Monday, May 25, 2009

Adventures in the northernmost of the northernmost

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To Unst, two islands up from Mainland (via Yell) here in the Zetlandic archipelago. A fine, slightly dull day, and all the ferry-louping went without a hitch.

There was me, Martha, Sandy and Elaine, and first stop was at the house of Sandy Nelson, comedian, actor, playwright and bon viveur, now resident in Unst with his wife Caroline. We visited, as one must, the astonishing Baltasound bus shelter, which has had a recent makeover from its leopard-spotted past and is now a vision in Barbara Cartland pink.

Then it was time for lunch. The gorgeously-appointed Northern Lights Cafe and Gallery in Haroldswick was shut, it being a public holiday. I know, I know. A dreadful incident involving a non-flushing toilet necessitated our departure, toute suite, from Foords Chocolate Factory, which meant we could not avail ourselves of the offered mugs of Golden Vegetable soup. Instead we had a fantastic feed at the Baltasound Garage, AKA the Final Checkout (its real name) AKA Charlie's. This has to be one of the great country shops, with everything for sale from angle grinders to designer coffee, whisky to socks. The homemade fish soup was superb, the toasties just great

From there we bounded along Norwick beach, one of the greatest in the country, and then had a look around the Unst Boat Haven, which was, as always, wonderful - friendly, informative, and full of both boats and old British Seagull outboards.

Despite not having booked, we managed to squeeze onto both the Yell ferry and the one to the mainland, (total cost for car and four passengers, all the way to Unst and back, £18)and were back in Hillswick in time for tea. A great day.

Unst has its problems though: cafes closed on public holidays in the middle of the tourist season is not a brilliant notion. The much-vaunted Saxa Vord Resort has all the visual charm of the former RAF base it once was, and certain toilets block all too easily...

Oh, and the beer is good. But we didn't taste any.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Review of Serpentine from The Scottish Review of Books

It's funny when you see someone else's take on your book, and - while enthusiastic, thank goodness - it varies from your own perceptions. I've never seen Murricane as the hero of the book - for me it's a two-hander with Flaws, who is in many ways Murricane's deeply damaged and fumbling alter ego...anyway. See what you think yourself!

Broadcaster, writer and musician Tom Morton has created Shetland's answer to James Bond in his new novel Serpentine. Former SAS agent Mark Murricane leads the search for the elusive Serpentine, a roving terrorist involved in the 'Troubles' of Northern Ireland and now causing chaos on an international scale. Like Bond, Murricane has a facility for escaping from tight spots armed with a gun, some explosives and a quip or two. Our hero changes locations at breakneck speed. We first meet him in Gaza, where he frees a British hostage, and then follow him to the Scottish Highlands and Ireland, as he confronts ex-lovers, former RUC officers and other tough types.

Written in remarkably smooth diction, this novel walks the line between crime and literary fiction. Fast paced, lucidly narrated and featuring articulate characters, Serpentine is an addictive read. Murricane is an odd but likable protagonist, a man of great foresight which makes up for his slight, wiry build.

The novel is laced with dark humour and bound together by the real-life mystery of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974, for which no-one has ever been charged.

The Scottish Review of Books, Vol 5, Number 2, 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It floats! Launch of the good ship Cryptonomicon. Take that, Crown Estate Commissioners!

At last! The dinghy is in the water and appears to float! For no reason other than I love the book (and the word), she is called Cryptonomicon. An old Kestrel fibreglass sailing boat, complete with tattered sails and, my pride and joy, an original British Seagull 2-stroke engine (runs on an amazing 10-1 petrol-oil mix.

Bruce (Wilcock, Blacksmith, neighbour, anchorsmith, photographer and much else)gave me the makings of a mooring (float, chain, an actual anchor, not an old engine block as is usual in these here parts) and with the purchase of some absurdly cheap shackles from Da Malakoff (wondrous chandlery emporium in Lerwick) and some careful hacksawing, I had what I needed (twice high tide depth in chain).

But how to get the mooring out to the requisite spot? James (fresh from Advanced Higher Maths) took pity on my aching back and helped haul the dinghy down to the water, then pile anchor, chain and float on the little Bic Ouassou kayak. I then paddled Cryptonomicon out to sea, towing the loaded kayak. It took ages, especially as there was a light onshore wind. Stop, capsize the kayak, hope the chain doesn't tangle, and Davey Jones is well and truly your uncle.

I've lost a boat once before to a bad mooring (chain broke in a strong westerly. Looked out the window to see a Shetland Model and brand new Honda outboard heading into the Atlantic at speed. Fortunately, a local salmon farmer agreed to give chase and the recalcitrant vessel was recovered). I've moored Crypto using two separate ropes and giant carabiners straight onto the chain, so I'm hoping she'll be OK.

