All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

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Saturday 9: Papa was a rolling stone

Saturday 9 is a weekly blogging meme hosted by Crazy Sam Winters (she added the crazy, not me!).

Every Saturday there will be nine questions – sometimes they will be around a common theme, other times completely random – to be answered however we like.

1. What’s the best memory that you have of your dad, while growing up?

A few months ago, in honour of my father’s 60th birthday I began writing a blog called The Voice of Our Song that saw me record memories of my life and the lessons my parent’s taught me. Although I haven’t written a new post for a while now, I will be returning to it soon.

One of the posts I wrote recounted a practical joke my dad played on me when I was ten:

The place, Portlethen.

The year, 1989.

Being the astute boy that I was, by 10am on this Sunday morning I had completed all my weekend homework assignments, deep cleaned my bedroom, mopped the bathroom and kitchen, weeded the vegetable patch and vacuumed the cat.

Now, after a calming bath, I was changing for my next array of chores. Slipping my bathrobe off I deodorized, talced and set about dressing in my usual attire; khaki pants, aged shirt, leather jacket and fedora – what can I say, I was going through an Indiana Jones phase, what ten-year old boy doesn’t?

As I stood in my birthday suit about there was a sudden, deafening, high-pitched beep. I recognized it immediately from the moment, two months earlier, when I had set fire to the couch.

“Four!” I yelped, before correcting myself. “Five!” And with scant regard to the birthday suit I was wearing I bolted out my door screaming the far more apt “FIRE!”

Pounding on my brother’s door to ensure he escaped un-singhed I checked the upstairs rooms before legging down the stairs and rolling 80s action movie style into the downstairs corridor. Suspecting the fire was coming from the kitchen I made sure the downstairs rooms were clear before bolting outside to the prearranged evacuation point.

Skidding onto the damp grass I soon realized no-one else had gathered to watch our house go down in flames so I leaped to the logical conclusion they were inside; possibly unconscious and suffocating.

Breaking into the garage I collected the fire extinguisher and ran indoors, firing a cloud of fire destroying propellant before me.

As the haze cleared all that was revealed were my brother and sister smiling inanely in the kitchen doorway whilst my father perched on a step-ladder beneath the smoke detector he had set off, laughing so hard he threatened to tip himself off the rungs. My mother meanwhile, was upstairs, refusing to partake in such a cruel and humiliating practical joke.

Placing the fire extinguisher gently onto the floor I collected myself and, without a word, marched my nudity back to my room.

from Four…Five…Fire!

2. How boring do you think your life is?

Sure, things get chaotic courtesy of my MH issues, but in the grand scheme of things my life is pretty boring at the moment. I’m working hard to turn things around so I’m more who I used to be, but these things take time, especially with the social anxiety and isolation it causes. I’m getting there though, maybe when I hit 90 my life will be ludicrously exciting!

3. Can you do any accents? If not, do you know someone who is good at it?

I can kind of do Canadian, eh (courtesy of rewatching Strange Brew) and I can kindof do Irish (though I end up sounding like Tom Cruise from Far and Away!) What I can do is an excellent impersonation of Eddie Izzard impersonating James Mason – although if I try to do either of them individually they are awful!

4. What technology did you at first fear that you now could not live without?

Twitter; I first looked into it in 2007 and thought it was totally pointless in every way, shape and form. Now, I need it to survive.

Mobile phones; I’ve always had issues with mobile phones as I deplore the whole ‘need to be contactable 24/7 world’ we’ve created – unfortunately, being homeless, a mobile phone is a necessity.

Calculators; although I always preferred the abacus myself

5. Do you, or have you ever, thought you have a book in you?

I have 21 books in me. They’re lumped under the slightly dodgy umbrella term The Inverness Chronicles and so far only one of them has been written in its entirety – but all the synopses are there, the plots, characters, arcs, everything is there, I just can’t write them at the moment because of my lack of focus. Arg! It annoys me so much that I can’t get myself into the head space I need to be in to write again.

I also wrote two novels during my teenage years (age 14 and 16), a novella as a personalised birthday present for a girlfriend (she dumped me before I had the chance to give it to her) and a plethora of short stories (some published) and random oddities.

