And as for Schrödinger…

Since I’ve been blogging I’ve realised something: I’m really, really square. See – I don’t even know what the current word for ‘square’ is, except that the very concept of squareness went out in the ‘60s. Or possibly the ‘50s. No doubt somebody will enlighten me.

There are so many things I don’t know. Yesterday I learned from a reader that there is an American author called Bukowski. Everybody on the internet seems to know all about Bukowski. For goodness sake, the poor man’s dead already and I’ve only just discovered he was alive. I ordered one of his books, entitled Women. I gather he liked women – women and alcohol. You know that ‘Look Inside’ arrow on Amazon? I looked inside. Yup, he definitely liked women. Still, I think, if I could get a quarter of the way through Last Exit to Brooklyn in 1971 (that hideous Tralala scene forced my exit from Last Exit) I can cope with Bukowski in 2016.

Nothing much shocks me now, in novels, except a dead dog. I’m afraid I love animals much more than people. People? Pah! I’m a cat lady, as my readers may know. I love cats, but not just cats – creatures in general. My mother used to repeat to all and sundry, a story about me. No, this is not the one she told the Mental Health Team psychiatrist (her psychiatrist, I hasten to add) about my having been an Unsatisfactory Infant. Apparently I just sat on her lap regarding her with a kind of fishy stare instead of – I don’t know, and don’t remember – what are babies supposed to do? Obviously, I failed my Being a Baby exam.

This story concerned a later encounter with a wasp. We had stopped at a roadside van/café and Dad bought us each a polystyrene mug of tea – probably tea rather than coffee, thinking back on it. Coffee was thought of as an overly-sophisticated American import in those days – certainly not suitable for children. Tea was safe enough. A wasp landed in my tea and I instantly emptied the whole mug onto the grass verge so that the wasp could escape. This was an eccentric thing to do, I gather. Afterwards I wondered about that. What would a normal person – a person who had passed their Being a Baby and subsequently their Being a Human Being exam with flying colours – what would they have done in those circumstances? A wasp is a wonder; a tiny, beautiful microcosm of the universe. Would they have taken pleasure in watching one die a slow and painful death in boiling liquid? Would they then have fished out its tiny, stripy corpse and drunk that liquid? That’s why I care more about creatures than people.

Even fictional ones. I read a literary novel a few years back – one of those ‘money’s worth’ ones with the five hundred or so chapters. I can’t remember the title or author now – female, Zadie Smith or someone of her ilk. I was fine with the listlessly failing marriage of couple concerned, their half-hearted adulteries in the afternoon and so forth. But then their little white dog got hit by a car and, enervated by all the adultery and failing-marriagery, they neglected to take their pet to be checked by the vet. They just assumed – in some minimally-alluded-to way – that he would get over his injuries in a day or so. He looked OK, more or less. But doggie died. To be fair, they did then feel quite bad, each of them, in their self-absorbed, bewildered, adulterous fashion. To be doubly fair, I would guess the authoress had deliberately set out to make this scene a shocker, and in that she succeeded. It was admirably crafted… but how could she have borne to write it?

They should have jumped off a fictional cliff hand in hand, or shot each other point blank with some handy, fictional blunderbuss. As far as I was concerned nothing could compensate for what that pair of numbskulls did to that poor, fictional dog. I shut the book with four hundred or so chapters left to go and didn’t open it again. Neither did I buy another of her novels. There’s no getting past a dead dog.

Similarly, if I read a book in which a cat appears to be taking centre stage – if the human characters, and particularly the heroine, seem rather fond of it; if it has a name; if it has an endearingly eccentric personality, and particularly if happens to be in a detective novel – I stop reading at once. The cat always gets it. Second to last chapter – poisoned milk, found floating face down in the water butt, or whatever happens to add a last sadistic twist to the plot. I can’t even approach a doomed cat.

