A Walk to the Pans.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAAt Morrison’s Haven grassy triangle paths between red clover and trefoil. Stringy elastic rye grass rebounds from my tread, ringlets and blues flit – a good facsimile of COASTAL GRASSLAND (neatly cut and pasted from the AA Book of the Countryside) sedimenting over the industrial past.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERASANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Medick,vetch, burnet moth, reed bunting, lintie, whitethroat cacophonous from perches amongst dog rose, bramble , synchronous fecundity , eye candy for rambler.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAOn the shore the protrusions are man-made, netted embankments, grey sand mixed with industrial flotsam , smouldering driftwood arson practice for the young Pans Team, while protruding from the banks an archaeological hoard signifying serfdom and short brutish lives.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

A blue painted shore crab, a nosegay for you..

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Moving towards the town, murals.. Leger rip-offs fluff up the dignity of labour.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAJohn Muir makes camp on the rocks outside the Goth as groups of gouching teens are want to do at weekends, while his mule averts its eyes.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

(In the Pans now no-one averts their eyes and you are always watched. In the celebrated hive of industry people don’t have enough to keep them busy)

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

The low wagon road along the shore, this is some industrial archaeology . I’ m too lazy , you can find out about it if you need to, or make it up .. Progress perilous in more than an onshore breeze, the bottom Pans floods still the separation from the brine is scanty.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

In the distance where the corpse of Cockenzie PS is being picked clean, naked engineering glints coyly.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

War Memorial square- pensive kiltie on stick , appears to shit sandstone from beneath his kilt , an appropriate response to the murderous western front.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA Weathering from the onshore wind blast and his greening kit bag offer a parallel to the fading of war memories . Man there are a lot of names here – four Andersons, three Cunningham, three Darlings, four Edmonds on the list.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAThe square, decorated with decayed bunting and fresh Greggs’ bags, was clearly someone’s vision.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA Densely benched, Mine craftily intricate in its passages and levels, it is a centre point where no-one ever sits, the sight-lines being too truncated to see who is coming round the next corner. In this way the square makes an honest epitaph for many sorts of vision.

Its time to head back from whence I came.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Interpretation boards proliferate in East Lothian, where the subtle rebranding of Visitor Attractions in succeeding aeons of corporate speak will soon become a topic area for post-industrial archaeology.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA On one fading relic of idyllised seashore life has ,amongst the foggy silhouettes of eider ducks, neatly pre-faded , the legend THE LIVING SHIT.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Back on the coast road on the bend opposite the industrial heritage centre two teenagers in baseball caps are wandering up and down under full length blue sandwich boards proclaiming ONLY £6.99, as they stare fixedly blankly into the oncoming traffic.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum

Advertisements

Everybody’s Smashing things UP*

The Luddites. In Huddersfield they broke things, assassinated capitalists , kept stum and disappeared back into the night. And about them there is now silence. In Heckmondike (or whatever it is called now) they had a meeting in a pub, decided to attack a factory, put the word out around the county, assembled at a distant meeting point, marched by night up hill and down dale to the factory, where the reinforcements hadn’t appeared, and attacked. The mill is stuffed with soldiers. There was a battle. So there is somewhere  and something to commemorate – there is a Trail now, and a plaque just outside the soft play on the edge of an  industrial estate to heroic failure (again).

IMG_20170911_111340854

This clock overlooks the site of Rowson’s Mill. One of the things that capitalism was about was creating time discipline. Id say more but I am in a rush to get this finished.

It was a quest to find it, swinging around perilously in my  infernal machine through the stampede of traffic in search of Liversedge and Rowson’s Mill, in search of a place which seems to have many names and none.

The plaque says they lost. Wounds were incurred.  Then,  a hat was dropped in the river , which gave a clue to the bizzies , and arrests, deaths and executions followed.

IMG_20170911_111014696

In the film version, led by bestubbled,thick biceped artisans the Luddites march down here

Then there was the book launch.I  realized as I was following the trail that  I was always ahead, anticipating. The mise en scene in my head. The torches, the stubble , the frock coats, the Emmerdale  accents. I suspect  this is from Shirley by Charlotte Bronte, who was local and had her own take on the characters.  but definitely romantic – in a doomed, moor -ish way.

IMG_20170911_111605948_HDR

In the film version, the victorious Luddites do not stop here to buy a takeaway

I m taking pictures in a post-industrial estate in the rain. I noticed a sign on a gap site LUDDITE INDUSTRIAL ESTATE which I wanted to photograph  for a pitch for a future sit com. I get distracted by the River Spen, which would be the only protagonist remaining from the Luddite story ( the mill having long disappeared under a string of development opportunities).IMG_20170911_111719355

I am trying to find an appropriate portrait shot, when I am hailed by a friendly local. She wants to bemoan the loss of wildlife and greenspace behind the hoardings and bulldozers of the LIE (Ok thats not actually their acronym.).IMG_20170911_111906434

Its on a flood plain and there are loads of empty units in Hathersedge anyway. (this I can vouch for having driven around most of them on the trail to the Luddite statue)

IMG_20170911_114020539_HDR

This is a heroic representation of an angry desperate man wielding what  I imagine is a frame over his head, in a pose not unlike Liberty vaulting the barricades, but watched by a despondent looking urchin.  This is the twist for the Spen Valley Civic Society – get the kiddies on your side. The interpretative panel contains lots of stuff about the hardships of Victorian life which would make it feel OK for your dad to go out and trash the local workshop.

