Pushing Out the Boat: Our Blog
- Programme 2: An interview with John Bolland
- Programme 1: An interview with POTB Editor, Lily Greenall
- Crowdfunding - how did we do? (Aenea Reid, posted 3 Jun 2022)
- The Boat sails again - our first post-Covid live event (Roger White, posted 4 May 2022)
- Walrus (Martin Walsh, posted 22 Feb 2022)
- Chapter One - Encounter
- Chapter Two - What do you give a Walrus for Breakfast?
- Chapter Three - Ina Seivwright
- Chapter Four - Dr Hazlett
- Chapter Five - The Open Sea
- Pushing Out the Boat at the WayWORD Festival 2021 (Lily Greenall, posted 10 Oct 2021)
- Launch of Issue 16 (Roger White, posted 19 May 2021)
- Q & A with Freda Hasler (Roger White, posted 29 Jan 2021)
- Pushing Out the Boat at the WayWORD Festival (Lily Greenall, posted 3 Oct 2020)
- Pushing Out the Boat in the time of corona (Roger White, posted 19 Aug 2020)
- Martin Walsh and Freda Hasler – a tribute (Judy Taylor and Lily Greenall, posted 30 May 2020)
- Introducing Lily Greenall, the new POTB Editor (Martin Walsh, posted 5 Mar 2020)
- An Appreciation of Gerard Rochford (Judith Taylor, posted 6 Feb 2020)
Programme 2: An interview with John Bolland
Broadcast 15 September 2022
Part 1 (5 mins): Introduction by Loraine / John introduces himself then reads his poem The Type [Issue 14 p13]
Part 2: (11 mins): John speaks about Pushing Out the Boat then explains the background to his trio of stories Three North East Vignettes / John reads the first of the three vignettes – Rubislaw Hole [Issue 14 p16]
Part 3: (6 mins): Lorraine asks John to explain the background to the second vignette / John reads Milonga [Issue 14 p17]
Part 4: (7 mins): John talks about the third vignette / Lorraine reads The Lady Who Lunched [Issue 14 p17]
Part 5: (10 mins): John reads The Retention Bonus [Issue 14 p12] / John talks about his latest work, inspired by the Piper Alpha disaster / Lorraine winds up the interview
Programme 1: An interview with POTB Editor, Lily Greenall
Broadcast 18 August 2022
Part 1 (17 mins): Introduction by Loraine / Lily gives the history and background to Pushing Out the Boat / Loraine reads the short story Be Careful What You Wish For by young author Naomi Greenwood [Issue 16 p5]
[Musical interlude: Wishing on a Star by Rose Royce]
Part 2: (6 mins): Lily reads Calum at Talmine, a poem by Donald Goodbrand Saunders [Issue 16 p89] / Lily explains the selection process and submission procedures for the magazine
Part 3: (9 mins): Loraine reads Big Sis, a story by Mhari Aitchison [Issue 16 p39]
Part 4: (10 mins): Loraine reads Switherin (Harbour of Refuge), a poem by Alistair Lawrie [Issue 16 p8] / Lily gives tips for submission / Loraine asks Lily what she likes to read / Issue 17 news / Roundup of where to find and how to contact Pushing Out the Boat and shmu
Crowdfunding - how did we do?
posted on 3 June 2022
We did it! We raised £1772 through our crowdfunding campaign, which will increase to just over £2,000 once Gift Aid is received from HMRC. Together with sales and event income, this should be sufficient to cover the publication costs of the next issue. Hurrah! So we’d like to say a huge thank-you to everyone who made a donation to our campaign.
Raising the funds to publish our lovely magazine is a recurring challenge. Income from sales and events are not sufficient to cover the full costs, requiring us to seek additional sources of income to keep us afloat. In the past, we have received grants from Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City councils but this year, as the public sector reels from the effects of lockdown, it was clear their priorities were elsewhere. So, taking a deep breath, we decided to explore the opportunities offered by modern technology and launch a crowdfunding campaign.
After reviewing the alternative crowdfunding platforms, taking into account such things as appearance, fees, support for charities and ease of use, we opted for Crowdfunder. Then began the hard work of designing our Crowdfunder pages, explaining who we are, what we do, why we’re seeking funding, what we’ll do with the money we receive and deciding what rewards we could offer to donors in return for their contributions.
The next challenge was publicising the campaign which we did through mail shots to our supporters, postings on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and encouraging all the team and their friends to spread the word as widely as possible.
The fundraiser was open for a month (March 2022) during which we received 64 donations, the majority of which were made in the opening and closing weeks of the campaign. Around a third of donors opted for one of our rewards which included being named and thanked in print in Issue 17, receiving a copy of the current issue, being put on the list to receive a complimentary copy of Issue 17 once it is published, and being entered into a draw to receive a signed copy of the Walrus manuscript.
Walrus was a humorous and whimsical story written by former editor, Martin Walsh, about the exploits of a walrus, stranded on Aberdeen beach, then looked after in a tenement outhouse in Torry. It was published in instalments here in the POTB blog during the campaign. The manuscript, signed by Martin, was won by Lady Thornfield, an artist whose work features in Issues 14 and 15 of POTB.
If you missed it, our fundraiser project page is still available to view on the Crowdfunder website. Although that project is now closed, donations can be made at any time through our Crowdfunder Charity page where they will always be extremely welcome. Thank you for your support.
The Boat sails again - our first post-Covid live event
posted on 4 May 2022
A grey Sunday outside, but inside at Aberdeen’s Blue Lamp an afternoon lit up by words, music, laughter and friendship.
This was Pushing Out the Boat’s first post-Covid lockdown event face-to-face. More importantly, it was our first chance to say a big ‘Thank you’ to retired but long-standing crew members Freda Hasler and Martin Walsh, who did so much over the years to keep this particular boat afloat.
As if their work for the magazine weren’t enough, Martin also agreed to curate the afternoon’s readings, so very much a personal choice, and one that worked perfectly. Most of the prose and poetry was taken from past issues of the magazine and is listed below. In addition, special guest and friend of Pushing Out the Boat Wayne Price read an extract from a tense piece about adolescent fear he’d started during lockdown.
Thanks must go to the afternoon’s other readers, Eleanor Fordyce and Alison Green, and to singer Alastair Eddie, who entertained us pre-event and during the interval with a selection of standards from the great American songbook.
It would be invidious to highlight individual pieces by any particular author or reader in the face of so much good material. For those not present, there was an instructive lesson to the author of this article from sight of Martin’s running order and its single word characterisation of each piece as ‘sharp’, ‘earthy’, ‘poignant’, ‘playful’ and so on.
In keeping with Martin’s well-judged taste, two of his own pieces listed quite rightly as ‘humour’ opened and closed the programme – Long Haul Flight (not in any issue of the magazine), and New York Dialogue, his weel-kent conversation between a Central Park squirrel and a migrating Mexican humming bird, who he miraculously summonsed from the audience in the shape of Lou Parra Lazcano. They both appear in the photo at the head of this post.
It was a great culmination to the afternoon’s entertainment, and was followed by a presentation of gifts to Freda and Martin on behalf of all POTB crew members by current magazine editor Lily Greenall.
Oh, and finally the afternoon raised almost £200 from donations and sales, a useful adjunct to our recent online crowdfunder (of which more anon in a forthcoming blog post). Our thanks to Lewis at the Blue Lamp who generously provided the venue for us, and of course to all our contributors and audience.
Anyone interested in their feelings about the magazine and their input to it over the years can find separate Q&A posts on this blog with Martin and Freda, as well as a heartfelt tribute to them by Lily and POTB trustee Judy Taylor.
Work from Pushing Out the Boat read at the Blue Lamp, Sunday 24th April 2022. Copies of all the issues concerned are available from our online shop.
Eleanor Fordyce – Bidin
John Hargreaves –Deep in a Russian wood
Maureen Ross – A Woman writes to her Imaginary lovers
Auld Yin – Peeweets
Heather Reid – The S Word
Martin Walsh – Momadu and the Sardine Fishers
Martin Walsh – Oot o a botle
Rapunzel Wizard –Urban Shaman
Maureen Ross – The Love Calculations of the Gentleman Spider
Eleanor Fordyce – Wish You Were Here
Alison Green – The Six Wives o Harry Troup
Stephen Pacitti – The Possom Spider
Eleanor Fordyce – The Lost Shoe
Martin Walsh – New York Dialogue
A C Clarke –Poems I Don’t Want to Write
Sheila Templeton – The Iceberg that sunk the Titanic
posted on 22 February 2022
Martin Walsh has written this amusing and whimsical story to be published in instalments during our crowdfunding project to raise funds for the publication of the next issue of Pushing Out the Boat and to get our finances back into balance following the damaging effects of the Covid years. If you enjoy it, please consider making a donation.
