Thursday, 17 November 2011

Scots Wha Hae Been Robbed

Men of Jockland, whaur ye be
rise oot o’ sleepless beds
An’ tak’ the airms o’ haunless men
an’ pull them frae their steeds.
For these gaunt chiels wi’ chisels sharp
tae cut for their intent
Wad carve an’ shape yer warldly hoors
an’ gar ye pay them rent.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Aldebaran Races

The Aldebaran ladies sing this song dah doo dah doo
The Aldebaran ladies are five miles long dah doo dah doo day.
Run on each of seven legs by day
And on twelve pseudopodia by night
Bet my credits on a sentient Crinoid Looping Nag
Somebody bet on the Arcturian Lepidopteroid Sprite.

For someone this is going home.
Across the universe
Despite the handicap of multiple arms
Of crystalline matrix intelligences,
There is common experience
There is the mundane.

For someone this is home
Where the food must arrive on the eating stool
Where the freshly flayed flesh of small bugs
Is toasted lightly over an iodine laser furnace
Until tender.

The Aldebaran ladies sing this song dah doo dah doo
The Aldebaran ladies are a thousand miles long dah doo dah doo day.
Fly on silicon-based ornithoid wings by day
Slither on liquefactive caustic slime by night
Bet all ten of my boots on a cyberian hag
Or a gigabyte lover at the speed of light.

For someone this is normal
Resting quietly by an open freezer
Watching the news on the ice-screen
With a steaming glass of liquid barium
Cilia at rest, raised up on a pedestal of brass.

For someone life is like this
Frantic at the office pushing data
Into storage media with a prong,
Calling long distance with a wax megaphone
And a long throated warbling tone of voice.

The Aldebaran ladies sing this song dah doo dah doo
The Aldebaran ladies are five million miles long dah doo dah doo day.
Run on quantum drives by night
And on neutron zapper beams by day
Bet my crystal microchips on a easy shot
Threw my round trip ticket away.

Slipping into something greasy for a party
Where all the guests are eligible tetrasaurs
With furred masticating hammocks
And the wealth
Of a despot.

And we are free to go home
First to the sports complexes of Alderbaran
Then to the sweet backstreets of Earth.
First to the fleshpots of the flying cities
Where the flesh is sold disconnected
From its matrices of bone.
First to the idyllic grass banks of Ut
Where the grasses sing you to sleep
And sleeping invade your mind with rash promises of love.

 © BH 1998

I had been looking to post a poem to celebrate the deep physics of the universe. Then I rediscovered this. First read in a darkened planetarium to ususpected audiences towards the end of the last century, it celebrates the diverse sentient life of all the known universe, at least in my own infundibulous mind. There is a tune to the chorus. I sing it sometimes. Privately.


The expressions of the stars,
Too small for smiles
Twinkle in the heartstrings of Heaven

Then the spheres collide
And in colliding merge
Atoms through atoms.
Shells of energy sharing
Momentary electrons
All so unpredictable.
The music of the spheres
Is how the quanta interact,
How the talking cosmos
Whispers above the heat of nothing.
Passing in what was a moment,
In what is a moment,
Or will be,
The body of which we are part
Passes through itself.

A hand through an eye,
A heart beating on a heart.
All substance is empty
But for the atom’s heart
That nucleus of time.

© BH 2000

This belongs in a poem cycle, Initialising, which lives here. It's finished at last after nearly twenty years. Ah well, it's an enduring universe.


The earth, granular,
Flayed of whatever flesh
Clothed it.

Like some blood,
Or a river’s water,
Ran till the season’s end
Where dryness,
Spendthrift time,
Brought night,
Dead of it:
3 AM.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Riot Rant

In a culture of greed, those who have the least are the greediest. After decades of hype, we have fuelled an expectation of plenty in everyone. We have skewed it, too, into the illusion that plenty equates with designer tops and trainers.

Add to that hungry ignorance, the sense that there is no real way out but consumption (have more, get more, take more), and we have a people who believe the formula for success is to dress yourselves up like some rich fool, no matter how you acquire the trappings, and suddenly you’re somebody.

