Not George's Night

George is apparently away for a week, leaving Not George to entertain us all by herself. After a slightly nervous start, she soon began to enjoy herself and so did everyone else. For one thing, without George's massive Korg keyboard filling the stage, she had room to dance. For another, there was no need for her to smile bravely through George's doubtful vocals and interminable sax solos. In fact, Not George came of age last night as a solo bar-star in her own right. If she keeps this up, I'll be forced to learn her name. Did she get me up to sing with her? Maybe. Go girl! And George, don't hurry back.

Ratus ratus, by Pararegular

A reader, Pararegular, today left such a paratypical comment on an earlier post that I thought it worth promoting to a post in its own right. Any more stories like this, Mr. Pararegular, and I'll happily extend you authoring rights here. Seriously.

So, Mr. Paraglider...

Great blog, by the way, but have you heard about the Paranormal rats? Yes, I said rats.

One should almost expect to see the odd vermin patrolling the vicinity of a crumbling 30 yr old hotel, but you don't expect to see them making an appearance in a throbbing Chalky's bar half way through a busy evening!

The first made a rather comic appearence, just as the second D.J. of the night was warming up.
He emergerged from behind the left-hand LCD screen, and boldly skipped and hopped all the way along the top of the wood paneling, pausing briefly to check out the crowd, before vanishing back behind the panelling via the right-hand LCD.
What made this even more surreal, was when the clientel started shouting and pointing, the unaware D.J. wrongly assumed the crowd were highly enthusiastic about the track he was playing, and almost took a bow!

The second was a few weeks later, and even bolder.
He appeared high up in the right corner at the bar, and took a stroll around the "clean" up-turned pint glasses, freaking out all chickens in the corner, before vanishing from whence he came!

The day after, the Manager stated one had been caught overnight, proudly holding his hands out in front of him like a fisherman grossly exagerating the size of 'the one that got away'!

I had been wondering what had happened to all the small roaches one used to spot now and again!

Early Days

You stand on the lawn holding the windfall apple between your feet. Taking care not to split it, you press the garden cane clean through it, a couple of inches into the ground. Using the cane as a slingshot, you launch the apple with all your might. High over the trees and the garden wall. Over the old warehouses and beyond, to land out of sight. Possibly in the harbour. Maybe even across the water in North Harbour Street. Who cares - the fun is in the flight, not the landing. You fire another, and another. When you run out of windfalls, you shake the tree.
When the policeman turns up he doesn't believe a kid can throw apples 200 yards so you have to give him a lesson in how it's done. He's a quick learner and a fit young guy, so his first attempt goes like a rocket. But his round-arm technique doesn't give enough elevation and his apple smashes itself to a pulp against the warehouse wall. Shocked at the raw power of this weaponry, he confiscates your cane and cycles off with it over his shoulder, to practise at home. If he'd only looked in the shed, he'd have found your air rifle and the World War One bayonet. And fifty more canes.
(excerpt from Zen & the Art of Paragliding)

Plus Ca Change

At first sight, Stufital hasn't changed at all through Ramadan, but on closer inspection the tattier chairs are seen to have been re-upholstered and the table tops revarnished. The other change, which we were expecting, is the new duo, George and not-George. No guitar, sadly. George leads from a keyboard which manages to play itself when he switches to saxophone. Not-George, whose name I'll learn in time, is a sonsie lass with a nice smile but rather less voice than either of her predecessors. Otherwise, business as usual, as witness Dindsay's state of, let's say, relaxation.

The Muntazah Flat

Just because I've run out of windows in Ayr surely doesn't mean I've run out of inspiration? After a lay-off of a few weeks from the last post in the house series, I thought I'd better start something new. So, here goes: again courtesy of Google Earth, this is my small corner of Doha. My flat is on the first floor, to the front of the building, facing the street. Across the road, the lads play football or cricket in the early morning on the triangle of burnt grass, while waiting for the ancient American school bus to come and take them to work. Adjacent, to the left, is the Dubyani Restaurant, a taxi drivers' howff, or tea-howff, which is quite handy because it means I never have to wait long to get a cab.

Behind is the start of mini-Pakistan, an area that stretches almost to Sofitel and is home to a large community of Pakistani workers. Most of them have been here for a long time and work in and around the old city, in shops, juice stalls, garages, filling stations, repair yards and the like. They are the city's human infrastructure; without them, the place would curl up and die. They don't work on the big construction projects or in the oil & gas plants. The guys that keep these concerns running are imported in large work gangs from the Subcontinent and are mostly housed in compounds out of town. You don't see them much because they are not given the freedom of the city. They are not even allowed to walk on the Corniche or enter the shopping malls, because it's not good, apparently, for the rich to see the poor.

Ramadan Kareem

Ramadan comes round again, and with it the closing of every bar in Doha. Dubai at least allows evening opening. It's not the lack of alcohol that's the problem. Residents' permits solve that one. But it just makes for a long month when there's nowhere to go on a weekend evening. Yes, there are cafes and shopping malls, good for maybe fifteen and five minutes respectively. But these are hardly places to congregate, still less to hold jam sessions. Restaurants? Good. Let's have a Chateaubriand, medium-rare, with Bernaise sauce, accompanied by braised shalotts, duchesse potatoes and a bottle of what? Coca Cola? I can wait.

Another Beautiful Figure

Another small milestone, the five figure visitor count. And in spite of extended periods of neglect, the second five thousand came faster than the first, so we must be doing something right. My thanks to all regular and occasional visitors. Please keep coming, and I'll try to make sure there's always something new to see. Requests will be taken seriously!