Writing has been in my blood since I was but a wee child stealing pens from school because mine had run out. I’m just don’t feel like I’m very good at it.

6. How does the weather effect where you live?

Weather never seems to effect where I live. I’ve lived in the middle of a desert (hot), the northern region of Scotland (cold) and Melbourne; which, contrary to what the locals will say, has never seen four seasons in one day. As long as I like the town/city/village/hamlet I’m happy.

7. Are you more interested in you favorite artist’s next work, or the TMZ side of it all?

Always their next work. The celebrity obsession culture is something I’ve never really understood and tend to stay away from. Even occasionally glancing at paparazzi shots of Vanessa Hudgens frolicking in a bikini makes me feel uneasy as it’s tantamount to stalking.

Most of the artists I tend to love don’t make much of an impact on the TMZ scene anyway – for some inexplicable reason people seem to be more interested in the Kardashians or Selena Gomez than they are Charles de Lint and David Fincher.

8. Have you ever felt “battled-scarred” by a relationship or relationships in general? If yes, do tell.

Given I was in an emotionally abusive relationship my very real battle-scars are there for all to see. In terms of physical battle-scars, I do have a small scar on my arm from a rather ‘passionate’ night of naughtiness involving playful wrestling, a couple of toys and raspberry sauce.

9. Do you tend to root for the bad guy?

I root for the guy (or gal) who is neither hero or villain but somewhere in that delicious area of grey between the two.

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My Sister and Me – Childhood; the most beautiful of all life’s seasons

“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more,”
~ Jane Austen ~

Kathryn is a writer. She is a philosopher, an academic and witticist. She is a woman with a voracious appetite for literature, who dines on Shakespeare and Pynchon with a side salad of Homer before washing it down with a refreshing glass of Bronte.

Kathryn is an actress. She is an artist, an activist and a raconteur. She is a woman with an eidetic memory; who can recall grammatical mistakes from fifteen years past, quote passages from Dante and recite King Lear in perfect rhythm.

If you asked her who said: “A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others”, or what book began with: “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day”, she could tell you before your heart had the chance to beat.

If you asked her who said: “Everyone’s getting spanked but me,” she would tell you with a smirk on her face, a grin that would only get wider if you asked her what started with the line: “There’s moments in your life that make you, that set the course of who you’re gonna be.”

Kathryn is one of the most incredible women I’ve ever known.

She is homeless.

She is mentally ill.

She is a stranger.

And I’ve wanted to write about her since first beginning this blog in October 2007, but the words would never come. If I didn’t love Kathryn as much as I do perhaps it would be easier to write about her; of her achievements, of her life, of everything that makes her who she is. But I do love her, more than words can describe, for big brothers always love their little sisters, no matter what.

These are some of the hardest words I’ve ever had to write; this is the story of my sister and me.

1. The most beautiful of all life’s seasons

“Did you know that childhood is the only time in our lives when insanity is not only permitted to us, but expected?”
Louis de Bernières ~

When I was but an innocent child I saw it my duty as a big brother to educate my sister in the ways of the world. Whilst having a bath one cool summer’s evening I pointed at my sister and informed her that she shouldn’t worry, when she got older she would grow a penis too. Given I was four and oblivious to the field of anatomical studies I didn’t use the word penis, just the word ‘it’, and she nodded at me with a slight smile that seemed to say ‘you’re a blithering idiot’ before throwing a rubber duck at my head.

As first memories of your sister go this has it all; embarrassment, sibling love, humiliation, rubber ducks and a rather random anecdote that will bring head shakes to those who hear it. At the time we were just carefree, innocent children, unaware of the demons that existed in the world. We spent our days sitting around watching Saturday morning cartoons, playing in the park, throwing mud at each other and generally making our parent’s life as miserable as possible. We were kids; it was our job to be as mischievous and naughty as we could.

If we wanted to dig up the garden looking for buried treasure, we would, and if I wanted to cover my sister in worms to make her squeal while we searched, then I did. Just as she would throw mashed potato at me for no reason other than she felt like it. We were siblings, teasing goes with the territory.

But no matter how much I teased her, I was always there to protect her. Whether that was accompanying her to school because she was afraid of Moss Monsters or receiving lines in detention for hitting someone who dared insult her. She was my little sister; I would have done anything for her.