IMG_20170911_110145047

The SVCS have an angle . Their park is basically a roadside triangle between a main road along the hogsback and a well used rat run down an abandoned high street. Like everywhere else  I went in Spen Valley there is a constant stream of traffic and sense of amorphousness as all the ribbons link up. The SVCS are protesting against the submergence of their place by re-signing  LIVERSEDGE -rebranded,as Luddite heritage site -right opposite the old town hall, which has been converted into anonymous flats.

IMG_20170911_114749578

I go to take a picture of the inn where the Luddites met. For a secret organisation they seem to have got out a lot.

One of the things I was finally able to do once released from learning the Latin names of beetles at Uni was to read The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson, which looked like it would be the best book ever. I have kept my copy and it still does the job.  It contains the Luddites, and much other English history besides, but it contains it in such a way that it feels like a weapon of sorts in an argument I expected to have.  On the cover is a etching of a man in Victorian working clothes  smoking a clay pipe and wearing an enigmatic expression.   The illustration is to show his costume, but also just about shows an early steam train, as a sign of contemporaneousness.

IMG_20171001_114914930

Thompson is making a case for how Marxists should do history,  that it is relevant that they should do history, how Marxists can be Marxists , and how history might have been. This is contained in a (relatively) famous sentence in the preface..

I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obselete’ handloom weaver, the ‘utopian’artisan and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity.. they lived through these times of acute social disturbance and we did not.  Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience.. (p13)

The Luddites for Thompson, were conducting a protean industrial dispute by various means through trial and error. This dispute about working conditions roamed into ownership of the means of production, terrorism against democratic means, class consciousness against local loyalties and was conducted through a culture which only occasionally leaves traces in literate form (although these are perhaps more powerful as a result).

I was at yor hoose last neet, and meyd mysel very comfortable. Ye hey nee family, and yor just won man on the colliery, I see ye hev a  greet lot of rooms, and big cellars, and plenty wine and beer in them, which I got ma share on. Noo I naw some at the colliery that has three or fower lads and lesses, and live in won room not half as gude as yor cellar. I ont pretend to naw very much, but I naw there shudn’t be that much difference. The only place we can gan to o the week ends is the yel hoose and hev a pint. I dinna pretend to be a profit, but I naw this, and lots o  me marrows na te, that wer not tret as we owt to be, and a great filosopher says, to get noledge is ta ken wer ignerent. But weve just begun to find that oot, and ye maisters and owners may luk oot, for yor not gan to get se much o yor own way, wer gan to hev some of wors now (p785, quoting a note left after a strike riot in the Durham coalfields in 1831)

 

Sometimes they were Luddites sometimes they weren’t. At their best they were shadows  – I think of the Trystero in The Crying of Lot 49 (which I revisited for a book group which also mysteriously disappeared at the time of my presentation, leaving me alone in a city centre bar wondering, like Oedipa Mass, if I had imagined the whole thing) . These phantoms could be limited and controlled when turned into concrete forms. Like an uprising, a narrative or a statue.

We all know someone who had thrown their mobile phone into the sea, or refused to watch TV (and that does actually include Iplayer) for a few years, and we generally admire them. More difficult examples exist – the person who stopped reading,  the scratcher of cars , teenage purveyors of litter, ‘one man’s freedom fighter..etc’ .  Thompson seems to be saying that this is an experimental tactic rather than a definitive statement, and if we follow him, what we should be pursuing, in a variety of ways  is for a greater control of the means of production.

Id like to imagine what might happen on the Luddite Industrial Park (as I will insist on calling it). One of the scenarios of course is that it may never be finished – the removal or sabotage of pieces of construction equipment hilariously recurring over a number of episodes like a running gag. In other versions the hardworking staff become aware of strange voices and poltergeist activity which turn out to be versions of themselves dressed up in Victorian costume.  Or there is a situation(ist) comedy where the staff realise the true nature of consumer society through a deep interpretative reconquest of the term luddism and decide to make things they actually want instead which turn out to be hugely successful and then recreate the problem all over again ( oh hang on that sounds a bit familiar).

 

To be a Luddite was a part time and secret occupation, and the more social and permanent your  ambition became the greater the risk of discovery (which probably meant death). Thompson makes the point that this happened incredibly rarely- that there was some kind of solidarity or consciousness amongst the outgroups of society ( he would unashamedly call it a class)  which had at least sympathy with it

In the Trystero/W.A.S.T.E network Pynchon could at least imagine a way in which this could still exist in 1960s America..

It was a calculated withdrawal, from the life of the Republic, from its machinery. Whatever else was being denied them out of hate, indifference to the power of their vote,loopholes, simple ignorance, this withdrawal was their own, unpublicized, private. Since they could not have withdrawn into a vacuum (could they?) there had to exist the separate silent, unsuspected world. (p94)

And now? I am drawn to the re to conclusions of  Slavov Zizek to his analysis of the events of 2011 ( Arab spring, anti-capitalism, London riots – seems a lifetime ago)

what Marx concieved of as Communism remained an idealized image of capitalism, capitalism without capitalism, that is , expanded self-reproduction without profit or exploitation. This is why we should return from Marx to Hegel, to Hegel’s “tragic” vision of the social process where no hidden teleology is guiding us, where every intervention is ajump into the unknown, where the result always thwarts our expectation. All we can be certain of is that the existing system cannot reproduce itself indefinitely; whatever will come after will not be “our future”. A new war in the Middle East or an economic chaos or an extraordinary environmental catastrophe can swiftly change the basic coordinates of our predicament. We should fully accept this openness, guding ourselves on nothing more than ambiguous signs from the future ( The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, pp134-5)

