The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Friday, November 09, 2007


In one of Alan Garner's essays, he writes about the deep attachment he has to his particular corner of Cheshire, his - and here he has to reach for foreign words for which, he says, there is no English equivalent: from Russian, rodina; from German, heimat. I'd always thought that heimat translated roughly as homeland, but a native German speaker recently put me right: it's not just your home town but the area around it, the woods, the fields, the paths, and the bond that one feels with them.

I experienced this myself in August, not for the first time and not unexpectedly. Doctor Jon-avec-le-Lotus was shortly to get married and had decided that he didn't want to go down the beer and strippers route; in fact he preferred that the two of us should head north and tackle a hill and camp out, something we hadn't done for years. I was content with this and so off we went. Stag day was celebrated in the pissing rain with steak cooked on a primus and champagne drunk out of unbreakable children's mugs, within sight of the cloudbase covering Lochnagar. I believe we were both quite happy. Happier still that the weather was so rotten come the evening it made a hotel the only sensible option.

The following day we drove north from Ballater - at speed, a Lotus being constitutionally incapable of doing anything else - up the A939, over the Lecht summit and down again towards Tomintoul. Fourteen twisty miles after Tomintoul you come to Grantown-on-Spey, a fair-sized town which sits in the Strathspey running SW to Boat of Garten and Aviemore, NE towards a thousand distilleries. Due north lies Dava Moor and Lochindorb. I've driven in to Grantown-on-Spey a few times, knew the strath at this point to be arrestingly beautiful and was looking forward to seeing it again. The effect as you drop off the bleak high ground and into sight of greenery and fields is like a balm.

But more than this, I know that north of the town is the beginning of what I continue to think of as my own country, the edges or boundaries of it, at any rate. Even a Mark II Elise makes a hell of a racket, but as we turned a bend and got a first sniff of the valley I realised I was becoming insensible to the engine, and to any conversation, which I was scarcely able to carry on with. It wasn't unlike being mildly stoned, the same feeling of detachment, calm and lightness, of being in some way carried. As I say, it wasn't unexpected though it was unsought.

Sadly we were not heading north, but turned west along the A95, a surprisingly broad and good-quality road for the Highlands, to my mind. Mechanically efficient.

Later, as we reached the Drumochter summit on the A9, Doctor Jon remarked that that was a really striking view as well. Indeed it is, bleak and spectacular; but every time I see it I feel sad, and something closes up inside me, and the defences acquired through years spent living in a foreign country begin to raise. It's the prospect of the south, and the knowledge that the Highlands (for want of a better and less loaded word) are being left behind; and something cries out against that.


Duncan Williamson died at 1am in Kirkcaldy on November 8th. RIP.

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At 11 November 2007 at 21:48 , Blogger Yvonne said...

Ah, the Highlands. I love the high places and the lonely places. I once stopped on the A702 in the middle of the hills of Dumfries and Galloway, just to sing to the old bare hills.

The Lotus sounds fun - when you first mentioned him, I thought Jon-avec-le-Lotus was some kind of Buddhist - it was only later that I realised you were talking about a car!

In case you missed it, I have returned to my non-theist Pagan / animist roots, which is a good place to be. But am still hanging out with the Unitarians, because it's spiritually nourishing and reminds me that it's ALL A METAPHOR! Thanks for the lovely email you sent, it was much appreciated.

At 14 November 2007 at 22:30 , Blogger The Silver Eel said...

A few years back, Dr Jon decided to have his mid-life crisis a bit early and bought a red Lotus Elise MkI, after which he was known as "Lotus Jon" to a few mutual aquaintances. Then he wanted to buy a flat, so the Elise went and was replaced with a marginally less terrifying sports-edition Clio, after which he was known to my parents-in-law as "Dr Jon-sans-Lotus". About a year back he realised (what the rest of us knew well) that no car was ever going to suit him as well as an Elise, so he went and bought a black MkII Elise 111. Back to being "Dr-Jon-avec-le-Lotus". For anyone who remembers Glen A. Larceny's Automan from the early 1980s - that's how it corners. Or like one of the bikes from Tron.

I hadn't exactly missed it (said Pooh) but I wasn't absolutely sure what stage your pilgrim's progress had reached. A Good Place is the best place to be in. Glad to lend a helping paw.


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