And as for Schrödinger – that man had such a lot to answer for. I know it was a thought experiment but… not only is the hypothetical thought-moggie trapped in its hypothetical though-box in perpetuity with neither hypothetical thought-food nor hypothetical thought-water for succour, but that hypothetical thought-cat stands a 50:50 chance of being hypothetically gassed or poisoned or something by some hypothetical random decaying atom or circulating electron or something.

I hate him.

What’s Going On, Mrs Robinson?

You know that scene in The Graduate where bewildered Ben (Dustin Hoffman) finds himself high up in a chapel behind a glass window, desperately trying to interrupt that dull little Elaine’s wedding before it’s too late? He’s hammering and hammering on the glass but no one seems to hear him. Soon after my own wedding I had a dream similar to that. My window dream was this: I was standing high up in a giant, modernistic airport or railway station, looking down at crowds of people walking fast and mostly, it seemed, in one direction, on the level beneath. Suddenly I saw my husband, walking with them, but I knew he would never be able to hear me through the glass. I watched helplessly as he walked on and disappeared and I was left with a sense of panic and sadness.

So, you are saying – that’s pretty obvious – her Unconscious knew she was making a mistake even as she made it. Unconscious was trying to tell her that she and this man were destined to be isolated from one another, always, walking on two different levels and never able to overcome the communication barrier between them. I refer you to a poem I wrote some years later when Conscious, belatedly, had got the message.

I believe Jung put forward the idea that one’s Unconscious is likely to be oppositely-gendered to one’s conscious self. Certainly, mine is male. Jung’s “Philemon” was enviably classical and elaborate. He seemed as much a psychoanalytical colleague as a Guide to the Underworld and – puzzlingly – was a ‘he’, as was Jung:

Philemon was a pagan and brought with him an Egypto-Hellenic atmosphere with a Gnostic colouration. His figure first occurred to me in the following dream.

There was a blue sky, like the sea, covered not by clouds but by flat brown clods of earth… Suddenly there appeared from the right a winged being sailing across the sky. I saw that it was an old man with the horns of a bull. He held a bunch of four keys, one of which he clutched as if he were about to open a lock. He had the wings of a kingfisher with its characteristic colours…

They held interesting discussions together:

In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought. For I observed clearly that it was he who spoke, not I. He said I treated thoughts as if I generated them myself, but in his view thoughts were like animals in the forest, or people in a room, or birds in the air.

Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections: Confrontation with the Unconscious

I can also ‘see’ – or at any rate dream of – my own Unconscious sometimes. He tends to be wearing a long, black coat like Sherlock Holmes. Sometimes we walk together on a beach under a black sky. Somewhere in the distance is a power station (haven’t yet worked out why). A dark sea laps against a pebbly shore and an alternative ‘me’ seems to be rising up out of the water, like Venus on the half-shell (only plainer). Sometimes he is walking up ahead a way. Sometimes he is in a cottage in the middle of a forest. It is night, as usual.  He is putting logs on the fire and peering into the flames. I never see his face. He never looks directly at me and yet I am not afraid of him. I feel I must address him with courtesy and not expect too much; I request, knowing that he may choose not to comply; I question, knowing that there may be only silence. We are like nations, hitherto at war. We need each other, if we are to go forward. At the moment we are engaged in negotiating an exchange of prisoners across a mist-shrouded border.

He uses pictures rather than words, the man in the black overcoat. I struggle – though less so as time goes on – to ‘catch’ his images as they flicker across my consciousness – and to interpret them. For instance – I’d been mulling over that sense of existing ‘on the borders’ between one world and another, as described (with some difficulty) in Strange stars appear in our skies. As I fell asleep I think I had been asking him for help, for more clarity about his side of the border.

I woke up suddenly with an image of stars – weird, huge stars, a bit like stars on top of a Christmas tree. Then it occurred to me that they were the stars from Van Gough’s painting The Starry Night which I had chosen to illustrate Strange stars. It was like he was saying “Beginning…” It was almost like the start of one of the legal dictation tapes I used to have to type up: We’re talking about… As if he was defining the subject. 