Waterloo Sunset GT

For a couple of weeks now one of the Stufital regulars has been asking Paraglider to sing Waterloo Sunset. The excuse of not knowing all the lyrics had worn thin (there aren't very many after all) and last night, after one too many beers, it (the excuse) had finally run its course and the moment had arrived. Unfortunately, said regular made the request indirectly, through Rusty (the band) who proceeded to locate the song on his PC - a high speed drum-filled version that bore little resemblance to the Ray Davies original. Paraglider raced manfully through the first manic verse, wishing he was anywhere else, then decided to take control of the situation. By the simple device of stopping singing, he caused Rusty to stop the crazy backing track. In the ensuing silence, he started the song again, on solo guitar and at a sensible speed, and found the experience quite comfortable and relaxed. Almost like it used to be, before the MIDI invasion, before enhanced Karaoke acts replaced bands. Folk say you can't turn the clock back. But you can. It's easy.

Mr Gumbo Jumbo PBUH

No doubt he had a crush on Lisa. No doubt it was not reciprocated. We think he was a dentist. Certainly he was a gentleman. And a regular. Occasionally, he would come in wearing a business suit, and once, a paisley pattern jumper. But his normal attire was an immaculate white dishtash, his dancing dress. He would drink bottled Heineken with an ever-widening smile and a sparkle in his crossed eyes, waiting for the band to play his request, the one he thought was called Gumbo Jumbo. Then he'd get up and dance. If Lisa let him have the mic, he'd sing - ya ya gumbo jumbo ya ya yai. He liked being happy, was polite to everyone, died suddenly and will be missed. Mr Gumbo Jumbo, peace be upon him.

A Pair of Sparkling

What did you send me there for? It's a terrible place! - Gfoot's first words to Paraglider, in Stufital, on his return from Dubai. It seems the room was OK. Breakfast was OK. Location was fine. So what was the problem? - Cost me a fortune! - What, the rates have gone up? - Bugger the rates - Gfoot is always direct - I never got out the bar! - He'd been aware of eyes in the far corner, following his every move, his every successful extrication from every attempted ensnarement. He was doing well, proud of his resolve. Until, rashly, he returned the gaze. Once only, for three and a half hours. So, was he impressed with Chalky's Bar? - Aye.

No like this Qatar

Clearly scrawled straight from the heart, this choice piece of graffiti must have a sad story behind it. One wonders what poor disaffected soul could have been frustrated enough with his host country (for one assumes he is not a local) to throw caution to the winds and vent his frustration on a defenseless concrete wall. A grey concrete wall in a hot, dusty city. A hot dusty city that doesn't allow its immigrant workers into its shopping malls, or even to walk on the Corniche. I can't understand it at all...

Mum & Dad's Room

It's hard, looking at this window, to think back to the fifties, because of the much stronger recent memory of Mum's last few days, bedridden here, before her final trip to hospital. When I took the picture, Mum only had a week or two more to live. By this time, the room had become Mum's room of course, but in happier times it was always Mum & Dad's room.

Except for Sundays, Dad was always first to get up in the morning. His routine was to start his (cold) bath running then go to the kitchen and prepare the coffee percolator. This was great, because he would take the old grounds through to the bathroom and chuck them into the thunderbucket, where they would stick to the white Shanks Vitreous China. If you got up at just the right time, you could make streamy pictures in the dark coffee grounds. You were doubly rewarded for this game, both by the pattern produced and by the combined smell of stale coffee and urine. Sadly, none of these artworks are preserved, since none survived the first pulling of the plug.

The next duty was to gather up Dad's discarded pyjamas and dressing gown, roll them into a ball and carry them along the corridor to Mum & Dad's room, throw them onto the bed and shout 'Bundle!' After his bath, Dad didn't go directly back to his room, but stopped off in the spare room to shave with an electric razor and apply Uwapus*. Sometimes, he'd give me a quick shot of the razor. It was warm and buzzy.

Mum's dressing gown was red and had four or five buttons so that you could find out how tall you were. Usually about the same as yesterday, as the buttons were six inches apart, but hope springs eternal. Douglas was a whole button taller and Derrick was off the scale.

And that, dear readers, concludes this tour of the house by windows. Somehow, I forgot to take a picture of the bathroom window, but as the bathroom has had an honourable mention in this last episode, I don't feel too bad about it.

* Uwapus - Other stuff, obviously...

The Back Room

The Back Room was my first bedroom, and the bed was a cot with dark wooden safety rails and casters. Betty said, "Do you want a hurl?" I'd no idea what a hurl was and thought I was going to get something to eat, but she just pushed the cot across the floor to clean underneath it. That may or may not have been the same day I asked her if she cleaned every house in Ayr, which made her laugh. For some reason, she was less amused when I asked her if she was a servant or a slave.

The back window was for 'giving Daddy a knock' when he was in the garden and tea was ready. Apart from the lawn which was made of weeds, the garden was made of sand, which was great for digging holes in. You sat in a fish box with a short plank stuck through the grip-hole and were indistinguishable from a real mechanical shovel.

Things to play with in the garden included the clothes pole (for pole vaulting), cold chisels (for striking sparks on the granite wall), the sledge hammer (for weight-lifting) and the Iron Bar (for pile driving into the ground). The jungle gym doubled as a climbing frame and James & Jenkins bicycle factory where we invented the chain drive and sold our first production model to Queen Victoria.

There was a walk-in cupboard off the back room where the idea was not to bring down the coat rail when trying to climb up to get the bagatelle. The bagatelle was, without doubt, the best thing in the house. That rumbling noise, the smell of dusty wood and the cold steel taste when you put a ball in your mouth...