Pile on the requirement by those (those of us) who can somehow say we have crossed the somebody threshold, who can maybe pull the ladder up behind us, to keep that gibbering mass of scapegoats at bay. Then we have created a recipe for disaster.

All we have done now is tightened the screw on the tank. Those mad buggers have nothing at stake, nothing left to lose. We have taught them to take the things of value for themselves. However misguided, that comes down to cheap shirts and TV sets. That’s why the carpet shops get hit while the banks are left alone. These people aren’t anarchists, political activists nor subversives. They are the criminal mad, driven there by our collective social disease. They are the bottom-of-the-heap consumers denied fulfilment now they are strapped for cash by dwindling jobs, slashed benefits and a declining black economy.

We’d do well to remember that we’re witnessing cold turkey, the sweats and tremors that go along with acute withdrawal of the drug of ‘stuff’. Them upstairs are intent on putting up the shutters but the basement is on fire. Those of us on the first floor are bound to suffer but we really should have been wise to the game. Someone should have been thinking about those we had left to wallow in the mess we left down there. Maybe we did, but that was pest control. Now the rats are on the march, waving their looted hi-fis and wearing their faux Gucci tees. 

When we look in their eyes, that is when we will realise they are not rats after all. These are the undead. Lifeless but animated, they are factory fodder bereft of factories, thieves blindly robbing each other, the destitute hoarding petty hand-outs, the vulnerable preying upon themselves. Look in their eyes and you will see nothing. This is the zombie attack no-one prepared for; the vampire, dying of pernicious anaemia, snarling at our throats.

© BH 2011

Just had to get it off my chest.

Friday, 1 July 2011


The craw on the Aiberdeen roof watched the blank sky lighten fae the East. He strutted ower the tiles, flapped up to the red brick lum and sat keekin at the spurgies fluttering at his feet and at the doos on their roosts, only half mindin' his business. He was cock o' the walk this particular day, this fine new-year morning when the fowk in the street were hardly there at aa. Och, how they walked aboot, bleary-eyed at the flecks of winter red fading in the aggravated sky. Like a battered army in retreat they were, and Auld Corby creaked out a caw at the lot of them… and they should have been feart.

The starlings confabbed at his feet; they were afraid of the big black, raven-black hoodie that he was. A fine morning, they all agreed, for a pickin' ower o' the morning's comeuppances. Some said as much in the arrogant sma’ voices such birds possess.

Fine, fine, said Auld Man Craw, in a kind of question, as if he didna gree. Such pickins as I've had have gien me a bad belly.

A spurgie, bolder than the rest, jested. Ah, that’ll hae been the spewing up o some Chinese cairry-on. Now, we speugs have the sense to stick with guid Scots fare.

Aha! says the Corbie, pouncin up an doon on the roof ridges, up fae the ridge to lum and down again. Agitated, he hopped the nearer and took a peck at the maist runted wee cratur. Your airse couldna crack a biled bean.

Dawn had brocht a welcome bounty for the birds. Pools of fresh vomit lay in cauld wreaths on pavements aa ower the toon; thrown up in the nicht by the mair bilious o the Hogmanay revellers. A pairt of the feast is forever offered up to the Gods, and like the swarms of flechs in summer or worms at autumn plooin, these blossoms had a welcome place in the economy o the birds.

Gulls had focht ower the bigger of the pickins throughout the nicht. First licht brocht doon the lesser species and the crabbit auld craw, railing at the bare-faced greed o the sea-birds. He was brimful of ire that mornin, having rousted up a pair o black-backs from a biggish cowp ootside the Clansman.

Never enough, never enough! he cried an ate his fill, an ate his fill again o sweet an soor.

