Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Two Morons Get Up Steam On An Unhappy Ship

Maybe I had been spoilt by the fact that up to now my life at sea had been spent on a BP oil tanker. BP knew how to keep the crew happy. Good food, with a choice of menu, a cabin to myself, and there was even a swimming pool! All heady stuff to a young boy just out of the spartan surroundings of the Merchant Navy Training School at Sharpness, in Gloucestershire.
So when I first set eyes on my next ship as she stood alongside the quay in Tilbury docks, I did not feel the usual excitement at the prospect of joining her as crew.
I was looking at a tramp steamer. A ship with no redeeming features that I could see. She was in dire need of a new coat of paint, and she was filthy. Colloquially, and justifiably in her case, known as a rust bucket.
Once on board, my pessimistic view of her was not improved. She seemed unloved, untidy and lacked the welcome I normally felt on ships. She made an impression on me, this old girl, but it was not a good one.
The oil tanker captain inspected the crews quarters once a week, and everywhere on board was clean and tidy. The crew were kept busy on their watches and off watch could relax in pleasant surroundings.
This new berth of mine looked like it had never had a Captains inspection in its entire long life. She was dingy, cramped, and claustrophobic. With four to a cabin. The Bosun was permanently drunk on strong rum. Not much wonder that the ship was in such a sad state.
Sometimes when writing about my young life I have to stop and check my train of thought. Like right now, as I write this, I'm thinking, did I have this thought then, or has this thought just occurred to me? But no. I think I am confident that my feeling at the time was: I am not going to enjoy this ship. My negative vibes were right.
As the cabin boy I was the lowliest member of her crew, and in my opinion the most put upon. Although I should be honest and say, perhaps I only felt put upon because I was a typical teenager.
However, there were two nasty characters on board who seemed to enjoy making my life miserable. They were bullies, and when they were not complaining about conditions on board, filled their off duty time by playing childish pranks on me and incessant verbal abuse. Banter is normal interaction, and is something that is to be expected on ship. I could deal with banter, and enjoyed it. Nothing wrong with a bit of verbal duelling. As long as it is kept as fun. Most people know not to go too far with it, and when it is time to back off. Not these two though.
Isn't it strange that nasty people always manage to find each other? What attracted these two morons to each other, apart from their obvious lack of common sense or intelligence, was probably the fact that they were unestablished deckhands. Which means that they had not been through the proper seamanship training. In effect they were cheap labour. They were not widely accepted or admired by other crew members. Perhaps that was their problem. No sense of self worth.
I had learned over a tough childhood how to cope with physical abuse but the verbal stuff was something else and I hadn't learned to cope with it. I wasn't able to escape from it either. These two morons were constantly riling and baiting me. Because of my stubborn refusal to back down from confrontation. I was continually trying to give as good as I got from them. But this just played into their hands and only served to spur them on to torment me more. On many occasions on this voyage, because I could not contain my temper, they were able to reduce me to tears of rage. This of course, dented my fragile pride further and made me feel even worse. Which greatly increased their pleasure.

Isn't it wonderful, how, just when you are feeling that life is miserable, and can't possibly get any worse, that it decides to throw you a lifeline. A welcome gift, an unexpected pleasant surprise, a bonus prize.
Ashore in Greece, things are a bit tense on the streets. I don't know what is happening. This is the 1960's. Perhaps it is the time of the Generals. Whatever the cause, at that time there is friction in the country.
It is a good idea for foreigners to keep their heads down. Which is just what sensible people do. Fortunately for me, my two bullies are singularly lacking in common sense. They think it is clever to distribute leaflets which criticise the government of the day. Obviously a government sensitive to criticism. A government in a bad mood. The two morons are arrested and thrown into jail.
I have not experienced the inside of a Greek prison, but I am told it is an extremely unpleasant place to be. Dirty and smelly, and apparently the jailers can be quite violent. Especially to foreigners who distribute nasty lies about their country.
My tormentors never made it back to the ship. The journey back home was much more pleasant. In fact I think I might even have enjoyed it.
It was so nice being able to politely decline the Bosuns offer to stay on as crew. I was pleased to finally leave the unhappy ship, disembark for good and leave her back at Tilbury.
It was even nicer when I later read in a newspaper, that the morons had each been sentenced to two years imprisonment in Greece.
I do hope it was not too difficult for them.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Jimmy And Me And The Dog With No Name, Take A Dawn Walk.

