Some words of mine recommending a lovely, under-publicised place in Scotland are in the Herald, alongside a few others.
Category Archives: Scotland
Walking through the dapples and the falling drab pieces of leaf, and the wind gently against your face and around you, and the murmur of passers by, and a haze in the distance, scuffing the church steeples and making them unreal.
And how this is another year, and how this is another autumn, and you would wish to stand at a bonfire, in the dark, looking at the constellations and the smoke reaching out futilely to them. And how the stars are not as they seem but immense and near ageless, scattered more miles away than you or anyone you love could live to travel through. And that you will for as long as you live be here, never more than 40,000 feet closer to them.
But that, regardless of any passing facts and wishes, this is what you have – a pile of leaves in shade and cold sun, and that anyone who thinks this is nothing, that this is somehow too frugal, needs to look again. There’s nothing romantic in it. It is romantic like a stone is romantic, like a branch. But it is your shadow, right now, passing over the leaves. It is your breath and the wind and your murmurs and others with lives that are right now, briefly, intersecting.
How does time pass in dreams? How has the month of September gone for you? Slow or fast. Some impossible mixture of sluggishly quick. In dreams you are mute – every voice you ever use only ever spoken in your head. Nothing you can do in dreams affects the world in any stable, lasting way. You can yell as loudly as you want and no one in the street is any the wiser. Are there any people out there? A gale blows leaves through the dream, scattering any traveler, bustling them out of sight. Pressing the leaves on a slicked black pavement as in a precious Victorian scrapbook. They say you cannot write or read in dreams, but I know this is not so. A single word, here or there, blurring as you look at it. A leaf, peeling at the corners, you suddenly know to lift and see the message in the skeleton veins, held up to a golden light. The colours are rich or not in dreams. Movements barely recorded. That’s September.
Or, rather, a little better on the writing front, though I have been fighting off a lingering illness, a cold that never burgeons. The second novel progresses, the world doesn’t turn in the old ways – the equinox hit, and now it’s so dark in the mornings it’s like walking to work still in the haar of a dream.
Where are you, October, I now ask. Plaintive for some day to be full awake to me, and I to it.
Walking home from work the other day across North Bridge I saw the sun gleaming on the roof of Waverley train station, and the castle on the hill silhouetted against that sky, and the spire of the Scott Monument to the right. Walter Scott, who I’ve never read, wrote the Waverley novels after which the station is named. Shall I read them, ever, I ask myself. So many more books. Such a profusion.
I’ve recently thought to add Ford Madox Ford to the list, after the wonderful (if mumbly) production of Parade’s End. If you haven’t watched it or had the chance to yet, I recommend you seek it out. Not something I’d ever really go for – a landowning Tory statistician trying to live honourably by his philandering wife, despite falling in love with a much more wholesome suffragette and facing the dismantling horrors of World War One. But it’s one of those rare examples of lush BBC drama brought convincingly to life with excellent actors. Little scene-chewing here, just subtle hand movements and flashing eyes and rich draping fabrics coupled with oddly stagey set pieces. Tom Stoppard wrote the script and apparently this is something of an achievement, given the source material’s anti-narrative, Modernist style. Which makes me want to read it all the more. That and FMF encouraged Jean Rhys (after or before their affair, I’m not sure). How does the one feed into and complicate the other?
So that’s the week, the last few weeks. Watching this drama of restraint and farce and dizzying luxury. Waiting and working and reading. And being disappointed and carrying my bags and planning. And being anxious about the future of my first book and my current manuscript. Taking long breaths out, stretching my arms in front of me and behind. Creeping inch by inch across the pages and hours. Do I make progress, or do I just hope I do?Time progresses, regardless. The sun burnishes the panels of glass and blackens the old stone buildings, the clouds in the sky arrange themselves like silks and wool. And it is beautiful, and I despite it all, have time to notice.
Days when the streets seem older than they are, set back in decades before this one.
Days when you cannot make your vision square with the haziness of the weather, or the pace of things.
Days when the herb and weed filled spaces are more useful to you than the spaces where business is being done.
Days where nothing is inscribed clearly, even in stone how something is left out.
Days when you will walk through the dry cold air and turn your head and catch sight of ways up, ways into spaces that belong to others.
Days when you should be at peace with the peace and find it all coloured strangely and suspended as if time itself has stalled and no one has the heart to tell you or acknowledge this.
And so keep on walking, and doing and making, all the while a burn in their chests, from the chill.
Because it is hard to speak today, because I need something solid to lean on, let someone else speak well:
I watched an armory combing its bronze bricks
and in the sky there were glistening rails of milk.
Where had the swan gone, the one with the lame back?
Now mounting the steps
I enter my new home full
of grey radiators and glass
ashtrays full of wool.
Against the winter I must get a samovar
embroidered with basil leaves and Ukranian mottos
to the distant sound of wings, painfully anti-wind,
a little bit of the blue
summer air will come back
as the steam chuckles in
the monster’s steamy attack
and I’ll be happy here and happy there, full
of tea and tears. I don’t suppose I’ll ever get
to Italy, but I have the terrible tundra at least.
– from ‘Poem‘ by Frank O’Hara