I pictured Starry Night once more, with a kind of question mark. Beginning? And with something like impatience the weird, huge stars flashed back twice in quick succession – “Yes, beginning!”

To be clear, I am not describing seeing things or hearing voices. (I hope not, anyway: if you hear no more from me on La Tour Abolie it may be that the Men in White Coats have arrived and carted me off in the van with the barred windows.) At no time did I see anything with my physical eyes or hear anything with my physical ears: rather, an image appeared in my mind and a meaning – after a second or two’s delay – swam up and attached itself to the image. The meaning – you seem to get to it by lateral thinking. You need to let your mind slide sideways or dance around it. It seems to me like an alternative, more sophisticated language: more comprehensive; more economical – and you’re hearing it with something other than your brain.

Sometimes I even get micro-flashes of what feel like past – or otherlives. I say other, because I suspect all lives are simultaneous. It’s almost like freeze frame. I know they’re past lives but I don’t know how I know, except that in at least one of them I have an aerial view – I’ll be swooping down a green valley, for example, and there’s a battle going on. Yet I’ve never seen such a battle, or such a valley, and I’ve never been able to fly. As far as I know….

The other thing about Subconscious is he seems to want to ‘send’ in waves. There may be months… years, sometimes… when I forget all about him and then suddenly it’s like someone battering on your mind’s door as he tries really hard to get through, or possibly reconfigure ‘updates’ silently downloaded in advance, so that they start to make sense. It’s almost like when subconscious ‘data’ arrives it’s randomised, or encoded and has to be incorporated into an overall pattern.

We’re like people from different countries, my Unconscious and I. We’re marooned on a desert island together without a dictionary. Of necessity we’re having to start from scratch by pointing at stuff and repeating – palm tree in your language, palm tree in my language, leaf in my language, leaf in your language. Cocoanut, sand, sea…

I frequently ask myself why I keep on with the writing. None of the earlier motives or explanations seem relevant now. I am never going be loved and appreciated and interviewed on intellectual TV programmes about my latest, wonderful, literary achievement. I am never going to write a best-selling novel, or any novel – and I probably never was going to because (as I now know) I don’t possess the ability to sustain that level of focus on a single project for months or years, especially when there’s no guarantee, or even likelihood, of success. As I’ve grown older I’ve sensed the skill-level increasing even as the ability – or even the desire – to grind nobly on with some literary Lost Cause or Herculean Labour, has been decreasing. I now realise I was always a butterfly, a synthesist – a finder of patterns and joiner-together of seemingly disparate things. Writing has remained the Special Interest but simply refuses to narrow itself down any further. That is the category: everything.

No point at all in continuing to write, and yet I do. And I think I do because of him – the man in the black overcoat – the one by the beach, whose face I never get to see. It’s because writing is, at the moment, still the best way for him to get through. I’m still an infant at the direct, picture-sending method of communication, but indirectly, through the writing, much more gets through, and sticks.

I have often agonised – why ever did I choose – or was I given – this writing obsession? It’s never done me any good – so what was I supposed to use it for? And the answer seems to be – it’s not for you to use it, it’s for it to use you.







Don’t Be Bored

I think of myself as organised, and I am – in most things. Just not really when it comes to writing. Something to do with the white heat of creativity, possibly. I get all these ideas at inconvenient times, and scribble them down on this or that. At intervals I become dismayed by the piles of this and that – the pages torn from notebooks, the notebooks with scraps glued into them, the half-written short stories held together by rusty paperclips; the planned short stories – bundles of file paper, scraps, bits of cereal packets stapled together and now unintelligible. At that point I have a Sort Out – spend a whole day putting stuff in wallet files of different colours and labelling the files with marker pen. Finally, when Heaps of Stuff overwhelm me, I throw them all into a cardboard box and put the cardboard box somewhere. The cardboard box then gets lost, or buried under Other Heaps of Stuff in the garage.

