Category Archives: Literature

I Can’t Believe He Just Said That – A Very Short Story

This story is dedicated to my friend, Colin Coke, the artist and Son of Cornwall, who shares with me a fondness for such confections.


In late 1701, Archibald Campbell, the recently created 1st Duke of Argyll, was dealing with a rather tricky family problem. Archibald had handily switched allegiance from James II to William of Orange a few years earlier and was now the King’s principal advisor on all things Scottish. He had made a brilliant marriage with Elizabeth Tollemache, daughter of a Baronet, and together they had three children, the eldest of whom, John, was the source of their concern.

John had celebrated his 21st birthday in October 1701 and had set about earning the reputation of a profligate with imagination and vigour. He had become a regular patron of the fashionable gaming tables of Edinburgh and in short order had racked up debts in excess of 10,000 guineas – a small fortune at that time. Most of the markers held against this debt were in the possession of James Hamilton, 4th Duke of Hamilton, Scotland’s first peer and a bitter rival of the Argylls. John swore to his father that Hamilton was a practiced card sharp, particularly at Quinze, an early form of ’21’, and produced witnesses to back up his version of events.

This placed Argyll in a cleft stick. He was angry with John but had to support him. But he didn’t want to be indebted to Hamilton who he loathed and with whom he was battling for the favour of the King. What to do? His first recourse was to the powerful Morton family to act as honest brokers and see if a settlement could be negotiated. Hamilton rejected this approach out of hand and let it be known around the court that the Argylls were near bankruptcy and keeping ‘dubious company’. In so doing, Hamilton unwittingly provided his enemy with the inspiration he needed.

The Argyll family had long been rumoured as being adherents to ‘the old religion’ and it was this practice that Hamilton had hinted at. Archibald, seeing an opportunity to resolve both his son’s debt and his rivalry with Hamilton sent his factor, James Donald, to find the woman known locally as Hecate, a disciple of the witch, Jane Wenham, to see what might be done.

A week later Argyll met with Hamilton, ostensibly to negotiate, but quickly left the meeting with a handkerchief he had spirited away from his adversary. The handkerchief was taken by Donald to Hecate. In the weeks that followed, James Hamilton fell into a deep and melancholy malaise and did not venture from his bed. His family talked of visitations each night from ‘demons and faeries’ that railed and shrieked at Hamilton and accused him of ‘corrupting innocent youth’ in the cause of ambition. No treatment or hiding place could halt the spectral appearances. Finally, the rapidly wasting Duke, heeding the advice of his priest, relinquished all debts owing to him, including those owed by John, and miraculously it seemed, began to recover his health.

Of course, the kinsmen, servants and supporters of both the parties would gather in the inns and gossip about these events and the likely causes of James Hamilton’s ‘possession’, epiphany and subsequent recovery. There was much talk, too, of Archibald Campbell’s dalliance with ‘the horned one’ and his use of the black arts to free his son from debt. And that speculation reverberates even today in the Highlands where you may still hear the  adage that ‘Demons are Argyll’s best friend.’




American Music

American Music is my private dancer
It dances across the water
And the water holds me down
Letting the days go by
Into the blue again and out of the black
My my

American Music woke me up this morning
And asked me to loan it a dime
to buy some black coffee and cigarettes
While we waited at the crossroads
For the slow train coming by
Have mercy

American Music? Ah um says the preacher
It gonna make you get up – get on up
To seize everything you ever wanted
But first we take Manhattan
Then we take New York, New York
One time

American Music gonna mess your mind
And you’re still a fool time after time
If you listen to the music in a fever
And see white rabbits eight miles high
With some guy in the sky
Strange days

American Music on Beale Street
On Broadway
On Green Dolphin Street
On the street where you live
Skyscrapers bloom in America
Cadillacs zoom

American Music rocks around the clock
In the ghetto and the length of Route 66
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
On the lonely highway perhaps?