 

I have blogged already about the post-capitalist thinking of Paul Mason and Wolfgang Streek. I was in Yorkshire for a conference of psychogeographers, whose wanderings seemed very in touch with a situationist spirit of going off message. Phil Smith‘s address to Congress suggested

Through the political spasms of the last year, clumsy expressions of deep rhythms of change, a new kind of Spectacle is emerging from its old ‘integrated’ form into a new meshwork of ‘post-truths’. ..We need to detourn the spectacle.. We need to protect the hidden part of ourselves from the brightness of the spectacle

Phil talks pretty fast and my ability to make notes is not as good as it was. Yet it seems that like our Luddite ancestors the tactics and focus of resistance is provisional and varied . That we are in search of some sort of commonality and universality which still has a strong personal meaning.   And which is always quickly being pulled away again as it becomes processed to become part of the  Spectacle . There will not be one  way to answer this dilemna – there will be a search for the thing that Walter Benjamin suggests can flash up at a moment of danger to guide us (Theses on the Philosophy of History , 6) .

IMG_20170911_114908407

Watching out for the Luddites coming over the Hill, Liversedge, September 2017

 

  • you’d think really there would have been a punk band called The Luddites. I was actually convinced there had been and looked them up. I found a link to a vanity side project by Rick Astley .. ( Rick ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ Astley ! ).  Never have the thoughts of Guy Debord looked more prophetic..  Anyway in case you dont know (and  indeed care) the title quotes The Damned’s 1979 anthem ‘Smash it up’

 

Cosmic, mate

Why would anyone not want to explore the multiverse? Its an opportunity to go where no man has gone before . And it only costs a fiver..

I give the admission guy a twenty..

Do you want change ?

Well I could go round four times instead..

I ve passed the humorous retort test. There’s not much to do in Sanquhar but manning the car park in an open cast site can be a long day even so. They tell me I am  the fortieth visitor.

Thats quite a good day for us

Space is lonely , and as destination for a traditional brown sign daytrip it can feel fairly immense. It does look a bit like an abandoned quarry, which could be  a reasonable analogy for the universe, all rock and sharp sides.IMG_20170810_141016759

 

My most frequent fellow orbiter is a sprightly pensioner known as Poppa to his satellite grandweans, who he is failing to frighten with rumours of dragons and unicorns. I think The Alien might work better.

Hes good at quips.. ‘Might be nice when they finish it’, which feels like something one of Douglas Adams‘ characters might have said.

I m headed for the Omphalos at the Centre of the Universe – navels having become one of my things this summer. The Vogons appear to have fenced it off, but somehow I am gravitated into its vortex.IMG_20170810_143519690

This is the most sculptural part of the park, it most pompous and least successful. Thankfully it’s being inhabitated by a rabbit and a pair of wheatears, and already has the feel of an abandoned civic sculpture rusting on a roundabout in a new town.

IMG_20170810_143436129

What I like about Charles Jencks, from a distance at least , is that he appears to have no concerns about pretentiousness , scale or limitations on genre.At his best he is syncretic, at his worst pompous and simplistic. Maybe these have to come together.

I think you’d need to be a bit arrogant to design and build your own universe. At times I quite applaud this and am expanded- at others, much like Poppa, am having a good time practicing my sense of facetiousness.  I contemplate the view from the Omphalos down the column of megaliths marking a ley across the site and out into the distance . I follow the avenue and find it trained on the Portaloo in the car park – marked’ WC in Fields’.

IMG_20170810_150507188_HDR

The most interesting monument on the site breaks the line of megaliths leading away from the Omphalos. There’s a kind of amphitheatre, a couple of symmetric geometric pools and an inlaid …. sculpture containing a spiral of lots of red cup and ring marked pebbles> the explanatory text ( I assume by Jencks)

IMG_20170810_145243746

IMG_20170810_145634723

They contain red spirals and target forms, looking like ancient life, but actually they are self organising patterns. I call them Liesgang rocks , after the German chemist who discovered such patterns in 1896.Pulsating rhythms of iron oxide formed in a white desert, and then solidified. They are little globes of energy , micro-suns and stars, except in a white matrix, and tiny. They grew, in a few places in the Nith, through a reaction diffusion cycle, wave forms that pulsate again and again, 1-2-3-4 – supersaturation, nucleation, precipitation, depletion. The rhythm builds up and dances to exhaustion.

IMG_20170810_145723131

Poppa and his clan pass. He murmurs  ‘Bah  humbug’ , I think, at me poring over the commentary.  I smile but my connection to cosmic speculation has loosened. I feel a little exposed – but he hasn’t actually called me a swotty bastard ,and I have been able to retain that old Caledonian antiszygy which is our birthright.

Unfortunately the  next line  I read is

The non-living looks strangely alive , like a work of art, an agent of the sun itself . In the mosaic Madame Sun pulls Monsieur Earth in spirals , just as she spirals around our galaxy every 200 million years

Its like, all connected..

 

In fairness I don’t know of anyone who has been able to contemplate the vastness of the universe with out talking a pile of pseudometaphysical bollocks . Carl Sagan, Arthur C Clarke, Albert Einstein, Brian Cox, Leonard Nimoy, Stephen Hawking – all apparently smart dudes whose heads ultimately expanded infinitely into space.

But does that mean that we should not look at it/ or try to expand our horizons?

