Lewis, songwriting, company
I’m sorry to see the back of Lewis. Its blasted moors knitted tight with heather and the sea everywhere about, licking at the rocky coast have kept my mind occupied with peaceful thoughts mostly. I came for the quiet to write and walk. I have twenty new tunes scribbled on A4 and wailed onto cassette locked in an old briefcase in the boot. I queue for the ferry under high cloud and savour the sadness of departure like a sour sweet. There’s Friday night excitement in the air as folk stand around their cars gossiping and watering their dogs. The mainland is pulling us all back. The stillness here has an effect on you, making you reflective. You can hear your soul shifting in its sleep. I think of Glasgow’s grime and aggro and feel unprepared. I have bought a bottle of wine to celebrate later, it sits under the passenger seat like a red bomb. For two weeks I’ve done little else but cook, walk and write songs. I feel like a monk sprung from some retreat. My stomach leadens in anticipation of city anxiety and I don’t know whether what I feel feel is hope or dread. The rising hysteria of exit politics has continued unseen like distant gunfire. I could turn around and go back to the cottage and hole up for ever. I hear the metal groan of the boat ramp lowering and watch the foot passengers begin to file aboard. Trolley cases judder past, some farewell hugs are exchanged. People get back into their vehicles as the arrivals disembark and flood into the wilderness. Engines start as the last trucks ease onto the island. Everyone is fully laden.
I still have half finished songs turning in my head, bits that don’t belong anywhere. Gulls sail around the harbour fixing a bead on scraps. The ferrymen point and count with their clipboards and violent yellow tunics. We roll on. I find a seat on an outdoor deck as the ship grumbles away from the pier and pivots around. I’m looking back now, down the wake, watching Lewis recede as a chorus of car alarms breaks out below, triggered by the grinding vibration of the engines. It’s the sound of an insane electric menagerie howling a fevered valediction. We pass the last lighthouse and pick up steam, sunlight gently warming the moss and grass at the edge of the land. The ferry leaves a great white arc in the water as we turn south. To starboard I see the misty fingers of echoing headlands reach out into the Minch. Half-hidden by a low ridge the silver arms of two turbines cartwheel with enthusiasm. The hills of Harris slip into view and I enjoy the smug satisfaction of having been among them two days ago. I was there. White smoke from burning heather blows across a moor. The sea is a glimmering blue, the highest cliffs now turning almost purple. The wake has straightened into a runway of churned water. To gaze at such distant things is a luxury denied in town where everything is foreground. The city’s mad with stuff thrown in your face. To allow your eyes to stare into infinity is bliss.
After a few hours on the open sea the sentinel mountains of Suilvan and An Teallach loom like colossi and guide us into Ullapool’s cervix. The beauty is astounding and renders me thoughtless, my brain an empty vessel carried by a heavy ship. The sun is hitting the scenery like a Hollywood premiere. There are probably a few rabbits out there, fresh from hibernation gadding about on the soft spring grass thinking — good lord the universe is gorgeous. I point the vehicle towards Inverness and put my foot down. If I can get beyond the great flaw of the Caledonian canal by five I’m winning. The Cairngorms flow past to my left, still snow-covered and barren. They lie like a huge secret, benign to the eye but almost certainly harbouring death by misadventure. WH Murray, the visionary mountaineer, tells a story about guiding a fifteen year old boy to the summit plateau there. Just before the top they get hit by a violent June blizzard and Murray realises they are both about to expire. He uses every ounce of experience he has to save the boy’s life but at every turn he is betrayed by nature like a sly curse. The kid is terrified, recognising the older man’s panic. They make it out alive and nothing is ever the same again.
I speed into the froth and filth of Glasgow and crack open the red bomb, telling my woman I’ve not worked so hard in my life. The phrase is so close to exaggeration it’s not funny. I’m exhausted and desperate for human company. I’m healed. Men can’t live without society. Men can’t live without women.