“Don’t take life too seriously,
you’ll never get out of it alive.”
“Don’t take life too seriously,
you’ll never get out of it alive.”
She who is composition in blue and orange.
She who is ice water tumbling on rocks.
She who is top of the tower.
She who is willow bending in the wind.
She who is Chopin Nocturne 72.
She who is meeting the devil at the crossroads.
She who is strawberry wine with a dash of cyanide.
She who is white wolf hunting by moonlight.
She who is neon or xenon or argon or helium, balloons floating on a summer day.
She who has been crash tested in extreme situations.
She who has no centre of gravity.
She who will leave dirt tracks all over your fat face.
She who has small sharp white teeth.
She who has sensational performance.
She who has eye of the kestrel.
She who is splendid in solitude.
She who is child of Kali.
She who is revolving door.
She who is crack in the plaster.
She who is razor’s edge.
She who is smell of hot tarmac.
She who is cripple bitch.
She who is me.
The day the waves came,
she went out looking.
Rocks, boats slashed by winter,
White Rose half-painted on the quay.
The beach swirled diamonds,
wind down-turning creels.
The Café closed tight,
shuddering on the line
where elements collide.
The Orkney Ice Cream sign
askew by the door, keening
like a gull with a broken wing.
In the bothy he burned
a fire of peat, warming
fingers, interwoven. He breathed
the secrets of seashells into her ear.
The sky splintered beyond the window pane,
words drowning as oceans swelled a crescendo
of herring-bones and the lighthouse slowly crumbled.
Note 1:- a bothy is the term used for a small hut or refuge in the wilderness of Scotland.
Note 2:- Collision is an attempt at a concrete poem…the shape on the page is supposed to represent a lighthouse…well, more or less!
This amazing bus shelter is on the Isle of Unst, one of the Shetland Islands. The tiny island is Britain’s most northerly inhabited land mass. Known locally as Bobby’s bus stop after the school boy who first began to customise it, the shelter features a working television, a computer, fresh flowers and a comfortable armchair. It’s redecorated every year with a different theme and forms a bizarre spectacle at the side of the road. Buses are few but you will enjoy the wait. I took this photograph on my recent trip to this remote island.
The February air is zesty with unexpected sunshine and the northern wind softened to a breeze. Spurning my faithful duffle coat I reach for the cashmere coat with a fake fur collar that I haven’t worn since leaving London. This coat has been on a long journey and in storage for two years. Its chic appeal seems incongruous in this land of anoraks and woolly hats but why not be different today? Should I wear the sheepskin gloves or the fluffy angora ones? I go with the fluffy. The dusky pink matches my suede boots.
The street is quiet, not even the builders around and no sign of my elderly neighbor who likes to feed the seagulls every morning. A battered red pick-up truck rattles down the road towards the harbor trailing an aroma of fish. I’m heading to the village shop for milk and bananas. As my clumsy fingers place the house key in my coat pocket they dislodge a crumpled piece of yellow paper from the silk lining. It flutters onto the waterlogged front lawn. The sulfur color reminds me of old moss, the sort that clings to old stone walls.
It’s not a discarded shopping list or a receipt for some long-forgotten object of desire but a couple of cinema tickets; Twenty One Grams. It’s a poignant film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu about how people’s lives intersect and fragment due to a random event. The story reveals the patterns concealed beneath the surface of everyday life. The twenty one grams refers to the amount of weight which is mysteriously lost at the moment of death.
I went to see this film on my thirtieth birthday, the first of March, many years ago now. We ate lunch in the roof top restaurant of an art gallery overlooking the Thames before going to the cinema. After the film we drank cocktails in a trendy bar in Knightsbridge. It was an enjoyable day in a faraway life. Tom and I were both in a good mood and we didn’t mind the cold wind, dodging the rain showers without an umbrella or searching for an elusive parking space. I didn’t complain about the dirty pavements, the crowds or the traffic. At that time I’d never heard of Caithness and living in Scotland was a romantic dream. I was wearing this same grey coat with a leopard fur collar. It felt like the wrong coat for a wet day.
Today I queue in the village shop while two incomers, a mother and teenage daughter stock up on junk food. They are horsey types who have adopted a feral lifestyle. The mother wears a red bandana and a dirty shredded t-shirt any eighties punk would be proud of. Her bare feet are encased in flip flops. Jagged green toenails protrude from a crust of mud. Both women exude a smell reminiscent of rotting potatoes. They spend more than twenty pounds on sweets and chocolate. As they exit the shop Elaine reaches under the counter for the air freshener and sprays it around in a protective circle.
On my way home I wonder if I’m wearing the wrong coat.
The Scots language has a perfect word to describe winter in the north highlands. ‘Dreich’ (pronounced /dri:x/) is an adjective mostly used in relation to the weather. It translates as bleak, dull, dreary, grey, comfortless, cold, overcast, miserable. At least four of these conditions must apply for a day to qualify as truly dreich. The origins of the word come from the Middle English ‘dreig, drih’ in the sense of ‘patient, long-suffering’ and correspond to the Old Norse ‘drjugr’ – enduring and lasting.
Certainly a great deal of endurance is necessary to survive a Scottish winter. The endless grey skies and lack of light can be depressing. I find my energy levels dwindle and I just want to hibernate at home, huddled by the fire. But there’s also a strange beauty in the dreich days, a potential for change. When the mist dissolves and the clouds blow away the light will be brighter than ever. Who knows what will be revealed. Something fresh is germinating but we need to be patient. It is a transition period between the old and the new, a time that can be used for self-reflection and healing.
Here are two of my favourite dreich photographs. The first shows the section of an old gate leading to an overgrown field. The second shows the windows of a disused filling station. As well as the empty shelves you can see the reflection of a minimalist landscape. If you look really hard you might see me.
She held her breath and passed beneath the wishing trees. Their evergreen tips arched across the path to the beach. Kiss Me Quick, Squeeze Me Slow. The sea played out beyond the dunes.
The world unraveled an orgy of blues as the red kite spiraled up into the heat. On the horizon, the mist spooled like the edge of dreams. She held her breath and waited for the wind to drop.
The kite shrank to a small dot, vanished. The sky grew dark and stormy like ruffled raven’s wings. Blue eyes and long black hair, her skin was delicate and fair. She began to run, over sharp stones, through thorns, back across the swamp until she tripped on a twisted tree root and fell, into quicksand. She held her breath.
During police interview her mother said, Aye, she was trouble alright. Born unlucky,
…from the straight path’, said Red Riding Hood’s mother
as the little girl vanished into the deep dark woods.
Scotland is the land of magical rainbows. Unfortunately this also means there’s a lot of rain, particularly on the west coast. Scottish weather is typically ‘four seasons in one day’, always unpredictable and a popular topic of conversation. Warm jumpers, boots and waterproofs are essential. Umbrellas are useless as it’s usually too windy!
Here are a couple of my favourite photographs shot through the rain splattered windscreen while I was waiting for the ferry to the Isle of Unst (one of the Shetland Islands and Britain’s most northerly point). I love the atmospheric distortion of the images, almost like an Impressionist painting. Hope you like them too!
I saw a red balloon
low in the western sky
going down, down, down.
The wind whittled a prayer
and seagulls fell to ground.
Flowers floated slick
by the harbor wall.
Birthdays and funerals
gone, gone, gone Cola cans,
rubber bullets and condoms.
The lawyer twisted words
out the side of his mouth.
The preacher whistled
Three Blind Mice as the poet
flew away in a paper plane.
White feathers gathered
on the darkening lawn
so I turned myself inside.
Mesmerized by static,
I waited for the fall.