Category Archives: Stories

DOG’on It!

DOG’on It!

I woke up with a thud this morning, quite uncommon for me, and a headache. A black hairy headache with an orange street-hockey ball in front.  It was 3:20 a.m., Cooper wanted to play and it was my turn for the ball.  Yes, the title is a giveaway. My ‘Grand-dog’, Cooper, is here for a ‘sleep-over’, a misleading term as it turns out. I didn’t feel much in the mood for early morning practice and put my head back down.

‘Whoof, whoof’, feeble plaintive whoofs, the kind that warn you that ‘if you don’t play I’ll pee on the carpet’.  Then the assertive ‘WHOOF!  ‘I really do need to pee.’

‘Bad word’.  I got up and pulled a smelly damp sweater over my head.  No he hadn’t peed on the sweater.  It got wet just after he first arrived yesterday while I was lying on the couch watching Newcastle v. Everton.  Everton won 2-1 but that’s by the way. Cooper arrived at half-time and spent the second half lying on my chest with his shaggy head bobbing in front of my face.  I missed the winning goal. Cooper must have seen it quite well. He didn’t cheer or anything so I deduced that he was rooting for Newcastle.  The black and white stripes are his colours after all.  He doesn’t have stripes, just a small blob of black (that’s nearly all of him) and a patch of white on his chest. But I digress. He stank so bad that as soon as the final whistle blew I shampooed him in the kitchen sink with Johnson’s Baby Shampoo so it wouldn’t sting his beady black eyes. That’s how my sweater got wet. I have other sweaters but I decided to sacrifice just one per sleep-over.

Where was I? Oh yes, so we went downstairs, Cooper leading. I grudgingly opened the front door an inch. A fair night, clear starry sky, minus 8C, wind  north-easterly 50kph, snow and ice knee-thick on the ground.  I opened it just wide enough for Cooper to squeeze out. He raised his nose and sniffed the air. He was thinking.  He thinks very slowly. He can in fact be a bit of a ditherer.  I pushed on his backside with my bare foot.  Cooper dug his claws into the ceramic tiles. Feeling that he couldn’t get enough purchase he did a sort of half-pike and twist back over my ankle and ran back upstairs.

That seems like days ago now and it is still not mid-day.  After I got up at around my usual Sunday time, 7.30, Cooper remained curled up on the floor beside my bed. He lies in on Sundays until ten.   When he eventually waddled downstairs and strolled into the kitchen he gave a perfunctory wave of his curled up tail, spread his front paws out, stretched his back and yawned. Then, his callisthenics complete, he was ready for his morning ablutions.  After more dithering on the frozen threshold he ran out and washed his face in the snow, made yellow spots here and there; and finally built a dainty monument on a carefully researched foundation half-way down the path to the door.  That done to his satisfaction he ate a hearty breakfast of crunchy cereal and a goodly splash of water to recharge his run-down bladder.

So now here we are, still hours until his adoptive mother collects him. How to keep him entertained and amused?  I am teaching him to read so that when he has left my care he can pursue self-directed studies and develop an appreciation of those finer aspects of life, beyond bodily functions and primitive sports such as indoor street-hockey. There’s not much time so I decided to start him off with the vowels. (nota bene. vowels rhymes with bowels. It is important to start off with something in which the student has expressed some previous interest).

It’s been an hour now and we are still working on ‘A’. I’ll let you know how he progresses.  But now he has turned away yet again from the large card I am holding up and is heading to the door. ‘whoof whoof, …..WHOOF!’

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The Battle of Bannockburn (1314) and my part in it

The Battle of Bannockburn (1314) and my part in it

I had two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, …you see the pattern.  It is a mathematical geometric series.  Each generation ‘n’ consists of Pn (for parents) individuals and Pn equals 2 to the power of n.

In symbols, Pn = 2^n.    If you make a running total of the parents, you can calculate how many ancestors you have in total back to any given date in history. A simple way to calculate and illustrate this is on a spreadsheet as below.

For myself I have started at the year 1966 when I was 20 years old.  The interval between successive generations is assumed as an average of 25 years.  I have indicated historical events that roughly correspond to some of the generations.

So for example around the time of Napoleon’s downfall at Waterloo (1815) there were 128 people around that time that I am related to.   See how rapidly the numbers rise, at the time of Cromwell there were over 8000 of my parents living.

Let’s go back further to 1314.

The calculation shows that there were over 67 million of my parents living. In 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn roughly 8000 Scots fought 22000 English.  There is no doubt that I am of mainly the European race, neither aboriginal American nor Australian nor African, nor Asian, at least after 1314. Now the total population of  Europe in 1314 has been estimated by the experts at about 60 million.  Consequently I am related to every single one of them and therefore particles of me fought in the Battle of Bannockburn, on both sides!  And if you are of the European race so did you!

