In the Maine, Community Banks kick ass

I confess. It is eight months since my last post. I am a lapsed Prolific. Since then: I’ve been home to Scotland; decided (with my loyal wife and life companion Juli) to move from Southern Maryland to Maine – six hundred miles and a climatic climactic away. Now we are near to family, who can share the care needed for our almost ninety-year-old parents/parents-in-law. Even if we still have to do the bulk of it, at least we can see everyone most weeks and it doesn’t involve an eleven or twelve hour journey. Now we live in a house which is all on one level. We’re still in the woods, but we can see the trees. And New England has some pleasures for us that we hadn’t realized.

Here is one out of many.

All over the US, there are community banks which still focus on what banks ought to focus on – the needs of customers and the security of their money. These banks weathered the 2008 crisis and its aftermath with the consummate skill of the good sailor. No toxic loans for them. No silly selling of unwanted or undesirable financial products. Just good, solid, sensible business, with the customer at the forefront.

Here in Freeport, we found three local banks which have a long history in the area. We chose, mainly because it was closest by about half a mile, the Bath Savings Institution. The local branch is modern, friendly and competent. It offers everything the twenty-first century customer needs, plus you get personal service and the sense of being part of a family. But the thing that really sold it for me was the fact that they decorate the interior of their building with pictures of old sailing ships. Plus, wonder of wonders, our debit card has a tall ship as its background. What’s not to like?

Bank of America (and others), eat your sad, greedy heart out.

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Snippet of the Week

From the novel Flight of the Butterfly, rumoured to be nearing completion. The action here takes place in a former CCTV surveillance centre in the Pilton area of Edinburgh, Scotland. This is not the first time the two characters have appeared in the story.

In the  light of the monitor-phalanx, Sharon Renton performed her art. Keyboard and joystick extended the reach of nerves and synapses as she processed passing data into a three-dimensional picture of Pilton and its environs. Her skill was a synthesis of speed, capacity and imagination. Sometimes, she could tell what was going to happen next.

“No kidding,” Hughie would say. “Our Sharon can see into the future.”

Into the future, indeed. But it was the past that gripped Hughie. Ever since the huge Glaswegian had rumbled into their tiny space, he hadn’t been himself. As if memories had derailed his personal train. For a moment, Sharon’s seldom-seen face paused in its bubblegum-fuelled metamorphosis.

“Are you going to be a miserable git forever, Morrison, or is there some relief in sight?”

She could sense his shuffling, elephantine presence behind her.

“He was always that size, you know,” he said. “Like a rock. A big rock. He could have crushed all the other weans in the class without breaking sweat. But they didn’t take him on, of course. Too risky.”

“Aye, well,” said Sharon. “Sounds to me like he was a great pal to have, especially with you being such an unmitigated one-boy freak show.”

Hughie felt a change of subject coming on. Something more in his comfort zone. But it failed to materialise. Like a grandfather clock given a dunt by a passing stranger, everything jangled. Intimations of a past life, best forgotten, set off alarm bells in the present.

“I’ve missed something, Sharon. Something really important.”

Narrow-eyed, he peered at the screens as if inspiration might spring from there. A subtle change in the sound signature of the room caught his attention; Sharon had stopped chewing. She swivelled round to face him: “a rosebud blooming in the midst of a pile of shite,” as her mother had once said.

“What’s up, Dough-head,” she snapped. “Losing your marbles? ”

Hughie blinked.

“No, not at all, Sharon dear. I think I may just have found them. And tomorrow, I’m going to do something I haven’t done since I can’t remember when.”

Her face rushed through a series of genetically-encoded expression changes, before settling on utter disgust.

“Christ Almighty, Hughie! I hope your not talking about what I think your talking about. I mean, a girl could have nightmares about such a prospect. In fact, I’m having a nightmare right now.”

He waved a hand.

“No, no. For goodness sake, woman. Nothing like that. No, I’m going to go on a journey.”

Sharon shook her head and turned back to the screens.

“Well, see and take some string with you, Marco Polo. If you get lost, I’m not coming after you.”

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Heather The Hound

Heather The HoundIn September of last year, our beloved Joe The Dog (sometimes known as JTD) was tragically and unexpectedly whisked off to the Great Doggy Park in the Sky. He was chasing a squirrel at the time, and failed to notice the SUV bearing down on him. We like to think that he was at least doing something he enjoyed when he died.

The thing is, I looked on Joe as a canine muse. Twice a day, he and I would walk the beach or stomp through forest trails. He would sniff out the delicious smells, forage for crunchy snacks and, occasionally, play fetch or wrestle a bit. I would wander into my alternate universe, peopled by the characters and the stories that I had created. Here was the ideal opportunity to chew on plot tangles, develop personalities and play out dialogue and action.

His departure didn’t stop me writing, but it certainly did slow things down. I thought I might continue the walks on my own, but the motivation was gone and I found it hard to be accompanied by JTD’s ghost everywhere I went.

