06 July 2012

worn path

I've lost count of how many times I've made this trip over the last 18 years. It's homeward bound either way, north or south. Southbound today, the countryside looking particularly green. A vivid emerald that only comes when the rain has poured forth for weeks. At this time of year, the barley and wheat fields that cover these parts alternate between green and silver; it looks like someone is growing gemstones.

Like Treebeard, going south always feels to me like going downhill. I've no idea why. The stretch between Leuchars and Edinburgh always feels like an unnecessary preamble. Like the overlong introduction to a book that you've started but wish you hadn't. The introduction, not the book. The journey doesn't really start until Edinburgh, once the commuters and day-trippers have been shaken off.

I've written down a lot of these trips, here on the blog and in notebooks and sometimes just scribbled into the back of my mind. It's strange that something so familiar should always make me want to write about it. But then I'm ceaselessly noting the rain and haar, so maybe it's not so strange at all.

My coachmates seem either very old or too young. There's a guy with a Red Sox cap on and what seems like a hundred grandparents, aunties and uncles. Some orange ladies got on board at Kirkaldy. Their fake tan is too loud for the quiet coach.

Between Edinburgh and Berwick we hug the coast and as always I promise myself to return here in a car, with a camera and a notebook, and write and snap and take in this stretch of coast that seems a gift of the sea to the land. No one can see this strip of shoreline and not be moved. The surf laps at the front steps of a ruinous cottage.

We quickly traverse the north and reach the middle in York. It's all flat and landlocked from here to London. The rains have turned most of it into fenland, though some it was like that already. I wanted to write more, but instead I stared though the window and watched the words slip by with the country outside.

05 July 2012

discard pile and pirate ghosts

My university degree is laying on the floor next to a bookshelf made out of an old wooden wine box. It's protected in its tube, the lid adorned with the St Andrews coat of arms. The tube is dark blue, maybe navy. I should move it before the cat decides it's a toy. It's just the standard piece of paper, not the elaborate illuminated text. I keep meaning to buy one of the nice ones, the grand parchment announcing to the world that, yes, I did get a degree, even if it took me a little longer than most. The intent is there, but it gets pushed back for things like bills and wine.

It deserves better. It shouldn't be on the floor. It should be somewhere safe, or framed. I look around my room at all the things more deserving of the discard pile and they're plentiful and daunting. I fear the clear out because I'm close to chucking it all, save the books. Well, the books, the camera and the computer. It's just doubt that stops me, a creeping worry that something will go that shouldn't. It's ridiculous, a hoarding cocktail of cowardice and sentimentality. Somewhere in here is a box of birthday cards going back a decade. 

Tomorrow I'm off to London, delaying decisions about the fate of the majority of my useless belongings for a few more days. Of course, there's a garage in London with even more of my stuff in it, but it's hidden so it can't haunt me. 

St Andrews sits under a blanket of haar, and has done for days now. Writers are never supposed to start with the weather, but in Scotland it is inevitable that it should show up eventually. I'm pleased I was able to hold out until the fourth paragraph. With the haar comes a pervading damp, a cool wetness that reaches everywhere. It clings to the pillows and sometimes I wake in the night, cold but sweating, feeling as though a fever's broken. 

I used to tell tourists tall tales about the haar. They would pop into the shop to browse for wine, whisky or beer, and they would marvel at the fog that rolled in from the sea. Bright sunshine one second and a cold grey duvet the next. I would pour them a sample dram and explain that the sea fog on the east coast of Scotland was called the haar. 

'Oh, really? Why's it called that?' they would ask.

'Well, it's quite the legend. You see, the waters around here are treacherous, with hidden reefs and dangerous headlands. And when that fog would roll in, without warning, there were many a ship wrecked on the rocks. And many of those ships were pirate ships, as they used to prey on the traders sailing in and out of the towns along the Fife coast. But being strangers, they didn't know the coast as well as they should, and couldn't navigate its perilous, grasping shores. And so they were wrecked, the fog silencing their cries. And to this day, it's said, when the fog rolls in, so too do the spirits of those drowned and wrecked pirates, seeking once and for all to escape the sea's pull. And as they drift in with the mist, you can hear their faint cry, "hhhhaaaaaarrrrrr"… and that's why it's called the haar.'

I don't know if they believed me or not, but the story got better every time I told it.