IMG_20170810_163022552_HDR

The Multiverse has a companion exhibition , Cosmic Collisions, at the modestly named (not!) Merz Gallery in  an old washhouse just off the High street in Sanquhar.

In the exhibition I read the following exemplar by Noam Libeskind, who has become a decipherer of cosmology

According to what astronomers have dubbed the Strong Copernical principle, we live in a universe which looks  the same in every direction one looks at, from every point in space and time.. It is only when one zooms in that features start to stick out..

His sister, Rachel, an artist , has tried to create something approximating to 4 dimensional  space to  represent what this might feel like .I dont like it much , but that’s not the point. Its the kind of hippy crap I can relate to.IMG_20170810_154557620

It seems to me the clever stuff is not to apply overarching metaphors to the universe but to see if the universe can teach us different ways to think about our world, and of course, ourselves.

From my visit to the Multiverse I learnt that my wondering needs to pass through a filter of plebean skepticisms before I can make use of it. There appears to be a small Maxwell’s daemon somewhere in there sorting out the destiny of these ideas.

 

One of Jencks’ big things is that Universes seem to be created from collisions and chaos, and that these things are therefore potentially creative . He is, of course, talking about art and ideas, at  least by implication (which may be why entropy doesn’t seem to form part of his thinking). Around the site  there are designs of universes emerging funnel-like (or phoenix-like if you prefer) from  preceding ones.

IMG_20170810_144206349

The guys in the Portacabin don’t have any souvenirs for sale, but they are glad to see me again. They ll make it to Edinburgh one day , to look at that gallery thing – but maybe they ll have better things to do ‘on thon Rose Street’.

They are selling very cheap ice creams. Unsurprisingly they haven’t any tubs left ( I guess they had less than forty in stock), but they do have ice lollies for 50p. I last had an ice lolly in the 1970s and it looked (and cost) kind of the same. Like a space rocket, and as I suck it new layers of brilliantly dyed cylindrical ice emerge from the funnel-shaped preceding layer. I wonder if God, or Charles Jencks , might have a sense of humour after all.

IMG_20170810_151918606_HDR

At Scotlands navel

IMG_20170614_093318191

Loch Ossian from the Road to the Isles which wanders off through the distant v to the Fort, or if you were to turn round, over the hill towards Perth

This might be the Zone. I had imagined the Zone to be a post industrial edgeland full of dripping and feral animals, like in Stalker, but that is obviously too literal. The Zone is the place where you get what you wish for. ( I imagine that it is also the place you keep remembering).

IMG_20170613_152655848

I got off the train where the cast of Trainspotting did (twice now). The Corrour Highland Estate has no particular interest in revisiting Renton’s soliloquy it seems. Tommy brought them to make them proud to be Scottish..

Its shite being Scottish! We’re the lowest of the low. The scum of the fucking Earth! The most wretched , miserable , servile, pathetic trach that was ever shat into civilisation.. Its  a shite state of affairs to be in , Tommy, and ALL the fresh air  in the world wont make any fucking difference..

I had planned to come just after the doomsday election (which turned out not to be so bad after all), to decide it it was still shite being Scottish. or less shite being Scottish than British.

IMG_20170613_152642701

Instead I wandered into a community of seekers. A gnarled fell walker, a Gothic heroine in exile, a Dutch girl in search of encounter, a German woman looking for solitude,  some actual trainspotters, and me. We orbited our strange wooden abode (the hostel is a converted boathouse where Edwardian toffs, en route to dethroning the Monarch of the Glen with a twelve bore, waited for the steam yacht to ferry them down the loch) provided walk-ons in each others quests, and then left again.

IMG_20170614_210635650_HDR

Parmelioid lichen swarming over a boulder – I d really like this to be Parmelia omphaloides, but I m not really sure

I was leaving when the film crew arrived. The fell walker had already made a hasty exit. The warden had spruced herself up to be interviewed in the mists by the lochside. I pointed out the faux romanticism ,and she  jauntily offered to pop back to her hut for her cloak and raven. The girls seemed paralysed by the headlights of fame, or the language barrier. The crew said they were from the Chamber of Commerce (what!). I agreed to be interviewed on the bench outside, until they asked me to say ‘My Highland capital is.. WILDLIFE’ .

( ‘Its obviously not, its Inverness’ ,I thought).

I pointed out a diver had just crossed my path, and made my excuses. You need to be true to yourself.

IMG_20170614_211250089

When I was looking down at the myriad of bog pools from the ridge of Sgurr Ghaibre I decided my wish was to find a diver. As I write I realize some of you may imagine I sought a frogman or Tom Daly lookalike rather than a long-necked goose-like bird. To draw a diver , draw a goose, and then rub out a concave section on each side of its neck , and place these shavings gently on its back. There is an adventure story by Arthur Ransome ( Swallows and Amazons) which I read, along with everything else in the children’s section of my local library. Great Northern. It has maps, and quests, and secrets, and enmity and a loons nest in the Hebrides. This year I met a Russian exile whose dearest wish is to see a Great Northern. They have a following, then.IMG_20170614_141343330_HDR

 

But I am in the wrong place for Great Northern’s (which does seem to be largely where people look for them). I hope for a throated diver, red or black, RTD or BTD. In winter these float around lone-ly in our estuaries . In the summer they move inland and north to glimmering lakes and tarns of the sodden Highlands, and seek out secluded pools with little, low-slung islands for nest sites , protected to a degree from egg thieves , and offering scope to nursery paddling for flightless fledglings. And, yes reader, you have to find them amongst the vastness.