We are up and about early today Jimmy and me. I am hoping that he might show me how to *guddle a trout, or, even better, a salmon. Jimmy is my new stepdad, having married my Mother just a few weeks earlier.
The year is 1957. It is the start of the school summer holidays. I am 12 years old. Until just a few days ago I was living in London, England, and was a real city boy.
I had not seen my mum for a good few years, until she appeared suddenly, and without prior warning, at my foster home, and whisked me off to live the life of a country boy, in the land of her birth, Scotland.
It was the start of a completely new way of life for me, and for her, - this was the first settled home she'd had for many years - and for Jimmy her new husband. My apprehension about meeting him for the first time, was unwarranted, and my relationship with this dour, scar faced Scot, a man of very few words, has developed thus far, into that of acquaintances rather than friends.
As we skirted the fields of the neighbouring farm on our way to the river, Jimmy, shotgun cocked, was ever vigilant for game. It was not long before his little dog Scamp, disturbed a hare from it's sett, and said hare was quickly and expertly dispatched with one shot. Before being hidden beside a drystone *dyke, to be picked up on our homeward journey.
Scamp the dog, was a very scruffy black and white mongrel. With bad teeth and malodorous breath. A small, runt like, specimen of a collie. He had only recently acquired the name Scamp from my Mother. Jimmy, although he had owned the dog for about ten years had never seen the point of naming him. The poor little dog probably thought it's name was *'awa' tae me' or *'bugger aff'. Scamps rotten teeth and small size, were mainly down to the fact that his usual diet was bread and milk. With the occasional treat of the guts of whichever animal Jimmy had just shot, thrown to him.
To a city lad like me, who had only ever seen the mighty Thames river in London, the banks of the river Don in Aberdeenshire, were a wondrous place to be.
Rippling, tumbling, and sparkling, in one place, and then smooth as glass in another. Deep and dangerous here, and shallow enough to walk across there. Scattered granite rocks and boulders, tempted a young boy to hop from one to another. The occasional slip, and boot full of freezing water, a small price to pay for such joy. Islands of shingle were home to plovers, terns, and oyster catchers. Birds I had only ever seen illustrated in books, were here to see in abundant real life, and did not seem too concerned with the presence of humans.
This was a work day and it was soon time to head home. Jimmy worked at the local quarry, which was the place where he had acquired his scarred face, the result of a tragic accident that had taken the lives of several of his friends. The quarry, from which the granite to build the Thames embankment in far off London had come, was a five mile bike ride away from home. A ride he undertook in all weathers, and believe me the weather was often extreme in those parts. Mum told me, that apart from the war years, when he served in the army, he had never been late or missed a day in 40 years.
As we made our way back, we were forced into single file on a particularly narrow bit of bank. Suddenly Jimmy stopped, and signalled me to do the same, saying, *"haud on loon." Motioning me to stay low, he removed his jacket and rolled up the righthand sleeve of his shirt.
After taking a look along the bank in both directions, to ensure we were not being observed, he slowly and deliberately lay down on the bank. Carefully, he began to dip his hand into the water, until his arm was submerged up to the armpit. Holding tightly to Scamps collar I watched as Jimmy lay there, apparently motionless, for several minutes.
Suddenly, there was a terrific commotion, and thrashing and splashing, in the water. Jimmy rolled his body away from the bank edge, bringing his arm out of the water in a sweeping arc, and in his hand he held, clamped through its gills, a large struggling, silver flashing, fish. Which he threw backwards over his prone body onto the grass.
"Is it a salmon," I asked excitedly, as I watched Jimmy take a rock, and give the gasping fish, a knock on the head.
*"Aye laddie, richt eneuch," he answered. It was one of the few times I ever saw him smile. *"Dinna tell a'body."

guddle: catch a fish by tickling it.
dyke: wall.
awa' tae me: come here.
bugger aff: go away.
haud on loon: stay there boy.
Aye laddie, richt eneuch: Yes right enough.
Dinna tell a'body: Don't tell anyone.    

Friday, 24 June 2011

Slugs And Snails And German Shepherd Dog Tails.

                                    A Complaint By Sadie Bain.

As my loyal and regular readers, you already know I am of the German Shepherd persuasion. A noble and well respected breed, I hope you will agree.
I did not have a great start in life. A bit like John really. We were both in 'homes' in the early part of our lives. Both of us were quite badly treated. I was a nervous wreck when I first came to work for John, highly strung. Jumped a lot at my own shadow. That sort of thing. It took a long time for us to trust each other. But now I enjoy my work as his companion and protector and love him to bits.
To tell the truth I no longer think about it as work. He's more of a friend these days. In truth I do get a little possessive at times, although not in a bad way. Unless I sense he is in danger that is. Then I have been known to adopt the full on German Shepherd, get away from my buddy routine.
Please don't spread it about, but that old saying about bark being worse than bite, could easily be applied to me. Strangers don't realise this though, so I can see anyone off with just a bit of noisy role play. Quite an easy job really and as I say, I enjoy my life caring for him.
The food is good, when he has a bit of spare cash that is. Actually no. Let me revise that statement. The food is cheap, but acceptable.
Some unthinking person, once told John that high protein dog food is not good for German Shepherds. Some nonsense about it affecting our back legs. Of course John saw this as a great chance to save a bit of money and so, as I say, cheap but acceptable.
Ironically, if anything, it's John's legs that are showing signs of wear and tear, not mine. I haven't seen any signs of him cutting back on his rations though. Not that I would want him to because he does throw the occasional piece of steak my way. Anyway as I say, life is good with John. He wouldn't win employer of the year maybe, But I can't complain.
Until now, that is! I am not too happy with him at the moment. I feel let down. I have given him years of devotion, and now this has happened.
There is a new kid on the block. A puppy! A cutesy wootsy puppy wuppie. Not even a proper dog. It's a terrier. (Sorry about that Duke. But I'm grumpy today). Three times that puppy has visited. Three times!
One ray of hope for me is that it is not John's pup. No, it belongs to his ex,Tricia, who lives next door. She already has two terriers, but they aren't allowed up here because they like to kill hens as a hobby. Tricia thinks it is a good idea to introduce 'Dixie' to the hens. So that she can "get used to them". So I suppose that means she's going to be a regular visitor. Huh!
Hallo! I live here too you know. A little consultation would have been nice. Not to mention polite.
I have to be on my best behaviour of course. John knows I wouldn't hurt the pup, but Tricia is a nervous wreck every times she sees me with the puppies head in my mouth. I can't imagine why.
Dixie had better behave herself. I'm the top dog around here. My trouble is I'm too good natured. I mean I am aware that all I have to do is give one quick snap and Tricia would not bring that little pain back here in a hurry.
But no I am a German Shepherd. A noble breed. It won't take me long to show the little upstart who's in charge.

Besides, Tricia has promised me a nice big marrow bone if I'm good.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

One Day The Sheriff Shot This Outlaw Down.