All that remained was to right the kayak, climb aboard and paddle to the beach, desperately seeking two Nurofen for my hopelessly wrenched back. So far, Crypto is still floating, the mooring is still solid. Mind you it's flat calm.

The Crown is supposed to own the seabed around the UK, and there's a notional charge for moorings, usually collected by harbour authorities. It can be quite steep on the west coast of SCotland. In Shetland, there's a general indifference to such things. Udal Law, a remnant from the islands' Norse past, probably (but then again, possibly not) dictates that the seabed is not Queen Lizzie's at all. Anyway, they'll have to come and demand seabed rental with menaces if they want it. This isn't the River Hamble!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The first helpdesk...

I'm grateful to Dr JWG Wills for passing on this excellent video. If you speak Norwegian, versions without subtitles are available.

Monday, May 18, 2009

New blog for Serpentine, and the first review...does Radio Scotland count? Of course it does!

I've set up a dedicated blog for my new book Serpentine here...though I'll probably end up repeating the posts here in an effort to drum up interest! Networking is everything...

Here's the first post:

I was quite shocked to find myself listening to the first public comment on Serpentine, from James Lavery on BBC Radio Scotland's Book Cafe today.
"I have to say it's fantastic..." did he really say that? Well, for seven days after broadcast, you can check on the website.

I was quite overwhelmed to hear this because, although family members whose opinions I trust implicitly have been enthusiastic about the book (and indeed, I'd never have sent it off to a publisher if my eldest son hadn't approved the first draft), its arrival as a finished, bound publication in Friday quite freaked me out. I could hardly bear to open it, and the idea of reading it again filled me with despair.

Serpentine is published by Mainstream on 4 June. You can order it in advance from Amazon or Random House.

Now, well, one comment on the radio doesn't mean its going to fly off the shelves, but it's a start!

ames's full comments are as follows:

"I've been reading Serpentine, and I have to say it's fantastic - I really, really like it. Now, there's one or two bones I have to pick with Tom Morton - there are some names in here are wholly inappropraite for his characters from Northern Ireland. But other than that - that's really trivial - as a thriller, this goes really well. It's epistolary - you get two or three different viewpoints. It's really, really good. I really like it."

Cheers James! And funnily enough, my wife picked up on the names thing as well. Mind you, she thinks it's a comedy...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Forget The Hold Steady and the Gaslight Anthem - check THIS out...a mere 30 years old

Ah yes, Southside Johnny and the Asbury of the great, and sadly underrated white r&b voices, coupled with a truly phenomenal band...and part of the whole Jersey Shore scene that gave us the Boss. Here are the Jukes in absolutely full flight in 1978 at the Agora Club in Cleveland, on the song that should have cracked the world wide open for them. With a certain Mr Springsteen (when he still had his own teeth)on backing vocals. Southside himself is still active, having just released a very convincing big band album of Tom Waits songs called Grapefruit Moon.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Edinburgh by prepared to gasp...

Thanks to multi-award winning broadcaster Edi Stark for telling me about this truly astonishing video. I seem to remember Chris Hill, doyen of Edinburgh cycleologists, mentioning Danny as well but I'd never seen Edinburgh protrayed like this before. Astonishing. Parkour with bikes!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pre-order Serpentine, my first 'proper' thriller...

It's out on 4th June, and you can get a copy direct from the Random House website.

Here's the skinny. Thanks to Jeff for the quote:

A name from the murkiest corners of Britain's secret war in Ireland: Serpentine.

At first it's just gossip and fearful whispers. But then people begin to die and all hell breaks loose from Palestine to the remote Highlands of Scotland.

Fresh from the toughest assignments in the mercenary world comes former SAS officer Murricane. Can he find Serpentine before it's too late and before the horrific secrets of the past threaten to cause chaos not just in Ireland but in the Middle East too?

In a trail of mayhem that leads through Scotland, Gaza and Ireland, Murricane battles his own demons, as well as a monstrous former RUC officer, a disgraced policeman and a series of unreliable Land Rovers, until Serpentine plays his final, devastating game . . .

Serpentine is an explosive, bitterly funny journey into the darkest heart of the Irish Troubles and the violence that lurks in Scotland's most scenic Highland communities.

What the critics say
This is more than just a gripping page-turner. Morton combines his skill as a story-teller with the literary flair that readers will recognise from his other books
- Jeff Zycinski, head of BBC Radio Scotland

Morton is up there with the best of Scotland's almost-young literary lions
- Highland News

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Bike found, trashed...

...and I've had to head north, leaving it in Glasgow, exposed to the elements and any renewed attempts to abduct it. Or simply destroy it. Insurance is proving worse than useless, as is every single bike repair company I've contacted. Big thanks to Bill for his efforts on my behalf, but that particular garage's van was too small. It's as if the insurance companies actually want someone to remove it permanently/render it beyond repair.

