Tag Archives: Green

The Way it Happened

There now, I have chopped off half the winter.’ Traditional tale ending.

Chapter 33: The Way it Happened

The old man sat back in his battered armchair and groaned. ‘Ah, my bones. This cold has made them worse than usual. They ache like a seawife’s heart for her drowned sweetheart.’ Snorri wore a thick Icelandic cardigan, patterned with snowflakes and sunflowers.  His craggy face was like a map of sorrow and hardship, and yet there was a spunk of fire in his eyes beneath the kindling of his eyebrows. In contrast to his stiff, jagged body his hands were mercurial, conjuring gods and monsters out of the air with the simplest of gestures.

Around him in the Harbour Master’s Office, where he had temporarily taken up residence, sleeping in the lighthouse, and running a scratch school in the office while the main school remained closed, were the children of the community, those ‘not too old’ for stories or too young to understand, although some infants lay curled against their mothers, who helped run a makeshift nursery between them. Others had ‘called by’, on some vague errand, and lingered in the doorway, eavesdropping with a mixture of scepticism and amusement.

Snorri’s afternoon story sessions were becoming a popular fixture of the community. In the gulf left by online entertainment folk had taken to making their own again – board games, singalongs, drumming circles, and storytelling.

‘So, nobody wants another story do they? You look tired. Perhaps you should all go home and have a nap…’

‘One more story. Please…!’ cried the children.

He raised his bird-hands in mock defeat. ‘Very well then. Only one more mind. Then it’s hometime. Otherwise I’ll be run out of town, for leading you all into the hillside of tale like some Pied Piper. Which one shall it be? Scary? Sad? Funny?’

‘Tell us about the end of the world again!’ someone cried, and others joined in, echoing the sentiment.

Snorri laughed, stroking his fox-like beard. ‘The one I told yesterday? And the day before that? Ah, you have appetites worse than Thor! Y’know, once he dressed up as a woman to fool the king of the Frost Giants and win back his hammer, Mjolnir. Thrym liked the look of this fine figure of a woman – bearded and bicepped – so much he decided to marry her. At the wedding feast Thor ate a whole ox from tail to horn, eight mighty salmon, all the cakes and sweets, and two barrels of mead, which impressed Thrym even more!’ Everyone laughed and Snorri went to get up and leave.

‘Stay! We want our story!’

‘What?’ He smacked his forehead. ‘Plain forgot! My memory! It’s like a Swiss cheese in a colander!’ He settled down again, scanning the eager faces, lit by the candles set up around the room. ‘Very well, then. Let me tell you about the end of the world. This is the way it happened…’

‘Our Eddy, yes! Eddy Leif Redcrow of Gimli, Manitoba! Icerider! He who had crossed the Atlantic Ocean on his iron steed! Friend of giants and foe of demon raiders! He had a difficult job to do! He had to reach Law Rock, the ancient rock in Thingvollr, the crack in the world, where all the laws of Iceland were proclaimed. Why? Because there he had to recite the Runestone given him by his grandfather, my old dear pal, Running Bear, may his spirit be at peace in the arms of the Great Creator. If he could he could bring an end to the war of the gods that had locked the world in an icy embrace. He could bring an end to the end. Unfortunately, between him and his goal there was that loathsome trickster, Loki, and his hellish hordes: wolves! worms! trolls before them! Ice Force shock troops behind! The chasm of the sundered world below!’

The audience gasped in delightful terror.

‘But our hero was not alone! Oh no! He had mighty friends! Odin One Eye, the Allfather, riding his eight-legged steed, Sleipnir! Tear, god of war, who, with one hand could do more damage than a ten men with twenty! Rig, the guardian of Bifrost, blower of the great horn that woke the gods! And the rest of the Raven god’s crew – Will and Way, his powerful brothers! Fearsome Frey! And let us not forget the formidable Fenja, the frost-giant’s daughter who had melted Eddy’s heart! They led the Wild Hunt into battle – the final battle that they would fight! Many others had been lost along the way. It had been a hard road. But soon all would be reunited in Odin’s hall! This was the day foretold by the Weird Sisters! Ragnarok! The twilight of the gods! The world had endured the terrible Fimbul-Winter! Frost giants had walked the Earth, crushing humanity beneath their big boots! The Death Ship, Naglfar, made from the untrimmed nails of the dead, had sailed. The legions of Hel herself had sallied forth, raining down fire on the world! Surt woke up and his breath choked the sky! The Sons of Muspel rode out and nowhere was safe! Even Gimli!’

He looked around at the adults, who now were hooked too.

‘Yet Gimli was foretold to be where survivors of the end of the world would live … it is the place protected from the fire! We’re tough! We fight! And we protect our loved ones! But without Eddy’s bravery we would never know safety! The place more beautiful than the sun would always live in the shadow of conflict! And so the Wild Hunt had to do what they did, for us all. For communities like us across the world. For people who didn’t even believe in them, who didn’t even know they existed! Their sacrifices that day would be forever unknown if not for the one who survived … but I get ahead of myself! All things in order. Everything and everyone must play their part in the web of wyrd. Ask the Weavers!’ He pointed at the women in the room. ‘They know! They understand! The warp and weft… there must be a pattern to it, a sequence!’

‘We’d better not let you near a loom then!’ one of them called, and they all cackled.