On top of the school there was a furnace chimney that was the biggest in Ayr of course, and right beside it was the fire horn that went off at 12 o'clock every Saturday and every time there was a fire. It was very loud. Even people in London could hear it.

Sometimes, a plane would fly over. Most planes had propellers but there were a few jets too. The best plane was the (de Havilland) Comet with its back-slanting wings. Somehow, we knew it could do 200 miles an hour and to fly in it cost £200. We knew we'd never get to fly. That was for rich people.

Unpluggeder Still

G-foot's party by the pool was a slow starter. Looking down from the 12th floor balcony, Paraglider & Co could count maybe seven stalwarts, nine floors below, alternately huddling to feel partyish or spreading out to occupy more space. Numbers were such that it was perhaps a blessing that G-foot's plan to provide a piper to entertain the guests had come to naught. On the other hand, Paraglider had possibly been rash in agreeing to serenade the assembled company on guitar, for half an hour or so. If you haven't tried it, singing outdoors without amplification and in open competition with central Doha traffic and the roar of AC headers can be quite a strain. As can controlling an acoustic instrument that you've just taken from a cool dry interior into a humid 35°C poolside patio. Still, a good time was had by all, and there was no shortage of free food to complement the free bar. Lazing on a sunny afternoon - hah!

The Sitting Room

Mum and Dad originally upheld the old Scottish tradition of not using their best room, but keeping it nice for visitors. The Sitting Room was certainly the best room in the house, big, with two fine windows, a piano, and a grand mahogany mantlepiece. The chairs were comfier too.

Gradually, they relaxed this regime and by the mid-sixties the sitting room had taken over from the living room as the hub of family life. The change was driven by technology. I don't remember us not having a TV, because we got it in 1953 before I was a year old. It was black & white of course, and there was only one channel (The BBC). Broadcasts were only for a few hours at a time with long periods of close-down. The announcer used to say, "Please switch off your set". Then the white dot in the middle of the screen would get wee-er and fainter for about a minute before disappearing.

The other great purchase for the sitting room was the Radiogram, which replaced the wind-up gramophone. It was a wonderful machine, with an auto-changer deck that would take a stack of records, and drop them one by one onto the turntable. It could play 45s and 33s but we didn't have any. All our records were 78s. We had lots of old Scottish music hall stuff - Harry Lauder, Will Fyfe, William McCullloch with his monologues:

"The greatest surprise of the night was when Agnes's faither turned up sober. Oh, he looked so different, his ain dug tried to bite him. Even his wife didna ken him until he spoke and then she collapsed intae a state of sheer exhaustation".

They don't make records like that any more. The Scottish records and the Gilbert & Sullivan set must have been Grandpa's but Mum and Dad had newer gems, from Perry Como, Frankie Vaughn and even Bill Haley & the Comets - yes, the song that started it all. One two three o'clock, four o'clock rock - I had no idea what it meant, but liked the sound of it. It wasn't my favourite though. That would have been When the Saints Go Marching In, at least until we got the Ying Tong Song.

Music aside, the best thing about the Radiogram was the lid, a heavy wooden board that couldn't slam, because it fell slowly with hydraulic damping. This was magic. You could play with it for hours.

On Saturdays, we'd have tea in the sitting room and watch TV. This was one of the highlights of the week, and was quite a performance. The card table had to be fetched from the spare room, and the legs unfolded without catching your fingers. One of the wee retainer devices was loose and a total collapse was always an exciting possibility. We carried the plates of triangular sandwiches (no crusts!) and cakes through from the kitchen and set them out on the table in front of the fire. There were chocolate biscuits too, but you weren't to start with them. And you could only have one of the wrapped ones. The Penguins were supposed to be for Dad, so it was a treat to be allowed one, even though they weren't really as nice as mint or toffee Yo-yos. But that's what you'd expect from a grown-up biscuit.

Unplugged undone

Following the raging success of their inaugural concert, Paraglider and Mr G, in a bold and unprecedented step, promptly embarked on their farewell tour of Doha Stufital, thus cutting out all the usual tedious career-building stuff in between. The teeming fans were shocked and dismayed to learn of the duo's immediate disbandment, occasioned not by the usual flouncing off by a petulant star - I just need some space, man, to, like, be where I'm at as myself, for me, know what I'm saying - but by Mr G's sudden relocation to Japan. Paraglider is already making a few inquiries and it seems likely that, in some form or another, the show will go on.

The Living Room

The Living Room was where we lived. Often, in the Winter, it was the only warm room in the house. The fire had a back boiler to heat water for the bathroom. There was also a damper that was good to sing about, "Oh you push the damper in and you pull the damper out and the smoke goes up the chimney just the same", but I never had a clue what it was for.

The window shelf in the picture came later, as did the window. Back then, it was the usual wooden sash with split panes. In front of it sat the wireless table (with the wireless of course). The wireless was none too reliable and smelt of burning dust. I liked keeking through the wee holes in the back to see the red glow of the valves. Sometimes, Dad would take the back off and poke around inside. The News was pointless and boring, but Uncle Mac's Childrens' Choice was great. During the week, when the others were off to school, Mum used to listen to Housewives' Choice, doing the ironing. The wireless table drawer was full of great things - black and green wire, horribly sticky black tape and some sheets of flypaper. There was a cribbage board called the wee peggotties, in an oblique acknowledgement of the existence, elsewhere in the house, of the peggotties.