This cardboard box, however, was in the cupboard under the stairs. I rarely venture into the cupboard under the stairs because it contains a lingering smell of cigarettes. I didn’t notice anything when I viewed the house – and I have a keen nose – but I reckon they must have been smoking secretly in the cupboard. Either that or it lingers in an enclosed space where the door is rarely opened. However, that’s where I had put the cardboard box. I dragged it out and spent a morning going through it and finding – to my delight – all sorts of things I thought I had lost, including one file on which I had scrawled Don’t Be Bored. I think I must have been planning an e-book. Then got Bored.

It dated back to the job at the call centre. I was so Bored at the call centre but we weren’t allowed to have anything that looked like Entertainment on show in our little plywood hutches – sorry, pods. If the Floor-Walker caught you…yes, our supervisors were called Floor-Walkers, because they walked the CATI – which was an acronym for something – basically an industrial unit crammed with rows of plywood pods, and ancient computers with keyboards so beat-up the letters had vanished. Touch-typing came in handy. Those who couldn’t touch-type attached little paper letter-labels to the keys with chewing-gum, or painted them on with Snopake, which then melted and stuck to the fingers.

If a Floor-Walker spotted a mobile phone, a dog-eared paperback, one of those crossword-puzzle/Wordsearch/Sudoku books, cough-sweets, half-eaten yoghurts or anything that wasn’t paper or a single biro she would whisk it away. Apart from Robert’s permanent pile of snotty tissues. They got left.

We were allowed paper, though. And one biro. If you lost your biro you had to pay for any subsequent ones. We stole them ruthlessly from one other, along with headsets-that-worked, stray foam-rubber ear-cushions and not-entirely-wrecked chairs. Paper it was, then – to get me through a seven hour shift of cold-calling with long gaps in between. I folded it into fans, each fold exactly coinciding with the ruled feint. Then I folded the folds back the other way. Then I folded them back the first way again. Hour after hour after hour. Or sometimes Ideas would come, and I would make cryptic notes to myself in shorthand-and-shopping-list.

I was planning a whole series, I see from my cigaretty-smelling notes – Things To Do When…

  • It’s Raining…
  • The TV Just Exploded…
  • You Have No Money…
  • The Lights Go out …
  • You’ve Got To Sit And Wait…

And these are some of my notes for You Have No Money:

Watch clouds/people/the sea

Draw – a good way of looking

Walk – if necessary in circles or a figure of 8

Use stuff you already have, eg large-scale maps + string to plan a longer walk. Roadmaps to plan a walk round Cornwall, Ireland, from Landsend to John o’Groats, all round Britain…

(NB: string – you can use string to calculate distances on a map. You use the scale at the bottom of the map to knot the string at ‘five-mile’ intervals – then you arrange the string round the route you intend to take, count the knots and that’s the miles. If you know how long it takes you to walk a mile – it used to take me 15 to 20 minutes – you can also calculate how many hours the walk will take you. No doubt there’s an App for it now.)

Origami (printer paper)

Cut out snowflake patterns or newspaper people strings, colour them, and hang them up (printer paper)

Invent a code

Invent own shorthand system

Design a “prison cell” exercise routine. Do that routine every morning for a week. I did actually design one (I know, sad) which used the stairs for running up and down and bottles of water for weights. Why go to the gym and be embarrassed by sweaty, fit-looking people in leotards?

Read all the books you have in the house, either by author or in alphabetical order. Include e-books. If you don’t tend to keep books join a library and, like Jeanette Winterson, read fiction from A to Z.

Decide on something you want to learn in depth (maybe something that could make you money eventually). Use the library together with any resources you have, to do this. Index the notes for easy reference as the file grows.

Teach yourself to make crosswords. Start by copying a grid from a local paper and making up your own clues and answers.

