Elderflower wine

I’m running, flying, up the back track in the dark after Erica. My head’s spinning like the stars. The trees are just dark giants laughing down on us in our crazy, drunken escapade. I don’t know where we’re heading, or even if we’re together. I know she’s not fleeing from me, but neither is she with me.

The wine wasn’t ready, really. Some house kid stole it from her mum, still in the carboy, and donated it to the dorm full of teens. Among those pert-breasted girls, adolescent hippy dudes and alternative oddities, I too drank my fill. The sediment churned in the glass as I sat on the mattressed floor and made vain efforts to be included.

In the morning, it’s a scene of vomit. Buckets and washing-up bowls and ice cream tubs litter the floor, like boulders in a maze.

June steps into the room, a wry and patient smile of fond tolerance on her lips and in her eyes. “Let’s get this cleaned up,” is all she says. No reproach.

“June… June… I really like you,” is all I can manage. The alcohol still has its hold.

It’s true. Perhaps more than any of my cohort, my peers, I prefer one who’s one of their mothers. Hers would be the arms to hold me.

I’m just a child. This adult striving isn’t yet for my world. Perhaps just a mother to hold me.

Granddad shirt

Raspberry fool – the colour – and picked up in some Edinburgh hippy clothing store – collarless granddad shirt. It suits me so well, and in my teenage mirror vanity, I’m satisfied.

Lenora and Pete are visiting, and then, Lenora just on her own, as Pete’s back at Uni. The sun’s hot outside, the green world baking, and scents of golden river water, reeds, and newly-shorn lanolin sheep.

Like the sheep, I’m sweating – but in my case, with awakened desire.

Somehow – a word, a hand touched, she moves to me. It’s way beyond my own know-how or self-esteem, and yet in these hot days, it’s soon done.

We camp up North, north of Applecross – a shambolic bus journey of poorly packed gear – arriving in rain followed by a midge-storm.

In the morning, the confined tent smells of blood and sex, warming in sunrise light. Occasional cars dodge sheep on the road beyond the dyke.

Hand in hand, boot after boot, we climb the rocky, rugged mountain above, pausing by pools.


The Peebles church bells sound every quarter hour:

ding dong ding dong (x4)

Then, on Sunday mornings, pealing and hymns and cascading notes to exhort the faithful out of bed and to church.

Depending on weather and wind, could sometimes hear it from home. Otherwise, faintly coming into awareness as we cycled the leaf-slippery, unbalanced lanes into town to join grandparents in worship followed by Sunday lunch and Sherlock Holmes.

The “golden” carriage clock on their mantlepiece, looking oddly constrained and refined compared to the rustic hand/home-crafted artefacts of home. But then, I’m not sure they were entirely comfortable in that small, modern space, either.

The taste of oven-roasted red and yellow peppers, crunchy roast chicken, and blackberry fool, intense in colour and flavour, swirled with not-quite-curdling double cream.

The smells from the kitchen where Elizabeth worked while William read to us from aged volume of Conan Doyle.

Sometimes, the dessert was burning hot “treacle” tart, and William would tell his “Stone cold again, sir – you really must do something about that cook!” story – or just the catch-phrase, with an endearing air of amusement.

The song “I hear the ticking of the clock” by Heart – that affected me so much in my teens – what was it… “How do I get you alone?” – Nick said he couldn’t quite see why I didn’t just talk to her…


When I was 13, I ordered materials from Charles Atlas: “I used to be a ninety pound weakling, but look at me now!”

In those days, adolescent information was gleaned from small ads in comics and magazines, furtively and expensively ordered, and delivered weeks later. Those were the days when libraries and bookshops were meaningful, and the postman eagerly awaited.

I can still remember some of his exercises, that I of course failed to persist with. All good stuff – essentially, using one’s own body as a resistance machine. He was also especially keen on hot and cold showers – cold to close the pores – which I shied away from after a brief flirtation.

The smell of catalogue ink is very distinct, part of the whole experience of expectation, research and choice. When the catalogue lands on the doormat and can be carried off to consume in solitude – just a whiff of substance abuse rolled into the bargain.

Then licking the envelope, tasting the tangy glue when placing the order and sealing the deal.

In those days, I was convinced my shoulders were too narrow and my torso too weak. I avoided tucked-in shirts, uncomfortable with what I saw in the mirror. Somehow I could see that hunks existed, but was acutely conscious that hunk I was not.

Only later, in my forties, really, did I get truly physical – training for marathon runs and enjoying the gradual build-up of strength.