Sunday, 20 June 2010

Dinsdale the whale - part one

If you're new to this blog, this particular posting won't make sense unless you read the previous one, in which I unwittingly asked for the ingredients for a blog. I should have known better. So the blog which follows is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are products of the imagination of the author and some of his more or less deranged friends. All is fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Oh, and any material which seems to resemble that of other writers is straightforward plagiarism.

I think I’ve spoken before about research for The Figurehead being practical (wood carving classes, sailing on a square-rigger) as well as bookish. But it doesn’t always work. When I started writing it, a few years back, I still had my boat, Tantilly. She was moored in Findhorn Bay and, as well as sailing her out on the Moray Firth with the Black Isle's mountains as a backdrop, I loved just sitting at the moorings and relaxing. I once thought it might be interesting to take the laptop out and try writing some of the sea-going passages while I was on board. Big mistake.

It was OK at first. The water was flat calm so I could type quickly and easily. ‘The Chester River snakes inexorably toward the bay,’ I wrote, ‘narrows bleeding into broader expanses until the silver-grey fresh water bleeds and twines with the turgid march of the tidal behemoth waiting at the mouth’. (I rather liked the idea of a ‘tidal behemoth’ and made a mental note to give it a story of its own one day.) I thought for a second, looking at the glassy water, then wrote some more.

‘We'd upped anchor early, the sky threatening, sails pulling hard on a downhill run, lifting, twisting in a gut-wrenching swivel to slam hard into the next short swell...’ Bloody hell, this was good stuff. I read the passage again, out loud this time, feeling the words on my tongue. It was a mistake. I heard a sudden bubbling followed by a gasp and the squeaking of rubber against the hull. Bloody Dinsdale again.

Dinsdale is OK. He’s a sort of friend and he’s always trying to pick my brains about his writing. I’m always happy to help other writers when I can, but Dinsdale’s different. You’ve heard of Method actors – well, Dinsdale is a Method poet. If he wants to write an ode to daffodils, he spends a week lying on the grass and, when there’s a breeze, waving his hands a bit. His haiku on a rainbow, which he called ‘a phantasm of colour’, involved him standing under his shower for a day with a torch shining through the droplets. And it took him two months to recover from his preparations for a sonnet on necrophilia.

Anyway, it was Dinsdale – wet-suited and treading water beside the boat.
‘It’s fate,’ he said.
‘What is?’
‘You and me. What we’re writing.’
‘I don’t get it,’ I said.
‘Your tidal behemoth,’ he said. ‘That’s me. I’m writing a prose poem about a whale. Want to hear some?’
I didn’t, but I knew I’d have to at some point, so I hauled him on board and he sat in the stern.
‘All is green-blue,’ he said. ‘The water flows past my massive brow, while my powerful tail propels me forward into the plankton bloom.’
I was about to suggest that his tail could hardly propel him backward when he started making weird whale noises.
‘Weeeeeehoooooooofrrrrkkkkkkk...... the joy of being flows through the green-blue world,’ he sang. ‘TkTkTkTkTkTkTkTk frrrrr eeeeeeeeee will always be so.’
‘OK Dins,’ I said. ‘First, you’re sounding more like a dolphin than a whale and…’
But he was gripped by his inspiration.
‘I sometimes catch sight of birds swimming in the thin air as I surface to blow,’ he said, ‘and wonder at their stupidity, living in an element that provides so little flotation’.

Ah, there it was – the word that gave him away every time. Flotation. Ever since his brief affair with a Native American student who’d come to Aberdeen to complete her PhD thesis on Mythic Pleomorphic Asymmetrical Koaniform Anagrams in the works of Enid Blyton, he’d been hooked on some of the substances she used to induce the trances she needed to help her overcome the crushing boredom of academia. According to her, she entered a world of ‘flotation’ and she often took Dinsdale with her. They rose through layers of vanishing consciousness until they reached the ‘portal to universal intelligence’ (her words), indulged in several versions of excess and eventually dropped back down into reality and its attendant bitterness.

(End of part one. Next time – we meet Dinsdale’s student friend, toy with cannibalism, and encounter … phlogiston!)


  1. Enid Blyton! I read all her books, I was her biggest fan. And where can I find that substance? Have to meet Chip and Dale, the well paid academics, next week again, and I don't want to fall asleep during the meeting. I might hurt my head if it falls on the table.

  2. Anneke, you live in Amsterdam. I don't think there are any substances here that you can't get at your local Tesco. Anyway, you'd better check what happens in part two before you decide.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I grabbed my son by the scruff of his neck and said, "Read this. No wait, read *that* first."

    Then I rolled on the floor in hysterics [the firstborn is used to that and smiles indulgently - he's the one telling everybody his mother writes porn now].

  5. I'm glad you approved of it, Diane. And I hope he's proud of your choice of career.

  6. I never thought of the O'Sullivan twins as porn. One is never too old to learn.

    (You see, I don't need any substance to get my head mixed up)

  7. This is absolutely marvellous, Bill. I don't know where you get all these crazy ideas, though, maybe you should have your blood tested by a reliable doctor?

  8. Aren't you clever? Only you could have taken that hodgepodge of ideas and come up with this.

  9. A great save from what I thought was a tough ask.

    Looking forward to the phlogistonic cannibals.

  10. Anneke, may I suggest a closer textual reading of the Blyton oeuvre?

    DrDx, thank you. As for 'reliable doctors', I don't know any.

    Marley, I disagree. I think most of us are capable of fabricating links between apparently disparate ideas. Who'd have thought, for example, that the Saints would ever win the Super Bowl?

    Gary, thank you. Thank you, too, for continuing my education by revealing there's an adjective from it, too.

  11. Apparently sophisticated whales do indeed talk among themselves in Dolphinese. Mainly about aesthetic matters, much like French literature among Aberdonians.

  12. Bill, You're nuts! But in the nicest, funniest, most creative of ways.

  13. Thanks for the diagnosis Linda. DrDx suggested that I needed a reliable doctor.

  14. DrDx has obviously been prescribing funny pills. Thanks, Bill, for your charming, humorous blogs!