Off to Scotland again, for the hills
And the weather; leaving Edinburgh
To its festival, escaping the arms of
Glasgow: with its cultural cargo:
The bird that never flew: I flew, but left
A large piece of my heart there, for ever!
We’re headed northeast, avoiding Glencoe.
We want to let go, have a holiday!
To forget the memories and relax
To walk in the Cairngorms, see Inverness,
To brush through the heather, see an otter,
Find an eagle feather, free of all stress.
As we approach the foothills near Athol
Our wee country lane fords a trickling burn.
We slither out to stretch stiff limbs,
Arrested by the faint skirl of bagpipes
Drifting hauntingly from the dark forest.
And for a moment I am caught again
In Memory’s grave and gloomy glen.
The lilting tune brings waves of sadness
Warped by the breeze into dreamlike madness:
A pibroch of longing, the stench of battle,
The lowing of highland cattle, a bleak,
Icy morning, a drummer’s death-rattle,
My footsteps clacking on wet bleached pebbles,
Surprised by the shrill notes of the chanter,
Become, by some malevolent magic,
The apocalyptic horsemen’s canter.
But, as swaying branches dance round the trees
Like fading remnants of a bygone era,
I hear songs for the troops by a girl called Vera
And my emptiness, my not-belonging,
My exile in too many other nations,
All the bullying humiliations.
Gradually morph to better memories.
The road trip up to Ballachulish in
An old Ford Prefect, past Loch Lomond,
Over the pass by Rest-and-be-thankful,
Steaming flasks of coffee by the roadside,
Sipping hot liquor from a Bakelite lid;
Sunday roast outside the central hotel:
Tartan rugs and gate-leg tables, beneath
Black and white half- timbered gables;
Local accents with their sing-songy tones,
It’s luffly! Fair warm now the rain’s stopped.
My dad’s favourite stories told yet again:
De ye mind the time we broke doon near Troon;
How the petrol pump attendant ran the whole toon;
His decrepit hotel with no hot water;
That awffy damp smell and his cheeky wee daughter;
Breakfast was over by the time we came doon.
Grandfather’s small-holding, sweet-pees in bloom
The green houses, the old railway carriage,
Where Jock and Nessie had their honeymoon.
The drafty old barn, the milk churns, the trike,
The disused field where the boys would take turns on the wartime dispatch rider’s motor bike.
The dirt track to the woods, the lookout point,
The tops of dock cranes by the Clyde, through the mist,
The dead rowan tree where the girls could be kissed:
The site of many-a-manhood initiation.
Then suddenly, whoosh … thud … I’m back,
Sixty years on, our supposed vacation;
The wind deflowering the trees high above:
A poisonous confusion of power and love;
And higher still the ruthless jet-stream roars
Beyond the control of mere human oars.
M R McBride