Thursday, December 17, 2015

The SOE Counter Espionage Manual... How it Won World War 2

The 1943 SOE Manual; Available in Kindle and Paperback format

When we think of spies, we conjure images of Ian Fleming's James Bond, the suave 007, the ladies-man, licensed to kill.
But truth is always darker than fiction.

Around the town of Dunkirk in May 1940, the British Army had abandoned most of its tanks and artillery. As the men were transported home, Britain was truly at the‘darkest hour’ of World War 2. The newly appointed Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, had a lot to do, and very little time or money to do it with.

Churchill poured every resource into the RAF, for if Hitler wanted to invade Britain, he would need control of the skies. But Churchill had many other plans, hatched in those ‘dark hours’… plans for small units that would survive Britain's defeat; the Commandoes, Long Range Desert Group, British Resistance (GHQ), and the cream of the crop; the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Formed from three separate military intelligence entities, the SOE would be solely responsible for counter-espionage, and behind-the-lines projects. Back then, many thought Britain itself would soon be under German control, and Churchill prepared against it. By the end of 1941, the SOE had a program of Special Training Schools, both in the Home Counties (near London) and in the depth of darkest Scotland, training agents for covert operations.

A manual was written, over 400 pages of studiously crafted courses in espionage, propaganda, cell making, demolition, and many more. Wrap those up with in-depth instruction on close combat, arms training, parachuting, fitness, and Morse code, and you have a ready supply of agents ready for action. But this was no Geneva Convention led syllabus. Agents were taught to shoot first, and ask questions later. One section in the manual, on searching prisoners, has the following advice… 

“Searching a Prisoner, if you are armed.... Kill him first. If that is inconvenient, make him lie face to the ground, hands out in front of him. Knock him out, with rifle butt, side or butt of the pistol or with your boot. Then search him."

That’s not exactly like the instruction at boot camp in the regular army. This was preparation for a dirty war, one run by knives in the throat and jackbooted Gestapo interrogations. The gloves were off, and both sides knew it. Nearly 7000 men and women graduated from the ‘schools’ in Britain, but the manual did not stop there. In the event of Britain falling to the Nazis, camps were set up in Palestine, Singapore and Canada. The newly formed OSS (soon to be the CIA) took the British manual and trained their own agents. Soon the SOE-trained agents were operating all over the world.

There are many stories of bravery in the SOE annals, and many thousands of men and women did not come back from their missions abroad. Their biggest day was D-Day, May, 1944. On the night before the invasion, over 1000 different operations were put into place behind enemy lines in occupied France; roads blocked, officers assassinated, railway bridges blown up, communication lines fouled, locomotives put out of action; of the 1000 operations, over 950 were successful, meaning the invasion of France could continue.

In 1940, Churchill told the SOE to “set Europe ablaze”, and they didn’t do a bad job of it.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Your Book Title Doesn't Have To Suck!

Would these titles have caught your imagination? can you name the films?

Let's Face It; Book Titles Don't Need to Suck!

Who gets paid the most money on the planet to write the fewest words?
Copy writers? Good guess, but the people who get paid most… are the people who find the ‘perfect’ name for a movie, when the book’s name just sucks. If movies had been named like their books, we’d have a host of different movies…
Here’s a list of books, that got their name changed for the movie. (Thank Goodness)

  • We can Remember it for You Wholesale... Total Recall
  • Lost Moon... Apollo 13
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?... Blade Runner
  • Heart of Darkness... Apocalypse Now
  • Nothing Lasts Forever... Die Hard
  • Q & A... Slumdog Millionaire
  • Rope Burns... Million Dollar Baby
  • The Short-Timers... Full Metal Jacket

Getting a Great Title for Your Book.

For some writers the title of their book is a foregone conclusion; the words on the book’s spine come from a phrase, passage or action inside the book,.. and there’s little to no point in changing it. I'm quite sure when George Orwell penned Animal Farm, he had the catchy title in his mind from day one.
But if this isn’t the case why rack your brain trying to find the perfect title, when others have already done the research for you.
Whether you know the lyric or not, it tells a story

A Book Title from a Song Lyric

Getting your book title from song title or lyrics is always a good one, although if you make it too obvious, people may think you're shallow or that the book is fan based. Feels Like Teen Spirit, may sound good in your head, but perhaps just Teen Spirit may be better. Where Have All the Flowers Gone? might seem ideal for your romantic drama, but perhaps a simple All the Flowers, or Flowers Gone? will allude the whole quotation to some, while still finding a good title. You can also use a lyric, maybe with a twist... Davy's on the Road Again, is a good book title for a road novel, but how about Maybe's... On the Road Again. A twist to the original title, then made special. How about a line from Billy Joel's hit, Piano Man; Better Than Drinking Alone. Now, isn't that a good book title... doesn't it just draw you in?

Novel Titles from The Bible?

You could get ideas from other books. One superb source is Bible quotations. Here’s a very short list of book titles taken from the bible, and trust me, there are many hundreds… A Time to Kill (Grisham), East of Eden (Steinbeck), Number the Stars (Lowry), The Wings of the Dove (James), Behold the Man (Moorcock). How about taking words from other great works? With so many well-read poets, so many Victorian novelists, how could you not find something that fits your story like a glove? R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island is a treasure trove indeed... how about Take This Black Spot... or Shivering My Timbers

From Shakespeare quotations?

Here’s a short list of both books and films, the titles inspired by the great bard… The Mousetrap (Christie), The Dogs of War, Where Eagles Dare, Journey’s End (Sherriff), Band of Brothers. The book opposite doesn't need the first part of the Shakespeare quotation... Alas Poor Yorick..., it's implied enough already. Sometime subtlety is the best method of making a splash.

How About Stealing From Other writers?

Stealing from other literary sources seems to be quite a pastime with writers, here’s a few that have robbed titles from the lines of their predecessors… All the King’s Men, Cabbages and Kings, From Here to Eternity, The Grapes of Wrath, A Passage to India.

Let's face it, all these above methods are quite acceptable, but there is a wealth of book titles in one easily-accessed basket, in fact it lurks so close to your nose it’s a wonder you haven’t smelled the roses already…

Ten Billion Titles at Your Fingertips

One step down from the Film-naming job...? Television episodes. Yes, I said television episodes. Are you writing a thriller? So go look at a thrilling TV series. Wikipedia is chock full of episode lists for almost every television show ever aired. Whether you write Romance or Urban Adventure, there's a billion title variations just waiting for your novel's spine.
Below, just a few examples…
Blindspot… Episodes include; A Stray Howl, Eight Slim Grins, Bone May Rot, Split the Law, Cede your Soul. Let’s face it, not every title will fit your thriller book…. but these are catchy titles, and at the time of writing this blog, none show up in as a book title.
Sons of Anarchy… Episodes include; Old Bones, The Sleep of Babies, Orca Shrugged, Playing With Monsters.
If you’re writing horror, vampire, werewolf, you could do a lot worse than take a look at the numerous television offerings. Even The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural, with most titles a terrible cliché or a song title, is worth a look…
The Vampire Diaries… Episodes include; Fade Into You, Best Served Cold, My Brother’s Keeper.
Supernatural… Episodes include; Dead Man’s Blood, Red Sky at Morning, On the Head of a Pin.

