‘Is evil something you are, or something you do?’

Raymond Carver shot from my iPhone

Raymond Carver shot from my iPhone

We’ve hung a roadside atlas of Scotland over the door in our flat, draped there like something we shot and dragged in for drying — it looks so big on paper, but you can see much of it we’ve covered now by car, criss-crossing our way to the north, a ferry to the Orkney islands tomorrow, then back south again to Oban, to Edinburgh, and the west coast where we’ll depart for Belfast the end of the month.

Three out of four of us have blogs now — Charlotte’s, an exercise in home schooling and writing (she’s 8) with a list of potential names for her site like Flying Hearts, Glass Hearts, Swimming with Fear (suggested by Lily), or my favourite, suggested by Dawn: Escape from Eden.

Escape from Eden, the true story of an 8- and 10-year-old girl, sisters, uprooted from their perfect suburban childhoods for a year (actually nine months, but the lease to rent our house out is a year), taken to a small village in Germany no one’s heard of where they don’t even speak German they speak Schwäbische, then to the UK in the WINTER, with highlights including Kinblethmont estate, the Standing Stones of Stenness, Giant’s Causeway. How, just as we were starting to really make friends and develop relationships our parents took us away to “connect,” to “figure things out.”

Exclamation points are for the youth; elders get the semi-colons, the periods.

It may be the fog now, but the landscape has the look of a lawn after it’s been covered in snow for several weeks and finally melts out, it looks wet and startled, as I think the people do, and though there are many nicer looking places in town I return to the same pub every day because I like the route getting there, it feels a bit sleazy cutting down the side streets past the dumpsters, through puddles and pigeons, emerging outside the bar, I didn’t even know its name for a while, always old men out front hacking and smoking, staring at me as I disappear up the stairs to the lounge.

It gets good Western light, and there are no TVs or bleepy gambling machines, as in the other bars, and though they have a jukebox, it’s unclear how to put money in because it’s digital and I’m embarrassed to ask, and don’t want to dominate the mood — instead, it throws out a random song every five minutes or so that comes blaring in and disappears, leaving us in its wake, this time, me and three guys at the bar and yet another, different woman working it — the third one I’ve met now, asking me what I’m writing, joking, do I work for the tourist’s office, am I giving them a review?

This barmaid’s new, is boasting about ejecting a guy from the bar last week, which was hard because he had his willy out, and when she got him out on the street he was there with his druggy girlfriends and she pointed at each of ’em, You can fuck off, You can fuck off, and You can fuck off — going around to all of them like that, her finger out like a wand.

I notice one of the guys at the bar is shaking so much when he holds his pint he has to kind of aim it to get it in his mouth, then the beer sloshes and claps inside the glass when he sets it on the bar.

The other tells the barmaid to skip this song when it comes on but she says she likes it, doesn’t want to, so he just slaps his hands down and says, Alright, I’m goin’ – and he’s off. And after he leaves, they say he’s changed, he’s not the same, and one says Women’ll do that to ya, and it goes quiet again.

Climbing the stairs to the lounge I realise it’s the smell of it I like, the sense memory of other bars I came up in, dives, with names like McGlinchy’s, McArdle’s, Jack’s, or Dirty Frank’s. They keep the door to the men’s room open so you can hear when someone’s in there, peeing against a dry, metal trough — and on Mad Friday, the Friday before Christmas, all the amateur drinkers come out to make the rounds, and the work parties, and they’ll get dressed up and come into the Old Market Inn because everyone’s heard of it around the world, the plumber says — and some of the women with their heels will say it looks a bit scabby, and the barmaid will make a gesture with her hand to shoo them out, to say You can just go, then.

I learn about Guy Fawkes, and a holiday every fifth of November to celebrate him, because he tried to burn down Parliament and so they have a big bonfire and fireworks down on Ness island, where they had the Halloween festival last week.

And I read an interview with Raymond Carver about his drinking, when he stopped, how he wrote, how he drank, and too bad so much of the interview was dedicated to talking about how he drank, his seizures, black-outs. He says a writer is judged by what he writes, which makes sense. As a plumber, bartender, thief.

Post title HT to Morrissey, “Sister, I’m a Poet,” 1993.


Categories: travel, writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

25 replies

  1. i love the blog concept, i wonder where these ideas spring from? do the scotch drink scotch?


    • Not the Scotch I’ve met, they drink beer or cider. They’ve got me pegged as an American tourist, because I have my eyes on the Scotch. I think some of the older men drink it I’ve seen, but it will kill you, as any alcohol, you keep drinking it like that. Kind of rots you from the inside out, the way cities die from the urban core.


  2. the landscape has the look of a lawn after it’s been covered in snow for several weeks and finally melts out, it looks wet and startled

    That’s a terrific image.

    Anyway, I’ve been thinking about writers and drinking lately, as I’ve been submitting my work around, and I’m thinking, “This process would be so less nerve wracking if I were drunk.” Maybe that’s why a lot of writers have been drunks: you need a bit of liquid courage to even work up the nerve to submit, and then you need a few drinks to console yourself after you’re rejected (or, for the optimistic drunks, to celebrate after you’re published.)

