Byron’s Problem

When they come up to you, as you’re sitting quietly,
and lay their fat boobs on your knees,
and look into your eyes with their own big eyes
and wistfully caress your cheek
and so, without speaking, say ‘Please!’
it’s a clear invitation to come out and play
and you can’t just tell them to go away!

When the wine’s round and they press up against you gently,
it’s much like a musicless waltz
as they talk about books (and they all write books) –
that’s foreplay, nothing else, my son,
true sex; it’s the talking that’s false!
But you can’t make a snarky and sharpish riposte,
with words like ‘Forget it!’, ‘Get lost!’

When they stroke your hair too, and finger your coat slyly,
or lay a neat hand on your shirt,
they all cast you as Faust (and they all know Faust),
each one’s a Gretchen, maiden, pure;
but they all want your hand up their skirt.
So men of great talent must pay this high price,
and no one will think that you’re terribly nice!


The Scottish melodic idiom seems to be absent from all the tunes to which the name is given. Beethoven, Chopin and Schubert have left écossaises for piano, and there is nothing Scottish about any of them.

Percy Scholes, The Oxford Companion to Music

Like Robert Louis Stevenson living in Samoa,
like George MacBeth living in Sheffield,
like Ian Brady living in Greater Manchester,

I am a Scotsman living in exile; my father
was the first of the family to fly South –
my grandfather stayed, a Professor in Edinburgh.

My mother was of mixed blood, with some from Buchanans
who went to New Zealand, then came back again.
She was at least half English, she didn’t know Lallans.

We lived in London. We went, as you might say, native.
We were eating long-pig and cooking the breadfruit,
beachcombers, cast off from the as-it-were-civilised whalers.

This meant that as kids or wee bairns or children
she walked us often across Hyde Park to Harrods
with her dogs which were always Scottish terriers – bewildered

by any intercultural shock we were not, a change of houses
would have meant more; we accepted it all, as the Kanakas
(bullied by the missionaries) gave up a kilt for trousers.

After all, we were born there. Cricket seemed natural.
A tartan was just a pattern (though we did wear Buchanan).
We gave no thought to Scotland – our thinking wasn’t lateral.

There were memories of Burns and acquaintance with whisky
but our politics and newspapers and Governments
had only one word, stiff-lipped, riding to hounds: England.

Oh, others have done it. I think you might cite Byron,
he was a Gordon. My Dad, with his half-caste wife,
went after Success, the foreign and feminine Siren.

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