Mum didn't let us keep toys and games in the living room, so we had to decide what we wanted to do, go and get it, then do it. Sometimes 'it' was a bottletop bath. For no discernible reason, Dad had a rigid leather case, possibly from an old plate camera, that was full of used bottle tops (crown caps). If you haven't tried it, to have a bottletop bath, you empty the whole lot onto the floor, sit on and among most of them and paddle your hands through the rest. You can also make badges from them by prizing out the cork disc using a pin, then pressing it back in place from inside your jersey, with the bottletop outside, naturally. Some had composite corks that broke to bits when you tried to take them out. Then, what you had to do instead was push the pin under the skin on your fingertips and get a row for being silly.

The living room looked down the street over the back gardens, the Robertsons, the people we didn't know, the Whalleys and beyond. The chimney belongs to the Robertsons' wash house. We didn't have a wash house ourselves, so they shouldn't really have had one either.

Meals were round the living room table. Breakfast was usually morning rolls and oatcakes, sometimes ham and fried bread, porridge, farex, weetabix, or rusks. And cereal, which often came with a gift in the new packet. We collected cowboys and indians, soldiers, bandsmen, farm animals, prehistoric monsters (I got the protoceratops) and racing cars. There are six kinds of racing car, called ones, twos, threes, fours, fives and sixes. Ones are short and squat. Twos are flat. Threes are thin with sticky-out wheels. Fours and sixes are quite similar, and fives are big. Don't let anyone confuse the issue with unnecessary terms like formula one or GT. There are six kinds of racing car, OK? Derrick got the pale blue three. You can have breakfast in your dressing gown on Saturdays.

Teatime was good if Dad got home on time. If he was late, there would be a set piece fight, not always, and not immediately, but often before the meal was over. This would be triggered by a question from Mum, "What did you have for dinner today?" Answer, "Two oatcakes". "That's not nearly enough. You should have a proper meal!" "But I didn't want a proper meal". And so on. Dad kept a bottle of lemon on the floor behind his chair and used to swing back to reach for it (to put in his tea) but never fell over backwards. "Don't swing back on your chair, you'll mark the sideboard!" "I'm not touching the sideboard".

The sideboard drawer was for the good scissors and the photographs. There was one of me in the garden with Buster, Honor's dog, and one of Dad standing on his hands on a diving board somewhere. I don't remember there being any pictures of windows.

The Workshop

Dad didn't keep a tidy workshop. Every once in a while, he'd decide to impose some order on the chaos, and move things around. But it was a lost cause - there was just too much stuff.

But what stuff it was: footballs, rugby balls (of course), cricket balls, softballs, baseballs, basketballs, bowling balls, roller skates, ice skates, rugby boots, running spikes, fishing rods, fishing knives, waders, nets, gaffes, starting pistols, antique guns, box cameras, brass lenses, telescopes, a truncheon, hamsters' cages, books on first aid, physical training, self-defence and even silent killing, stacks of old magazines, Practical Mechanics, Readers' Digest, Men Only*, Trout & Salmon, demijohns, jotters, drawing books, pencils, broken clocks and watches, dowelling, wood, hardboard, beaverboard, perforated zinc, drills, hammers, chisels, saws, a lathe, a treadle fretsaw, tins of paint, solidified paintbrushes, glue, paste, turpentine, methylated spirits, broken things of every kind and unidentifiable aborted projects. The Big Vice and the Wee Vice, naturally.

At tea time, Mum would tell one of us to 'give daddy a shout'. The options were: bellow from the bottom of the attic stair, shout at the ceiling just outside the bathroom, or go upstairs to the workshop and say "A shout".

The skylight was a heavy cast iron affair with rippled glass, and provided the only ventilation to the workshop and the printing room. It could get very hot and stuffy up there in summer. Originally there were two skylights, but as the second one was above a part of the attic that you could only reach by crawling under the work-bench and through a hole, when it rotted and started to leak it was taken away and the roof slated over.

If I had to pick one favourite thing from the workshop, it would have to be the box of framed paper pictures that changed with a light behind them. Some were night & day scenes. Others changed completely, from a pastoral scene to a palace. Only one was damaged beyond use, from before my time.

*Men Only, in the early fifties, was a small quarto publication, largely text, with articles on sport, motoring, travel, etc. Occasional issues would have a topless model photographed in black & white. The magazine was not what it became.

Paraglider Unplugged

A vast throng in Stufital was treated on Friday afternoon to a live musical extravaganza performed, separately and together, by Paraglider and Mr G, and even, briefly, by Staffer-D who fielded a telephone call between verses 2 and 3 without losing a beat. Never before in the history of musical entertainment has so much been achieved by so few with a single microphone. In fact, Friday's microphones singularly outnumbered the available mic cables by some 500%. Though this had not been planned, it resulted in some spectacular ducking and weaving to deliver the short alternate lines of that timeless classic, Itchycoo Park. Almost equally impressive was the scene of dereliction left behind them by the Birthday Girl and her party. Who would have guessed a bag of mixed nuts could spread so far! Fortunately, seven maids were on hand, if not seven mops.

The Front Attic

I'm sitting on Dad's shoulders. There's nobody else in the house and we've just listened to "Sailing up the Clyde" on the wind-up gramophone in the sitting room. We're now walking up and down the corridor, Dad giving his own rendering of the Will Fyfe classic in his idiosyncratic light baritone, and pausing after 'bide' to explain what it means.

Mum and Dad had a relationship with Scots that was typical of the social class and period. They spoke standard English with mild local accents and a few Scots words thrown in. If this was a form of gentrification, it was still very much the norm for schoolteachers at the time. I remember wondering why Mum's people, especially Aunts Polly and Aggie, spoke so broadly, and why it was OK for them, but not for us. But I never asked. On the other hand, posh was wrong too, when friends sent their kids to private school in Edinburgh and they came back with 'English' accents. It seemed nobody spoke properly in those days, except us.

