Back in Scotland for the first time since moving to London in the New Year
Sitting in Henry’s Coffee in Dundee
Opening a brand new notebook
Searching through the black oil that lines the line of my pen, through its glimmering viscous depths, through the brown pattern on the carpet and the oval red lights hanging down from the ceiling and the soft inoffensive jazz in the speakers and the black clutter – specs case, camera, phone, shades – of my possessions on the table
Something to write.
It takes me too long to finish a notebook because like a fool I worship them and hover before I dip my nib. But good notebooks die young and full of clutter. Some processing must take place externally. The tabula rasa is not a gift to future archaeologists, and the mind does not stop at the brain. Imagination is frustrated by the limits of memory and written language is a technology which can overcome this.
This allows me to tell myself that every doodle in my work-book is a part of my work.
Meanwhile the minister (Prime version thereof) is finding it harder than I anticipated to shake off the shadow of skullduggery that his late father has left hanging Damoclean above his slick and shiny face. Shoulders may shrug but several straight days of apologies on front pages – and no dead cat anywhere near the table – clutter up the news-cycle like gravel in a washing machine. There is no better way to elide scandal than to be habitually scandalous – if Trump, Johnson, Farage make an outrageous remark; well of course they do; it’s just how they are. But of course he’s clever about taxes that’s just how rich people are isn’t playing too well for the dear leader.
Still and all it mightn’t matter. He won’t be fighting another election and so the dim wallpaper of Tory party faces behind him may reasonably think: if this shit sticks, then what of it? Provided it doesn’t splatter.
With my parents and Róisín I saw Where You’re Meant to Be whilst in Blairgowrie, a beautifully-shot film about the clash between a Britpop veteran (Aidan Moffat) rewriting old Scottish folk songs, and a trad folk singer from a travelling family near Blair (Sheila Stewart), who thought they shouldn’t be rewritten. The film is dryly funny and beautifully shot; you should watch it even just for a long, lingering shot of a ship passing from the top of the screen to the bottom whilst its wake fans out sideways ahent it. It was followed by a slightly ropy performance from Moffat which showed that bawdy bothy ballads are better fit for boozy pubs than polite community halls. One song stood out as a worthy reworking: Moffat took the bones of a jokey song about a Scottish soldier who was a ‘figure of fun’ and made them into an affecting hymn for soldiers returning from Afghanistan with PTSD.
From Henry’s in Dundee to Starbucks in Perth, we lurch between the coffee pots and hotspots of Scotland. Our train’s in an hour and it’s back to the big smoke. I’ve twinge’d my lower back somehow – probably hauling my big suitcase around because I’m too impatient to just wheel it – so I’m shuffling around like a geriatric. When we were in Ireland I noticed how drab and similar all of the cases looked on the baggage carousel, so I painted a dragon on mine.
The Starbucks in Perth has no gender-segregated bathrooms, just a series of cubicle doors with both a stick-man and a stick-woman icon. So Mr. Springsteen, if you’re looking for somewhere to reschedule that gig…
Lastly, and firstly: Edinburgh.
I felt a real surge of emotion when we arrived, though we were only passing through. It helps of course that the long ramp leading from Waverley Station must be one of the world’s finest emergences into a city. The high buildings on the mound fade into view first, then the castle, before finally you arrive at the top with Prince’s St Gardens all around you and the neverover wind in your face.
This is the first time since I returned from Australia that I’ve been away from the city of Edinburgh long enough to feel any distance at all from it. Edinburgh flooded back into me and left me brimful of nectar.
It looks as though my London stay may be extending beyond the 7 months it was initially slated to – on which more anon once i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. In an hour I’ll be on a train and tomorrow I’ll be back at work at Senate House, Malet St, London. That’ll be good; I like my job, and there is so, so much to do in London. On Wednesday I’m going to hear Jon McGregor give a work-in-progress reading of his next novel. On Thursday I’m going to a memorial for the late, great Terry Pratchett. The next week I’m going to see Gary Younge in conversation with Slavoj Žižek. The week after that I’m going to see The Winter’s Tale danced at the Royal Opera House. I couldn’t do these things anywhere else in the UK; certainly not all so close together in time and space.
But who says you can have only one home?
Scotland’s going nowhere. This train will pass through Edinburgh soon and it will look simply phenomenal in the spring sunshine.
In that way that it does it will send a shock of ink flooding to the nib of my pen
In a few hours I’ll meld into the madness of Kings Cross, London, and struggle my dragonbag onto the tube to take me to a place, another place, which I quite happily call home and
and Scotland’s going nowhere, and like a pint and a laugh with an old friend you’ve known since forever, it was good to catch up.