Chapter One - Encounter
Published 25 Feb 2022
Chapter One – Encounter
It was a bitter February afternoon. The sea was wild, the wind slicing spume off the waves, whisking it like soap suds onto the sand. I was on one of my regular daily runs along the long, deserted stretch of beach, north of the river Don. The driving sleet was so fierce that I had to press my hand over my forehead as I ran, keeping my eyes to the ground a few feet ahead. That’s why I didn’t see him until the very last moment. He let out a warning growl, ‘Wrrrr‘.
‘Good gracious!’ I said, skidding to a halt and struggling somewhat for words. I gazed at his doleful expression and those two scary-looking tusks. ‘You’re a bit far from home aren’t you?’
He looked at me through baleful eyes. His voice, deep-throated, full of hesitance, redolent of the arctic wastes: To be frank, sir, I haven’t a clue where I am. Where are all the ice-flows? Where are my companions? What is this place?
‘This place, my friend, is Scotland,’ I didn’t think he’d be bothered with specifics.
Never heard of it, he said. And then, with the saddest eyes you have ever seen, I’m so tired, so very tired.
‘I’m not surprised,’ I said, suddenly overcome with compassion. I knew fatigue – I was a long distance runner. But what could I do for this poor creature so far from home? It didn’t take a genius to see that he needed rest, a chance to recalibrate his body compass, to eat some nourishing food, and regain his strength away from the prying eyes of my fellow humans. Before I could stop myself, before even considering the logistics, I blurted out, ‘Why don’t you come back with me?’
But I don’t know you, he said. Then, after scrutinizing my face for some moments, his expression seemed to soften. I do like your moustache though; you remind me of my brother – before he tusked.
I wanted to laugh at this; but I didn’t know whether walruses (especially tired ones) had a sense of humour and I didn’t want to offend him.
Do you have somewhere safe I might sleep?
Even as the wind-driven sleet bit into my cheeks, my mind was racing. I lived three stories up in a Torry tenement. Even if he could manage all those stairs with that great blubbery body of his, I could hardly get him there without my neighbours seeing him. Co-habiting with a walrus might raise eyebrows. But then I remembered the brick outhouses in the yard at the back. Each flat had its own one. They were Spartan but just about big enough to accommodate a walrus even at full stretch. ‘Yes, I do,’ I replied. But how to get him there? It was on the other side of town and without easy access to the shore. Luckily, I thought, I have a van. ‘Have you ever been in a motor? I asked.
What is motor?
‘Never mind, I’ll explain in good time. My place is a little distance from the sea, too far to walk, that’s why I need the motor for transport. Besides I have to prepare your accommodation.’ Walrus looked at me blankly. ‘Look,’ I pointed, ‘just along here, there’s a place where I can get my motor down to the beach – but I have to go and fetch it. I reckon I can make it back here in an hour.’
What is hour?
I rolled my eyes, trying to think. Why does everything have to be so difficult. I remembered a Japanese fisherman friend who could estimate the time by measuring the height of the sun above the horizon with his hands. But the sun and horizon were hidden. ‘Listen my friend, just wait here, I’ll be back as quickly as I can. Trust me.’ For some reason I touched my heart at this point. To my astonishment he repeated the gesture by placing a flipper across his shiny chest. ‘You can either hide up there among the dunes,’ I gestured towards them, ‘or better still, just paddle a little distance offshore and keep your tusks below the waterline. If any humans pass, they’ll just think you’re a seal. Understood?’
He looked at me but said nothing and I couldn’t read his expression. I’d have to do all this by sign language. Briefly I wished I’d been in the marines where they teach that kind of stuff. I pointed towards the waves making a swimming motion, then raised and lowered my forearms, palms down in a ‘wait-out-there’ gesture. Next, like a second-rate charades player, I tried to indicate running home then reversing direction and driving back to collect him. I could see he was trying to fathom things out as I set off back towards the city. I turned to wave just before exiting the beach and was relieved to see him making his way into the waves. But would he be here when I returned?
I raced home, the north wind at my back, with a renewed sense of purpose, something I had lost during these Covid days. I loved beach-running, imagining myself a latter day Herb Elliot, the Aussie athlete who had honed his strength and endurance on the steep sand dunes of Portsea, South Australia. Although way before my time I’d read about him in one of my dad’s books. I no longer felt the cold as I pounded on through the docks, across the river and home to the gull-echoing granite canyons of Torry.
Opening the tenement door, I tore through to its dismal rear yard and out again into the sleet. The light was already beginning to fade as I pushed open the unlocked door to my shed. Mine was the last one in the line – a line of brick-built outhouses so strangely out of kilter in this city of granite. But it was the best one for Walrus: in the unlikely event of anyone going to their sheds in this weather, no-one would pass his door.
I had a bike in the shed, a few tools and a broom; but what I really needed were the three stout 8 inch wide planks that I kept there. I hauled them out and tested their strength against the wall. They were mighty heavy and I could only manage one at a time as I hauled them along the corridor to the front door and across the pavement to my van. But shit, the car keys were in the flat – six flights up. Thankfully I was still running on adrenaline. I was up and down again, then back in my shed, dragging everything outside and brushing the flag-stone floor. All ship-shape. Guest accommodation ready!
I man-handled the planks into my van and jumped in. ‘Walrus – here we come!’ I hollered, smacking the steering wheel with excitement.
By the time I reached the beach again, darkness had almost fallen. The headlamps drilled long boreholes through the frenzied air above the sea, the waves dramatically white-maned against the darkling sky. Walrus was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he’s scared of the light, I thought, turning off the headlamps and the engine, then battling down to the water’s edge. The wind and the sea roared in my ears. I scanned the horizon. I couldn’t see anything. I began to pace up and down the beach, cupping my hands around my mouth, and hollering. ‘Walrus! Walrus! Where are you?’ My spirits ebbed as the sky darkened into night.
Then I heard him. ‘Wrrrr’, that same deep-throated growl he had used when we met. ‘Oh, thank god,’ I said, ‘I thought I had lost you.’ Leaning against the wind, I watched him haul his great body out of the waves. His eyes were rheumy. ‘You must be cold,’ I said.
Cold? He gave me a pitying look. No sir, this is hot.
‘Of course,’ I said, feeling rather stupid, ‘and no need to call me sir, please call me Mike.’ I gave him a little bow. ‘Do you have a name I might address you by?’
‘No other names?’
Walrus. He repeated, looking, I thought, a little exasperated.
‘OK Walrus, let’s get you home.’ I gestured towards the van. Through the spindrift darkness, we walked together – like the walrus and the carpenter – up the gentle slope of the beach. Once at the van I opened the back doors and pulled out the three planks, laying them side by side to make a broad ramp. ‘Do you think you can manage that?’ I said, gesturing towards it. He gave me a weary look and began to inch his mighty frame up the ramp and into the van’s interior. Stout as they were, the planks creaked and bent alarmingly under his weight. I could barely watch and wanted to help him but his look of affronted dignity held me back. As he flopped down exhausted onto the metal floor, the van sank deeply on its suspension and I noticed that his rear flippers were hanging over the back sill. I pointed at them, ‘You’ll have to pull those inside,’ I shouted above the wind, ‘so that I can close the doors.’ He looked at me blankly but understood once I eased the doors shut. ‘And it will be hell-of-a-noisy once we get moving,’ I said. But his eyes were already closed.
Oh my god, I thought, don’t die on me! But his mighty chest rose and fell in gentle reassuring waves. His flippers flexed easily as I lent my weight against the doors and felt them click. I drove home as gently as I could, trying to recite verses from ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ and then turning on a recording of ‘Homeward Bound’ by Simon and Garfunkle, hoping it might sooth Walrus as we drove over the hissing tarmac – though I doubt he heard a word or sound above the roar of the engine.
Driving over the cobbles of Victoria Bridge into Torry, the van was buffeted by a massive gust of wind which, without the ballast of Walrus, might have driven us onto the pavement and up against the parapets. The sleet had now turned to horizontal snow as I pulled up in front our tenement block. Although it wasn’t late, not a soul was about and the kirk across the street was almost obliterated from sight by the denseness of the blizzard. Perfect, I thought, the gods are with us. With keys in hand, I slipped quickly out of the van to open the back doors. Unbelievable, Walrus was still asleep and snoring loudly, his whiskered upper lip trembling with each out-breath. It would have been funny had I not been so anxious. I patted him urgently on one of his back flippers. ‘Walrus,’ I said, ‘come on old chap…’ But before I could finish, his eyes snapped open in terror and he let out the most almighty roar, his mouth open wide, his lower lip quivering.