Why am I doing this? Writing this I mean. It is in part for myself. Here I can rabbit on about my life in a way that people can take or leave. I am doing it for you too, dear reader, because I like to share my story.
Mostly though, I am doing it so that there is a record of my life for my children. Otherwise when I am gone, what will there be left of my existence, apart from a few hazy soon forgotten memories? Oh yes, and a few mediocre paintings.
I have told you some tales from my childhood. About the people I knew then. Some of them kindly and some of them horrid. At times, it feels to me that I dwell too much on the nastier side of peoples characters. Let me tell you that I met a lot of decent people too.
In the turbulent ocean of my somewhat fractured childhood I was fortunate enough at times to find calmer waters and sunnier shores.
Unfortunately the stormy times are the ones that dominate my memory. Which I suppose is not surprising, since the bad things are the ones that affected me most. How lucky I am that I have a strong survival instinct.
Apart from a short breakdown in my mental health during my thirties, which I spoke about previously and which I attribute to childhood trauma, I think I emerged from being an abandoned child, relatively sound mentally. Though I have to say, not everyone would agree with me on this.
However, I went off the rails with a vengeance during my teens and into my early twenties. The chip on my shoulder was more the size of a tree. Fighting and drinking, tore my life apart. Disrespect was my watchword, both to others and to myself.
Merchant Navy training. Fit as a fiddle and well behaved.
Let me stop at this point, my dear readers, and ask you, especially those of you who have read my words these past few months. Have you formed an opinion of me, based on the stories I have related thus far? If you have I hope it is a good one. Look at the photo of me in my Merchant Navy uniform. Do I look like a bad boy? Yet I had already been in lots of trouble at this time. I don't really think I was bad. Perhaps troubled would be a more suitable word.
Friends would tell you I am a good man. Kind hearted, generous, loving, a good father. An emotional, sentimental, heart on sleeve type of guy. Yes, they would. I have asked them.
I tell you these good things about myself, so that when I mention, somewhat casually, that I have spent time in prison, you will base any judgement you might make, on the person I am today, rather than the immature, broken youth, I once was. Let me add that my crimes although warranting punishment, were all to do with a massive inferiority complex, which, combined with a serious alcohol intake, refused to let me back down from confrontation. The resulting skirmishes must have been my fault. Everything was my fault in those days. Also I was involved with a tough bunch of hard drinking 'friends'.
The courts did take my troubled childhood into account when sentencing me, and I was given a lot of chances and professional help to get me back on the right path. But I would not, or could not, learn, and finally the Sheriff, Lord Hamilton, in the high court of Aberdeen, who had got to know me well, decided that I needed a harsh lesson and packed me off to prison.
Did I learn anything from my prison sentence. Yes I did actually. Unfortunately, most of what I learned was about how to be a real criminal. But I also learned that I did not enjoy incarceration.
I was still in the merchant navy and on my release went back to sea. Where, if you will forgive an unintended pun, I began to get my life back onto an even keel. Almost.
Whether in the prison, going to sea, working ashore or travelling around the country with my Mother and her on and off paramour Fergie. My life was once full of adventure.
Do you still like me? I do hope so. If you do, please stay here with me, and I will do my best to keep you interested. There is so much more I want to share.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

When The Timid Boy Determined To Reveal His True Self.

Thinking about what kind of personality I had as a child, I suppose the description that springs to mind would be, a quiet boy, usually somewhat timid, but with a spark of temper at times, a bit of a loner, and eager to please.
Indeed, I am fairly sure that if I were able to gain access to my files from the council children's home where I spent most of my formative years, those would be the among the words in it.
Children in those days, I'm going back to the early 1950's in my case, were not empowered in the way that modern children are. We were truly, in the words of the old adage, expected to be seen and not heard.
Personally I was happy to keep my head down. To stay below the radar. Of course in this case, I am referring to kids who did not have the strength of a loving family around them.
Occasionally though, on those rare times when my Mother would visit, I was able to experience for myself, the strength which love can bring to a child. My Mothers presence brought with it a sense of security, both mental and physical, which I never felt at any other time. This safe feeling would reveal itself within me by a sense of self awareness. Naturally happiness was a great part of it, but I remember too, that in my Mothers presence I acquired a boldness, a self confidence, a cheekiness. Feelings normally alien to me, but which, because I felt safe in her love would come to the surface.
Looking back on it now I realise that I was perhaps, exploring the boundaries of just how far I could go. How much would my Mother put up with before she exerted her authority over me.
I can tell you it was a lot further than the staff in the children's home allowed. Egos were not encouraged. We kids were all just part of the greater mass. It was therefore a delicious feeling to be allowed to be myself. Even if it was just for a few hours and on too few occasions.
When Mum said her goodbyes to me, at the gatehouse of the home, I would quickly revert back to the quiet timid persona which was my other, more usual, self. Or was it?
Let us travel forward a few years to 1958. I am now in a foster home in London. Eleven years old. A small child for my age. A quiet boy, timid even. The old saying 'he would not say boo to a goose' could fairly be applied to me.
This day I am unwell. Or perhaps I do not want to go to school. Whichever it is. My desire to stay in bed causes a terrible rage to come upon my foster mother, Aggie Davis.
I know what is about to happen. It is a common occurrence. The blankets are pulled from me. I curl myself into the foetal position and she begins her onslaught. I am pulled onto the floor, she screams incoherently, kicking hard into my ribs. She kneels on me heavily, her knees on my chest, as she punches, slaps, and pinches, releasing her full spitting ugly fury on me. Fortunately for me, this witch, this harridan, is unhealthy in body as well as mind, and, is soon too breathless to continue.
But Aggie is not quite finished. She has a parting shot. A practiced routine. She grabs my private parts and twists and squeezes with all her remaining strength, until I scream in agony. This is the only way she can make me cry. They are tears of shame as well as pain.
As I plod my way to school, I take the threepenny coin she always gives me after an assault and hurl it over the fence into the park. I don't want her money. She cannot buy my forgiveness this time.
This is a momentous day. I determine to fight back the very next time she attacks me. I feel my Mothers strength within me. I feel emboldened. Empowered. My determination grows.
The next attack is not long in coming. I have returned from an errand to the local shop with the wrong amount of change. It is a shilling short. Aggie is furious. Accuses me of stealing it. She delivers a painful stinging blow to my head.
I punch out with all my small power, and land a blow on her. She staggers back, holding her beak like nose, and I see blood issuing through her fingers. It is enough for me. I take to my heels like a frightened rabbit.
My welfare officer later finds me sitting on a bench in the local park. He does not ask me about the incident, and I do not tell him my side of it. He has obviously listened to Aggie's version of events, and that will do him. As I say, in those days children were expected to be seen and not heard.
Eventually I am returned to Aggie's care. My retaliation is never mentioned. She never hits me again. I had achieved the desired effect.
Soon after this incident I leave the foster home for good, when I am reunited with my Mother.
It is the beginning of a slippery slope for me. I will never allow myself to be bullied or beaten again. I am a different boy now. Still quiet. But no longer timid. This will be a new beginning. I am stubbornly determined about that. Trouble is looming for me. Aggie Davis should take her share of the blame.              

