Cloud herding in the Highlands

650x366_10271612_hd26-1There are two good reasons, probably more, to get a new job right away if you’ve lost your current one. First, you don’t want any gaps in your resumé. Like a house with a For Sale sign, the longer it sits, the less desirable it becomes.

Second, and this is where I find myself now: the longer you go without a work routine the more susceptible you are to looking inside yourself too long, lapsing into depression or alcoholism, or the plain realisation that work sucks, and perhaps there’s a way to fashion one’s life to avoid it forever.

I talk about it with the plumber in the bar with an eye twitch who doesn’t have kids: it starts with the barmaid explaining to her boss on the phone, the owner, why the till was off £2 the day before, and when she hangs up the three of us look at one another like WTF, and I say that phone call probably cost £3 and they both laugh, and the plumber says the guy’ll work until the day he dies because it’s all he’s got. And I say that would be great maybe, to love your work that much, but they don’t seem to understand me.

I establish a new morning routine at our flat in Inverness, with the sequence of low lights and music and coffee, reading, taking notes, packing in our ‘me’ time before the kids get up and we hunker down into a school setting, which is difficult when you’re on the road, moving from place to place.

In two weeks now we’ve been through France for a night, four nights in Amsterdam, a night crossing the North Sea, and now a week in Scotland. It’s like a hundred vacations rolled into one, a hundred times more than most will ever get the chance to experience, all this time abroad.

None of us had heard of the Declaration of Arbroath, written in the town where we first stayed, but we later learned it was likely the inspiration for our own country’s declaration from English rule.

And we didn’t know anything about St. Andrew, Scotland’s Patron Saint who’s honoured on the same day as my birthday at the end of the month, a Scottish holiday — the fact he was crucified on an X-shaped cross, and how this X was incorporated into the Scottish flag, and may have been inspiration for the American south’s confederate flag too, fashioned by Scottish settlers.

Or the importance of the Loch Ness as a geographical feature, how it runs from the northeast to southwest 23 miles in length along a fault line with a series of interconnected lochs and the Caledonian canal in a manner even the plumber, who’s lived here all his life, can’t explain — how the Loch Ness is just so goddamned big and deep, which would explain how you could imagine anything lives down there, people could devote their whole lives to it, with endless hours of surveillance and beard stroking — now a gift shop at the tourist exhibition with Nessie plush toys and clansman gadgets, key chains, scarves.

How the hills here are honey-coloured in the sun and it seems it’s always a morning light or a late afternoon light regardless the time of day, the sun is so low it can blind you trying to drive in it, counting the turns off the roundabouts and trying to understand what lane to be in, whom to yield to.

And as we pass through, the owner of the flat saying to my kids this will be your home for the next week, smiling, I really just want to settle in at times, or skip like a stone without the expectation of crossing the attractions off a list like tasks, as a tourist would, but amble through instead, listening to the locals, going with the weather, the mood of the day.

Whether it be in our working life or non-working life, we lose track of what makes sense, what’s natural. We drive to visit some cairns left there for centuries untouched, signifying something important at one time no one understands now, we can only speculate what they meant by it.

Categories: travel, writing

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15 replies

  1. So many resonances here – mythical, historical, geographical, psychological. You’ve taught me a thing or two about Scotland, and I lived there for four years and somehow learned nothing much of its history. I was too busy reading and writing about the Congo’s Mbuti people (odd thing to do in Aberdeen I admit). But the Caledonian Canal – one of the great works of my hero Thomas Telford, engineer extraordinaire, and a Scot who, during a stint as Shropshire’s chief engineer – from the late 18th century – opened up the highlands of Scotlands – making roads and bridges where there had been none before, and building the harbours still in use today. He pretty much invented the profession of Civil Engineering as we know it. This is a great journey you are on. A new saga in the making 🙂


  2. I’m glad the resonances are reaching you Tish! Reminds me of the sonar projects they did on the Loch Ness to try to bounce the waves off the creatures deep in the water and get a signal, to estimate its mass…they had a mural there about that engineer, and more you can learn about at the Caledonian Canal exhibit. The views from the mouth of the Ness at the town Dores, opposite the side with the tourist attractions, are best. Truly stunning, and an unusual amount of sun and warmth we’ve had here.
    Didn’t know you’d lived in Aberdeen…they named a city after the Scotch one in Washington, on the peninsula, home to Kurt Cobain. There’s a sign when you enter the town saying “Come As You Are.” And yesterday in a pub here, I ran into a pun-maker at the bar who asked if I could list all the names of the songs from Nirvana’s first album, and said I couldn’t, so he said oh well, Never Mind.
    Glad you’re enjoying Tish, and fun to have like-minded passengers I can learn from too. – Bill


  3. A great post and some great facts along the way. Part of me wants to give up normal work and write, but I do go slightly crazy when I’m at home alone for too long. Work keeps me sane – ish 🙂 How’s the home schooling? My son just switches off when I try to teach him anything


    • I know the slightly crazy feeling. Thanks for asking about the home schooling, it’s getting better. Just focusing on reading/writing and math(s) – the social studies and history we figure they’ll get on our field trips, looking at cairns and Loch Ness exhibits. Two good days in a row, so I’ll take it – but tricky, alright. Gives me newfound respect for our teachers back home. Easier here in Scotland for some reason than at my mom’s in Germany, don’t know why. It’s a bit of a trip, this one – in the psychedelic sense.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There’s something to be said for travel giving the kids as much of a rounded education as being in the school room. At least with the colder weather, they won’t want to be outside playing all the time. And teaching? One of the toughest jobs ever, I reckon


  4. Cool history lesson about St. Andrews! I didn’t know either. I love Scottish history though. I first learned a mite of the Jacobite history while reading book 1 of the Outlander series and went from there. Am now in the middle of one by a guy named Magnus Magnusson. Anyway, dunno where I’m going with this.

    I love your description of the honey-coloured hills, wish I could bask in it too. Nice British spelling there.


    • Yeah nutty how much you can learn on the Internet, even when you’re in-country. Just heard about Guy Fawkes day today at the pub, celebrated every 5 November, one of 13 conspirators who tried to burn Parliament. Looking forward to learning more, and going to a bonfire party tomorrow night on Ness Island, just down the road.
      I’ve been doing the English spellings since we arrived here because my computer is configured that way, to anticipate English spellings. I could change it if I spent five minutes, but thought I’d go for it for ‘shits and giggles,’ which sounds English but probably isn’t. Just replace the Z’s with an ‘s’ and add some U’s.


  5. This is the sound of someone losing the plot.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. yes and only speculate what is to come as well –

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Being without work can really mess with your psyche. I didn’t want any breaks because of all the introspection and whatnot, so when I got laid off I took any temp gig I could get my hands on just to keep from sitting at the kitchen table all day looking at the internet. But look what you’re doing with your time away from the grind. Pretty clever. Wish I’d thought of it instead of grabbing at air.

    Interesting that you spelled realization with an ‘s’ and not a ‘z’. Very telling.


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