And it’s not just a matter of trawling your own genre… try mixing it up. For instance, no one would think of looking at The Waltons for literary titles, but even there you’d be wrong. Each Waltons episode has a ‘the’ beginning, and although that stymies some titles, it also gives rein to a series…
The Waltons… Episodes include; The Last Mustang, The Hiding Place, The Changeling, The Last Ten days.

The Fun in the Litter; Mix 'n' Match

Then there’s the mix and match… just going from the titles above, we can switch the words around, we can shift one word, either obviously, or with an allusion to what’s between our book covers. Here’s my mix of the above; Red Sky at Mourning, Not My Mother’s Keeper, The Wings of Stars, The Last Changeling, The Stars… Shrugged, A Fade Into War, Wings of the Dive, Howls of Eagles.
You have no limit to the titles you can forge, new, stolen, mixed. But what you can be is original, while still being pithy and catchy.
Best of luck, and I hope I’ve fired your imagination.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Varney the Vampyre: A New Take on an Old Classic

Varney the Vampyre, first published as a Penny Dreadful in 1845, lives in vampire folklore as the pivotal moment in the creation of the genre. Its writers, James Rymer and Thomas Prest wrote over 200 weekly chapters spanning over four years. In 1847, it was published as a novel, and has been read by millions of aficionados.

The influences of this work are enormous; Dracula would never have been written without it, and most of the vampire fiction that followed in its wake owes much to the Victorian original.

I first came across Varney in my research into other vampires, and was immediately captured. Although the language is dated from modern terms, it retains an aura of Victorian melodrama imitative of Dickens and Thackeray.

In my new novel series, The Penny Dreadful Adventures, I find documents in my grandfather's will that present a history to me of his own grandfather, Alexander Mair MacNeill, the nephew of James Rymer, the author of these Penny Dreadfuls in London in 1845. 

In my story, Varney was actually a creation of three men; Rymer, Prest and MacNeill. Rymer and Prest churned the chapters out, and MacNeill edited them into a readable fashion. They made a formidable team. But all was not well in the partnership. As the chapters are written, Alexander begins to question the storyline itself, wondering if the vampire legend has a basis in fact.

This Penny Dreadful series is far more than a re-hashing of an old genre, it is a new, energized vignette into the lives of the times... bold, exciting, yet full of darkness and intrigue.

I included pages from the original texts of Victorian writings such as Varney the Vampyre by James M. Rymer, The Mysteries of London, by George Reynolds, and Burke & Hare by Alexander M. Mair himself.

There are two novels currently available in eBooks;

We hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to name Your Characters Like a Professional

Bad Character Names Can Spoil Your Book

Have you ever been intrigued by a good storyline or hooked by a good book description, only to be knocked out of the story by badly named characters? I know I have. Esmeralda, Troy, Sebastian, Anastasia, Dirk and Xavier may sound good to you in your warm writing room, but if your story is set in backwoods America, you’ve missed the mark completely. Before your readers begin to feel empathy towards your characters, the names have to fit properly. They have to feel right.
Let’s look at a few examples… I walked into his office, shiny surfaces everywhere. behind the glass desk sat a suit costing ten grand. the name on the door said ‘Dudley Penbright III’. I knew I was in for a heck of a meeting. “Sit down, Constantine,” he said, “your father, Troy,warned me you were coming.” he pressed a button on the desk. “Esmerelda? Bring me two coffees… strong, black.”
What kind of people do those names conjure? What do they look like in your imagination?
Character names are about the most important items in your arsenal, and if you don’t use them properly, you could weaken or destroy your story.

The Influencing Criteria

There are four different conditions which influence your character’s names… Period, Geography, Genre, and Author’s Choice. If you do not adhere to these four tenets, whatever your skill level, you will fail as a writer.


Before you name a character, you need to consider the time period in which your story is set. Unless you’re involving time-travel, there’s no point in calling someone Debby, Brian, Brittany or Winston in the 1500’s. Back in those days, in the English speaking world, most names were taken from the bible, and even the most obscure of prophets were invoked; Ezekiel, Jedidiah, Malachi, etc, etc. If in doubt, look on Google for “most popular names in 1500’s”. You’ll get plenty there to satisfy any novel.


The geographical setting also plays a huge part in defining a character’s name. There are few David’s born in China, and as far as I know, an Eskimo has never been called Puff Daddy. Your characters must have names that fit them like a glove, almost becoming part of their persona. A Romanian thief would never sound convincing if you had named him Charlie Babbit.


Writing in any particular genre will obviously influence your choice of names. Detective stories have very solid character names, names that conjure an image instantly. Science Fiction is another genre that begs for some form of deviation from the norm… BUT NOT TOO MUCH! Don’t forget the first time you read Zaphod Beeblebrox from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy!

Author’s Choice

This is a special one; the choice of a name can be a conscious move by a writer to impart special features, either physical or emotional to their character. By their name the reader is coerced into regarding the character in a specific way, designed and directed by the writer. Arthur Dent (Hitchhikers again) is a classic example. He’s portrayed as a dithering Englishman… look at how Douglas Adams manipulates the name; Arthur (old-fashioned English name) Dent (simple single syllable, then dent, referring to being inherently flawed). Classic.

Flying by the Seat of Your Pants... NOT advised

One gem of advice; unless you’re in a different planet or universe, never make names up from scratch. An American Indian called Chakata, may sound okay to most ears, but if it means Crappy-Pants in Cherokee, you may find some bad reviews coming your way.

The SIX Keys to Success in Naming Your Characters

I have six methods I use for character’s names, all are equally legitimate, all have excellent qualities, and all will fit your characters perfectly, or add to the story. All these methods have merit when faced with doubt regarding naming a character.

Use Familiar Names; Names From Family or Friends

I’m Scottish/British, so it makes sense that when I’m writing either Scots characters or English/Welsh/Irish ones, that I dredge my memory for names from my childhood or family. In Opportunities, (a Scottish mission to Panama in 1698), I used some Christian names or surnames from my school; Hugh Wales, David Muirhead, some from my direct family, Henry Alisdair Harrison, Mungo Mair, James Ross, and a couple from my adult friends too, Andrew Rankine. I mix them up a bit, and get a nice selection of names.

