Saturday, 14 October 2017

Gettin a wee bit radge aboot Jack Horner

Read this first-

It's a lovely Scots poem for children by James Robertson. I heard somewhere that it was written for a disabled friend who could not go riding but who would have loved to  do so.
I sometimes write poems for children. Like James Robertson, I write in Scots. Unlike James Robertson, I write about rude, sometimes violent old ladies and animals with disgusting habits. James Robertson and his pal Matthew Fitt are to blame for this. They asked me to. They were clever. When they started the Itchycoo Scots language book series, they began with books that weren't about vomiting budgies and umbrella-wielding grannies. They established that Scots wasn't just another way of being coarse. When King o the Midden, the book of manky, mingin rhymes came out, if the rudeness served as a gateway drug to Scots, there were a variety of other non-rude ways to go thereafter.
I know the poems have a fan base, that Mrs Nae Offence gets recited by children at Burns Suppers. What I only recently found out, by way of a Twitter vanity search, is that some people loathe them. I came across a thread where they seemed to be being cited as an example of everything that was wrong with the SNP's education policy. Wee Radge Jack Horner attracted particular venom.

Wee Radge Jack Horner,
Sat in the corner,
Eatin a Mars Bar in batter,
It did Nae guid at aw,
Fur his cholesteraw,
Sae noo he takes naethin but watter.

Well, I thought it was funny at the time, and that getting children to subvert nursery rhymes would be a good way to get them writing poetry. Maybe cholesteraw is 'gibberish', though. I did enjoy the criticism. Some of it was unintentionally complimentary - I write like a primary 4. I am a 'cough' respected poet in Scoats/Weedgie. Someone wanted to start a petition to ban my stuff in schools. As Oscar Wilde said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, though you do wonder if Oscar had ever been hit in the nadgers by a high speed football.

[Fact check: when I wrote Wee Radge Jack Horner, I was pro-devolution, anti-independence and had never voted SNP]

I have internal dialogues about writing in Scots. When my mum went into care, I wrote a lot of blank verse about being eight years old. I could lay the charge at my own door that I didn't talk like that. It would be only partially true. And by calling my mother Maw in the poems, I could see her as she was then, not as the adrift, confused, almost wordless mum who now lives in a home.

In fifth year English, I read 1984. I am sure I was too immature to understand everything that the novel was saying, but I did get the point about Newspeak. If you restrict language, you restrict thinking. On the other hand, the more ways you have of expressing yourself, the more ways you have of thinking critically.

Interestingly, when I came across the pillorying of something I thought was harmless fun that might lead children to read better Scots writing, a report was published by Education Scotland.

It is not an academic study, but it's worth a look.

So, to those who hate Wee Radge Jack Horner, lighten up. That's lighten up, no lichten up. You're entitled to your opinion, but by politicising something that was never political, you're coming across as a bit up your own bahookie, Nae offence.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Pride and Prejudice revisited

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a sixteen year old boy in possession of his own motorbike is not going to be best pleased at having Pride and Prejudice foisted upon him for his Higher English. Gordon Bennett! I swear that I read every word as if each was a tin of beans I had to check for defects as part of a stiflingly boring factory job. Past my eyes they rolled. I missed nothing. I missed everything. "It's so funny!" a studious girl in my class exclaimed. She must have been trying to impress someone by pretending to find the book amusing, I reasoned. Not for the first time I was wrongly attributing a base motive to someone because such a motive was the only one I could conceive of having myself.

In a rare act of rebellion I wrote a bitterly sarcastic critical evaluation of the novel. My English teacher, fully entitled to beat me about the head with the complete works of Jane Austen, nevertheless chose to respect my opinion. He commented that I should put P & P aside for a few years but should return to it at some point. It was not something I anticipated doing, despite feeling that I owed him as much.

Now, to get in the mood for the rest of this piece, you could perhaps stick 'Eye of the Tiger' on the stereo, because the rematch- Steele versus Austen- occurred this summer. I did not expect to enjoy the experience, viewing it like a tough hillwalk with visibility occluded by persistent drizzle. The best I hoped for at the end was a dull ache that would prove that the exercise had been in some way beneficial. Maybe this time I would at least be able to feel some sympathy for Elizabeth's father. Anyone subject to a sixfold dose of synchronised PMT was bound to arouse some emotion in me. Such was the downbeat air with which I approached my task.

But I liked it. Damn it, I almost laughed out loud a few times. The relevance to life that I had, (so cleverly I thought at the time) dismissed as a youth was there for anyone with a modicum of maturity to savour. My English teacher was right.