Volunteer. This is probably more relevant to town-dwellers since it needs to be within walking distance, as travel costs money. Even walking costs shoe-leather, of course. Even breathing… I can’t remember how breathing costs money, but I know I calculated once that it did.

Make vegetable sculptures. Why not try carrots and potatoes? (yes, I actually wrote that). Have a competition for the best Potato Head. If careful can re-use the vegetables as vegetable hot-pot (cut up). Did I really think someone was going to throw a Mr Potato-Head or Mrs Carrot-Snake whole into a hot-pot?

Pasta jewellery. What can I have meant by this?

I’ve written far too many words already so I’ll save the Raining, Broken TV and Lights Out lists for another time. Maybe.

Wouldn’t want anyone getting overexcited.

Maybe something old with plenty of beams…

So I was sitting in the car eating a Tesco sandwich and saving till last the Yorkie Bar ladies are not allowed to eat. I only permit myself chocolate bars on these in-the-car occasions, which usually follow inexplicable road trips back to the town where I used to live. Somehow I am drawn back to the Tesco’s there at intervals. It makes me feel safe – comforted. I tend to go there when I’m stressed. I know – how weird can you get? It’s just that – that Tesco’s is kind of the centre of my ‘map’.

I’m even worrying myself now.

So, I drive all the way down there, which takes an hour and twenty minutes and uses petrol I can’t afford. I nearly always get stuck in three separate traffic bottlenecks, which wastes even more petrol. And the sun is usually in my eyes on the way down. I have these pathetic old eyes nowadays – I can see out of them same as ever, via specs, but the sun hurts them – a lot. I have therefore taken to wearing giant wrap-around ‘overglasses’. But as soon as I put them on, people – especially men, for some reason – start honking at me. I can see much better in strong sunlight with the overglasses over my prescription glasses, but I suppose they may give me the air of a doddery, nearly-blind-person, still irresponsibly driving. No doubt I spook people. Tee hee.

By the time I return the sun will have sailed just far enough across the sky to get in my eyes all over again. Nevertheless, I seem to have to go. It’s like Therapy. Once there, I don’t usually buy much – odd stuff like cat food and magazines, sandwiches and manly chocolate bars. I drink water from a bottle I carry with me, and I read a magazine for a bit before setting off on the return journey. Sometimes I watch people – my Dad’s favourite occupation too, in his declining years. Not that I’m in my declining years as yet.

Sometimes over the top of my magazine I observe fat ladies wearing the wrong sorts of dresses; children with smartphones clamped to their little pink ears; dogs eager to get into the backs of four-by-fours and make them all muddy. And I like to watch the man who collects the trolleys from the Perspex shelters and pushes them back to the racks, from where they are immediately removed, re-used and dumped in the Perspex shelters again. He gave me my long pink scarf back once. I left it tied to a handle and he ran after me with it. I liked that long pink scarf. A modern-day Sisyphus, he is. What did he do so wrong, I wonder, this nice, kind, simple man, that the gods should have consigned him to an eternity of trolleyology at Tesco’s.

I would have made a good detective, I think. I notice stuff. Stuff that might come in useful, if I was a detective.

But on this particular day, I was actually reading the magazine, and this one was a free magazine that had fallen out of another free magazine. It was called Property and it was about (three guesses) property. I am a bit of a sucker for the useless and the glossy. I like the smell of glossy magazines, the sheer opulent shininess of them, the newness. And I’m thinking about moving house myself, so I suppose Property is lurking about in my brain at the moment.

But not this sort of property. This is the sort of stuff that costs £520,000. It’s fun to window-shop, though. I like to imagine myself in “a handsome country cottage with fantastic rural views” or a Desirable Detached Stone-Built Period House: 4 Bedrooms: Contemporary Family Bathroom: 4 good sized reception rooms… 4 reception rooms!!

What is a reception room?

