NEW WRITING: Reveries of a Reluctantly Reclusive Rambler

Reveries of a Reluctantly Reclusive Rambler 

After our daughter’s 40th Birthday Party I had a Slow Sunday. Wandered in the sun out by the banks of the Leven. I had what might have been a hangover. I recalled drinking whisky late at night, a Macallan; sure and certain evidence that at some point I had moved beyond common sense.

After the week’s meditations on age and ageing it was quite fine to lose myself in the moment, in a succession of sensations, sunshine on my face, nettles stinging my bare shins, a dry drouthiness in the mouth, a suspicion of sweatiness in the oxters; the kind of little things that remind you that you are still a sentient being. There were docken leaves nearby which I rubbed on tingling skin.

(Great Hangovers of the Past; a personal history? I resist the temptation. Not the stuff of which reveries are made. Best to avoid bad habits, like nose-picking (in public), over-tipping and having too much to drink.)

Walk over Coffin road to Balloch

On Monday I walked over the Coffin Road from Cardross to Balloch. Heard the eighth and ninth cuckoos of the year. I had thought they had all gone back to Africa.  I was on my way to a rendezvous with Lorna and Anne. Someone (not I) had the date mixed up. I dare not rub it in. I thought of the time (July 1974) when Larry and I turned up in Contin for a rendezvous en route to Kinlochewe. We had the date wrong. We were a day late. And of the medical student who, when asked why he had not been able to answer a single question in his viva exam after six years of study replied- “I thought the exam was tomorrow.”

I am always pleasantly surprised when a rendezvous DOES take place as arranged.

Instead of a leisurely lunch we retreated to watch Scotland’s first game in the European Championship. “Que sera, sera, we’re going to Wemb-i-lee”. History is full of sad songs.

Interesting Interiors

I read ‘A Month in Siena’ by Hasham Mitar (thank you, Chris), in which he writes about paintings which profoundly influenced his perception of … the world, I suppose. At one point he addresses the way in which interior spaces themselves influence perception. I thought of buildings whose interiors have impressed me – not cathedrals, mosques, castles, palaces or museums, no Blue Mosque, Duomo nor Musee d’Orsay. Smaller, more intimate places.

There was a tent which I had for years! A ‘Good Companion’. It had an exterior A-pole and a sewn-in groundsheet. With practice I could put it up within minutes, although invariably I did so on ground which contained boulders and other sources of discomfort. I once carried it on my backpack from Fort William through Glen Nevis all the way to Loch Treig. I once put it up near Inveroran Hotel and took it down again immediately under ferocious attack by midges. Although I was very fond of my good companion (I once spent weeks in it near Brinkie’s Brae on Orkney) I did not lavish enough care on it. The canvas rotted, a condition I discovered during one night of torrential rain. The Era of B&B had arrived.

Intimidating Diary

I noticed this week that – after such a long spell without dates in the diary – I had six commitments over seven days. These included three Lunches and the Birthday Party. Even so I was a bit intimidated. I was not sure that I could cope with the stresses of so much human interaction. Not reluctantly reclusive after all.

On my way to the Fifth Date, I strolled along the Clyde Walkway, past the statue of La Pasionaria, which now has a sad backdrop of new high-rise hotel buildings, to Glasgow Green.

I ambled round the perimeter of the Fanzone. There were hordes in High Vis gilets about, likely to outnumber any fans by some margin. I dropped into St. Alphonsus Church, near the Barras, where I lit candles.

And on to the Italian Kitchen to meet old friends. We were last there in September 2020. Great to be together again, surrounded though we were by Perspex screens. I had lobster ravioli. VG.

Listened to lovely piano duets played by Paul Lewis and Stephen Osborne.

Interesting Interiors #2.

Orkney. September 2015. We – John, Larry and I – were on our way to St. Margaret’s Hope to catch the ferry. For all the times I had been to Orkney I had never visited the Italian Chapel. As every citizen knows the chapel was built by Italian Prisoners of War, captured in North Africa during WW2.