Now, whether it wis the quantity or whether it wis the mixture o his feastin, but the craw on the roof was well intae the throes o a terrific dyspepsia. His normally waddling gait was hobbled even further the day by the ructions in his stomach. The sparrows taunted, hacket-airse, in their twitterin. The craw stooped his heid and took on sic an evil cast. He cocked up his leg and let oot a richt squeaker o a fart. Oh me, oh me, he groaned an the wee birds looch to hear his ache an his feeble experforation.

He turned noo to face them an lumped his nethers up on the clay-pot lum. A great fart like breakin rocks went avalanching doon the flues. Ooh, by Jesus! The man hoodie gave his relief a name as the tears rolled doon his beak. Aa the wee spurgies flew to safety, an the doos were off their gutters as quick as you like. The roof seemed to shak with the tremor o his blast. And he followed it wi a lauch as loud as Auld Nick himself, boomin' out to commend sic a brakking o win as hell iteslf had not heard this many a New ‘Ear past.

In the eaves ablow, ae sleeper was stirrin. Even as the sun was up an cast its cautious beam of licht across the bedhead, he’d heard the pigeons an the sparrows cacklin comfortinly in the chimney pots. He’d heard their chatter come doon in the fireplace amang the cawins o the craw. In his still-shut een their shapes fluttered in a kine o dream, an he heard their squabblin an their growin alarm. Then, as clear as day, he heard their silence, fan the birds, departin, broke off singin. In the soonless space ahin it, the enormous fart came sharp and resoundin. The awesome thunner exploded doon the lum. Soot fell in the iron grate and clattered in the shunners, covering aathin. Dust, ash and clinkers spilt oot into the livin room, spreadin a pall o smorin grey drift in the shafts o sun.

 © BH 2003

Just after midsummer is a good time to remember Hogmanay. Even now, the Corbies are at it. Where, in the lean season they strutted gallus on the rooftops, in summer they conspire against every nestling but their own, black and ragged, intelligent as death.

We humans know nothing. Every season brings us its excuse for oblivion. We wallow in our excesses and fall into black holes of our own making. There is more about that in the words which follow the above (not reproduced here). The crows let us be, though, having their own interest in our shambling lives and our so-called civilisation whose parings fill their swollen wames.

Updated properly into Scots in June 2015.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Lobey (in submission)

This fiction fragment inspired by Bud Neil's Lobey Dosser is currently unavailable.

It's being submitted to an Scottish publisher for a forthcoming collection.

More news will follow.

Rank Bajin leans in, confidential-like, and gies it tae Lobey straight. ‘Bud’s been deid mair that forty years. Ye’re a bit late for being doon in the mooth aboot that.’
‘How come I never kent?’
‘I thocht ye did.’
‘Well, I never.’
‘Yer memory’s nae what it wis.’
‘Ye mean I forgot? How could I forget a thing like that?’
‘Ye’re getting auld, man.’
‘Is that it? Maybe I should be in an institution.’
Bajin laughs, ‘Lobey, man, you are an institution.’

I remembered the old West. I think. When I grew up, Scotland was a land of cowboys. Every close had a child in buckskin high-tailin' it intae the sunset. Peechaw! Peechaw! Those were our six-guns. We fell from an imaginary horse, clutching our wounds. 'Tell Agnes…' Then it rained. Then teatime.

You can find out more about Lobey Dosser and Bud Neil here.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011


This is how bone appears:
Stripped of the superstructures of flesh.

All light is unseen until some substance
Throws it back into our faces.
Some light, even in reflection,
Passes through us.

The eye and it’s mind are ignorant.

Small mutations of energy
Change the nature of being
While immutable bone creaks
Under the weight of the living.

Why should we look, as we do,
Through what shape we possess,
Into its scaffolding of support;
Or even, between, into pulsing organs
Which have no words for us?

Soul and spirit are another light,
Energy on the spectrum somewhere,
Reflected or refracted just the same
By what we believe to be real.

The mind and it’s eyes are ignorant.

The invisible shapes the visible:
Other energies warp around us
And show us the bones of the world,
The ligatures of earth and heaven.