I do rather crave a “long rear Garden adjoining a meadow” – adjoining a meadow… Ohhhh – a meadow – all those pretty flowers – and a “Fabulous Detached Studio Home Office or Guest Room”.

And they say money can’t buy you happiness. If only I could just try it…

But I came upon a nasty surprise. In the centrefold feature, a misguided estate agent had taken it upon him(or her)self to write poems on behalf of clients searching for Properties as opposed to selling them. Don’t you just hate the sort of poems people who can’t write poems write? I loathe the very assumption that as long as it more or less rhymes, it’s poetry. No matter if it scans, even. What’s scans?

Here are just a few, for your delectation and delight:

My Belgium (sic) clients are coming to Kent / A period property would be heaven sent / A rural retreat complete with a view / Entertaining clients is something he has to do / business or pleasure he needs great space, / A garden, a pool to relax the pace… / Although this fine gent would like to play – London still often calls him away / Thus transport to London for the working day… / Can you help this man find his work rest and play?

(This one was superimposed over a faded-out photo of a swimming-pool)

A young city couple, looking to escape the rat race / Would like a rural, leafy retreat with plenty of outside space / Looking for two or three bedrooms for their family to increase / Must have plenty of character and set in a haven of peace / A period home not far from the station / East Sussex would be their perfect location / Original features are wanted it seems / Maybe something old with plenty of beams

(This one was superimposed over a faded-out photo of an orange ban-the-bomb symbol. It took me a while to join up the dots. Haven of peace – ban nuclear weapons – sort of peaceful, innnit?)

No, it’s no good. I was going to type out a third, but I just can’t bear to. My fingers refuse to obey my brain.


The Sleeping Giantess (3/3)

It didn’t look like her idea of a public library – a small, pink-washed building on one side of the main square. There wasn’t a sign saying ‘Library’, but then, if you lived on a very small island you would know where such places were.

She had imagined Alex putting books back on shelves, or being one of several assistants standing behind a desk, date stamp in hand, but it seemed Alex was the librarian for Tullaclough – at least, he was the only member of staff. He was absorbed in cataloguing something, but looked up and smiled when she came in. Apart from him, there was an old lady in gumboots and a mackintosh, and a man with a dog.

“Ah, the lovely lady from the hills!”

Once again she needed to check to see if he was making fun of her, but his face was grave. Alex had a knack, she noticed, of giving you his complete attention. He was gazing steadily at her now, waiting for her to say something.

“Do you by any chance provide access to computers here?”

“We do indeed – at least, to one computer.”

“Oh – I expect it’s fully booked then?” She was thinking of the library nearest to her flat in London, where it would have been necessary to book a week in advance.

“No indeed. It is very rarely used. The younger people tend to have their own computers, whilst the older ones regard them as having been sent by Old Cloots himself.”

“Don’t tell me…”

“The Devil. He of the cloven hooves. A cloot is one division of a cloven hoof, did you know that?”

“No. It seems there are an awful lot of things I don’t know.”

“And an awful lot of things you do. You could probably teach me a thing or two about Norse Mythology, for example.”

“I suppose so,” she said, returning his smile. And then, because somehow it was important, she couldn’t help asking. “That thing you said on the hills this morning about – my height. You called me a fine figure of a woman. Did you mean that, or were you taking the mickey?”

He looked at her for a moment, surprised.

“I had enough of mickey-taking when I was at school. I was really skinny then, and what with the red hair, the slippery glasses and the scruffy clothes – my family weren’t exactly well off, you see… It taught me one thing, though – always to be looking on the inside of people for beauty, rather than the outside.”

She flinched.

“And in your case,” he said, saving the day rather nicely, “it is both.”

“The idea for this article I’m writing came from a comment I overheard on the radio,” she admitted. “I was working on my computer, with Woman’s Hour on in the background, and there was this woman telling a story about a ceilidh that took place one evening in the Highlands. The most eagerly-awaited part of the evening was a beauty contest. The woman telling the story was a visiting southerner, like me, and she was struck by the fact that the winner of the contest was a huge, gawky girl, and quite plain by her standards. When she remarked on this, she was told that the men around these parts were hill farmers and the sort of girl they favoured was one who looked – as if she could carry a heifer under each arm.”

