I was born in Devon in 1950 but grew up in Scotland and have lived there most of my life. I now share my time between Glasgow and Vancouver. I’ve written stuff since I was a kid and I studied English Literature at Glasgow University with a vague idea of becoming a writer. I didn’t take to academic life and tried to leave and go travelling. I was persuaded to finish my degree. I became interested in film-making whilst a student and have earned an erratic living as a freelance cinematographer and director since. I work in both factual TV and fiction films. Luckily my work has involved much travel to many parts of the world for short but intense periods and I would say I feel relaxed and most “at home” whilst in transit ! I often write whilst on the move.
Film-making is very like writing poetry, though poetry is much cheaper. Both depend on editing.
I find beauty and emotional interest everywhere and in everything. I like to see things.
They brought Miss Webster over twice a month
on the paddle steamer from Gourock,
a place that twinkled on the odd clear night
but would blend by day into leaden sky
the dull reflecting water and indefinite land.
Who knows how many towns there are
where over the river means the exotic
the red pencil skirt, stilettos, lipstick?
I now believe she was an actress
maybe Diana Dors or Jane Russell
for I was nine and knew little
except the style of her hair
from photos I'd seen of my mother
in the crinkly brown album
and I'd overheard mother's talk of strong passages
in No Orchids for Miss Blandish
a book lying by my parents' bed
Miss Blandish on the cover had that hair,
and I'd leafed through it secretly
but become no wiser.
We were not badly spoken in my class,
we were average as a dormitory town for Glasgow
a grim city of spit and smoke and razors in pockets
my father off each day by train, returning
tired and unimpressed. We were not badly spoken,
not like the scary boys of Kirkmichael
though one had unsnagged my fishing line,
climbed right down the pier timbers over deep water,
yes he'd done it for me, a kindness
(and perhaps a statement)
but I'd had nothing to say
except thank you in a terrified voice
he was never going to be my friend
from the way he spoke
and from what I'd heard spoken about Kirkmichael.
Miss Webster came in at that pier. She was peripatetic
long-legged and taught elocution.
We’d sit at desks and chant
round and round the rugged rock
and how now brown cow
vowels repeated in a way that made them a creed
or a catechism, though I didn't know what that was,
nor did I know why the playground football teams
were Rangers versus Hearts
not Celtic, not Hibernian
I loathed it anyway for the Fear
the Fear of the concrete
the Fear of the hard wet ball
I knew nothing of tribes
didn't know I was a Protestant
didn't know what a Catholic was
why they needed a school of their own.
I did know Kirkmichael boys went to that school.
And it was a town with other ladders, snakes
and apples too, apples too.
The Larchfield Private School boys spoke like The Queen,
The St Bride's Private School girls spoke like Miss Webster
and one, whose name was Nancy Glen was curious.
My friend Alan and I would meet her after lessons
on the grassy verges of Sinclair Street
a North-South line bisecting the town,
a no-man’s land.
Nancy, a small girl from a huge house
would watch us wrestle, like mediaeval knights
jousting without steed or lance.
We didn't know if she was impressed
and she didn't know either
she wore thick wool stockings
a strange green hat
and smiled with her dark benign eyes
at our soft pretence of a battle for her.
Ever since I've tingled hearing that name,
looked at myself for something
I might display.
Later, on the Craigendoran shore
a spiky wind would bluster across, catch me
catching crabs under rocks or dreaming
of giant eels in some slithery nightmare
and the ferry would cast off again
slapping and churning and butting its way out
towards the indistinct far side.
Once, only once but how could I forget, I saw Miss Webster
a dot of scarlet on the crowded deck
the last thing to disappear in grey West of Scotland weather.