Finding ourselves by the sea

We went to the beach today.  A favourite place to be and greeted with much enthusiasm by both children.  It felt like we had snatched a day of holiday out of our ordinary week.  Cold and grey, but fun.

It reminded me of this poem by e.e. cummings

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day) Continue reading Finding ourselves by the sea

That’s what I was meaning

“That’s what I was meaning”, a favourite phrase of my three year old. It is what I was thinking as we enjoyed a walk this morning in beautiful sunshine. It was the kind of morning I hoped we would enjoy as a family when I wrote about moving to Scotland all that time ago. This is what happened: we walked by a reservoir. It was cold as we set out. There was black ice along the road. Kirsten fell asleep. We smelled the sweet resin from the pine logs. We stopped for nuts and chocolate by a little log cabin. D took a photo of Ross and me. We walked / rode back and felt warm with the wind at our backs.

That’s all. It was enough. The question remains: how do we get a key to let us into the cabin?

More weather

Today is the first day that it has stopped snowing and the sun is shining.  It is also the first day since Kirsten was born that I did something without either her or Daniel.  Ross stayed home with them both and I went skiing (as I write, we have swapped again.)  I didn’t quite make it to the lifts at Glenshee, but a fast tour of the railway loop proved beautiful and satisfying.

Wake up, its a beautiful morning!

What a lovely day we had yesterday!  It was St Andrew’s Day, the only compulsory public holiday Ross gets. The sun was shining and everything was sparkling.


We drove over to Tentsmuir, the forest by the sea.  Last time we went there, everything was grey: the sea, the sand, the sky.  Yesterday, as we walked through the dunes to the sea we were surrounded by cold, clear colours: bright blue pools of water among the sand and maram grasses; orange berries on the scrubby bushes; pale, shining sand and sliver, blue and white waves rolling into shore in the sunlight.  We explored the ice on a puddle with Daniel, throwing up the fragile sheets and watching them shatter.  He ran around on the sand.  I found a grey conch shell. Ross and Daniel chased a ball.  It was warm in the sun.

We walked back through the pine trees, all hung about with lichen.IMG_3646

In the afternoon Daniel slept and I made a chocolate cake.  When he woke up we put a candle on it and let him blow it out – again and again.  So now we have photos of Daniel blowing out a candle on a cake and we’ll probably never quite remember if it was his first birthday or not.

The sea, the sea

I’ve just read a book called ‘Adrift in Caledonia’ by Nick Thorpe.  It describes the author’s voyage hitch-hiking around Scotland by sea.  It is very well written and a great read.  Why do I like it so much?  Partly because it avoids cliches and stereotypes: Thorpe manages to describe a real country where real people live: dull, likeable, eccentric, attractive, offensive.  I like the way he explores not just the country and the sea but his own search for faith and his feelings of being an outsider as an Englishman living in Scotland.  I like it because it reminded me of weeks I spent sailing from Helensburgh to Kinlochlevan, through the Kyles of Bute and the Crinan Canal during university holidays.

One of my favourtie reflections from the book summarises how the sea for Scotland is not a defensive barrier but rather “a connection to the world.”  For explorers and for trade, the sea was a highway to France, to Norway, to America, to Africa. I love the idea that what separates us also connects us: a truly transforming thought.

And another beautiful thought from the book: “Nobody in this sea-scoured nation is ever more than 45 miles from tidal waters…” How wonderful: never more than an hour from waves breaking on a rocky shore.  What freedom, what possibility!

A week in Edinburgh

I’ve just spent a week in Edinburgh.  While I was there, I spent a lot of time travelling on the Number 8 bus: its route slices right through the centre of the city, from the north side to the south: up Dundas Street, past Waverley, along the Bridges and down through Newington.  Sitting at the front, on the top deck, I looked out at the city streets, noticing how things are different from SW20.

Some differences you can blame on the weather: in Edinburgh, girls were wearing thick black tights under their short skirts and large cotton scarfs with their vest tops.  In Wimbledon, girls just wear short skirts and vest tops and their bare legs are usually tanned. It must be because people in Edinburgh are always ready for bad weather that on a hot day everyone was walking around carrying heavy jackets and coats and large shoulder bags: are the bags to put their coats and umbrellas in when the sun comes out?