Now we're going up the attic stairs! This is a treat because I'm still not allowed to climb the steep flight on my own so I don't get up here nearly often enough. Derrick and Douglas share the attic bedroom at this time and I sleep in the back room on my own. Later, when I'm big enough to manage the stairs safely, I'll move up to share with Douglas, and Derrick will get the backroom to himself "so that he can work for his Highers". Though I don't yet know it, he'll also get an ultramodern 60s-style wooden bookshelf set that I'll be very jealous of. It will be shaped like a stretched piece of Toblerone, but I won't make that connection for another 50 years or so, when I'll do it retrospectively on something still unimaginable called a blog - och shut up!

The front attic was brilliant. It had the only view of the sea from any window in the house, being high enough to see over Eglinton Terrace. We got wonderful sunsets over Arran. These sunsets, by the way, sound exactly like seagulls on the roof and smell of paraffin. In the winter, we'd light the heater, which would make the windows stream with condensation. In the mornings, you could scrape the ice off the inside with your fingernails. But this all came later, for me.

Dad lifts me down, says, "Wait there a wee minute Daidy-toor" and goes into the workshop to get something. I wander out to the top of the stairs just to look at Grandpa's 'stinguisher', an ancient conical purple contraption with a nozzle at the top and a button on the bottom. I know that all I have to do is lift it off the wall, bump it down on the button and . . . but not today. I'm still not strong enough.

The Pantry

Back in the 50s, nobody ever saw out of the pantry window, partly because it was small and high, but mostly because it was behind the perforated zinc fly-screen that gave bug-free ventillation to the old slate meat-shelf below. When Dad took the slate shelf away, it went up to the attic for a while, for no good reason, then, for no better reason, into the garden to lean for evermore against the granite wall, just by the bee-y plant.

When the ball went into the Wilsons' (formerly Robertsons') garden, the slate gave a foothold for climbing onto the wall but, because of the much greater drop, you had to dreep doon on the other side, like wee malkies. So, there was no easy way back. If Kim (the fawn dog) came out, you abandoned the ball and sprinted flat out down the garden. There, there was a heap of stones piled high enough against the back wall to let you climb to the relative safety of a precarious walk home on the loose coping, with a yapping hound on the left and an eight foot drop to the back lane on the right. At one point, the telegraph wires sagged low enough to touch. 80-volt ring tone is not lethal, but stings a bit, especially if it's raining and the wires are wet.

To make a bolas, you tie the ring-tops of two bottling jars to the ends of a few feet of hairy string from the dark room. Sooner or later, it gets tangled round the telegraph wires, just like the kites and parachutes. You throw the long clothes pole at it and on the third attempt, bring down the telegraph wire. You remove the bolas from the broken wire, hide it, put the clothes pole back on the lawn and decide to play inside.

Speaking of jam-jars*, the jelly pan lived on a high shelf in the pantry. Mum was a pretty good jam maker: raspberry, strawberry, bramble (my favourite), red and blackcurrant, gooseberry (which nobody liked much), and of course marmalade. I liked adding the sugar, helping to stir it, and sampling the 'licks' as soon as they were cool enough.

* jam-jars - the insulators on telegraph poles. The wires were spaced apart and bare, not insulated pairs like today's.

The Kitchen

The kitchen wasn't big enough to swing a cat in. There was always one available, but Fitzy Puss McClure was quite a serious chap and not really the swingable type. Outside, and not welcome in the garden, were Theblackcat and Thegreycat. Mum kept a stoneware jar of ham-skins (bacon rinds) on the kitchen dresser and, for a dangled sample, Fitzy could be induced to dance on his hind legs. This, and grass, formed his staple diet, though once he varied it by stealing a mouthful of my red caps. Red caps were round-like-a-wheel not round-like-a-ball and blue caps came in a roll. So the blue ones were better for the cap gun and the red ones better in the wee rockets that you threw into the air, to go bang on landing. Mine was the yellow one.

The window in the photo is a latter-day replacement of the original sash, and one of only two that were ever replaced. (The other was the Living Room). Under the window was a double porcelain sink. The one on the right was usually covered with a board, except on wash-days, when the wringer was clamped onto the divider between the sinks. Sometimes we got to wind the handle or feed the wet clothes and sheets between the rollers, keeping our fingers out. The other kitchen handle I liked turning was the mincer, especially if it was breadcrumbs.

The only electric appliance in the kitchen was the washing machine. The cooker was gas and there was still no fridge. Derrick had a Bunsen burner and was allowed to partially dismantle the gas cooker to fit the rubber tube onto the supply. Douglas's chemistry set had a paraffin burner with a sooty flame. He also had Sooty, who looked completely different in the mirror. The washing machine was a single vertical tub that had to be filled through a thin red hose clamped to the tap and emptied back into the sink through a thick black one. It made a great noise and used Rinso.

Once a week, Mum "phoned through the messages" to George who kept a grocer's shop in Fullarton Street and lived in the other red sandstone house. It was a fine shop with jars of sweeties, boxes of red and green apples, and a coffee grinder that I can still smell working. He would weigh out loose sugar and flour on a scale using polished brass weights, pour it into stiff blue paper bags, then seal them with Selotape. When the messages were delivered on a Friday evening, the treat was to "do the pouring ones". This meant, open the bags and pour the contents into our pantry storage jars. And taste the sugar to check it was OK.

(By the way, the view over the harbour from the kitchen window was not possible until the South Harbour Street warehouses were knocked down, sometime in the 70s, I think).