Use Names From History

Using the names of accepted historical figures is an acceptable way of imparting some gravitas to a character, without actually making it obvious; king’s names, dukes, and famous people ie, John Stuart, James Baptist, Rupert Wheeler, Howard Weeks, Henry Haliburton. They just sound more important than the average character.

Use Names from the Media; Movies, Television, Music

Not one I go to frequently, but it does bring interesting names to the fore. Once I was looking for something just a little off the wall for a character… frustrated, I tried actors/pop groups, and came up with Maximillian Schenk. (Actor Maximillian Schell, add rock band Michael Schenker) He never was a major character, but I wanted something out of the ordinary. It worked. There’s also nothing wrong with ‘borrowing’ a name or two from the professionals… If you’re looking for cowboy names, flick through a Louis L’Amour novel.

Use Names of Towns, Cities, Counties, Rivers, Countries

Again, this is one to use sparingly, maybe just one character per book is enough, but if used correctly it does work well. Here’s a few to let you get the idea; Devon Standish, Jeremy London, Jason Glasgow , Walter Cheshire. And here’s a few real ones used already; Josey Wales, Jack London , Douglas Fairbanks, Rock Hudson, etc etc. Just look in Google maps, you’ll find a planet literally full of names.

Use Nicknames for Male Characters

Again, not one to use frequently, but if you have a cast of six or more men sitting at a bar, most groups will have at least one nicknamed character in the group, especially men! These can be rude- ‘PussySniffer’, gross- ‘ShitForBrains’, geographically orientated- ‘Flanders’, or cute- ‘TeddyBear’. Men love nicknames, women, not so much. Adding a nickname to a surname is also allowed; example, take Anthony Bunter, but he hates the name Anthony, so is quite happy with his friends calling him Fatty Bunter. What image does that name conjure? You've given Anthony a whole backstory, just with a nickname.

Need Authentic Foreign Names? Look No Further… Help is at Hand!

Thanks to this article, foreign names, such a huge bugbear of many writers, are now easy as pie! Every country in the world has an official soccer team. Most now have women’s teams too. These teams are all based on players having been BORN in that country. It’s a veritable GOLDMINE of perfect foreign names, endemic to that country! To find these, go to Wikipedia, the newspaper or the TV, and look at foreign soccer teams… YES, FOREIGN SOCCER TEAMS, (male or female) for the nationality of the character in your story. Mix the names, you get huge great results, and no clichéd ones either… these are the real heroes of a particular country, let’s take some examples, derived from this method; (Russian)- Ivan Vyhovski, (Romanian)- Tomas Lucescu, (Scottish)- Ally McLeish, (Italian)- Roberto Schilachi. All great names, all very solid characters, perhaps the names already inspire your mind to make a physical description.


Mix and Match All of the Above to Find Your Dream Team. Take the six categories above and let it be a guide. Find your own personal route to good character names. Mix and match, have nicknames and real ones. There’s no right way to do it, but perhaps you’ve now got more ideas to whet your appetite. You are now armed with all you need to successfully name your characters…
Let’s wrap this up with a list of six fictional hit-men, all sitting in a bar, (one Scot, one German, one American, one Russian, one Romanian, and an Englishman, quite a mix) discussing their next job. Getting the six names believable, and have them easy on the tongue is difficult. The first list is the names you may have chosen BEFORE reading this article… Hamish MacDougal, Franz Muller, Brad Dangerman, Vladimir Adamov, Conrad Petersen, and Johnny Beckham. A good bunch of characters, but clichéd as hell, and boring; no backstories there.
Now AFTER reading this blog we can do much better… Mousey Fairbairn, Ernst Baumann, Sheepdip, Dmitri Dulayev, Alexandru Gunesch, and Billy Nile. Man, I can see them in my mind already. they have names begging for a story; each one!
Try the above method; write a list of characters from various countries. See how easy it is now, with no more agonizing! What would your list of hitmen be? Pick another six countries, and change the hitmen into hit-girls!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Penny Dreadfuls; the 99c Kindle eBook of the Victorian Era

Penny Dreadfuls; the 99c Kindle eBook of the Victorian Era

My own homage to the genre, Kindle version

It’s easy for a generation to think they’re innovators, let’s face it, most generations are. A new age ushers in new inventions, and the world advances. But there’s one phrase that keeps rearing its ugly head; ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’.

The Arrival of 99c eBooks

In the early 2000's the arrival of the eBook turned the world of publishing on its head. Suddenly anyone could publish, authors had control of their own works and destinies, free and 99c eBooks were the norm and flooded  through the ether into devices of all kinds and sizes. Self-publishing shed some of its past stigma, and the indie writer now considered by many to be mainstream.
Yup, such a publishing revolution has never happened before… or has it?
Answer? It did.
Dumas's Count of Monte Cristo, 1845

The Adventure Novel, but not for the Common Man

Almost 200 years previously in the early 1800’s, the modern adventure/romantic novel had broken through as a genre, but the books were expensive to buy, sometimes costing as much as 10 shillings (when the average workhouse worker earned 5 shillings per week). Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814), and Ivanhoe (1819), were paving the way for the likes of James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans (1826), Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo (1840) and a host of others in every major language.
The novels sold well enough to make the author a fair profit from his work, but even second-hand copies were out of the reach of the working man.
But wait no more, things were about to change; a publishing revolution was about to break out; an innovation in publishing as big as eBooks.
Charles Dickens, 1867

Book Chapter Serialization

Instead of waiting a year to write a book, writers like Charles Dickens began to publish their novels a chapter at a time. Priced at a shilling (twelve pennies), this allowed Dickens to have a more regular income, but also he could change a novel’s direction, mood or character development depending on public feedback. Does this writing approach sound remotely familiar?
In similar fashion, Alexandre Dumas released the Count of Monte Cristo in 18 parts before finally binding it into a full novel.
Times had changed, but they were about to get real ugly, and fast. In 1830’s Britain, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, a major element of the working class could now read and write, and had a thirst for fiction; a need to explore the world outside their own parochial existence. The demand for cheap material was in no doubt, and the authors who would fill that demand were about to get real dirty.
Black Bess, ran weekly for 2 years

The Ugly Side; Plagiarists, Thieves, and Copiers

Driven by this ready audience, and the fact that publishing rights were in their infancy and rarely enforced, a host of copycat writers took to pen and paper. These plagiarists took popular works, re-wrote them in shorter versions, selling them for one penny… nicknamed Penny Dreadful’s; not because of the plagiarism or bad standard of content, but because of the predominantly macabre subject matter; murders, kidnappings, highwaymen, etc, etc. Titles such as The Penny Pickwick (a lampoon of the Pickwick Papers), Nickelas Nickelbery and David Copperful became commonplace. The stories were not technically copies, they were re-written, shorter, and usually made fun of the original. Writers made their fortunes selling a folded sheet, two columns on each of the four pages, usually containing about 2500 words and a couple of lined illustrations. The 99c Kindle for the age had arrived. Foreign writers fared no better. French tales were translated, and American dime novels were re-written for a British audience, with the original author receiving no remuneration for his work.
George Reynolds, sold a million copies

