WEEK THIRTY-ONE – Caledonian MacBrayne/The Clockwork Orange

>> Caledonian MacBrayne

The Clockwork Orange <<

CalMac                       clockwork

Scotland relies so much on the efficiency of its transport networks for the nation to stay on the move. A product of our challenging national topography is the often quirky and curious systems that have evolved to ferry us around. This week’s pairing brings together two mainstays of the Scottish transport system. The labyrinthine complexities of the island-hopping ferry services operated  by Caledonian MacBrayne (or ‘CalMac’) is something with which a West Coast tourist is required to become familiar if they are to get where they want to go. The happy sight of an approaching ferry is one of the pleasures of holidaymaking in Scotland.  Contrast this with the essentially simple circularity and regularity of the Glasgow Subway system (affectionately referred to as ‘The Clockwork Orange‘) – unlike most urban underground systems, it consists of just one route around the city, with the only choice being whether to take it clockwise or anticlockwise.


On The Ferry, Going Home
by Kate Hendry

He drives me into the belly of the boat, crams us
between camper van, fuel tanker, sheep truck.
The car-deck’s dingy walls are riddled with pipes –
diesel, water, steam, waste. ‘Lock up your vehicle’,
we’re told, ‘head for the stairs.’ I follow him out.

On deck, sea reaches over railings. I’m caught
in waves of darkness, peaks of sickness.
Barrelled life-rafts won’t save me. They’re sealed up
like the malt whisky he refused to let me buy for him.
The unexpected end of our holiday.

I retreat to red leatherette seats. Sweaty, cold.
Canteen sugary tea, a Tunnocks caramel wafer.
He reads tourist leaflets, pretends we’re not at sea.
The mainland comes into view. In the mini-shop
We stock up on souvenirs for our children.

Two tartan teddies, a post card each –
Scottish island with white-cottaged harbour ­–
(too late to send). When I read the back
I see it’s not the place we’ve left but somewhere
far away, on a different route entirely.


The Clockwork Orange
by Stewart Conn

Our most frequented stretch: Hillhead to Buchanan Street
or burrowing under the Clyde, after the Citz, the tunnel
walls streaming, rats scuttling, stations knee-deep in litter,
each arrival announced by a rumble and gust of sour air.
Yet the Clockwork Orange secure in our affections: we’d
vouch visitors a treat on our state-of-the-art Subway Circle

then note their shock (though its cable days long gone)
at the ill-lit entrance, toy-town rolling-stock; debouching
from shoogly carriages, through clattering gates
on to a narrow platform;  hauling cases up the steps,
not an escalator in sight – unsure whether to believe
they could buy the unique aroma, bottled, as a souvenir.

Hard, given my absence, to credit today’s streamlined
version, carmine-and-cream livery, contoured sliding
doors. For all its elegance and speed, la nostalgie de la boue
prevails: as though on archival film, two fur-coated ladies
emerge, turn left, and a bauchle in a green uniform bawls:
Hey missis, for tae get oot that wey youse’ll need a pick and shovel.



Kate Hendry is a writer, tutor and editor, living in Edinburgh. user_199172_1431518510 She has taught English and creative writing for the Open University and Edinburgh Napier University. She runs the Nothing But the Poem reading groups at the Scottish Poetry Library. Her work has been published in many magazines and anthologies, including Agenda, The North, Northwords Now and The Rialto. Her first collection will be publish by Happenstance Press in 2016.

Stewart Conn’s publications include In the Kibble Palace, The Breakfast Room (2011 Scottish Poetry Book of the Year), The Touch of Time (all Bloodaxe), and Against the Light (Mariscat). An exile from the west, he has for many years lived in Edinburgh whose inaugural Makar he was from 2002-05.



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WEEK THIRTY -William Topaz McGonagall/Ivor Cutler

>> William Topaz McGonagall

Ivor Cutler <<

William McGonagall                                     Ivor Cutler

Eccentricity is the link, but skill is the contrast for this week’s pairing of Scottish icons – poets of different ages and of a very different order. Few in Scotland can be unaware of William Topaz McGonagall’s lauding of the Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay! and his clunky lament at its collapse. Born in 1825, he has been cited as the worst poet in British history, though his continued fame comes from the risible effects his poetic shortcomings generate in his work. Despite numerous pleas to Queen Victoria for patronage, he died in poverty in 1902. Similarly eccentric, and individual in his approach to writing, Ivor Cutler (1923-2006) also gained considerable fame during his lifetime, arguably due in no small part to support from the radio DJ John Peel. A poet, songwriter and performer, his harmonium accompanied verses turned the spotlight of his surreal humour on all aspects of the human condition. Once heard, his Life in a Scotch Sitting Room will forever change perceptions of life in this small country. Published in book, record and CD form, his work continues to beguile ten years after his death.