It has become important to me that he should know that I know appreciate his wisdom. His name was Mr Jimmy Anderson, PT English at Lanark Grammar in the seventies and, I believe, an assistant head on Islay thereafter. If you know him, pass on my regards, though the hope that he should remember me is doubtless a vain one in both senses of the word.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Goin tae church

Ah kent Jesus wis guid
Sae Ah felt a wee bit bad 
No likin goin tae church
It hadnae been sich a scunner
When Ah wis wee
And efter the meenister 
Wha Ah liked
Telt the weans a story
We got tae get oot tae Sunday scuil 
But when ye got a wee bit aulder 
Ye hud tae stay fur the fu whack
And a didnae like the claes 
Mair than that, Ah hatit them
Ken hoo yir scuil shirt goes nicen saft 
Efter a while? Weel
Yir Sunday scuil ane disnae 
And a didnae like they Rupert Berr troosers 
Ah'm shair if it wis up tae Jesus
Ye could wear whit ye wantit 
Even jammies, but his faither
God, ye needit tae dress up fur
And Ah got tellt at scuil Ah wis a rotten singer
And mair than hauf the time ye were singin 
Sae whit wis Ah supposed tae dae?
Staun there wi a gowdfish gub
Flappin open and shut?
Jesus micht say
Jist draw a picter
Ye're no bad at that
But probably no God
Ah kindae thocht o God and Jesus
Like Batman and Robin
And Ah aye wantit tae be pals wi Robin
No Batman wha wid be a bit hard goin
Robin wis mair fun but
Ah doobt ye're supposed tae be thinkin 
O Batman and Robin at the hymns 
Sae Ah aye looked at the buik 
Tae see when we were hauf wey through
It wis like goin up a big hill on yir bike
And ye kent the warst wis ower 
But there were some guid anes
Like Onward Christian Soldiers
And ye felt fowk were itchin
Tae march aboot the church
Swingin their airms ahint the meenister
Wha wid be cairryin the cross o Jesus
Goin on before whitever that meant
There wis a fair bit o whitever that meant
At the church
It wis thee and thou and words
That even ma granny's pals
Or auld Mrs Glenmoor at the scuil didnae say
Sae Ah wid look at the clock
And the hats like flyin saucers
And the pipes fur the organ were like rockets
And Ah wis shair a laddie cud rin
Fae the back o the church tae the front
Jumpin frae ane pew tae the next
And Ah imagined daein that
Wi nae troosers, shoutin and bawlin 
And Ah'd never git allowed back
But ma maw and paw wid be affrontit 
And even Jesus widnae find that funny
Sae Ah never did it
And Ah ken Ah've gone on a bit
But that's the wey it wis at church.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The source o the Belstane Burn

Auld Mrs Glenmoor wis bein crabbit again
"I'll bet none of you know the source of the Belstane Burn!"
She thocht weans jist sat aboot daein nothin 
But that wisnae fair
Me and Dougie Gray were aye explorin 
Like the time we fund a hole wi two auld motors in it
And a sheep's heid skeleton 
Wee Bobby Graham wis wi us
And he cried it a "goat's underwear"
And Dougie and me couldnae stap laughin
But ye're pittin me aff
Ah wis telling ye aboot the Belstane Burn
We stertit at the wee bridge on the road
And follaed it through this field
It was a braw day, aw shimmery
Wi peewits- ye could hear but no see them
Ah had ma cub jumper roon ma waist
Wi aw the badges aff fur Ah wis in the Scouts noo
And we were wearin oor sandals
Ken the anes wi soles like rubber broon sugar?
There was this wee bing
And when we got roon it
Ye wouldnae believe it!
There wis a hill, but no a real hill
If ye get whit a mean
A hill like someane hud made it
And the burn disappeart!
Me and Dougie ran up
We couldnae wait tae see whit wis at the tap
And we got
Tae the tap
And looked
A dried up reservoir!
He says he saw it first but it was me
Or mibbe baith thegither
There wis a wee bit watter comin in
And the Belstane Burn comin oot
And ye could gang in and play
But best of aw
There wis this auld tower
Goin doon, no up
And it wis aw rustit stupit 
But if ye were carefu,
Ye could walk alang a kinda bridge tae it.
Weel, hud there no been a bank robbery in the toun?
And me and Dougie thocht this wid be a great place
Tae hide the money. 
And ye could look doon the tower
But aw we saw wis an auld ladder
Fawin apairt, 
Ye wid need tae hae been aff yir heed
Tae gang doon it
So we didnae.
And when we got hame
Ah'd lost ma cub jumper
And ma faither gied me a row 
But no a real row 
Fur goin intae the moors
Withoot sayin whaur we wir heidit 
But ye kent from the wey he said it 
It was jist whit he'd hae done
When he wis a wean.
And when we tellt Auld Glenmoor
She jist said, "Oh aye."
Weel a bet masel a million pounds
She hudnae been there fur yonks
And didnae ken 
It wis aw dried up.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Matchbox Milk Float

It was in a dream I had, a toy
Pale green with a white abstraction of milk crates
Up back. I think I had one like it
When a child, maybe a present, or perhaps
An impulsive purchase now remembered
Unbidden, to fit at night amongst my thoughts
Too crowded when awake, with fears
For a mother, so cast adrift, diminished by disease
That she would put a coat on over nightclothes
And head off to the shops, or try to open
Her back door with a fruit knife or a coin
Until I had no choice. The deception
Was the greatest of my life.
"This is like your lunch club,
"But they'll let you stay
"A little longer 'til we sort your doors."
I left her at the care home, lost but safe.
One week later there it was,
Play-chipped amongst some jumble on a stall
Its simple form as pleasing as before
The milk float from my baffling dream
I bought it, put it in a bag
In my fleece pocket where it still remains.
I take it out, I turn it in my hand
Or, when alone sit it on the dashboard of my car
Where it skites from side to side
As if driving free while all the time
Controlled by things it cannot change
Hearing this, you may call me childish or,
In kindness, childlike. I disagree, but
I often wish that it was true.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The colours o numbers

