How it looks from the inside of an Edinburgh flat while reading

Photo of Charlotte by Loren, Portland, spring '15

Photo of Charlotte by Loren, Portland, spring ’15

The owner comes in to take measurements of the sofa bed that’s broken, apologises, says he assumed we’d be out at the museums on a day like this or seeing the town but we’re not; we’ve come all this way from America to play Legos and read. Charlotte is sweet in a way onions are sometimes described which takes more imagination to detect but deep-down it’s there, just less obvious. We watch fire trucks below and other people on the street watching them too, the sound of the waste collectors and at half past one, drowning out the drunks with Bach, lutes and flutes. A window cleaner at the fish and chips take away, trucks with their four-ways rolling in fresh kegs, rolling out empties, tail lights twisting up the road past the traffic lights red, green and white — and though the sun comes up you wouldn’t know it for the grey but it does make for a mood, the owner says, and I remark how the houses are jammed together and jagged, how it’s good for the imagination, more spirals than squares.

How I feel at odds sitting inside the apartment in late November with the rain coming on, but just want to listen to it pelt the glass, gusts shaking the frames, to make tea and dream: how it feels a waste to stay inside but altogether perfect this time of year. I realise it’s a strange time to visit I say to the owner so he knows I’m not an idiot (or knows that I know I am at least, which is a different kind of idiot, a self-actualised one) and there really is a mood that’s hard to put to words but you can tell he’s trying to by how his face changes as he measures the broken bed, thanks me, says goodbye.

And still, for this moment on the carpet with Charlotte and the Lego set it’s hard for me to be 100% here, wherever that is, as I’m distracted by how I’ll write about it, how I can pantomime real life — someone with a camera somewhere it doesn’t belong.

She can mouth the lyrics to some of the songs on Abbey Road now, pairs the words with melody, words like negotiation, investigation (and oh that magic feeling, nowhere to go…).

And all this time together the two of us are blooming in different ways, her mind and mine, as I flip over on my side and say my back hurts, and want her to remember me this way, writing. I go to a bar and take crude notes about the barmaid who’s Australian, looks at me as she’s hand-drying the spoons, wiping the stems, says “mate” like she’s slapping pancake batter on a plate.

Charlotte finished making an ice cream store out of the Legos (I made the bathroom) and hummed a tune to announce the grand opening, with thumb-size figures bouncing through the door and sitting down. Nostalgia can be sweet when it’s done right or sickeningly so when not.

And though the moon goes down and gets swallowed whole by the clouds, carved to the wick, pock marked, it always comes back and fills out, sometimes smiles, shines a light for the poets or lovers to have something to dream on or look at when they’re feeling lost or lonely. It’s what draws us to the window when we can’t sleep and don’t know why, the same reason we take pictures or home videos, to pretend we can go back when we know we can’t, it’s unnatural, it makes us gods for a moment, and though we know it’s untrue, it’s still fun to pretend. Best not to assume it will ever be better.

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Postcard from Holyrood Palace

IMG_4701The girls are burned out on castles, history, foreign languages and pizzas from Tesco, leek soup. I buy a box of corn flakes to tie us back home, we leave the house in search of lunch in Edinburgh, but the weather deteriorates along with Charlotte’s mood, she won’t wear her coat or reveal why, she’s mad I wouldn’t let her lock herself in the bathroom and now she’s getting cold and wet and will sabotage the day, anarchist’s logic.

But nothing like a good Indian meal and a glass of Coke to turn things around. The Starbucks are set like mousetraps on the street corners and we get caught by the cheery baristas, the promotional marketing promising everything is going to be just perfect, and it always is — ducking in and out of the rain, in English-style pubs for meat pies, bitters, elderflower lemonade.

And the castles are perched on high hilltops, or Edinburgh’s, a bulge of volcanic rock, a castle the guide explains has never been taken by force, although it has been besieged, which is different, and sprays us with dates and name-dropping and the girls start to flop around and look elsewhere.

And after using our imaginations for weeks now trying to picture William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots, we watch Braveheart and Mel Gibson’s hair, the castration scene at the end — and our imaginations are ruined, leaving Hollywood to fill in the rest.

How Scotland was part of a different continent millions of years ago and pushed together with England, ran right into one another, buckling up the earth to form mountains once the size of the Himalayas, now crumbled down to no more than 4,000 feet. A mash-up of angled rock and valleys gouged out by glaciers, lochs — the “Firth of Forth,” a bridge over an estuary separating Edinburgh to the south, the start of the Highlands facing north.

