It is now eight months since my last trip which was one of the loveliest times of my life and I have had many lovely times. Below is the story of that trip and the people I met on the way.
A SCOTTISH TALE
Picture if you will a man of mature years, no longer young and yet no longer old, well let’s be honest, he is sixty years of age but he feels much younger. But look that’s enough about his age because we have to get on with this wee tale otherwise we’ll be here all bloody day. He is sitting by his fire in the drawing room of his comfortable house by the sea on the south coast of England. He is wearing a pair of dark trousers, a white shirt and sober tie, a pair of serviceable brown leather shoes and a brown jacket made of the finest Harris tweed. His left hand is resting on the arm of the chair but somehow it is not at repose and he is holding a pipe in his right hand which is suspended in mid air. The pipe is merely for dramatic effect for he is a non-smoker. Both hands are trembling but this not because of any inner turmoil for he is perfectly content in his thoughts which are travelling far, far away from this present scene. You may wonder, therefore, why his hands are not still. The reason for this is that he has a degenerative neurological condition called Parkinson’s Disease. In other words, he is what some people call a Spaz. Sitting at his feet is a woman young enough to be his daughter. She is twenty seven years, nine months and 2 days old exactly. Indeed it is his daughter. She looks up at the man and sees from the misty eyed expression on his face that he hasn’t been listening to a bloody word she has been saying for the last twenty minutes so she tries a different tack.
‘’What did you do in the war, Daddy?’’ she enquires gently.
The man suddenly awakes from his reverie and looks down at her with incomprehension.
‘’I wasn’t in the war, stupid, I was born in 1951’’ he says ‘’but….’’
And his voice tails off as his eyes lift up to resume their gaze into what seems to be another world which lies beyond the four sturdy walls which enclose this cosy domestic scene.
‘’But, what, Daddy?’’ replies his daughter whom, despite being somewhat chastened by his calling into question her mental capabilities, continues speaking in a soothing caring voice.
‘’But……I was in Edinburgh from the 29th of November and the 1st day of December 2011’’ he continues, his voice now almost a whisper.
The girl moves as if to rise but she remains sitting, her eyes wide open and her breath short as, all of a sudden, she becomes captivated by the look of sheer wonder on her father’s face.
‘’And what happened there?’’ The words could hardly struggle through her lips so taken was she by the small but beatific smile that was beginning to play on the corners of his mouth.
He beamed as his eyes pulled away from the distance and he looked down upon her with all the love he had felt for her over the last 27 years, nine months and two days exactly.
‘’Well, l met an Irish woman, a Frenchman, a Polish woman, an Englishman, a Scotsman and a Scots woman’’ he replied happily.
‘’Is this one of your awful jokes?”
‘’No, no. This is a true story. The Irish woman was called Claudine Quinn. She was like your cousin Olivia and your brother Tom all rolled into one, a veritable whirlwind with a capital ‘’H’’. A dynamic ball of fun and lively intelligence. A woman of many talents who could cook and sew and sing and dance and make historical and artistic references until the cows came home and usually all at the same time and fuelled by an indefatigable energy and in a raucous Irish brogue and at the speed of a really speedy cartoon creature bouncing from one place to another crazily and yet with the grace of a ballerina.’’
‘’And what about the others?”
‘’Well, Claudine lives with the Frenchman whose name is Julien or Jules for short. He is the most delicate of men. His body is slim and his face is open and honest - almost innocent - and he moves with a deftness as if his feet are hardly touching the ground. His voice is light and melodic, utterly suited to singing tuneful songs accompanied by his guitar the strings of which he plucks with strength and assurance borne of a deep love and understanding of music.
Claudine and Jules have a friend called Lucy Kendra whom I think is Scottish. She has a beautiful round face and dark eyes and a golden red head of hair. I am not very good at colours but the colour of her face, her eyes and her hair reflect the undoubted warmth of her character which rolls over you like a pleasant morning sun. She is talented too. She is a graphic artist but she trained originally as a musician and she sings with a clear, silken voice. She is an observer but she can inhabit and fill the room with sweetness and delight.’’
