Monday, 16 November 2009


A good mate of mine, call him Barry, was having a nip to drink himself better, after spending a couple of days under the weather. As he raised the amber tincture to his lips and caught a waft he grimaced. ‘It’s no like me take the grue to whiskey.’ he winced. What a great word. Grue as in gruesome. The horrors. A bit like boak, to retch. Kind of.

The language in this part of Scotland is particularly rich. The Lothian’s has always been a cross roads. From the Beaker People onwards all sorts of cultures and their languages have passed through, leaving verbal vestiges behind. The Romany and Travellers are fairly recent arrivals but their influence on local vocabulary is pronounced.The phrase ‘barry gadgie’ is a good example. It translates as ‘really nice guy.

These words and phrases aren’t dead. They’re still widely used in everyday speech. But rarely written down. The Scots still seem to have an inferiority complex about the language they use. The modern Scots language is rarely used in the media or the arts at the moment. That’s ‘shan’, a shame.

It seems that homogenised conformity has become the norm, in our schools. But we risk losing more than just a few words. A culture is crucially defined by its language. Look at how many words are ‘untranslatable’. Plenty. A popular word in the Dutch language, a tongue very near Scots, is ‘gezellig’. The closest English translation is ‘comfortable social interaction or space’. But any Dutchman will tell you this doesn’t capture the meaning in their culture.

If we lose words we lose a wee part of our culture. And I’ll be scunnered if that happens, pal.

PS; Almost forgot to mention 'gam'. Just because.

Monday, 9 November 2009


In a local that I frequent there’s an older guy who drinks there regular. He’s always been the perfect gentleman to me. Polite and respectful. One day I asked another habituĂ© what his name was. ‘Thrush is what we call him’ came the rapid reply. Chortling into my pint I asked ‘Why do you call him Thrush?’ Smiling he said ‘Because he’s an irritating cunt.’ I almost spilt my beer. Almost.

Nicknames are great. They’re kind of an expression of collective consciousness, humorous in this case. OK, somebody has the ‘original’ idea but it’s through use by others that it becomes funny. The nickname is an agreement between those that know the nicknamed. Not so much chosen as imposed. They can be revealing.

There’s this guy I’ll call Tim Stark. Lovely fellow. Do anything for you but has had some annoying habits. His first question, at the time, when he met a fellow joker and smoker was ‘Have you got any grass man?’ At the time Motherwell was having problems with their pitch. No grass at Fir Park. So that’s what he got called. Fir Park. He hated it as much as his mates loved it. But it fitted the moment.

Naming is an interesting process. In Holland, during the Spanish occupation, the population were forcefully subjected to censuses. The rural population didn’t really have fixed surnames, so they just made some up for the bossy Spanish. They wouldn’t know what they meant anyways. My favourite surname from that time is Koedooder. It translates as Cowdeader.

Or there was Jimmy Zero. He was a handicapped hawker but considered really unlucky by his fellow hawkers. Superstitious, if they saw him they believed they wouldn’t make any money that day. Hence Jimmy Zero. Poor sod. Or Barnacle Brown because he was hard to get rid of. The list is endless.

It’s still happening, nicknaming, but the internet is changing things. What kind of a name is Huggan57, for fucks sake? I prefer Dirty Don, but that was a long time ago.

Portobello beach

Between high and low water marks where
sandpipers strut staccato on the shiny
soaked sand land that is no man’s, common
and unclaimed; the clams’, the curlews’ and
the worms building bings of tubes rising
at the sea’s flat retreat among contrasting
conical pits, watery and waiting in the thick
of the tough brown kelp and soft sea coal.

The rhythmic rushing slam of waves, the sharp
smell of seaweed as reeling herring gulls harrie
loudly overhead, berating those below as an
elegant pitchy cormorant skims the waves’ foamy
crests winging its own way to the next diving watch
beyond the lone child challenging the lapping tide
trying to grab a big open crab shell floating
just out of reach on that timeless shore,
the soft strand of Portobello beach.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Talk is good, thought is better.

We, the human race, are conducting an uncontrolled and mostly unconscious experiment on ourselves. OK, we’re also seriously messing with the planet but now it appears we’re also fucking with our own heads too. Seriously. What I’ll call hyper-communication is changing the way we think, maybe even the way we can think.

There are over 4 billion mobile phone connections worldwide. Tens of billions of calls and texts are made daily. It’s hard to put a global average figure on it but my own straw poll people send or receive 30 or 40 texts and calls daily. Add in emails, 247 billion daily worldwide, and the average person manages just minutes of concentration before being interrupted.

In the past time was given to considered communication; a letter was carefully formulated, a phone call planned and undertaken. No more. There is no time. The dynamics of modern life demand instantaneous response. Considered or not. Concise or not. Hyper-communication is devaluing information.

In the past decisions were made on the ground, based on the presented realities of the moment. In action. Now they’re a call away, abstracted and uninformed by the situation. Decision making processes are being digitally deferred, centralised, controlled. A digital dictatorship somewhere down the line, maybe?

Unconsidered communication could lead to unforeseen consequences in the way we can physically think. The brain, like any system, follows the path of least resistance. Like any tool used in the wrong way it gets broken. It no longer functions in the same way. Sudden intellectual evolutionary pressures as we are experiencing now are novel. And totally unpredictable.

The mind is a muscle. It needs to be used, flexed. Otherwise it withers, weakens. Epigenetics suggest that events parents’ experiences can directly influence their progeny, down several generations. We appear to be able to write own DNA, in a strange way. But we’re writing randomly, communicating without consideration and unknowingly passing on unknowns to our descendents.

Communication has made us what we are. Human beings. Unconsidered communication is clutter. What this clutter will do to our consciousnesses and those of our kids’ is anyone’s guess. Let’s hope for the best.