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Thinking of it so far

Ernie Wise used to ask his partner Eric Morecambe, Well, what d'you think of it so far? to which Eric would invariably reply, Rubbish! I guess all of us at times would respond in similar vein when asked how they felt about their lives, and I am no exception. On the other hand we all know and marvel that our lives on planet Earth have at times been filled with sweet harmony; the great beauty that I imagine, in my current novel-in-progress, are glimmering, pinpoint reflections of the everlasting Music of the Spheres.

In these pages I have been able to revisit some of these immense joys as well as to face up to its  hurts and disappointments. I here include even the personal shortcomings with which I have all too often played the good cards handed to me at birth. Until this I have never spent much time looking within myself. I have, I suppose, been something of a stargazer rather than ingazer.

So with what gifts and what handicaps, can I now conclude, was I endowed? And how well or badly would I conclude I have used them? I think I was given more than my fair share of good looks, physical fitness and imagination but no more than perhaps above average of intelligence. Measured in terms of fame and fortune I have undoubtedly under-used such assets. Perhaps the key word here is 'character; perhaps it is the force and strength of character that decides how well or how less well we are / have been able to use ourselves. One can after all be congenitally disabled and at the same time a person we would all recognise as being 'good' or even 'great' for any one of a thousand reasons, or on the other hand some genius greek-god-like figure who by general consent is a 'bad' person - in the vernacular, 'a right bastard'! Only time will tell how well or badly I have used my own 'endowments'. That is, of course,  should 'time' care to tell anything at all about Bryan Islip. None of us can - nor should ever pretend to be our own judge and jury.

But I do know what has made me especially happy to be me and to be alive. Amongst many, many things that might qualify, most if not all of them of no importance whatsoever to anybody else ...
... Being allowed to walk a young lady named Joan Wood home after the Saturday night dance in York at the De Grey Ballroom ... coming home from work mid-week then taking Robert and Stuart and our boat down to the cold winter night-time Solent to fish for cod ... finding the perfect nest of, and collecting the perfect little egg of a golden-crested wren ... being in Picadilly Circus with my father at the end of ww2 in Europe, one of an enormous crowd listening to and singing along with Ida Lupino out on that hotel balcony I'm gonna get lit up when the lights go on in London ... coming out of that Newmarket cinema into the night after viewing On The Waterfront; (Brando: 'I could've been a contender') ... the exciting smells inside my grandfather's fishing tackle box on Hastings Pier ... walking to work in Cambridge filled with enthusiasm for being a twenty one years old married man with utter confidence in our future ...  holidays camping by the beach on Shell Island lying in my sleeping bag listening to the spatter pattering of rain on tight canvas and the eternal, metronimical shushing of wave of shingle... the constantly replenishing heat of lust and sex with wondrous love, (never, ever without) ... the pure perfection of sight and smell (but not necessarily of sound!) of our babies, one by one ... overcoming with that first significant order from Jack's Hill Cafe the early fear of (business) failure ... reading the final pages of Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls ... being presented with my first national short fiction award (for Willie's Place) in that Tottenham Court Road book store ... the all too rare perfection of one particular golf shot (amongst many, many less perfect!) ... the take-off from Riyadh airport in the Heathrow red eye and that first malt whisky after a dry business fortnight under the harsh Saudi sun, order book nicely filled ... reading the very favourable review in the Ross-shire Journal of my first published novel, More Deaths Than One ...  that first time, after dinner, when I stood up to address a group of people knowing they were really, really listening, really wanting me (or that which I was to say) somehow to make things better ... watching Stuart in the great big dog show ring with his lovely young vizsla dog Seth in all their pomp - and winning ... reading Tennison or Hemingway to my (early teenage) girls over the breakfast table ... my first ever sale in an Ullapool street market of a greetings card bearing my painting on its front and my verse on its rear ... standing on the beach at Hillhead that glorious morning after I had been advised that my new bosses had no further use for my services and that therefore for the first time in my adult life I was free to do anything, go anywhere within means and reason ... admiring myself in the mirror wearing the light tan harris tweed jacket earned from first earnings at Boots the Chemist in Cambridge, the jacket that my father said made me look like a 'spiv' ... walking into the Stratford-on-Avon restaurant as the guest of my daughter and son-in-law on the occasion of my eightieth birthday to find waiting there my beautiful grandson and granddaughters with their various partners (did I really do all this, I wondered?) ... being the first person to gain the topmost branches of a certain great tree in the grounds of Abingdon School ... the quiver of my beach caster rod tip announcing the arrival of a sea bass ...etcetera

I was planning next to set out a contrary series of miserable low-lights or disappointments in my life but have decided against doing that, having already made myself sufficiently unhappy through their narration within these many pages.

I have tried to tell the truth as faithfully and as well if not as completely as I possibly can, or as I have the courage so to do. I cannot tell the truth completely for to do so would be to hurt myself and others to an unnecessary degree and I have no wish to hurt any of us beyond the bare minimum. Besides, the size and weight of such a tome would be impractical! Neither have I set out here to state my general views on life and the affairs of mankind (although that may come in the next and final postscript episode), for my views would truly be only one man's opinions and are therefore as irrelevant as is today's newspaper editorial which is indeed only another's. My grandfather was an evangelist but I am not. Perhaps that makes him (or you) a better person than I. But telling it as it is, that's one thing; telling it in ways and words that can, if one is lucky, sometimes transcend the content - that is what I have tried to do, whether in this or in my other writings, fiction or non-fiction. Ernest Hemingway wrote that fiction, or any prose, to be any good must be 'truer than the truth' ... and (Death in the Afternoon) ... Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, ... A good writer should know as near everything as possible. Naturally he will not. A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge. There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave. ... 

The End 
(but not quite the end)
08 October 2015

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First of the many - Me and Billy McGhee (alias Dee Islip)

First of the many - Me and Billy McGhee (alias Dee Islip)
Photograph courtesy of Colin Robertson

How it all started...

Our packaging business was based in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. On the 11th of September 2001, in a hotel bar, I watched the fall of the twin towers.

Three days later I met my wife, Dee, at Heathrow. We made out way north to a long planned holiday in the north west Highlands of Scotland.

By the end of that holiday our decisions were all made; we would close up our Middle East operations. I would come home to Winchester and in due course we would move up to Wester-Ross.

All my life I had played around with painting pictures and with writing verse and fiction. Now I would do this for our living, and in a place where you only had to lift your eyes to lift your mind.

In September 2002 we moved north; we had come home.

What you see here and at Pictures and Poems is some of the result thus far.

'Come on along o' me, for the best is yet to be.'