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Beach Boys Good Vibrations Get Things Off To A Great Start.

Seventeen years ago my somewhat humdrum, stick in the mud, sort of life became transformed, when, Tricia, my partner, to the accompaniment of 'The Beach Boys' singing 'Good Vibrations', gave birth to our son, George.
They were not actually in the room with us. The 'Beach Boys' I mean. No they had to stay in the corridor outside. Sorry. I am being silly. They were on the radio. Anyway, I remember thinking as I watched my son being born. Urrgghh...! Sorry again. I remember thinking that 'Good Vibrations was a great tune to be born to.
There was a lot of screaming and shoving going on in the labour room. But eventually the nursing staff, let me out.
Nine months earlier both Tricia and myself had been somewhat taken aback to find out that she was pregnant. We were in our mid to late forties at the time and to be honest we both thought that our child rearing days were well behind us.
We had of course been responsible adults, and taken sensible precautions against such an event happening. Well, I say we. I should perhaps say Tricia had taken precautions. Her main one being to keep me locked out of the bedroom. All I can think of by way of explaining her pregnancy, is the time we both got hungry in the middle of the night and met unexpectedly in the kitchen. Where she, in a moment of reckless abandonment, suddenly realised what she had been denying herself, and despite my vigorous protests, took advantage of my kind and generous nature. Several times.
It has been wonderful these last seventeen years, watching my extremely handsome son grow up. He started playing football at a very young age, and I have so enjoyed watching him play. He is good enough to have won lots of medals and trophies over the years. I have watched him win best player award at several football camps. One of my favourite football memories was watching him score a goal on the pitch at Goodison Park, home of Everton football club in Liverpool. A club of which George's great Grandfather on his Mothers side, was one of the founding members and which we staunchly support.
He also has a great interest in wildlife, flora and fauna, and we have enjoyed finding out lots of things together on our nature walks and wild camping trips. We both enjoy bushcraft. There is not much to beat building a basic shelter in the woods with your son, and cooking over a campfire.
These activities are becoming less as he builds new friendships and starts his journey into adulthood. This is probably just as well for me. I am getting older too. I am ready to lead a more sedate lifestyle. Not too sedate though. I am not ready to give up just yet. There is still a lot of life left in this old dog. But I am pleased that I have been able to be a hands on type of Dad. I know men younger than me who find Fatherhood exhausting.
George gave me a new lease of life. At forty six I think it is fair to say that a lot of men begin to think about taking things a bit easier. I began to live again. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to do so.
Although Tricia and I are no longer partners, we are still the very best of friends, there for one another, and still see each other every day. I will always be grateful to her for the gift of our son.
What's brought on all this introspection, you may be wondering? It was Fathers day. My son bought me Sunday lunch. It was delicious.
He also made a great sacrifice for me. At a time when he could have been out with his pals, he came and watched his Dad perform at the open mic night. It must have been hell for him. But he didn't flinch from it. Once again he made his old Dad proud.
Yes. It has been a wonderful seventeen years. Here's to the next seventeen. But I will not be visiting the kitchen in the wee small hours again. Cheers!

Friday, 17 June 2011

A Naked Man. Two Dogs. A Woodpecker, And A Screaming Woman.

Did the day start off all right weatherwise? I ask myself the question because it seems such a long time ago. Yes it did. I remember now. It was the sun shining through the mollicroft window that woke me. Looking out I could see that grey skies were looming. So decided to take a quick walk to the village with Sadie the German Shepherd, before the heavens opened.
Didn't quite go as planned though. Halfway across the potato field footpath it began to rain. Shall I turn back? No! It will stop soon. My decision making skills were in short supply today. I carried on. It began to pour. By the time I had reached the other side of the field, the footpath was a quagmire and I, wearing just a jumper and jeans was soaked through.
At this stage I decided to turn back. Another wrong decision. After just a few yards my boots were heavy with clinging mud, and just got heavier and heavier as I plodded homeward. I should have walked home on the pavement.
The torrential downpour beating on my head and the fact that I do not have windscreen wipers on my glasses, made me keep my head down. Which is the reason I did not see that Sadie had come to a halt on the path. Which is the reason I fell over her. Which is the reason I ended face down in a bunch of angry stinging nettles, and one of my outstretched  arms was up to the elbow in a muddy waterlogged rabbit burrow. Of course it was the arm on which I was wearing my newly repaired watch that ended up in the hole. Not to worry. I never really liked that watch anyway.
With a good supply of the potato field attached to my boots I managed to drag myself home. This wagon of mine does not have the luxury of a porch where I could get out of my wet clothing, and being reluctant to make a mess indoors I removed my muddy boots and sodden clothes outside my door.
Unfortunately in my haste to divest myself of the wet garments I had forgotten that my door key was hanging in the tractor shed, at the other side of the paddock. I make a naked dash across the grass to retrieve it. The key is not there. I am cold , wet, naked and miserable. It is an effort to think straight. Where is my key. Suddenly I remember. It must be in the pocket of my jeans. Which are now in a wet heap outside the wagon door. I hurry back to the wagon.
Have you ever tried to get a key out of the pocket of a wet pair of jeans? It is very difficult. Especially if you are naked in the pouring rain, with cold hands and bursting to have a pee, and with the added distraction of an excited, and wet German Shepherd dog, thinking that all the naked to and fro rigmorale is some bizarre game you have just invented.
Can you imagine what it must have looked like, a naked wet and shivering man well past his prime, scampering about in a field with his dog? Can you imagine it? Of course you can. I have just painted a picture in your head. I do apologise. It must be horrendous for you. Let me move swiftly on.
Indoors at last, I find the floor is awash. There is a leak in the wagon roof. I feel justified in letting rip with a few choice phrases of the kind you are unlikely to hear in Church. Swiftly I grab a pile of old newspapers and spread them over the floor to soak up the water. While this is going on I am giving myself a vigorous rub down with a towel trying to get the circulation back into my frozen limbs.
Dry clothes and a good deal of mopping up later. I sit down with a nice hot cup of tea and a toasted bacon sandwich.
Oh look! The sun is out again. The sky is clearing. Why the hell didn't I wait? Flaming June? Flaming bloody joke. That's what it is.
Apart from all that nonsense it was not a bad day. I made some money by painting this portrait of a border collie. I thought you might like to see it.
I did my good deed for the day by rescuing a frightened green woodpecker from an equally frightened woman's kitchen. No, I'm afraid I don't know why it flew into her kitchen. But it was marvelous to hold such a bird in my hands for a few seconds. I just wish I had my camera with me. Not just to show you the woodpecker, but the woman screaming. She is frightened of birds. A fairly common phobia I believe.
This evening I went to listen to a local band called 'The Feel'. Excellent noise. But best of all they were supported by my favourite duo 'Jon and Robbie' a fantastic guitarist and a lovely girl with a beautiful voice.
After that I came back to my still damp home and began to write this blog. Guess what happened? Halfway through, the broadband failed. After many fruitless attempts to restart it, consisting of swear words, telephone calls to robots, and pressing unresponsive buttons, I gave up and read some of Dickens, Mr Pickwick. After an hour or so the broadband came back and here I am. It is three thirty a.m. I ought to be in bed.
I wonder what the weather will be like today. If it looks like it might rain. I will not be going out for a walk. Besides, my boots are still wet.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A Great Big Thank You To My Chinese Readership.