The Penny Dreadful; the Victorian 99c eBook

Despite the initial surge of such shenanigans, the writers in the penny dreadful industry soon began to write their own stories, with serialization becoming the norm.
Series such as Varney the Vampyre (230 weekly episodes), The Mysteries of London, (240 weeks) Dick Turpin (254 episodes) had readers queuing outside publishers every week. The Mysteries of the Court of London ran every week for an incredible Eight Years!
Working class Brits who could or would not afford the penny, joined reading clubs to share episodes, almost like a subscription library system.
Over the next sixty years, these single page publications expanded into magazines of note, newspapers still around today, and newsletters. These new, bound publications still included many pages of serialized and single story fiction, but non-fiction articles and news items were added, and by the 1890’s the Penny Dreadful had gone from the publishers bookshelves.
But the revolution of the cheaper novel lived on; they were mass produced, cost far less, and paved the way for the next revolution in publishing; the paperback.

If you would like to read my own "Penny Dreadful", it is available on eBooks everywhere.
Penny Dreadful Adventures on Kindle.
Penny Dreadful Adventures on Nook
Penny Dreadful Adventures on Kobo

Thursday, June 4, 2015

What Are The Top 10 Sean Connery Movies Of All Time?

Can you name ten? is your favorite on the list? Do we even come close?

My Top Three... Sorry, personal opinion, creative licence, whatever!

Outland (1981)

With Capricorn One (1978) under his belt, and Alien a smash hit for Ridley Scott in 1979, when director Peter Hyams wanted to film a western, it was bound to turn to Science Fiction for a setting. Io, the moon of Jupiter is the backdrop and Connery gives a gritty, no-nonsense performance, winning him the Saturn Award for Best Actor, unbelievably, Connery’s first ever award. (Sorry, Untouchables fans, I’m a SF geek, Outland gets my nod.)

Medicine Man (1992)

Few can forget the images of pony-tailed Connery pulling himself with pulleys into the Amazon canopy with Lorraine Bracco. Sent into the rainforest to find Connery (researching ‘indigenous medicines’), Lorraine finds Connery has gone ‘native’ and forgotten his initial quest. Then, they think they’ve found the cure for cancer.

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

This was Tom Clancy’s debut novel, and led to one of the strangest wigs ever worn by Connery (he began wearing hairpieces from the first James Bond). Also starring Scott Glen, James Earl Jones, Sam Neill and Alec Baldwin as world-saving Jack Ryan. It’s the classic high-noon standoff once again, this time underwater. Good solid performances throughout. It netted $200 million worldwide.
A Movie Icon and a Movie Gem... one huge seller, one obscure western

The Untouchables (1987)

Winning Connery an Oscar for his performance opposite Kevin Costner and Robert De Niro. Directed by Brian De Palma (who had filmed Scarface 4 years before) Connery plays an Irish American cop (in a Scottish accent) bringing Al Capone to justice. (The Untouchables was nominated for another 3 Oscars)

Shalako (1968)

Based on a Louis L’Amour novel, it’s one of the best westerns I’ve seen, co-starring Brigit Bardot, Harry Andrews, and Honor Blackman. Filmed to compete with the spaghetti westerns of the day, it’s well acted with Sean walking through, tough and gritty as always. You may not even have heard of it, but Shalako was the 18th most popular movie of the year.
Great Movies, but how many of the list have you seen?

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

A Rudyard Kipling novel, directed by John Huston. How can a film starring Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer not make the list? Huston had wanted Humphrey Bogart and Clarke Gable, but they died before plans could be made. Connery and Caine as British NCO’s in India become kings of a small country. Wonderful stuff.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Playing Harrison Ford’s dad, Connery manages to be wise-cracking, witty, cute, and bad-ass, all wrapped up in one cuddly bundle. It’s a great romp with Stephen Spielberg directing, and who can forget the chase scenes. This grossed $447 million, making it Connery’s biggest box-office hit.

The Hill (1965)

Directed by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry men, Network, The Verdict), The Hill is a gritty army/prison movie with the iconic ‘hill’ as a punishment. Set in the midst of his James Bond years, Connery acts this out of the park, showing skills never allowed in the Bond films. The result is dark, explosive and angry. It’s a great film on so many levels.
"Don't lose your head"... music by Queen, a mixed up mess of wonderful...

Highlander (1986)

This film is so all-over-the-place, it works! With music by Queen, a Scot played by a Frenchman (Christopher Lambert), a Spaniard played by a Scot (Connery), and a Russian baddie; Kurgan (Clancy Brown) played by an American… and historical scenes 1000 years apart, what can go wrong? Fantastic movie in many parts, superbly put together. And one of the best cameos ever; Spaniard Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez, played by a very Sh-cottish Sh-ean (emphasis added). But despite its parts 2,3,4 etc and the TV spin off, the initial movie lost money.
Which of these movies did you see? Did I hit any memories?

Robin and Marion (1976)

Co-starring Audrey Hepburn, Robert Shaw, Richard Harris, and Ronnie Barker as Friar Tuck. An aging Robin Hood is finding life difficult, and Maid Marion (among others) tries to persuade him to retire. Great fighting scenes, great cameos, and comedic lines galore as Robin Hood fights the Sherriff of Nottingham one more time.

Rising Sun (1993)

Wonderful smart-ass oriental guru Connery and sidekick Wesley Snipes investigate a murder in Michael Crichton’s novel with the aid of Harvey Keitel. Fast-paced, original and witty; it’s everything a police procedural should be. Connery is at his best striding through this like a Sh-cottish Sh-amurai. (Okay, I'll stop the Connery Sh's now)

Honourable mention; James Bond (1962-1983)

Over 21 years Connery played James Bond in seven films, and it would be jolly indecent if I’d left the list without mentioning at least one, but they’re all so good in parts, in their own way. But in my heart I know they’re not all in the top ten list, so I mention them all here as a genre… Dr No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and Never Say Never Again (1983). Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re iconic Sean Connery.

Close But No Cigar

A Bridge Too Far (1977) The Name of the Rose (1986) Entrapment (1999) Finding Forrester (2000) First Knight (1995) The Rock (1996) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Dragonheart

Your List?

Did I hit the mark? Or fall disastrously short?
What are your favorite Connery films?
Write and tell me... sign up for the newsletter... tell me who to review next!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Top 16 Most Famous Ians; Who's Your Favorite?

