The inner rings of meta-ness, Inverness

John William Waterhouse - 'Echo and Narcissus,' Wiki commons

John William Waterhouse – ‘Echo and Narcissus,’ Wiki commons

Monday. Put on a new shirt, examined the tick bite for a ring, realised we have too much stuff. Is there any point to unpacking it, to let it breathe? Seems all this packing is an emotional thing. Carrying more than we need for fear there won’t be enough. Not enough faith in ourselves.

The last pages in my notepad, started late August — never miss an opportunity to be sentimental, you might regret it.

The coins don’t follow the same logic here as they do in the States and I can’t, or won’t, learn them. Instead, I hold them out in my palm and look helpless until the cashiers get impatient, like the night at the Halloween festival with the cotton candy he just said ‘the wee one, there.’ The copper one. Their nickels are the size of our dimes and vice versa. And it’s small change, but I hate carrying it around.

I don’t buy the Loch Ness legend. We spend roughly £50 on admission, a signed copy of the guide book, some sandwiches and chips at the café, bottled water, and feel a bit cheated by it sitting there, thinking it’s one of those things you need to say you’ve done but wish you hadn’t, similar logic you can apply to other choices in life and no different: could be real, likely isn’t.

As we exit the exhibition it concludes,

“Is (the Loch Ness myth) a veil that may be lifted or a mirror to our own imagination?”

Where I come from, the Highlands is the name of a housing development on a plateau above Issaquah, abutting Sammamish, just outside of Seattle. Here, it starts at an imaginary line between the Firth of Tay and Loch Lomond, the largest of the malt regions, comprising most of the Scottish mainland in the north.

I learn from a plumber at the bar that Inver means mouth, ironic because I have the mouth of a tick embedded in the webbing behind my knee, and don’t have the guts to look at it. “The mouth of the Ness.”

“Meta,” in writing, means stepping out of the act of writing to contemplate the writing itself, as if the two realities are intertwined, or related. I didn’t look that up on the Internet but that’s what it means to me, starting with the writer John Barth in college and his story Lost in the Funhouse, which was weird, but like that tick maybe, released something in me many years later, a fondness for toggling in and out of the story, because it feels more life-like to me that way.

I got to thinking that my blog-life is a funny reflection of my real life, and how the two interact. How I found myself going back to the unnamed pub today hoping to find something there I could write about, and did.

Field Recordings

Took a different door this time that led to the lounge, upstairs. No one there except a woman seated, doing the books, no sound. Got a beer, gave her my coins, said keep the change, but got the coins wrong and there was no change, it was exact, and we laughed, and I put some smaller coins in a plastic bin for poppies, for a donation or tip, for veterans.

Sat down, no sound. That sense in British pubs you can just sit there in the afternoon and drink in silence. A man comes in and they mumble to one another and she gives him a can of Strongbow cider and a pint glass and he sits at the bar, his back to me, settling into his stool, fingering a rolling paper, and I can hear every wrinkle, every twist in the fabric of his coat as he shifts, and just sits.

And then after some time we open up, and there’s no going back. And I learn they call it a Drinking Den, not a pub. And it’s from the 1890s, this place, the oldest one in Inverness – the original one from the 1700s burned down, was a brothel. And the hatch up there led to the women’s bathroom and the dip in the floor is where there used to be steps and they can’t believe it hasn’t caved in, yet. And so on.

He’s a plumber, left school at 15, has been coming here 35 years, which puts him at 50 — has a twitch in the left eye, talks about drinking and growing up with it, how at 9 every night they’d unlock the cabinet and have a few whiskies before bed. I don’t know what it is about the people I’ve met in the west of Ireland and here, in Scotland, but they’re gold. They’re real as the rocks and riddled and flawed as them, but real goes a long way — sometimes it’s all you’ve got.

So strange, this time — spinning through countries and trying to stop moving — has the pace of dreams, with imprints of faces and scenes that feel weighted with some mottled meaning, hard to pin down and remember. And when I write about it it seems more real than when I’m living it for some reason. As if I’m doing it to live some life I’ve always imagined, and why wouldn’t I? Like they say about the Loch Ness monster, you’ve got to believe it to see it.



Categories: travel, writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. This is the one to frame from the trip. so far. To hang over the mantle.


  2. Love your Waterhouse painting – beautiful bit of pre-Raphaelite romanticism. And love the sound of that pub – the building full of character and characters.
    Shame you’re not going to Nottingham – where old Robin Hood was supposed to have hung out. There’s a pub there call Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem that’s supposed to have been an inn since 1189 when pilgrims used it as a stop of point – or possibly crusaders as the date would fit. Any way, it’s bult into the side of a cliff and a couple of the walls are rock – it’s like drinking beer in a cave. Now that has some atmosphere.
    Are you going to Edinburgh while you’re in Scotland? There are some grand pubs there too and Mary King’s Close. It hadn’t yet been opened to the public when we went to the city, but I’ve alwats wanted to go – it looks amazing.


    • We may have to go to Nottingham now, thanks Lynn! And yes, we’ll be in Edinburgh for about nine days, lots of time there, and so glad to have this recommendation. I’m glad you liked that painting, too. Fog, clouds have returned – more characteristic here now, I think. And the malcontent in me wants to out and breathe it in, for a good dose of gloom. Cheers to you, and happy mid-week or Mittwoch, auf Deutsch.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ll write things down so I won’t forget them later, but sometimes just that act of writing commits the information to memory, without me having to refer to the note later on. So there may be something to recording our lives that makes it real, turns legend into belief, as you suggest.
    This is a beauty piece, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really like this piece, Bill. For all the gregariousness that Americans get accused of, I never traveled anywhere Europe without coming away with people’s stories. In some ways, people are like cats. If you sit still long enough, they’ll come to you.

    Writing down my life seems akin to photographs for other people. I look back and everything seems more interesting, colorful and sometimes happier than the moment I was actually in. It’s the proverbial “say cheese” in writing. Your musing will go with me today. It’s worth thinking about.


    • That’s nice Michelle, I’m glad you liked it. I can fancy myself a sketcher for a bit and that’s fun, to paint the lesser-knowns, whom I find really interesting, really rich with character, stories, triumphs, pains, so ons. I keep going back to this same pub even though there are many nicer looking ones in town. I feel comfortable there and think it’s good for my writing. Anything that works, right? The barmaid said some come in there and say it looks scabby and she tells them they can fuck off, basically. That’s my kind of place. Smells right, not altogether good, but real. Cheers, thanks for reading. – Bill


  5. After meeting all these salt-of-the-earth types, coming back to the U.S. of A. and dealing with our lot is going to be a crushing disappointment. I was wishing for a photo of the Drinking Den but realized your description was so thorough and complete that I didn’t need one.


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