Watching you watching me

Grey skies, grey streets, grey faces all darkened by the relentless smur of rain – a grey day for grey times.

The first one was standing at the top of the steps down to the station beneath the street.

He was new.

Chunky trainers, baggy jeans, oversized vest, hooded top with open zip, gold chain, diamond stud, mobile phone to his ear. But he stood too straight, the phone call was only one way, he watched people like a raptor following its prey, too often his eyes passed over the second one.

He wasn’t new.

Suit, shirt, shoes were different enough from the usual work wear. I had to look twice – just another businessman heading back from lunch. I’d long since stopped being surprised at finding them wherever I went, I’d even stopped being surprised at how easy they were to spot, so I confess to a pleasant feeling upon discovering I’d almost missed him. They were getter better, learning, raising their expertise to close the gap between hunter and quarry.

I continued my walk past the subway entrance, and the suit-wearing builder, just far enough to draw Tupac off his stand. A pirouette, a skip, a smile, down to the station: protocol took them both out of the game. Easy.

Rain and grime had turned the cream tiles charcoal, an oil slick in the concourse forcing me to slow. No queue for a ticket machine, paid cash, moved on, no hood necessary, CCTV already had me. Shop in the ticket hall, the kind I was after: phone cards, cases, handsets, unlocking and SIM cards. All unregistered. Untraceable. Rules kept us both in play, but blind obedience to rules constrained them, whilst freedom to bend set me free.

It wasn’t the time to bend.

I needed untraceable phones but it wouldn’t matter how untraceable they were if they knew I had them. Now was the time to follow the plan.

Through the barrier, down the escalator, left for northbound trains, fate lends a hand, walk straight onto a train, doors close, no familiar faces, respite. A deep breath.

They knew I was on the train. The CCTV would monitor where I got off but the cameras on the train didn’t broadcast, they only record. No way to live monitor every face at every station, they wouldn’t know where I got off until after the fact. Away from the main arterials omnipotent eyes don’t look into the side street shadows.


Only for a short time, but still refuge.

Beyond the out of date A to Z I hadn’t recced the area. No way for them to guess where I was headed. No way for me to be certain I’d find what I was looking for. Know your terrain: a rule I could break, a gamble. The calculated risk success demanded.

Hood up, head down, off the train, right, left, left again, up the escalator, through the barrier, ignore the charity bucket, grey light, steel rain, fight against sea of people crashing off the bus.

Then slower, there was no need to rush: no need to stand out from the commuting crowd. I turned left once more, moving away from the station and into the dusk racing towards darkness. I was careful to walk with purpose, playing the part of a man knowing exactly where he was going just for the cameras. I crossed the road at the junction before heading straight up the hill towards a sanctuary of fleeting anonymity. I couldn’t help but feel a rush of amusement at imagining their confusion when a sudden right took me out of sight and into a dark warren, a nameless estate taut with deprivation, despair, disgust. No one watched here. Out of sight, out of mind.

I continued away from the eyes, deeper into the abyss, a backlit yellow sign, an off license. Phone cards? Phones? Yes. Two. Not as many as I needed. Not enough to raise suspicion.

Ahead again.

The Boxer

I love Irvine Welsh and James Kelman’s writing, their use of Scots dialogue breathes life into their characters and immediately places them geographically.

This is an attempt, my first, at writing in dialogue, it’s an older piece (the middle of last year I think). It wasn’t easy and reading it again I’m still not sure I’ve achieved what I was aiming for, maybe I need to read Trainspotting again.

I should probably say the photo of the wrapped hands uploaded with this post isn’t one of mine.

Anyway, here’s a short piece in Scots followed by an English translation:

Scots Version




It’s fuckin’ quiet in here. Quiet enough tae hear the blid and sweat hittin’ the flare, wee puddles o’ pain. Ah can feel ma hert thunerin’ in ma ears. Ma left eye’s jist aboot shut, there a gaping gash on ma right cheek bone, an’ ma body aches. At least it’s stopped fuckin’ screamin’.