Excuse me everyone. Sorry to interrupt what you are doing, but I think the Toastmaster is about to speak.


Yes. Well. OK. I know this is not a lot compared to many of you serious bloggers out there, but it made me feel good. So good in fact that I have bored quite a lot of people with the news. People, most of whom have not the faintest clue what I am talking about. But the fact of the matter is that I enjoy writing my blog so much (well, most of the time) that it has taken on a great significance in my humdrum life. I can vividly recall my excitement the time I noticed that someone in China had viewed my blog. Until I realised that one person out of... what's the population of China? Well anyway, it wasn't much to get excited about.
Of course I do realise that the figure of 5000 loses a good deal of it's potency when I factor in how many times I have viewed it myself, in order to see who has viewed it. That probably amounts to, oh, let's say about 2500 times.
But that still leaves 2500 views. You have to admit, that is not half bad for a beginner. Is it...? Oh!
While I'm on the subject of views. I notice that when I look at the stats, which I do quite a lot, that registers too. How often do I look at the stats though? I think I just said. Quite a lot. It probably amounts to, oh, let's say about 1500 times.
But hey! I'm not despairing. No way! Let's not forget. We are still at 1000 views. Let's be honest here. That is a lot of people reading my blog. Wouldn't you agree? Pardon? You wouldn't? I suppose you could be right.
Now. I am going to swallow my pride here, and let you dear readers, in on a secret. Do you remember the posts that Sadie the German Shepherd wrote? You do, don't you? Thought you might. Well they were the two most popular posts ever. By my reckoning she got close to 600 views. I was gutted by this. I mean really!
That still leaves about 400 hundred views though, doesn't it? That's alright isn't it? 400 hundred! That is a lot of kudos.
I have just managed to stop myself putting more photos up. Because I suddenly realised that when you upload a photo it registers as a view. Crikey! Give me a minute to work this one out... Yes got it. Must be about 150.
No worries. It still means that 250 people have had a look at my blog.
Unless of course you take into account the number of people who for some unfathomable reason, came back for another look. Perhaps they could not believe their eyes the first time. How many would that be, do you think? I'll go easy on myself and hazard a rough guess. 200 would that be about right?
So. Out of all the billions of people in the world, maybe 50 have read my blog. Just a thought but how many of that final 50 don't speak or read English? How many simply happened by, and swiftly moved on? Most of them? All of them?
Is there anybody out there? Does anyone read my blog? Is it worth my while to continue?

Wait! The Toastmaster wants your attention again.


Monday, 13 June 2011

It's A Dog's Life. Sadie The German Shepherds Point Of View.

He's been reading that newspaper for long enough now. I intend to sit here with my head resting on his knee and looking at him with my big soulful eyes until he puts the paper down, and notices me....  Alright then this is not working. I shall poke my nose up under the paper and give it a bit of a nudge.

"SADIE! Oh for God's sake. Now look what you've done."

Not my fault. How was I supposed to know he had a mug of tea in his hand? I'll lick it off the floor. Save him a job.
He's still tetchy. No need to glare at me John. I'll lie down and put my paws over my eyes. That'll calm him down a bit. I really don't know why he shouts at me. It only makes him feel guilty.
What's he eating? Is it a doughnut? It is a doughnut. I'm entitled to a bit of doughnut after being shouted at like that. I'll try the German Shepherd whine, big soulful eyes combination. Never fails.

"No Sadie! Go away. You are not having any. It's not good for you."

Not good for me. What a nerve he's got. He has just eaten three jam doughnuts with sugar on and he says they're not good for me. Oh, but I suppose eating jam doughnuts for breakfast is good for you, is it Mr health conscious? What happened to the oatmeal and blueberries you're always telling everyone you have for breakfast? Alright then if you are going to continue to behave so selfishly I will go and eat the cats food.

Well that got his attention. Now I shall have to listen while he tells me I will not be getting any dinner this evening. Because I am just a greedy dog who has no respect for Bonnie's needs. He's right there. I haven't.

