Zanzibar – The Long Read - By Duncan Harley

A conversation with number two son today, reminded me that there’s always a wee bit of thrill seeking when submitting words for publication. The buzz of seeing stuff from the innermost portions of the brain spread across a glossy page is just that … a buzz. Then of course there is the thorny question of payment.
That’s a second buzz – that is, if the end-users are prepared to offer a financial inducement. Most are full of respect and payment of course, but some see us writers as easy prey.

Personal episodes include that proposal, from an Embra' lady, that I ghost write her novel about some failed army general or other who invaded Tibet. Then there was the mad-man who insisted I contribute to his fictitious blog  concerning Jesus. The list goes on. But, at least I am learning how to body-swerve the more dangerous jobs.

Many publications, such my local daily, are prepared to publish subject to a non-payment clause. Try as I might, I can’t seem to squeeze even a penny from Dundee owned Aberdeen Journals despite the theft of a few words and an image or two.
Others, such as the Scottish Review and that now dead as a dog Leopard were never so mean as to think that words have no monetary value. Although, a few years ago, a local Inverurie weekly rag paid me an insulting £5.76 for some 800 words. "We pay by the line and not by the word" said the business owner. Tempted by the insult I am inclined to name and shame - but hey, forgive and forget. 

Anyway and moving on ...

In far off 2016 – February as I recall – I was approached by some folk from Banchory. Intent on breaking the mould, they proposed a new glossy. Send in a double-spaced piece they said. I did, and for my trouble got a stream of annoying promises.

I can’t really recall the proposed name of said glossy – and even if I could, I would not embarrass the sad folk behind the insults and false promises. They have probably moved on. At least I certainly hope so. Maybe it was ‘Newly Minted Ubiquitous Shit’ or ‘Pandemonium Wankers from Banchory’ or maybe something else. Who knows and nowadays who really cares. I probably have a few incriminating Cleaver Greene e-mails from the promised publication somewhere on a memory-stick. Just in case of litigation you understand.

I do, of course forgive them, for they knew not what they were doing. It’s a bit like the episode in Mad Men – of Megan Markel and Netflix fame - where a backstabber reveals Dan Draper’s troubled past to the big boss. “Who gives a flying shit” is the considered response from the man @ the top.
I suppose there’s no harm in publishing this now. I mean, no one apart from the Banchory Failed Glossy Magazine Club will have read the piece.
And who amongst them would admit to the strangeness. And, of course, no-one apart from them will ever read it unless I publish and be dammed:

Zanzibar - By Duncan Harley

Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania consisting of Zanzibar Island (locally named Unguja), Pemba Island and many smaller islands. Unguja is approximately 90km long and 30km wide.
In 1896 Zanzibar was the location of the world's shortest war, surrendering to Britain after 38 minutes of naval bombardment. It is also one of the few places in the world where saffron is produced.

Not that many of Danny’s acquaintances would be much interested in the above, in fact only a couple of them had been further than Peterhead.
The jail that is, not the town. Scotland’s Gulag. Home to the likes of infamous inmates such as Gentle Johnny Ramensky, Jimmy Boyle and that mad cunt Arthur Thompson. Less infamous were Paddy Meehan and that Oscar Slater. Sedition ridden Scottish Socialist John McLean took the biscuit. Released after five months on hunger strike in December 1918 as part of a raft of concessions following government fears of a Scottish Socialist revolution, he refused to break granite and suffered for it.

The days of forced labour are long gone and the prison now resides in the mind of those who were not there. Danny was never in the place. Most of his pals would struggle to even spell Peterhead.
Scumbags the most of them and rank amateurs when it came to enduring personal relationships the only reason, they kept in with him was because of the strippers.

In recurring dreams, the hangers on got variously molested by Danny’s girls. In reality nothing much ever really happened. In fact, it was more likely that they would get hammered on pills and booze and fall asleep in the back of the minibus on the way back to Aberdeen from some god forsaken village hall in Mintlaw or Foggieloan. Satisfaction guaranteed, easy lay hallucination, wake up with vomit on your lap …

-        Ah, those girls eh, had a few yourself Danny?