William Topaz McGonagall
by Aonghas Phadraig Caimbeul

It was on the Twentieth of November Two Thousand and Fifteen
That I was asked to write a poem about a poet who’s been
Grossly calumnied on the Scottish literary scene
Despite his masterpiece about the disaster on the Tay
Which would never have happened if the central girders had not given way
On that fateful day when the lives of all the passengers were taken away.

William Topaz McGonagall was his name
And I hardly need say anything about his world-wide fame
For he was known everywhere, not just in Dundee, but also very far away
In the Fair City of Perth and far out west in lovely Stornoway
Where the people speak in such a strange way,
Probably because they don’t live near the beautiful silv’ry Tay.

Now you may sit there and scoff but it takes balls of steel
To rhyme like McGonagall as he sat on Law Hill
Looking down on Lochee sitting bonny and still
And to the north, Broughty Ferry and then Kirrimuir
Where the peewits were singing so bright and so pure
That a man who was deaf would be made well and cured.

Now of Scotland’s great writers I’ll just mention a few:
Dunbar, for example, but most of all Hugh
MacDiarmid, who changed his name from Christopher Murray Grieve
And lived for a while in Montrose, which is just north of Dundee, I believe.
And also Burns who liked to rhyme
Though he died very young and therefore didn’t get much time.

William Topaz McGonagall, I salute your crazy courage.
The hopeless belief that rhyme was all that mattered
That words could be squeezed into shape, battered
Into submission. All praise to your insane scansion and metres,
The mad joy of your verse, with its strange discordant beat:
Great poetry is always made by holy fools whaur extremes meet.


Ivor Cutler
by Stephanie Green

A wee figure spot-lit on a dark stage
intoning like a Jewish cantor on your wheezing harmonium,
wearing Tartan, and a sunflower stuck in your beret.

What if the world was remade in your vision?
Shops are lifted, doctors collect their thoughts
from their surgeries.

A Scottish childhood is no longer gruts for tea.
No one is beaten by the tawse.  A screwed-up
childhood may be good for creativity,

but borders, easily bored, we play, just  passing
the time, letting our words come out, like jazz,
however they want.  Surrealism meets Music Hall.

We all speak quietly. Singers and comedians
are almost inaudible.  Chuffed if pauses
are longer than Sam Beckett’s.

We meet applause with fingers in our ears.
The wax model of an ear pinned to our walls,
we are all members of the Noise Abatement Society.
Everyone is addressed by their surname
with courtesy, gentleness. Cups of tea,
you and me – a beautiful cosmos.



Angus Peter CampbellAngus Peter Campbell (Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul) is a poet, novelist and actor. He was born and brought up in South Uist and went to Oban High School where his English teacher was Iain Crichton Smith. He currently holds the Dr Gavin Wallace Writing Fellowship at the National Library of Scotland.



Stephanie Green photo, 2015 JPG Photographer Mark HardingStephanie Green is English/Irish, born in Sussex, and has lived in Edinburgh since 2000. Her pamphlet Flout (HappenStance, 2015) is inspired by Shetland. She has collaborated with several artists and composers, including  The Child of Breckon Sands with Marisa Sharon Hartanto and Ayre which inspired a dance piece choreographed by Mathew Hawkins, performed at the Queens’s Hall, Edinburgh, 2015. She has recently completed Berlin Umbrella an ‘aural walk’ with Sound Artiste, Sonja Heyer, to be performed in Berlin.  She works part time as a creative writing tutor and Dance and Theatre critic and her website can be viewed here




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Stephanie Green photo courtesy of Mark Harding

WEEK TWENTY-NINE-AND-A-HALF -The People’s Friend/Scottish Field

>> The People’s Friend

Scottish Field <<

the-peoples-friend                                                              scottish-field-magazine-3186c7-h900