16 Famous Ians: How Many Do You recognize? (Answers; bottom)

Many Americans have a problem recognizing the Christian name Ian.

I'm a Scot, living in Kansas, USA, and when I introduce myself, I’ve often met with quite mystified stares… Americans, it seems, have problems with the name, Ian. They either don't get it right away, and I've got to repeat it a few times, or they just can't get the pronunciation correct.
The Christian name, Ian or Iain, is Scottish in origin, and is Scotland’s version of John. Ian has variations in many languages such as Irish (Eoin), Welsh (Ioan), Breton (Yann) and Romanian (Ioan).
Most people pronounce the name EE-AN, although the numpty Ian Zeiring of Beverly Hills 90210 mistakenly pronounces his name EYE-AN… (what a wanker).

Anyway, it seems that even after having many famous ‘Ians’ a fair section of the American populace have problems with its recognition. So… I though I’d compile my own list of the top 16 famous Ians… (My criteria for the list; nothing but my own imagination… how many do you recognize?)

Famous Ians

1. Ian McShane - English actor; Lovejoy, Dallas and Deadwood
2. Ian McKellen - English actor; X-Men, Lord of the Rings
3. Ian Fleming - English commando, spy and novelist, creator of James Bond and Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang
4. Ian Gillan - Lead singer of hard rock band, Deep Purple
5. Ioan Gruffud – Welsh actor; Hornblower, Fantastic Four and TV series Forever
6. Ian Holm - English actor; Alien, Time Bandits, Lord of the Rings
7. Ian Dury - Singer and songwriter with the band, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick, Reasons to be Cheerful
8. Ian (Lemmy) Kilminster - Vocalist/bass player in Hawkwind and Motorhead
9. Ian Paice - Drummer with Deep Purple, Whitesnake and the Gary Moore band
10. Ian Bannen - Scottish actor; Too Late the Hero, Gandhi, Braveheart, Waking Ned Devine
11. Ian Rankin - Scottish novelist. Author of the Inspector Rebus series
12. Ian Somerhalder - American Actor, in Lost, and the Vampire Diaries
13. Ian Matthews - A member of Fairport Convention and Matthews Southern Comfort
14. Ian Anderson - Lead singer and flautist of rock band Jethro Tull
15. Ian Lavender – English actor; played private pike in Dad’s Army, and Eastenders
16. Ian Ogilvy - English actor, novelist and playwright; The Return of the Saint
(And the next 4 just to round it up to a tidy 20)
17. Ian Woosnam - Welsh golfer, Masters winner in 1991
18. Ian Carmichael - English actor; The Colditz Story, Lucky Jim
19. Ian Hunter - Lead singer and guitarist of Mott the Hoople
20. Sir Ian Botham - English cricketer, commentator and sports personality
Other notable Ians, who didn’t make my 16/20 list are;
Ian McDonald - British musician, a member of both King Crimson and Foreigner
Ian Wright - English footballer, for Arsenal, Crystal Palace, and more
Ian Curtis - Singer with Joy Division
Ian Brady – Moors murderer
Ian Baker-Finch - Australian golfer, the winner of the 1991 British Open
Ian Hislop - Satirist, TV personality, and editor of Private Eye, panelist on Have I Got News For You
Ian Poulter - English golfer.

Oh, and the answers?: from top left;
Hunter, Henry (Ian) Cusack, Rankin, Rush, Wright, Kilminster, Anderson, Sommerhalder, McShane, Poulter, Brady, Holm, Botham, Mckellen, Zeiring (wanker), and Fleming.

Check out this other Ian... writer Ian Hall


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Top 10 Dumbest Things on Facebook This Month

There is some element among Facebook users that seems to want to dumb the rest of us down, and for the life of me I can’t identify the reason why. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook, I already spend too much time there, but I keep running into these obvious time-wasting traps that just piss me off. It’s not the cat pics… let's face it, they’re just people looking for someone else to affirm their cat is as cute as they think it is. And it’s not the endless Selfie Brigade with their bathroom poses, or their latest cosplay outfit or coiffed hairdo.

What gets my goat is the dumb memes and questions that waste our time, yet tease us to answer... trying to dumb us down to the lowest denominator. I’ve picked my top ten for the month, If you come across any better, let me know, I'll post them next time, and give you credit!… we'll have a great laugh.

Number One
Describe Your Last Fart Using a Movie Title

Yeah, just how second-grade is this? Gone With the Wind… Wind in the Willows… A Mighty Wind… Clash of the Titans… Please kill me now. If you have the time to scan your mind for your favorite movies for something ‘cute’ or ‘edgy’ to post here, then you need to find a hobby. Yeah, okay, I answered the first time… a few YEARS back! ("Clash of the Titans” was mine, you know, being clever, referring to my buttocks making the action rather than the actual fart/smell bit. Whatever!) I now ignore such posts yet resist the temptation to ‘unfriend’ the person, just in case he posts something equally stupid next month for inclusion in this category.

Number TwoFind Four Words to Say to You in the Back of a Police Car

Honestly? Okay, I’m to ‘imagine’ I’m in the back of a police car… with you, my Facebook buddy (most of whom I’ve never met personally) and I have to think of something to say… pithy, yes, but concise… funny, yet hopefully sounding intelligent too… basically a four word tweet. Yes, I did this one too… once. I even puzzled over it, because a REAL friend had posted it. So I took some time, posted, then considered the futility of the whole process. I almost went back and deleted it, but someone had already ‘liked’ it, so I was screwed… my answer in the ether forever. Blah.

Number Three
Find the 5 in Under a Minute

Come on! I don’t care how inane you are, but when someone posts a pic/meme of 5000 ‘2’s and one number ‘5’, hidden in the middle, don’t even give it the time of day. Yes, you found it in 5 seconds, because your vision is super acute at doing stuff like that, but don’t stoop so low as to reply to the post; “I found it in two seconds!” thinking you’ve just qualified for a Pulitzer or something. Do you really want your brain tested? Try Sudoku, or a good crossword! Or go write a blog!

Number Four
Find Out Which English Monarch I Would Be

Wait! Number one, I’m Scottish, so obviously superior to our southern compatriots already! Why would I pretend to want to be English? Okay, so for the sake of scientific research, I went through with the laborious stupid ten questions. I could even see by the questions where I was headed. Elizabeth I. Yeah. Now, I see the virtue of some of these quizzes, but at least make them have a point; “What country best suits your palate?” “Which car is best for you?”… Don’t make them inanely stupid. And please make the questions slightly less see-through.