It’s a lang time since ah’ve bin in this room. Nowt’s changed. Dunno why it should. The grey plastic flare still has its chips an’ cracks, the peint’s still peeling aff the wa’s and the corner o’ the mirror is still missin’. The wuden bench micht be smoother on account o’ a few mare years o’ use but ah’m pretty share the missin’ coat hooks were the yins missin’ when I was here last. But it could be ony skeell changing room. But it’s here.

I ken they telt me no to blaw ma nose, sumthin tae dae wi’ no breakin’ the seal in case it’s broken again, but ah need tae fuckin’ breathe! A finger on each nostril, a blaw, and a couple o’ strings o’ snot and blid join the rest o’ ma body fluids on the flare. Ma yin and bit een are workin’ weel enough ta see ah’m still wearin’ these han’ wraps, they’re ay the last tae come aff. Unravelling them turn by turn unwinds ma mind, it brings me back doon. It’s sumthin’ aboot the intricate pattern at odds wi’ the violence no lang past.

Hark at me! Whit the fuck ah’m a on aboot? This place dis ma heid in, it ay did. I push masel’ up aff the bench feeling the stren and hobble for the mirror. Whit a state. The stupid silk shorts stained wi’ sumone’s life. Mibbe mine. Ma face is a fuckin’ ruin. The smile hurts ma jaw. But it disnae metter, it’s a winners smile. A winner here. A winner in this fuckin’ room. At fuckin’ last.

English Version




It’s fucking quiet in here. Quiet enough to hear the blood and sweat hitting the floor, tiny puddles of pain. I can feel my heart thundering in my ears. My left eye’s just about closed, there’s a gaping gash on my right cheek-bone, and my body aches. At least it’s stopped fucking screaming.

It’s a long time since I’ve bin in this room. Nothing’s changed. Don’t know why it should. The grey plastic floor still has its chips and cracks, the paint’s still peeling off the walls and the corner of the mirror is still missing. The wooden bench might be smoother on account of a few more years of use but I’m pretty sure the missing coat hooks were the ones missing when I was here last. But it could be any school changing room. But it’s here.

I know they told me not to blow my nose, something to do with not breaking the seal in case it’s broken again, but I need to fucking breathe! A finger on each nostril, a blow, and a couple of strings of snot and blood join the rest of my body fluids on the floor. My one and bit eyes are working well enough to see I’m still wearing these hand wraps, they’re always the last to come off. Unravelling them turn by turn unwinds my mind, it brings me back down. It’s something about the intricate pattern at odds with the violence not long past.

Hark at me, what the fuck am I on about? This place does my head in, it always did. I push myself up off the bench feeling the strain and hobble for the mirror. What a state. The stupid silk shorts stained with someone’s life. Maybe mine. My face is a fucking ruin. The smile hurts my jaw. But it doesn’t matter, it’s a winners smile. A winner here. A winner in this fucking room. At fucking last.


Time had been racing but it jarred to a shuddering halt when I walked back into this room and threw my bag in the corner; my was head swimming and the swirling floral designs were preparing to attack. There were ghosts in this town and demons in this room. The posters and haggard blue wallpaper were gone, replaced by the delicate but predatory floral print. The matted carpet was now tastefully neutral, and the bedding muted yellows and browns. I sat perched on the end of one of the single beds, jack-knifed over, elbows on knees and head in hands. I had to get some air. I had to get out. I jumped up, grabbed my coat from the other bed and spun out the room and away from the past. I half ran down the stairs and headed for the door, stopping only to shove my head in the living room and tell the old man I was off out. He grunted something unintelligible. The décor had changed but the ambience remained the same.

I stepped out the door, the wind snatched at my hair and the rain cut my face. I fastened the buttons on my coat and turned up the collar as a futile defence against the onslaught of the weather. I raised my head for the first time since I’d got back. Across the road Heather was in her garden. It was no coincidence, she would have seen the car and, knowing the circumstances, guessed it was mine. A bit of rain was not going to stop a hardened gossip like her being the first to confirm my return. I gave her a wave and shouted a greeting, turning away before she could snare me in a remorseless inquisition.