    Cheers! 😉


    • Well good on you for submitting your work around Karen, that’s huge! I’d avoid the booze, probably wouldn’t help with the nerves – dulls you down, I think. Glad you liked that image, it’s one I like too. Seems there’s always an excuse for a drink if you ‘go there,’ better not. It’s Alcohol Awareness week, my daughter tells me, and I’ve been pretty aware of it here.


  3. Women WILL do that to ya. Men, too, I suppose but I have first-hand experience with the former. A very drinky post. Carver is the MAN. I have a shelf full of signed first editions. They’re only worth a fraction of what I paid for them 20 years ago because Carver has fallen out of favor (for now) but I don’t give a damn. I’m glad they’re there. I just reread Cathedral last month. I’d forgotten how good that guy is and needed reminding.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Whenever we drive through Port Angeles, where he lived on the Washington peninsula, I imagine him there, and the place kind of echoes what I imagine his life might have been like from how he wrote, and how it sounds like he lived, and it’s not pretty, at all. There seem to be as many churches as bars, as if they’re in a constant challenge to outnumber one another. But you’re right, he IS the man. That photo was from a hardbound book of his poems a good friend mailed to me via Amazon packet, from across the way, from Seattle to the suburbs. Now who does that, and how cool is that? Thanks for reading, Mark. You tha’ man, too.


  4. Nice touch, keeping the door to the mens’ loo open. I remember them doing that with the boys’ loo at my secondary school – the amount of ammonia in the air was almost blinding. It was right opposite where we had to queue for English lessons, too.
    We commemorate Bonfire Night because poor old Guy was stopped from blowing up James I and VI, and as James was really a Scot, not an English king, I would think the celebrations up there will be fantastic. Incidentally, have you ever seen Guy’s signature before and after he was tortured? The ‘after’ is almost illegible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good gracious, I didn’t know anything about this time in history, I’m afraid to say. We’ve watched many of the video clips from that link you sent, fantastic. So cool, to stumble upon these things — see what you can learn in the local pub?! I don’t know why they keep the door open, or if/where there’s a woman’s bathroom in this place, doesn’t seem they have one, or they have to go through a hatch and climb up into the attic, which would explain why there are no women in this pub, only sad, listless, shaking men.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, it was a good programme, that one – we watched it when it was originally broadcast last year. It doesn’t sound like a pub for women – except for the staff, of course. We have a pub a bit like that near us called the Apple Tree, which mainly sells cider (very popular in this part of the country). Inside it’s about the size of my living room and the clientele are men with knobble faces the colour of minced beef who hang around on the pavement outside to smoke. It’s not a family pub, but at least it’s genuine – it doesn’t have decor picked out by an interior desginer and faux Victorian fittings. Nothing ‘faux’ about it 🙂


      • Like that. Yes, perhaps this place doesn’t really accept women unless they work there, bizarre to me. So much to learn, so little time. Fireworks starting here already. Had no idea about any of this, love it – LYNN love it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Enjoy the bangers and have a great night


  5. Jesus, you’re in the middle of a Mike Leigh film or something.
    “Swimming with Fear” is a stupendous name.


  6. Superb. I can those bars. It’s not a good smell…

    I made the pilgrimage up to Port Angeles once, to see if anything would rub off on me, but I couldn’t get over how drab the place was (at least in the weather we had at the time). Made me think a writer’s real place is up in his noodle. We got a hankering to go see Tom Robbins in La Conner but decided against it for obvious reasons.


    • I just bought a Chekhov story collection, here in Inverness – figured it was time. My wife has many of his books back home but there’s only so many you can haul around with you before it just becomes stupid, lugging books and special cooking implements and so on. My memory of PA was a diner where we stopped on a Sunday (“looks cute!”) but then heard music behind a drape going to the bathroom and saw old people (like, OLD people) in there drinking and smoking and gambling on a Sunday morning, the undead. That was enough to leave an impression.


      • Ha! Maybe they’re the Raymond Carver characters who didn’t manage to self-destruct. (Still trying, though…)


      • I think their ashes, guts, eyelashes are part of the yellowed curtains in those joints now. But funny, how I’ve seen some people +75 or so still smoke, drink, and wonder how. Maybe they really are characters in a story and just move from dive to dive waiting for someone to find them.


  7. My uncle was Kenneth McKeller-a famous scotch singer. Maybe you have heard of him…


  8. I like what you did with the semi-colon; I feel adult, even if I probably misuse them.

    I’ve just started reading Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes. A little too early to reflect on his case of the alcoholic writer. I have been wondering about the relationship between creatives and mind alterring substances. My thoughts these days are that it’s all part of a single trait – the same ‘genes’ that make the person drink/use are the ones that make them create.


    • We should ruminate on that one. Lots of fuel, a long wick on that. Enjoying our time in Scotland immensely. Had a touch of the really vile weather at last, today, the winds, then learned they’re from the States, from a hurricane, so there you go. Scrumptious landscape and stories here, everywhere.


      • To me, Scotland is one of those places where vile weather suits the landscape which takes a bit of its edge off.

        I’m curious to see if the Scotish syntax will rub off a little on your voice when you tell those stories.


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