We started our 90 day trip in Scotland with the logic the weather would be the worst here, the greatest chance of snow early season, and we’d zig-zag our way counter clockwise back down to Ireland, to Wales, ending in England come January.

We came in via Newcastle to Arbroath, up to Inverness, the Orkney Islands, back down to Oban in the west, and returned to where we started back east, for nine days in Edinburgh. This week, we’ll leave out of the southwest from a small town called Stranraer, and ferry to Belfast.

In the royal dining room at Holyrood, the palace where the Queen resides when she visits Scotland, there’s a painting of King George IV in a kilt, important because the wearing of tartan patterns had been outlawed since the last Scottish uprising of 1746 — the king wearing a kilt signalled the start of a new national Scottish dress, helping to restore an important piece of their identity.

Charlotte says the music reminds her of home — I ask which home, and she says home-home, the music I used to play in the den, and puts den in air quotes, with attitude.

Dawn and I sit on the sofa in front of the fire in our Edinburgh flat, trying to penetrate an early Genesis album, but it’s cloaked in the 1970s and I don’t get it.

I’ve been keeping a list of whiskeys and beers I’ve tried with stars by the ones I like, but it’s become so jumbled and confused it now feels like too much work to untangle it.

We sit in the flat pretending we’re peasants or artists, trying to stretch our money, using bouillon cubes and making modest soups, drinking the single malts on special at the Tesco, eating every last piece of bread, finding creative uses for fresh herbs and then blogging about it — time passing through our hands, what little we save is no better than what we leave behind, it feels like an offering of gratitude for just being here.

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Last Wednesday in Edinburgh

Graffiti on Calton Hill, Edinburgh

Graffiti on Calton Hill, Edinburgh

Thursday. Full-on tears, sobbing, from the kids — our night-time ritual protracted to around 11. The onset of hormones with Lily, Charlotte tags along for good measure. I build our first fire of autumn, the top floor of our Edinburgh flat, even write a poem about it it’s so good, use up all the wood, burns down unnoticed.

We take the free walking tour to see the sites where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter, where she wrote graffiti on a marble bust of Hermes in an expensive hotel, announces she’s just finished the book with a Sharpie, now cordoned off by the hotel as a special suite, £900/night.

Our guide is wearing a cape, hands out wands and a spell to change the traffic lights from red to green, but the magic takes a while to work, he says. Looks like his hair was purple at one time, just now starting to fade.

We start in the graveyard behind the tavern, Greyfriar’s Bobby, a muddy walk to the far corner — all of it, the old stone buildings, the grave markers, that same bleak look they captured in the films, as if rubbed in soot. And that’s what they used to do when they went out guising for Halloween: just rub ashes on their face, no costumes.

I wash my socks, the jacket Charlotte got car sick on, find a kiosk on a side street to get some help with our SIM card — give the guy a bro handshake when we’re done, hook my thumb around his and squeeze.

And then I call back home to our friends who are renting our house out, Chris got laid off but starts a new job in January, his first Monday not working but still felt like a normal Monday he says, getting up early, getting the kids off to school, going to the store.

And today, the sun rise around 7 from our bay windows, the top floor of this flat, the colours remind me of the view from my office this time last year, that intimacy shared with co-workers when the sun rise surrounds you, sometimes remarking come look for a moment — and it would set the time I’d log off, half-past four, and they’d stay on another hour or so, and leave in the dark.

JK Rowling gave herself a year deadline to write the book and hit it, as a single mom, had just gotten married and moved away to teach English as a second language, came back to her sister in Scotland when the marriage fell apart, got the idea for the series on a train from Manchester to London when there was a delay, looking out the window at some cows.

The morning gulls are flying toward a large cloud that’s advancing in the east, swallowing what might be a star or a planet, and the sky is going from pale yellow to blue, the reverse of last night, and the calendar opens to a new pane, a fresh chapter to save, rewrite, or forget — all those functions necessary to survive.

Upturned Ace of Spades left outside our loft in AmsterdamUsed "It" DVD, AmsterdamIberian leg of ham, on sale at Lidl, Arbroath ScotlandWoodstove in cafe at Glamis castle, setting for Macbeth




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View northwest from the Cairn of Greatest Sorrow

Some bars I’ll walk into and just walk right out, pretending I’m looking for someone. The bar, “Lochavulgin” or some other name that gets stuck in your throat: I throw the door open right on cue to a Foreigner song: I wanna know what love is…I want you to show me…and all the old men turn to regard me, faces like candle stubs that won’t light…doesn’t look like it’s changed since the song first came out…and on the street the rain is back, which makes me feel alive as I turn into it, revived.