"Right! No dinner for you tonight. You are so greedy Sadie. No! Don't give me the hangdog look. What is Bonnie going to eat now eh?"

That cat gets far too much attention if you ask me. Besides, if she leaves food in her dish what does she expect?

He's putting his boots on. This looks promising. Could be a walk. I'll try a little bit of a hopeful whine.

"Shut up Sadie. You're not my friend."

Hmm.. Still a bit grumpy then. I'll try the waving a paw routine. See if I can jolt him out of it.

"What are you doing now? Gimme a paw then. Come on shake hands. Clever girl."

That's better. Works every time. Now hurry up and tie those bootlaces. In case you have forgotten we didn't have a walk yesterday because of continous heavy rain. I have a lot of catching up to do.

"Where's your lead Sadie? Find it. Find your lead."

Why do we always have to go through the find your lead rigmorale. He knows perfectly well that I have a tendency to get over excited at walk time. Next thing you know he will be telling me to calm down.


What did I tell you. It's the same every time.

"Sadie. Come. Sit."

No I am not going to sit. Sorry.

"Saaadieee. Sit."

I'm not going to sit.

"Saaadieee. SIT!"

John. In case you have not noticed. We are standing in a big puddle of muddy water. Would you sit in it. No you wouldn't. Well, not unless you had just got back from the pub. But perhaps best not to mention that incident.

"Sadie Down."
Now he is being ridiculous. Give him time.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Love God. He's Not So Hot.

I have a confession to make regarding my last blog post. These lovely ladies aren't really my latest dates. The whole thing is a sham. Of course you probably guessed as much, but just in case any of you thought that the post was true I thought it best to come clean. Besides which I am sure that nobody would believe I could describe myself in such glowing, self glorifying over the top, terminology. Even if it's true. Would they? Oh dear! Really!
The ladies are all happily married. Their husbands are all just out of shot, keeping a close eye on me, and I can't say I blame them. With my looks and charismatic personality it is easy to see why they might see me as a threat.
These lovely people are my friends and we are out enjoying an open mic night. For anyone who might be wondering what an open mic night is, it is simply an opportunity for anyone, singers, musicians, poets, comedians etc to get up and entertain. I, needless to say, am all of the above things. Also it is a great place for any aspiring young entertainers to learn their trade and hone their acts.
What has happened in this photo is that I have just finished singing and all the women have become besotted with me. Oh good grief ! Here I go again!
Let me try again. The truth this time. No silly flights of fancy. Here goes then. We were all having a lovely time in the pub. I was sitting with the ladies. We were chatting away happily, and even though they are all married they were trying their hardest to get my phone number out of me. No! No! That is not true. I am drifting once more into the realms of fantasy. Forgive me please. I'll get there in the end.
The conversation got round to the dating site I have recently joined. They wanted to know how I was getting on. How many women I had met. Had I met anyone I really liked. Things like that. The upshot was that I said I would tell all about it on my next blog post. That is when the idea came to me for this photograph. I asked them if they would mind looking at me as though they were completely smitten, and they happily went along with it. Actually it was quite simple. To be honest they were already looking at me adoringly. I have this effect on the ladies. It is something I have had to learn to live with. Life can be so unbelievably cruel sometimes. Oops! Here I go again. Sorry about that.
The truth is that the dating is not going well. Oh, there have been lots of messages from women who would like to meet me, that much is true, and I have responded to a few. But nothing has happened yet. Also I have not written to any of the women first. I just wait for them to make the initial contact. I don't think that is the way it should be. But it is the way it is. I am nervous of rejection. There has been enough of that in my life. I am a failure.
Oh, that is so sweet of you to disagree and I know you mean well. But it is true. I am a failed date site has been. Or perhaps that should be, hasn't been.
Underneath this happy,confident, 'Jack the lad' exterior is a quiet, shy, and somewhat disillusioned man. Why I ask myself should I want a relationship again, when I have made myself and others so unhappy in the past. Perhaps it would be better if I remained on my own. Where, if I am honest I am quite happy.
Life is simple, uncomplicated. I don't want for anything. I see my extremely handsome Son and his mother when I want to. I have friends. I get out and about. Go places. I have my music. My art. My pets. My freedom.
Why complicate things with a new partner? Of course I have asked myself this question a hundred times, a thousand times, and still do not know the answer. The best I can come up with is that people are not designed to live alone. We need someone to share the highs and the lows. Perhaps companionship is a basic essential of life. It is an established fact that married people live longer than unmarried. Hey! I just had a thought. Maybe it only seems longer.
God! I've started rambling again. What do I know about life or relationships? Except how to make a mess of it.
Where is Sadie the German Shepherd? My faithful friend. I need a hug.   No photographs of this event will be shown. Sadie and I are both terribly shy. Anyway I don't expect you will ever believe anything I say again. Photograph or not.

Monday, 6 June 2011

So Many Women. So Little Time. A Solution Of Pure Genius.

