermark allows us to trace this audio back to YOU). “Put a ribbon round my neck and call me a Libertine / I’ll sing you songs of what I used to dream.” Pardon? This is the opening to Let’s Start A Band. Presumably pap like this is why Amy is a solo artist.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Skinny Girl

(A Poem Wot I Wrote
Originally published on Deadjournal in January 2005)

Skinny girl
Your red scarf is very pretty
(although I still think
mine is better.
It has stripes)
I wonder what you are listening to
on your headphones.
One question
for you
skinny girl
(you must be about a size eight
and 5'6").

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Mrs Young Goes To The Park

Short Story First Published on my Deviant Art Page ( in June 2006

Mrs Young had been called Mrs Young every day by everyone she met for as long as she could remember. Even her husband called her Mrs Young, and she called him Mr Young. This habit had begun on their wedding night, as a sort of joke, which soon became habit.

She vaguely supposed that his mistress didn’t call him Mr Young. They would be on more intimate terms. Which was presumably why Mr Young didn’t divorce Mrs Young and make Mrs Wight the second Mrs Young. Because when you marry someone, that’s all the intimacy gone. So Mrs Young supposed.

There was a point in time when Mr Wight had suggested that he and Mrs Young get their own back on their respective spouses and have an affair themselves. But Mrs Young didn’t really see Mr Wight in that way. She also suspected that her having an affair would be nothing but a relief to her husband. He wasn’t a bad man, and he took every care to keep his relationship with the blonde haired, large bosomed Mrs Wight a secret. He didn’t want to hurt his wife’s feelings. The trouble was that he was a terrible liar. He bought flowers when he lied. Mrs Young always had a vase of fresh flowers in every room.

So she had said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to Mr Wight, who shuffled off and eventually had an affair with a girl young enough to be his daughter. Mrs Young felt bad about this for a while, because she could have saved him from the appalled reactions of their colleagues and friends. But she comforted herself with the thought that he probably would have done it anyway, if that was his ‘thing’. She did feel that Mrs Wight was a tad hypocritical for throwing him out, after all he’d only needed to have an affair in the first place because his wife was bonking his best friend. But she chose not to make a scene. She didn’t want to give Mr Young the excuse to walk out on her, and she thought perhaps that a public scene with his mistress might force him to make the choice between them. And she knew he wouldn’t choose her.

Mrs Young’s daughter was not called Miss Young, she was called Angela. Angela thought that Mrs Young should walk out on dad (who was Mr Young). Or at the very least have an affair of her own.

“You’re so pale mum, you need something to cheer you up,” Angela explained, as though anaemia could be cured by sex.
“I couldn’t do that to him,” Mrs Young said. “He’d be so humiliated. And anyway, I’m OK as I am.”
“You’re bored stiff mum, you know you are. You’ve been stuck in the same routine for the past twenty years.”
“I’m alright.”
“You are bloody not.”

Angela was right of course. Mrs Young had been stuck in the same routine for twenty years. Actually, it was more like thirty.

Mrs Young was a teacher at a small high school in a small town. She taught first and second years in the mornings, third and fourth years in the gap between break and lunch, then fifth and sixth years in the afternoons. She liked afternoons because the fifth and sixth years didn’t mind being there. They had chosen her subject. This meant they sat there and listened to her, and did the homework.

Mrs Young deluded herself into thinking she was interested in what she did, although really she had only specialised in it at university because she could. Teaching had seemed like an obvious choice of profession - what better way to share her knowledge and enthusiasm? And she wanted children, so this would be the best way to have a career and spend time with them. When she was at school, they would be too. She wanted several children, this was one of her greatest dreams. It was also the main reason for marrying Mr Young. It hurt her that Angela was the only one.

She was a tall woman, very angular and thin. She didn’t eat much, because she wasn’t interested in food. She usually ate alone, as Mr Young was always off at conferences or working late. She could tell from his red nose and rounding belly that these conferences involved eating out a lot, or being cooked for by the voluptuous master chef Mrs Wight. Mrs Young opted mainly for crunchy salad out of a bag, because she was aware that nutrients were important. The HE teacher had lectured them on it one break time in the staff room, after Mr Davidson brought in a big tin of chocolate biscuits to share. He had never made that mistake again.

Her hair was mousey, with streaks of white running through it. Her eyes were a watery grey, her nose pointed. She had never been pretty. The closest to a compliment she ever got was ‘unusual looking’. Back in the days before they were married, when Mr Young had been called Mike, he had said she could be a supermodel, because she moved with grace and her looks were so striking. He might have been drunk, she thought now, but at the time he had seemed sincere.

Mrs Young’s main respite from the daily drudgery of her life was walking in the park with her golden retriever, Rosie. They walked together for hours, up hills and around the streets, because Rosie was young and energetic and Mrs Young didn’t want to go home to her empty bedroom; but the park was their favourite haunt. They would play the game of throwing the stick for hours, and they raced each other, and exchanged pleasantries with other dogs and their owners. Angela had bought Rosie for Mrs Young’s fiftieth birthday.

On one trip to the park, Mrs Young and Rosie met Mr Shaw and Max. Rosie and Max instantly became best friends, racing each other across the vast expanse of green to the trees at the other side of the park. Mrs Young was left to exchange pleasantries with Mr Shaw alone.

“I think you taught my son at school,” he ventured.
“Oh yes, what was his name?”
“Peter, that’s right. He got an A in his higher, didn’t he.”
It was more of a statement than a question.
“So what’s he up to now? He must be nearly finished university, he was around the same age as my daughter.”
Mr Shaw looked sad.
“He died in a car accident a couple of years ago.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry! He was such a nice boy.”