‘It’s OK, Walrus, it’s OK,’ I held up my hands, palms towards him and lowered them very slowly. ‘Remember me, MIke – I’m your friend – you know, the one who looks like your brother. We met on the beach and now we’re home. Somewhere safe. Somewhere to rest.’ His look of fear gradually subsided, turning first to bewilderment then to utter weariness. It seemed cruel to ask him to move but I had no choice. I hauled out the three planks and he slid down them, his passage comically assisted by the skim of snow that had already settled on the ramp. I tried not to laugh. ‘OK, follow me, there’s a bit of a step here.’ I said pointing with one hand while working the front door keys to the tenement with the other.
I was surprised how easily he hauled himself along the floor – the sound of a heavy object being dragged across the lino, accompanied by the slap-slap of his front flippers. Once in the back yard, he stopped to look up at the swirling snow, to sniff the air and to wrinkle his broad snout in satisfaction as if reassured by the elements.
I opened the shed door. ‘Here we are my friend. No palace, I’m afraid but you’ll be OK here and I’ll bring you some breakfast in the morning.’ Walrus slid inside. ‘I’ll close the door, just to keep you safe.’ But he was already asleep again, slumped in a corner. I mopped the tenement corridor en route to my flat. No sense in raising unnecessary suspicions…
Chapter Two - What do you give a Walrus for Breakfast?
Published 8 March 2022
Chapter Two – What do you give a Walrus for Breakfast?
The next morning I awoke at dawn and went straight to my food cupboard, scanning its contents for a walrus breakfast. The only possibility was an old can of Portuguese sardines in tomato sauce. I tried to make up a Lewis Carroll-type verse: He wept like anything at the taste of tomato sauce… But it was too early in the morning for creativity and I went back to my usual worrying. What on earth do walrus’s eat, apart from feckless young oysters? Anyway, I was desperate to see how my new friend had survived the night, so I opened the tin, slopped its contents onto an enamel plate, grabbed a loaf of bread and scooted down the stairs. It was bitter outside in the back yard. Six inches of snow had fallen during the night but I knew that was the least of my worries.
I pushed open the door to the shed and there he was – a dark, shiny mound, like a huge sea-sculpted boulder, still sound asleep. I didn’t tap him this time, just whispered a quiet ‘Morning Walrus.’ I slid the plate of sardines towards him, leaving it a few inches from his muzzle. He was so deeply asleep that he didn’t even seem to hear the grating sound of enamel across the concrete. How on earth will he eat, I wondered, without those ridiculous tusks getting in the way? I didn’t have long to wait. With his eyes still closed, I watched his broad, whiskered snout begin to quiver and his nostrils to twitch. He opened an eye, its expression morphing rapidly from lugubrious to terrified and then, more slowly, back to baleful as he recognized again the face that reminded him of his brother.
‘You must be starving,’ I said.
‘Wrrrr,‘ he replied, but quietly this time, as if in assent. He lumbered slowly towards the sardines. Lifting his head delicately above the plate he let out another ‘Wrrrr‘. This time I could have sworn there was a hint of appreciation in its utterance. For those acquainted with cats, you will be aware how many shades of meaning they can express in a single ‘meow’, ranging from apparently deep affection: Oh, I so love you master, to a sharply barked command: feed me, you laggard, have you no sense of urgency?
Perhaps it’s the same with Walruses, I mused. The next thing I knew, Walrus had buried his head in the sardines, his tusks clicking noisily on the plate. So that’s how they do it, I reflected, with their muzzle pointing vertically towards the ground (or seabed) and their tusks pointing backwards toward their chests. It was all so obvious when you watched him. To say that Walrus wolfed the sardines would be an understatement. When he’d finished, I noticed a daub of tomato sauce on his nose and burst out laughing. Ignoring me, he hooked his tusks under the empty plate sending it spinning noisily across the floor as he searched desperately for more sardines.
The look in his eyes as he gazed at me was heart-rending. Shrugging apologetically, I offered him the loaf. He looked at it for a while, gave it a dismissive sniff then stabbed it with his tusks. He must have been desperate though, because he snaffled the whole thing down before turning his eyes on me once more.
‘Oh dear,’ I said, ‘look I’m really sorry, Walrus, that’s all I’ve got in the house. Consider it just a small appetizer. I’ll need to go out and buy you a proper breakfast, you’ll just have to be patient with me.’ This was so typical of me – never thinking things through! I’d figured out from his anatomy that he must be a benthic feeder and wouldn’t normally be able to catch fish; but he obviously loved their taste (or was it just the tomato sauce? My last cat, Mactavish, loved it too). Thankfully Torry was full of fish houses so, with luck, I could bulk-buy cheap fish to satisfy what I imagined would be his enormous appetite. Once again I resorted to charade-like gestures: I’m going to have to lock you in, be back soon, trust me mate.
Hooking a Covid mask around my ears and over my face at the entrance to the first fish house I came to, I pushed through the dangling strips of thick plastic sheeting, and into its cave-like interior. Wasting no time on niceties, I blurted out to the man behind the counter, ‘Can you sell me a box of cheap but wholesome fish, I’ve an army to feed.’
He scrutinized me curiously from beneath his white plastic fish-monger’s hat, his body clad in shiny yellow, his white-booted legs planted squarely on the fish-wet concrete.
‘There’s nae cheap fush these days, pal. Cheapest ah hiv is smaa haddies, nae gutted like. A box’ll set ye back fufty quid.’
‘Jeez,’ I said, ‘nothing cheaper?’
‘Sorry pal. Ye could aye try John Charles up ‘a street, he sometimes his mackareels, aat’s aboot as cheap as ye’ll get.’
So that’s what I did. I bought a big fish-market sized box of mackerel – they were cheaper – and hoisted them with some difficulty into the back of my van.
By the time I’d lugged the box, with its 40 kilograms of fish, through the tenement and across the snow to the outhouses at the back, I was knackered. I leant, breathing heavily, against the shed door. Walrus must have heard me because he let out his now customary greeting from behind the door. It was muted this time, thank god, but I thought it carried a note of desperation.
As I unlocked the door he gave me a look which unequivocally said ‘I could eat a horse.’ or whatever the walrus equivalent was. But what if he doesn’t like mackerel? I was back in worry mode again. I knew there was no way he could catch a mackerel even if they did live up there in the arctic. But I needn’t have worried. I tossed him a fish to test his response. It was instantaneous. His ‘Wrrrr’ was the most enthusiastic yet. It was a wrrrr without qualification, without even a ‘where’s the tomato sauce then?’
I was overcome with relief and joy; I could have hugged him. Forgetting where I was, I let out a whoop of triumph and danced a little jig in the snow. Idiot! I kicked myself, what on earth was I doing? Glancing upwards through the whirling snow, I scanned the window apertures in the grey cliff of the tenement. No sign of prying eyes, I noted with relief, but suddenly I was almost knocked over by Walrus shooting out of the shed to bury his head maniacally into the box of mackerel – in full view of anyone who might be watching.
‘Walrus, no!’ I scolded, waving an index finger at him as I tried to drag the box into the shed, but he hooked his tusks over the opposite side and he was much stronger than me. I had to wait until a pause in his eating frenzy. Only once he’d lifted his head out of the box was I able to jerk it away from him and back into the shed. He followed, galumphing, and I quickly slammed the door, leaving him to his feast. As I made my way back toward the tenement I thought I saw a curtain twitching on the second floor.
Chapter Three - Ina Seivwright
Published 8 March 2022
Chapter Three – Ina Seivwright
Back in my flat I warmed my backside against the radiator, luxuriating in its heat as I stared out of the window and watched the snow swirling by, smudging the outline of the docks beyond. I was supposed to be working – working from home – but I just couldn’t face my laptop, couldn’t stop thinking about Walrus. What the hell was I going to do with him? How long could I keep him cooped up? How long would it take him to recover his strength? What on earth would I do if he’d been spotted by the curtain twitcher?
There were two flats on each floor in the tenement and, if my guess was right, that curtain belonged to Mrs Seivwright – she who disapproved: disapproved of my efforts at polishing the communal stairs, tutted at the occasional girl friends I brought back to the flat, didn’t like the English. My fears were soon confirmed as there came a sharp rat-a-tat at the door.