But blood, like light, is shed, wounds picked over:
We tear ourselves apart to look beneath the skin.
© BH 2011

Another one for the Web Cycle (no, not pedal-powered cyberspace). Andrew McCallum Crawford kindly put it on his blog at If you're interested, the Web Cycle (dating back to 1996) is here. It was finally completed in 2014. Bit of a marathon but, hey, what's new?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


This is the way the world ends.
Only for you, only for you.

Why take it with you when you go,
When Angels drag you naked into Heaven?
Why remember it at all?

Do you believe every other living thing
Is obscured by human shadow?
You, who believe the shadow falls
From our every flaw and shape?

If we are black-hearted
Or have lost our way,
Those that remain,
Might carry on.
The beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
Whose stewardship
We have steadfastly ignored
Will take back the world
We stole so lightly.

But you are no better than the rest of us,
With our squinting heathen faces
Masks of bewilderment beneath your rising.

Do you believe that the world
Can return to Hell
Because God has called you up,
Proved you right?

Do you believe the Earth of no further use
As you get your reward
And disbelievers their just desserts?

Were I to believe as you do
I would have words with God:
‘This is not on,’ I would say,
‘If Heaven is a place for the smug and selfish
As it surely seems to be,
Let me alone
While the world shatters.

‘I would rather have no part of this
Stepping on the bodies of the foolish,
Clambering over the shoulders
Of a million sinners,
To save myself,
Abandoning even one innocent life
To prove that I, myself, am free of sin.’

 © BH 2011

It's not that I'm fulminating. I've always been fascinated by the paradox of salvation, when goodness buys you a ticket to some Paradise that is denied to others. When your goal's beyond, perhaps giving up on this life and its spiritual equivalent of the great unwashed is no great sacrifice. What then can you give up to save another soul? If not life (being a mere passing phase) perhaps it's that place in the hereafter? 

Saturday, 14 May 2011


The suit was perfect. The way it hugged the shape of his body. He pulled the jacket a little tighter, all the better to feel its folds touch his skin. Velvet. Smooth. Yet with a slight prickling as of hessian on ecclesiastical flesh.

‘Not a hair shirt,’ he mused, licking his dry lips. His glance passed over the box lid, the quick-start guide, the user manual. His smile, more smug than gleeful, was a contortion as he reached for the gloves and slid them on.

Gloves first and then the stockings. They were calf-length and slipped easily inside the elasticated cuffs of the off-grey trousers. There were no shoes. He would not need shoes. Finally the mask. Gimp-like or, more to his taste, super-heroic with a firm mouth-slot around which bio-fibroid hems formed a pair of surrogate lips. Only his eyes were free to the air, his eyes and nostrils.

On the jacket, to the left of the row of Velcro straps there was a green plastic panel. He plugged in the trailing nest of cables, long and snake-like, they formed a tangle of multicoloured vipers which in turn ended in a single tail. USB or ISO 1394, it was all the same. He connected the cable to the L-box and leaned back.

‘No need for screens,’ was what he thought. His flat-screen showed the control console anyway. ‘So what,’ he told himself.

Waiting to be upstreamed, he skimmed the manual. Introduction. The Love Suit. Dating version: 3.4.1. Approved by the Church of Jesus Mohammed of the Latterday ePostles. Nothing unrepentable could happen. This suit was safe for all manoeuvres permitted within the bounds of public and private decency.

He pressed the stud to activate the congress-call. He felt secure as any god-befriended boy could feel. This suit was not intimate-equipped. There were no pant-trons, no bodily particle accelerators, he wore no electrolytic pouch or inserts. He was excited nonetheless.

The screen blanked and then her avatar, Betty Boop of the 21st Century, in cat-suit and pearls, came in-window. She spoke and he heard her inside the ear-folds, a sweet and tongueful whisper. The manual fell from his hands as he felt the cool dampness of her lips run from his ear to to his mouth in one smooth and far-off kiss. His bio-fibroids contracted in that moment’s passion. He regretted the suit's lack of inner mouth-parts.