I'm awaiting news tomorrow of a possible uplifting of the machine. But my insurers said the damage - one sidepanel and comprehensive wrecking of the wiring loom - was 'probably a write off'. Good grief.

If you see this bike, call the cops

T697 RHC .Stolen from outside my son's west end of Glasgow flat overnight. Bought to take part in the charity ride described on the Journey's Blend blog. 28,000 miles, just resprayed in Alfa Romeo Rosso Red, in superb order, and almost certainly destined for the eBay parts bin. A real shame.

Thing is, I only moved it from safe parking at the BBC (in Govan!) as I was due to pack it with my stuff and begin the journey north to Aberdeen after today's show. Clearly a bad move. The police, who arrived impressively quickly, say that the area around Queen Margaret Drive is notorious for vehicle theft.

Ah well, to the Megabus! Can't help feeling that this may some kind of least it was comprehensively insured.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Dylan in the Playhouse, the Bum-Clocks outside...

It was slightly disconcerting to arrive outside the Playhouse and find one Malcolm Ross, ex-Orange Juice, ex-Josef K, ex-Aztec Camera and possibly the most influential Scottish guitarist ever, busking on the pavement with his fellow Bum-clocks, including the irrepressible Tam Dean Burn on vocals and ex-Fire Engine Russell Burn on drums. Sounding great and funny, too. Check out their Myspace page at

On into the Playhouse, then, I think for the first time since going to see Hue and Cry in 1987...a strange vibe, Lindsay H said, and he was right: a mixture of fear that 50 quid had been spent on a gig which, by all accounts could end up being a train wreck, and anticipation. In the end, it's about being in the same room as a legend. And one who changed many of the lives present.

Symbolically, I was in the bar when Dylan came on stage. Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat, and contrary to rumour, recognisably sung. Word from those who had seen other dates on the tour was that tonight was easily the best. While Dylan's voice is shot, and the phrasing sometimes eccentric, there was real feeling in his treatment of Trying To Get To Heaven Before They Close The Door and passion in Like a Rolling Stone. Highway 61 and the recent Thunder on the Mountain (from Modern Times)were superb.

However, his insistence on playing loud, loopy lead guitar on certain songs was hard to bear, particularly with the presence of two wonderful guitarists in his cracking band. All of whom played brilliantly throughout, often having to cover for their wandering leader (his organ playing was a fair stab at Al Kooper, but often plain ridiculous; his moothie blowing is awful these days).

Not a word was spoken in the near two hour (with encores) set.Dylan looked natty in riverboat gambler garb. The reinvention of Blowing in the Wind as a barely recognisable chugalong and a peculiar Tangled Up In Blue was bearable, and in a curious way endearing.

In the end, it was about being there and hearing the man perform ('sing' may not be quite the right word)some of the greatest songs ever written. You can't put a price on the goosebumps-and-tears reaction I had to the chorus of Like a Rolling Stone. Well, you can. It was 50 quid a ticket. And just about worth it.

"Don't ever call me English again..."

Peter Capaldi is scary enough in The Thick of It ("that's your bollocking face") but in In The Loop he reaches new heights of scatalogical abuse as virulent spinmeister Malcolm Tucker. It is a wonderful, vicious, gleefully nasty film which I fear will poison the body politic for some time: so many amateur politico half-wit wonks are going to try "doing a Tucker". Peter (whom I remember from occasional meetings post-Local Hero as a charmingly polite chap) clashes with James Gandolfini as a would-be peacenik General in quite the best actorly confrontation since De Niro and Pacino in Heat."Don't ever call me English again."

Meanwhile, a pint in the Doublet proved once again it's one of the great underrated West End bars. It was a beautiful spring evening, warm and bright, so Mag and I walked towards Cineworld, stopping off at the new Shish Mahal Cafe for tea, or tiffin. It was pretty good. The curries (tapas style; Mother India's Cafe has a lot to answer for) were really excellent, though the nan bread bits were microwaved and the poppadum pieces more like crisps. Mag used to work in the place when it was a weird combination of photo lab and capuccino bar, so we got a friendly welcome. I'd go back.

It's been a pretty full-on day, what with picking up the old Triumph Trophy I'm using for June's Great Whisky Trip in Glenrothes, Scotland's newtown Brigadoon after a reasonable but somewhat turbulent ferry trip (via Orkney.No problems getting to Glasgow, though, which is looking at its best. The Dear Green Place, with a vengeance.

A column in tomorrow's Sunday Post about laundrettes and some restrained (!) quotes in The Sunday Times about ludicrous proposals for 'voluntary quotas' of Scottish music on the radio. I may have used the phrase 'rockin' vicar syndrome'. What I really meant was 'creeping cultural fascism.'