It took me three days. My search methods of preference are random. Wander, do something else, keep the possibility in mind. You have a reason to be there at least , and a dream, of an oversized bird on a flatly reflective pool.

IMG_20170614_205535107

The fleeing diver passed in the direction of the bog around Corrour Station , which I d spotted from the train across Rannoch Moor.

Rannoch Moor is hardly a thing, except as an  absence of mountains. Not a meall or a carn for twenty square miles. But slopes, knolls, nobbles, drumlins, eskers, moraines, bogs , mires, pools and straggly conifers in rows. A one point the water stopped flowing west, and started flowing east – around the time the German kid opposite waved his socks out into the passage again, and then it changed back again. So it traverses the spine of Scotland, and from the bog at Corrour water can flow north, east, west or south, and reach the sea near Fort William, Dundee or Inveraray.

IMG_20170616_121033172_HDR

Bog is tortuous to cross . Like the Zone you rarely go forward in a straight line. I wobble from hummock to hummock, retaining equilibrium, practicing Zen like patience to be at one with the elasticity of the surface of the mire. What will come, will come. Move as the bog allows. I fall in anyway.

IMG_20170615_104654237

It rained and it stopped , and rained and stopped , the hills acting as the stage lighting and scenery team as I traced round the shorelines like those I used to copy  from maps of the North west coastline. I found a tiny beach of silver sand abandoned on the rim of peat, and a couple of vulgar mallards. The game was a bogey , and I let my dream go and wrote my slogan on the sand.

IMG_20170615_105312558_HDR

And yet here in the middle of Scotland on the last tiny pool, there, was a diver ,floating motionless, in silhouette against the grey lit water. I did drop to my knees  – partly pilgrim, partly stalker, partly because i was wearing waterproof trousers already, and I may have cried with joy.

 

And this is where a film would end  with a voiceover from the clouds –

HIS HIGHLAND CAPITAL IS DIVERS..

HOLIDAY IN SCOTLAND -ITS NOT AS SHITE AS IT USED TO BE.

GIE US YER EUROS!

Its the edit. Its a wrap.

But , now,  life doesn’t do that . The diver wasn’t going anywhere . It was alone, waiting or resting, and I was left to consider -what do you do now with your dream?

After a few minutes I felt an impulse to make it fly, like a toy for me, to watch it flap silently, arduously over its world, until it passed out of reach. And to have that ending. I didn’t- although you don’t know this for sure..

The only other option was a painstaking retreat across the moor, around erratic boulder, peat hag, another boulder, sphagnum pool, outflow streams, another boulder, heather tussock. Looking back from the top of each mound to see if.. Until it disappeared, although really I did. After all I had a train to catch in a few hours.

IMG_20170613_152528380

At the station the Estate has created a bistro hotel with a cafe that serves a decent latte. I left my boots and waterproofs in the waiting hut on the platform and joined the lingerers inside where I could have had a locally slaughtered deer burger for 14 ( served on a brioche bun with beetroot chips and slaw).

And still , close by , but also an enormous distance away, at the navel of Scotland, on the great moor there is a still pool , and on that pool there floats a blackthroated diver.

IMG_20170614_103632272

Dwarf cornel, lower slopes of Beinn Dearg. My first ever.

 

Postscript –

Two months later in search of traces of Donnchadh Ban, who has a walk on part in the next part of my trip,   I go to a book launch for Literature of the Gaelic Landscape by John Murray. This contains a description of a precursor to the praise poems of the Gaelic landscape called the Song of the Owl ( Oran na Comhachaig) in which the poet , Domnhall mac Fhionnlaigh nan Dan (Donald MacKinlay of the Verses) meets an owl on the way home from a party, which he persuades to tell him her the story of their homeland ( owls as well as being wise,and talkative were also believed to reach a great age). Anyway that homeland is basically the area that you can see in the photo at the top of the post, the owl meeting having taken place at Fearsaig on Loch Treig which is over to the right in the picture. It does seem a lot of journeys run through this space..

Going to visit the Folks

The walk to Taigh na Bodach has aspects of a pilgrimage for me. It involves  along journey, some routefinding and a walk through as near to a desolate landscape as I am ever likely to find in a Scottish summer ( although the walk to Hampden Park from Glasgow Central on Cup Final day also pops into mind).

I spend a lot of time wondering why I dislike reservoirs so much.  Reducing the carbon footprint or public thirst quenching doesn’t seem to make a difference to my disdain. This one -grandly titled, Loch Lyon- is as usual surrounded by a tidemark of unnatural beaches and a stretchmark of dirt road.

IMG_20170616_101444079

I spend a lot of time plodding forth and making unlooked for journeys back to my originary version of this – called Loch Lee, which blocks Glen Esk at the top of its own single track road, and made an obvious focus for family picnicking trips back in the day.

It always invoked a sense of dread in me – I felt Iwas being watched by a malevolent deity, and the frequent angry gusts down the vacant gape of the loch were shudder provoking. Now I can  also see the connection to premonitions of carsickness and unwelcome adult attention which went with these excursions.

IMG_20170616_140720228_HDR

I try to treat Loch Lyon on its own merits , notice wheatears being white arsed, and take in the views of the thighs of the local cloud topped mounts, but as usual my response reverts to trying to route march around the track as quick as poss. Diverted mainly by the constant rain of grit into my boots ( how does that happen?).