Standing before me stood the mighty bulk of Ina Seivright, her slippered feet apart on the landing, meaty fists on hips, face red and breathing heavily. She came straight to the point.
‘An fit wis aat ah jist seen comin oot yer sheddie?’
‘No idea, Mrs Seivwright.’
‘Ye ken pets is nay permitted.’
‘And what d’you think you saw?’
‘Nay sure. Couldnae see recht thro the snaa. Bit it wis affa big.’
There was nothing else for it. I would have to tell her. ‘What would you say if I told you it was a walrus?’
Her jaw dropped, I could see her trying to process the information, comparing the size of what she had seen with this revelation. She scrutinized me with a look of utter disbelief. ‘I’d say ye wis aff yer heid.’ But I thought I caught a flicker of interest in her eye. Maybe I could even win her over.
‘Would you like to meet him?’
‘Ye’re kiddin?’ she replied. My God was that the hint of a smile? ‘Ah’ll hae tae get ma beets on first.’
‘I’ll see you down there. then.’
Waiting patiently outside the shed, I watched Ina emerge from the tenement and trudge slowly out through the snow. As she drew near I put a warning finger to my lips and opened the shed door a couple of inches. The stench was overpowering. Slumped In the corner lay Walrus, eyes closed, chest rising and falling gently, his flippers folded over his chest like a portly gentleman after a mighty pub lunch. Pinching my nose and waving my hand in front of my face, I opened the door a little wider. I beckoned Ina over to look inside, putting a finger to my lips once again so she wouldn’t awaken and frighten Walrus.
Ina’s face was transfixed, a look of utter enchantment replacing her normal sour expression. Walrus was a picture of contentment, having consumed half his box of mackerel. I closed the door and we left him in peace.
As we re-entered the tenement, Ina invited me into her flat for a fly cup. I told her the whole story, of how I’d stumbled across Walrus and brought him home, having promised him a quiet spot for the night to rest up. She gazed at me with a look of astonishment.
‘Promised him? Are ye tellin me, the craiter spiks?’
‘Well his eyes and body language speak to me and I seem to hear words.’
She gave me a slightly quizzical look, the kind you might give a daft person but I didn’t really care. The main thing was she clearly shared my enchantment with Walrus, and I was sure she wouldn’t make trouble now – maybe she might even be able to help.
‘I’m worried,’ I said, ‘I really haven’t much of a clue what I’m doing here. The only animal I ever cared for was a cat. I hate confining Walrus but I don’t want anyone seeing or pestering him – he needs to rest.
‘Fit aboot the Marine Laboratory?’
‘You mean that ugly building up the road near the golf course? What about it?’
‘M’be they’ll hae some cliver chappies in there that can help.’
I turned the idea over in my head. The place was supposed to be full of boffins wasn’t it? Maybe there would be someone there who could advise me. ‘Good thinking, Ina. I’ll try and find some contact details on my lap top and give them a ring. Thanks for the tea, I’ll keep you posted.’ And with that I was out the door and galloping up the stairs to my flat.
Chapter Four - Dr Hazlett
Published 15 March 2022
Chapter Four – Dr Hazlett
‘Marine Laboratory here, how can I help?
‘Walruses,’ I blurted out, ‘you wouldn’t happen to have an expert on them would you?’
There was a long pause. ‘Well that’s a new one…’ The reply was polite, hesitant, the receptionist sounded as if she were turning over options in her head. ‘Walrus is a mammal isn’t it? We do have someone who fields questions on whales and dolphins. I could put you through to him if you like?’
‘That would be great, thanks.’
‘We only have a skeleton staff here at the moment due to Covid restrictions but I could transfer you to his home number. His name is Dr Hazlett. Hold the line please.’
He came through almost immediately, his voice old, grumpy, and a trifle suspicious. I wondered what the receptionist had told him.
‘Look.’ I said, ‘I know this is going to sound a trifle bonkers, but I’ve got a very exhausted walrus at home with me in Torry and I’m at my wit’s end worrying about what to do with him. The receptionist, told me you might be able to help.’
‘Is this some kind of a wind-up? There are no walruses in Scotland.’
‘That’s what I thought,’ I replied, ‘until I almost fell over one on the beach north of the Don. I took him home in my van because he looked so poorly. He’s in my outhouse, I’ve been feeding him on mackerel.’ There was a splutter of disbelief down the line, ‘Please don’t put the phone down Dr Hazlett,’ I added quickly. ‘If you don’t believe me come and see for yourself. I live at 167 Victoria Rd not far from the Marine Lab. My name is Mike and I work at the Bank of Scotland in Union Street.’ I hated adding that last bit but thought it might add some gravitas and it seemed to work, or, at least, he didn’t put down the phone. He went on to pepper me with questions about Walrus and then about myself but I could tell from his tone that, although he remained suspicious, his attitude was beginning to change. There was now a note of barely restrained excitement in his voice. ‘I’ll be round in half an hour,’ he said, ‘I’ve got to come from the other side of town.’
I met him outside the tenement kicking the snow off his boots. He was a rugged looking guy, an outdoor type, much older than me, in his 50s I guessed, with the whiskers of a beard escaping around the fringes of his face mask. The visible parts of his face were weather-beaten and he had on a worn Barbour jacket and a chunky woollen hat. Clutched in one hand was a bulging sack.
‘You must be Mike, the banker,’ he said with a mischievous twinkle, ‘I thought these might come in useful.’ He shook the sack.
‘And you’ll be Dr Hazlett,’ I replied, trying not to wince at the banker reference. ‘Come on through. Very good of you to come at such short notice. So what’s in the sack?’
‘Mussels. Live mussels.’
‘Oh wow, that’s just brilliant.’ I could have hugged him.
‘I’m no expert on walruses but my guess is that these will be as close to his natural diet as you can find. Can’t believe he’s been eating mackerel,’ he said, shaking his head.
‘Me neither,’ I replied. ‘I guess he was desperate, but I should warn you, they make him fart something awful. Hope you’ve got a strong stomach.’
‘Ever tried dissecting a long-dead, stranded whale,’ he grinned. ‘But what intrigues me is how on earth you managed to get him here?’
‘Long story,’ I replied as we emerged into the back yard and crunched across the snow. I put a finger to my lips as we approached Walrus’s quarters. Carefully opening the door, I peaked inside. He was slumped in a corner with his back against the walls, his two flippers folded over his stomach, eyes closed, a look of sleepy contentment on his face. Creaking open the door a little wider – so that the Doc could take a look too – a shaft of wintry sunlight flicked across Walrus’s face bringing him sharply awake.
‘Wrrrr.’ he bellowed, lurching belligerently toward the Doc with terrifying menace. Perhaps he saw this older bearded newcomer as a rival alpha male.
Stepping quickly between them, arms extended, I shouted, ‘Whoa, Walrus, this is my friend, he’s come to help you.’ The look Walrus gave me suggested betrayal: But you promised me peace and quiet. This morphed to incomprehension: Help me? How he gonna help me?
I turned to the Doc who looked a bit shaken but also intrigued. ‘Why don’t you toss him a few mussels,’ I suggested, ‘gently, just in front of him.’
Walrus had risen to his full height, and continued to glare belligerently at the Doc. At first he ignored the mussels that the Doc threw his way, not daring to take his eyes off his rival. But then his nostrils began to twitch as he caught their whiff. Lowering his head he sniffed at the nearest mussel. ‘Wrrrr,’ his tone this time was less aggressive, excited anticipation struggling with lingering suspicion.’ He looked at me, as if for reassurance.
‘It’s OK,’ I said. ‘Dr Hazlett is my friend, he wants to be yours too and these mussels are a gift from him to you.’
Really? he was still looking sceptical until a faint memory seemed to dawn. Mussels. I know these from home. Almost as good as oysters. He worked his tusks methodically from side to side across the floor scooping the mussels into neat blue-black, barnacle-encrusted piles. Then he opened his big whiskered jaws and began to crunch them noisily down. I turned to look at the Doctor. He was grinning from ear to ear.
‘I can’t believe I’m seeing this,’ he said, ‘Odobenis rosmarus, here in little old Aberdeen. It’s like some strange dream… some parallel reality.’ He shook his head as if to shake himself back into the real world. Walrus was now looking at him impatiently. Doc laughed, ‘Even I can read that look,’ he said, tossing Walrus more of the mussels which bounced lightly, like skimmed stones, across the floor.
