Cycling Through Memories

I wrote this piece after a bike ride in early spring which provoked a lot of memories for me on growing up and where my family have come from (i.e. not very far from where we are now). I don’t write a lot of memoir type pieces but I wanted to try something different. I’d started writing this out as a poem but then realised there was a lot more I wanted to say in it and that a prose piece might be more appropriate.

After spending months buried under the accumulated detritus of small home improvements, we finally spent a day clearing out the garage and uncovered my bike from its extended hibernation. As if on cue the sun also re-appeared and although it didn’t bring much in the way of spring warmth, I gave in to the illusion of summer, pumped up my tires, lubed the chain and clipped into my pedals for the first time since August.

Heading out of town I passed my parent’s house where we moved when I was eighteen and the front door I failed to close quietly all those times I snuck home in the early hours of the morning. Next to it is the overgrown burn, which I discovered was full of nettles when I returned from the pub late one night and drunkenly rescued a blind spaniel which had lost it’s owner and wandered hopelessly into the middle of the water. My stung hands gratefully accepted a box of chocolates from the relieved dog owner a few days later.

I see the vet’s surgery where so many family pets have been treated, comforted and too often left forever, before I turn off and pedal up towards the cemetery. Here I keep pedalling but my thoughts linger. It’s three years since I last passed through the gates when we lowered my Gran into the earth to rejoin her husband, who’d been there alone for twenty years. I wonder if I should feel guilty that I’ve never returned to the grave or set eyes on the stone which marks it? Then as I feel the hill steepen under the slim wheels of my road bike, I remember that everyday I pass their house and it’s those times that I think of her. The warm welcome she always gave her grandchildren and the many years of joy we had in her company.

It’s those memories I decide are important. Not of the elaborate box lowered on velvet ropes. I don’t believe in heaven or an afterlife so a cemetery is simply a place for those left behind to remember those close to us and I would rather do that as I pass the places they were happiest. I think she’d prefer it that way.

The handlebars turn towards Auchenblae and I remember all the miles I put on the tyres cycling this route last year, preparing for a two day charity ride from Inverness back to Stonehaven. I never thought the bike would sit untouched for months once that special journey was over.

There’s a slow, steady climb then a long, happy, freewheel down towards Tewel. With head and elbows tucked I race at breakneck speed passed the row of houses where many years earlier I’d pulled over in a dull red Rover 214 with two flat tyres. My mum’s car a casualty of my overconfidence and poor judgement while overtaking a tractor on the small country road.

At bottom of the hill there’s a sharp turn past a farm, down towards a ford over the Carron river. As a small child I was amazed by the road going through a large, flowing river. It seems much less impressive now. I cross the river, take the hairpin turn and stare up a tarmac wall pretending to be a road. Sometime later I reach the top of the climb, much more tired and sore in the legs than I was at the bottom.

I’m on the loop back towards town now. After another fast downhill I change road again, passing a stables and heading towards Toucks. At this stage of the route the image of a large black and white photograph hanging at the top of the stairs in my parent’s house pops into my head. My great-grandparents farmed land at Toucks and though I never met them I’ve seen their faces in that picture countless times.

A terrifying descent into Kirktown of Fetteresso joins the loop back to my outward journey beside a house which once housed a close friend. Site of drunken parties, singing sinatra into broom handles at 6am and one memorable occasion when their family St Bernard sat on his mum before it got too excited and pissed on her leg.

I take it easy now as I head back through the industrial estate where both my parents worked at various times. The smell of freshly cut wood in the joinery, recently changed hands, will always be with me as will the site of black smoke pouring over the roof as the site next door went up in flames while we were visiting.

My feet are unclipped from the pedals as I thread the bike through Edinview, past my old home again and the street where my gran lived for many years. I turn onto the Slug Road at the school. Site of so many endless lunchtime corridor laps, childhood scraps and awful burgers in oversized baps.

The ride ends passing the entrance to Mineralwell park, where I was terrible at primary school sports days and as a teenager we drank cheap booze on a Friday night. I bring the bike to a stop outside my own house now, which is steadily filling up with new memories of family, friends and children.

A bike ride in the summer sun which only lasted a half hour or so and which I’ll feel in my legs and bum for a few days after, has taken me far beyond the seven mile loop, back through a lifetime.


Seeds Of Ideas

The piece below was written for a competition ran by the National Literacy Trust last year to promote poetry in schools. Sadly I didn’t make the shortlist but I’m happy with the poem and hope some of you like it.

Seeds of Ideas

The line on the page is a seed laid in the soil,
As my eyes rake over the words,
I water the furrowed earth
With thoughts and inspiration,
The seed, planted in compost of grammar,
Tenderly tended with metaphor and simile,
Germinates; sending forth shoots,
Leading to new buds,
Images in my mind flower as words, music, rhythm,
And lines on a page,
Waiting to blow on the breeze and be planted again.


National Poetry Day – The Same Light

Here’s a piece I’ve written to mark National Poetry Day and this year’s theme of light.

The Same Light

The light of our sun
Travels 93 million miles,
To illuminate our world.

From Damascus to Durham,
The particles bring life,
Lifting the veil of the night,
To let us see beauty
And identify strife.

The same rays of sunshine,
From a single star,
Glint off a camera
On the west highland way,
Reflect off a rifle in Homs,
Or a refugee’s tent near Calais.