Time past. We decided not to get another dog. “They are such a tie,” we said. “They take up so much time,” we said. “They are so expensive,” we said. And yet. Without any previous discussion, we discovered one day that we were both thinking that the time had come. Enter Heather The Hound (HTH). Heather’s early family history is a blank sheet. She was almost certainly bred as a hunting dog (she is a Harrier mix) and then dumped somewhere in North Carolina or Southern Virginia. She was rescued from an ignominious death at the Dog Pound by our local Animal Welfare League and then we happened along. So far, both parties in the arrangement are ecstatically happy. I get my dog-walking time back, we have a dog to keep us company on the sofa when we watch TV in the evening and Heather gets a new pack which offers her comfort, care, security and love.

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Stuart’s Leibster Blog Award, Part The First

I have to confess, my first reaction to KJ Waters making this award was one of disappointment. But this was only because I had read it (in the absence of my reading specs) as the LOBSTER award. I do eat lobster, but it’s not my favorite. Having sorted that out, I was then intrigued by the name, thinking that perhaps it might have some Irish connotation. Turned out I was confusing it with Leinster, which is one of the counties in Ireland. Leibster is German for favorite. One lives and learns day by day. Indeed one does.

Anyway, a big thanks to KJ for including me in her list of awarded bloggers. I am genuinely honored.

The rules of this award (for the hard-working author gets nothing for nothing, as I ought to know) mean that I have to divulge eleven random facts about myself and answer KJ’s eleven questions. Finally, I have to nominate eleven bloggers for the award. Phew! I have achieved the first two goals, but still working on the third. I’ll post the final list in a day or two.

Random facts

  1. Most of my childhood was spent living in a small village on the shores of the Holy Loch, in the Clyde estuary in Scotland, which later became the base for the US Polaris submarine fleet. (There is no connection between these two things, as far as I am aware).
  2. I’m 65 years old. Kind of late middle age…
  3. My stock response to people here in the US who say “I love your accent – just say something for me,” is “Aye, no bad. Ah wiz born up a wally close wi a richt eneugh midden in the back court, an ootside cludgie an nae bath. Ma ma used tae gie me a syne doon wance a week in the jawbox.” (Translation available on request).
  4. I can occasionally be induced to sing. Drink is usually taken on such occasions. By those listening.
  5. I love to sail. Our dear old 30-foot Morgan sailboat lives just ten minutes away from our home here on the Chesapeake Bay.
  6. I have two delightful grandchildren (a three-year-old and a one-year-old) who live in Portland, Maine.
  7. I’m an enthusiastic chef.
  8. I’m not a fan of Ernest Hemingway.
  9. I’m married to my editor.
  10. I can turn my hand to almost any task around the house, including electrics, plumbing, carpentry and cleaning toilets.
  11. I’ve never liked soccer, so I don’t support any UK football team. This is a major social drawback for a Scotsman, I can tell you!

KJ’s Questions

1. What is your favorite movie and why?
Out of dozens that would come into this category, I’ll choose Fargo at random. Wonderfully directed, great performances and a fine story about human weakness and degradation being defeated by a strong woman with no pretensions. What’s not to like?

2. Who is your favorite author and why?
Impossible question, but I can do this. It has to be Patrick O’Brian and his wonderful Aubrey/Maturin series. I read all twenty of them in a row. Beautifully written, great characters and wonderful stories. The hero is also based on a real historical character, who happens to be a Scotsman, so that made it even better!

3. What is the concept behind your blog? Simply to promote your book/skills/product or a bigger purpose, like mine as therapy to deal with my current location?
Concept? Concept? Good grief! You think there was some PLAN here? My original intention was to attract readers by writing something that was just a bit different, loosely focused around my writing activities. The jury is still OUT!

4. What is your favorite meal?
Mince and tatties (explanation available for the uninitiated).

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5. What would you describe as your biggest personal accomplishment?
Raising children. No question.

6. Why are you so awesome? I ask this because I chose you…apparently I think you’re pretty fab.
I might fantasize that it’s because I’m good-looking, loving, intelligent, sociable and compassionate, but really I haven’t a clue. Anything to do with the way I write? Oh, I give in…

7. What is your favorite household appliance and why? Ha! How’s that for a quirky question.
Our Black & Decker bread-maker. My wife bought it for me at a thrift store for $10 and it makes wonderful bread. Coming into the kitchen in the morning to the smell of fresh bread and coffee is one of life’s great joys!

8. Boxers or briefs
Briefs every time. When it comes to those all-important bits, I like a sense of security.

9. What is your favorite holiday and why?
Cruising in our good old sailboat or traveling anywhere in Italy. Gorgeous country, beautiful cities, great food, excellent wine. In spite of all its political and financial problems, it is still one of the most civilized countries in the world.

10. What is your favorite restaurant? Why?
The King’s Wark in Edinburgh, Scotland. Essentially a fine, old-fashioned pub, it has a superb restaurant which serves some of the finest food I’ve ever eaten. A great ambiance and relaxed, friendly service complete the perfect eating experience.

