Tag Archives: aloycious kirby

A message in a can

The body was floating face down, half on and half off a lump of driftwood. Wearing a kilt that rode up, exposing a buttock so pale it was almost translucent. Seagulls’ll be at that soon, I thought. Prometheus, like.

Daft eejit.

It had bobbed a bit further past the end of the jetty. Time to start working out what to do. That was when I saw it. A can, bobbing too. Half in and half out the water. Red T of Mr JVR Tennent emerging and submerging, but remaining upright, on an even keel. Had to be something left in to give it that stability. An idle thought in the circumstances, you’d reckon.

The swell was drawing them closer. Body and can, both tiny in suspense above the black depths. On the other side Fife, a few miles away and god knows how many billion gallons. The black waters full of history, back to the Reformation and beyond. The abbey on Inchcolm where you had to fight your way past the seagulls defending their nests – like Mona last time I’d tried to see the weans.

The fingers moved first. Twitching. I wondered if I’d imagined it, if it was just the waves manipulating them, like tendrils on the sea bottom. By this time can and man were just a metre apart. Collision course. Stable though it was, the can wouldnae survive.

An arm snaked out. Fingers trailing over the surface. Reaching, searching. The head lifted a fraction, just enough to make sure the hand found what it was after. Closed on it. Lifted. Careful to keep it upright, moving back to the owner. Now the head raised itself properly. Past me by this time so I couldnae see the face. Lifted the can to the lips and tilted it back. Cautiously at first, then further. Drank. And drank, until nothing was left.

The fingers tightened. Relaxed. The crushed can dropped into the water.

‘I’m coming to get you,’ I shouted.

No reaction.

‘I’m coming to get you.’ Louder this time.

With a last effort the hand waved me away.

‘Dinnae – worry – boot – me – ah’m – alright.’

And the head nuzzled back down, as if the driftwood was a goose-down pillow, plump and newly washed, perfect for sleeping on for the night.

Aloycious Kirby


Creation myth – part two

I cannot recall who saw the artist first. Maybe I followed a sudden widening of Lizzie’s eyes just after we emerged from our main passage beside the burn at the spot where it was deep enough to bathe. She looked right into my eyes but carried on painting as if nothing had happened.

‘Stay put’, I told Lizzie. We were both already stark and I swam the burn to the flat bank opposite, where the artist stood by an easel taller than herself. I had seen her before in the shop and the post-office and I knew from those few sightings that she was the only person in the village truly worth impressing. As I crawl-stroked a voice in my head whispered that the Passages were a rude and dirty project next to elegant painting on a canvas. Approaching the artist I knitted my brow and summoned to mind all the library books and radio programs I had absorbed in my life.

‘I have located a feral child. I believe she has been raised by dogs… or perhaps foxes. It appears she has made a system of pa – of tunnels, in the long grass.’

The artist put down her brush, I thought in response to me but then larger drops began falling from a sky that had turned dark and glowery without my notice. She had been painting merely the field and there was no sign of us on her canvas.

‘You had better get your dress on,’ she said, ‘and then you can tell me about your discoveries. And why not bring the feral child over too?’

I recrossed the burn to Lizzie who was still gawking, silent in the face of strangers, as it came naturally to her to behave. I stuffed her dress away among the stalks and we swam back, me holding my own garment out the water. The artist draped her shawl over Lizzie’s blotchy flesh while I borrowed her painty rag to dry myself.

‘It’s a short walk to my cottage. Would you like to come?’

As we walked I deplored aloud the society that had permitted Lizzie’s state to go unnoticed for so long. I described her diet of field mice and raw barley seeds, her total absence of shame, and the pitiful limitation of her language to grunts and snufflings.

‘I’m surprised she can walk on two legs,’ the artist commented.

When we arrived at the tiny cottage the rain was drumming down in jets, but we were sat on a magnificent sofa, dried again by a gas heater, and given hot milk and biscuits. The cottage was a single room heaving with paintings of familiar places, though none I saw revealed the truth about the Passages.

‘These are very good’, I said, at which the artist thanked me, but her next words piqued me a great deal. She said she drew more pleasure from the evident admiration of the feral child, ‘because that one is closer to nature, and so the better critic.’

It was teatime when a phonecall – I never knew who from – brought Ma to the door, at which point Lizzie regained the power of speech while I avoided the eye of the artist, and Ma delivered thanks through gritted teeth. When we got home I took a sound spanking for disgracing the family, and the following words were drilled into me:

‘It’s all very well tae prance like a savage when no one’s watching, bit do it before a painter and you can be fixed that way for life.’

And that was when I decided to become an artist myself.

Aloycious Kirby


Creation myth – part one

‘Do you reject Satan’, the minister asks in the traditional godmother ceremony, and I only paused a second before intoning, solemn as a bride, ‘I do’, no doubt to the relief of my best friend Sophie though she would never have let on as much. Naturally I neglected to mention the previous time I was assigned to surrogate welfare duties for a vulnerable charge, when the spirit of Auld Hornie overtook me to lasting effect.