Scotia Extremis has spent a lot of time in waiting over the years – Doctors, Dentists and the like – and this week’s pairing is inspired by the choice of reading materials it has found there, both with a uniquely Scottish flavour yet portraying very different images of Scotland. The People’s Friend – ‘the famous story magazine’ is an ageless format aimed at women of a certain age – down-to-earth short stories and serials, recipes, health features and competitions, with a slight sense that while everyone has read it, no-one actually buys it (although it has a reported weekly circulation of over 250,000). Scottish Field is a more upmarket publication focusing on country matters – field and farm pursuits, landscape, tourism and Scottish cuisine. The contrast here is in the suggested target audience – urban, domestic, traditional versus rural, outdoor, aspirational. We chose today to launch this pairing as a ‘special’ to mark the Glorious Twelfth – traditionally the start of the Grouse Shooting season in Scotland.


The People’s Friend
by Pippa Little

On wings of song and sweetened with a breath of country air
the story so far wraps up a cosy scene of happy endings:
The Good Lord won’t send us more than we can bear
if we live our lives as hidden gems, make do with mending –
who can resist the soft warmth of flannelette? Comfort is all
we deserve, desire now, our piano favourites, simple knits, a day
                                                                                          made bright;
problems below the waist, ageing, loneliness, a fall
soothed with Reflections from the Manse, a mail-order baby doll –
                                                                                          what might
hold back the dwindling life, the darkening horizon
if not clip-on magnifiers, tasty meal ideas, Historical Romance?
Why not? Wasn’t Scotland always this way once, All Our
                                                                                              Yesterdays arising
from very special moments, collective Love Darg toil? Only chance
and change conspire to make it wishful longing now from people
don’t always get the credit they deserve and keep secrets, too.

All phrases in italics are taken from The People’s Friend Jan 30 2016


Scottish Field
by Lindy Barbour

Between the cover picture ‘Red Grouse in the Lammermuirs’
and the end-page advert for a well-known watch
you never actually own apparently,
but look after for the next generation,
two hundred pages of glossy lifestyle stuff.
“I am writing about a form of life
that does take place” says one contributor
perhaps defensively, “I don’t write about problems.
Not everyone’s dysfunctional”.
It’s clear the target audience is exclusive
but then again, it’s hard to tell  if this
magazine that graces the coffee tables
of a thousand dentists’ waiting rooms
is for the aspirational or the arrived.
One thing’s for sure, this life is led by men,
only six women feature outside fashion
adverts and photographs of charity lunches.
Here men write for men. A dull parade
of plump-cheeked blokes in ginger tweeds
and v-necked golfing sweaters talk
up their adventures; a group survival test on Taransay
when three days hunger ends predictably
in shooting, gralloching and a barbecue;
the Caledonian Challenge;  a life in motor sports;
the Cameron family from the Blairmore archive;
a farmer who’s web events guru for D&G
(Dumfries and Galloway, not Dolce & Gabbana.)
A token Glaswegian, survivor of an Arctic expedition
is praised, but yields a morsel of sensationalism
with a murder in his family. Then, ‘Summer Activities
and Events’ takes us from gardens, whisky, horses,  golf
to golf, horses, gardens, whisky, “sampling the amber nectar,”
fine dining with Gordon and Fiona, Hamish and Fiona,
Alastair and Fiona, Farquhar and Fiona.
But get down to the point, the important stuff.
A couple of mill, old boy, will buy a serious estate−
salmon and sea trout fishing, rough shooting of grouse
and ptarmigan, and red deer stalking, an average
of twenty stags and twenty hinds, in short
there’s lots to kill on more than six thousand
acres of Sutherland−the epitome of emptiness.
They made a desert and they called it sport.
It is a form of life. It does take place.
But, thankfully, not everyone’s dysfunctional.



Pippa Little

Pippa Little’s first job at 16 was as a trainee editorial assistant on The People’s Friend, where she learned skills which have served her well through subsequent work as an editor, teacher, reviewer, translator, literacy development worker, OU tutor and poet. Collections include Overwintering (Oxford Poets/Carcanet, 2012) and a forthcoming collection, Twist (via Arc). Our Lady of Iguanas (Black Light Engine Room Press) is a recent sequence of poems about Mexico City.


