To Portmahomack… and beyond


Missed me? I have.

I didn’t realise that having a blog would be like having Multiple Personality Disorder. I’ve been “The Browser” for the newspaper a lot this last week, and I’ve been “The Author” at a book festival and even managed to be that fictional entity “Stuart Kelly” for nearly 48 hours…

"The Author", "The Brower", "Stuart Kelly" and "McShandy" in a rare group photograph

So, first off “Stuart Kelly” took Mrs McShandy aka Mrs Browser aka Mrs Kelly but really Sam to Portmahomack for the weekend. I was last there to record a radio programme about Pictish gospels and have always wanted to go back; and it didn’t disappoint. Long walks to lighthouses, reading books in front of the firth, sneaking past a bull the size of a bus, taking vaguely autistic notes about phrases and words I found (“Gravitation Water”, “no less that 50 faecal coliforms per 100 ml”, “The Free Church Continuing”). We had a new car tape, put together by “Stuart Kelly” which featured, among other highlights, Strawberry Switchblade, the Bangles, the Primitives and, sadly, Tight Fit. Memo from McShandy to “Stuart Kelly”: do not buy songs on iTunes for comedy / nostalgia reasons, and never, ever, remember the dirty words to “In the Jungle”, particularly since they involved the classic TV show “Rainbow”. A holiday involving quadrisyllabic names is on the cards: Portmahomack. Macrahanish. Tobermory. Kinlochleven.

Then, after a breakfast one of us will only write about in our diary to be published after our death or deaths, we got to Nairn. Nairn is like a wee Edinburgh, with Fishertown as its Leith. Just as we crossed the Black Isle, “Stuart Kelly” was minimised and “The Author” was clicked into full-screen mode. “The Author” did his thing (he’s the least wince-prone of our personae) and we managed to meet up with A L Kennedy (“The Author” thinks of Kennedy as his older sister; “Stuart Kelly” thinks of her as a friend, and “The Browser” constantly worries that he might send her next novel to a reviewer who doesn’t get it, while he is prevented from reviewing it himself due to “The Browser” being cheeky but fundamentally ethical). We also caught up with Allan Guthrie and Denise Mina, and went to a delightful event where the RSAMD previewed their best new opera singers: there was a piece by Rossini that sounded like Verdi, a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan McShandy didn’t puke ove, and so much on-stage hidden dynamics that it might as well have been a play. (“The Browser” loves classical music, and is quite knowledgeable about it; “Stuart Kelly” has degenerated to pop, “The Author” listens to Nyman and Glass and McShandy likes the bits between songs: John Cage’s 4’ 33’’ is a particular favourite).

How we managed to get all four of me into a Micra to get back is beyond all of us, though “The Author” maintains he is an expert at Car-Tetris. Sam drives as if the Micra were a horse, and she has cleared a five bar gate when she was piqued. We wended back via Braemar, Tomintoul and every other sad-sack tourist-trap in the Highlands. If anyone reading this wants to give me about a million or so pounds to convert the beautiful building in Tomintoul’s square into a writer’s retreat (that’s The Browser), or a personal hideaway (that’s The Author), or a training ground for the future commandos of literature (that’s me) or a nice hotel (that’s that milksop “SK” again), then feel free to e-mail us your bank details.

Anyway, all four of us should be reading.  As should you. Stop reading this blog and read some Literature instead. Especially you, you, you, you and you.

Oh, “The Browser” has just bust in to say he wants you to read this review first, about insomnia.



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4 responses to “To Portmahomack… and beyond

  1. caroline richardson

    Brilliant! Made me laugh right outloud..then ponder, index finger on side of face, head angled a little to the side…….. isn’t there a serious point here?
    Ah, yes! ‘Personae’ and Baudrillaud…
    Then had a good laugh again at the car tetris image.
    A good start to the day either way!
    And now, as instructed by the Browser; back to the garden to read Jonathan Coe’s fab biog on BS Johnson, the avant-garde (much overlooked/underrated) late 20C novelist….Ho hum

  2. I loved this and can’t stop laughing!

  3. Strawberry Switchblade? My opinion has entirely altered of all four of you. I’ve not yet decided if it’s for better or worse.

  4. Gavin Inglis

    I went to see Rose McDowall from Strawberry Switchblade at a small venue a year or two ago. I knew it was going to be quite folky — but it was a strong contender for the worst gig I’ve ever been to.

    And she wouldn’t even play “Since Yesterday” for the Gothic Lolita girls down the front. Pfah.

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