11. Which question above was the hardest to answer? Why?
Ach, there were all easy-peasy… (wipes sweat from brow).

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Inspiration in the ER

Worry not gentle readers, it wasn’t me in the ER. My father-in-law had a bit of what the doctors describe as a ‘cardiac event’ yesterday. He’s absolutely fine now and back home safe and sound, but we did have to spend an hour or two in the local hospital while we waited for a diagnosis. With nothing much else to do (there is only so much ‘Health TV” that any sane person can watch), I used it as an opportunity to get on with Chapter 43, the first three paragraphs of which are appended below for your delectation. This is strictly first-draft stuff, you understand, so no sniggering at the back there, please.

“What about that Lobster Blog Award that you’ve been promising to tell us about for weeks?” I hear you ask. To be honest, I have a horror of chain letters, or anything that smacks of them and this award has that kind of feel about it. However, I am receiving daily psychotherapy and hoping for an improvement any time now. My grovelling apologies to KJ Waters who gave me the award in all innocence, believing me to be a reliable citizen and sound of mind and body. Hang in there, KJ, I may do it yet!

You don’t really need to know the plot to understand this excerpt, but the action is taking place in the City Chambers in post-apocalyptic(ish) Edinburgh, Scotland. Marion is in her mid-fifties and the leader of what’s left of the City Council. Joe is in his late twenties and has recently escaped from being imprisoned by a baddie.

Another night in the museum, Marion thought; although it increasingly felt like an ornate, badly stuffed prison. In the frozen watches of the small hours, she had shocked herself by dreaming about Joe. It was the kind of dream that needed to be roughly shaken off; hateful water on the dog of imagination. But she could not deny its pleasures, those long since expunged from the role-call of her daily existence. She bit her lip, as if pain might sanction the denial of enjoyment.

Dawn had done little to alleviate a sense of the world failing to materialise in its accustomed manner. The sun was utterly foxed by fog, whose ghostly, attenuated fingers had felt their way into the city streets overnight. In the crepuscular light from the pale, pictureless rectangle of her window, the office was a Turner painting in shades of black and grey. The sense that she had become an invisible part of it was shattered when Joe, the version that was high in flesh and bone, exploded through the door.

Marion sighed.

“I see that you’re another of those creatures that fails to understand the concept of knocking on the door.”

“Door?” said Joe, looking back in mock surprise. “What door?”

He sat down: a rush of physical presence; an instant source of entropy; a grinning mocker of the pretentious. He fumbled for his trusty pouch, the ritual of skin-and-strand calmed bubbling waywardness.

“Yeah. Well. I went out for a walk. Jesus, but it’s foggy out there. I met this guy who was ringing a bell and mumbling about the end of the world. I told him that the world had ended and he’d missed all the fun. I think I might have ruined his day. Hopefully.”

There was that tongue again, running along the cigarette paper. Marion was waylaid by a tingling that reminded her of better days.

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A Touch of Writing in the Night

This is really just a filler while I get my act together over the Leibster Blog Award and other pressing matters. A couple of paragraphs from the Work In Progress. (Warnings: may contain strong language; manufactured in an environment which contains nuts).

The old house, squatting viscerally on now-thawing ground, had the best of it. It was deaf to returning boots, babbling excuses, raised voices, retribution. Later, soldiers in washed-out fatigues gathered like children at the foot of the great staircase and listened as the awful shrillness of Farrell’s anger and the bass rumble of Donnelly’s resigned responses played out. Donnelly was their man, a target for loyalty. Farrell was the provider of nourishment and fear, the dripping roast pig at the banquet that kept leaping from the spit and savaging with tusks and sharp hooves.

A door opened; fatigues dissolved into dark corridors; Donnelly came down the stairs, two hundred and ten pounds of pent-up anger. He strode across the hall, an Exocet looking for a whiff of infrared. Nothing registered. He pulled open the oak doors, the horse long since bolted, took a deep breath of warming air; felt sunshine on his face; exhaled shakily. As he fumbled for his Malboros, he wished that fucking McLennan and his ghastly crew would come marching up the drive and they could finish it once and for all.

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A New Year flip-flop

Hello? Anyone out there? I’m really not terribly sure about this at all. In fact, I’m actually distinctly lukewarm about the whole idea. Or perhaps ‘lukewarm’ is putting it too strongly. I’m also worried about the number of words ending in ‘ly’ that I seem to be using. A sure sign of weakness. I wanted to talk about New Year…you know…thingies. Those – er – firmnesses of resolve that people make a lot of when one year carelessly (sorry!) picks up an extra digit and inadvertently (damn!) becomes another. Year, I mean.

Anyway. My thought was that this blog suffers from institutional neglect. Were it a cat or a dog, I would be had up for cruelty. I felt that it might benefit from a bit more – um – discipline on my part. Instead of posting once every not very often, I might bestir myself to write some meaningless tarradiddle (if you’ve read this far, you will have a good grounding in precisely what that involves), let’s say once a (gasp!) week.

There, I’ve said it. The cat is out of the bag, the genie out of the bottle and there is no going back.

Of course, there may be slippage…

Now, what was that lovely KJ Waters telling me? Something about a Lobster Blog Award.

No good can come of it.

A Hippy Blue Year to you all.

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