He felt her arms around his body as his own stretched out and circled an invisible waist. He could feel her roundness in the fumble-pads. His palm receptors told him she was there. Upwards they crossed mountains of blankness till he touched her face. Some areas were always out of reach on a first date.

They wrestled on regardless. He with his eagerness and his suit rippling with embraces from half a continent away. She audible only in his inner ear, equally enfolded in a Love Suit of her own: tight, electric and palely pink.

This, he told himself between kisses, is love. Love in the digital age, he murmured, as his fingers found her somewhere in the empty space between his open arms and the glinting screen where readouts scrolled their way to some ecstatic cyber heaven.

© BH 2011

Inspired by a two-day conference on telemedicine and the recent invention of an internet kissing device. Ahh, bless!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011


We are burning, for all our graces,
Up, like the forests of which our hopes are timber. 

Fevered in a dream of growing 
Like a stem or root in some earth-pit 
Where poison only slowly seeps. 

Here, I, at the peak of my powers, prevaricate, 
Oscillate like an atom, undecided, 
Pour my few brief hours down the drain. 

Control is what we strive for, 
Binding days to their marching orders.

But who is captain of the calendar? 
That grid of numbers, our sheet of time, 
A shroud for futility. 

We are souls, blazing toward heaven, 
Deceived by ascension, as if progress 
Were an upward path. 

We might as well be stones diving from that same heaven 
To the earth, as much on fire as our rising ghosts. 

The trap is sprung shut, by our needs, appetite and greed, 
By which gnawing vices our wants are pricked. 

So ignition comes from our combustible hearts. 
Air and volatility combine with pressure 
So that a spark, the merest spark, explodes all pretensions, 
Harboured, of divinity, of potency, of God-like-ness. 

Here, in this room, and now, in a culmination 
Of longevity, I arc with electricity, unbridled. 

I am white heat, full of flame and fury, 
In aerosol, power releasing as never before. 

This, then, is fruition, maturity, an arc no less, 
Curved momentum, entropic, decaying, falling from height. 

We are burnt embers, clinker of our own demand, 
Like burnt-out woodland or harvested fields,
Where once plenty lived its moment 
Then was gone. 

We lit a fire to survive and believed that flame 
Would not consume us. 
Wrong, we shrivel, old meat on older bones, 
Till our fat returns to the land we once sucked at. 

Here, I puzzle at my human shape, 
Not recognising the man I am or was, 
Confusing truth with diatribe, 
Honesty with blunt instruments of speech. 

There, I am a bolt of insubstantial lightning: 
A bang in the air, voltage in an instant, 
Lost again while clouds rub shoulders with the rain. 

I, we, they, like lights, go out, descend into darkness, 
We suppose not; we suspect so. 

I, we, they, across the face of heaven or sky, 
Are going all the same, to blazes, 
For a nanosecond only do we think of glory.

© BH 2011 

Don't know where that one came from. I wrote in about fifty minutes. That's equivalent to Norman MacCaig's two fags.

Ah, I'm now probably visiting the planet of grumpy old men, and still learning how to deal with the human condition (which is some form of stress-related disorder, no doubt).

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Seven Minute Poem

Time is running.
One minute has gone already
To where old minutes go to die.
Time is running
Like water out of my fingers
And the words they contain
Are stains upon the page.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Pullitzer Petrograd Escapes

Pullitzer Petrograd hauled himself out of the waste-disposal skip. Unceremoniously discarding the banana skin from his left shoulder, he leapt to the ground. The street was quiet; too quiet.

With a scream of tyres, the shape of an auto-tank materialised from a side-street. Uniformed Strato-cops were already pouring from the open flank-doors, zap-guns held ready. Pullitzer broke into a trot. Under his leisurewear djellaba he fingered the power toggle to his auto-boots. He knew the battery flux was low. But it might give him the edge he needed.