We were vacationing together, my sister and I. For the life of me I don’t remember why my parents and elder-brother weren’t with us, but for a week we hung out with our Nan and cousin. On one occasion we visited Chessington Zoo (in the days before it became the World of Adventures) where upon arrival our Nan became ecstatic about seeing a robin in a tree. With all the elephants, bears, penguins, giraffes and hippopotami that resided beyond the entrance our cousin cracked us up by saying “We haven’t come all this way to see a robin.”

Whilst later that same week my sister chose a book she wanted as our bedtime story. A rather cliché story of children enjoying a day on the beach became a confusing, David Lynch-esque nightmare when our Nan failed to grasp the concept of the ‘Choose your own adventure’ format. Instead of allowing us to choose the fate of these two children, our Nan simply read the book cover to cover and upon finishing declared to us that it was the worst book she’d ever read as it was complete nonsense.

This is how my sister and I were when we were children; normal. One minute concocting grand schemes of world domination involving buckets of tadpoles and our pet cat; the next having our said plans foiled by mum’s slipper. One day we were re-enacting heartfelt scenes of sibling love we’d seen in Neighbours; the next we were creating scenes of such domestic hostility they wouldn’t have looked out-of-place in that Antipodean soap opera. Kathryn would give me advice on how best to play my role as the Ugly sister; I would help her with her times-tables; she reciprocated with my grammar (something she always had a better grasp on) so I would offer assistance with her history (something she always had a better grasp on as well!)

In those halcyon days we were just Addy and Kathryn; brother and sister. But all that changed around the time of my sister’s ninth birthday, when she was cast in a school play and had to wear a leotard as part of her costume. Three years later, at the age of twelve, Kathryn was admitted into a psychiatric hospital after being diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and obsessive compulsive disorder.

She was still my little sister, the girl I’d played with, laughed with and planned world domination with.

But I was no longer her brother, I was contagious.

To be continued…
Wednesday 19 September:
  My Sister and Me (Part 2)
Friday 21 September: My Sister and Me (Part 3)


Twenty of the Best: Roald Dahl, Champion of the World

There are only three authors I can think of who’ve always had a consistent positive effect on my mental health. Three writers, across three genres, who fill my heart with warmth and joy whenever I crack open one of their books.

Today, in the first of a three part series, I look at an author who defined my childhood. Whose books introduced me to the magical world of writing, provided me with endless memories and taught me vital life lessons we should all live by.

Given today is Roald Dahl Day, it shouldn’t take much to work out which author I am focussing on today. So, here are my twenty favourite books from his magnificent body of work:

 ~ 12 ~
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More

I hated this book when I first read it. At eight years old I wanted odd Chocolate Factory owners, gigantic stone fruits and wily foxes; not farmers finding Roman Treasure, hitch-hikers and captured sea turtles. However, when I returned to this collection later in life, I found my younger self to have been somewhat hasty, as it is a beautiful collection of inspirational writing.

~ 11 ~
George’s Marvellous Medicine

One of my strongest memories of non-Enid Blyton bedtime stories is my mother reading this book to me. At six years old it was always so wonderful being cuddled up in her arms as she read this masterpiece to me night after night.

~ 10 ~
Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories

Between ‘Matilda’ and ‘Esio Trot’ I was suffering from Dahl withdrawal. After re-reading several of his books I came across this in the local library and checked it out – duly scaring the crap out of my young self and causing several sleepless nights! Monumental in that it these were the first ghost stories I ever read.

~ 9 ~
My Year

This is a little known gem that should be much wider read. A charming collection based on the diary entries from the final year of Dahl’s life. Inspiring, beautifully illustrated by long-time collaborator Quentin Blake and essential reading for all Dahl aficionados. When I think of this book I think of Scotland, in particularly the Isle of Skye, where I read this whilst sitting overlooking Portree Harbor.

~ 8 ~
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Yes, I love the Gene Wilder starring movie. Yes, I hate the Johnny Depp starring movie. Yes, I adore this book as it was the first Dahl I can remember reading on my own, followed swiftly by its underrated sequel.