The Wee Landing

There were seven stairs down from the hall to the Wee Landing and twelve more down from the wee landing to the glass door. This is the wee landing window as seen from the second top step of the flight of seven. (We might as well be accurate here). It was a big window, but not as big as the one halfway down the main flight. Both stair windows were uncurtained but were of rippled glass, reducing the outside world to tonal blocks. (Are you listening, Ewan?)

In later years, the wee landing window shelf, like most of the internal woodwork, was painted white, but back in the 50s, dark brown lacquer was the order of the day. And before Grandpa's crystal vase took pride of place, we used to grow plants on the shelf - cacti, geraniums and patience, mainly. I helped them on their way by feeding them plantoids at every opportunity, from a faded green cardboard box. Plantoids, though they look like mixed oddfellows, should not be eaten, but should be administered to favoured houseplants at the rate of about ten a day until bored. When watering the plants, the trick was to get the water to go under the glass shelf. Then every plant had to be lifted down and the shelf taken off and dried. This was a treat.

Major Robertson lived in the ghost house in the window, smoked a pipe, had a dog, Jim, a wife, Vera, a daughter, Sheila, about Derrick's age, who kept rabbits, and another, Jane, who was younger than me and didn't count. There was something about Jane and a tortoise called Slough-Couch but I can't remember the detail*. Mum and Vera used to talk across the garden wall. Our ground level was a good three or four feet higher than theirs, so Mum leant over the wall and Vera stood below, looking up. The Robertsons were the first people in my life to move away. Till then, I'd always thought people just stayed. On the night before they moved, when they came to the house to say their farewells, they didn't even notice the huge change in Dad. I couldn't let this pass, so interrupted with "Dad you look funny without your moustache!" Job done, I was rewarded with the sounds of general merriment that I'd been waiting for. Moustache gone, Dad never again sported any facial hair.

*postscript: Derrick reminds me that Jane said "If I dropped a brick on Slowcoach, would he break into a hundred pieces?" We didn't let her put it to the test.

The Blind Projectionist

If you've ever looked backwards in a cinema you'll have seen a small window close to the projector. This is so the projectionist can check the image quality and focus, and generally keep an eye on proceedings below in the auditorium. Once, between contracts, Paraglider found himself looking after a 3D Projection Theatre in Saudi, for Aramco, and was surprised to find a wooden slatted venetian blind fitted to the viewing window. It seemed to have no purpose. Until Ladies' Day in the Theatre. Then he had to run all quality checks before the audience was admitted and, throughout the show, the blind was to be firmly closed. This, merely to ensure that the ladies could enjoy the performance without being seen by any man. Now that's paranormal!

The Spare Room

Two down, ten to go (that's how many windows I photographed) and I've decided to get the spare room over and done with. Looking at all twelve pictures, it's the only one that gives me no pleasant feelings. It's strange how, so many years later, I've suddenly happened on something that I must always have felt, but didn't really know till now: I never liked the spare room at all.

The dressing table all but filled the window, and such light as could squeeze through somehow made you look a bit sick in the mirror. Or maybe it just wasn't a nice mirror. The dressing table drawers were for holding tea-towels, Mum's bible and the hymn book. These (not the towels) were taken to church every second Sunday except when we didn't go. Dad never went to church and had a long lie every Sunday. I didn't like church except the bit where Mr Telfer would announce "the Children's Hymn during which the little children will leave". Then Miss Somerville would lead us, holding hands in a chain, into the church hall while the hymn was still going. Maybe she didn't like church either. Sunday school was good fun. She'd show us a big picture of Jesus and let us draw chickens.

But back to the spare room. Douglas had measles in it and it had to be kept dark because bright light would hurt his eyes. I wasn't allowed to go in, but Dad was, and when he gave Douglas a green acetate eye-shade with a stretchy black head band I wished I had measles too.

Strangely enough, I never caught it. I got German measles instead which spread like wildfire but didn't hurt at all. I used them to play golf for a week, at Seafield, in Wellingtons and a green jumper, with Grandpa's old hickory clubs. But that was 1963 and I was a big lad of 10.

The spare room wasn't just a sickroom of course. Aunt Polly was quite a regular visitor, with or without Uncle Donald. She nearly always brought smarties and even tablet. But best of all was that she let you interrupt.

The Wee Bunker

Dad's black Anglia, HAG 390, had a choke and a starter, two cream coloured pull-knobs in the middle of the dashboard. A little below were two smaller cream coloured knobs. These could only be the wee choke and the wee starter, because that's what they looked like. Some would argue that they were the heater controls, but it's appearance that matters.

It was the same in the house. Along the corridor from the Big Bunker was, the Wee Bunker. So what if it was really a small front opening window-cupboard and strictly not-a-bunker-at-all? The laws of how things are must prevail. A Big Bunker requires a Wee Bunker. That's how it goes.

One of the great things about the Wee Bunker was the smell when you opened the door. This was where we kept the soap, the paraffin, the shoe brushes and polishes (kiwi-black or kiwi-brown) and the firelighters. We kept matches there too, to tempt providence. The peg-basket didn't smell of much. Old grey wooden pegs, new yellow ones and broken-plastic ones (there was no plastic back then, only broken-plastic) - you had to get very close to smell the pegs, and when you did, they all smelled of firelighters anyway, like everything else in the Wee Bunker.

There were a couple of mousetraps, which could really hurt, and a load of other stuff that could only have been there to keep the bunker full, because nobody knew what any of it did.

It wasn't much of a window for looking out, the Wee Bunker, and the compulsory net made sure it wasn't much good for looking in either. That's what windows were for then, semi-transparent things to avoid seeing or being seen through.

