I’m sitting on the (roofed) verandah of our holiday lodge at Tomich, around the bottom of Glen Affric, and looking into the heart of a gothic-cathedral birch-wood: it really is like perfection, the ideal writer’s retreat, sitting in the womb of the forest and not even getting wet….
And now the reality check: the kids like the TV (that’s to say a rolling, repeating succession of Saddle Club, Life with Derek, somebody else and something, Sabrina the Teenage Witch – exactly the same programmes, what’s more, as when we were first here three years ago – incredible!); and either the acoustics of the house has changed or my hearing has – or to cut a long story short the only retreat this writer would really like is to somewhere far from a TV. Ah, but that’s all the fun of a holiday, isn’t it, and anyway it’s only four days to recover from.
This low end of Glen Affric was once the play-park of a Lord Tweedsmouth, according to the tourist info, a “wealthy brewer from London”, though the locals reckon his money came from the opium trade. I suppose we’d have called him a “drug baron” if he’d lived in Columbia, but this is Britain and anyway he was much nicer and his wife was “a mother to the people on the Guisachan property” (according to their daughter). He was an MP too, in case you’ve any doubts as to his Fibre. Anyway, one way or another, Lord T was obviously right into his trees, and seems to have planted thousands of them about the place, some native and some not-so-native (some amazing Douglas firs, besides the inevitable rhododendrons), so big tracts of the estate have got quite an exotic appearance, but – hey, it’s the Highlands and that means it’s anyone’s playground who can afford it; and to be fair, the luxuriant natives – hazel, blackthorn, aspen, also look fairly exotic to my Eastern eyes.
That said of course, the Highlands do seem to have a continued hold on the hearts of those of us who don’t live there but nevertheless regard ourselves as Scots: as though the Highlands represented some kind of hinterland of our national consciousness, a wild, empty, tragic hinterland which most of us at sometime or other feel constrained to visit (Highland Holiday in the poetry section). The day after we get back from Tomich I and Charlie R are off again, to Skye, for a gathering of some of Ken Grant’s old friends, where we’re charged with scattering his ashes on the Quirang, as Ken too wrote of having left his heart on Skye).
So up to now I’ve been too busy to put much stuff into the writing pages of this blog; and in the last four days I’ve been too busy enjoying myself; but I’ve managed to scrape together another ten poems. I’ll try and get them, and this, posted; but just now the kids are reminding me that we’ve an appointment with the swimming pool. Yes! The swimming pool: that’s to say the Hay shed, the Pony Stable and three Loose Boxes of Milord’s extraordinary model-farm steading, which have now morphed into a swimming pool for us latter-day punters and I dare say we’re a lot happier than the ponies were. Very like being outdoors, the pool, this being the Highlands, only more chlorine-y and slightly warmer; I’m a pretty weak swimmer compared with Annie and Maddy and Goody – and even Ellie, who can now bob around like a motorised barrel – but as I’ve been relentlessly punishing my old back ever since potato-planting time back in March, being in that tepid water is wonderfully de-stiffening…..
The Third Ten poems should be eleven, but I can’t find the eleventh. These are my old “Songs of the Heart” whose title might have been more comprehensible if I’d ever finished the series. As it is, the most I can remember about them is that, back in the late ’eighties a book came out called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail which was a bestseller for a while (it certainly taught me a healthy cynicism about the stuff you read on the back cover of books, innocent that I was) and from which, as far as I can see, The Da Vinci Code was largely pinched – anyway, whatever its merits or demerits I found it a great source-book for a kind of fantasy version of European history, and these Songs of the Heart – written to particular favourite tunes, classical mainly, I don’t think I’d ever try to do them at the Tin Hut – were to some extent referencing elements of this faintly magical hinterland of the “real” Europe.
Robin is anxious to get some better recording set-up set up so we can practice a piece of his which we are trying to convert into a banjo and flute duet; if we succeed I’m going to do those vowel stories over again, and then some more…. But patience, patience. Anna is now based in Edinburgh, so the Big Stick is closer, but I fancy she’ll be distracted by her new university course so I’m not going to start getting uptight quite yet.
Actually I’ve a soft spot for Sabrina the Teenage Witch, especially the mangy stay-at-home ever-hungry black cat. It reminds me of a not-so-soft toy cat I had as a little fellow. Also of George Mackay Brown and his method of garnering material from his stories, sitting on the pier at Stromness and collaring people as they came ashore – to listen rather than tell, though still slightly reminiscent of the Ancient Mariner. Which reminds me of What I Did At The Huntly Hairst, but of that more anon….