Hill Running

It takes a special kind of masochist,
To want to run up a hill,
Walking up can be bad enough.
To see the steep path to the summit
And think ‘Yes, I want to run up that’

We could run on woodland trail,
Or plod round the urban street,
But better to float over the tops in trainers,
With the world spread out below,
Picking over rocks holding our wings out wide

Ahh, but to get to the summit is a relentless slog,
We kid ourselves we run,
Spirited walk might be more apt,
Lift and push, lift and push,
One leg after the other in short, short steps

When the going is too steep,
Or the legs are out of gas,
The arms lend a hand and push
Down on the thighs, left, right, left, right
The important thing is to keep going up

Often the climb is broken by flat,
Or less steep, sections.
Releasing the runner to a canter,
Free of the punishing climb,
For now, for it must return

It’s return is often worse than before,
We spent too much on the easy bits,
Saving little for the final push towards the sky.
We arrive on the summit a broken shell,
Sweating, panting, pretending we ran to the top

We lay there and collect our thoughts,
Taking a moment to refuel body and mind,
Admiring the landscape painted just for us.
The same summit we’ve run before,
Different each day, every time

Finally we take off,
Racing along the top and blasting downhill,
On the very edge of control
We slip, slide and leap
Avoiding rocks, scree, bog and mud

Down, so often as hard as up,
Constantly braking to stay
On the limit of control,
Knees and thighs screaming,
Mad grin ever widening

A final sprint to the car if legs can cope,
Then stop, stretch and head for home,
Or a well earned pint to aid recovery,
Now the soul is fueled with the joy of hills,
And we are lighter for the rest of the day


One Hand Clapping

One Hand Clapping

Is that the sound of one hand clapping?
Or without the hit is it more like
Phoof, Woosh or Flumf?
And if fifty-six MPs should clap
In an empty commons,
Should we be angry
At this terrible breach of decorum,
Or the empty benches around them?


A Revolutionary Act

A piece of flash fiction I wrote on the subject of patriotism and inspired by the current election.

A Revolutionary Act

I love my country, but it has to change. He said to himself. After today everything will be different. He unbuckled his seatbelt, glanced at himself in the mirror and took a deep breath, surprised at his own nervousness. All these weeks of planning. The arguing and the debate, this is what it comes down to; one simple act. He looked around the street, watching the people milling around; paying particular attention to the steady stream entering and exiting the community centre across from his car, like a convoy of ants making their procession to the colony. They’re all so casual, like this is a normal day. People are beaten and executed for what I’m about to do. It can terrify governments and spark riots and war. Yet the people around me don’t care or don’t understand. What I, and others like me, do today will affect everyone I see here.

He opened the door and stepped onto the road, being careful to keep his coat closed, then walked purposefully over to the community centre. His heart started pounding as he crossed the threshold and followed the line of people into the large hall at the heart of the building. I guess this is it. No going back now. Taking one last look around the hall at the housewives, mechanics, retirees, office workers, husbands, wifes and grandparents moving through it; he let his coat fall open, it no longer mattered now he was inside, and stalked over to a booth by the far wall.

Entering the booth he reached down for the tool he’d expected to be left there, the instrument of his revolutionary act and he grasped it in his hand. He paused, just for a beat, a short rest in a frenetic musical score, then the baton is raised again and he looked down and with the pencil he marked a cross in a box on the slip of paper before him. It’s done. He let out a long, easy breath and folded the paper once, pushed it through the slot on the ballot box next to the booth and smiled at the returning officer. Once more he closed his coat against the spring rain and walked out of the centre to discover what new country lay before him in tomorrow’s dawn.


Creative Writing

I recently flirted with the idea of doing a distance learning or part-time English degree but eventually decided it would be too time consuming and too expensive (especially with a new baby in the house). However I still wanted to explore a bit more creative writing and eventually decided that instead of putting it off I should just give it a try.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been putting together story ideas and writing some wee pieces of flash fiction and short stories. I’ll try and put some of it up on here in the future. It’s been great as a hobby that I can devote time to while still taking a shift looking after the baby. I type away at the table while she sleeps in her bouncy chair or gurgles away on the playmat. Other times I can read some of the community work at Scribophile.com and practice my critical eye by offering critiques for others (the worth of this kind of online community is hard to overstate, it’s brilliant!).

Last week I went along to the local community centre for a meeting of Stonehaven’s creative writing group. Before I turned up I had all kinds of mental images in my head of what the class would be like. To be honest most of them were pretty close to the reality but aside from that the class was also friendly, welcoming, supportive, non-judgemental and full of interesting discussion about literature and various other things.

We spent some time discussing a long poetry piece one of the group members have written. I found the standard was very high and everyone raised good points, both on the technical and emotional components of the work. Then we went through some short exercises to try and generate discussion and possible writing topics. These included a few poems on St George (as it was his day) and a task to list things we hate touching and list reasons why. Finally we finished with a review and discussion of a story written by the group leader based on a bit of his family history from Peterhead where it’s rumoured his ancestors came across a large chest of money washed up from the sea. He’d used this to write an entertaining and humorous piece with dialogue in broad doric telling the tale of the chest and the inevitable double-cross within the group that found it.

The conversation around this piece darted off in various directions in great detail. It was really refreshing just to be able to sit and discuss a piece of writing like this and go into the technical details as well as the broad themes and history which inspired it. I thought it was a great way to spend a couple of hours so think I’ll definitely be going back again.