Numbers. Ah could coont afore Ah went tae schuil. Yin nicht Ah wis in ma bed and Ah decidit tae coont tae a hunner. Whit a feelin! Ah got tae eighty odds and felt Ah wis awa up high and if Ah didnae keep coontin, Ah'd faw doon an end up in a heap wi yin and twa and three and aw the wee numbers. Mind you, they wee numbers were like freens.

Yin. A black number. Does its ain thing, like yon cat that walked by himsel wi his tail stuck up. It wis in a book.

Twa. A blue number. Ye can rely on twa. It thinks things oot, has a wee blether wi itsel.

Three. A rid number. A bit o a superhero number, but like Robin, no Batman.

Fower. Yellae. Sensible number, twa by twa.

Five. Blue, but lightern twa. Hauf o ten. Like ten wis when it wis a young laddie, oot havin fun.

Six. Awfie pale yellae. Ye can make a triangle oot o six dots but it's no the maist exciting number. Kindae fills a space atween five and seeven.

Seeven. Green. Clever, magic number.

Eight. Purple. Ower fond o its foods. Freenly number, like yir uncle. Ma uncle had this yooni maths books wi deid eights in it. ∞∞∞∞ They're no deid eights by the way, they're cried infinites.

Nine. Aye changin colour, dependin on the way ye look lat it. An amazin number, ye can make it intae a square wi three rows o three dots. Nine is like Batman. Ye wid want nine on yir side in a fecht. Nine kens aw aboot mechanics, like yir dad, and space.

Ten. Ten thinks it's great, sittin there like God in a chair, waitin for everythin tae come up tae it. But ten wid be nothin withoot the cat that walked by itsel, and wid only be the cat withoot zero, the hero, the golden ring. Zero is amazin. If it wisnae for zero, which was inventit by an Indian but no yin wi a horse, we wid aw hae stupit numbers like on the clock in ma class. VII, XI, whit's that aw aboot?

Numbers were like a gang but a good gang like Oor Wullie's except there is ten o them, no countin ten. Mibbe mair like the Broons, a faimly, no a gang. Except there are no lassie numbers. Mibbe six, Ah cannae tell. Ah asked Elsie Campbell if she thocht ony numbers were lassies, because she is yin, but she looked at me the wey she did when Ah asked her whit colour wis Wednesday in her heid.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Mrs White

Mrs White 

"Thank you for inspiring my son"
Ma maw wrote tae Mrs White
But ma maw didnae ken
There were twa Mrs Whites

Guid Mrs White
Read braw stories on Friday
And did aw the voices
And kent bits o science

Jist flooer science, mind ye
No space or rockets
But it wis mairn maist teachers
Except the heidmaister

The ither Mrs White
Gied ye big stupit rows
If ye watched ITV
But no Ivanhoe.

You don't watch Ivanhoe?
Find Sir Walter Scott a bit beneath you?
Well, Mr White doesn't.

She wis like Jerry the moose
Wha ance drank this ginger
And turnt intae a monster
That Tom Cat wis feart o

And she'd turn back
And be awfy nice
And dae some flooer science
Then go aff her heid

Not one of you children
Has written in their diaries
That the coltsfoot is now in bloom!

Ah made a wee licht
Wi wire and a battery
And shawed Mrs White
Because it wis science

And she said Ah wis clever
And Mr White wis a teacher
Ah could gang tae her hoose
And he'd shaw me mair lichts.

Ah wisnae that keen
Tae gang tae her hoose
So Ah tellt Mrs White
"Oh I might have a book"



Ew Eh meght hev eh book!
Eh'm tew hegh end meghty
Tew talk tew a person, Eh've got a book!

She went on and on
But it didnae stap there
Efter weeks and weeks
Anither teacher cam in

Here's a boy, Mrs Glenmoor, 
Who when you offer him the chance
To meet a teacher from the big school
Says, "Ew, Eh meght hev a book!"
What sort of person
Would rather look at a book
Than talk to a person?

And Ah wished it was Star Trek
And Scotty wid beam me
Or Ah wis the Blue Peter tortoise
And could hide in ma jumper

Ah couldnae be like whit
Mrs White must hae been
When she was a lassie
Wi jist Ivanhoe

And fillin her diary
Wi the coltsfoot in bloom
And no feart tae gang
Tae her auld teacher's hoose

Oh mother, Ivanhoe is finished
And it's just that awful Thunderbirds
So I'm off to my teacher's house
To learn about lights
From her husband from the big school
And I'll make sure I look
To see if the coltsfoot is now in bloom.

And nane o her stories
Were as excitin as Batman
And nane o her flooer science
Wis as guid as ma book

But efter aw that
-Ye micht no believe me-
Ma maist favourite teacher
Wis guid Mrs White.