Number Five
Describe You in One Word Using the First letter of MY Name

Okay, my name’s Ian, that makes it easy… because you posted this crap, you’re Inane, probably Insane, quite Inept, rather Insipid, totally Insecure,… I could go on forever. Why do people post such crap? Because it looks cute, and they ‘share’ it. It gets them hits, friends, whatever. Look, if you want friends to talk to you, try posting a decent question… “What is your opinion of Anthropomorphic Global Warming?” Or if you want to describe something, then describe the best part of your last vacation… wow us with your wit and word power!

Number Six
Continue The Story By Adding Just Two Words

Now, this first appealed to me, as a writer/novelist, and I posted on a couple. Then I noticed that few were taking it as seriously as I was, or even caring what came before. A TOTAL waste of my time, and worthless to the N’th degree. And yet every day, as I scroll the lists, hypnotizing myself with this crap, I see more people, wasting their time. If you can’t write? Don’t waste my time. If you can write? Go somewhere and write something worth reading.

Number Seven
My Boss Jared Doesn’t Think We Can get This Post To All 50 States

It’s the same scenario a million times over… it’s either the three “employees” (who insist on doing that weird finger sign thing) who want to prove to their boss, or the cute kid who wants to prove to his teacher, just how quickly they/he can get shared in all 50 states. What a lot of crap. I have 3000 Facebook friends, they live all over the world, I average 20 friends birthdays a day! Who CARES how quick you can get 50 people in 50 states to share your post, and give a nice reply! Stop wasting my time scrolling past your crap!

Number Eight
The Last Thing You Ate + The Color of Your Pants to get your “Band” Name…

Yeah… ONE THING is more infuriating than the post itself… it’s the fact that before you know it, your brain already gone through the thought process and come up with the answer. It’s a fait accompli, your own brain outwits you, and you curse it. Let’s try and get Facebook out of the gutter, shall we… delete any friend who posts stuff like this. I've been in LOTS of bands, and we all made up great names without resorting to this formula. Okay, I’m done. Oh, my band? “Cinnamon Crumpet Battleship Grey”. We’re playing a gig in a bar near you on Saturday.

Number Nine
Find What Percentage “Texan” You Are

Oh, dear me. Only 0.1625% of the world’s population are Texan by birth. Only 3.9% of American’s are Texan. So who is this question aimed at? Oh, it’s the rest of us! Duh. (I can't honestly understand why I had to go calculate those figures...?) Anyway! Why, as a Scot, born in Edinburgh, therefore a Midlothian(er) by birth, would I want to know how much Texan I am? See? Totally pointless… but I did it anyway (scientific research, remember) and the questions involved cornbread, grits, colt 45’s and John Wayne. I got 12 out of 14 questions correct… again, so pointless, questions FAR too easy, made to make you feel good... unless you see through the scam and get angry.

Number Ten
Replace One Word in a Movie title with “bacon

What is America’s fascination with bacon? They don’t even know what bacon is! They eat the fatty rind stuff that us Brits and Canadians throw away! Okay, bacon rant over, back to topic. “The Bacon of the Titans”. That’s as far as my head got on this one (see above). I know some of the answers would be interesting, few might be amusing, but I don’t have the patience or time to wait for Craig Ferguson to post on my timeline.

To recap, there must be some interesting people out there that can come up with a more uplifting Facebook than the one that currently exists. Something inspiring. Something out of the gutter. But then, at this point, I’m exhausted, maybe I’ll just go onto Facebook and veg for a while… Scroll it past my eyes until I get into a state of utter blah.
Or maybe I’ll go read a book or something… did I mention I wrote books?

So... Your Job...

When you're going through Facebook, and you get crap like the above in your feed, send them to me. I'll update the list, we;ll have a laugh.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Vinegar Valentines ~The Card No One Wanted

A bit of Vinegar for a sousing spouse
in this Vinegar Valetine from 1907
Did you think Valentine’s Day was always a red-hearted, lovey-dovey mush of chocolates, overpriced flowers, and overbooked restaurants?

Think again.

In the 1840’s a new fad began to appear during the second week of February; Vinegar Valentines.
Basically these were just insult cards, decorated with a vile caricature, and an offensive poem. These cards insulted the person’s looks, job, intelligence, race, body shape or any combination.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the mean-spirited slant, the fad grew. By the mid-Victorian era, they were quite popular among senders. For recipients they were less so- as if the sentiment weren't punishment enough, if a letter was unstamped, the hapless soul had to pay a penny for the delivery and the privilege of being insulted.  Millions of these cards were sold and sent, as recently as the 1940’s but very few of these cynical cards exist today- most were probably torn to shreds by the poor victim.

Political topics for vinegar valentines through the years included Secession and Suffrage

The sousing spouse found his
revenge in this Vinegar Valentine
from the 1940s

Although it is certain none of these missives could be considered "politically correct", through the years vinegar valentines with a very specific political slant were also produced, As early as the pre civil war era where Secessionists were the target, through the suffrage movement and beyond politicos took advantage of the hearty holiday to add their own brand of vinegar.

These bitter pills even found their way into modern pop culture. In Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, Calvin  often gives Susie Derkin vinegar valentines hiding his true affections for her under their cruel veil of immature distaste.

In these days of Facebook drama and Twitter trauma we may think that trolling is a foul by-product of the internet age...the long and storied history of vinegar valentines prove yet again that there is nothing new under the sun.

Many thanks to the quite excellent "QI" quiz show for the introduction to this topic! You can also visit Collector's Weekly for more in depth information on vinegar valentines. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Zombie Valentine’s Date Guide-Dressing to Impress

With Valentine's Day fast approaching I thought it would be nice to post a wee dating guide for our brain eating friends...The following is from 'The Enhanced Zombie Bible' now available in Paperbook and at your favorite online eBook emporium.   

The Zombie Valentine’s Date Guide
Making the Most of Your Appearance

Why are Zombies the world’s worst dressed bi-peds?

With the Zombie Apocalypse firmly under way, the world is your oyster as far as shopping’s concerned. And let’s face it; shopping at the right places to make an impact has to be high on your agenda, right? Since the downfall of civilization, large department stores and shopping malls are full of ready-to-wear goodies in all sizes. So get yourself off to the nearest outfitter, and get yourself some impressive duds, because, let’s face it, you Zombies need to impress. There’s plenty of competition for the choice cuts of meat. (Did I really say that?)

In movies and television-with all the department stores there would be available to shop in-when have you seen a well-dressed Zombie? Never, right? This is a travesty! You sir or madam can change this ridiculous trend...head out into the world with  purpose, shamble your way to the nearest store and get shopping. Don’t be afraid of those pesky humans barricading them inside such stores. There’s little food inside, and you can wait outside until they leave or look around for one of your shuffling friends who has read The Zombie Bible. He’ll be the one with the hammer on his belt… perfect for scaring the crap out of humans barricaded inside shops/malls with glass doors.