The east coast in the sixties was a place where the de’il had not yet been assimilated with Mick Jagger, and most folk believed that rather than strutting about in too tight trewsers he still passed his days spreading crop fungus and curdling milk. You could summarise it as an uneasy relationship between modernity and ‘the auld ways’, a conflict roughly paralleled by that between incomers and local folk, with us decidedly the latter – my family, that is.

‘Git awa tak’ Lizzie oot tae play. Ye canna’ lay skulking indoors like a she-rat on a day like today’. So went Ma’s rant, forced out of her by my summer holiday morning malingering ‘neath the bedclothes. And I would moan and mutter but finally pull a dress over my sweaty body and walk straight out the door of the cottage, refusing the salty porridge I was offered. Lizzie like an eager dog scampered round about me, though I led the way of course – that hot summer always to the same place: the field behind the power station, where we built the Passages.

Aye, the Passages were our obsession. While Italian and French beefcakes bored under Mont Blanc, we – me as chief architect and engineer, Lizzie as general labour – were busy carving our own tunnels through the thickest, wildest growth this side of a Euro-feminist’s crevices. Tall, scratchy grasses, giant daisies, sticky willies and stray barley stalks all competing to thrust their way up; but where we willed we beat and trampled them all.

The Passages Zone was bordered on one side by the burn – across which a line of birch shielded it from the power station – and on the other the Gourlay barley field spreading itself like a wedding ring up the hill. We used sticks and our bodies to thrash out the paths, sometimes doing forward and backward rolls over and over on the same patch. I developed a technique to counter the stalks’ stubborn urge to poke back up: wet grass being less springy, you stripped, doused yourself in the burn and then did ‘the rolling pin’. The itch after was like hosting a picnic of fire ants and you had to plunge straight back in the cool burn – though even then the rashes stayed, worse on Lizzie than me it has to be said.

I need hardly tell you that no adults knew of the Passages, and even the low-flying jet pilots who could have spied us making them were too busy worrying about the red menace to slow down.

Aloycious Kirby


Voice of the force

Delightful. Charming. Abundantly splendid. The offer to contribute to these fine pages was all those things and more to a proud officer of the force dedicated to serving and protecting such a majestic barrio as that of… (cut the introductionary bullsh*t and get on with it, sic, ed.)

Very well.

Those of you who perambulate the lower Leith Walk vicinity (the part Rio deemed `too sexy to be twinned with`) may have noticed our recent campaign running under the moniker `No Knives Better Lives`. Our posters – appended to all good surfaces from lamp-posts to the insides of gas pipes – are in the style known as Faux-Ned-Deco and were designed by Leith College of Art graduate Shatim Quolhounc at a relatively modest cost to the public purse.

Sadly, after a rigorous consultation programme (carried out in the Tourmalet tavern) some of you have objected to one aspect of the poster`s design, to wit the featuring of I-pods, headphones and playstations as suggested alternatives to the lure of the blade. `Why carry such low expectations of the intellect of our nation`s youth,` came the collected cry of consternation – from somewhere near the stairs to the toilets. `Give them f%$**&% Dusty Evsky` followed the rejoinder, then `It`s Dostoy actually’, from a figure with a pronounced Fife twang who had spent the night holding forth at the bar on the progress of his book to anyone who would listen (and many who would not).

Let it not be said that I, Mathis Hamilton Colquhoun, P.G. Dip, Lothian and Borders CID, have ever failed to take into account the views of my constituents. The very next day – a Saturday – I paid for a short helicopter trip over the city, taking in views of the castle, the scenic pillars of the Forth Road and Rail Bridges and even the suggestive Fife coastline which delineates the horizon like a finely serrated implement. In the course of our return to the landing pad at RBS HQ I instructed the pilot to hover over `certain areas` of North Edinburgh while I emptied into the sky sacks containing copies of Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. I am trusting to the gods of posterity that these landed safely and were consumed by the individuals whom they will benefit most.

Turning to other matters, cyber-crime is an ever increasing concern for those of us at the sharp end of law enforcement, a fact best illustrated by an anecdote of my own locution.

Last Tuesday I happened to be in the Charlotte Street station doing some online research into the best sources of cheap piping (a personal project of which I will write at a later date) when I was assaulted in a vulgar fashion by one of these `viruses`. Fortunately I took swift and appropriate action to avoid the so-called Trojan Horse emptying its bowels into the wider community.

This action consisted of all officers present at the time being quarantined inside the station while I went out, clad in suitably protective clothing, to locate a volume of disinfectant liquid. Said liquid obtained, I returned to the locked station and ensured that all staff and their machines were passed through it back and forth until every trace of the virus had disappeared. Subsequent clean-up and replacement costs were said to be paltry in comparison to the financial and moral risk to the whole community had such drastic action not been taken.

Mathis Colquhoun can be contacted regarding talks to local schoolchildren and other after-dinner engagements.

Aloycious Kirby