‘Harrumph!’ His frown melted into a smile. ‘So, the Wild Hunt fought against Loki and his lackeys – and what a battle it was! There, where the world is sundered. If it was not already so, the force of their clash would have broken it in twain! What a sound! The Earth shook!’ He stamped his feet up and down on the floor-boards, making a dull rumbling sound. ‘The sky was shattered by lightning!’ He weaved his hands back and forth, his rings glinting in the candle-light. ‘Crash! Boom!’

The young audience gasped in mock-terror and delight, while some of the adults rolled their eyes.

‘The outcome of such a battle was very close. Very close indeed. Such valour! Such deeds were seen on the Plains of Vigrid that day! It was the ultimate Holmgang—’

‘What’s that?’ asked a wide-eyed child.

‘Well, little one, I’m glad you asked. Holmgang is a Norse custom for settling disputes. The two feuding parties would go to an island to sort out their differences – only one was allowed back. It was a fight to the death. As it was that fateful day! One by one, the mighty gods fell – like tall trees in the forest. The Allfather is eaten by Fenris the Wolf in gigantic gulp…’ Roaring, Snorri used his arms to mime the jaws snapping shut. ‘Like that!’

The audience gasped.

‘Tear is torn apart from Garm, Hel’s own hound, while slaying it with his dying breath!’ Snorri growled and howled. ‘Frey and Surt destroy each other. Biff! Bash! Pow! And Rig, wily Heimdal, runefather and friend to all, falls at the hands of Loki, even as he delivers a fatal blow to that double-tongued trickster! And like trees in a storm, the rest of the Elders of the Wild Hunt topple. But they’re deaths are not in vain! Eddy reaches Law Rock, guarded by Fenja! He pulls out the runestone and … he can’t read it! It’s all in runes! A fatal flaw in the plan! All their deaths in vain!’ He smacks his brow in disbelief.

‘No!!!’ the children cried out.

‘Except … Fenja, she blows wisdom into his mind – puff! Like that! And suddenly, he can understand the markings! A-ha!’ He points a finger up in the air.

‘A-ha!’ the children echoed, mirroring his gesture.

‘He starts to recite the runic inscription, as the gods die around him, and the remains of Loki’s horde swarm towards the rock! Fenja fights them off as best she can, but she is hideously outnumbered. She can only hold them off for so long… All seems lost…’

Snorri looked around and saw even the adults were awaiting his next words with baited breath. The candle-light seemed frail in the gloom. This golden circle of humanity, so precious, so fragile.

‘Then Eddy’s words, spoken with power – he’s not a rocker for nothing – were finished. There was a vacuum of noise into which all the din of battle was sucked.’

Snorri paused for effect. You could hear a pin drop.

‘And then a great blast of energy rippled out from Law Rock across the Thingvollr, across Iceland, across the Atlantic, across the world! KA-BOOM!’ He clapped his hands. ‘Eddy released the Ragnarok runes, encoded on the Vérendrye Runestone, lost but found, right here in Manitoba! Preserved for centuries by the Redcrows! The tablet crumbled to dust and blew away in an icy breath of wind. Whoosh!’ He flicked his hand.

‘Whoosh!’ the children copied.

‘Eddy lay unconscious on the Law Rock. All was still and silent. Slowly, painfully, he revived. A patch of blue appeared in the sky overhead, and a shaft of sunlight pierced the gloom. Sunlight! Golden, like the hair of his beloved… Fenja! He got up and saw her at the foot of the rock, her broken body on a pile of the demon hordes. “No!” he cried, and stumbled down to her. Her body was limp and lifeless. He held her in his arms and wept. They had won, but at what cost?’

Snorri looked slyly about the room and saw there was not a dry eye. Satisfied, he continued. ‘Eddy sat there for a long time, holding the body of his sweetheart, amid the corpse-strewn battlefield, a feast for crows. If the Valkyries moved among the valiant, taking them to Valhalla, he could not see. All he saw was the white landscape running red with blood, his heart as black and as cold as the rock he sat upon. Then a slit appeared in the freezing air, glowing bright blue. It widened and heightened until a giant was framed. It was the King of the Frost Giants! Eddy was too weak, too bereft, to move, to react. If his time had come, so be it. But the frost giant wept too – tears of ice – and, reaching down, tenderly picked up Fenja and, turning back into the portal, carried her away.  ‘Wait! Stop!’ he cried, but it was futile. The King disappeared into Jötunheim, but, strangely, the portal remained open – and looking closer, Eddy could see, on the far side of the mountainous plateau, another portal, and through that, he saw … home! Gimli!’

 A cheer went up.

‘And so he took his leave of that place, where his words had healed the wound of the crack in the world. He stepped through the portal and …’

The arrival of another made Snorri stop and everyone looked up.

In the doorway, looking weak, but alive, was Eddy Redcrow.

‘Hey there! Am I missing anything?’

***

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

Legs of Man

Steam Packet Company provides update on refunds after 2020 Isle of Man TT  Races cancelled due to coronavirus crisis | Belfast News Letter

@POTUS47

3.43am

THIS VOLCANO THING IS RUINING MY GOLF COURSES IN LEPRECORN-LAND. SOMEBODY NEEDS TO FIX IT PDQ!

3.55am

I WOULDN’T PUT IT PAST THOSE SMURF-FUCKERS TO HAVE TRIGGERED IT ON PURPOSE. NOBODY CLOSES DOWN OUR AIRSPACE! NOBODY!