‘And the Polish woman. What was she like?’’
‘’Her name is Sylwia Kowalczyk. She is of medium height but appears taller because she is quite commanding in that she appears to hold strong opinions and beliefs but she is a person who is both interested and interesting. She has the deepest of dark brown eyes, almost black, but they are alive with ideas and her love of Art and Life. She is married to Simon Croft who is a very gentle and handsome man. A former lawyer whom I think is English but who speaks Russian fluently. Obviously highly intelligent and yet he communicates with his fellow man with a deference and humility that is beguiling and attractive due in large part to his eyes which smile with both tenderness and wit.
‘’You mentioned a Scotsman – what about him?”
“Ah! The lovely Laurence Winram. A large strong man with almost too much enthusiasm and love of life to keep inside himself. When he works, he dashes from one spot to another using up so much energy that he is breathless at the end of each jump and skip. He is like a little boy in the playground never still searching for weird and wonderful ways in which to express himself.’’
‘’ So, how did you meet all these people and do they all know each other? What did you do with them that clearly was so wonderful over those three days in Edinburgh,?”
‘’I think I can say that I was called to them somehow in some strange way. You know this photography project with which I am involved?”
‘’Ye-es I know the photography project with which you are involved – this isn’t an English exam for God’s sake. Speak normally. You mean the one where you are always stripping off and showing your willy to all and sundry?’’
‘’I don’t always strip off and I don’t do it all on a Sunday either – ‘’
His daughter yawned at the silly joke
‘’ – but, yes, that project’’ he continued ‘’Well, one day last summer I went to Brick Lane in London to se the degree shows of this year’s photographic graduates and I was looking at the show set up by the students of Farnham Art College and then happened upon a display by Claudine and almost before I saw her photographs, I was attracted by the ideas expressed in them. She was standing by her stand, as one does, jabbering away at a hundred words a minute to another visitor and realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to stem the flow of words gushing from her mouth, I decided to make an entry in her comments book and I bent down and wrote ‘’Yes!’’ on the open page. ‘’
‘’You mean like John Lennon wrote when he saw Yoko Ono’s work for the first time?”
“In a way, except I am not one of the Beatles and I have no intention of having an affair with her or getting married and living in a bag and then thirteen years later getting shot by some weird crazy git on the steps of the Dakota building in New York ….’’
‘’Alright, no need to be sarcastic. Get on with it’’’
‘’Anyway, as far as I recall, Claudine stopped talking this other poor visitor to death when she what I had written and we chatted about her work and my project and agreed to contact each other. Subsequently, I contacted Sylwia having seen her work in a magazine and then Laurence, having seen his work in a book. It turned out that they were all based in Edinburgh and all knew each other. And what was so wonderful about those three days? It was magical. They made me feel so welcome. They exploded with joyous enthusiasm as they told me what they wanted to do when they photographed me and they took me to their hearts as if I was one of them, one of their family. I love them so much for that.’’
‘’What, as much as you love me and Mummy and Tom?”
“No, in a different way. Laurence wrote to me afterwards and said very kindly that I had a big heart. If that’s true then it is because all these beautiful people I meet squeeze into my heart and make it bigger so that then I have more room to accommodate the love I feel for them. A different love to the enormous unconditional love I feel for you and Tom and Mummy’’
His daughter stretched and yawned.
‘’Yeah, yeah, yeah’’ she said as she got up off the floor and pursed her lips in fake jocular disapproval of the whole thing and wandered out of the room leaving her father to his thoughts and memories of cheese scones, shaving cream, raspberries, clicking shutters, Rocky Raccoon, gift-wrapped chocolates, a red silk toga, a naked traveller, warm hugs and kisses of welcome and of farewell, Scottish taxis, platform 2 on Waverley station, paper plates, drumming on butter, Conemen, tightrope walking, adjusting lights, setting the focus, taking light readings and
crumpets for breakfast……….