Saturday, 6 August 2005

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

(Well perhaps not in blogland). Apologies for my long absence. I didn't realise that I was going to one of the most remote places in the world - no mobile phone access, no internet cafes. I left assuming I would post along the way. Even in the Little Karoo of South Africa I had more reception, but the Highlands of Scotland are pretty remote!

Anyway, my trip has been a cathartic one. I'm not going to say holiday because it wasn't as relaxing as it used to be. Long time coming.

My mother's 62 birthday would have been on the 29th July 2005, if she had lived that long. Instead we planned a memorial to her, having never felt ready for it until now in the 10th year after her death. As a family we had struggled to agree where would be the best place for her ashes to be scattered - a place that would be her final resting place. I always wanted a place which was somber and quiet like a graveyard - the others were happy to do that kind of contemplation at Kew Gardens where we had two trees planted in her memory the year she died.

I have finally come to terms with the fact that the best place for her was in the far north - Highlands of Scotland - in the place her mother and father lived out their retirement. The place of my grandfather's birth, early life and death. The place we visited several times a year for the first 15 years of my life. A good place, remote, ruggedly beautiful, awesome, amazing light that bounces off the sea, lochs, lakes. A place where it might rain solidly for two weeks but may also be sunny on occasion.

As children we were free here - we came and went as we pleased spending large amounts of time outside. There were walled gardens, derelict houses (grandad knew stories of the families who used to live in these small stone houses - often just 2 rooms for a family of 6, reduced to piles of stones after their roofs were removed when they ceased to be lived in), lochs, burns full of stickle backs which could be caught in small nets, woods and grandad's croft which went down to the sea loch.

I hadn't been there for years, not since before the death of my grandfather, granny and mother. It was hard to go back. So much of the place was tied up in memories of these three people. For the first week, in the build up to the scattering, I didn't really know what to do with myself. People arrived who I hadn't seen for years, family, friends. Lots to speak about. Some planning.

I liked the fact that my aunt Emily and uncle John now have grandad's house - its still lived in and has changed to suit them which means it is still a living place as opposed to a dusty old museum (as the cottage we stayed in was - we used to like staying there with its view across the village and pretty garden but it has stayed the same as it was 20 years ago and it was old and musty then).

We walked to Duart through the woods to the stone beaches and looked in the rock pools, and watched the fish farmers feeding the fish off across the loch. Lamented the loss of seal life that has occured since this new industry has taken hold. Used to love watching seals in the loch, lolling around on the rocks, poking their heads out of the water to watch you when you were in the boat or swimming (we used to swim all the time here out in the dark black cold water but I really couldn't see how we did it now). Sadly they took great advantage of the new fish supplies sucking fish through the netting of the farms. They were culled. None live here anymore.

We went back to Clashnessie - possibly my fondest beach memories are of this place. It was smaller and pinker than I remember. We used to spend long days here, providing there was nobody else there before us (if there was we would go somewhere else - unable to share a beach in this remote place). It had a river that flowed into the sea across it which had great sand cliffs to collapse into the water, easy to dam and change its course.

My sister once nearly drowned in the place where it reaches the sea. The tide was coming in and where the river met the sea was a swirling undercurrent - as she toddled in her stripy swim suit it got the better of her and spun her face down in the water for probably not more than a couple of seconds until Mum grabbed her out. But I have a strong memory of her face down in the water. Pops once refused to wear suntan lotion here ("you can't get sunburnt in Scotland") and got exceedingly sunburnt, having to stay in bed for 3 days with the pain (he refutes this memory - but I don't think I made it up!).

So on the day of the memorial we all went down to the bottom of uncle John's croft, sat on the rocks by Loch Nedd, drank wine and people shared memories of my mother, while a piper played the bagpipes up on the hill.

Dad met Mum in London where Mum was making the forth of a dining party. They saw each other 3 times before he went back to Chicago. (Within four weeks they were married.)

Mum announced to her friends that she was going to Chicago - she'd been sent a one way ticket and £100 to buy clothes. Her flatmate Sue told her she was out of her mind (as did Dad's flatmate Randall). She called Sheila asking if she wanted to help her spend this £100 - Sheila thought it was dead romatic. The marriage lasted 28 years until she died.

Sheila and Mum went to see Ray Charles and when a gorgeous black man walked onto stage they got quite excited not realising at that moment that the hunched-over chap hanging onto his shoulder was actually Mr Charles, and the gorgeous one was his body guard. This is Sheila's version of a story which Mum had also told us making it seem like Sheila was the only one to have made this mistake (a little embellishment to make Mum seem a little more sophisticated, perhaps?).

On their way to school Mum and her sisters were bundled into the car, Cathering crying but not saying why until she finally admitted she'd forgotten to put any knickers on. Mum (as her elder) gave up her own and spent the rest of the day standing against the wall with her foot on the hem of her dress.

And we even managed a trip to Handa to see the puffins.

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