Life don’t work out my way……


I Am Not Convinced

If you say we’ll meet at 2 o’clock under the station clock
Then I expect us both to be there at 2
There is a question about how long to wait if you’re not there on time
But I’m not here to answer questions
It’s said that some people work to a different meaning of time
But I only like to read about metaphysics
I don’t want to have them keep my social diary
So get here in time for us to see the kick-off
I am not convinced by explanations for lateness
Especially when you tug your ear lobe whilst making them

It is true that there is a gap, possibly a chasm, between law and justice
Probably the same gap represented by the amount of money I have
And the amount of money I need to receive justice from the law
Some lawyers will tell you that, for them, the Law (notice the Capital L)
Is even more than an Estate. That it is a creed. A way of life
I admire their nerve. A sang-froid arisen from the certainty of fees
Accrued from the uncertainty of due process and overdue outcomes
Over the years, I have received more pats of approbation from arch lawyers
Than plaudits from elderly musicians seeking reciprocity
But I am not convinced by their supplications – as empty as my coffers

The red and white poles outside a barber’s shop are a visual metaphor
They represent the blood and bandages that proliferated on a battlefield
Or a ship of the line when the Barber Surgeon was about his business
Letting blood, amputating limbs or administering a more quotidian shave
It’s probably where Sweeney Todd got his ideas from
Back then, physicians were stand- offish academics who left the cutting to the Barber Surgeons – base born, unqualified and known as mister, not doctor
Which is why today, a doctor qualifying as a surgeon is accorded the title mister
And explains why a surgeon likes to cut as much as a lawyer likes to litigate –
Explains why I am not convinced by their remedies dangling from a barber’s pole

Our dollar will soon be equal in value to the one across the ditch
The Christchurch recovery is an unparalleled success
There is no housing crisis
There are no starving children. And if there are – it’s a lifestyle choice
We are not being spied on
Hagar, Snowden and the rest are wrong
The dolphins are safe
We are green, really we are
I do love this country
But I am not convinced


Age of Consent

You’re going to have to do some of the work here
Imagine these words stretching out an inviting hand toward you
The muscles in the forearm taut, the ribs all but puncturing the skin
And the legs aligned, in unison with the beckoning arm
Imagine these words, then as..who?  Lolita perhaps. On the back lawn
Offering their innocence, their knowingness….their halting occlusion
Are you tempted to read on? Risk all for the knowingness?
Have knowledge of these words? Betray the innocence?

I see you are discomfited by my phraseology
Which has assumed Rubenesque proportions due to your work ethic
Your lewd imagination that Humbert would disdain
If he discovers that you’ve had your way with my words….
Well, you know what happened to Quilty, don’t you?
So be less attentive, dissemble. Let the words stay at arm’s length
Look askance at them. Allow them to wander coolly into your ambit
Put on your sunglasses so the words may not see the lust in your eyes.



Elegy For A Poor Boy

In his cups, he had noted that many years ago, he once knew what it is to be poor
But that now, he knows only what it means to be poor
The intervening decades having evidenced the probity of Uncle Karl’s dictum That
Only The Working Class May Move Freely Through The Class System

His early experience had rather shown the opposite to be the case
His family, his neighbours, his street, his teachers, his school, his friends
And the Anglo-Catholic Church personified by Father O’Byrne all telling him
He should be happy in his lot – with new, improved Serf

But he studied hard and learned how to be patronised by lessers with more
Became something in the City without ever becoming someone else in the City
A man about town doing business with men from Tudor facades out of town
Liked to call him a man abeout teown and let him hear the great divide

He fell under the influence of socialists. Not the flat hat and wire glasses sort
But the sort with Orwell paperbacks and a light burning permanently in the eye
The sort who went on marches and delivered pamphlets late at night
Wanted to own the means of production and distribution
(They even wanted to democratise the armed forces!)