Some of the barmaids kind of coo and blush when they say I like your accent, and I say I like yours, and they call me darling and don’t think anything of it. Some of the bars don’t have ladies’ rooms on the main level, they make them walk upstairs with a hand on a sign pointing “up.”

Nearly four weeks on the road now since we left Germany, counting the apartments, hotels, lofts where we’ve laid our things: this is our eighth, not counting the night we spent crossing the North Sea.

Our flat in Oban reminds us of the first apartments we lived in after college — Dawn, in San Francisco, me in Allentown, PA — and there’s something in the high ceilings and ornate trim that inspires the young artist in us, poking the coals, and I recall my first Christmas after my parents divorced wallowing in self-pity, enjoying it, going to a party with a couple lesbians from the kitchen in the bar where I worked, the gay bartender Randy there too, that kind of ponytail/balding combination where it’s always coming undone, looks like hell, remarking my apartment looks like a gay lives there or a Republican, not meaning it nicely.

Another waitress Moira who went by ‘Mo,’ how we slept together a lot but not in the sexual sense, more just holding each other; she carried a lot in her eyes but had room for me still, how we saw kin in each other in the same down-on-your-luck attitude we found fashionable, and not the first.

The alcoholic landlord jeweller from the Czech Republic upstairs and his wiry frame, the magnifying lens contraption he wore on his head, the sense he beat his wife Mabel and next door, the neighbours were slapping each other around too and no one said anything.

Across the street, scene sketches behind the windows of the ones lit up, some steamed-over, one with just a sliver of red leaking out through the drapes, a sick dog’s eye — figures below on the street walking in and out of paintings, behind the glass entering, exiting the stage.

It’s hard moving around every few days, especially hard on the kids, more than we thought, hauling dirty laundry and remains from the refrigerator: yesterday I was commenting how perfect everything’s been in the car, right as Charlotte announced she felt sick, and missed her barf bag completely though it was right there at her feet, and we had to pull over on some rocky shoulder while Dawn untangled the mess and I rinsed it out in a mountain stream, and the rain turned to hail, and we had to laugh when we got back in the car and turned up the defogger, and got back on the road.

DSC_0127There’s a sign in the kitchen in Oban that says “Family: Today’s Special: Moments Become Tomorrow’s Wonderful Memories.” So much of it is starting to blend and blur; the kitchen feels like we’re on the set of a Pottery Barn display, with the muted tones and the tea canisters perfectly aligned, calligraphic fonts, everything just so. A handwritten note from the cleaner Rossyln apologising the freezer’s frosted over, It is quite difficult to clean out when the change overs are so concurrent.

Dawn goes to our bedroom with her laptop and headset for a conference call, the kids watch YouTube on the TV in the living room, I’m not sure how, and I close the door in the kitchen to write, to establish some space. The TV is a billiard table that’s slanted so all the balls roll into one corner and disappear down a hole, it’s like the floor dips and everything slides in one direction.

There are no pets to clean up after, no yard, no gutters to clean: an over-sized clock with Roman numerals the kids don’t understand, it’s an ancient language, analogue time, and the bay windows have drawstrings with weights. Bad dreams of losing my toes like leaves falling off a tree.

Charlotte needs to use her hands to quiet her mind I think, mumbles and talks to herself while twisting, fitting the Lego pieces, constructing different voices to punctuate the conflict, always conflict — and we stop at a castle along the loch they blew to kingdom come the last time it was besieged, just filled it with barrels of gunpowder and lit the fuse on their way out.

I remark how beautiful it all is from the driver’s seat, as if to reassure us, even though the kids are making detailed plans for what they’ll do when we’re first back, drafting invitations for sleepovers and parties, all planned the first week of May — and I’ve started reading the weather forecast for Seattle on my smartphone, for some reason.

We read about the red squirrels, how the grey ones from America started squeezing them out 130 years ago, and the Norway spruce, a tree the city of Oslo donates each year at Christmastime to cities that helped them out during World War II: New York, Washington, D.C., London, Edinburgh…and they’ll host a tree-lighting ceremony for it here, this Saturday.