Anyway… back to Dressing to Impress. Guys, you’ve got to decide what image you’re trying to pull off. And if one doesn’t work for you, change your image! Perhaps you’re into a preppy look, nice slacks (yes, I said ‘slacks’) and a designer polo shirt will certainly get you noticed. You might even go for the full man-around-town look and grab a shirt, clip on tie (you’ll never manage to tie one, so stick to clip-ons) and single-breasted suit. Nice. Of course, if your taste runs to one of the guys in the Village People, you can do that too; there’s lots of choice out there, and plenty of ways to get noticed by the opposite sex.

Ladies, again, you’ve got an image to consider. You too can do the preppy look, nice shorts or capris’, blouse, and sun glasses is an eye-catching look. But there are also thousands of designer dresses out there, and as long as you don’t mind looking slightly out of place in the shuffling un-dead ranks, you’ll certainly get noticed. And let’s face it; if you’re not a pretentious type, Daisy Duke got plenty of cat-whistles in cut-off shorts and a checked blouse.

Once you’ve gone to the right stores, got yourself the best duds that you can get yourself into, and are ready to go on the prowl. Right? Wrong. You really need to think about a lot more than just the look if you are going to properly get your freak on.  For more tips, spend the price of a cheap coffee, and find out's all in black and white right there in  'The Enhanced Zombie Bible'...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Teaching the Wheel of the Year~ from Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation

 In pagan cultures, the first snowdrops sneaking a look at the sun on Imbolc (Feb 2nd) were more than just the first sign of  warmth to come. They whispered of the passing of the goddess from  winter's Crone to the Maiden of spring. In this scene from my Caledonii series, the wisewoman passes her candle of knowledge to the maiden Kat'lana.

Winnie knelt down on the grass and closed her eyes. Kat’lana knew that she always gave thanks to Brighid, the Shining One before beginning her teachings. Even though the sun was warm on their shoulders, Winnie still wore many layers of clothes on her considerable figure. White hairs shone like strands of glistening silver as she composed herself.

Kat'lana crossed her legs and found a comfortable place in front of the wisewoman-crone. The sandy soil cushioned her light form and the regular cadence of the waves on the nearby rock gave her breathing a rhythm from which to align. She awaited the teaching, already knowing the topic. It was the day before the midsummer day, the longest day of the year. Beginning at midnight the Solstice fire would be lit and a vigil kept until just before the dawn, when the entire clan would walk to the stone circle to witness the rising of the sun between the two dark signal stones. Understanding the ebb and flow of the wheel of the year was integral to the spiritual life of her people, Winnie would remind her charge that the passage of days was a sacred thing.

"Imbolc" by Jenny Dolfen
The old woman’s eyes opened, and sparkled with promise.  “Are you ready?”

Kat’lana nodded, “Yes, wise one.”

“What is the most important day of our year?”

“The Dark Day, the Mid-winter solstice.”  Kat’lana remembered their last Dark Day with the tribe from the south, before her journey northwards into the Norland clans. Snow had covered the village, well-trodden and hard, a sharp frost already crisping the air. Yet, on the evening before the Dark Day, the tribe extinguished every fire, every lantern and fire-pot, closing out every source of heat. She knew that across the whole country, this same process was being repeated, throwing the entire land into darkness, until the time of the lighting of the bonfires the next day. “It is when we throw our very existence into the hands of the Goddess”  She remembered the dhruid’s staff as it touched the edge of the bonfire, watched in awe as the spark from the wooden tip had lit the dried grass, grinned as the divine favored their village once again.

“And what is the next most important day?” Winnie prodded.

“Tomorrow,” Kat’lana smiled, holding her head to the warming sun, luxuriating in the hot afternoon rays. Her face had already colored this summer, giving her skin a healthy brown hue. “The summer solstice, our longest day and a celebration of the Sun God, king of the summer lands.

Winnie held her staff in both hands, showing the pattern of notches on four sides. “Each year holds four quarters of ninety days.” She said, rotating the staff to show the four scored sides. “Plus one day of celebration.” “The other quarter days are planting time and harvest.”

Kat’lana anticipated the next question, touching the top notch on each side of the long rowan staff. “The equinoxes; the other edges of the square.” Kat’lana drew a square in the sand in front of her, and stabbed each corner. “After each quarter, we celebrate.”

Winnie smiled, as proud as any mother would have been. “Without the counting of the days, the sowers would plant wrongly, and the gods would be displeased.” The teacher watched the eager face of her pupil as she showed genuine thrill at the simple teaching of the Counting Days, one of Winnie’s favorite lessons. She remembered holding the Iceni child under her skirts after the fall of Boudicca, the long days trekking north, away from the Roman retaliation against the rebellious tribe, the long months of hiding. Kat'lana's heritage shimmered brightly in the eyes of this already wise warrior maiden.  “How do we give the four seasons their boundaries?”

Kat’lana’s answer was already on her lips. “The Cross-Quarter Days." She made indentations at the midpoints of her square in the sand, then drew a diamond inside it.

Wheel of the Year Stamp by CherryPieArtStamps
“The beginning of Spring?” Winnie asked, now content that her pupil had remembered her teachings from last year.

“Imbolc, the time when the lambs are born” Kat’lana said, her words precise. "winter's wise crone
is once again a maiden, her belly swollen with the babe that shall be the summer king.

Winnie could find her own phraseology in her pupil’s words. “The beginning of summer?”

“Beltane,” Kat’lana clapped her hands together, anticipating the feasts that would follow tomorrow’s ceremonies. “A time to dance, and for the joining of young couples…” She stopped, the next part of the lesson dry on her lips. No youth in the clan had approached her this year, and although she spurned male companionship for the most part, she had hoped a brave one would attempt to attract her.

“The beginning of autumn?” Winnie continued, aware of her charge’s disappointment. 

“Lughnasadh,” Kat’lana’s words were now somewhat distant, her concentration not on the lesson, but searching, wondering where her male companion would appear.

“Kat!” Winnie snapped, her sharp tone shaking Kat’lana from her thoughts. “The meaning of this day?”

“Sorry, wise one,” her head fell, her chin on her chest. “Lughnasadh is the wedding of the Sun god Lugh to the Earth goddess, causing the ripening of crops.”

“Well done, and the last Cross-Quarter day? The end of autumn, and the beginning of  our year?”

Kat’lana lifted her head, her composure returned, her words strong and confident. “Samhain is when time is not time- the veil between the worlds is lifted and our ancestors who watch us from beyond draw near again. It is also the time when we cull our herds and bring the meat in for the winter.

The old woman looked at her Iceni charge, a young woman blossoming into womanhood, yet holding onto the last vestiges of her childish self. “The lesson is over.”