Not knowing whether to lie or ignore the man, Danny pretended to inspect his crotch for a bit. Ach, what harm could it do to take him on, the lights at Inveramsay flashed past, another 40 minutes to go. He could always fall asleep if things got personal.
He recalled the last meaningful conversation between the two of them.
-        How’s your dad these days? Heard he’d had a wee stroke.
-        Not so good to be honest, thanks for asking.
-        So, what’s the story? Is he still in the hospital?
-        He’s been in for near four months now. My mum fairly misses him, but she’s not that great herself. Gets confused you see, and anxious. Never leaves the house. Tried taking her to the pub once but she kind of panicked and just wanted back to her kitchen.
-        Which ward is he in?
-        Which ward? I don’t know really Danny. I’ve not been in since he went in you see.
Gordon was a milkie to trade and a kinder man you could never hope to meet. At the drop of a hat he would give you the finest milk on his truck and put it down to breakage.
-        We’re allowed up to eight burst cartons a day you see. Maybe a bit more in winter because you’re more likely to fall.

He’d once worked at delivering lemonade round the Shire and his lorry could often be seen parked outside the local children’s homes dropping off a spare crate of McVey’s finest Cream Soda.
-        Mind and keep the empties for when I call back next week, they’re all counted at the depot.
Danny had known the man, albeit fleetingly over a teatime pint at Guy’s, for what seemed like years.
-        So, you’ve not visited your dad since he went in?

-        Well, the ambulance came half way through the night. I mean, I had an early start. Plus, I had my mum to take care of.
-        Ok. Have you considered going to see him?
-        Well, auntie visits and keeps in touch most weeks. You see, after your work and your pinty at five o clock it’s time for your tea. Then there’s The Bill.
-        The Bill?
-        There’s the catch up at the weekend of course, but it’s not the same. Then its time for bed.
-        Early start you see, need to be in at the depot for 3.30am otherwise I get clocked.
A few weeks later the old man died. Seems he had been injured while retreating through Dunkirk in 1940. Undertakers usually ask about pacemakers and anything with batteries which might explode during a cremation, but a German bullet lodged in the bum attracts little interest after seventy odd years.

Thainstone round-about came and went.

-        I never touch the merchandise Gordon. Besides these are respectable women. OK there have been one or two over the years who go a wee bit beyond the rules, but I run a tight ship you understand.
-        Tight arse more like. Pass the white.
That and the booze was the other reason for the hangers on. When times were good, there were lots of friends.

This was the 90’s you understand. The fisher towns and the oil rich villages of the Shire had never had it so good. You didn’t even need to go offshore to cash in, I mean there were folk raking in fortunes for fencing off the likes of Sulom Voe. I mean Sulom Voe! Who on God’s earth would want to break out of there. There’s sea all around the place and even Cnut the Great would have known the score.
Last month they had been driving grey Fergie tractors round a wee park in Premnay for fifty pounds a week, this month casinos and dancing girls plus too much cash to piss away.

Kintore flashed past, then Blackburn then up came the Tyrebagger.

-        Good times eh? I meant no disrespect you understand.
-        Depends on how slurred you are I suppose.
-        Can we stop for a wee? I need to piss.
I last met Danny a few years later near Pittodrie. That smell of old men’s wee and stale lager hung around the bar. Locals knew it as Guys and most avoided it like the plague on match weekends when the place heaved with folk racing to sink a few before the match. Then afterwards back for more before making an unsteady way back home, oblivious to the cold and dark and no doubt watering a few gardens along the way.
Tonight, there was no match, only me and Danny.
-        Over here, grab a pew, what’ll you have, you’re a wee bit late pal, parties already started, where you been?

