Monday 13th January 2018. Now you see it, Now you don’t.

The Mull ferry didn’t run yesterday for the wind, this time at the start of the week rather than the end, so Katy missed Monday at school rather than Friday for a change. I’m on my own on Gometra for the first time in three weeks. Last week I was with Andy in the grain bin in Shropshire, Mara-kitten in tow, and came back with both her and Faffy-dog, so I have creature company but none other. 

Going away from here and returning again was exceptionally tough. I didn’t want to leave, and it was that much harder having Mara to think of, and whether she’d be suited to the travelling and ‘squatting’ lifestyle. Then there was the prospect of coming back without Andy’s reassuring presence – driving through the night with both animals to consider. I had to grit my teeth and take it one step at a time: all-night drive, wait-up for Katy in Oban all day, ferry crossing, car crossing, Ulva ferry crossing, quad bike crossing.

I drove into Oban at about 8am, having stopped for a few short naps on the way up. It was raining lightly, and we were parked at Ganavan (the little beach in Oban) where Mara darted around the car chasing gulls from window to window, and Faffy and myself dozed to the sounds of the sea. Then people started to arrive to walk their dogs, and the only way to soothe Faffy was to do the same, trusting that Mara would not be too frightened alone.

The hours went quite quickly, but I did eventually break-out from animal-minding to get shopping and have some food. My sense of responsibility for the two in the car, though, kept my mind on them and made me uninterested in my shopping list and unable to savour my food.

Ever since Faffy and I were thrown from the quad bike in it’s early days she’s been reluctant to get on board, so on the way back across Ulva I had to dull my senses to the worry of the dog (having to lift her un-cooperative ‘dead-weight’ onto the back of the bike), and also to the vocal protests of the cat in her box on the front. I had to ‘man-up’ and ignore them. I’m not very good at that. I tend to end up feeling beaten-up. They, on the other hand, after letting me know that they are dying from the experience, get off and start to play.

Maybe I’m the same. I was honestly about as vulnerable and disturbed as I get on the journey at the beginning of the week, away from Gometra, which played-out badly and, upsettingly, with Andy. By the time I did my book talk I’d completely recovered my sense of safety and pleasure, but then I was faced with leaving Andy and reversing the journey, and I was thrown back into my weakened state. 

Throughout 2018 we’ve taken shocks to our sense of security, tenuous as it is, and these have been like a series of body-blows. I learned the latest one on Saturday, which kept Gometra’s magic unavailable to me for a while. It produced the kinds of thoughts that darken the soul, and that nobody wants to have to admit to. (In case this worries our friends, it is not to do with Andy’s skin cancer). I forced myself to go for a run on Sunday morning, before Katy got up, despite having no interest in it nor energy, trusting to countless years’ experience that a run will sort it out. This one was more helpful than most, since I managed to take myself from the terror of destitution (of complete rather than relative poverty), to curiosity about it. It will be a spiritual as well as material ordeal, and take us into even more testing territory – and putting it that way helps me to see it as another adventure.

On Sunday evening Katy wanted us to watch one of her favourite programmes on her tablet, called ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, in which the Narrator, called ‘Lemony Snicket’, suggests to the viewers that sometimes they might appreciate being bored, because it is ipso facto a state of being safe. I don’t know whether I have an over-developed sense of personal safety (what climbers call ‘having no imagination’), or whether I have no tolerance of boredom (what pop-psychologists would call being a ‘sensation seeker’). Neither ring true. My (no doubt self-serving) take on it is that I like experimenting with my life: to rise to a challenge and find the exceptional in the ordinary. But others might see merely pathology.

Speaking of which: riding over the Islands last week I glanced down to a distant bay and spotted a row of ruined houses. I said to Katy that I’d never seen it before. She said bluntly, with a fair degree of disdain, “yes you have”. It’s a common exchange, and makes me feel that I’ve let myself and Katy down, but I’ve realised today that we are both correct. There is not one single journey across Ulva and Gometra that looks like another. The angle, tones and depth of the light, and the buffeting winds, make a rock or a tree shine out in the foreground, that I have never seen before and will never see again. Katy assumes that I see that row of ruined houses every time we pass, just as she does. Maybe that’s her youthful assumption that I must see it because she does, but even supposing I’m as observant as she gives me credit for, I can still legitimately be surprised by the emergence of something in my perception. There’s no perceptual ‘reality’ here – each moment whole islands in the archipelago appear and disappear and move closer and further apart. It’s a shifting atmosphere. The water, the light, and the winds are always moving, and they are the medium for everything else, including that elusive row of ruined houses.

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