Kat’lana stood, bowed her head. “Thank you, wise one.” And she was gone, sand spinning from her bare feet, bow in hand, legs pumping with the energy of youth.

Authors Note: If you would like to journey further into the world of  ancient Scotland, my just released prequal to the Caledonii series, Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. Druid & Iceni  it is now available as a FREE eBook on Amazon and Smashwords.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Weight Loss Resolution? How About Cream of Chicken & Mushroom Soup for less than 200 calories

Unbeknownst to some of his readers, Ian Hall (Author) is more than just a pretty face, a sexy accent and a ready pen...he is also a kitchen legend. From time to time you will find recipes here on the blog, but we promise he is still writing away in the meantime...

There’s nothing better on a cold winter’s day than a bowl of chicken soup; it’s the ultimate comfort food. If you're sick, have the flu, or just feel like a bowl, it hits the spot.

But when it looks thick, and tastes creamy that’s even better. Prepare to dip your bread, dunk your croutons, crumble your crackers.

But what about your New Year's weight loss resolution? Let's be honest, "lose weight" has to be on 90% of the lists made by intrepid souls each year. What if I told you that all this big bowl of goodness could be under 200 calories? Ah, now that would make a difference!

“But how can you make a “creamy” soup for less than 200 calories?” I hear you ask. Read on, my friend…

Chicken and Mushroom Soup ("Cream" of Mushroom)


  • 2 pints water
  • 2 Knorr chicken stock cubes
  • 1 medium onion
  • ½ lb mushrooms 
  •  ½ lb skinless chicken breast
  • ½ lb celery
  •  ¼ cauliflower

Seasoning suggestions; coriander, pepper, curry powder.

Cooking Instructions (pretty easy;-):

  • Boil water, add stock cubes. 
  • Stir till dissolved. 
  • Add chopped onions, cauliflower and celery. 
  • Boil for 60 mins. (This is to mush the original ingredients, and negate the sharp tang of the celery) Be careful about the mix sticking to the bottom of pan.
  • Liquidize  this mix to almost a puree. (This is to mimic the ‘cream’ of mushroom idea. No actual cream here, but we have a thick stock base.)
  • Add chopped chicken (preferably pre-cooked, leftovers, whatever) and chopped mushrooms. Boil gently for 60 mins. 

This makes a nice “creamy” soup. The celery, onion, and cauliflower are basically calorie/carb free.

Recipe makes 4 bowls of soup, at less than 200 calories each bowl.

Weight Watchers, my wife did the calculations and tells me the soup is only 3 Points Plus per serving!

This recipe was taken from the books below... both available at Amazon, and wherever good eBooks are sold.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Scottish Burn's Night to Remember: Gorebridge Primary School 1971

Robert Burns: Address to a Haggis
On 25th January in Scotland and all over the world, people raise a glass of the "water of life" and say a toast to Robert Burns. Born on this day in 1759, Burns was a  Scottish poet, song collector, romancer and favorite son. His works are celebrated from Edinburgh to Edmonton, from Selkirk to Shanghai. At traditional Burns Supper or Burns Night events we lift our glasses, play our bagpipes, listen to the Haggis being addressed, and eat, sing, recite and be merry.

For a Scottish school boy or girl, performing your first assigned Burns poem at a proper Burns Night is like crossing the Rubicon, everyone remembers their own...

Gorebridge Primary School, January 25th, 1971. I was twelve years old.

Contestants from our school (Stobhill Primary, a smaller school from ‘up the hill’) were invited to the larger Primary school in the village for Burns Night. It seemed like we’d practiced our poems for ages, but it may just have been the few weeks since starting again after New Year. If truth were to be told, we knew some of the boys from Cub Scouts, but in the larger, older school, we felt distinctively out of our league. I mean, they even had printed programs of the order of events. So posh.

I recall the echoing corridors, hallways and rooms, brick built, much older than our ‘new’ school. I remember reciting my poem on the stage, getting it flawless, and getting off as fast as my gangly legs would carry me. I remember Sandy Allan trying a bit of Tam O’ Shanter, Burn’s epic ghostly tale, and being prompted when he paused, hundreds of parents mouthing the next line for him. And I remember being presented with my coveted Burns Anthology Book prize, duly marked with the date and place. But one recollection of the night lies far deeper.

At the traditional meal, we sat patiently at our large trestle tables waiting on the arrival of haggis, neeps, and tatties, the fare of champions. I had looked around for my usual addition of tomato ketchup or broon sauce, but realized early on that I was going to have to eat them ‘unseasoned’ for a change.

So, there we were, a hundred kids, black trousers/skirts, white shirts/blouses, waiting for our food. Then I heard the familiar sound of the bagpipes being played, and in he marched, full highland regalia, feathers and tassels, probably from Borthwick Pipe Band, I can’t remember, but Archie Pinkman used to live just a few yards from the school, so it was probably him. Anyway, in he marched, taking the long way, round the outside of the room, followed by two boys, one carrying a huge haggis in its skin, one walking with a knife in his hand. They all stopped at the stage, and we waited until the bagpiper had finished, and duly applauded.

Then Jock Devlin started the address to the haggis… we knew it was him, it said so on our programs. Jock was kinda famous in our village, he swam for the Scottish swimming team. (People knew him by his own name, not his parents' that time I was still firmly “Andrew Hall’s son”). Jock's address to our national dish began just as impressively...

"Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!"

We all knew it a little bit, but Jock marched through the verses flawlessly. I was very impressed. Now, in verse three, he started the dramatics…

"His knife see rustic Labour dight,"

And he raised the silver knife high above the platter, smiling, ready for the downward strike…

"An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,"

And with gusto Jock stabbed at the huge steaming bag of goodness… To everyone’s surprise the knife cut through the outer skin like butter, cut through the body of the haggis, and went right through the large china plate that held it. The boy holding the plate could do nothing else but let it all crash to the floor… smashing pieces of plate and haggis onto the linoleum tiled floor.

We all gasped… the sound reverberated round the room...
Then silence, then giggles, then the cacophony of uncontrolled laughter from a hundred twelve-year-olds. Jock, ever the hero, joined in the mirth.

I can hear it as if it were yesterday. I honestly cannot remember if Jock ever finished the poem, but it became a highlight of conversation for many years. I became firm friends with Jock in High school, and miss him now.

A Burns Night to remember, right enough.

Burns Night Extras~

I recorded my own, not quite as eventful reading of Address to a Haggis in full Braid Scots (yes, its an ACCENT;-) here:

You can read the full text of the poem and learn more about Burns and his legacy at the most excellent Robert Burns Country: The Official Robert Burns Site 

Read more tales of a Scottish rural upbringing here...
Tales of a life just south of Edinburgh, Scotland.

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