It has the feel of a wet campground, all the smoke and everything damp, watching the Guy Fawkes 5th of November fireworks and bonfire display here in Inverness, the largest festival of its kind in northern Scotland, because I have the feeling there isn’t much more beyond the city limits to northern Scotland, but roadway leading north.
Earlier, getting my hair trimmed by a Latvian Scot who lived in Germany for 10 years and between her accent and the acoustics in the salon I can’t understand a thing really, but she says hair stylists rank as pretty crazy on some YouTube ranking her boyfriend showed her: he made a comment about her cutting his balls off if he ever cheated, and I say you’re probably pretty good with the scissors and she laughs, you wouldn’t feel a thing, then blushes, apologises, and goes back to combing me.
She asks if I’m planning to trim my beard and I say yes and she offers to do it for me and it feels kind of kinky but I accept, and wonder if I have enough pounds — she even does the moustache — says something polite about men as they get older as she’s shaving my ears, how the hair grows there, like it’s something I haven’t heard before. And then she says I look 10 years younger, maybe 15 — and I’m off to buy the Scottish equivalent of children’s Tylenol at the pharmacy for my 10-year-old, Lily.
The salon is called Time, a strange name for a hair salon, and it’s right across the street from our flat so we can see them turn the lights on in the morning, unlock the front doors, and watch as they shut it down at night, and turn the lights off. There’s a poster inside with a TS Eliot quote and a figure on the end of a pier in a pond that says, “Time you enjoyed wasting isn’t wasted time,” and I write it down while I wait for them to cut me, because I need all the help I can get, the sense that what we’re doing here is meaningful.
There’s a hierarchy in the salon, and they mistreat the girls who take the bookings and shampoo the customers: one of the stylists says to the girl when I enter, have you seen to the Gent, and points to me with her comb — and they do that, the stylists, they use their combs as a conductor might, and the girls who sweep up and get the coffees have no amount of status, and they know it. I lean back as she massages my head even though I said it would be alright without, my stylist says it’s necessary, do the shampoo.
She grips my hair and says it’s thick and healthy because I don’t colour it, and fluffs it and remarks about its sheen, and I wonder why for so many years I went to Donnie at the Starbucks corporate office, just because it was convenient and he was good conversation. I had no idea how good it could feel to be preened proper.
I haven’t read more than 150 pages in a book since the end of July. I feel like I’m running on an empty tank, and had to buy a collection of Chekhov short stories in a store today with the kids, a fresh pocketful of pounds for new books.
Some read when they go on vacations because reading is such an indulgence when you’re really busy, it’s nice to disappear inside a paperback on a beach. I brought some books but it feels like the real story is all around me, waiting to be read and told — the life we’re trying on in the way you might rent a car or wear a costume that’s not really you, but could be for a time.
I watched a time lapse video someone made, driving from Inverness to the town John O’Groats, where you catch the ferry to the Orkneys, at the very top of Scotland — a four-minute video, the motorway north roughly a three-hour drive, overtaking the lorries, sometimes slowing through small towns, the roundabouts, persistent grey landscape, the drive we’ll take tomorrow for a weekend there to see dolphins, neolithic stone ruins, maybe a distillery.
Enjoy these lyrics written by Sting, in homage to Carl Jung:
“Synchronicity II,” by The Police, 1983
Another suburban family morning,
Grandmother screaming at the wall.
We have to shout above the din of our Rice Crispies
We can’t hear anything at all.
Mother chants her litany of boredom and frustration,
But we know all her suicides are fake.
Daddy only stares into the distance
There’s only so much more that he can take.
Many miles away something crawls from the slime
At the bottom of a dark Scottish lake.
Another industrial ugly morning
The factory belches filth into the sky.
He walks unhindered through the picket lines today,
He doesn’t think to wonder why.
The secretaries pout and preen like cheap tarts in a red light street,
But all he ever thinks to do is watch.
And every single meeting with his so-called superior
Is a humiliating kick in the crotch.
Many miles away something crawls to the surface
of a dark Scottish loch.
Another working day has ended,
only the rush hour hell to face.
Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes,
contestants in a suicidal race.
Daddy grips the wheel and stares alone into the distance,
He knows that something somewhere has to break.
He sees the family home now looming in his headlights,
The pain upstairs that makes his eyeballs ache.
Many miles away there’s a shadow on the door
of a cottage on the shore
of a dark Scottish lake
Many miles away…