I’d never seriously expected to get in and out undetected but all hope of that was blown away on the wind as it carried news of my return. The dice were out of the cup now.

I walked aimlessly, or at least I thought I was travelling without a destination. I could have walked out the town towards the sea, the salt air could have cleared my head but I was pulled towards the town. I had never been patient and if I was going to have to face the ghosts of the past then I’d rather do it sooner than later.

It didn’t take long. I’d barely turned onto the high street, saddened at how little it had changed, when I was pushed in the back. Not hard enough to knock me off my feet but hard enough to make me stumble and hard enough to make it clear it was far from friendly. Warily I turned around and found myself looking at Sly; he was older, heavier and his face was worn like those on the castle ruins but it was him alright.

“I wondered if you’d be back but didn’t actually think you’d be that stupid” he spat venom.

We’d been tight once, grew up on the same street and shared in the same nonsense but his narrowed eyes and clenched jaw told me he wasn’t ready to forgive. At least the thirteen years had tempered his desire for violence; otherwise I’d be lying in the gutter praying his fist hadn’t broken my nose and his boot my ribs.

I turned fully to face him and stretched my arms like Christ upon the cross. Logic told me he was right. It told me I should walk away, get in the car and head back south but I’d never been a slave to logic.

“You all knew I’d be back someday so don’t act like you’re surprised”

He almost looked rueful as he shook his head and walked away, never looking back. I stood with my hair plastered to my face and the rain dripping off my nose, arms still outstretched, waiting for my salvation to deliver me from this world. Salvation didn’t come, it never does and just I’d willingly walked back into hell.

I could have stayed away but obligation brought me back.

An obligation others expected, not an obligation in which I believed.

A haiku drifting in the wind

A funeral shroud mist hung heavy on a morning dying before it was granted even the chance to live. As he walked against the endless flow of traffic he couldn’t help but notice the Rorschach forms of the melting frost on the bonnet of every car; their engines not yet sufficiently warmed to melt the fingerprints of cold. They tugged on his personal psychology, teased his unconscious. Was he nearly there?

The threads of memory drifted in the storm of his mind. He had long since given up trying to pull them together into a coherent tapestry, he could get close to a finished piece, history on the edge of cognition but then some unseen, un-felt force would snatch away the revelations of his primitive weavings. Giving up was easy, he wasn’t sure he wanted to remember anyway. What was worse: the horror of the past or the frustration of nothingness?

It didn’t matter. He could still remember what was important.

The liquid passion of her eyes: simultaneous molten steel and arctic ice, the flutter of the eyelash pulled you, helpless, into the chaos. A smile played across his face, a fragment of a memory; they said a butterfly fluttering its wings could cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. Chaos theory reflected in the turmoil of the eyelash of a solitary muse. She was simplicity and depth, a haiku drifting in the wind. He found her in a rare moment of stillness. Or had she found him?

He could no longer recall.

He could still see her on that first day: in the café, sitting beside, not at, her table. One foot hitched up on the chair opposite giving an added air of nonchalance to her lithe slouch, the biker jacket hung away from her body and the t-shirt crept up just enough to expose a flash of stomach. Her face was beautiful with razor blade cheekbones, a delicate nose with the poise of, ballet dancer and subtly tempting lips. Her skin was pale but far from porcelain, there was strength to every part of her but it emanated from her face. It spoke of a life lived. And then those eyes: a siren song of passion and excitement to lull the world-weary. All this framed by an untameable sea of raven black hair. His soul had spoken and the heavens sent his saviour. Oil and water.  Darkness and light.

 He had not realised he stopped until she cocked her head in his direction and he saw the fire dance across her eyes for the first time. In that instant it began.

He shook the reverie from his head and, not for the first time, cursed why he could not forget that memory. A meeting that ultimately sent him down the spiral leading to this endless soliloquy. Once more a smile began its play across his face as he admitted to himself he would rather die than forget that moment of chance. He quashed the smile’s play and continued his solitary trudge.