Out Now!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Dead Flowers

Sometimes you do things, and things happen.

I bought a second hand violin in a Swansea junk shop. I think it cost me seven shillings and sixpence (pre-decimalization) 45 pence, new money, or about 75 cents. I bought it because it had the same tuning as the mandolin, which I could play; beyond that I had no idea why. It’s just sometimes good to listen to your voices.

A few years passed and I was sitting in my Newport bed-sit, time on my hands and thoroughly pissed off. The violin was in a case grey with dust and sat sulking in the corner. What surprised me was how easy it was to get a tune from it. The fingers worked by themselves; the bowing was something entirely different, more arthritic chainsaw than Stephane Grappelli. But I learnt, and the neighbours didn’t complain, at least to my face.

Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. It’s the only reason I can think of why I decided I was good enough to play the Rolling Stones' ‘Dead Flowers' on the violin at the school’s Christmas Concert. Fortunately I was rescued within two minutes by students who knew the words and covered my shortcomings.

I put the offending instrument away for a time.

Sometimes also, people come along.

Father Tony Hanson was an effete and cultured priest who, amongst other things, enjoyed match-making. He’d heard I ‘played’ the violin, knew of a Welsh dance group so desperate for musicians they’d sign on a paraplegic who could whistle, and introductions were made.

From then on I learnt how to look elegant in waistcoat, stockings and breeches, discovered a whole host of Welsh tunes, and spent summer weekends in country pubs and fairs while the dancers posed and twirled.

I could say my finest moment came when the troupe came third in the Welsh National Eisteddfod, but the truth was I was scared shitless, remembering an earlier debacle on stage with ‘Dead Flowers’. I just put my head down and played and hoped I wouldn’t be found out.

No, my finest moment, in this particular context, came when I met Henry and Lol Lutman, who had also (I think) been ‘fixed’ up with Welsh Dancers by Father Tony Hanson.

More musical adventures next post.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Sometimes God plays dirty

The second great love of my life was Moira McDowall. Unfortunately God got in first and she became a nun. If this had been a Hollywood film she’d have been played by Audrey Hepburn. Trouble is I can’t really see who’d play me. Harold Lloyd perhaps.

During the time when things were going wrong we continued with a cycling holiday in Brittany that we’d already booked. I spent a lot of the time in a tent reading Pickwick Papers. It’s supposed to be a funny book. I didn’t think so then. Other memories include a dry and kindly Dutch lady and a down to earth Belgian who didn’t bother with a handkerchief when he rode. His method combined elegance with efficiency. He’d turn his face to the road, and with a finger pressed against each nostril in turn, he’d blow with great force. I made a point of riding in front of him.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Mugged by Sheep

I’d met Dave Loney on my Moroccan journey. I’d grown tired of the brazen blue skies, longed for some cloud, anything to make the blue less boring, less powerful; cut it down to size.

Come to Yorkshire, he’d said. In fact we could do the Lyke Wake walk. It sounded good: cool moor-land weather, bags of atmospheric cloud, and a pint at the end. A year or two later I took him up on the offer.

‘You know how long it is,” said as he was tying up his boots.

‘No,’ I said, thinking of the pint at the end.

‘Forty miles from Osmotherly to Ravenscar on the coast.’

So that was why we were setting out at 5 a.m. Forty bloody miles? “Sounds good.’

‘You get to sign a book at the end. You’re officially a ‘Dirger’.

‘Dirger?’

‘And if you walk it back again next day you’re called a ‘Double Dirger’.’

I wondered whether ‘Dirger’ was Yorkshire for ‘Fool’ but said nothing.

I can’t remember how we got there, but the bleak expanse confronting us is etched on my memory. I wince when I think on it. What’s so wrong with brazen blue skies?

The walk began and ended in mist.

Occasionally I’d look up from the uneven ground, the razor sharp grass, at Dave always ten paces ahead. His rhythm was steady, the small rucksack bouncing up and down on his back like a bloody metronome. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, my world reduced now to a dark strip of neck and a small green bag bouncing up and down, up and down. Couldn’t hate Dave. He was my only way out of here. I targeted my hatred on that bloody bag that found the walk easy and had learnt the art of the silent taunt.

“Tired yet, Mike?”

I’d gone beyond that. “No. You?”

“Thirsty?”

I didn’t answer. Saw him shrug


The name of the walk has Viking origins. Lyke is an old word meaning ‘dead body’ – (peculiarly apt I thought as the walk came to a close.) and related to the German word Leiche. ‘Wake’ refers to the watch over the dead prior to burial. Bear in mind that RAF Fylingdales on ‘Snod Hill’ has as its motto ‘Vigilamus’ (We are Watching’) All terribly spooky to the walking dead staggering across the moor.


