Stories

Early days, fragments, work in progress.

Full index of prose and poetry.

The Sound of Islay (2009)

Gylen Bunkhouse, Kerrera

The maps came out too light, so I am tracing the crinkly outlines of the islands with a fine liner as I visit them.  Day three and the rain is pinning me down on this one; it drips off the bracken, streams down the tracks.

Looking south from a bunkhouse byre on the southerly tip, towards where my tent is pitched near the ruins of a castle.  There are horns, skulls and whale bones on the windowsill, a Mongolian yurt in a nearby paddock.  Its occupant is the cook: a Glaswegian homoeopath who grew up in Malawi and has been telling me about the parrot sanctuary just down the road… [Continue reading]

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The Heads (2010)

Patience had left, taking that smell with her.  In a minute it came to him: roast chicken. And the reason he struggled to associate aroma with foodstuff had nothing to do with anything the earnest young man with the clipboard might have suggested.   The fact was that for what seemed like weeks, AJ had returned to the big house on the bluff to find it suffused with that therapeutic, soulful odour.   But eventually it dawned on him that very few chickens, none in fact, were passing his lips.  Instead they were being stockpiled for P’s extended family ahead of the festive season.  One day she loaded them into a bus at the Shell Ultra and was gone…[Continue reading] (PDF)

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Teaming with Brad: A Memoir (2008?)

Johannesburg, that’s how it is. The city seems to say: this is the way of the world. Go right ahead dig up another scrubby-bushed precinct for your yoga gym or office park. The surroundings are so nondescript anyway, it hardly seems to matter. With two guitars on the back seat, Ted and I are burning north out of the northern suburbs, heading for more suburbs, breasting Sandton City off to the right. It rises like a second CBD, created for all the businesses and banks too scared to venture into town, the real city centre where Andrew owned his longstay hotel, where we all met each Wednesday for lunch at a Portuguese-themed bar, and where I got served a pasta which turned me violently red…. [Continue reading]

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 The Hoy Diaries (2005?)

The old stone building that seemed crumbled out of the cliffs, hunkering down at the far end of the cove.  The fire of pinewood that I walked in on, ducking under the low entrance, Steve and Rafaella in two armchairs.  Him 22 with seven year dreadlocks, a veteran of Amsterdam squats and forest action camps.  Her 34 with a silver Susan Sontag stripe, sprigs of heather by her pillow and a deep love of Keats.  They crouched in the corner of the bothy, burbling melodiously in Italian, stoking the fire with folded pine twigs and telling me about the stone house they lived in back in a minor European mountain range.

“So what do you do then?” asked one of the expedition leading dads or gore-tex and trekking pole couples who passed trough after a day or two, leaving us chuckling at their mannerisms while tiny blackened pots bubbled on the pine fire.

“Well, eh we tend the vegetable patch no?  Sometimes Steve snowboard to the village for eggs and we make a cake…” [Continue reading]

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The Adventure of a Reader (2007)

Tempio Boddista says the small sign, then a rocky road takes you up to it.  There are figurines and offerings placed in hollows under the trees, but also something else, a fallen down structure of fences, broken bottles and toilet paper.  We are a here for a silent retreat on a baking hillside above the Mediterranean, though not quite as silent as the slightly stern monk might like.  Cars hoot as they go down the road with its blind corners; scooters quack and all kinds of other motors drone from the Ligurian coastline down below.  The sounds of summer holidays, summer traffic and construction filter up to us, perched above the riviera where Keats and Byron used to come.

The monk has a good appetite: he wheels round the table disc so that we can reach everything in a silent ritual: no asking anyone to pass the pepper.  Rice with coconut milk, cauliflower curries, a sack of perfectly ripe peaches, cheeses, tomatoes and jackfruit, thinly sliced marrow fried in dairy-free butter.  It goes round again and again as we all help ourselves to seconds, thirds…The week before, five Sri Lankan monks had been here, leaving a stockpile of Buddhist foodstuffs that needed to be eaten.  So the monk implies, anyway, as he painstakingly rinses out his bowl, flushing all the tiniest left over morsels, sweet and savoury, into a small glass, then drinking it.  Nothing is to be wasted: napkins a cut in half, the rifuti biologico bin getting its fair share, washing up water poured on the vegetable patch after dinner… [Continue reading]

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Work in progress…

Letting his legs carry him downhill 

The golf estate only came his way with a bit of luck.  A few years back some small-time local tycoon with big ideas called Schultz had sealed off a valley for a new course.  Billboards went up along the highway explaining how it was to be designed by the Golden Bear, the Shark, the Tiger – AJ forgot which, but one those old sun-damaged legends.  It was all chalked up in the forests; a consortium was grading the fairways, digging bunkers.

But then one day, a water hazard they hadn’t reckoned on: freak storms inland sent a torrent of wood, rock and water down from the mountains and over the site, the same storms which had left Harry with only a stub of beach below his bar, and now not even that.  The swollen river took all the topsoil with it, depositing the unique lifestyle opportunity evenly around a lagoon which went red brown for weeks.  You could see the floodwater sucking out through the Heads at low tide, and people were finding rusted drums on the protected mudflats of Pringle Islet, overturned cement mixers in the oysterbeds.  The town came down hard on Schultz and he lost everything…

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On Foot in the Garden Route or…The One About Mugabe, Phineas and Dick Cheney (2002; 2010)

His father drove him to the trailhead in the small white car.  It wasn’t a car, really, or a van. Nor was it a small white utility vehicle, but Neville knew that his father would never bring himself to say bakkie as long as he lived.

‘Long Kloof…Deep Kloof…Deep  Revere.’

At its wheel and holding the curves well on the open, early morning highway, Don took great pleasure in roundly mispronouncing each of the river names as they sped over them: silver ribbons far below that Neville would be crossing in the opposite direction over the next four days… [Continue reading.]