At the top of the loch a burn leads up into the Breadalbane hills , green knee caps of the giants, and from that another hanging glen dangles, containing, above the falls Taigh na Bodach (or Cailleach).. This is one of the many ambiguities here . It is clear the glen is Glen Cailleach , home of the Alllt Cailleach. The OS map says in that wrinkly special writing – that feels like a treasure map – Taigh na Bodach , but all the current bloggers are keen to revise it’s goddess association.IMG_20170616_112615182

I am here largely because I wrote about this place carelessly in my article on Tombreck for the catalogue to Poet, Painter,Potter .I wondered at the time whether my house style would fit with the ascetic of art catalogues, and received enough editorial feedback to make me realize it was not a good match.

One of the feedbacks which I considered thoughtfully was the attachment of personal pronouns to the statue of An Cailleach in this hut.  I used It originally,  it was suggested I amend to She,  the lack of gender being confirmed as a significant insult by a shamanistic source . I found I couldn’t do this. This took me into a quandary . I don’t think it will be a huge spoiler to announce  I am an atheist , and am not inclined to personify imaginary deities, and particularly representations of them. On the other hand,  the use of the trappings of signification are clearly a part of my writing style , all that weird profane illumination stuff , and I am inclined to try to understand how other people are coming to terms with the Death of God ( or Dearth of Gods, as I typ(o)ed originally and much prefer).

So here I am trudging up Glen Lyon to make my peace..

IMG_20170616_113106846

A small stone hut, about the size of a kitchen dresser and the height of a sheep , turf-roofed , timber-lintelled and carefully dry-stoned ( which I later discover is the result of a recent restoration) is the abode of the statues. It is in a lot better nick than several of the bothies I ve come across, and most of the graves in a Scottish cemetery.

IMG_20170616_113421082

The Cailleach, the Bodach , the Nigheach (daughter) , and a few other rounded stones are outside , surveying the glen ( if stones had eyes) , from what I guess is their garden. They are about the size of cobble stones, or irreverently, garden gnomes, but shaped into things with necks , which is no minor thing to do to a lump of granite..

Someone has brought them a couple of Red Delicious , I suspect from the NISA in Crianlarich , where I noticed them yesterday , whilst sheltering from the rain. The teenage shop assistant was relieved I seemed willing to make an actual purchase within an acceptable timescale, which differentiated me from the usual backpack customer

‘ They stand around for ages , don’t buy anything and then expect me to give them a weather forecast. How the fuck am I supposed to know when the rain is going to go off.. Its CRIANLARICH..’ .

The apples are confusing the small flock of sheep which I have scared off to a nearby vantage point, and since neither they or the Celtic gods have eaten them yet I think it is safe to remove the offerings without serious consequences.IMG_20170616_113401714

I’ve walked two hours to get here and feel a lengthy contemplation would be the appropriate thing to do . I manage 15 minutes..

Its remarkable , it has an installational quality ( perhaps because of the emptiness of the background), a site specificness, and the heavy rock rubbed into shape has a primeval quality, which speaks of primitive rather than ancient – although it could be both. It reminds me of outsider art , and of course it is – a strange cult , in a remote place, part of a meaning system i don’t understand – deep in the heart of Scotland ,  a long way from authority , except for the authority you might imagine from the eyes in the hills, which loom, as they do.

IMG_20170616_120555041

The Taigh ( male, female or gender neutral), opens East and downstream over an area of lush grass – as lionized by Duncan Ban on the other side of the hills some centuries ago– and about a hundred yards from the resting phase of a Highland stream, slightly upriver from a small confluence. A moraine makes a boundary to the foreground, crossing the valley , forming a lip to the bowl , which the river skirts and then breaks through in geological time stage left , where the landrover track has now opened a second wound into the boulder clay.  The doorway also frames the hill on the other side of the main valley , which catches the light occasionally, but doesn’t look exceptional.

None of it really does. Its not Stonehenge , or Maes Howe (and I wouldn’t have this place to myself if it did). Its a humdrum special place , somehow homelike and impossibly remote.

My reaction to it is to The Past. The Before and Gone. That feeling I get when I experience an aspect of a way of life that I cant comprehend. – which I guess is that the world is even bigger than I thought.

The statues are small enough to inspire care,not awe. The sheep have knocked one down , and I set it upright again, like I would have done with my child’s toys, or do to cairns on top of mountains. They feel more like your grandparents than your gods. Maybe that’s it  – they are after all about continuity, like the old stories that were dying.IMG_20170616_122325060

Some of the sources describe the shrine of unique. Again I am inclined to doubt. All over Scotland the animals went off to the upland pasture at Beltane , and returned at Samhain. There are loads of ruined shielings – and we would not know if they were for shepherds or gods. On the Inner Hebridean island of Gigha there are bodach and cailleach stones , bare and overlooking the lands, much as a barrow would have done.  A fallen Celtic God would easily merge with the rubble of abandoned cottage , sheep fank or glacial outwash.IMG_20170616_113442221

My shamanistic source tells me that their school interprets the Celtic family as spirits or archetypes , something watching over us, or that we can imagine watching over us, rather than an interventionist deit(ies). There are some legends about this place , but it is hard to know how much they have been rewritten.

 

The legends I found involve  a strange family who come to the Taigh and receive shelter and offer ongoing protection if they’re hut is kept maintained. It is a familiar tale – although in this version no-one upsets the apple carts.. (unless it was me with the Red Delicious,,)  I like better the personifications of the Hills and the Snow in the forms of the Cailleach and Bodach. Its the world you are looking up at all the time , which contains your fate in the winds and the weather. These are the things you’d want on your side.