How exciting, some of your little thingummy jigs were slashing and hacking away with sword and axe doing their and your bit for the history books.

Convinced so far!

If you extend the calculation back just another 5 generations to around 1215 and the time of the Magna Carta, I had 1,073,741,824 parents alive.

Over one billion of them!  Hold on! there’s something wrong because the total population of the whole world was only 400 million and Europe less than 60 million.

Can you see the solution?  The 25 year generation gap assumption?  Each child definitely requires two biological parents. The mathematics is unquestionable.

Well it turns out that (this will be very surprising to you) I am not the first to come across this problem.  People have made academic careers out this little problem.

You can read all about it in incredibly unreadable reams of theories and mathematical formulae available elsewhere. Yes, you can Google it or I could give you references but I know you are busy and not cabin bound in the snow as I am so I will save you the bother.

Love thy neighbour

Here is the solution. We are all inbred!  Even those of us not considered members of the monarchy.   Back there through the generations some of your ancestors were taking shortcuts in finding a mate, too lazy to walk more than a few miles for a date and marrying second and third cousins willy-nilly, with no regard for the effects it has had on my spreadsheet and subsequent generations.  The barbarians.  Of course those were the days before phrases like ‘sustainable development’ were being bandied around the stable door or duck pond.   The lazy beggars were just marrying whoever was handy that could hoe turnips or herd sheep.

(This all started with that poem Joker’s Deal)

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Filed under History, Humour, Scots, Stories

NOW TAKE GADDAFI…please?

I used to visit Libya from time to time for work, between mid 1970s and early 80’s.  I wrote the following very short piece (650 words) about 30 years ago and just left it in a notebook.  It was going to be the first chapter of a thriller that I was going to write and get rich quick!  Once you read it you will see why that never happened! But the tiny episode does give a flavour of Tripoli around 1975.  The recent events in Egypt prompted me to read it again and post it.

The character Ray in the story was a real person , a Canadian ex military ner do well who for his sins was working for a geotechnical company in Tripoli.  I do not remember his real name but I hope it was not Ray Holson.  I encountered the real Ray over a three week period in Benghazi.

The description of the Azizia Barracks is probably no longer true. They were bombed in 1986.  In the mid 1970’s the Tripoli airport terminal building that I remember was a big corrugated steel shed.    When the packed full BA planes took off for Gatwick every passenger (a mix of businessmen, oil workers, engineers) spontaneously cheered and drinks were being served before the plane was 200 feet high and when still steeply rising.

The current photographs in the news show Col Gaddafi in his traditional flowing robes.   He is supposed to have mellowed with age.  Or is he still as he clearly saw himself on the postage stamps that I have from the 70’s?

If you read the latest news Gaddafi is threatening certain ‘opposition’ groups from supporting rumoured demonstrations in Libya “Day of Rage” on 17th Feb. His threats seem directed towards Benghazi . I learned by word of mouth thirty-five years ago (and it seems still to be true) that Gaddafi has his support in Tripoli and Sirte, while the people of Benghazi in Cyrene would be glad to be rid of him.  42 years has been a long time to wait.  It will be interesting to see if there are disturbances in Benghazi.

The coastal plain of Libya is a very interesting place with Mediterranean climate, long beaches, olive groves and excellent Roman ruins so it could be a great tourist destination.  The people I met in the countryside were generally polite and friendly, while those in Tripoli especially the petty officials were the reverse.

Have you got a big yard with space for a very large tent and parking for a few limousines and tanks?  If so, why don’t you give him a call and give the poor Libyans some respite?

Episode 1

Tripoli, Libya (1975)

“Achmed, stop blasting that horn!”

Achmed’s entire body flinched and he instantly obeyed. As compensation he thrust his mangy head out of his side window and roared abuse at a stray woman crossing in front. Swaddled in a white baracan and under Allah’s protection, the stooped ghost shuffled through the battle worn Fiats and Peugeots, each car jostling to gain a few inches on its neighbour. The traffic did not flow. It moved in fits of high-revving pauses, sudden lunges, and squeals. The only steady flow came from the constant metallic bleat of horns.  Like a flock of rust-dipped sheep the traffic made its stupid progress. There was no traffic shepherd, no collie. Drivers’ arms languidly stretched from windows, rose to threaten and curse, drooped to cajole or concede.  Achmed hunched back over the wheel and the VW truck forced its way forward. Only when they were clear of the worst of the chaos did he turn to steal a glance at his glowering companion.

Ray Holson sat stiffly at the opposite end of the tattered bench seat. Short spikey grey hair bristled above his sunbeaten brow and broken nose. Where his eyebrows should have been the skin was scarred and almost bare. His reddish face looked puffed and bruised.  By appearance he could have been a fading boxer between lost fights, of below average height but heavy boned and strong .