It's a miserable day outside. The glorious sunshine we have enjoyed here recently has gone. Which is a shame because it is the school holidays. A good time to go out and draw portraits.
I have to earn some extra money. My car needed work done on it. This is one of those times when the simple life philosophy falls down, and real life takes a bite at you. Why aren't any of  life's necessities cheap? Oh well, never mind. There is always tomorrow. I'm expecting blazing sunshine again. After all it is supposed to be flaming June!
Having had such a long spell of nice dry weather only serves to make the rain seem wetter than ever. We need the rain though apparently. Farmers need it for their crops. Gardeners need it for their gardens. Well all right then. In that case I'm prepared to accept it on their behalf. But just for today! The weeds in my plot are doing very nicely as it is thank you. I'm not inclined to look favourably on anything that might encourage them further.
While I wait for the Sun to make a reappearance I thought this might be a good time to update you on news from the dating site I joined recently. I do know that a few people have asked to be kept informed, and far be it for me to disappoint them.
This particular site I have joined do guarantee success, so I was not too surprised when the messages began to come in thick and fast. It seems that a lot of women found my profile write up very refreshing in it's honesty. How they knew I was being honest, well I haven't figured that out yet. I might easily have been a complete rogue. Instead of the part one I actually am. Oh come on! Nobody is completely perfect. Are they? Anyway, suffice to say I was pleased with the results. Particularly since I had used a less than flattering picture of myself to accompany my refreshingly honest words. Which just goes to show that women do not merely judge a book by it's cover. Unless it's a Mills and Boon romance book that is.
I then decided to add another photo showing myself in a better light. You know. Scrubbed up a bit. Beard coiffed. (Coiffed? Where do I conjure these words up from? Excuse me while I look it up, see if I've got it right. Yep! the context is OK. The word does apply to hair at least). Shirt and tie, that sort of thing.
The new photograph produced even more results. It was quite dramatic in fact. Messages from women coming at me from left right and centre. Even several from interested men, wondering if I would be prepared to consider changing my sexual orientation. Obviously I'm not, but I have filed the letters safely away. Just in case I change my mind!
All these lovely ladies wanting to meet up presented me with a big headache. Obviously, being a man of integrity and honour, I don't want to let any of them down or deprive them of this once in a lifetime chance to get to know me.
But I am not just a very handsome, debonair, humble and charismatic man. I have also been blessed with high intelligence. It was not long before the solution to the problem came to me. The answer was simple,and I could foresee no problems with it. What I would do in order to whittle down the numbers into a shortlist was: take the ladies out on a date four at a time. Yes I know. I thought so too. I am a genius!
Four ladies at a time. The perfect solution!
Naturally, when the evening ends, there is some competition amongst them about who gets to take me home for, ahem, 'coffee'. But I've sorted that problem out also. I drink a lot of coffee.
Bye for now.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Jimmy. Have You Sent A Message From The Other Side?

Title: Jimmy and the orphans. By John Bain 2010.
Occasionally, and without knowing why, I am inspired to start painting a picture with only the vaguest of an idea in my mind. Possibly brought about by something from my past. Or seen in a film or on television. Maybe something I have read has triggered an image in my mind. Something seen or read about. Apparently forgotten, but stored untidily in the hidden depths of my memory.
As the idea in my mind grows stronger it gradually reveals it's content to me. At this stage I will squeeze a colour onto my palette, thin it down, and using a brush begin to roughly layout my design. This has to be done quickly or I will get bogged down in the small details and the image will start to lose it's hold on me. I do not allow myself any reference guides once I begin painting. Which explains the somewhat out of perspective size of the baby lambs. I just think a certain naivety adds to the charm. At least that is my excuse and I am sticking to it!
In a short and frantic painting session I will have mostly completed what I set out to do. Which is to transfer the picture in my head onto a canvas. After a bit of tweaking I will soon know if I have achieved my objective.
This painting, done at the end of last year, and which I present for you to see today, is one of those which pleased me. At least in so far, as the small amount of satisfaction I allow myself to have with my work.
There was a familiarity in this painting, that puzzled me. Had I actually painted something which had already been done? Had I plagiarized someone else's work?
Eventually the answer struck  me. I had painted a portrait of Jimmy, my Mums new husband. My step-father. The background too is familiar. It is Bennachie! The mountain range, nearby the croft we lived on in Scotland. All totally by chance. A picture painted from inside my head. Very strange feeling this. I absolutely had no idea that I was painting his portrait. But there was no doubt in my mind. Even down to the cap on his head, the finished work was Jimmy Mackie. Crofter, Quarryman, Freemason and amateur wrestler.
A man I liked. A man I hated. A man I came to love and understand in turn. Sadly this revelation of my feelings towards him came too late. Jimmy was in the terminal stages of cancer when I began to view our relationship in a different light, and knew that he was, under a brusque and hard exterior, an inherently good man.
These days I am honest with my feelings. I will express them openly. Sometimes I am sure, to the embarrassment of the recipient. But if I like someone they will be informed of the fact. If my initial impression of a person is not a good one I give myself time. My instincts have been so wrong in the past. Dismiss someone too soon and you could be losing a potentially good friend.
Here endeth the lesson. One of the benefits of having been around a long time. You can get away with sermonising occasionally. Just don't overdo it!

Friday, 3 June 2011

Let Me Show You Around The Place

Bennachie in the near distance
Mother and I have completed the long overnight journey from London, England, and have just alighted from a bus, having finally arrived at our destination. A croft, in the shadow of the mountain Bennachie, about twenty miles distant from Aberdeen in north east Scotland. I have enjoyed the journey, and wish it could go on for a bit longer. It has been wonderful being the focus of my Mums attention. At the same time I am excited to know what comes next.
It is 1959. I am twelve years old. Until her sudden appearance at my foster home yesterday, I had not seen my Mother for many years. She is almost a stranger. A stranger I am thrilled to know and love.
On our right hand side as we lugged our suitcases up the gently sloping track to the crofthouse was a well tended vegetable garden. Neatly spaced, tidy rows of plants growing in profuse, well ordered abundance. On the left were the back walls of the next door crofthouse and outbuildings. All of the same ubiquitous grey granite which also made up all the drystone walls in this region.
The track led to a yard enclosed on two sides by a house with outbuildings. As we drew near, a flock of what seemed to be hundreds of chickens but in reality was about fifty, came flapping and squawking towards us, and milled chaotically around our feet, so that I didn't know where to step next. Mum disappeared into one of the buildings and reappeared with a pan of corn which she began to scatter on the ground. All the while screeching raucously, "Heeeere chickchick chicks. Heeeere chickchick chicks". This was the first time I had heard anyone calling chickens, and I found it highly amusing. I was also glad that they responded to her calling and left me in peace. Nowadays I use the same call to get my chickens attention at feed times. I notice that my extremely handsome son George has adopted the same call. It is becoming a tradition, perhaps it will go on forever.
It was a kind of relief when I found out that Jimmy, Mum's new husband was not yet home from his work at the local quarry. I don't know why I was apprehensive. Maybe just a boys shyness. Awkwardness about knowing what to say at a first meeting. But anyway I was concerned for some reason and was glad to find I could put off the moment.
This also gave me the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity about my new home and environment, and explore unhindered by my innate shyness.