As the Doc continued throwing handfuls of shellfish at Walrus I scanned the shed. The box of mackerel was now three-quarters empty, a good sign I thought, but there were little piles of excrement everywhere and the smell was overpowering. ‘Hey, Doc,’ I said, ‘what do you think? How much longer should we keep him here? He’s already had about thirty kilos of mackerel and a good whack of your mussels. They must have done him some good, surely?’
‘I don’t think you should keep him here a minute longer. It’s a pity, I would have liked to have taken some measurements but he looks way too dangerous for that. I’ve no idea how we get him back to sea or how on earth you managed to get him here in the first place, but that’s where he should be.’
‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘you’re right and he’s definitely in much better shape now. Let’s lock him up again with half the rest of the mussels and make a plan. He seems OK so long as he’s got food and privacy. Anyway I’m bloody freezing, let’s go up to my flat and grab a coffee. You can leave the rest of the mussels out here against the door.’ This was a mistake.
Chapter Five - The Open Sea
Published 22 March 2022
Chapter Five – The Open Sea
Mugs of coffee in hand, I gestured Doc to sit on the single kitchen stool while I stood, bum to radiator, next to the window. He turned his piercingly blue eyes on me and, after insisting I called him Wil, said, ‘What I still don’t understand is how you got him here or how you…’ But at this precise moment, from somewhere outside came a furious ‘Wrrrr’ followed by the sound of violently exploding wood. Rapidly craning my neck to look into the yard below, I was just in time to see Walrus hauling himself off the door which now lay off its hinges beneath him, shattered in the snow. Doc leapt off his stool and joined me at the window as we watched Walrus hook his tusks under the edge of the door and flip it effortlessly over to reveal the half-full sack of mussels beneath it.
‘Oh, shit,’ I yelled, dashing towards the door, ‘we’ll never get him back into the shed or my van in this state.’
I was down the stairs and into the back yard within seconds, Doc not far behind. Walrus was busy ripping open the bag with his tusks. Even I didn’t dare approach too closely. ‘It’s OK mate,’ I said in the calmest voice I could muster, ‘nobody’s going to touch them, they’re all for you.’
Walrus gave me one of his impenetrable looks then went back to his feast. Doc tapped me on the shoulder, gesturing towards the tenement. At almost every window a face was watching the cabaret below. My head was pounding. Nothing really mattered now except to get Walrus back to sea. I was at my wit’s end. ‘What the hell do we do now, Wil?’
He looked at me through those sharp eyes of his. ‘Well, Mike, you managed to get him here, single-handed, and you sure as hell didn’t carry him here in your arms. Whatever magic you worked then, you need to find it again now.’
‘Thanks a lot.’ I replied sarcastically, turning to study Walrus again. He’d finished the mussels by now and was licking his lips triumphantly. He looked magnificent: proud, fierce and indomitable. I stared at him in mixed admiration and despair. He turned his eyes on me. ‘Wrrrr.‘ It was a command this time, no doubt about it. Home. The word echoed round my head like a joyous peeling of bells, home, home, home. I turned to look at Doc, ‘You hear that, Wil?’
‘Never mind,’ I replied, ‘I think he’ll come quietly now.’ I beckoned to Walrus, ‘Come on old chap, let’s get you home.’ Doc stood to the side, his face a picture of scientific incomprehension and awe as Walrus galumphed past him. At the back door of the tenement, hands on hips stood Ina, grinning broadly.
‘That wis an affa guid show ye pit on there mi loon. Ye should be on a telly. Onything, ah can dee tae help?’
‘Just keep the passage clear if you would, Ina, he gets spooked by crowds.’ I could already see some of my neighbours milling in the corridor. Ina was into traffic-cop mode instantly, waving her hands commandingly. ‘Awah back, oot the wae, heavy goods comin thro.’ My neighbours retreated reluctantly up the stairs and we were soon out on the snowy front pavement. As Walrus flopped onto the paving stones, an old lady on the other side of the street gasped in horror, eyes wide open, hand over her mouth.
‘Give us a hand would you, Wil? I’ve got a ramp in the back of the van. Walrus knows the drill.’ We hauled the three planks out together and watched Walrus clamber aboard – so different from his laboured efforts the day before. ‘You’ll give us a hand on the beach, won’t you Wil?’
‘Try and stop me.’ He grinned.
‘I’ll need to turn,’ I said, ‘visibility’s not too good in the van, could you keep an eye out for traffic?’
‘What do you mean turn, the nearest beach is just up the road, beyond the Lab, just beyond the Battery. You weren’t thinking of going back to the Don were you?’
I slapped my forehead, ‘Durrr, why didn’t I think of that? Yep, there’s a nice little beach just inside the last breakwater, isn’t there?’
Minutes later, I pulled into the side of the road just above the broad winding path down to the beach. The wind was still blowing out of the North, shivering the gorse bushes at the top of the brae. The landscape was locked under snow, gulls surfed the wind or hung in mid air above the estuary and one of the Shetland ferries, with its dramatic Viking logo, was nosing out into the swell.
Walrus was already up on his front flippers, facing out of the back of the van, sniffing the air as Doc and I opened the back doors. ‘Oh, shit,’ I said, ‘There’s a kissing gate across the path, how the hell are we going to get him though there?’ Doc scratched his beard, ‘Think he might just fit under the barrier if we’re lucky. Looks like there’s about two foot of clearance.’
‘Wrrrr,’ said Walrus, flippers already over the threshold, eyes peering impatiently down at the snowy verge below the back of the van, as if contemplating leaping.
‘Whoa, hold your horses, matey,’ I shouted. ‘Wait for the ramp.’ Doc was already hauling out the second plank, while I pulled out the third and slid it into place. Walrus was down the ramp like a rocket, almost knocking over the Doc in passing. He needed no instructions, pushing open the kissing gate then sliding like a fat limbo dancer under the metal horizontal to its side. Once on the path beyond, there was no stopping him. He slid over the broad, wooden steps with a kind of heavy, fluid grace. Flopping onto the beach he made straight for the water.
Half-submerged, he turned to look at us. He placed a single flipper over his chest. ‘Wrrrr’, he said, bowing his head slightly, before disappearing under the waves. We saw his mighty head reappear from time to time, watched by a family of surprised harbour seals. He turned one last time.
‘Go North, old friend.’ I shouted, but he needed no bidding from me. ‘Send us a post card when you get home.’ Doc was shaking his head in disbelief.
Back in my car, he fixed me in a long poker-faced stare before breaking into a mischievous grin. ‘You’re going to need a carpenter to fix that shed door of yours and you’ve a lot of explaining to do!’
We hoped you enjoyed this little story. Please help us to support the publication of other stories, poems and artwork by contributing to our crowdfunder.
Pushing Out the Boat at the WayWORD Festival 2021
posted on 10 October 2021
Pushing Out the Boat Event with Leopard Arts at the WayWORD Festival
The Aberdeen literary scene is back in full swing this autumn, with the return of the WayWORD Festival hosted by the University of Aberdeen. This year Pushing Out the Boat were again delighted to join Leopard Arts for a virtual literary reading at the WayWORD Festival. After participating in a similar event last year, we were happy to see another enthusiastic online turn out.
The event took place in the evening on Thursday the 23rd of September and opened with readings from Leopard Arts contributors. The event was introduced by Leopard Arts’ editor, Will Creed, and joint chaired by Pushing Out the Boat editor, Lily Greenall. Leopard Arts’ showcase featured a range of excellent work from within the Aberdeen student body and beyond.
Next up, the Pushing Out the Boat readings were kicked off by Gabrielle Barnby, who read from her beautiful, reflective prose piece, “From Poland”, which was featured in Issue 16. Our second reader was Mark Cassidy, who read three poems, including his piece “AGAINST THE GRAIN” which featured in Issue 16. He was followed by Nicola Furrie Murphy, whose poem “Passing Place” offered a poignant meditation on death. Nicola also read another piece about the joys of wild swimming.
Our final two readers were Max Scratchmann and EE Chandler. Max Scratchmann performed his poem “The Gaelic Teacher and the Dinner Lady”, while EE Chandler read several pieces of work, including her poem “Washing My Mother’s Hair” from Issue 16.
These readings were followed up by a lively Q&A which drew some fascinating insights on creative writing from both the Leopard Arts and Pushing Out the Boat readers. It was great to see so much enthusiasm and engagement with arts in the North-East and it was a pleasure, once again, to be part of this vibrant festival.
Launch of Issue 16
posted on 19 May 2021
PUSHING OUT THE BOAT ISSUE 16 LAUNCH
In the time of pandemic, the exception becomes the norm and the norm becomes the exception.