3.58am

I ONCE STAYED IN REKVIK. BAD MISTAKE!!! THEY SERVE YOU ROTTEN SHARK MEAT, FOR FUX-SAKE!!! DARK AGE RETARDS!!! STILL, I MET THIS STUNNER THERE, A 5 (DON’T TELL THE 1ST LADY) ;0) BOY COULD SHE RAISE THE GEEZER. DFGERG.

Chapter 4: Legs of Man

As the ramp slammed into place, the bikers queuing up warmed up their engines. The main bay of the ferry was almost entirely taken over by the riders, and, as Eddy noted, they weren’t the shiny weekend biker types. And there was a notable lack of the ubiquitous Adventure guys on their copycat GPS’, or the sports bike brigade in their garish leather jumpsuits. These were the grungier kind of biker – the notorious outlaw ‘one per cent’ – all on growling beasts of black and chrome: hogs or Victories or some Triumph Rockets. Many were marque-less, customised beyond recognition. And the riders wore their patches proudly on denim cut-offs over leathers. The Wild Hunt and the Devils Hogs seemed to be the most common. They queued up on opposite sides of the deck, an uneasy truce between them. The tension on the ferry had been palpable. A few fights had broken out on the bar. Chairs and tables had been smashed up. A bar ransacked before they’d been able to pull down the shutters. At least one person had been thrown overboard. Some seemed to be delighting in the ‘good times’. Eddy kept a low profile, watching warily from a corner.

And now here he was, on his Ducati, sticking out like a sore thumb. He filed into line, taking his place in the pack – right at the back. He didn’t want to get in the way of these guys, the inevitable burn up as soon as the all clear siren blasted.

He was here with one purpose alone – to find Fenja. He just needed to keep his head down. Not get into a fight. He was all too aware though, having been to biker rumbles in the States, how easy it was to find your self on the wrong end of a fist, especially if you were prowling the bars, scanning the biker women. Just looking in the wrong direction was enough to get yourself glassed or worse. Bikers were often cavemen like in their manners, but even more so when it came to their women – fiercely territorial, ready to violence, to defend their mate against a rival, yet all too keen to parade their trophy in front of everyone, happy for them to prance around in leather bikini tops and micro-shorts, take part in wet t-shirt contests, and egg them on into bitch-fights. No wonder so many of their pillion squeezes end up joining all-female biker gangs.

The siren sounded and there was a mighty roar from the collective engines. And the torrent of bikers broke onto the quayside of the island like a black wave.

Eddy was one of the last to exit, following the pack at a safe distance.

So, here he was. The legendary Isle of Man, home of the TT – biker Mecca for millions. Yet it was no Tourist Trophy that had brought all these petrol heads to the island this time. It was ‘the Gathering’. Word had gone out and bikers had come from all over Europe. It was already being talked about as the biggest biker rumble in history.

 As Eddy rode out along the promenade, he could believe it.

The seafront of Man’s capital had clearly seen better days. It had an old-fashioned air about it. The horse-drawn trams (made nervous by the bikes), retro amusement arcades, white painted phone boxes, and faded glory of it all hinted at a heyday long passed. The waves of visitors had receded to foreign shores, drawn away by cheap flights and fairer weather. It clearly tried to make the most of its vintage ambience, but felt more like a jilted bride stuck in her threadbare wedding dress, clutching a bouquet of wilted flowers.

Yet in the sharp light of the new day it took on a different aspect, taken over by the hordes of bikers. In front of the crumbling guest houses row upon row of gleaming bikes lined up. Gangs of one-percenters cruised up and down the main drag, pulling wheelies, or buzzing pedestrians. Seagulls squawked angrily, but for once their racket was drowned out by the rumble of engines. The air reeked of petrol, hot pipes, rubber, and pungent leather. It was like riding into the encampment of a medieval army, freshly landed and preparing itself for the invasion of the interior. Ellen Vannin was about to be ravished.

Is this the way the world ends, Eddy ruminated. Not with a bang, but with a rumble?

He’d never seen so many bikers together. Sure, he’d seen plenty of photographs and footage of Chapter rallies, but little of that kind of thing happened north of the border. Gimli, Manitoba was not known for its bikers. Eddy was a bit of a black swan there, but even more so here. He was never more aware of his redskin amid so many white males. Under his helmet he was still anonymous. One of ‘them’, of the two-wheeled genus, Homo Automatous, if not a specific sub-species identifiable by patch.

Nervously, he cruised past the rows of ‘Devils Hogs’ – riders sporting swastikas and iron crosses on their jackets and open face-helmets. Many sporting similar on their shaven heads. Wearing the standard chopper shades, faces bristling with metal, he felt their dark gaze as he passed by on his incongruous Ducati.  Without a club he was vulnerable. Fresh meat. Eddy had never been a joiner, but he could see the merits of being patched up in a place like this. If a member is attacked, then the attacker has to deal with the rest of the club. This ‘NATO’-like rule (‘all on one and one on all’, as the Angels put it) prevented all out war breaking out, most of the time – although that didn’t prevented the long-running blood-feud of some gangs, most notoriously the Hells Angels and the Outlaws.

Here it felt like the tension was ready to spill over at any minute. The air was thick with it, just like the dark clouds gathering over Snaefell. For now, the silver blades of sunlight kept ripping through the high thin gauze of cloud over the coast. There was a crackle of energy in the atmosphere, fuelled by petrol and testosterone and it was exhilarating.