After the journey the need to answer a call of nature was somewhat urgent upon me and I asked my Mother where the toilet was. It was a bit of a surprise when she directed me to a small wooden building at the back of the house. Inside was a plank of wood with a round hole in it. Underneath the plank and aligned with the hole, was a white enamel bucket with a handful of grass in the bottom. This was the primitive toilet. It turned out that this was mainly there for the comfort of visitors. I would soon be expected to take a spade and do my business up the hill, among the gorse bushes. I quickly got used to it.
There was no bathroom. The only place to wash in any degree of comfort was at the stone sink in the kitchen.  The water came from a well via a cast iron hand pump. It was always cold and refreshing to drink. This pump had to be primed before each use by pouring a jug of water down it.
There was also a bigger water pump in the yard which was mainly used to fill the cattle trough, but was also where Jimmy had his morning wash. I have no idea where Jimmy had a bath.
My fortnightly scrub was in a tin tub full of lukewarm water in the living room. Not surprisingly this was a bit of an ordeal and I liked to get it over as quickly as I could. Mum had the same routine as me.
The first time I saw Mum taking a bath in this way I felt terribly embarrassed and disconcerted. I had never seen a real live naked woman. She however didn't seem at all concerned by her nudity or the fact that I was in the room, and even used to get me to scrub her back with a flannel. Most times though we would just have a strip wash beside the kitchen sink. This wasn't unusual. Lots of people used this method of personal hygiene in those days. Especially in country areas.
At this stage I want to apologise dear reader. I feel that this post is not well constructed. I am drifting from my  intended purpose which was to introduce you in an ordered way to my new home. My chaotic mind is in full flow this evening. However, it will I am quite hopeful, lead to the place I want to take you.
The house was small. Two rooms upstairs and two down. My bedroom was upstairs. The sloping ceiling had a small skylight window on one side, and the room was quite dark. There was no electricity. I would see my way with candles or oil lamp. The bed was old and very high off the floor. Which gave plenty of room for the china chamber pot underneath it. The feather mattress was soft and yielding and would almost engulf my body when I lay down on it. It was really cosy in the winter, especially when I also had a stone hot water bottle beside me.
The other room upstairs was always locked. But a locked door is a source of immense interest. When I did find the key I could not resist a look inside. It was a store room, and contained all the belongings, clothing and photographs of Jimmy's first wife who had died many years before. He had kept everything. I felt like an intruder, and did not look in there again.
Downstairs was the living room. There was a small cooking range here but Mum mainly used a small electric cooker in the kitchen. The socket for this was the only source of electricity in the house. Despite the lack of facilities she was a fantastic cook and I discovered how good food could be when I lived with her. I had always been a fussy eater in the past. This was probably due to the quality of the food served up.
The kitchen was just a wooden lean to attached to the front of the house. It was also the only way in or out of the house.
The other room downstairs was Mum and Jimmy's bedroom.
 It soon became apparent that there was not a lot of marital bliss went on at the other side of that door.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Bennachie. Another Mountain To Climb.

At the end of a very long and exciting overnight journey from London, aboard a train, pulled by the famous 'Flying Scotsman' locomotive, My Mother and I arrived at Aberdeen station. It was 1959 and I was rapidly approaching my 13th birthday.
Up until this time it had been several years since I had seen, or had any contact with my Mum. This estrangement had ended suddenly and without prior warning just the day before, when she appeared at the door of my current foster parents and told the foster mum that she was taking me.
I can vaguely recall some argument between the two of them as to the legality of such a move. But Mum was determined, and as I was soon to find out, could be ferocious, when she wanted to get her own way. Which was quite a lot of the time.
She had obviously won the argument. Because here we were, in another country, Scotland. The beautiful land of her birth. I was so excited and thrilled to be with her. I am able even today to conjure up the heady sense of release and freedom I felt. The joy of knowing that I was with someone I had yearned to be with for so long. Someone who loved me.
As far as I was concerned all buses were supposed to be red. But here in Aberdeen the bus we boarded was bright yellow. Mum called it a bus, but it didn't have an upper deck. To me it should have been called a coach.
People were talking, holding conversations, but I struggled to understand what they were saying. It might have been a foreign language, except that I could make out the odd word or two. Just these small differences added to the sense of adventure I was experiencing.
I had never seen, or travelled such quiet narrow roads as this before either. If we did encounter traffic, there was hardly room to squeeze two vehicles past each other.
Everywhere I looked there were dry stone walls of grey granite dividing the fields. Fields full of cattle and sheep. Even pigs. Fascinating stuff for a boy from the big city.
Purple heather and yellow gorse and broom on the hilly terrain all added to my feeling of being in a foreign country.
Oh my word what's that! Mum! Mum! Look it's a mountain! It's a mountain! Well I'd only seen a mountain in films before, This was so exciting, and what's that on top of it. Looks like snow. It is snow! It's the start of the summer holidays and there's snow!
We stop at a village. There are grey granite houses. Pink granite houses. The granite glints and sparkles in the sunshine. Several small shops, with old fashioned painted signs. Lots of people alight here. But we still have a few more miles to go.
Nearly there now. Mum points out a small cluster of granite built houses in the distance and a slight feeling of apprehension takes me. It is almost time to meet Jimmy, her new husband. Everything will be all right though. I'm with my Mum.
Yesterday I was an unhappy child in a foster home in the crowded, bustling smog ridden metropolis of London. Today less than twenty four hours later, I am breathing the clean sweet air of rural Scotland, and walking up a rutted country track towards a small stone cottage with matching outbuildings.
Swallows are swooping. The sky is blue, and there in the near distance is *'Bennachie'. A real mountain with snow on the top.
I am home, and with my Mum. Will everything be all right? Only time will tell.

*Ben- ah- he.