Amongst them was an artist called Domenico Chiocchetti, a smith called Palumbi, and other skilled craftsmen. Out of Nissan Huts the prisoners created this beautiful little chapel. Altar, chancel, stained glass windows, candelabra and rood screen, images of Madonna and child and of the white dove, in its entirety a work of art. You do not need to have a religious faith in order to be moved by its beauty, its intimate serenity. Created in a time of war. Chiocchetti was remembered in a requiem mass there after his death in 1999.

As we were leaving a coachload of tourists was disgorged in the carpark. We were glad to escape before they crowded into a space best enjoyed in silence.

In 2014 three hand-carved Stations of the Cross were stolen. ‘I wish I loved the human race’.


The west wind whummeled Barra’s shore.

Early morning rain. (Unlike Mr. Leopold Bloom, I did not eat with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. Muesli.) The swans on the Leven were somnolent, in contrast to the swallows who darted and dipped their exuberant ways down river and under bridges. Drizzle under chiaroscuro clouds.

Lucy arrived, in contrast to the clouds, wreathed in brightnesses which included a rainbow head band and a butterfly top. We played at Leopards and Giants.

Then I had to go to the Vale of Leven Hospital for the Sixth Date. Another Flow Test and Bladder Scan. (‘Had to go’ is all too appropriate.) I am glad that the NHS continues to tick my boxes. Wandering homewards I realised that the days of sneaking into pubs to use the toilet may be over, abolished by the covid protocols.

JLF’s weekly letter included a poem ‘On Barra in May’ which has the lovely line “The west wind whummeled Barra’s shore;” Whummel – great word. And for all lovers of CalMac –

“…I felt a vicious glee; / the Calmac ferry couldn’t sail / in that May day’s Atlantic gale. / Stormbound on Barra we were free.”

Interesting Interiors #3.

On the Paseo de la Florida in Madrid stands the Ermita de San Antonio de Florida. In 1798, Francisco Goya was commissioned to paint frescoes on the interior of the Ermita’s dome. He depicted a scene from the legend of St. Anthony of Padua in which he raises a dead man up to identify his murderer. Goya filled the dramatic scene, not with pious idealised beings but with the faces and apparel of the poor citizens of Madrid. I have been several times and every time I am astonished at the conception and execution of the scene. Mirrors are placed at four corners of the concrete floor in order to make the viewing easier. (To look up makes a vertigo-sufferer like me want to fall over.) The Ermita now also houses the tomb of Goya, although there is a story that the body lacked a head when it was re-interred. I like to think that some mad scientist wanted to study Goya’s brain, to learn about the nature of genius.

Deaf but not dizzy.

A Dirrum a-doo a-dum a-day.

On a whim, two trains and a ferry I took a trip to Rothesay. Maybe prompted by the poem that mentioned Calmac. Passing through Glasgow Central I saw several foot soldiers of the tartan army bound for London in order to make a nuisance of themselves, peeing in the fountain at Trafalgar Square and bringing the Delta variant home.

The Calmac Ferry was quite busy with day trippers (84 maximum). The crossing was a lovely blend of breeze, sunshine, bright and dark clouds and a vista which included white sails, lighthouses, darksome mountains in the north, the ridges of Arran and a patchwork of marine colours. Every moment contains other moments. I remembered childhood holidays at Hilton Farm; a day trip in January 1967 which took us and a carryout to Ettrick Bay (on the day that Berwick Rangers knocked Glasgow Rangers out of the cup); a visit to Mount Stuart with visitors from the Czech Republic.

Apart from the well-tended Tivoli Gardens, Rothesay – once the capital of ‘Scotland’s Madeira’ – looked shabby. The ghosts of summers long ago lingered near the ice cream stalls and on the beach. On the ferry I overheard a man say to his little girl “we’re going doon the watter for the Fair.”

(Wemyss Bay Station is as lovely as ever; must be in a Guide to Britain’s Best Stations.)

Look out for more New Writing in The Democrat in coming days

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