Sunday, April 13, 2008

I Am Whisked Away On Mystery Holiday In Honour Of Being 30 By My Love

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: am on holiday, dumbchuck
Reading / Listening: ‘Margrave of the Marshes’ by John Peel and Sheila Ravenscroft/ Rufus ‘Cheekbones From Heaven’ Wainwright
Hair Day: hairdryer, straighteners, extra hold hairspray, I greet you with open arms

So, two days after the charity/music/30th bash, I was on a train heading north which cancelled out my guesses of northern France and Cornwall – for I was being taken on a mystery holiday by Andy. Still, he was too hoppingly excited to keep it a secret forever, and by the time we were speeding through the Lakes I knew we were aiming for Kintyre, the drooping penis of lower Argyll on the west coast of Scotland – bliss! We wended (went? wound?) a winding route there past ex-forests that now look like boneyards, lochs fingered from underneath to simper and billow alluringly, villages that were no more than two houses and an inquisitive dog; in valleys boulders had thudded into the spongy earth and mountains cried steady rivulets. Our 19th-century cottage in Clachan, a small village on the west side of Kintyre, was notable for its coalfire smell and snowy fluffball dogs that were more ‘Changing Rooms’-esque decorative cushion than canine. The only place serving alcohol for 11 miles was the hotel up the road; grand but near-deserted, it was all a bit ‘The Shining’, but we read our books and drank some wine in the plush sitting room with an teeth-spitting fire and an thick-accented old man, and I played some Scottish tunes and ‘Gymnopedie’ on the echoey electric piano. Class.

The sea, a shining silver plate, was a mile walk away and dished up views of more mainland, Islay, Jura’s majestic paps (steady) and Gigha. We walked through bog and dappled woodland, by rusty little rivers that gulped and sang as if there was a tabla player wedged down there in the water, and made field recordings with our new mic of said brownish brook and small vocal ensembles of birds; I stalked a chaffinch resolutely as it repeatedly blurted out its little riff. My epiphany was climbing over a stile into the silver birch wood and a golden eagle, as big as a bi-plane, breaking into the clearing in front of me; I’d like to say that it looked deep into my eyes and burned a dark future into my soul but in truth it was there for two seconds before veering off into the sky to scour the land below for small dogs and babies to eat.

We took a ferry to the cheerily verdant little island of Gigha, notable for being community-owned, with an independent flag and annually-voted council. Andy persuaded me to hire bikes, so off we pedalled (he going at one-tenth his normal pace to allow me to huff and puff and blow my nicely-styled hair down, and sometimes just give up, get off the damn thing and walk), going end to end over the afternoon. We took in a slightly spooky, Famous Five-style beach with signs of life such as Unabomber-esque caravan and deserted jetty making me expect a hard-bitten couple (he with an angry face and dark, choppy hair, she with tarnished blond crop and glinting sunglasses) to come round the corner any second and kidnap us for revealing the whereabouts of the treasure, etc. The beach was a mixture of lovely and littered - a sad theme of many beaches we stepped upon - with gulls loitering excitably on the rocks like a bunch of kids on a school trip and terns haring down the sea-furrows like X-Wings. Stopping in the middle of the island for Argyll venison and yanked-unsuspectingly-out-of-the-sea-and-plonked-on-my-plate prawns, we then got to the other end to find a twinned beach, one ugly sister blemished with about a thousand scattered plastic bags, the other more demure but untouched. I made a small stick-sculpture (I AM Richard Long) and pretended to be a seal before returning. Miraculously, though we have watched rain fall like soot from the sky on mountains very near to us, we have existed in some kind of Kerry And Andy Microclimate: the rain has bellowed and glowered close but never touched us; plucky little freckles have indeed bloomed.

Finally we toured the main circuit of Kintrye, stopping to enjoy the bracing West Port Beach, which offered everything you’d want from coastline: perfect skimming stones (among the dross I produced one stunning 6-pointer which leapt and bounced like a gazelle over mountains), leg-slashing dunes, galloping waves, deadpan sand and enough large-scale flotsam to make three found-art, slightly totemic sculptures, named and duly documented. Towns have been unremarkable, rather sad fag-ends (what do they DO around here?! Especially when they want to see a GIG or EXHIBITION or TALK ON POSTMODERN VIDEO ART AND ITS ROLE IN OUR PHILOSOPHICAL MODERN AGE?) but it’s not about that. It’s about rollicking journeys along coastline which allows you to spot a) Kintyre b) Arran c) Mainland d) Islay e) Jura f) Gigha g) Bute and h) NORTHERN IRELAND all in one day, and forest walks that take in hushed green glades, landscapes of collapsed trees and ground so spongy with damp and a million soft-crushed pine needles you can jump on it like a trampoline.

We ended our sojourn in Glasgow, a small shock to the system but we were staying in a friend’s vacant townhouse flat and managed to see some quirky caravan-based art and eat out wonderfully with one of Andy’s ebullient authors. Still, 'tis nice to be back in the rainy metropolis, which we rechristened by gazing at Peter Doig’s mostly marvellous Canada-evoking big splashy works at Tate Britain. Now I have 7 relatively jobless weeks in which to take over the creative world. Erm, right, think I’ll make a list...

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