My room is snug from the hotel's air-source heatpump, there’s a new dressing table that serves as a writing desk, and rain and wind are whipping the Sound into a grey-green frenzy. The oystercatchers, gannets and gulls have all disappeared, apart from one lone gull cruising very close to shore below me. Rain is chucking itself at the window and I don’t feel much of my usual compulsion to get out into it, for once. All boats bar the small dinghies that are their tenders have been taken to the Bull Hole, behind the Island of Women, for safety.
Today was to be another writing day. A publisher has reminded me that she’d like to look at a(n) ms of my Iona poems, written over 18 years now but uncollected. You don’t get that kind of offer every day.
It’s actually turned out to be an eating day, so far. Lunchtime, and I have a double burden of guilt. (Triple, in fact, as I spent much of the morning both eating and drinking, and being distracted by emails, facebook, twitter in addition to not writing.)
I’m going to blame it on Dan Boothby’s book on Gavin Maxwell’s lighthouse island – you remember Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water? – Island of Dreams. It’s absorbing, and a very good method of procrastination. In it, Boothby speaks of his time hitching north into the wild places with no money, no food, no shops, and a shaky tent in precarious Scottish weather. Oh, I used to find that so exciting! (Not any more, though; the idea of starving in a leaky tent, or under a mere tarp, in a midgey place with no prospect of food or dryness and no money to find either is no longer romantic for me. I must be growing up. I’m enjoying my snug room here with the weather on the outside, not inside, of my sleeping place.)
It’s reminded me of a time when my then-boyfriend and I decided we were going to take a break from university and hitch to a forest in Scotland and live off the land for three weeks. In February. The plan was to forage and tickle trout, though neither of us knew anything about the habits of trout, and as it turned out of course there was very little of anything to forage that time of year other than pine needles.
I have a photo somewhere. S has long hair. Me too, and I’m wearing an Afghan coat (remember those?), green boots and a long skirt that was more patch than skirt (I actually wore it, along with barefeet and green hair – this is back in the mid-70s – to my interview for Cambridge a year before in the hopes they’d turn me down as my previous boyfriend and I were embarked on a project to live à quatre on a Hebridean island being self-sufficient; to which end I’d been learning plant-dyeing, spinning, weaving, knitting, pottery and drystone wall building, as well as herbal lore and animal husbandry including milking and making butter and cheese. He’d said if I got in and went to Cambridge we’d split up. I did and we did.)
In the photo S and I both have small rucksacks and I’m carrying slung over my shoulder what turned out to be an extremely insufficient sleeping bag which I’d bought for a fiver in the local Army & Navy store. (The first thing I bought with my next grant – those were the days – was a very good sleeping bag as part of my running-away kit. It lasted, the sleeping bag, about 20 years.) Instead of a tent, we had a decorators' plastic sheet as a tarp. Practical, I was, as you can see.
We allowed ourselves to take along a bag of oatmeal and a few oranges and many books. I lasted about 3 days before cracking, and talked S into coming with me on a very long hike to find a shop, where the chocolate we bought with some of the few coins we had tasted so good.
Anyway, here I am snug, well fed – too well fed today – and er honestly about to start collating all those many poems. And ‘they’ tell me the weather is due to improve in time for the second group to arrive tomorrow.