Beyond the Devils Hogs, who had claimed the first main stretch of promenade, Eddy was relieved to see other, less obviously xenophobic, bikers. There was a formidable looking female biker gang, sporting ‘Valkyrie’ patches. Eddy’s heart leapt in hope, but as he scanned them he realised his mistake. Some of them looked even more dangerous than the Hogs, and Eddy felt the sobering sensation of feeling vulnerable as a man, as their glares warded him off. They had staked their pitch, claimed their bars and hotels, and abandon all hope, any man who dared to enter. If Fenja was with that lot, he didn’t stand a chance.

Eddy’s stomach growled and he could murder a coffee, feeling sluggish after the early crossing. He scanned the front for a spot to pull in by a decent looking café, but nowhere looked particularly safe. He would just have to take his chances.

Spotting an obviously popular ‘greasy spoon’ type diner, he backed his Ducati in between the ranks. Boldness was the key. Look like you’re meant to be there. He killed the engine and dismounted, trying to maintain a confident swagger – hard, when he was a feeling a bit spaced out from long hours on the road, lack of sleep, and sustenance.

He locked his helmet to his handlebars, and donned his shades, and went to queue up. The smell of coffee was good; the waft of cooking even better; and he started to consider the menu items.

‘Hey, ass-wipe, out of the way!’

Eddy turned to see one of the Nazi bikers growling at him, clenching his fist. His face was mask of metal and ink – his eyes burning with hostility, filed teeth bared.

‘Hey, no problem man. I didn’t realise you were in the queue.’

The shark pressed his face towards Eddy. ‘I am now, and you’re in my way!’

The crowd immediately around them started to circle, sensing a fight. A bunch of the Devils Hogs circled behind Eddy, cutting off any retreat. It was a no-win situation and he wasn’t feeling suicidal. He had other priorities than getting to Valhalla today. He lifted up his arms.            ‘Sure, go ahead. My mistake.’

‘Being born was your mistake!’ hissed the shark, before head-butting him.

Eddy’s nose exploded and there was a blur of fists and boots as he was laid into before he was able to react and defend himself.

Suddenly, the reality of what was happening to him kicked in, painfully, and adrenalin started to surge through his veins. He fended off a blow, and managed to regain an upright posture, squaring off to the attacker.

‘Ahh, look, he’s trying to play. Out of your depth here, kiddo! Striking a Devil’s Hog. You’ve just signed your death warrant.’ The shark man raised a spike ringed fist, ready to land another blow. His comrades closed in around Eddy, ready to do this same.

Suddenly a tall, red-headed figure burst into the circle in a drunken manner, falling on his face. He picked himself up and dusted himself down. ‘There you are, you big red eejit!’ He grabbed Eddy by the bloody collar, holding back shark-man with his other hand. ‘Jeezus, sorry to break up the party here, fellas. This prospect shite is one of ours.’

The Devil Hog members scanned the patch on the Irishman’s back.

‘That’s roight, Banshees. No messing with the Fenians. We’re practically on home turf here and there’s an awful lot of us here. And we’ve been on the Jamesons all night. A little dust-up would set us up grand for a fry up.’

The shark man spat on the floor at Eddy’s feet. ‘I won’t forget you, Redskin…’ He jabbed two fingers towards his own pinprick eyes, then at Eddy, before nodding to his mates, and slipping back into the crowd.

The Irishman gave Eddy a wink. ‘I think you owe me a fry-up.’

Eddy spat a gobbet of blood. ‘I think you’re right. Thanks.’ He held out a hand. ‘Eddy Redcrow.’

‘Daniel O’Donnell.’

Eddy raised an eyebrow.

‘Nah, only shiteing ya. Mikey Heffernan at your service. Most folks call me Bog. Don’t ask why. I like a scrap as much as the next mad Irish bastard – and there are plenty of them here. But I like fair odds. Now, is that bacon I can smell?’

‘Now, let’s get this straight,’ said Bog, as he licked his fingers. The remains of the breakfast lay scattered around him. The man had a mighty appetite, that was for sure. ‘You met this Nordic bird escaping the Euro-clusterfuck. You gave her a lift; she gave you the horn. You had a flight home, but decided to come here and try to find her.  A single biker-lass on an island of about a million and counting…’

Eddy took another slurp of coffee, wincing at the pain in his mouth. That shark-bastard had loosened one of his teeth.

‘Here, this’ll help.’ Bog produced a hipflask and poured some of its contents in his mug, before taking a long sip himself. ‘Ahh, top of the morning to you! Here’s to the wild lasses that laugh as they break our hearts…’ And he burst tunelessly into song:

‘There’s nought but care on every hand, in every hour that passes oh,

What signifies the life of man, and tw’ere nae for the lassies oh.

Green grow the rushes oh, green grow the rushes oh-oh

The sweetest hours that ere I spent, I spent among the lasses-oh.’

Eddy laughed, winced, and sighed. ‘When you put it like that, it sounds daft, I know. But …’

‘You’ve never met anyone like her in your life, she’s the rosiest of roses…?’ Bog’s eyes twinkled. ‘Ah, only joshing ye, Red. I know the feeling all too well. It was the rose of Galway that did it for me… Mother Mary, she had thorns!’

Eddy was lost in his own fond memory. ‘There was something about her… She had a … magic about her. Made the pumps flow…’

‘Well, I never heard it put like that before!’ Bog chuckled. ‘But seriously, what does she look like. I’ll definitely keep my peepers peeled. Nothing better than eyeing up the lasses. Could watch them all day…’

‘Tall, blonde, slim, kick-ass. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her.’

‘Sounds like you need her as your bodyguard, fella. You need to watch your red arse around here. There are some folks who are none to friendly to anyone looking ‘different’.’