This thought must have crossed the minds of at least some of the near-one hundred souls who logged onto the online launch of Pushing Out the Boat magazine Issue 16 on the afternoon of Sunday the 16th of May.
Pushing Out the Boat’s recent norm, as old hands will know, has been to launch our new edition in the wonderful Phoenix Hall of Aberdeen’s Newton Dee community. Alas, Covid ruled that option out this year, so online it had to be or not at all.
Out had to go the pre-launch drinks and nibbles, the meeting of old friends and the making of new, the display of some of the art work from the magazine, and the buzz that can only come from face-to-face live performance. Out also, the chance to recoup some of the costs of producing the magazine through a ticketed event with added sales opportunity, a.k.a. our table laden with present and past issues of Pushing Out the Boat for sale (but don’t forget our online shop to order those extra copies for family and friends).
Lily Greenall – Sheila Templeton – Michael Stephenson – Alison Bell – Mairi Murphy
In came an online slide show of all the art work in the magazine (which can now be viewed on the Issue 16 page of our website, along with a selection of sample extracts of poetry and prose), in came poets and authors far from Aberdeen able to read at one of our launches for the first time, and in came guests from across the UK, Italy, Lithuania, Nigeria, and Switzerland (and those are just the places we know about). In also came a live chat function, so we could not only highlight biographies and contact details for our fifteen readers as they introduced themselves, but also capture the immediate responses of those attending. Here’s a selection of what people said.
- Stunning artwork
- So enjoying all the voices today
- A real Sunday afternoon treat
- What a whole load of talent!
And, plucked at random, responses to some of the individual contributions.
- ‘Beyond the wind, by the asphodel-starred lochans, a redshank is crying …’ a gently hopeful ending (Alison Bell’s prose piece ‘Finding Ithaka’)
- ‘He nails your soul to the floor …’ Thank you. Lovely poem (Mairi Murphy’s poem ‘Roan Inish, Gweebarra’)
- ‘A certain heartbreak smell’. Wonderful to see the inspiring object (Gabrielle Barnby showed the audience the crucifix that was the subject of her prose piece ‘From Poland’)
- I could hear the sea in your voice. So good to hear the Doric (Alistair Lawrie’s poem ‘Switherin’)
- Just fabulous (Ellen Renton’s poem ‘In my best dreams’)
- Wonderfully precise and captivating. Thank you (Susan Elsley’s short story ‘Golden Air’)
- Names and identity are so important – thank you for writing this. Wonderful poem (Adebusola Bada’s ‘Identity’ – Adebusola is one of our young contributors, aged 17).
Gabrielle Barnby – Alistair Lawrie – Zoë Green – Ellen Renton – Eleanor Fordyce – Morag Smith
You can find recordings of all our featured authors reading their work here.
Not so long ago, any online arts event was very much the exception, associated with a sense of having been short-changed of the ‘real’ thing. Now the world of performance has been turned upside down. As one of our readers, Alison Bell, said in introducing her contribution, ‘Everything I wrote last year came out of the pandemic one way or another’ and we sensed a similar impact on many of our readers. Our online launch may have been part of the new norm but in the hands and with the voices of our contributors it also became exceptional, and we thank them, and our audience, for that. Thanks also, of course, to our editor, Lily Greenall, who introduced our readers and for the warm words about Pushing Out the Boat spoken by the author of Issue 16’s Foreword, Scots and English poet Sheila Templeton.
Footnote. Like most people, we also yearn for a return to the best of the old norm and hope to put on a live event of readings in Aberdeen as soon as we can, featuring local contributors to Issue 16. News of that will be publicised in the usual way – on the website, on social media and to our newsletter subscribers (you can join our mailing list here).
Susan Elsley – Ingrid Leonard – Adebusola Bada – Stella Hervey Birrell – Tom Bennett – Ian Crockatt
Q & A with Freda Hasler
posted on 29 January 2021
‘It was a huge learning curve …’
What’s it like being in almost at the birth of a magazine of new writing and the visual arts and seeing it through many years of increasing success? Our recently-retired coordinator Freda Hasler answers our questions designed precisely to explore that subject. You can find a tribute to Freda and her partner Martin in an earlier blog post.
Until your retirement recently, you had been involved with POTB for many years. What made you get involved in the first place?
There’s a very long answer! But the short one is to help my partner Martin, who became seriously ill shortly after becoming POTB’s first voluntary editor (the wonderful NHS cured him!). Even before that, when the magazine was still being run by Aberdeenshire Council, I helped with copy-editing Issue 4.
POTB is a magazine run entirely by volunteers, challenging to achieve at the best of times. What do you think has been the secret of its longevity?
Its unique quality – and wonderful teamwork of course. Utilising the web helped, not just keeping costs down, but aiding communications and raising profile: who would believe the increased number and wide variety of submissions achieved by 2020. But let’s not forget the array of invaluable skills so generously volunteered over the years – and we didn’t break too many arms press-ganging their owners on board!
Latterly, you were the coordinator for the magazine but you must have done many other things over the years to ‘keep the show on the road’, mostly in behind-the-scenes roles. What have been the highlights of your involvement?
Well, I learned a lot about publishing, though it was a huge learning curve. As part of the core team, one steps into roles as and when required. I had a period as Acting Secretary, with the unexpected bonus of forming long-term friendships with several (often first-time published) writers and artists – plus meeting many appreciative contributors at our brilliant launches. I enjoyed the networking (except when folk started to run away from ‘that POTB woman’ whenever I approached!). But my favourite task was working on the magazine layout and design: I’m proud of the look of POTB… I gather there may even be some imitations out there.
And the most challenging aspects?
We often seemed to lurch from crisis to crisis, with team members disappearing (some to far-away shores at short notice); we even had a funding heist! Supporting volunteers is never easy. I guess I won’t miss the increasingly 24/7 nature of the job, and the full calendar: fitting in holidays could be difficult, and necessitated lots of advance POTB prep. The latter did pay off when we got stranded in Japan (due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland!) and would have missed deadlines for the upcoming Launch of POTB 9. Luckily those pre-prepared documents were accessible online, and we were able to send everything – from our hotel bedroom. Phew!
Of all the work that has appeared in the magazine over the years, poetry, prose and art, do any pieces stand out as something you especially remember or feel affection for, and why?
Of course, everything by my partner Martin Walsh is a highlight – even his Doric poem [Martin is from Kent – Ed.]. He has such a following, and it’s a disappointment when his work doesn’t make the cut. (But that does prove the anonymity of the selection process). Having copy-edited many pieces over some fifteen years, several I know almost by heart, and they are very special. Amongst countless superb contributions, I’d have to include anything by Stephen Pacitti, with ‘The Possum Spider’ in my top ten. [You can find this story in Issue 12 of POTB online, starting at p.12– Ed.]
What practical tips would you give to the team now running the magazine?
We tried hard to share out the workload, and put good procedures in place; so the only advice I’d give is to avoid becoming dependant on too few individuals. Otherwise, the team are so talented that I’m pretty sure they don’t need any more tips!
What do you feel, from your experience, will be the most challenging issues for a magazine like POTB in the future?
These never really change. Most small publishers encounter similar challenges year on year (even without COVID), but POTB has the additional problem of finding those vital skilled volunteers; luckily we were assisted by incredible outside support. Also, selling a print magazine is an everlasting problem, so perhaps building a subscription base, even for the online editions, might help.
And finally, what now? You’re not a person to rest on their laurels, even after so many years of helping to make a success of POTB. What further challenges await you?
My ‘retirement’ coincided with the start of COVID, so our planned travels have been curtailed – hopefully to be resumed very soon. Mainly for the pleasure of learning new skills, I attend art courses, some latterly in fascinating places overseas – though right now Zoom doesn’t quite hit the mark. But other demands continue, including those of my Board duties with an Arts organisation, plus lay involvement with various university research projects. These keep the brain cells active. And there’s our beloved garden …
Pushing Out the Boat at the WayWORD Festival
posted on 3 October 2020
Poetry and Prose Via Zoom at the WayWORD Festival
Despite the continuing COVID restrictions, Pushing Out the Boat was lucky enough to be involved in a literary showcase via Zoom last Sunday night on the 27th of September. Combined with readers from Leopard Arts, a literary collective run by Creative Writing students at the University of Aberdeen, five regular POTB contributors took to the (virtual) stage to showcase some of their work. The event was the final reading on the WayWORD programme and was chaired jointly by myself and by Leopard Arts editor, Will Creed.