Lindy BarbourLindy Barbour lives in Lanarkshire and teaches at the University of Edinburgh. She researches on psychoanalytic theory and has published on Hans Andersen, and the Belgian poet Georges Rodenbach. She is currently working on the theme of emotion and space in the work of Walter Benjamin. Her pamphlet, Where You Start From was published by Mariscat in 2015.



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WEEK TWENTY-NINE – The Royal Mile/Sauchiehall Street

>> The Royal Mile

Sauchiehall Street <<

Royal Mile        SauchiehallStreetWest2

This week Scotia Extremis takes a stroll along two great Scottish thoroughfares, both well-trodden but very different in nature and purpose. The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s historic grand promenade, stretching from Holyrood Palace at the lower end up to Edinburgh Castle at the top, taking in some of Edinburgh’s best-known tourist sights and offering a range of small shops selling a popular if unrepresentative image of Scotland – whisky, tartan, shortbread – to the millions of tourists which pass through it each year. Sauchiehall Street is Glasgow’s oldest main drag, equally well-defined in that it runs from the Royal Concert Hall in the city centre out to Kelvingrove in the West End. It offers a very different experience, and is perhaps more the haunt of locals than tourists as it turns from high street chains down to fast-food emporia, getting slightly more worn at the edges as it stretches west. Both thoroughfares provide a window on the extremes of urban Scotland – from the chocolate-box photogeneity and occasional faux-Scottishness of Edinburgh to the unfakeable, uncompromising blue-collar grit and realism of Glasgow.

The Royal Mile
by Alasdair Paterson

Volcanic jizz on a world tour
found its sweet spot of latitude
and got embedded, crag and tail.
In due course history, fortress
down to palace – pecking orders
and disorders,  death and soirées,
epiphanies, piss on cobbles,
persistence of the hellfire gene.
And here they came in cavalcades
we’d see the bill for later on –
the royal actors, performing
those slow waves, top of the bill,
off to stain a stage somewhere
maybe with their blood, more likely ours.

But where I’d barge to the tryline
there’s that Parliament we built;
the People’s Story cleared a space
for some tartan tins that shipped
Father’s shortbread recipes
to the high teas of the world;
just across the road, my books
in the Scottish Poetry Library
sit where the crack is sparkiest;
and down here, love, is where we used
to browse and buy all the maps
of where we’d been and wouldn’t get to.

Read the signs there: Paterson’s Land.
And that’s true. It’s my mile too.


Sauchiehall Street
by Janette Ayachi

Sauchiehall Street is space-blue and silver in winter
her alien-hex skin pressed with diamonds and dust, her slick vertebrae
makes way for the applaud of cars where a therapy of ignition tracks her spine
to spill champagne and socialists, tranquilize pedestrians, run ladders in pre-war stockings.

In summer she gives you that look like someone horn-struck
and about to undress in front of you, so you blank out all the side-streets
concentrate on her striptease breaching dilated pupils – on those nights she reaches for lovers,
seduces them under her skirt of shuttered shops; velvet saunas, skyscraper hotels, cocktail hours.

This street is more hysterical than historical, as most women tend to be marked,
her lips too numb for kisses, so she spits into the mouth of pollution, swallows traffic

When bleached by the gulf of self-loathing she lets knives flash under her street-lamps,
bends to gear violence into her palm like loosened fruit still sore from its secular branch-snap
prone to flex post-mortem.

She hoards the hooligans in their hoods, samples a taste of their furious hunger,
holds them the same way stags grip those wretched birds of paradise in their midnight antlers.

Oh Sauchiehall Street you are a hall of mirrors with your music-hall name delivering illusion
Glasgow’s graceless steps palpitate towards stampede to unhinge your promised land,
shadows display a promenade of romances on The Locarno Ballroom dance floor.

The sad bottled eyes of French girls in polyester on their way to Kelvingrove
awake in clusters with their faces creased like abandoned linen
dizzy from the smell of cordite in their dreams.

This street is not a language or a place to salvage euphoria,
oh no, there is a helpful smile in every aisle if you trust the magician’s saw
and newsreaders on every corner to renegade tomorrows cry of surrogate heroes.

