Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Neil Goes to Scotland

Neil at Dunnet Head, the Northern Tip-top of England
—Poems and Photos by Neil Fullwood, Nottingham, UK


The guide rattles off facts about casks,
their provenance, what they held
before the raison d’être of Scotland’s finest:
bourbon, sherry, wine. Names drip
from the script he’s delivered three times
this morning—Oloroso, Ximenez, d’Yquem,
the expression bottled from the latter
available in the gift shop. The price?
Well, if you need to ask, etc, etc.

If anybody on this tour picks one up
and slaps down the Mastercard,
it won’t be me. Out of budget, out of mind.
I’m more taken with the level of detail
around firing the casks. Who knew
there were gradations of charring?
Number one is toast. Self-explanatory.
Number four is crocodile, on account
of the pattern and texture left on the wood. 

This sliding scale with something scaly sliding
into a bayou at the high end
and a very English breakfast item
lightly buttered down at the other
amuses me. I can see the crocodile
forsaking the distillery for a quaint tea room,
struggling with the teapot and the cup’s
dainty handle, toast demolished
as it tries to spread a rock-hard pat of butter.



We move on to the warehouse.
I’ve heard it called the barrel store
on other distillery tours. Either way,
this is how believers must feel
in a great and ancient cathedral. 

The temperature is calibrated
by goosebumps; hairs on the back
of the neck. An echo might spend
decades fading between the barrels.
The angels’ share is claimed here.


“All persons using this harbour do so at their own risk”—
the paint-peeled sign bolted to the low stone wall
states the obvious. The warning’s already there:

in the stone steps grooved by use and slick with lichen,
in a jetty the casual gaze might mistake for flotsam,
in the boats rolling like drunkards on oil-dark water.

Thunderheads roll in, form a tight holding pattern.
A container ship moves out past the headland.
Gulls shriek across the harbour, the “fuck you”—“no,

fuck you” of loudmouths at closing time. The sea goes
from ruffled to choppy in less time than it takes
to step back from the harbour wall, not bother with the selfie.



Wake early. Take a cafetière
through to the conservatory.
Mist blanks out everything:
the road, the firth, the sea
beyond the curve of headland.
The oil rigs are vague shapes—
storybook monsters; phantoms.
Plunge; pour a mugful. Take
your first sip of the day. Feel
the bitter kickstart of caffeine.
The day hasn’t come alive yet.
Give it time. The sun will burn
through the mist. Landscape,
sea and sky will correlate.

 Disused Rigs at the Cromarty Firth


Red raw from remonstrating
with an unmoving cork,
the palm of your hand laid
against the side of a champagne bottle
that shows no sign of opening.

Grab a just-dry sock from a radiator,
slip it on like a glove puppet—
it’s a pair of cartoon eyes
and a silly voice away from a star turn
at a children’s party—

and reapply yourself. Fabric
shades the burn to minor inconvenience
as the man versus cork battle
steps up in intensity
and looks increasingly embarrassing

unless you’re throwing the bout
to clean up on a bet.
Then: movement. A tad of a fraction
of a millimetre. All that’s needed.
An uprush of pressure and the cork

describes its own happy ending.


Today’s LittleNip:

Mony a mickle maks a muckle.

—Old Scot Proverb


Welcome back to the Kitchen, Neil! About his work today, Neil Fullwood writes, “The poems were all produced during a recent holiday in Scotland. ‘Barrel Store’ and ‘Toast and Crocodile’ were inspired by a distillery tour at Auchentoshan in Glasgow. It was my birthday while we were there: ‘Champagne Polka’ was written after it looked like the celebratory bottle of bubbly was going to resist being opened.

“I’ve also included three photos from the trip: the warning sign at the harbour, a shot of some of the disused oil rigs (the Cromarty Firth is kind of like a car park for decommissioned rigs), and one of me at Dunnet Head, which is the most northerly point on the British mainland. Dunnet Head is actually closer to Norway than it is to London.”

What a treat to take a little trip to Scotland along with you, Neil! Thanks for all of these.

For more about our LittleNip today, see And be sure to scroll down on that site to see why "mickle" should technically be "pickle".


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