I work on teaching the kids about not being wasteful, and take the remains of their fish, the brown underlayment that’s oily and salty, the skin, and eat it all.


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The ‘angel’s share’: lost whisky, lost memories

Oban, 'frontier between the west Highlands and the Islands'

Oban, ‘frontier between the west Highlands and the Islands’

After sharing the same room, the same car, the same bathroom, I can see where Stephen King was coming from in his story about the writer Jack Torrance who collapses into alcoholism, writes nonsense, starts seeing dead people.

Charlotte’s going through The Dork Diaries like shit through a goose and Lily, The Hunger Games trilogy, having started it in Amsterdam and finished it in Inverness — Dawn, a business book called Mindset her colleagues at Microsoft are reading — and me, a book about Connemara from my friend Loren, and a collection of Chekhov short stories. We just keep accumulating books, so much we’re having to think about reselling or donating them.

The grocery chains are ganged together in the same part of town, everywhere we go — Tesco, Aldi, Lidl. The managers wear headsets, all have a distracted, disgusted, tired look to them, maybe just hungover.

They have glistening kidneys in the meat case, all manner of clean looking parts, and Lily is still threatening vegetarianism, won’t eat her bacon rashers — I make a cullen skink soup with smoked mackarel and cod using the remains of uneaten scraps we carry with us from town to town as we move hotels or flats — we’ve had to adopt a backcountry mindset of not wasting anything, not carrying more than we need to since our car is jam-packed with books and extra sweaters, a bottle or two of Scotch wedged into the folds.

At the Oban distillery we learn they reuse Hogshead barrels from American white oak — some law in the States that you have to use virgin wood for Bourbon-making, so when they’re done with the Bourbon they ship it to Scotland, where the casks are reassembled for Scotch, 250 litres a barrel.

Toward the end of the tour, the guide says we’ll get to taste something really special, and we gather around a barrel that’s on its side, she uses something that looks like a long steel syringe, called a whisky thief, to extract some of the whisky from the bottom of the barrel, squirts it in a glass pitcher and pours a small dram for each of us, sprays a little around the edge of the hole so we can run our fingers over it and smell it, and I’m tempted to dab some under my chin — it’s 56-point-something percent — because each barrel has a unique flavour, they have to mix the whiskeys from two or three casks to ‘standardise’ the taste, which makes me think of the workplace and individuals vs. portfolios, and people I’ve managed in the past who just wouldn’t conform to guidelines, what an aggravation they were to me then, and how I can admire and relate to them now.

About 2% of the alcohol goes missing every year, just evaporates or who knows what, and they call this the ‘angel’s share,’ and find loopholes to avoid being taxed on it.

Dawn and I talk about Chekhov, how we both came to him as actors first, and I didn’t get it, couldn’t stand the formal, long names or the sense nothing was happening, I couldn’t see it in the lines — but reading him now it feels like something is always happening even when it seems it’s not, because it’s so real, you feel you’re only scratching the surface, like life — just snapshots, how much of our experiences and memory we lose every day, every year, leaving us with more questions than answers.

And what it is for us to feel real, to have the luxury to consider the idea of a self or a soul, a calling that’s unique to us — or instead, to settle into a role that’s comfortable and commands a good wage, to feel accepted and valued with occasional praise, occasional joy?

There’s fresh snow on the nearby mountains now, and you can see it poking through the clouds across the loch on a nature trail by the sea life sanctuary outside of Oban, where I stand on the shore taking close-ups of the kelp and the shells to try to capture the texture, but I know I can’t. It’s enough to just stand there for a while waiting for something to happen and finding contentment when it doesn’t.

Our first flat in Oban'Cullen Skink," pot by Le CreusetBay windows overlooking Oban harbourThe Mountains of Argyll, Loch Creran -- a seven-mile long sea loch, setting for R. Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped"Estd 1794 in the centre of townGolden mats of kelp, sea shells"Your Journey Continues"The Argyll Mountains






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American family of expats braces themselves for Storm Abigail in Scottish flat with beer and leek soup, candles

Storm clouds advance on Oban Bay

Storm clouds advance on Oban Bay

Maybe it’s a tribal thing or instinct, but when a blogger friend from Bristol warned me of heavy winds forecast for where we’re staying in western Scotland, I snapped into action. I pulled my wife aside, who was in another room homeschooling the other kid, and said I don’t want to make a big deal of this, but can we talk for a minute?