Her sign posts promote neutrality to scaffold the future, because despite bomb blasts
Mackintosh still coloured tearooms with stained glass and Art Deco reigned
over posh shops, luncheon frills, high-end theatres where Sinatra sang

those years after open-air suffragettes paraded taffeta and no surrender
or cadmium orange tramcars ivory trim with plum dashes pulsed over cobbles –
the internal grits and gifts of life, a gold-gilded cinema-mad city, smokeless, slow. Burning.



Alasdair PatersonAlasdair Paterson’s most recent poetry collections are On The Governing Of Empires (2010), Elsewhere Or Thereabouts (2014) and My Life As A Mad King (2016). After a career directing academic libraries he now lives in Exeter, where he presents the monthly Uncut Poets event at Exeter Phoenix and chairs ExCite Poetry, organisers of the annual Exeter Poetry Festival.


janette ayachiJanette Ayachi
 is a Scottish-Algerian poet living in Edinburgh. She has been published in over sixty literary journals and anthologies, and is the author of Pauses at Zebra Crossings and A Choir of Ghosts. She edits the online arts journal The Undertow Review and performs across the U.K. She was Digital Poet in Residence for The Poetry School in 2015, and has an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh.




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WEEK TWENTY-EIGHT – Arthur Conan Doyle/Ian Rankin

>> Arthur Conan Doyle

Ian Rankin <<

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle          ianrankin

Crime is the link – crime and the writers of crime – between our two themes this week, with each separated by their times and the characters of their creations. As this project seeks to examine the ‘soul of Scotland’ it is clearly essential to take in the ever-popular ‘Tartan Noir’.  Long before that term was coined, however, one Scottish writer was almost the inventor of crime fiction and certainly one of the most important popularisers of the genre. Indeed, so successful in this was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that his creation Sherlock Holmes now exceeds him in fame. Born in Edinburgh in 1859, he published 56 short stories and four novels featuring the detective as well as numerous plays, novels and other writings. Coming right up to date, our other crime writer Ian Rankin was born in 1960, thirty years after Conan Doyle’s death, in Cardenden, Fife. Also renowned for the creation of a detective – and Inspector Rebus is rightly famous – few would suggest that his fame exceeds that of his creator. With twenty Rebus novels to his name and a long list of other publications, the author promises to excite the fans of Tartan Noir for many years to come.

A Tip Of The Hat To Doyle’s Improbability
by John Mackie

“…when you have excluded the impossible
whatever remains, however improbable,
must be the truth”.

among many Reekie spawned
fortune seekers
inventing themselves migrating
their myriad skills to a teeming Empire;
from the squalor of  Sciennes Place

a boy whose Jesuit uncles’ money
helped shape to
an open restless minded
ambitious diasporan  doctor ,
anglophile hybrid adventurer, chameleon,
botanist, cricketer, spiritualist, Knight

campaigner for justice
trained at the birth
of  forensic medicine by
Joseph Bell his Edinburgh tutor
in inference, close observation, deductive arts;
from this Scot’s  practiced

ground breaking sharp
diagnostic tools he
“built a man” quintessentially
English consulting sleuth Holmes
solving crime  via reason
to lay before the world

yet, not so simply
rational this
paragon of science ,
see hammed to the hilt
by Rathbone and Cumberbatch
the cocaine, the morphine, the Strad

at home introspective
in Baker Street
with Mendelssohn,
Lassus’ polyphonics or
lazily scraping boredom away;
transforming for Doyle

that creation of his
exotic  hybrid
earning him passage
from the shadow of debt
to a writer’s mansion,
a consultant’s role

as intellectual and judge
in the public space
between reason , belief, justice and law
“Selbit’s clairvoyance is honest” , hmmm
“Edaji is innocent” :oh yes
gestating a Court of Appeal

Mason bibbed
Knight Bachelor dubbed
excusing scorched earth,
poisoned wells, concentration
camps for Boers
he hoped for more;

for Parliament,
perhaps the Lords
(this last floored
by that Jesuit past).
I tip my hat
to the bright Reekie lad

who persists
as emblem
of a skin changing flair
for re-invention,
and circling the square