Eddy rolled his eyes, ‘I’ve noticed.’ He took another swig.

‘Bloody ironic, though, isn’t it, when half of bloody Europe is here. It’s like fekkin’ Eurovision out there.’

They both watched the motley array of bikers cruising up and down, the diverse reg plates, and flag patches.

‘Seriously though, get yourself patched up before you get yourself killed.’

‘I’ve never been much of a joiner.’

Bog seized his wrist. ‘Now’s the time to fekkin’ start. The chips are down, my friend. I’ve got an awful feeling that this muvva volcano shit is just the start. Who your tribe is, who’s got your back, is going to be difference between life and death. Mark my words.’ Bog raised his flask and emptied its contents, smacking his lips.

Eddy brooded on this. He’d never felt part of a tribe, even his own back home. Being a breed made it hard to fit in anywhere, to truly belong. He was always the outsider. Not quite fully First Nation, not quite fully Icelandic. He knew he had Nordic ancestry, yet half of Gimli boasted ‘Viking blood’. Was it such a bad thing?

Bog stood up, somewhat unsteadily. ‘Hey, listen up. I like yous, fella. Don’t get yourself killed, but get your red arse to Peel. That’s where the Nordic bikers are heading, I’ve heard. Plus the Ruskies, the Poles. All those loonies.’

‘Where?’

‘Far southwest of the island. Big castle overlooking the beach. Can’t fecking miss it. They’ll all be camped out there, making offerings to Odin, all that shit. If you’re gal is anywhere, it’ll be there. Sounds like her crew.’

‘Cheers, Bog.’

‘Go easy. See you around, I hope.’

The Irishman staggered off, and though he bumped into a couple of customers, he was tall enough for them to think twice at taking on an Irishman loosened by alcohol.

Eddy finished his coffee. ‘To Peel, then.’

***

Thunder Road – coming soon …

Extract from Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

NEXT CHAPTER

The Choice

Duchess  Roxie       American  Oilfield  Steer        American Oilfield Team  ⛽ #Support  #OilandGas   #Jobs ⛽

KOIL FOR OIL (primetime advert)

This great nation was built on oil. Over the last few years previous administrations have tried their best to dismantle the industries that have made our country the greatest, wealthiest, most powerful, on Earth. But no more! During his hugely successful campaign President Koil promised to reinvest in fossil fuels and he has delivered, for he is a man of his word. Over fifty billion dollars has been invested in oil, coal and gas since he returned to office. Our great president has personally overseen the launch of state-of-the-art oil rigs; the reopening of car plants, coal mines, and new extraction methods. His programme has created new jobs, new homes, new wealth. It has got this nation on its feet. America is working. The wheels of industry turn once more. The President always keeps his promises. Koil for America. Koil for oil.

Chapter 3: The Choice

Eddy awoke, shivering and damp. The ferry ploughed its way through the white caps, creating a see-saw motion which made him queasy. His travelling companion was nowhere to be seen, and for a second the unsettling thought crossed his mind – that he had dreamed her into being. And yet, her bag was still next to his in their temporary ‘nest’. He picked it up, and slinging his own over his shoulder, made a quick reccy of the deck.

It was early morning. Dawn was a red smear in the east. The chilly fog, bitter on the tongue, dissipated the sunlight in a thin veil. Seagulls keened noisily overhead, skirling about the funnels, which belched their grey smoke into the air. 

Towards the rear of the deck, overlooking the stern, he found her – her tall, slim figure a dark outline against the pale mist. As he approached he heard her speaking – a strange guttural tongue – to herself, to the sea: 

Mæg ic be me sylfum soðgied wrecan,
siþas secgan, hu ic geswincdagum
earfoðhwile oft þrowade,
bitre breostceare  gebiden hæbbe,

gecunnad in ceole  cearselda fela,
atol yþa gewealc…

The lonely sound seemed to echo the bleak vista; the haranguing gulls; the tang of brine. Eddy sensed a deep longing and loneliness in her words which echoed his own emptiness – something he had never been able to articulate or even acknowledge until now.

Sensing his presence, Fenja stopped mid-sentence. She turned and he saw the glister of tears in her eyes.

‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.’ He ventured closer. ‘It was … beautiful – weird, but beautiful.’

She scowled at him and went to light a cigarette, covering her lighter with the flap of her jacket.

‘What did it mean?’

Fenja took a drag of her cigarette and scanned the skein of wave-patterns unravelling from the wake of the ship.

‘It’s just an old poem…’ she shrugged dismissively.

‘Please, I’d like to know.’

Fenja gave him an appraising look, and then exhaled a wraith of smoke. She continued, shifting into English: ‘…atol yþa gewealc … the terrible tossing of the waves, where the anxious night-watch often took me, at the ship’s prow, when it tossed near the cliffs. Fettered by cold, were my feet, bound by frost, in cold clasps, where then cares seethed; hot about my heart – a hunger tears from within the sea-weary soul.’

‘Wow, that’s pretty awesome. What language is that?’

‘An old one, spoken by seafarers who crossed this Whale’s Road, as we do – to Britain.’

‘Far out, Fen. Were you a literature major or something?’

She looked at him scornfully.

‘Mm, shall I get us a coffee?’

She nodded.

‘Frappacino, right? Brrr. It’s chilly enough for me. I need something hot! Seeya in a mo.’