By the way, the black shape in the foreground is a microwave oven. There was never room for it in the kitchen so it had to sit outside on the Wee Bunker. But that was much later. They still hadn't been invented. Older than the microwave, but dating from the sixties, not the fifties, are the two objects perched on top of the lower sash. It should now come as no surprise to learn their names. They are the Big Cowbell and the Wee Cowbell.

The Big Bunker

The big bunker window looked straight across the yard at its counterpart in MissMcMinn's house. There were actually two MissMcMinns. Their names were NiceMissMcMinn and TheOtherMissMcMinn. NiceMissMcMinn had a dog called Frisky that looked huge when it barked over the wall at us but assumed normal terrier proportions when on a lead in the street. I still don't understand how it did that. NiceMissMcMinn had a reddish-brown coat and a beret and had walked Frisky to the shops every day for a hundred years. TheOtherMissMcMinn wore a blue dress. Always.

The big bunker was where we kept coal and sometimes logs. There were two coal pails and frequent debates about whether they were really coal buckets. The distinction was lost on me. But I knew all about coal and what it was really for. Burning it was a waste. Far better was to go to Roddy's house and make gramophone records out of coal dust and water. I'm sure they'd have sounded just great if we'd been allowed to take them into the house and try them out.

Being quite small, the only way Mum could carry a full pail of coal upstairs from the coal cellar to the big bunker was by taking the handle in her clasped hands, her arms stretched out in front to keep it away from her clothes, in a position that anticipated by some forty-five years Johnny Wilkinson's odd approach to a penalty kick. (Ours was always a rugby house). Derrick, already a natural teacher, would explain that this was the wrong way to carry a pail of coal. "You're putting yourself at a Mechanical Disadvantage", he'd say, and then offer to help, if it was bob-a-job week.

Spread too thin

I've decided to come clean. I have too many outlets on the web and it's becoming impossible to service them all properly. So, here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to kill off Paraplexed because it doesn't really have a purpose in life. I apologise to anyone (*I think there's only one!) who has linked to it. By way of compensation, I'm providing an RSS portal here, on Paranormal, to my Real Life Blog (see side panel). Till now, I've kept the two strictly separate, but it's not really working. So, welcome to the rest of me! Also, I've been writing a fair bit on Hubpages recently. If you haven't come across it, it's a community site with quite a few good writers. But it's more geared towards articles, not blogging. It also makes me a leeetle pocket money on the side. Not enough for a pension, unfortunately. So I'll be here in the Middle East for some time to come. Here endeth the housekeeping...

This is the house -

- that John bought. It was built in 1894. John, my grandfather, must have been built a little earlier, but family history was never my forte. By the time I arrived on the scene, all four grandparents had coiled their mortal slips, the house had been flatted and the downstairs (we never called it the ground floor) sold to Mrs Gordon who ran it as a B&B guest house.

Mrs Gordon merits a paragraph. She was born old, with grey hair tied in a bun. She kept two huge carved wooden pipes on the mantlepiece. Sometimes she would chop wood with a hand-axe. She didn't like us climbing the fence, looking for red ants in her rockery, running on the stairs, shouting, or breaking her window even by accident. I liked her.

Though I never knew old John McClure, the house was full of his presence through what he left behind - walking sticks, plate cameras, brass lenses, a set of bowling balls, ivory chess and draughts sets, silver cigar boxes, a strange pewter coffee pot that you could do tricks with by blowing up the spout, clay pipes... Furniture too, but I'd no interest in that. He must have been great.

I lived in the house from 1952 to 1970, my pre-school and school years, and it was still my home-base through my University time, though I stayed in Glasgow during the term. In October 74, aged 21, I went to London and though there was always a bed for me 'at home', I never really lived there again.

About five years ago, when Mum died, my brothers and I sold the old place. I've not seen it since, even from the outside.

On one of my last visits, on a whim, I walked through the house taking a photograph of every window. Not through every window. I didn't open them to capture the view. These are intentionally pictures of the windows, from inside. The outside could take its chances. Over the next few days, I'm going to post these window pictures, one at a time, each with a memory from my early years - a 50's snapshot, if you like.

(The aerial picture is from Google Earth. I like it because it it lends context to the window pictures.)

Parastasis, apparently

It was as if a year had not passed. The floor is still Paranormal pink. The dartboard, mercifully, shows no signs of having been opened. The corner behind the propped-open door (yes, it was the afternoon) was freezing. Such changes as were perceptible were of degree, not of substance. The bar staff are more mixed, with Ethiopia challenging Romania. Bammy has moved 11 degrees clockwise round the (Scottish) table, enough, perhaps to signify creeping insecurity of tenure? Angie has changed the tailored jacket look for something less formal, but the chin is strong as ever. And Helga? She's not grown an inch - upwards...

Transience, even here

Ani's yellow chiffon descended on his head and, for once, Dindsay was silenced. Even dumbstruck. For all too brief an interval, an other-worldly calm permeated Stufital's Old Manger. Diners sat motionless, their steak-laden forks frozen in mid-air like so many bullrushes in a frosted millpond. Coral, realising her song could suddenly be heard, dropped to a velvet pianissimo. Mr Bab stopped swearing and even the AC seemed to draw breath. Such moments are short-lived. Dindsay found his tongue and the mock-doric noise generator licked back into life, with the grace of a rusty pulley. Normality, sadly, was restored.