Ray was troubled by something more than traffic. After two years based in Tripoli, he was accustomed to the driving conditions.  He yelled above the clackety engine.

‘You’re sure they didn’t say why they want to see me?’

‘No, Mr. Ray, just that you must report to Azizia barracks at once. I tell you this before two, three times.’

Ray cast a cold eye over his subordinate level ‘fixer’ but could detect nothing from his dingy features.  He slumped against his door and became immersed in anxiety.

The Azizia barracks sit stolidly in the southern suburbs. It is a secure residential fortress for top army and police officials and government, those being one and the same. Facing onto the airport road, it is convenient for shopping sorties to Paris, bank runs to Zurich, clubbing binges in London and hospital care in Moscow; and, when the game is up, for a final exile from  rope and bullet. To the casual passer-by the barracks consists of a very high grey concrete wall that runs alongside the airport road for 300 metres. Dense coils of rusting razor wire top the wall. The only visible entrance is sealed by an enormous green door of steel plate, blank as the hull of a ship.

As Ray’s truck approached he saw two soldiers in ill-fitting green uniforms lounging in the shadows under the wall, Russian rifles slung carelessly over their shoulders.  At the sound of a slowing vehicle the sentries stirred, unslung their weapons and pointed them at the windshield. Achmed stopped the truck and they stepped forward. The younger soldier sauntered around behind the truck, pausing to decipher the Arabic words hand-painted below the printed sign on the side, ‘Geotechnic Exploration Inc,, Shara Nassim, Tripoli 2432′. Achmed leant out of the window and talked quietly with the second man. As they spoke Achmed turned to Ray several times and the sentry followed his example, staring intently into Ray’s face.  Moving closer to the door he waved Achmed back from the window, leaned in through the open window and carefully inspected the sand and fly laden cemetery of the cabin. Then he took their papers and walked over to a telephone mounted on the wall. After several minutes he hung up, glanced across to his companion, returned his nod and turning towards the wall he snapped out an order. The suburban fortress silently obeyed. The green steel split and slowly opened outwards from the wall.  The truck crept inside. The huge doors reversed quickly until almost shut but just at the last moment paused, as if for a final breath of fresh air, then sealed with a trembling clash.

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End of Part 1  من جانب آخر

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Filed under History, Politics, Stories, Travel

The Errand

Boy by Joan Eardley (Glasgow)

The Errand

High red door, blue glass pane

Peeking in from the rain

Clanking bell, sawdust floor

Chilling smell, glimpse of gore

Glossy small tiles of Delft

Picture wall, marble shelf

Brasso’d scales slyly sway

Brazen lies told today

Bench scrubb’d raw, bloody axe

Red tooth saw, cuts and hacks

Creamy corpses, horror hooks

Grinning teeth, vacant looks

Fresh today, dire display

Finest arts, body parts

Hearts and kidneys, livers, lungs

Trotters, tails, tripes and tongues

Heads and hooves, horns and heels

Ears and cheeks, eyes and beaks…

Duck your head! Tuck in that thumb!

“A  p-pound of sausages please

for my Mum”

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Eelie Ohlie

Eelie Ohlie

Richt efter schule sune they gether

Doon the end o’ Tattie Raw

Fir their sairly wat amusement

A gowden ‘oor wi’ their fitba’


The ba’s nae o’ belted leather

Like the tawse they ken fu’ well

Peesy got frae Syme the butcher

Bladder that’s near lost it’s smell


Wee Billy Smith, big Matthie Weir

Eck and Geordie, Cleikie Shaw

Alec, Jim and Jock and Wullie

Hughie, Malc an’ mair an’ a’


Fir makin’ o’ intae twa teams

Noo they’re staundin’ ruind aboot

“Eelie, ohlie, dug’s toley

Eelie, ohlie, OOT “


With goals o’ jaikets, buiks an’ caps

Nae mair’s needed fir tae play

The rules are by the strong decided

And sae micht wanner day to day


Ner mind aboot the Herts or Hibs

Or sic farflung pairts and deeds

We’re Arns’on Rangers ‘gin the Star

Nitten Bills v. Square Heids


Tackits skite on schuleday shune

Sclaff an’ bauchle, less than braw

Runnin’, heidin’, dribblin’, shootin’

Stottin’ passes off the wa’


In nae time the licht is fadin’

Luvin’ mithers cry them hame

Lament thair oor o’ peace and quiet

Muckle thankfu’ fir the game


Whit an awfy state yer in!

A’ yer claes are thick wi glaur

Whitever if yer faither sees ye

He’ll be giein’ you what for


Ah’ll scrub ye raw frae heid tae fit

In tae that pail ‘hent the door

Och ye are a richt wee midden

Tell me noo whit wis the score?

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