Fenja watched him go. Then turned back to the waves, she continued, a little contemptuously:

‘That man knows not,
to whom on earth fairest falls,
how I, care-wretched, ice-cold sea
dwelt on in winter along the exile-tracks,
bereaved both of friend and of kin,
behung with rime-crystals. Hail showers flew.
I heard nothing there but the sea’s sounding,
ice-cold wave.’

Fenja didn’t seem very talkative after that, although Eddy was full of excitement at their crossing. They were making progress, albeit painfully slowly. After twelve hours the gloomy coast of Britain appeared and by then Eddy was glad to see it. The sea seemed to put his companion into a strange mood. He was looking forward to being back on dry land – with two wheels under him and the road stretching ahead. He’d been checking out the route on his phone, and just before they docked, he approached his impromptu passenger with a suggestion. She scanned the dreary docks of Hull with cold eyes. It didn’t look promising.

‘Well, this is the parting of the ways…’

Fenja shrugged.

‘Listen, I have a suggestion to make.’

She turned to look at him – stiffening.

‘No, nothing improper. I know you’re not the kinda gal to try it on with…’

She narrowed her eyes to slits of ice.

‘Not that that wouldn’t be nice…’

She glared at him.

‘But what I wanted to say was – how about I give you a lift to Liverpool. That’s where the ferry leaves for Man, doesn’t it? Where your big powwow is?’          

Fenja sucked on her cigarette, scanning the docks. ‘Very well.’

‘Cool!’ Eddy went to high-five her. ‘Looks like we’ve got a deal.’

Fenja stubbed the cigarette off on his palm. The flesh sizzled, reeked.

‘Ow!’ Eddy looked at the burnt hole in his hand in disbelief. ‘Jeezus!’

‘But keep your hands to yourself!’

She slinked off, as the tannoy announced disembarkation.

They got out of Hull as quickly as possible, taking the York road – when it soon became apparent the motorway was gridlocked. It was early evening and the plan was to get at least as far as that city before they stopped for food. The ride to Liverpool would take roughly two hours twenty, but Eddy was determined to make the most of it. There was something about Fenja that … fascinated him. Yes, his hand still smarted – making gripping the handlebar uncomfortable –  but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d been drawn to something bad for him, as Siggy, his sister, would no doubt point out. There were a dozen messages from her on his phone, and half a dozen from his Mom, but he held off answering them. They could wait.

He had a hot one on his hands.

Eddy’s first impressions of Britain weren’t promising. The hinterland of Hull was, frankly, depressing. None of the charming quaintness he’d come to expect from cheesy movies. Red double deckers and postboxes, old-fashioned ‘bobbies’ on the beat, Big Ben and Olde Worlde pubs serving warm beer. It wasn’t even raining! It just looked drab – worn out suburbs and Legoland shopping centres, dismal high streets lined with empty units and big shed industrial estates.  The countryside wasn’t much better … it seemed threadbare somehow. Of the picturesque villages and rolling, verdant hills he saw little evidence. Not so much the Shire, as just ‘shite’, as he overheard a local say when they stopped for directions – laughing coarsely. The people around here seemed, well, just odd. Hard-looking, unwelcoming faces like the grizzled coast-line: stern cliffs lashed by bitter seas.

At one point, pausing at a black-and-white striped pedestrian crossing, Eddy smiled as he saw an obese bald man in a tattered dress pushing an empty pram across – excruciatingly slowly. He tapped his fingers impatiently on his handlebars – until halfway across the bald man turned and shouted: ‘The voices in the sky told me it’s not safe for you to ride your bike.’ Eddy laughed about this with Fenja, but it rattled him a little – especially his passenger’s sober response. ‘He’s probably right.’

‘Come off it! Do you listen to voices in the sky?’

Fenja nodded. ‘You would be foolish not to.’

Right. Eddy had had his belly-full of such bullshit from both his grandfathers: incomprehensible Icelandic sagas from Gunnar (may his liver rest in peace); hokey Medicine Way shit from Running Bear. He’d grown up with it. Ever since busting out of High School, he had done his damnedest to avoid all of that hocus pocus. The only medicine he needed was rock and roll, a cold beer and a hot babe.

At York they stopped for fish and chips: they had to try them, Eddy had insisted. They sat by the castle ruins, watching the lads and lasses out on the town in t-shirts and mini-skirts. Eddy was impressed by the brevity of attire the local girls wore, or rather didn’t, considering how parky it was (according to one of the lads, brassing it out bravely, pint in hand). Fenja jabbed at her fish it suspiciously with the wooden fork.

‘Boy, they’re pretty hot around here. Alot of blondes – they look a bit like you. But not as …’

He remembered the cigarette butt, and held back. ‘How’s the fish.’

‘Good.’

‘Better than these chips. I could only manage half of them.’ He belched.

Fenja didn’t react.

‘How about we go for a beer?’

‘How about we go?’

‘Hang on – you’re not doing all the driving. It’s a long ride after a long trip. What’s the rush?’

‘Why would I want to spend a moment longer with you than I have to?’

‘Hey, and I like your company too, Fen. You’re a barrel of laughs. You need to lighten up.’ He threw the rest of the chips in the bin. ‘I’m going for a beer. You can walk to Liverpool if you like, or come for one to wash down this English grease.’

On the way to the nearest pub they passed a visitor centre. Fenja froze outside and gazed through the glass at the display – a Viking longship.

Eddy whistled. ‘That’s was one helluva boat! Look at the dragon-head!’

Fenja started to recite something, but Eddy couldn’t catch it.