She had spoken lightly, but Alex could hear the hurt and anger underneath.

“It just so happens there is going to be a ceilidh tomorrow evening,” he said, “in the Victory Hall, just down the road. I would be honoured if you would accompany me, Marika.”

She looked at him for a moment, still uncertain.

“I can’t guarantee to be able to lift a heifer, Alex.”

“I can’t guarantee not to tread on your toes, Marika, since I am the world’s worst dancer. But I would enjoy your company all the same. Most of the young ladies round here wouldn’t be seen dead at a dance with a scrawny, carrot-topped chap like me. What they’re after is a man who can pull a tractor out of a ditch single-handed, then sprint from one end of Tullaclough to the other carrying two ewes and a lamb.”

This time, she thought, there was definitely a twinkle in his eye.


(Illustration: Sean Kearney, 2005 – Deviant Art)




The Sleeping Giantess (2/3)

It hadn’t been easy growing up a Giantess. Mercifully, Marika had stopped growing around the age of twelve but by then, at six foot five in her stockinged feet, she had towered over her classmates. She blamed it on her Scandinavian heritage. Her father Gejr, was Danish; her mother was a Scot – but both of her parents were above average height. She had inherited her father’s thick, fair hair, her mother’s athletic physique and a disastrous combination of both their heights.

It was bad enough being a tall schoolchild. At junior school teachers asked her to reach things down from the top of the art cupboard. On the assumption that a child that tall would be able to run fast, they’d entered her for the sprint on Sports Day every year: she had always come last. At senior school they made her Shooter in the netball team. Humiliatingly, she was forced to make a show of ‘jumping’ when everyone knew she could just have walked over to the net, reached down and put the ball in.

But the worst thing was boys. Groups of them followed her, sniggering, down the road. She knew none of them would ever ask her out. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t find her attractive; it was that they didn’t want to look conspicuous. What would a boy look like, trying to walk with his arm round a girl like Marika. If you made her wear flat shoes and walk in the gutter? No. She would still be towering over you. In the end, her father gave her the best advice.

“You are not ugly, Marika, just tall. I understand that this is difficult for you, and probably always will be. But remember that you are clever. Also, you can walk, you can see, you can hear – you are fit and healthy. Many girls are not so lucky. Walk tall, datter.”

Marika had taken his advice. She had bought several pairs of high heels. When she passed the boys she had stuck out her chin, and her not-inconsiderable bosom, and sashayed past them. They should at least see what they were missing.

Back at the bed-and-breakfast she stripped off her outer clothes and made herself a cup of coffee, using the mini-kettle and sachets provided. She wrote a page of shorthand notes and got out her laptop. She really had to get cracking on this article. The magazine’s deadline was at the end of the week and copy needed to be emailed at least twenty-four hours in advance of that.

It should be possible to get at least the first draft done today. She had amassed quite a few notes already, although there was still something missing – she wasn’t sure what, but it would come to her. She knew from past experience that inspiration tended to strike when it was most needed.

“Oh why can nothing ever just work?”

Her laptop would not co-operate. She was furious at herself. She should have brought a back-up device to such a remote place. At the very least she should have allowed herself time to write the thing out in longhand, take the ferry back to civilisation and fax it. She doubted whether Tullaclough would have such a thing as a computer repair shop; in fact she couldn’t actually remember seeing a shop of any kind. Was it possible that everything was mail order here, and came in by boat? She made another note. Something else she needed to find out.

In the meantime, what was she going to do? She had to get this article typed, then emailed.

Suddenly, inspiration struck. The library. Didn’t that Alex say he worked in the library? There could only be one library on Tullaclough, and surely nowadays most libraries had computers.