It was late afternoon when we stopped. The mist had cleared and three great white snooker balls dominating the horizon. Fylingdales – part of our early warning network against nuclear attack. Just then a four minute warning seemed attractive. Just enough time to finish our cheese sandwiches.

We’d tried eating them earlier but had been disturbed. Attracted by the rustle of paper, the aroma of bread and Wenslydale cheese, woolly wraiths emerged menacing from the mist. Cows are reputed to be dangerous when they’re in calf. They have nothing on the Yorkshire sheep in search of a cheese sandwich.

It wasn’t our finest moment, being mugged by sheep.


Friday, 4 September 2009

The voices take over

Me and Sheri Lamour were talking, shooting the breeze. Work was slow that week and there was little else to do. The office needed cleaning but one look at Sheri tells you everything you need to know about her. She don't do cleaning, her skills lie elsewhere, and mine mostly involve drinking and solving crime. We don't do cleaning.

“Anything out there?” I was talking about the news, not the stumblebums grazing on fried chicken or breeding the new feral horde. I didn't have much hope. My old Morgan radio had almost given up the ghost, regurgitating lie after lie from the slimeballs who now rule this once great country, either that or the salacious tattle from broads with more silicon than brain. Jeez. I like a broad with something to hold. I just don't want to be knocked of my seat when they turn.

“There's the Megrahi guy,” she said. Did I tell you that Sheri has a voice like honey and a figure to match?

A shiver ran up my spine. It was that kind of name.

“What's he done?”

“Blew up a plane.”

“Ours or theirs?”

“Ours.”

A murderous mist enveloped me. It sure as hell wasn’t dust. “And the guy's not been fried.”

“He's been released on compassionate grounds.”

I sunk lower in my chair as I listened to Sheri's voice. Sweet though it was, it covered pure cyanide. As I worked it out this piece of pond-life had served less than a fortnight for each of the 259 women and children he'd blown from the sky. What the hell was going on here, and why was Sheri telling me this...? That last bit intrigued me. The dame knows me inside out and then some, and she knows Clay Cross likes mysteries to solve, not venting rage against the dark forces sucking all light from the world. I'm a reasonable guy.

“So what's the real story,” I said.

Sheri pouted, her lips like dark cherries holding a worm. "They say it's a cover up."

“You mean Megrahi's the patsy.”

Sheri shrugged helplessly as if to say what the hell do I know? You’re the detective, big guy.

I gave her my shark's smile, the one with teeth. "What else do they say?" I've always found 'they' useful. Rumour's cheap. Informers you pay.

“Witnesses perjured themselves.” She took out her lipstick. When she brought that thing to her mouth the world stopped, and she stopped talking; only I wasn't finished with her. Not yet. She must have seen it in my eye; anyway she stopped, gave that secretive smile of hers that makes me go whoozy.

"So why didn't the guy appeal?" Hell, you can appeal for jaywalking now, appeal for being born stupid.

“They didn't want him to. Every time he tried, they kept on stalling, and then the guy got cancer.”

Ghosts go whoo hoo. They don't appeal. I got it. "So why not let Megrahi die in prison?"

“Compassion,” Sheri snarled, as though the word offended her. “They said Megrahi would soon face a higher power, and that it was the right thing to do even though 'some hurt can never heal. Some scars can never fade.' She sounded like she was going to burst into song. She sounded like Hank Williams. The thought was distressing and I closed my eyes, even as she said the killer line. 'The deal was freedom if he dropped his appeal.'

The lyrics made sense. One thing didn't. What the hell was our government doing about this?

Sheri Lamour read my mind. The FBI thinks it's a pile of crock. Bob Mueller's furious.

Never trust a man who sounds like a yoghurt pot, they're either Gestapo or Red, and all three amount to much the same thing. Even so I don't prejudge; it's not the American way. "I bet he is," I said, waiting for more. We have a nuclear arsenal, Scotland has thistles. "What's he doing about it?"

“Well, he sent a strongly worded letter...after the bird had flown.”

The office was silent except for the grinding of teeth.

“Then Hillary Clinton got involved.”

“Jeeze, I bet the Scots were terrified.”

“But they waited until it was a done deal before anything was said."

The office suddenly smelt of fish. “Do you smell that?” I said

Sheri raised her wild cherry red to her lips. "You've done it again, Clay," she breathed.

“Time for a spot of Kentucky mash,” I said, taking two dusty glasses from the middle drawer. Sheri took hers, the one with the lipstick.

“Compassion,” I sneered. The man had been set up, and governments were doing what they do always do best, covering themselves in outrage.

I wondered who was really involved, and why they’d gone for the Libyan and not them, but Sheri was busy.

“And I bet there was a trade deal involved.” I said. Sheri gave me her secretive smile.