It is always a pleasure to have some good news to report and, while this is not Earth-shattering, in the context of the Little World of the Paranormal Hotel blog, it may surely have fruitful consequences. After an absence of nearly a year, Paraglider is once again the proud owner of a return ticket to Dubai. Part of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will be spent reabsorbing the glorious ambience of Chalky's Bar and recharging the fund of anecdote fodder for the weeks ahead. Good things come to those who wait, even in Qatar.

Concert Time

If Dubai is a Steinway concert grand, Qatar is probably a kazoo - entertaining enough in the right hands and for a short while, but incapable of delivering lasting cultural sustenance. Not that I'm complaining, of course. In three years, I've learned to hoot and toot with the best of them. Polyphony - who needs it? The current beer shortage more than compensates for any indoor ski slope and few words can express the joy of watching half demolished buildings gradually take on the characteristics of natural landscape. It's good to be back.

Dubaibun 4

Above 37 Celsius, different rules apply. Compared with the surrounding air, you are cold. You might feel hot, but the air doesn't care about that. It sees you as a place to dump heat. You are also a place to dump water. When you step outside, you might think you immediately break sweat. You don't; that comes later. The water that coats your body is just condensation. It coats your watch too and a moment's reflection tells you that doesn't sweat. A proper hat prevents sunstroke (anyone who wears a baseball cap deserves sunstroke) but does nothing to ward off heatstroke. You avoid that by walking slowly and drinking warm water. The body is not stupid. The sweating reaction is for losing heat to cooler surroundings. With time, your body learns not to waste good sweat into hot, wet air. When you can do 5 hours at 43 Celsius, you know you're acclimatised.

Suits from multinational corporations
airily dismissing us all as towel-heads
fail to see the beauty of understanding
woven in dishtash

Dubaibun 3

The Indian bicycle keeps left, even in Dubai, the better to avoid onrushing lorries. For minimum efficiency, it is pedalled with the heels, bare or sandalled. The trapezoidal stand is fitted with a broken retaining spring to help it trail along the road. The rear pannier rack is perfectly adapted to carry forty flattened cardboard boxes or a serene wife whose flowing saree just knows to keep clear of the spokes. However bumpy the road, she never drops the baby. The bell works. If you graduate to a small truck, you hang it all round with painted chains and festoon the cab with tassels and tapestries.

Those the advertisers dismiss as no-ones
those without the money to bloat the bloated
burgeon through the city in forms and colours
born of their genius

Dubaibun 2

It's a desert. Water is pumped from bore-holes or sea-level desalination plants, so there is no mains pressure. In the houses, 'cold' water comes from a storage tank in the loft and for six months of the year is very much hotter than the hot water that comes from a cylinder in the air-conditioned living space. You get used to things like that. Kinko's, rendered in Arabic, if read from left to right, almost spells Jesus in English. You don't get used to that, or to the Kharbash Institute of Motoring.

Shoals of abras buffet their way to Deira
while the creek resounds with the call to prayer
Friday is the morning the streets are empty
even of laughter

Dubaibun 1

The mornings here are the best time. It couldn't be called cool - usually about 30 C (86 F) by 7 a.m. But it feels fresh as the humidity is still not too high. By noon, the temperature will have soared another 10 degrees or so, and will stay up there till early evening. At dusk, as it starts to cool down (slightly), it also becomes very still and humid, making any exertion sweaty. It's May now, and this pattern will continue through September, peaking in July and August with at least another 10 degrees to climb. Government thermometers in Dubai never register above 49 C (120 F) because, at 50 C, outdoor workers are allowed to stop, and that would be bad for business.

Indian roadmen suffer their fiery ritual
building homes where no-one will give them house-room
while the Kyrgyz women of mass destruction
paint for the evening

Beer & Chimneys

It's a pub. It's made of stone and brick and has a tiled pitched roof. This one is called the Cavalry Arms and has a sign to prove it. It has chimneys - remember those? Local people and visitors are allowed to go into it, wearing whatever they please. There is no door policy. It does not close on public holidays. It sells beer, not just lager or 'creamflow'. It is not on the 23rd floor of a 5-star hotel. You can build a pub without driving piles or pumping concrete. Just remember to start 200 years ago.

A Sinking Feeting Feeling

Washing Feet in the Sink is Prohibited. This notice, stuck on the wall in the gent's lavatory in the Doha Stufital's 2nd floor club more or less sums up the difference between said Stufital and the Paranormal. In Paranormal, we know how to behave acceptably badly without being told. In Stufital, the clientèle (who have never, till now, been graced with a French epithet) have to be told how badly not to behave. But let's spare an ounce of consideration for the Stufital Outlets Management who, apparently, have not yet conquered the subtle distinction between sinks and basins (they're French, after all) but have espoused the 'show, don't tell, but then tell it anyway, just in case' maxim of public communication. They consistently book excellent bands, so all is forgiven.

Prophet Earring

A long time ago, Paraglider found an Apostle teaspoon on a family picnic at Tairlaw Lynn. Later, by demonstrating that there were now fourteen such spoons in the house, and two Johns, he was finally believed not to have brought it with him in his pocket. Some things come to pass, sadly. A mere three posts ago, we hinted that the Oddmiral Plaza might not exist - now we learn that it no longer does. Shame. Six posts ago, we compared the Qatar Emir's vast likeness with Vegas Vic, the 40-foot neon cowboy (howdy habibi!) Far be it from me to suggest that his Highness reads the Paranormal blog, but the fact remains, his image no longer welcomes visitors along the Airport Road. Are we influencing events here? Surely not. But just in case, maybe we should go back to our roots and just talk about the girls clustering round the central pillar. Like Victoria - an impossible blend of heels, hair and dangling earrings, whose legs are just too slim to accommodate knees. But that's OK. She bends above the boots.

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