~ 7 ~
Going Solo

Although not holding the same appeal as ‘Boy’ – most likely because at the young age I read it I couldn’t relate to it as much as the former – this is a wonderful book for all Dahl fans, as well as anyone with an interest in the lives of inspiring, great individuals.

~ 6 ~
James and the Giant Peach

This book used to scare the bejesus out of me. When I was five we had a giant spider living in our house, an arachnid easily as big as a Yorkshire terrier. On one occasion it trapped me on the toilet, on another in the bath, in fact it seemed to have a disturbing fetish for attacking me when I was most vulnerable! The giant insects in this book brought back many memories of this traumatizing period of my life, but fortunately not enough to make me dislike the book which, in all honesty, is impossible.

~ 5 ~
Danny the Champion of the World

One of several celebrities I’ve met in my life is Jeremy Irons, who played the father of the titular character in the 1989 film adaptation of this book. When I met him it I mumbled something about loving this film as I served him coffee. As film adaptations go it’s one of the better ones – but nowhere near as good as the source material.

~ 4 ~
Switch Bitch

If you’re not familiar with this book, I recommend not reading it to your little ‘uns, as it’s a collection of short stories originally written for Playboy magazine in the 1960s. When I first read this book I wasn’t aware of this – not that my thirteen year old self complained all that much!

~ 3 ~

Another memory of bedtime stories are my parents reading this in tag-team fashion over the course of a week. One night, mum would whip off a couple of chapters; the next night would be dad’s turn. I also have very fond memories of the animated film that was made of this book, but again, it was nowhere near as good as the source material, which is easily one of the best children’s books of all time.

~ 2 ~

This was the first biography I ever read and at eleven years old, one of the most compelling and frightening books I’d ever read. Although I’ve read it many times since, the chapters which stand out in my memory are those detailing the corporal punishment Dahl received as a child. Being of similar age to when Dahl first received the cane, I was left quite glad I lived in an era when corporal punishment was no longer used in schools for I would surely have been on the receiving end of it more than once!

This is one of the most wonderful books ever written and an essential read for any literature lover. it would easily have scored my number one slot if it weren’t for the fact that he also wrote one of the greatest books of all time…

~ 1 ~

For those who know me, and for a large number of those who don’t, this will come as no surprise. To this day I can still remember the utter excitement that coursed through my body as I tentatively held the heavy hardback version of this book on the day of its release, my parents only too aware of my love for Dahl’s work and how much I would enjoy it. When they gifted me that book all those years ago did they know it would become one of my favourite books of all time? That I would fall in love with Matilda and make birthday wishes that one day I would have a teacher as lovely as Miss Honey?

I guarded my first edition copy of Matilda for many, many years until the great sell-off of my possessions following my breakdown. Listing it on Ebay was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but I have no memory of what happened to it. For my soul, I hope it found its way to a home that will love it as much as I do.

Upcoming Posts in this Series
George Mackay Brown, A Poet’s Magic (Thursday, 20 September 2012)
Charles De Lint, Writer of my Heart (Thursday, 27 September 2012)


To honor Roald Dahl Day, do you have any personal favourites or memories of his books? I’d love to know :)

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That Special Book in My Life (aka My Quest for a Kelpie)


‘Quest for a Kelpie’ by Frances Hendry.

I first read it when I was but a wee tyke at school…or rather it was read to us by our teacher. Even though I didn’t know the meaning of the word back then it resonated within me to the point I was drawn to the local library where I checked it out myself and re-read it several times.

For years I craved to read it again. Ten years from when I’d first read it I ranaway to Scotland (the events weren’t connected) and after one somewhat un-nerving night found myself in a charity shop in Stirling. Caked in dust in the middle of the bookshelf was the book I’d been dreaming about all these years, and for only 50p.

I read half the book on the train to Edinburgh and the other sitting in the shadow of the castle.

That raggedy, dog eared copy remained with me for the next ten years. Every country I went to, every journey I made, every mode of transportation. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it now!

Alas, with life the way it is these days, I have no idea where that book may be now. I’m hoping it was found by a lovely soul who cherished it as much as I did.

If you were to say that title to most they’ll look at you with a blank face. Say it to me – and it invokes memories and emotion unlike any book I’ve read before or since, most likely ever will.

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