Last time I’d seen him he was legless. Mind you his mouth was still working overtime slagging off the politicians and the work shy of our grey and pleasant city.
“I blame the Tories” was his favourite saying when he was pissed; often closely followed by crass remarks about the Poles stealing our jobs and winching our women. There are not many Eastern Europeans round this locality which is just as well since Danny just thought he was being funny and probably would have no recollection of what he had spouted forth the next day.
Unless of course he awoke to some unexplained abdominal bruising.
The stripper business had lasted a few good years during which Danny had made and spent a fortune, loads of hangers on, everyone’s your pal while the going’s good sort of thing. Sex, drugs and money all around, anyone who was pals with Danny had a ball. Jack Daniels on tap and coke on a rope. Every night a party night every day a new thrill.

When, eventually, the big boys moved in, he was forced to bow out or face annihilation. The heavies didn’t even bother to buy Danny out; they just had a wee word with him one night in some dingy Fraserburgh club backroom. Something about the depth of the harbour at high tide was mentioned and it was party over. No more hangers on. In fact, almost no friends.
Then came the debt collection business, repossessions and the like.

At first it was just cars and tellies but soon evictions, Poll Tax debts, poor folk getting hammered and the like got to him. It was far too much. Overnight Danny became an odd job joiner, skint but with respect. At least from his kids, of whom he had a few, from various ladies who like footballers’ wives, spread their legs wide, just in case it could last.
We met a few years into his better times. We both drank.

Just a pot of tea Danny, black, no sugar ta sil vou plais. Please excuse my French.
-        Get away, you been drying out? That’s why I’ve no seen you for months, makes sense now!
As I say, we go back a long time Danny and me. Join the dots and make a picture, might not be the right one, but it makes a pretty sight.

-        Nah Danny, just out the jail if you must know. Aggravated murder with menaces. Got off with 6 months, judge said not to do it again or else. Best keep of the booze he told me. Best stick to tea he said. What you been up to?

-        Ah right, nice judge! Just on the bevy to be honest. Chucked in the joiner stuff, doing a few gardens if you must know.
-        Only joking you understand.
-        So, no prison then and no nice judge? But you do drink tea.
-        That would be about right pal.
-        Sugar?
-        Nah.
-        Murder?

-        That’s another story Danny. What news?

The drinks arrived.

A pint and a double plus a surprisingly handsome porcelain tea pot replete with matching cream coloured cup and saucer. The well-worn phrase “Shaken not stirred” came to mind, and then a waft of reality emerged from the men’s toilets.
Over the next hour or so, and assuredly for a final time, I listened politely to Danny’s theories of the universe and how to change society for the benefit of the masses. How we all need to cut down on everything for the sake of the folk who come after us. How if Samuel Pepys had seen fit to award the Wizard of Gordonstoun £318 in 1687 in recognition of his invention of a better sea pump for the admiralty all those years ago it stands to reason there must be money around to reward anyone possessed of a good idea.

I mean look at that Trump guy. Came from nothing to billions. Tells the Scottish Government what to do.  Now that’s a big story. A gong really. With an attitude like that you could do anything. I mean, nobody could stand in your way. They’d just get squashed.

It stood to reason that the inventor of the solar powered aircraft carrier would be due a tidy sum indeed. Airport runways and the like should be covered with solar power arrays which would rotate to face the sun according to the time of day.

Golfers should hitch their clubs up to dynamos when driving in order to generate power for the national grid. How the burning of enough badgers could generate heat to power a village near Insch.
Several pints later, with my tea cold in the pot I made excuses and left. I haven’t seen Danny since but wish him well despite the spectre of all of those aeroplanes crashing through solar panel strewn runways around the globe.

I’ve never really gotten into golf but I do think his idea for hitching golfers up to the national grid is a good one but I doubt if it would really catch on.

As for the burning of badgers? I’m not really sure if it’s even legal, although my black cat was bitten by one in Keith.

As for Zanzibar. It remains one of the few places in the world where saffron is produced. Short wars are generally good but can be harmful to manufacturers of landmines and the like.”

Enjoy ………………..

© Duncan Harley

All Rights Reserved

Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire plus the forthcoming title: The Little History of Aberdeenshire - due out on 1st  March 2019. Both titles can be ordered via Amazon.


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