One of the virally spread internet explanations of the site, suggests it had to be rededicated to the local saint at some point ( who has the main valley named after him) and the rocks are numbered at twelve, and are apostles. Maybe this was a clue to its protection and survival, whilst the missionaries moved north into the Jacobite hinterland.

Taigh was part of something though. I wonder if its custodians were honorary or casual, its respect specific or customary , its presence happenstance or deliberate . I guess all this ambiguity and remoteness is what gives us scope for imagining – and that is why  now it is an appropriate site for a pilgrimage.

IMG_20170616_121020943

It hints to an active world that was once there- ruined shielings,  an extant site of tree roots which would have been a dying pine wood – and is  gradually returning to being one again as neo-Celts, stravaigers and psychogeotourists blunder up Glen Lyon again to read the entrails of Gaeldom.

Land of Plenty

Buchan- a land of plenty

Peat bogs and puddock-steels,

Weet and clorty widder,

And contermashious deils!

John C Milne 

I think contermashious is pretty memorable word. The Concise Scottish Dictionary states it is derived from a slightly archaic (or pure) English form.  Its the only word in the poem above that I would not have recognised on my own. Yet I got  the sense of it quite quickly and see the  emphatic, aggrandising fit of it against ‘deils’.

My older relatives who we visited interminably in my youth spoke something like Doric, on occasion, usually for effect – comic, demonstrative, or directive. .They loved Doric verse .. Its full of stuff like this -which probably only works if you get the double meaning of Plenty. and comes from a cultural place best summarised in the sayings “Ah kent his father” and “Wha’s like us- damn few, (and they’re aw deid)” , which used to adorn tartan tea towels in the  giftshops of my past..

Reading through the Bothy Ballads, fictive sourcebook of this stuff, I see a resemblance to the lyric sheet of a rap album – drink, girls, sharp practice, testosterone and masses of unselfconscious pride. It is the music of a masculine working class elite, but preserved in aspic (whatever that was)  by a bunch of  nostalgic schoolmasters as the Wars ended that culture, if we believe James Leslie Mitchell( which is a good idea in my view) .

I feel like I would like to claim ‘contermashious’ as part of my cultural capital , to go alongside ‘hailstergowdie’ , ‘foggit’, ‘cushats’, ‘teuchats’ and ‘wee nyaffs’. But never in the same sentence –  I don’t want to become a cultural cliché, and were I to lapse into Scots derivatives there will be a fair number of my friends who wouldn’t understand me, and they are probably more interesting than the people who would.

img_0531

Window in St Nicks, Aberdeen

Which would have been my position  through most of my adult life. But I may be at some kind of tipping point..  ‘What you cast off will hit back..’ as Mark E Smith snarled on an early album.. The tipping point is about trying to establish a sense of identity – well that part of it that allows you to have authority about a part of your life that you have lived.

I wonder if I can find a response to the language which identifies my home patch – which in the words of its makars would be Doric, a strange Hellenistic term for  the vernacular of North East Scotland.. It is now mysteriously merged with Lallans , vernacular from central Scotland into something called Scots, into which classics of children’s literature  are being translated, and some writing is being produced by James Robertson , Matthew Fitt and others.. This being distinguished from Lallans , in the words of an audience member at one of Robertson’s book signings,   ‘by the fact you can understand it’.

Intelligibility is a useful characteristic for a language, but another is descriptiveness.  My belief has usually been that nothing very original has been said in any of these languages.  They are usually comic in intent, and conservative in their form.  These are the limitations that led Hugh McDiarmid (himself an invention) to create synthetic Scots , which is unintelligible,  self -aggrandizing, but occasionally memorable.

All of these are , of course, sanitized vernaculars – the Concise Scots Dictionary has no truck  for the swearie words, the cadence is reproduced without class and locality, the democracy of presbyterianism is reproduced  without the repression.

In Doric particularly there doesn’t seem to be any  geographic beyond to look to. Not Gaeldom or Europe, but archetypes of the past , granite versions of ageless stoicism and dark, unmentioned shadows. Thus the  rise and fall  of New Aberdeen feels like a tide breaking over a large block of granite. It started in my teens and hasn’t quite lasted a lifetime ( which in my case started with a typhoid outbreak and may end with lots of the region underwater) but never seemed to have any permanence . Exhibition centres, civic buildings and house farms have all had a pop up feel.The land alone endures as LGG  has it.

img_0529

Granite lion, guess where?

It may be that sometimes the past looks more hopeful. Grammar schools, when you kent their father and, when you could trust the laird to stick up for his chiels, that great reimagined past.

Maybe in the part of the country where the contrast between a conservative , semi-rural society and high multinational capitalism has been starkest, that nostalgia is more explicable. But it is still bollocks, and we should be grateful that wee Eck’s opportunism has landed us with no worse than a mock-Baronial golf course as a monument to the worst ever US president’s vanity (not that the residents of the Mennie Estate will feel so).

Around the oil capital this summer I noticed lots of young people running. Probably  in circles, potentially away , but apparently to avoid stasis , the sense of settling, or like prisoners doing press ups,  to keep in shape for their eventual release (or jail break).