'Halt or I fire!' bellowed the cyber-vocal circuits of Leader One. Zap guns swung to bear on their target, set at stun level, Immense Pain. Pullitzer slammed the engage unit and his boots hummed. Power surged into the fibro-soles as the torque members throbbed with raw energy. Hot exhaust fumes billowed from his trousers. Dust kicked up into the faces of his enemies. In a flare of zap-beams he was gone. The agony rays hit nothing but air and a corner of djellaba fibre. Pullitzer had escaped again.

© BH 1990

I don't officially remember when this came out. After 1974, obviously. I'd never posessed, let alone worn a djellaba before then.

In the light of more recent upheavals in North Africa, it has a certain resonance. The sci-fi flavour makes it more so, don't you think?

Still, no more (super)heroes anymore, don't you know?

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


In the beginning was the six-day week. Toil without end.

From the void, God created Heaven and the Earth and Time and Motion and the study thereof.

In the firmament, He set arc lamps and divers illuminations: the sun by day and the moon and stars at double time.

On the first day, God created merry hell until the Angels ended their dispute and settled for a pay rise in line with inflation.

On the second day, He created a tier of tertiary management to place between the creatures of the Earth and the creatures of the inner cities.

On the third day, God created factories and an industrial infrastructure as well as rats and micro-organisms with which to infringe Health and Safety regulations.

On the fourth day, He created the closed shop, industrial relations and all that these entail.

On the fifth day, God created the pursuit of pleasure for profit, sharp practices, blunt instruments and the diseases of economic disaster and urban decay.

On the sixth day, God created tension and stress-related disorder, riots and their police, skulls and bludgeons, sundry petty malices and cheap tricks too distasteful to mention.

On the seventh day, He rested and decided to get up late. At lunch, He made up His mind to do it all as a TV movie. Angelo Gabrielli, His agent, thought it was a great idea and, over a glass of Liebfraumilch, they dreamed up a press release and leaked it to the major dailies.

© BH 1983

Strange how some things weather over time but don't quite wear out.

Back before 1983, the gospel according to industrial relations seemed the only truth. Then Thatcher broke the miners in the seventies and the legacy of that attrition tore up the rule book. As paragraph 23 sub-section 12 faded into memory, the jobsworth mind of dyed-in-the-wool shop stewards tranferred to other bureaucracies. The media star rose in the heavens along with cynicism and cheap-skate sensationalism.

So we fell from grace, or at least from one state of gracelessness to another. All we did was swap sicknesses, in the end going down the pan at the same inexorable rate.

God looked down, looked upon His works and thought, 'Did I do that? Not bloody likely!'

Very little has changed now you come to think about it.

Decades for Dick Heads

Way back on December 31st-January 1st there seemed to be some debate about whether the next decade had already started or whether it was just about to. We actually had this back in 2000, when some argued that the millennium didn't actually start till 2001.

We obviously have too much time on our hands if all we need to sort out are niceties such as this. That said, there seems to be the usual pedantry at work in this debate. Numbers and numbering systems adapt to their functions, at least to an extent. 

We start at zero, I suppose, but we don't count in whole numbers till we get to one. That's why babies get to be aged nine months. Then we reckon age by the past reckoning of years. If I say I'm 40 that's in the past, of course. I'm really going on 41.

Decades, then, if we start at zero old JC kicked it off way back by being, however miraculously, born. He didn't get round to doing all his founding a religion stuff till year 30. Three years later he was on the cross. You know the rest. 

More recently, 2000 started the decade just gone and 2009 marked the end of it when the year of that name (or number) ended. 2010 was just the name we gave to the year of counting 2011, which didn't get its name till it ended and the year of counting 2012 began. And that's where we are now.

It all depends on the idea I've just floated concerning the year of counting. Here we are in March 2011, that is, quarter past 2011. Here it is for me, quarter past eleven. Is this the eleventh hour? Or is it the twelfth that's just not finished yet.

You decide. It's taken me since New Year's in Dallas Texas to work this out and I'm still not sure the debate is settled. Are we one year into the second decade of the twenty-first century or only in the first year of it? Jeez, I don't know. 

Am I become 21st Century Schizoid Man? Most likely.
© BH 2011

I rest my case.