Gimme Shelter
by Matt Macdonald

For Ian and John…but mostly John

there are
too many echoes
he said
fingers gentle
on the edge
of a glass of whisky
more kin to fire
than water, air
or earth

he knows the city
like a bruise,
can feel it moving
like a fracture in the shin
not quite enough
to fall over
but enough that
he knows the colour of pain
the city knows him
like a fingerprint in blood
always thumbing the edges
he was the only one
who really knew that the job
was all about watching the edges

these windows
show him a city that
grows beyond his limits
his reach is shorter
the city has become
equal parts shamble
and glitter
it drinks for the hell of it
he drinks because
it still hurts
drunk driver cracked pelvis
though his did not
he has walked
with a limp for years

he stands
which is more than enough
for some days
waits for the whisky
to burn away the edges
of this new breakdown
shrugs on the city
like a badly fitted coat
he is sure there’s a fiver
squashed into one of the pockets
does not bother to look
he would never spend it

there is something to be said
for fading away, all echoes and ghosts
rather than burning out, all sparks
and embers and the residue of ash
but he was a man with fire
in his bones
and there was never enough
water to drown in



john mackie picJohn Mackie has been published as a poet and lyricist since 1965 and continues to perform, record and publish across a range of platforms including, in 2016, Clear Poetry, IANASP, and Poets’ Republic. His spoken word and music collaborations can be found on Spotify and iTunes. Since returning from the diaspora he lives close to the sea in Banff.


Matt MacdonaldPhotoMatt Macdonald has been writing and performing for 7 years. His debut pamphlet Who Are Your People? came out through Red Squirrel Press in 2014, and his debut collection is forthcoming from the same publisher. He slams frequently and has competed at the Scottish National Slam on two occasions. He performs in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe every year.



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WEEK TWENTY-SEVEN – The Cutty Sark/The Vital Spark

>> The Cutty Sark

The Vital Spark <<

Cutty-Sark-L                            vital spark

Two vessels almost as diverse as it is possible to be, while still remaining seaworthy, take to the virtual waves this week – a historic sailing ship named after a poetic shirt and a fictional steam puffer named for the fire in its belly. Built on the Clyde in 1869, The Cutty Sark is amongst the last of the tea clippers to be built but was acclaimed as one of the fastest. She is one of only three remaining wooden hulled, iron framed clipper ships from the nineteenth century and has been on display in Greenwich as a museum ship since the 1950s.  At the other extreme, The Vital Spark, although typical of the puffers that plied the West Coast trade up until the 60s or 70s, is an entirely fictional vessel. Created by Neil Munro in the early years of last century, she is captained by the wily Para Handy whose adventures, first appearing in print in 1905, went on to feature in several BBC television series. Although a number of original puffers still survive, many are in dire need of restoration.


Weel Done, Cutty Sark
by Rita Bradd

Family Motto – “Where there’s a Willis away”

John – ‘Jock’ – ‘Old Stormy’ – Willis
ran away from his Eyemouth home, aged fourteen
stole over the Scottish Border, headed south to London
and sailing ships, scrambled up ratlines, slithered along courses,
raged at the sea with all his might, untied gaskets, hoisted sails
hauling hemp rope to the ‘two-six-heave’, rode the bowsprit,
scrubbed the decks, caulked to the rhythm of the melody
in his throat responding to the call of the shantyman,
worked in a pub in New India Dock – ‘Canary Wharf’ to you –
fixed musical instruments for jolly jack tars, saved his wages,
weighed his anchor, became a Sea Captain and builder of ships.

Junior John – ‘Jock’ – ‘Old White Hat’ – joined with his father
and their union spawned me at Dumbarton on the River Leven.
My design echoes City of Adelaide, also known as Carrick, the first
composite clipper ship, built in Sunderland, my iron ribs fleshed
with finest Rock Elm fetched from Canada and North America
and Teak from East India and Burma.  My bottom is silken,
like Kylie Mynogue’s in those hot pants, gleaming in copper
making it smooth, sleek to slice through wild waters
in peak performance.  I broke the back of Scott & Linton,
was completed by Denny Brothers.  They were all there
when they named me Cutty Sark in November 1869,
and I was towed to Greenock for my rigging –
twenty-nine sails to capture the breath of uncertain winds
in 32,000 square feet of canvas.  I pranced at my tethers like Meg
with Tam o’ Shanter on her back at Kirk Alloway till they fled
from that ‘unco sight’ and crossed Brig o’ Doon, left her tail
in the snatching hands of Nannie Dee, the witch trapped now
bare-breasted in my prow in her short slip that gave me my name.
Our ceilidhs with the winds and seas were legend as we made
for China, raced back with the new season’s teas.  We danced
hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys and reels together, eight times.