Of course I am drawing on another tradition the  long history of exiled Scots returning to trash their home land. Edwin Muir, JM Barrie , Rhona Cameron ( I live in Musselburgh) . Maybe we can understand it as frustration and relief..As another exiled ( almost) Scot put it

I wouldn’t live there if you paid me to,

Could we make The Thrums vibrant ? (  although currently Kirrie , birthplace of JMB, feels fairly funky). One of the legacies I can see in these grumbling narratives  is a deep pessimism about  volkishness and loyalism ( both with and without capitals)   which seems more pronounced in the North East than elsewhere. Other scots regionalism – say McDiarmid s Langholm , pie-eyed Dundonianisms or various Gaelic Brigadoons, seem to refer outward to a common humanity, and lands across the sea. Up in Buchan its the ancestors – actual or mythical.

The oil boom allowed more of my classmates to escape this than ever before. When I met them in adulthood on north bound trains they told me of their adventures in the Far East and Mid West, usually on familiar engineering installations, but with furlough in strange parts there was little doubt that travel had broadened their minds, as it broadened mine.  The ones who’ve stayed faired less well.

I’ve taken it personally. So it seems everytime I write about the North East I reach a point of suppressed rage at its dunderheided parochialism.  I want to be identified with where I grew up , but I don’t want to identify with what happens there.

I used to select items of hopeful intent from local history – the commune Edward Baird set up on Rossie Island, the Brechin carter’s strike,  the genesis of Hugh McDiarmid in a back street in Montrose,  the CND protests against the US naval base in Edzell. These are rare moments and largely unacknowledged, and moreso because of the consensual basis of parochial localness, which largely papers over the cracks and thus protects the status quo. Near where I grew up tied cottages have prevented rural development and effectively preserved a long glen as a shooting estate for a group of landed gentry. There is an efficient and well established anthropological folk museum and history project in the area which makes no mention of this.

Most of our heroes now are never going to be local . But it would be nice to imagine they could have been. That Bruce Springsteen or Morrissey , could have roamed the Angus Glens in a battered Ford Escort, gunning it towards pheasants on the roads at dusk ,partly for food and partly out of vengeance.. but it is hard to imagine either of them plucking a pheasant..  Or indeed anyone who has plucked a pheasant as a star.

Yet where do we go without dreams ? We settle . We take what we are given , grudgingly , but as plenty , as in the sense of enough. And we resent those who don’t . Contermatious may be a good word to know at the moment.

Siccar Point

The trod to Siccar Point. Offering false promise along the shore through slab fields of fallen sandstone tipped out of cliff faces by the crumbling breccia beneath.

You cant get far that way and we are soon hopping back up following the deer to the boundary wall. But finding at the top that someone has gone and dropped a long distance path up there. Shucks!  Its a COASTAL TRAIL, but soon it dives inland doonhollow to the giant turnip complex hidden Wallace-and-Gromitly in the old quarry – what do they really do in there? The sheep look suspiciously wooden and we can see the nuclear plant in the distance.. HMMm.. There’s something fishy going on..

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Following the cliff line we track a stoat along the wall. Down below sails the small boat of Mr

 

Hall of Dunglass , containing his near neighbour Mr Hutton of Monynut and Playfair of Edinburgh University. It bobs on a milky sea..

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

In the boat – (Fx – to the rhythm of the waves)

‘ Ho!, Quite glad Hume was preoccupied today..’

‘ Hi!, Wouldnt be room in the boat had he not been…’

‘Aye, sirrah, he’s a bit of a geological formation himself..’

‘Whff, How goes it with the Great Infidel’

‘He still repenteth not .. and indulgeth much’

‘ An Unconformity , indeed’

‘An example to us all perhaps’

‘And with us in spirit’

‘ We judge by evidence not superstition, what..’

All evidence suggest that the future will resemble the past‘ quoth he,,

‘ Look for the patterns – assume not magic or magicians, but time and repetition. ‘

What is there is enough to capture our awe..’

‘And that itself may be divine’

‘Or Divinely inspired”

‘Be we Heretics then, fellows?’

‘No sir, we are Three Men in A Boat, private in our thoughts and speculations’

‘ Well , so , but there is power in these thoughts.. Profitable in many directions ‘

‘Aye well ye’d know that James’

Siccar (to make sure) is near – overhead circle the fulmars and among them the figure of the w’ged Foucault.Atop the banking is the easel of Steven Campbell , and chipping away on the raised beach are Chris Grieve’s Whalsay chums. At sea a boat carries the Motley Crew. Distantly we sight the tousled wandering Nan Shepherd, while Bellany and Kenny White observe the gannets, and Jean Redpath duets with The Seals. The Caledonian antisyzgy glints in the sun.

 

Scotland after all is A LANDSCAPE FASHIONED BY GEOLOGY.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Progress to the Unconformity is now aided by sturdy ropes and interpretative boards. The drop off is dizzyingly Danteanly appropriate. We descend not to Hell but to Truth.

The unconformity, tucked down on the shore, is Incontrovertible. God retreats after trying to shower us with an unruly seventh wave.

We trace its outline with our fingers, two geological dilletantes, defined by our unconforming scepticism ; and say how great it is to be here together. The rocks don’t fit smoothly and neither do we.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

There are many lumpy differences that need to be eroded first, and a gap that speaks of absence.

We speculate about bringing the returning fundamentalist militants down for part of their re-education . But you only really see it if you want to , and when you do nothing will ever be the same again.. what is layered down on top – the conformity – is an illusion.

And more, the same small movements over and again, everyday struggle, resistance and demand, creates and destroys , makes and remakes us all.

Let our chant be

‘ that we find no vestige of a beginning , no prospect of an end’ .

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

On the bed of the Moldau the stones they are turning..

The night has twelve hours , the day comes at last..