The Leopard Arts crew went first and provided a range of spectacular pieces, from spoken word poetry on the theme of modern life under pandemic conditions, to musings on American politics. After this hard act to follow, our segment of the evening was opened by Judy Taylor. Judy began her reading with Gerard Rocheford’s poem “Scarecrow”: a touching tribute to the North East poet, who died at the end of last year (Judy wrote a separate appreciation of Gerard on our blog earlier this year). Judy, who is a long-standing POTB team member, regular contributor, and a panellist on this year’s prose selection panel for Issue 16 of the magazine, then read one of her own poems about austerity and the pinched economic landscape of recent years.
Next up, Aberdeen based writer and author of the 2019 poetry collection, Fallen Stock, John Bolland read an evocative vignette set in and around the Aberdeen oil scene. Capturing the grim and gritty feel of the North East, Bolland’s reading made fine use of the distinctive Aberdeen dialect and granite scenery. John’s reading led on to a reading by acclaimed Aberdeenshire author, Sheila Templeton, who has just been announced the winner of this year’s McCash Prize for Poetry in Scots. Sheila read poems from her upcoming collection, Clyack, which is due to published later this month. The first of these was a moving dedication to her late sister, while another was written in Scots and charted the experience of her “Granda” who, on his journey across the Atlantic in 1912, believed he saw the very same iceberg that sunk the Titanic. “The Iceberg that Sunk the Titanic” is published in Issue 15, the current issue of Pushing Out the Boat.
After this, Gavin Gilmour read an excerpt from his current work in progress: a novel set in the North East that features an angry and apathetic young man as its protagonist. With pithy dialogue and touches of dark humour, Gavin’s piece built a strong sense of place and character and undoubtedly made listeners eager to hear more. Forfar writer Eleanor Fordyce concluded the evening’s readings, finishing with a pair of poems written in Doric and, once more, capturing the strong voice of the North East that defined the evening’s performances.
The reading was attended by around 50 audience members, who could watch the readers from home on their own Zoom connections. The event concluded with a lively Q & A session in the Zoom chat and was a lovely way to end a festival that had featured so many inspiring local events. Although many of the readers commented that it was certainly a new and strange experience reading to a webcam rather than a live audience, the event went off without technical glitches and suggests a welcome possibility for future POTB events in the time of corona. Although not yet online, all WayWORD Festival events were recorded and will be available for online viewing soon!
From left to right: Lily, Judy, John, Sheila, Gavin, Eleanor
Pushing Out the Boat in the time of corona
posted on 19 August 2020
17th March 2020, and the Pushing Out the Boat crew sail into new territory – a virtual team meeting.
Only the most hermit-like reader wouldn’t be able to guess why: the corona lockdown of course.
We embarked on this latest stage of our voyage with some apprehension.
The immediate question was could the team manage the vagaries of Zoom between us so we could continue to ‘meet’? Well, three meetings, a few unintended sightings of passing pets, one member’s exotic (electronic) background of sea and sun and a dropped laptop or two later, the answer’s a definite yes. Of course, we miss the social aspect of a face-to-face encounter but on the plus side our meetings are at least half an hour shorter.
The bigger question was did we have the resource to produce a next issue under potentially extended lockdown conditions? Even here, technology came to our aid. At the time, we lacked a magazine designer. Luckily, the online recruitment resources of Aberdeen Council of Voluntary Organisations/Volunteer Scotland and Creative Scotland identified a number of promising volunteers and after a Zoom getting-to-know-you session, we were pleased to welcome Claire Martin as our new magazine designer. We decided it was all systems go for our 16th issue
The prescience of other team members (not this one) means that authors, poets and artists submitting work to Pushing Out the Boat no longer have to wrestle with paper or canvas, packaging, getting to a Post Office during lockdown, and the tender mercies of the Royal Mail to deliver their precious cargo to us. Submissions have been completely online for a while now: registering an interest and uploading text and graphic files couldn’t be easier. If you’re tempted to try your hand at submitting work, just go to our Submissions page before 30th September and take it from there.
Less positively, corona has had an impact on the steady stream of sales we usually enjoy between issue launches. Most of our wonderful vendors have been closed or operating under severe restrictions for some months now. If you need a magazine fix but can’t visit them, you can still order a copy of Issue 15 online, as well as earlier issues available at a discounted price.
Finally, those of you in the North-East of Scotland may have attended one of our reading events in the past. Frustratingly, these have had to be put on hold at a time when physical gatherings have not been possible. But technology and Aberdeen University have come to our aid: we are sharing an online platform with Leopard Arts for an hour’s online performance at the WayWORD Festival at 7 p.m. on Sunday 27th September. You can register here to view the session. It may be a precursor of other online events to come …
Footnote. Before this article went to press, a further local lockdown was introduced in our hometown of Aberdeen as there was a spike in corona cases associated with the hospitality industry (pubs, clubs and restaurants). All at Pushing Out the Boat hope you’re safe from the virus wherever you are in the world.
Martin Walsh and Freda Hasler – a tribute
posted on 30 May 2020
March saw a major change to the crew and complement of the Boat with the retirement of Martin Walsh and Freda Hasler, who have been core members of the Pushing Out The Boat team since Issue 5. Between them, they have filled just about every one of the vital roles that keep the Boat sailing on.
They first came aboard (sorry, but Awful Nautical Puns are one of the traditions they established, and that we have a responsibility to continue) for Issue 5 of the magazine. POTB was founded and first edited by Magi Gibson, who at that time (2000) was Writer in Residence with Aberdeenshire Council. She was later succeeded in both roles by Mindy Grewar. However, in 2005 the Council found it necessary to end direct support for the magazine and Mindy, anxious to see it continue, put out a call for volunteers to take over its running.
Martin and Freda were among the first to step forward, and the work they have put in during the 15 years and 10 issues since has been pivotal to the magazine’s continued success. Martin was very much the public face of the magazine for much of this period, serving two spells as Managing Editor, as well as helming launches and fundraisers, and filling vital roles in Sales and Outreach. Freda meanwhile took a leading role on the production side as Coordinator, steering the internal and external communications, the teams handling layout, copyediting and proofing, and the multifarious organisational and administrative questions that arise in putting together a magazine.
The finished magazine is of course… well, it would be a pun too far to say “the tip of the iceberg”, but perhaps we can say it’s the grand entertainment on deck, band playing, whistles tooting, and flags fluttering, that can’t go ahead without huge efforts of organisation, expertise, and engine-power below decks. Submissions have to be attracted, then received, anonymised and distributed to panels evaluating prose, poetry and art submissions. The panels sift the daunting catch of hopeful works and make their selections, and then the work of layout and copyediting begins. Meanwhile, discussions will have been under way with a printer, deadlines set or revised, acceptances and rejections sent out, and editorial queries made, and the answers relayed. And, after the whole lot is finally ready and sent off to the printer, the arrangements for the launch need to be finalised. Post-launch there are only the small matters of publicity and sales, fundraising applications and events, annual reports…. before planning starts for the next issue.
There must have been times when both Martin and Freda pondered actually running away to sea for an easier life: but they have stuck with the Boat through 11 issues, literally thousands of submissions, uncertain financial times, a shift of gear to full charitable status, and an expanding profile both locally and internationally. Their contribution to its current standing is immeasurable. To be entering its 21st year is an enviable record for any literary/arts magazine; to have published the work of writers and artists both new and experienced, to have maintained a strong local presence while showcasing work from five out of the six continents (well, we don’t think we’ve had anyone from Antarctica yet, but we could be wrong) and to have held to such high standards of quality throughout, is an achievement everyone involved can be proud of, and Martin and Freda most of all of us.
We will miss them both as we pipe them ashore (though we won’t be surprised if we see some contributions from them, now they have more time for their own creativity), but we wish them happiness in their hard-earned retirement, and above all, calm sea and prosperous voyage.
Introducing Lily Greenall, the new POTB Editor
posted on 5 March 2020
The following is a Q&A with incoming Editor Lily Greenall by retiring Editor Martin Walsh.
Note from the POTB team: we are delighted that Lily has joined us, and we wish her every success in her new role.
I know I speak for everyone in the team when I say how pleased and honoured we are to welcome you aboard. Could you tell us when and how you first heard of POTB and what were your initial impressions?
I first heard about POTB from my PhD supervisor, Wayne Price. He recommended it as a good place to submit some of my work and, following his advice, I sent in my short story ‘Frank,’ which was accepted. I came to a POTB event at the Aberdeen University May Festival and was really impressed by the quality of the work read out and the friendly atmosphere among the team; this encouraged me to apply when I heard that the Editor’s position was available.