But the week I was launched was the week the Suez Canal
opened up, gave a shortcut to shipping, an access that cut out
the need to round the Capes of Good Hope or Horn.
Steam ships rose to hot favourite, odds-on to win, hissed
down my neck – they were not reliant on the whims of the winds,
never ended up in the Doldrums so I was given a new life
beating back from Australia, with wool in my hold.

There is more.  I have carried cargo, trained cadets, survived
two fires at Greenwich where I find myself stuck high and dry
in a glass wave with Nannie Dee shaking Meg’s tail at Canary Wharf,
as though she and Tam had just escaped across the River Thames.
I never thought I would be stranded like this.  Cup of tea, anyone?
Or a wee dram of Cutty Sark blend, perhaps?


The Vital Spark
by Donny O’Rourke

For Bert Arnott

 Which long forgotten birthday did it mark
That match-less model of The Vital Spark
Run aground on a Glasgow bathroom shelf?
My friend, an Inveraray man himself

Knew well, such vintage vessels’ lure for me
Whose laid-off father ran away to sea
Cruising river, estuary, and loch
Puffer, puffer, puffer: making steam talk

Like that other engineer, and Dan, MacPhail
Two cylinders, coal fired, a pier-less, sail
Boat, fully laden, our famed, shallow draft
Navigates straits too dire for larger craft

Inlets, isles, kyles, canals, the wild west coast
The time served tool- maker’s, mariner’s, boast
That he never went under, just below
Saved from the Depression by Neil Munro

Who gathered those stories in ‘thirty one
When Dad made a glorified gabbert run.
In gansey, oilskin, cap and rubber boots
Dan plied the coastal trade’s old birlinn routes

On a cut off islet, girls’ grateful cries
When we came ashore with a month’s supplies.
Or was it the ‘Maggie’ that eased folk’s plight?
Ealing’s changed names, pirating copyright

To watch with father was to hear him state
The need to recognise, Dougie, The Mate
(‘Hugh Foulis’s fables were nom de plumed
TV identities went un- assumed)

On BBC Sundays, we’d stow away
Skipper MacMillan relieving MacRae
Dad’s spell aboard, though brief, deemed, ‘chust sublime’
Couthy capers recalled the maritime

The youthful stand-in logged each mythic trip
Chapter closed; time to tie up plot, and ship
War found factory berths for engineers
Boiler rooms foresworn for fifty fond years

Wheelhouse, hold, funnel, derrick, single mast
Stove, bluff bow, captain’s cabin, aft… Things past
Til’ being towed down -stream for scrap, Dan saw
Her forlorn fo’c’sle leave The Broomielaw

Whimsical, pawky, sentimental, fey
The half true romance, Gael yard tales convey
Tonight on Clyde-Side, with every wave
The Para Handy ‘s crew and I still crave

A twilight ceilidh, across sparkling seas
A last, wistful waltz, in the Hebrides
Where Sunny Jim’s melodeon will play
The day that puffer carries me away

Scaled down. Not diminished. Oceanless. There.
Dream boat, Atlantic breakers shan’t deter
If the clapped out engines pass the chief’s test
We will both set out on the voyage west




Rita Bradd
 has been writing poetry in both Enrita braddglish and Scots for several years and has been published in several anthologies.  Her debut pamphlet with Red Squirrel Press is due out in 2017. She voyaged from Rotterdam to  Adelaide on a cargo ship during the winter of 2013/14, accompanying City of Adelaide, whose design was later adopted for the building of Cutty Sark.  She is currently writing a book of her experiences on the voyage.


donnu orourkeA graduate of the Universities of Glasgow and Cambridge, Donny O’Rourke has had overlapping careers as a poet, journalist, broadcaster, television executive, film maker, translator, editor, song writer and academic. He has held professorships,  residencies, stipends and bursaries in many countries and been the recipient of various awards. With more than a score of books and CDs to his name, Donny teaches Poetry and Film at the University of Glasgow of which he is an Honorary Fellow.





