Fickle Fascinations

I like a lot of things.

The Welcome Inn

Halfway through my ten-hour shift, a massive, flame-bearded man stomps into the pub, drawing the gaze of every patron and briefly silencing the chatter. With considerable effort and little grace, he edges himself onto the stool in front of the beer taps. The message was clear – keep the beer flowing.

‘Um, hi there, what can I get you?’, I say, wringing a damp cloth in my hands.

He barely glances in my direction. ‘Pint a’ heavy.’

‘A-aye, sure thing.’

I whirl around, snatch the first glass to hand, and lock it in position, tilted 45° beneath the tap. He observes with studied interest, presumably judging my technique.

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Vlad the Impaler: Eco-Warrior

More stakes were desperately needed: 20,000 Turks was a lot to handle—even for Vlad—and they were not going to impale themselves. Yet he had pledged to a sustainable programme of deforestation, the main condition of his appointment by the elders to defend the realm. Victory at the cost of Wallachia’s sprawling woodland was no victory at all.

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Birthday Girl

Disclaimer: This will be the first in a series of (very!) short stories I have written over the last six months. Originally, many of these were featured on the sadly departed Ficly, but hopefully they find a new home here.

 

Today is my birthday. And not just any old odd-numbered anniversary mind, but the centenary. The big 100. Traditional congratulatory letter from the Queen imminent. (Apparently the letter is ‘personalised’, but surely they use a generic template? Unfortunately I can’t verify this: all of my peers had the good sense to croak long before they became as decrepit as me.)

Yes, so, an auspicious day no doubt, marking, if nothing else, my stamina and inexplicable longevity. People say it’s all about your diet, that the long-lasting all eat fish. “Look at the disproportionate amount of centenarians from Japan!”, they cry. Well, I hate the scaly sea-dwellers (aside from the occasional tuna sandwich). Nor did I lead a particularly active life and, just to compound the mystery, I smoked and drank like a live-fast, die-young rock-star. I’m one of those genetic anomalies who fascinate nutritionists and infuriate health-freaks in equal measure.

But I wouldn’t have it this way. In fact, I yearn for release. I have lived far too long.

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Reflections on Scottish National Identity and the Independence Referendum

National identity is always in flux, evolving according to external and internal stimulus, and each individuals’ conception of what it means to be ‘Scottish’ (or ‘British’ or even ‘European’) is unique. When the Wallace Monument was built in the 19th century, it was a symbol of entrenched Victorian Unionism. Wallace was celebrated as the man who ‘freed’ Scotland, allowing her to (ostensibly) enter into a Union with England as an equal, not a thrall. In modern times, that message may still be imparted for some, but by and large it has been eclipsed by a more overt expression of Scottish national pride and independence, often in opposition to the antagonistic English (unfortunately). Of course, this was prompted or encouraged by 1995′s Braveheart, yet the famous defacement and subsequent ‘caging’ of a Mel Gibson effigy outside the Monument shows the nuance of ‘authentic’ Scottish identity, which, for the vandals at least, eschews Hollywood. And we can’t escape the irony that the Victorian conception of Wallace–itself a contemporary construct–is somehow more authentic than Gibson’s.

The Wallace Monument and Tom Church's 'Freedom' statue.

The Wallace Monument and Tom Church’s ‘Freedom’ statue.

Since the beginning of the Yes campaign in earnest, the SNP–often misidentified as the sole proponents of independence–have scrupulously avoided ‘Braveheartisms’, and even the buzzword: ‘freedom’. Any references to Gibson’s opus emanate from the Unionist camp, in an underhand attempt at presenting the Yes campaign as insular Anglophobes. Few of Salmond’s speeches invoke any sense of direct lineage from Wallace or Bruce to the present day, and they shouldn’t, as the notion of medieval freedom is far from synonymous with our modern conception of the word. However, the Yes campaign was sly in their choice of date, with the auspicious and none-too-subtle coincident of Bannockburn not lost on anyone.

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Strongman

Yesterday, I began Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, highlighted by io9 as essential reading for any aspiring writer. (While this post is not intended as a glowing endorsement of this book, it may well read as such). On Writing begins with fuzzy remembrance by King of his early childhood; he admits, quite refreshingly, that his memories are vague at best. It is rather reassuring we do not all have photographic cognition of our youth.

Stephen King in his natural habitat.

Stephen King in his natural habitat.

One of the first anecdotes he recounts is that of his two-year old self carrying a cement breeze-block through his garage whilst imagining the adulation of a crowd towards he, the self-proclaimed strongest boy in the world:

“Their wondering faces told the story: never had they seen such an incredibly strong kid. ‘And he’s only two! someone muttered in disbelief.” (p. 4-5)

His fantasy is quickly crushed–along with his toes–when a wasp stings his ear, causing him to drop the block on his feet. This faintly amusing, painful sounding anecdote caused me to remember–with startling clarity–a similar moment from my own childhood, albeit without the footsore denouement.

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