It’s a Code Amber they just announced, with gusts up to 90 mph, lightning, thunder, coastal flooding, travel interruptions, snow in the mountains and power cuts through Friday evening. And I was kind of thrilled by it to be honest, felt more like a man than I have in a while as I said to my wife, I’m going out.

I walked to the store and felt it kicking up, but here in these small towns in Scotland the wind and rain don’t really faze people. They’re hooded and still sucking back cigarettes, squinting: the guy at the tourist’s office says you just develop a stance against the wind — and demonstrates by clenching his fists and squatting like a sumo wrestler: it’s all about the centre of gravity and curling your guts into a knot then making a face like you’re on the toilet.

The store has that before-the-storm urgency that’s made worse by the sound of the scanners and the clerks restocking the shelves — or maybe it’s just me, cutting people off, weaving across implied lanes, loading up on candles, trying to get to the other side of the alcohol aisle that’s more clogged than you’d think it would be on a Thursday afternoon.

And I get back to the flat but realise I’ve forgotten the carrots, it’s a kind of improvised leek soup, and though it seems ridiculous to go back out now I have to, because for 18 pence worth of loose carrots I might come home with a story, worth a lot more than loose change.

And the pot in the flat isn’t big enough for the soup so I have to traverse down to our car that’s in a long term parking lot by the ferry terminal, for the Le Creuset dutch oven we hauled here from Germany, that earthenware material that’s heavier than any earthly material, seems impossible for even hurricanes to affect it.

And as I round a turn and the wind blows me back I’m invigorated by it, recalling times on glaciers in the Pacific Northwest it didn’t make sense for me to be there but I had to, and it filled my soul in ways it doesn’t quite watching the same scenes onscreen in an IMAX, or on the TV.

She sells sanctuary

I grew up with the Weather Channel when it started in the early 80s, its business model to provide localised weather by gathering forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with forecasts scrolling across the screen once every seven minutes or so, all in capitals, terrible mis-spellings for reasons I don’t know or care about, sometimes yielding results like, SNOT, HEAVY AT TIMES…ACCUMULATIONS 1 To 3 INCHES.

It was coverage of 1989’s Hurricane Hugo that landed TWC the Golden CableACE award by the National Academy of Cable Programming — 10 years later, they hit 1MM viewers, their largest single day audience, for coverage of Hurricane Bret. And by 2002, 85MM households were watching it — today, about 200MM via TV, mobile and web*.

Why? Is it a Y2K ‘better-get-prepared’ instinct it arouses in us, mostly men, aged +40 — or is weather the new soft core porn, impossible to believe it could really happen that way, impossible to stop watching once you start?

I’ll confess to being a weather checker addict, and there’s no better time to get tweets or break-through announcements on your ham radio than when a life-threatening storm is coming on, when you feel it’s just you and the full magnitude of nature, and your smartphone.

Or is it the same reason we slow down at car accidents to watch, to catch a glimpse of something truly terrible? And why, so we can say we saw it?

It Could Happen Tomorrow

After the debut of its first primetime programme “Storm Stories,” TWC launched a new series in 2005, It Could Happen Tomorrow, the font blood red against a spidery backdrop — a phrase that promises a lot of prophesy by saying a lot and not at the same time, kind of can’t go wrong threatening IT could happen tomorrow, because IT likely will, whatever you think IT might be, coming off 911 and Anthrax, or whatever else is crawling around in your sheets.

And it’s around this time the film The Day After Tomorrow debuts, 2004, about a superstorm that cripples all of Earth from what I can tell by the trailer — it made me so fucking scared I wet myself — and soon, we’ve started proactively naming winter storms, as the Met Office has done here in the UK recently, to track and talk about them more easily — but also to personify the storms, because any good villain needs a good name to really take form, to get inside you.

And it is quite sinister how the radar renders the storm as it creeps closer, spinning its feelers over the whole of the UK, devouring it — and the smart anchorman who’s describing it has a wee glint of mischief in his eyes as he smiles and talks about the potential impacts, the damages, and it stops Dawn dead in her tracks, and we replay it.

The disasters make for great footage to be sure, and we can sit back with our remotes and think those poor bastards, I’m glad it didn’t happen to me.

Here in Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, we had a brief rattle of lightning and hail just now, the power dipped, and I turned up the heat on the soup in case the power cuts so we’ll have something to eat later. Dawn and I are quite excited to be sure, it feels like something’s really happening. Part of me will be disappointed if it doesn’t.