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WEEK TWENTY-SIX – Arthur Montford/Bill McLaren

>> Arthur Montford

Bill McLaren <<

Arthur-Montford                            Bill-McLaren

The role of the sports commentator is often lost in the spectacle of the sport they are paid to describe and, indeed, a good commentator should remain relatively unobtrusive whilst enhancing enjoyment of the game. In this week’s Scotia Extremis we feature two commentators who, although very different in their approach to their art, are so associated with Scottish sport that they have become almost as integral to it as the competitors. Arthur Montford, long-time presenter of ITV’s Scotsport and football commentator, brought with him the gaudily-patterned sports jacket and a hyperbolic style of delivery, peppered with Scots vernacular (famously, ‘What a stramash!’). Bill McLaren, BBC’s voice of Rugby Union for fifty years, displayed a much more homely and restrained commentating style. Hugely knowledgeable about all aspects of the game, he was an enthusiast and a wonderfully relaxed user of the language of sport, although possessed of a playful streak and a wonderful gift for metaphor. Both described their sports as they saw it, one infusing it with stress, drama and calamity, the other preferring to seek out athleticism, artistry and romance.

Arthur Montford’s Horizontal Hold
by Brian Whittingham

… on our psyche
began with hand-held cameras
as the Hampden breeze surfed his wave of hair,
his checked sports jacket caused a stramash
with our black and white’s reception
and his clipboard was all the technical backup needed.

He told us the game’s excitement couldn’t get any more exciting.

And he was right.
Saturday after Saturday after Saturday he was right.

Mud-glue parks, shoulder charges, goals celebrated with manly handshakes
and injuries cured by magic-sponges.

We tumled oor wulkies into Arthur’s world.

In amongst the home grown mix of Greigs and McNeils
His measured diction tantalised us with far flung
Garrinchas, Di Stefanos, Eusebios and Yashins.

And like Tiny Wharton at an old firm match
Arthur kept us under control …

till we played in the local park
with bunched up jumpers for goalposts
and a leather bladder that could
knock you out if you headed the knotted lace.

We became Arthurs Peles and Gentos and Jinky Johnstones.

Arthur’s commentary always in our heads
when we played out our ten-twinty-wanners
till the sun-set that was our final whistle each and every day.



Maggie Rabatski
When I Hear Your Name, Bill McLaren

words come rolling into my head, words like
bracken and bonnie and blaeberry,
like kirkyard and crowdie, like moor, haar
even laverock…

words the tongue adores
for their tang of home.

I think of the fluke that tangled you up
in a sad year when I knew it was time for leaving,
was too scared-stuck to figure the way.

It’s long ago and the details are dusty.
I think I was trawling for an afternoon play
to distract from my own tragi-drama,
when your voice rolled out of the radio
like something to lean on,

this mellow solid Hawick drawl, homespun
in greens and browns, sounding like something
I used to know, sounding like a man
who’d come home from his work whistling.

Everything I’d thought before about rugby
tilted.  When did it get lyrical?  Players playing
like whirling tsetse flies and runaway bullets,
like demented ferrets up a wee drainpipe.

This was commentary elevated by passion,
fired by your yearn to share; honed probably
in dedicated hours of homework.

You could easily have lured me over
to your rugged beloved sport,

if I hadn’t been steeped in another beautiful game,
if it hadn’t been the same year the clans were dream-
marching on Argentina to fetch home the World Cup.

Some year! With your memory mark on it, vivid
enduring as Archie Gemmill’s redemptive goal.

The year, as it turned, when I mustered
the guts to go.  Fanciful to say
it was all down to you, but I’d swear
on a hint, a heartening, a wee knock-on
over the line.




Brian Whittingham is a Glasgow-based author of poetry, short fiction and drama, and also editor of various anthologies & magazines. He lectures in Creative Writing and Communications at the City of Glasgow College, Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Strathclyde University. Recent poetry collections include Clocking In Clocking Out (2012), Bunnets’n’Bowlers (2009) and Septimus Pitt and the Grumbleoids (2007), all via Luath Press.


Maggie RabatskiMaggie Rabatski
is Hebridean by birth and upbringing but has lived in Glasgow for many years. Her first poetry pamphlet Down From The Dance/An Dèidh an Dannsa was short-listed for the Saltire Scottish First Book of the Year in 2011. Her second, Holding, was short­listed for the 2013 Callum MacDonald Award. Both collections are published by New Voices Press. She writes in both Gaelic and English.



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Brian Whittingham photo by Donald McLeod