(Ilustration: Sean Kearney, 2005 – Deviant Art)

The Sleeping Giantess (1/3)

“Sorry, but I can’t quite work it out. Which end is supposed to be the head?”

“Try looking at her through half-closed eyes. That’s what artist’s do when they’re looking at a work in progress.”

Marika did as she was told, and it worked. The great range of hills resolved themselves into a Sleeping Giantess. Marika could now see the curve of the woman’s hip and the long, low stretch of her legs. She was lying on her side with her massive head resting on her arm, as if she’d just decided to take forty winks.

The young man in the cagoule grinned at her. His tortoiseshell spectacles had slipped down his nose in the excitement of pointing out his beloved local landmark to her. He pushed them back with his forefinger. I bet he has to do that a lot, Marika thought, amused for a moment. He just looked like the sort of chap whose glasses wouldn’t behave themselves.

“Alex,” he said, extending a hand to her. “I work in the library, and I live just down the hill.” He pointed vaguely downwards, towards the scattering of mostly white cottages, which, like the island itself, called itself Tullaclough. It looked as if one good gale would scatter such ramshackle dwellings like a pack of cards, yet apart from a handful of modern bungalows most of them had been here for several hundred years. Must be tougher than they looked.

Islanders too, Marika thought.

“It’s my day off,” her companion said. He seemed eager to talk. “I quite often walk up here and have a chat to Nell on my days off.”


“Oh, that’s my pet name for her – like Dickens’ Little Nell, you know, only – bigger. She hasn’t got an official name.”

“Isn’t there some sort of legend?” she asked. She had rather hoped to be alone this morning, to form her own impression of the Giantess for an article she was writing. However, it didn’t pay to be inflexible. Alex might be able to help her.

“Ah, legends,” he said. “There is more than one. More than one Giant, too – one in Wales, one in Hawaii, one in Canada and at least two in the USA – but as far as I know this is the only Giantess.

“Now, legends. There’s the usual one – if you make too much of a commotion or injure her in any way you risk waking her from her long sleep. Imagine what a catastrophe that would be, if a whole range of hills sat up and started roaring…”

He tailed off, gazing up at his Giantess. It sounds almost as if this funny little chap believes it could happen, Marika thought. I do believe he’s viewing the event in his mind’s eye in Glorious Technicolor.”

“Then there’s the other legend,” he said, suddenly. “The Giantess might become so angry that she decides to get up and leave us altogether.” Once again he fell silent. Presumably he saw his beloved Maiden striding off into the sea, taking thunderously long paces, showering boulders to the left and to the right, in search of a new home.

“And where would Tullaclough be then? We’re a bit out of the way here. Nell is our main source of income, apart from sheep and hand-knitted jumpers. The B and B’s would go out of business without her.”

Perhaps spending your whole life on a remote Scottish island sends you a bit daft, in a nice-ish sort of way, thought Marika. She eased her notebook out of her pocket and made a shorthand note.

“Would you be a journalist?”

She hadn’t realised he was watching her.

“Yes, in a way. I’m a freelance. I’m here to do some research into island life. It’s an article aimed at a magazine called Explore Britain. It’s not going to be just about Tullaclough and The Gian… about Nell, though. My name’s Marika, by the way.”


“I’m sorry?”

“Your name. Danish origin, variant of Mary.”

Was there anything this man didn’t know, she wondered. Could Google decided to go walkabout and transformed itself into a bespectacled, red-haired little chap in a green cagoule and woolly hat?

You must stop labelling people small, she reminded herself. Even inside your head. Alex was probably getting on for six foot. It was just –

Marika took a deep breath. She had an awful feeling he was reading her thoughts. But surely he wouldn’t actually mention the obvious? Most people never actually said anything about it.

But Alex was not most people.

“You would have a personal interest in Nell, of course – a fine figure of a woman like yourself.”


(Ilustration: Sean Kearney, 2005 – Deviant Art)