* Weather Channel references here.



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Day 15 in Scotland, coming into Oban

(It really is one of the castles from Monty Python & The Holy Grail)

(It really is one of the castles from Monty Python & The Holy Grail)

The Latvian-Scottish hairstylist in the salon across the street from our flat holds my hair up in the mirror, both of us looking at it, and says it’s a disconnected style, which I ask her to define but she can’t really, other than one part of it isn’t connected to the other. And that’s ironic because my stylist in Seattle talks to me about Jung and synchronicity, the fact that everything’s connected, there is no coincidence, it would be harder for nature to separate one thing from the other.

The tour guide at the distillery holds an eye dropper in a stainless steel pitcher and talks about adding water to the whisky, says it helps keep the smoke down, but don’t add more than a drop or two, once you put it in you can’t take it out. And don’t add ice: whatever the whisky was going to do in the glass it will stop doing once you add ice.

We start in a long, narrow room they call the malting floor, covered a few inches deep in barley, which starts as an insoluble starch they add a bit of water to, and over the course of five to seven days germinates, develops sugar, and they come round with a three-pronged plough to fluff it so it doesn’t get tangled, then smoke and dry it over a kiln fed with peat cut from the fields.

And back at the pub, old men sit alone at the bar staring at the grain in the wood and I write about them behind their backs and think they’re here because they have nowhere else to go, I’m just a blip on their screens, a brief interruption: I draw the Puget Sound on my palm with an X to mark Seattle, to show where we live in proximity to the sea, and they ask about Nirvana, and I tell them about Aberdeen, and we nod and go back to our drinks.

On Orkney Island, they’ve only got about six hours of light the darkest time of year, and the tour guide complains about going to work in the dark and coming home in it, which I say I can relate to in Seattle.

They keep the barrels in a cool, dark room — good for ageing whisky because there’s not much variation in the temperature between winter and summer, which the Latvian stylist attests to when she says October was better than June; she had her winter jacket and boots on still most of the summer.

In the hotel bar, the rugby players are clumping up in the corners: one with a neck thick as a tree trunk orders several dishes off the menu — the barmaid asks are they for sharing, and he shakes his head no.

They have dishes like homemade pork scratchings, spicy pickled chillies, long, Polish cured sausages — steak mince tatties, seasoned squid, farmhouse cheese with beetroot and black pudding salad.

And after the ferry crossing back to the mainland Monday with rocky seas, the remnants of Hurricane Joaquin blowing back the northern UK, our car has a grizzled look around the edges like an old dog’s jowls with sea salt slobber, and though it’s dicey on the boat and some are staggering for the bathrooms, Dawn and I go out on the deck and wrap our arms around the metal rails and feel alive from it all, the rise and fall of the waves, the spray, the sense we’re riding a beast, and how small we are, how much we’re a part of it still.

Although we consider ourselves seasoned travellers we made a rookie error by overpacking, fearful we wouldn’t have enough of everything on a 90-day road trip through the UK, and so we wedge ourselves into the car with our winter coats, plush toys, books, laptops, sliced cheese I keep beneath the passenger seat, seashells in an empty Pringles can, CDs, maps, navigator and cell phone chargers, adaptors, half-full water bottles, barf bags.

The kids used to complain about getting car sick and ask us to pull over but now that we have medicine for it and bags we took from our boat ride out of Amsterdam, we just threaten to give them the medicine or tell them to use the bags, and that’s that — no one’s gotten sick yet, the jig is up.

The mind remaps to driving on the other side of the road the way your eyes adjust to a new prescription, though occasionally I get rattled and slip out, and this happens most times entering or exiting the roundabouts at rush hour — and after miles along twisting roads, estimating the distance between our car and the oncoming lorries we pass, squinting through windshield wipers and potholes, I’m wrung out like my blue jeans, the same pair since Amsterdam, broken in like a catcher’s mitt and taken on a sad aspect, the kind of sadness only a dog’s eyes can possess before it collapses in a heap on the floor at day’s end, defeated.

I stay up late in our Victorian apartment now in Oban, which has bay windows that actually overlook a bay, ferries queuing at the terminal — and the light that comes through our windows at night gets bent by the glass and thrown in a jewelled pattern along the walls; when I hold my hand up to it it looks like snakeskin, the same mottled look as the brownstones that line the streets below. In the morning we decide we’ll stay in all day and cook, watch the clouds and storms come and go.

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