I believe that, like me, there is a little bit of Kent in you? If so what brought you to Aberdeen?
Yes, my mum’s side of the family are from Kent – I’m going on holiday there in March to visit them. I grew up on the Isle of Lewis though. We used to visit friends in Stonehaven a lot and come to Aberdeen to do our Christmas shopping, so I have nice childhood memories of the place. I came to live in Aberdeen ten years ago to start my Undergraduate Degree. After this I stayed on to do an MLitt at the uni and this led into doing my PhD here. I’ve always liked living in Aberdeen – I’ve lived in flats all over the city now! I think it’s a nice size of town for someone from a small place and I like being near the sea.
You are amazingly well qualified for this job, with your experience of editing Causeway, your PhD in Creative Writing and your own story-writing skills. Does it concern you that in generously taking on this (voluntary) job you will be reducing the number of hours you can devote to writing and/or earning a wage?
Thank you! I think it’s going to be a challenge at times, but I’m not overly concerned. I got used to doing Causeway – where the responsibilities for every stage of production were often shared between just two of us – alongside my PhD and the other responsibilities I had while I was studying, so I’m used to juggling my time. I’m also currently working as a freelance writer and, although I have lots of deadlines to meet, my schedule is very flexible because I can set my own hours. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep doing this and POTB will fit in well. In terms of my own writing, I think its always inspiring to read good fiction submissions and it keeps you motivated to write. Overall, I see POTB as a great opportunity to broaden my skillset in a way that I think will be very helpful to my future career, no matter what I end up doing.
What/who was the subject of your PhD?
I did my PhD on the figure of the Devil in Scottish fiction and folklore. Originally I planned to do it on folk tales from the Isle of Lewis but, as I discovered, there aren’t a huge amount of written tales about the Devil from there (although there is a very lively oral tradition), so I broadened my topic out and it ended up being a lot to do with Borders folktales and with Walter Scott and James Hogg.
Alongside this I wrote a collection of short stories that featured different takes on ideas about the Devil and the supernatural in Scotland. I was quite open-minded writing the stories so not all of them ended up featuring a Devil character, or even really fitting this theme. I think it was a cohesive enough collection overall, though, and it was great experience writing it.
When did you first develop a love of literature, which writers have most influenced you and do you have a favourite genre?
I always wrote stories and loved reading, but I didn’t really take it seriously until I was finishing school and deciding whether I wanted to go to university or not. What really made up my mind was, when I was about sixteen, I got really into a series of books called The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, which are these very Gothic historical novels set in the 1700s in New Orleans. I loved reading them so much that it set me off reading all sorts of other things and I started seriously working on my own fiction. I decided to study English at university and, once I started, I just wanted to keep doing it. Even one of the freelance jobs I’ve got just now is writing literature study guides.
I feel like I’m influenced by whoever I’m reading at the time, but I definitely have writers who always make me want to write and whose style really resonates with me. I really like Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson. At the moment I’m reading a lot of Doris Lessing. I love the way she writes, it’s very precise and observational – she makes you feel that there’s loads going on under the surface even when, seemingly, not much is happening.
My favourite genre is definitely Gothic fiction, even when it’s a bit silly and melodramatic. I just think it’s so fun. I love classic Gothic novels, like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Wuthering Heights, but I like a bit of modern horror as well. Stephen King is good – his novels are very vivid. James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner is probably my favourite Gothic novel.
You had a story, ‘Frank’, in the last edition of POTB. The writing was spare and so beautifully observed. How on earth do you manage to get inside peoples’ heads, both sexes, so convincingly?
Thank you very much! I actually really like writing from the perspective of a man, although I haven’t been doing it so much recently. I used to write almost exclusively from the point of view of men. Partly, I think its fun just to imagine an experience which isn’t your own. I think men and women sometimes have a very different social experience and it can be fun to play at being someone who can do certain things that you wouldn’t do, or to imagine being someone that people would react very differently to or expect different things from.
I think a lot of it comes from the writers I’m reading as well. I think, just by accident, I used to read more male writers (or women writers who wrote from the perspective of men) and, recently, I’ve been reading more female writers so maybe that makes a difference in how I write.
How would you like to see POTB develop?
For the moment I’d like to focus on keeping the quality of the submissions accepted at the same high level and, given my own connection with the university, perhaps build some more links there. I think it would be great to see more submissions from young writers or student writers as they’re often looking for places to send their work and get their first publication. It would be great to emphasize that POTB is a friendly place where young writers can send their work.
And finally, tell us something surprising about yourself, literary or otherwise?
I quite often listen to terrible electronic club music when I write. Something about the rhythm of it gets me energized to keep writing. The only problem I find is that, because I’m listening to this, I always end up writing scenes set in nightclubs. It wasn’t so bad when I used to go to nightclubs a lot, because I’d write about things I saw there or things that happened on nights out, but now I hardly ever go to nightclubs so it doesn’t really work as well.
Many thanks Lily: so good to learn a little more about you. I’m sure our readers will feel the same.
An Appreciation of Gerard Rochford
posted on 6 February 2020
Distinguished local poet Gerard Rochford died late 2019. He will be much missed. Indeed, as a key member of the original team of volunteers who kept POTB alive when Aberdeenshire council discontinued publication in 2005, we are proud to acknowledge his contribution with this Appreciation by poet Judith Taylor.
Gerard reading his work at a POTB Retrospective in the Blue Lamp in 2016.
It would be difficult – maybe impossible – to write a full appreciation of Gerard Rochford: life led him into so many spheres. He was an academic psychologist and a therapist; a beloved husband, partner and family man; a lover of music and the countryside; a man of deep thought and of wicked, deadpan humour. And he was not only a poet but someone who opened doors into poetry for many others, myself among them. This is the Gerard I want to speak of here.
I first met Gerard, as I first met so many poets, in Books and Beans on Belmont Street. In 2003 he, Doug Gray, and Eddie Gibbons began to look for a place to perform their work to the public. Books and Beans had newly opened and owner Craig Willox invited them to start a monthly poetry night there. And so Dead Good Poets (as it was then called) started, on the last Thursday of the month, with an invited guest or guests headlining and an Open Mic space for all who wished to get up and read.
Initially all three founders shared MC duties: but with Doug and Eddie working outside town the traffic was often a problem for them, and Gerard gradually assumed the mantle by himself. He was a courteous encourager of all comers – I was one of very many poets to take their first public steps in Aberdeen when I took a deep breath and put my name down for Open Mic – and the atmosphere of listening and support he fostered still endures, while his moving but unshowy readings of his own work set a standard to which we all aspired.
Encouraging poets into print was also part of the Dead Good Poets’ ambition. In 2004 they brought out a joint collection, Three Way Street, with Doug Gray’s Koo Press (which he had founded in 2002), and also became more involved in the running of the press, with Gerard editing or co-editing many of the collections, and Eddie contributing artwork and design. Koo Press gradually broadened out its operations, showcasing the work of new poets from the local scene and beyond: in its 10 year existence, it published some 38 chapbooks, many of them first collections, as well as anthologies and even collections of poetry and recipes. All of them were meticulously edited (Gerard’s motto “Delete, delete, delete!” still whispers in my ear when I come to revise my work) and beautifully produced. It’s a record to stand beside that of any small press in the country, and a roster I’m proud to have been part of.
While this was going on, Pushing Out the Boat sent up a flare. An important showcase for North-East writing and art, it had been published by Aberdeenshire Council since its foundation by then Writer-in-Residence Magi Gibson; but the Council was ceasing to support publication, and Magi’s successor, Mindy Grewar, wanted to ensure it continued. Gerard knew its value (he had a poem in the very first issue, as did Eddie and Doug) and was one of those who stepped forward, chairing the poetry selection panel for Issues 5 to 7 under the editorship of Martin Walsh, and contributing his painstaking skills to the copyediting process. As part of that early team he helped to set the high standards that the magazine has sought to maintain ever since.
Gerard’s own poetry very much reflects the man himself: meticulous and spare in its choice of words, but rich with feeling; curious, probing, and open-hearted; light in touch even with tough subjects; and always leaving the reader wanting more. He was a poet above all of the human heart – of love, of loss; of those he knew and those he wished to know better. His work of bringing poets forward into the world continues. And although we have lost Gerard the man, his voice remains with us in his poems, and his work will endure.
Links to poems:
A Poem About Li Po (Li Bai)
My Father’s Hand
Poems by Gerard Rochford can also be found in issues 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9 and 10 of Pushing Out the Boat. Those in issues 9 and 10 can be read in the online versions of the magazine.