‘Pity it’s closed. It’s gone five. C’mon, let’s go.’

The glass doors of the admissions area suddenly slid open and Fenja walked straight inside. ‘Hey!’ Eddy went to follow her. ‘You can’t go in there! It’s clo—’ The glass doors slid shut in his face. He banged on them, but Fenja had walked inside the museum, out of sight.

He paced up and down for a bit, wondering what to do – then decided a beer would help.

Fenja found him in a local pub, sipping gingerly on a pint of dark English ale.

‘Did you have fun?’

‘My people…’ Her eyes were full of light. She seemed happy.

‘They didn’t catch you then?’ 

‘My people!’ she called out, grabbing his pint and raising it in toast, then she set to downing it in one, before Eddy could stop her.

‘Hey, buy your own!’

When she finished she slammed down the glass and smacked her lips, wiping the froth with the back of her hand. A ripple of applause and a few cheers went up around the bar. A loud track kicked in on the juke-box. She started dancing, to wolf whistles – pulling Eddy up off his feet. He was a bit embarrassed at first, but was soon caught up in her enthusiasm. It was good to see her let go – and boy, did she let go! She started to dance wilder and wilder – grinding and gyrating amongst the men, who began clapping and stamping.

Suddenly, from the other side of the bar Eddy could see policemen in their distinctive black and Nor’man-shaped helmets. The landlord pointed over to Fenja.

‘Quick, we’ve got to get out of here!’ Eddy grabbed hold of the dancer’s hand and pulled her towards the door. Laughing, she danced out into the street.

The police tried to barge their way through the beefy clientèle but the drinkers barred their way, knocking over stools.

‘Come on!’ Eddy ran, and Fenja sprinted beside him – as easily as a deer. They raced around the corner, out of sight of the pub and headed down a narrow side-lane in the general direction of the bike. It paid off – they appeared right next to it. Eddy unlocked it, and chucked Fenja a helmet. ‘Get on!’ He gunned the engine and they roared off, Fenja singing behind him.

They stopped a safe distance outside the city, pulling over on a layby along a country road. The sun was low in the sky – briefly showing its face beneath the lid of clouds. Pulling off their helmets, they both laughed with relief. They had got away!

‘What did you do back there to raise the heat?’

‘Oh, just a little sight-seeing.’

Eddy raised an eyebrow. ‘What is it with you and electronics? You seem able to affect them…’

‘Oh, nothing. It must be my natural … magnetism!’

‘You’re telling me. You had those guys lapping out of your hands in the pub. You’re … quite a dancer.’

‘And so were you…’ She pulled him closer. ‘You have a wild side too, Mister Redcrow.’ She pressed against him. She held him there for a minute – groin against groin. He could feel the heat of her loins.

‘Damn, I need a slash. Hold it right there!’

Fenja laughed and let him go. When he came back she was on the back of the bike, helmet on.

‘Let’s go, Redcrow!’

Arms folded, he looked at her in disbelief. She was pulling the strings alright! He shook his head. On a whim, saluted.

‘Yes, ma’am!’

‘Are you sure you don’t want me to wait with you?’

They were standing outside the ferry terminal at Liverpool. It was dark.

‘No, you go on. You have brought me so far.’

‘Well … look after yourself.’ He shuffled awkwardly. She handed him back the spare helmet.

Fenja pulled him to her and planted a hot kiss upon his lips. She lingered there and something crackled between them.

For a moment, Eddy looked at her – her elfin face close to his. Then, settling into it, he closed his eyes.  

There was a flash and crack – and an image streaked across his mind’s eye like a sigil of lightning. An intricate knot of sharp lines – three interlocking triangles – scolded into his mind like a brand.

And far off, inside, reverberating through his whole body – the sound of thunder.

Eddy started shaking. His limbs … wouldn’t stop shuddering. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know—‘

She placed her finger upon his lips, then turned on her heels and walked away.

Eddy shook his head, tried to recover. ‘Wait! Will I see you again?’

She paused and looked back briefly. ‘If the Norns will it.’

And she was gone.

Eddy crashed in a backpackers. He was wiped out and slept like a dog – snoring loudly – much to the annoyance of his fellow dorm-mates. The man below kept kicking his bunk, trying to make him shut up. The pounding became thunder in his dream. He was chasing Fenja across a rocky plateau where rock pools bubbled and steamed. Above, a sky dark with storm cloud. With each flash of lightning he caught a brief glimpse of the sigil from Fenja’s kiss. It seemed to whisper to him, something he couldn’t quite catch in a strange language. Just on the cusp of hearing it a heavy kick from below woke him up – he sat upright in his bunk, body clammy, breathing heavily.

For a moment, in the dark, he wasn’t sure where he was.

Then the smell of socks, of body odour, brought him back.

Sighing, he flopped back onto the mattress and was soon fast asleep.

He rose late and missed breakfast. The bunk-kicker was gone. The dorm empty except for his belongings, which he checked. Nothing missing. After freshening up, he grabbed a coffee and a snack from the vending machine and decided to check his emails.

There were about a hundred from his sister.

Sighing, he clicked on Whatsapp. Typed ‘S’. It would be about eight over there – if he was lucky, he’d catch his sister before she went to work.

Finally, she answered.

‘Sizzers, hi!’

‘Eddy, is that you, you dirtbag? Christ, where have you been? We’ve been worried sick!’ Her voice was a little distorted. Not a great connection, but it’ll have to do.