Some of the differences must be economics: you don’t see as many mothers pushing Phil and Ted buggies; you see more fat people and more old people.  You see fewer teenage girls with perfect teeth, skin and hair (the kind you only get from good breeding and plenty of money).  You see more old men with rough red cheeks and noses (the kind you get from always walking into a cold wind blowing off the North Sea).

Some differences are harder to explain.  You still don’t see many black people, for example. Ladies lunching on George Street all look like they have made a special effort to achieve their polished good looks.  There are still a large number of funny little shops selling tie-dyed ethnic clothes, black goth tee-shirts and incense sticks – the kind of shops I used to love when I was at school. Why should there still be more aspiring hippies in Edinburgh than south-west London?

I liked noticing and trying to define the differences.  What is it makes Edinburgh, Edinburgh?  I saw things I would not have noticed if I’d lived there rather than London for the last eight years but I came away after a week with only random observations: not a portrait of a city, just a few snapshots from the top of a bus.

My Scotland

The date for our move to Scotland is set for the last week of August.  I’m spending time looking for removal companies and a house in Dundee.  I’ve also been reflecting on ‘Homecoming Scotland’ and realised why it makes me so uneasy.   The photos used to promote the campaign represent old buildings, old statues, stained glass windows, golf courses, old men in tartan, old books and empty landscapes.  That Scotland is old, dull and (apart from the old men) deserted.  Who’d want to go home to that?

So what should have been included? Here’s my list as a start:

Alexander McColl Smith (the Number One Ladies Detective Agency and 44 Scotland Street) – and all the other great Scottish writers in paticular John Buchan, Ian Rankin, Robert Louis Stevenson and Muriel Spark: what talent, what diversity!

Scottish bands from the Proclaimers (just starting another tour) to Franz Ferdinand.  Listen to Letter from America if you want to feel like going home:  I’ve looked at the ocean tried hard to imagine how you felt the day you sailed from Wester Ross to Nova Scotia...

The land itself – mountains, rivers, lochs, sea, beaches.  Not a deserted landscape for looking at from a car window but a wonderful space for walking and climbing and mountain biking with friends; for sailing and swimming; for campfires and beach games and weekends away. And (particularly appreciated after years in England) Scotland’s enlightend approach to access: there is no law of trespass in Scotland.

The Elephant House and all Edinburgh’s coffee shops – with which no other city can compare.

Scottish schools – not all great, but part of a great tradition based on breadth of knowledge and opportunity for all that I don’t think England’s complex educational system was ever truly committed to.

The Scottish men and women making their mark on the wide world: Andy Murray, Ewan McGregor, James McIlvoy, Gordon Brown, Kirsty Wark …

The Scottish rugby team – so often beaten, never bowed, always ready to rise again.

Eating outHaving funBeautiful beachesO flowers of ScotlandSpace to playLets get married

Homecoming 2009

If I should become a stranger...

Have you seen the advert Homecoming 2009?  Its time to go back home to Scotland.  We’ve heeded the call and by the beginning of September will have washed the dust of London out of our clothes for the last time and will be settling into life in the hills and fields of Angus or on the shores of the Firth of Tay. ‘Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home…’

The truth is, though, I feel very ambivalent about moving back to Scotland.  For the last eight years, I have loved living here in London.  I love being part of such a diverse, multi-cultural city where everyone is from somewhere else so it doesn’t matter if you don’t ‘belong’.  I love travelling around on the tube where every place you stop, you feel like you know it already from a book or a film.  I love the self-confidence and the irony of the city and the people.  I love feeling like this is a place where things happen.  And I love the fact that Ross and I fit the profile of people in our streets: youngish, professional, educated, well-travelled, Guardian readers.  I love feeling like we’re the norm.

I don’t really know how I’m going to feel about living in Scotland again.  My biggest fear is, I think, that Scotland won’t let me, be me. I’m worried that Caledonia won’t be able to see the changes that have come over me since I last lived there.  I don’t want to hear Scottish voices saying: don’t move to fast, act too big, dream too large, want too much, talk too different.  I don’t want to hear those voices saying: stay small, live safe.

I know these Scottish voices may just be monsters in my head: my own Cyclops and angry Poisedon.   Maybe I won’t encounter them, unless, in the words of Cavafy, I bring them along inside my soul, unless my soul sets them up in front of me.  Maybe I won’t encounter them if I keep my thoughts raised high.  Maybe I won’t, Cavafy. We’ll see.

(You can read Cavafy’s poem Ithaca here.  Its on my list of poems to get you through the night).