faraway places


Oh the burden of non-stop online content creation. The internet never sleeps, but I must. (And when the weekend comes, I sleep a lot.) I have become something of a once-a-week blogger. I’m forming a theory. (But I’m always forming theories, and they never seem to do much, or go anywhere.) More on that shortly, maybe. On the currently-hatching theory, I mean.

A good weekend, made up of incredibly little. The highlight of the weekend was perhaps in the supermarket this evening when I got asked for ID buying wine (and chickpeas and haloumi and rockmelon and Strepsils… hardly the shopping list of the under-aged). It was awesome, being approximately 15 years over the age limit and all. (And the fact that the guy ID-ing me looked about 12 is completely immaterial.)

But so, to these photos. I set about unearthing them for a very specific reason. Last weekend I was reading Bill Bryson’s At Home and I learned stuff about Skara Brae (immediately below) I never knew. It got me thinking about Orkney (home to Skara Brae, Maeshowe, The Ring of Brodgar (further below) and The Standing Stones of Stenness, among other things). How it’s one of those crazy enchanted places I’ll always keep coming back to in my head. Although chances are I’ll never go back in real life, given it’s way off the coast of the top of Scotland.

I love how these photos have got a dusky pink quality about them. I also love how when I took them (about 14.5 years ago) I accidentally got them printed in the wrong size… and not just these ones, all my Scotland photos… so I ended up with paper wallets upon paper wallets full of huge photos. Consequently I also ended up paying a lot for them (possibly a precursor to/early warning signs of my bank-breaking Joycam Polaroid spree of 1999). I remember thinking at the time: Maybe one day they’ll come in handy. And, well, here we are, 14.5 years later.

Virginia and I ended up in Orkney by accident, really. We had reached the outer limits of our known world, pretty much itinerary-less, and with all the wisdom of 19 year-olds with time to kill, thought what the fuck… We knew nothing about where we were going when we got on the ferry, headed in a direction where there was nothing but an expanse of cold dark uninterrupted sea and a foreboding licorice-coloured sky. (And of course I knew the world wasn’t flat, but it did feel like we might fall off the edge of it at any minute, stupid as it sounds.)

I’m not (and I couldn’t if I wanted to) turning this into a travelogue. It’s probably enough to say we weren’t expecting to find a bunch of Henry Moores and Barbara Hepworths in an unassuming (from the outside, at least) pier gallery in the small fishing town of Stromness. Or strange and very significant neolithic shit (see above and below) going on in the absolute middle of nowhere. (Bill Bryson tells me Skara Brae is perhaps one of the most useful and untapped insights into our early civilisation’s domestic structures and habits, for example. And he’s a pretty knowledgeable guy.) There was also an excellent bookshop, where I bought some local poetry* which sort of blew my mind a bit. And a good men’s bar. Although we didn’t know it was an exclusively men-only bar until after we’d sat and drank our gin and tonics with every set of fisherman eyes in the place firmly fixed on us as we did. (Trouble was, we couldn’t understand a word they were saying, so to this day we don’t know if we mistook eviction for what we at the time thought was a gruff and somewhat surprised welcome.)

I called my parents from Orkney to tell them where I was. It turned out Dad was no stranger to Orkney; he’d been on a squash tournament there back in his university days in Aberdeen. Who knew.

It was a nice trip down memory lane, digging out these photos.

*I also dug out my favourite slim (very slim) volume of Orcadian poetry. It’s called Writing Like a Bastard, by Alison Kermack (now Alison Flett). My favourite poem from it is this:


see if yi go


my hartz like

ma voice

in thi car

oan thi cobbuls


And now for the theory I’ve been forming. I can’t actually properly remember it now. It has something to do with action and inaction and how (for me) there never seems to be a happy medium/middle ground between the two. In frantic times all I want is quiet and respite and to know how to chill the fuck out. And when I’m quiet and relaxed (like this weekend, for example) I can’t ever just enjoy it. It feels a bit like my lifeblood is slowly leeching from me and that I’m destined for a life of television and naps. (And Bejeweled, which apparently I now have to take off my computer if I am ever to get anything done ever again.)

And now I am going to go and wash my hair, which is another thing I do approximately weekly, just like writing here. (And I would promise to be better, but empty promises — however well-intentioned at the time — are the worst.)


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