The type of thing you always say when you hear of something like this. How can you know what to say? What would you want to hear, in that situation? Nothing would help. Mrs Young had met more parents with this news than she cared to think about over the years. It put her own problems in perspective.

“He was.”
Mr Shaw was silent for a while.
“How did Mrs Shaw take it?”
“Oh, she didn’t live to see it happen. She died of stomach cancer just before he left school.”

Shit. She had known this. It was in the local paper. Mr Davidson had told them in the staff room, in a grave voice, how he had found Peter sitting alone in a science classroom, just staring out of the window. Mr Davidson had spoken to him, tried to get him to go home. But Peter had just stared blankly, unhearing.

“Sorry. That was insensitive of me.”
“You can’t be expected to remember everyone’s family situation,” he said cheerfully. “You’ve been teaching at that place for ages.”
“I have, haven’t I.”

Max and Rosie hadn’t reappeared. Mrs Young wondered if they were getting down to it already.

“Has Max been-“
“-No. Fraid not.”
“Oh. Oh well.”

Puppies wouldn’t be such a bad thing. They were worth quite a lot of money these days. And looking after them and their mother would give her something to keep her mind off Mr Young and Mrs Wight.

* * * * *

When she got home, there was a huge bouquet of lilies and a note waiting on the kitchen table.

The flowers of death, she thought. So he’s left me at last.

“We both know that our marriage is dead.”

A somewhat melodramatic beginning, in Mrs Young’s view.

“And you must know that Joy and I have been in love for some time now.”

Who on earth is Joy, she wondered for a moment, before realising that was Mrs Wight’s first name.

“We are going to relocate in the south of Spain. Joy has sold her house, so you need not worry about ours. You can continue living there, I will not contest it.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“I wish you every happiness, and hope you will find it in your heart to forgive Joy and myself in ours. Yours sincerely-”

Bit formal, for a thirty year marriage…

“Mike Young.”

She put the flowers in a vase, one by one. Cut an inch off the bottom of the stem, in a diagonal line. Most of the flowers were still closed, so they would last ages. She decided to put them in the downstairs loo. She never used that one. It was typical, she thought, as she placed the blue vase on the low table under the window, that he would make this last sweeping gesture, laden with symbolism, and forget that she was allergic to lilies.

Mrs Young went to bed that night, alone as usual, knowing that this new development, which ought to be so upsetting, would change absolutely nothing.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

News In Briefs, Part The Second

Another News In Brief Published in the November 2006 Issue of The Chihuahua (University of St Andrews Satirical Paper)

Boris Johnson and Iain Paisley have teamed up to fight crime, a source has claimed. The unlikely duo met by chance at a bullfight in the seedy underbelly of St Andrews one Christmas Eve several years ago. Said Johnson of his colleague, “Where the hell am I?” whilst Paisley responded with his well-known catchphrase, “NO!”

Early reports suggest that Johnson’s superhero alter ego will be called Platypus Man, whilst Paisley is deliberating between Heron Boy and King Prawn. Their arch nemeses, the Sugababes, are said to be developing unconvincing evil plots for the duo to foil every week. Rumours of sexual relations between the band and our intrepid heroes are unsubstantiated. An ever-helpful Boris told Chihuahua, “I think I dreamed it, but it was one of those really realistic ones, so I started to believe it had actually happened and so, you know, told everyone.”

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

News In Briefs, Part The First

Written For The Chihuahua, St Andrews University Satirical Paper, in November 2006

Medical experts are baffled by what appears to be the first ever female case of man flu. Theodora Wiggins of 412 Lamond Drive is unable to leave her bed, leaving her husband and children completely uncared for, yet her only symptoms seem to be a sore throat and a bit of a jippy tummy. Dr Hooper Impasse of the Royal Medical Institute of Sick People is cynical.

“It can’t be man flu,”
he postulated pungently in a press conference yesterday. “A weak and feeble woman could never withstand such immense physical and psychological pain, her brain would explode. She has to be faking it.”

Meanwhile, Theodora’s children, Jukebox-Marie and Tixylix, were heard to enquire of their malnourished father, “Is mummy going to die?”

“I don’t know kids,”
responded the jaundiced pyrotechnic worker, “I just don’t know.”

Friday, 25 July 2008

Insert Title Here

Scene One
Our kitchen. Flatmate is making tea, I am re-lacing a shoe. Enter Unusual Handyman.

Unusual Handyman: [in an accent so impenetrable even he probably doesn’t know what it is] mmmphgarnyaddyblah locked door flumedeygramphleyumyumnoodley foolmumumumbleyjellybibbles BURN TAE DEATH, ken?
Me: ….Okay.

Exit unusual handyman.

Me: What did he say?
Flatmate: I don’t think even he knows that.

Various mumbling can be heard offstage as we drink our tea in bemused silence.
Enter unusual handyman.

UH: Yumblenblah back tomorrow mimble light fitting yumptymmfacks aff the wa’ [gestures offstage in the direction of my room] bobbityboo dangerous! Veryfastincomprehensiblesomethingorother I got tae be here somethingelsemmhmm.
Me: You’ve got to be here?
UH: [in a voice laced with mysterious hidden subtext] I’m authorised to be here.

Everyone exits.

Scene Two
My room. The light switch, which previously fulfilled all the requirements one might reasonably expect of a light switch, is now hanging dangerously from the wall.

Flatmate: [calling from offstage in the hall] So, is the light fitting off?
Me: [disbelieving] ...... Yes. Yes it is.