In February 2013, just after we moved here from Japan, Louise and Fred came to stay. They had travelled from Australia via Eire for a funeral, and were very sad and tired.
Last week, they were here again. This time though they had travelled that huge distance for a wedding. The sister of the sibling who had died – committed suicide, with her body never recovered from the ferocious depths of the Atlantic Ocean – was getting married. A happier more optimistic time, the sense of which they carried with them across the Irish Sea to join us here in Perthshire.
No sooner had they settled in than Pam and Jacob arrived, to doss down in the oshotei, our name for the working space across the garden from where I am writing now. (Oshotei = the bush warbler’s hut, in Japanese.) Roughing it on the sofa and floor was better by far than camping, they both affirmed the next morning.
Louise, Pam and I go back a long way, to the mid-1970s when we were all working in publishing in London. Our three bearded partners, Fred, Jacob and Akii know one another only through this association, but have met often enough over the interim period to form affection and friendship.
But still, years had passed, and Louise and Pam had not seen one another for over a decade, except via Skype. They had all stayed with us in Japan at differing times, but how would it work in another time, place and space, three couples sharing a cottage on the Isle of Skye for four nights?
We need not have worried of course. Everyone took change – the many transitions we have gone through in our lives – in their stride, mostly by making adjustments in expectations and assumptions.
Louise had started out as an editorial assistant on a book I was editing. Now she is an passionate ecologist and the author of several books on Australian wildlife. Very much the scientist these days.
Pam’s third job out of university was on a magazine. (I was the editor of that too.) It’s where she learned to knit and indeed, at any opportunity on Skye – mostly in the evenings – she would return to working on a complex Fairisle-style sweater that left us open-eyed with admiration. (As for the tea cosy she knitted freehand as a gift when we moved here – Scottish thistles in the round – an inspirational one-off.)
Jacob is a restoration joiner and carpenter. A perfectionist. Which is why is has taken him 12 years to get to the point that Pam might soon have a kitchen in the chapel he is renovating near Matlock. (It was years before she even had hot water!)
Fred is an artist, concerned with pushing colour and line to their limits. He and Louise recently moved from Sydney into Nature, where he was looking forward to building a huge studio to work in now that both have jumped off from, and out of, the career rat run.
Akii? Well he now works as a translator (English into Japanese ), and being like the others in his early sixties, still very active. Me being ten year on leaves me behind in some respects, which is why when they all went hiking as a group, I spent much of my time gazing out to sea, scribbling lines of poetry, checking out studios and workshops, and giving lifts to a few of the many young people hitch-hiking their way around the island.
Pam and Louise share a passionate love of the novel. In fact much of their time together was spent sharing titles, authors and opinions. During the last ten years of my time in Japan I read fewer and fewer stories and became much more concerned with non-fiction. I think I got to the stage that I wanted to learn rather be entertained, and the obsession with clever writing – mind over matter – became increasingly repetitive, dull and meaningless. At best I would read, admire and then think, Yes, but so what? What have I got out of this experience? All too often the answer was little to nothing. I know that story telling can carry us into other worlds, but I am more concerned with being 100% awake in this one: the here and now.
Often as I sat looking out towards mainland Scotland, I saw monsters racing across the mountains and moors. Monsters that clawed and writhed or gently swam, changing shape in tune with the clouds above. Friendly enough from my perspective, but hard to imagine how people from centuries ago viewed and survived their landscape. Celtic-Gaelic fairy stories are dark and fear full (as in filled with fear) and it’s easy to understand why many gave up and migrated elsewhere.
When Pam returns home, she and Jacob will cycle from Derbyshire to Venice, camping along the way, ahead of a family reunion in Italy. She then plans to work on a book that has been in her head for decades. Much is on paper already, written in first person and autographically based on an expedition in the Himalayas she made with another climber that first turned sour and then went horribly wrong. She knows it does not work, and is thinking to turn it into a novel, allowing imagination to have its way with any residual anger and regret.
Louise also wants to try her hand at creative writing. But being such a rationalist these days may find it harder to let go… allow right-brain to intuit, dream and imagine in ways that logical left-brain finds it hard to allow. It will be a different kind of writing for sure, and I can’t wait to read… Maybe it will evolve out of her purchase of land that she intends to conserve and protect, allowing eco-systems to self-nurture and generate. A new kind of writing…
As for my own projects, I have a completed draft awaiting a final edit and layout. But I’m held up by the problem of time lapse. It was written in Japan, and I’m no longer there. How to make sense of this? How to make it clear to the reader that the house I am showing them around – our house in Zushi – is no longer our own? This is my Autumn challenge of returning over the sea from Skye.
Which considering I spent most of my time gazing back to the mainland, might have been the better title for this posting: Over the Sea from Skye (again).