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.