Cage - excerpts

The years I spent with Tom as my mentor were the most intellectually challenging and stimulating
of my life.


The most important thing he gave me was the confidence to write in Scots. And when I did, the effect was amazing – it was an emotional liberation that connected me to a much more authentic self.

I find it hard to talk about him, let’s just say that I revered him both as an artist and as a man, the example of whose great humanity and fierce sense of justice stays with me and influences all I write. I am confident that his importance as an artist will grow with the years, and that his name will be writ large in the story of Scotland reclaiming its own voice in the world.

Here are a few examples of the first things I wrote in Scots which delighted Tom and which thus delighted me, and released me into an ability to write narrative with an ease that I had never before experienced.

The following monologues are from Cage, an experimental sequence of narrative and experimental poetry centred on a ward of demented elderly patients. They are in Borders Scots and are deliberately unpunctuated to present the voices of the patients when they were younger and well, when they were free from disease or the constraints of medical interventions.


I wis never struck wi the Kirk aw that sermonisin went right ower ma heid I even got thrawn oot the Sunday Schule I wid juist be bein a laddie I’d be bein cheeky the teacher wis right po faced her fither wis the heidmaister I wis aye gettin intae trouble fur sweerin an I wis aye yin tae speak ma mind that never gauns doon weel wi Kirky folk


I loved eatin snaw I wid lift up handfaes ae it an lap it up the poodery stuff wid juist disappear in yer mooth an it wis like eatin wet nithin it wid make ee cough if ee breathed in ower quick an it wid stick tae yer face I liked gettin a big handfae an rowin it intae a ba I wid crunch it like an aipple ma mother wid gie aes a row tell aes I’d get a sair belly but I didnae care I juist laughed mind it didnae half make yer hands cauld they wid be reid raw I’ve seen aes aboot greetin when the heat came back intae them an yer wet claes hingin roond the mantelpiece and on the fender the fire bleezin


I liked men I’ll no deny it although I only ever mairried yin an that wis when I wis young an daft I sin got shot ae him he wis a waster Christina wis his then I hud Shirley her fither wis an insurance man an then a guid bit later I hud wee Audrey course I hud a bit ae a reputation when ee live in a wee pliss that’s juist natural but naebody really bothered aes they widnae huv dared I aye worked I kept ma bairns clean an I wisnae a hame wrecker I nivver took onybody’s man off them there wis only yince I let masel get hurt I wid’ve been in ma late twenties by then an he wisnae frae the toon he came tae be the new manager ae the store but through the week he stopped at the hotel I wis workin in till he could find a hoose I suppose he hud the gift ae the gab an aye seemed tae huv plenty cash he took aes away yince three days oo hud in a guest hoose in Kendal I left the bairns wi ma sister he wis gaun tae leave aes wife an oo were gaun tae move tae England but he couldnae dae it in the end she wis kinnae nervy an he didnae huv it in him tae leave her I nivver went near a man for a guid while efter that then I got a job in the chemist an Mr. Sykes whae owned it wis a lovely man a wee bit aulder but awfy nice an when he became a widower I wis aes comfort he wis right guid tae me I wanted fur nuthin he wid’ve mairried aes but I tellt him I wis quite happy the wey I wis I liked ma independence an I think there wis a bit ae him that wis gled aboot that really for he liked aes peace an quiet wee Audrey wis his


lipstick I juist used tae love twistin it up an doon ramblin rose that wis ma favourite shade an I hud the loveliest compact fur ma face pooder it wis gold an enamelled on the top wi flooers on it aw different colours an a mirror on the inside ae the lid I loved the smell ae face pooder I used tae use pan stick but it wis too heavy fur me so I stopped I liked when they brought oot the liquid foundation Max Factor mind it lasted ages I wid sometimes huv tae poke a hole through tae get tae ony liquid that wis left oo didnae get oot very much in thae days


weemin aye pittin their fuckin make-up oan dollin theirsels up young lookin yins that dinnae need it an aulder yins that juist look like fuckin clowns wi their lipstick aw ower their teeth an the eyeshadow gaun aw crinkly roon their een fuckin mess an aye lashin oan the perfume so’s ye cannae smell their cunts


I see that fellae wis in the paper yesterday him that wis at the Volunteer hall last year were ee there I’ll never forget it I went wi Jenny Murray oor mothers were cousins Jenny’s aye takin aes along tae aw thae high falutin things she’s awfy keen on orchestras an plays and exhibeeshuns her man’s no interested so she hoys me along wi her mind there isnae much I dinnae enjoy I’ve heard some braw music an seen some lovely picters I’m never quite sae keen on the plays though unless it’s a comedy wi some ae them I’m hotchin in ma sate afore the interval but this night wis a wee bit different it wis a famous writer readin aes stuff mind I’d never heard ae’m well I’ll tell ee I wisnae lookin forrit tae it I hud masel convinced it wid be dry as dust but ae wis like a comedy turn for a stert ae looked like ae’d been pu’d through a hedge backwards an aes claes were aw creased they looked clean enough but there wis a hole in aes jumper an aes breeks looked like they hud bits ae paint aw ower them but mind when ae stertit tae speak ee could tell ae wis an awfy nice fellae but ower mony brains I think ae wid stert tellin ee aboot somethin an then ae wid get aessel lost an wid juist stand there blinkin an gaun em now well em yes now then where was I an ee were never shair if ee should be laughin or no an this wis aw afore ae he read aes stuff nae bother readin mind an I’ll tell ee somethin I got ma education that night Jenny didnae ken where tae look she’d read aes first book an it hud nithin like that in it but this yin well they were dreamin aboot  tyin yin anither up they hud whups an blindfolds an dug collars an nane ae them hud dugs pit it that wey but in the middle ae aw this aes breeks fell doon right doon tae aes ankles an the ha’ wis fu tae they’d aw come tae hear the great man an here ae wis wi aes troosers roond aes ankles an ae never geed aes ginger juist kinnae went oh an bent doon tae pu them up aes wife hud louped up tae help him she wis an awfy lookin ticket tae a long purple frock an a dirty yellae jumper straggly long hair an muckle hoolet specs she looked fair roosed she didnae half yank aes breeks up an widnae let him near tae festen them an oo hud tae laugh they werenae festened wi a belt juist an auld safety peen the kind ee wid yase on a bairn’s nappy onywey it wis in the paper yesterday ae deed the day afore hert attack it sid


I see Mary Harkness’s man’s workin wi Jim Dickison the slater he’s hud as mony jobs as he’s got fingers an taes that yin he wis on the scaffie cairt no that long ago an afore that he wis up at Rhanelaw quarry mind it wis that time when there wis aw that cairry on aboot them dynamitin the wrong bit an it aw came doon ontae the Glesgae road at least he’s workin the fellae no like that yin that bides next door tae’m what’s eas name again the bairns caw’m Catweazle mind ae’s Bert Johnstone’s cousin no that ee’d ever think sae Bert’s sic a clean livin fellae he’s no a Johnstone for he’s a cousin on Bert’s mother’s side Howlett that’s aes name Bob Howlett Bert’s mother wis a Howlett he’s a winnae work aye been the same aye got a bad back an that wee wife ae his sic a hard workin wee wummin she aye looks wrocht tae daith





 

[Dorothy Alexander was mentored by Tom Leonard at the University of Glasgow from 2001 to 2006 (MLitt and PhD). She lives and works in the Scottish Borders.]

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