Barry – gentle, brutal Barry – revealed to him the mysteries of the Class System
Being both as poor as a church mouse and middle class is not a contradiction
Class is not necessarily linked to wealth and possessions, he pronounced
If you trail the English bourgeois, you’ll soon learn how to get the best for less

So he took the lesson. Or rather, the bits that suited. And moved on
Mostly because Joe Stalin was not a Good Companion and JB Priestly was
He came to believe that any revolution should be the product of need, not guilt
History is a raging inferno that has many poor boys pissing on it






The Shadow Of Your Smile

Blatting along State Highway One with the window down
And Sympathy for the Devil loud enough to slow down the oncoming traffic
My sunnies impertinently reflecting the world back at itself
My pouty lips forming a post-irony smile
This is my favourite pose  À la recherche du temps perdu

But I’m old enough to know better, old enough to know better
Which makes it all the more fun and frees up the space for
The post-irony smile. Pouting with Proust and Mick
As the Accord, d’accord, behaves its way down the highway
Searching everywhere yeah yeah yeah searching everywhere

The left arm feels better, looks better if the window is all the way down though
Looks damn silly with the window halfway down
Looks like I’m trying to get out and the post-irony will be lost
On the ambulance crew, the cops and the rubberneckers
He was a day tripper, one way ticket yeah

It took me so long to find out, I found out
That I have to hold the pose long enough
For the world to see who I am
My pouty lips forming a post-irony smile
This is my favourite pose À la recherche du temps perdu




Enviable poise. That’s your face to the world
And it needs to be
Since you are more beguiled than beguiling with your words
That elbow their way into the audience
And jostle for a place to sit
Not too easily but not uncomfortably either
Rhetoric and tonic
As the sun goes over the yardarm

Suitably dressed. Clothes maketh man
And they need to
Since you are more artful than artless with your appearance
Which otherwise might be diaphanous
A strand of gossamer
Clinging to a vine planted to catch the sun
Fission and fashion
While your shadow lengthens

‘Straight as’ personified. Sine qua non
And you need to be
Since you speak more than you are bespoke
Troubled more than tailored
A paragon whose virtue
Was long since lost
Hubris and honour
As the sun sets




I cannot tell you what I’m thinking
Because it will hurt me more than it will hurt you
It won’t hurt me to hurt you – you understand?
I’m beyond that
I found out long ago that the heart is a predator
It has eyes that look straight ahead and measure the distance to its prey
It will not be distracted from its arcane purpose by the brain
Which it considers to be an expensive luxury

I cannot tell you how I feel
Because the detritus that has been washed down the limbic channel
Has formed an impassable coronary calculus
And nothing can get through
The impasse makes me articulate, perceptive
Because the exquisite pain it creates lends me the clarity
To see Jung beating down Loyola’s door
Which ordinarily would make me laugh – but not today

I cannot tell you how little or how much I love you
Not because my love is stinting or infinite – or somewhere in between
But because I was never given the tools to make such measurements
The mathematics of adoration I must leave to the Florentines
But yet, there is something that mollifies the synapses
Something that insinuates and suggests itself
A cognitive messenger from the expensive luxury perhaps?
You won’t like what I’m thinking. So I will not tell you.


So What Did You Expect? (Fragment from the unpublished monologue ‘Sphincteral Security’)

SplatSo what did you expect?
Were you optimistic about the prospect of love and affection? Did you really believe the door bell’s tone? Like a herald announcing the imminent arrival of your Prince? Not just some day – but today – your Prince had come. Or was that simply Purple Rain on Classic Hits releasing some of those snap-frozen procreative juices?
Just what was it you expected, eh?
Was it someone who might listen to understand? Might give more than take? Might read to you from The Sonnets? Compare you to a summery, mummery  day at the Maypole? Introduce you to The Planets? Sweet upholstery indeed.
Did you hope for joy?
An die Freude? A bit of the old Ludwig Van? Choral comfort leading you to Paradise? Blind John Milton conducting Oliver’s Army on the road to the First Republic? Let’s get metaphysical, metaphysical. Don’t want much, do you?
How much is enough? Enough is never enough, you say?
The Philosopher’s Stone? Is that it then? Base metal into precious metal? Led Zeppelin into Golden Earring? Waterloo into Red, Red Wine?
Now I see it. The Mona Lisa smirk; the Enigma Variation; the Shadow of Your…

Why didn’t you say?


Today a man – well an artist – told me
I have beautiful hands
And I thanked, I thank, him for

He gave me cause to think of my father
Whose hands were beautiful
When they played Fats Waller
Or pointed me back to the right track

Today  I remembered
It is like to be a son
And I thank the artist, the man
For that.