‘I’m fine…’

In the background he could her hear the sounds of the kitchen. The TV. Voices.

‘Wait a minute.’ She turned down the breakfast show. ‘Mom! Dad! Give me some space here. It’s Eddy! I know… I will … Just let me talk to him for now, okay! Sheesh!’

‘Sounds like all is well…’

‘Now you listen up, Eddy!’

‘Uh-oh, it’s that tone,’ he groaned. ‘Tsunami warning.’

‘Damn right. You’re way out of line. Not returning our messages. Letting us worry. We’ve been following the news and it looks like a real shit-storm over there in Euro-land. When we heard that Candy got back, we didn’t know what to think. I managed to collar her at Tergesen’s. She said you had split up. She didn’t have anything nice to say about you. You’ve blown it, little brother. You really are one tremendous fuck-up.’

‘Oh, here we go again.’

‘Yes, again and again – until you …’

‘Get a life, I know the drill.’ Eddy had heard this a thousand times before. ‘“When are you going to get a proper job? When are you going to settle down?’”

‘Eddy, you can’t be a teenager forever! Most of us grow up. You waste your talents in part-time jobs…’  

‘It supports my music career…’

‘Music career? An axe-man in a pub rock band. The Runestone Cowboys…? How are you ever going to be taken seriously with a name like that? As far as I can see you guys just play for beers and kicks. As long as you can ride your little bikes and squeeze a few little chicks, you’re happy.’

‘Yep, that about sums it up. Simple needs: the secret of happiness. When was the last time you were happy, sizzers?’

‘How dare you! I love my life. Mom, we’re leaving in five!’

‘You were always the smart one – you’ve got a degree in history. First one in our family to graduate.’

‘The only one, by the looks of things.’

‘And what you’re doing with it? A clerk in a bookstore.’

‘Hey! You know how hard it is to get a job with a History degree? Anyway, Mister Forbes’ List – don’t lecture me on career choices!’

‘Ah, it’s just like old times. Absent makes the heart grow fonder, hey?’

‘I’m … sorry. But I … care for you, you dumb ass. Don’t waste your life away.’

‘Jeez, big sis. I luv ya too.’

‘Then listen up, you big lunk. There’s a job going at the local garage – they need a bike mechanic. I got chatting to Bill when I took the old jalopey in for its MOT. I said you’re pretty good with the tinkering. He told me you should give him a call. ASAP. Otherwise, someone else’ll get it.’

Eddy looked out at the street. The traffic. The pedestrians. Everyone rushing somewhere. What was he doing with his life? Where was he going? Did he really want to be a part-time rocker forever? The aftershow parties were good – but … what about his band? There never seemed to be enough time to organise themselves. They played the same old bars, going round in circles.

‘Well, thanks, sis – my career advisor!’

‘Don’t mention it, jerk. Call Bill, and come home.’

Eddy let out a sigh. ‘Okay, will do. Tell Mom I’ve booked a flight from Aberdeen, Scotland. I’m heading up there now. I should be back in a couple of days.’

‘She’ll be relieved. You take care, bro. Love.’

‘Love you too, sizzers. And … thanks. You’re a pain in the butt, but you mean well.’

‘Ring Bill! And get your red arse back here! No excuses!’

‘Not even a volcanic eruption!’

‘That’s nothing compared to your big sister’s temper!’

Eddy laughed. ‘Give my love to Mom, Pops and Grandpa. See you soon.’

Eddy rode. He had a big grin on his face. Rock music blasted through his earbuds as he revved the bike along the long road North. The northern English landscape was craggy and bleak, jagged fells looming out of the mist beyond the thin ribbon of road – which seemed vulnerable, as though its fate depended on the whim of angry gods, brooding from the mountain fastnesses.

Yet Eddy felt for the first time in a long while that his fate, perhaps, was in his own hands. The freedom of the road fostered that illusion – and he made the most of it while he could, for he knew, the further north he went to narrower his options would become.

Yet he had little choice, it seemed.

Aberdeen was the only airport still open and allowing flights to the US and Canada – for now, although who knows how long that situation would last? How many of his fellow countrymen were making their way their right now? Eddy took some consolation from the fact his bike allowed him to make swift progress. The travel chaos had infiltrated Britain like a virus, as they had discovered on making landfall – but it was with a warm feeling he reflected back on his brief time with Fenja. She was out of this world, that gal – so utterly other that it blew his mind! There was an aura about here – a fearless freedom, trouble, headfuckery weirdness, whatever – but Eddy found it intoxicating. He was hooked, and going cold turkey seemed less and less appealing.

Eddy pulled over at the brow of the hill. He had reached the English-Scottish border – the bare hills stretched into the grey distant: a kingdom of wind turbines and forestry plantations. He was expecting something more impressive. Border control. Heavy security. Instead, there was just a snack-trailer, portaloo and a sign, covered in stickers and graffiti, saying ‘Welcome to Scotland.’  It was hardly the Tex-Mex crossing.

Eddy looked at the long road ahead – two hundred miles to go to Aberdeen. He could make it by late evening, and catch the first flight in the morning. He’d managed to reserve a seat before he left Italy. He was one of the lucky ones. But then he contemplated a night in an airport terminal, the long flight. The prospect of a real job when he got back… He’d spoken to Bill earlier and he seemed keen for him to start as soon as he got back.

Eddy chewed things over as he devoured a roll, sitting outside the roadside café in his leathers. He’d come so far… A few more hours and he’d be home. His holiday would all be over. What a fuck up it had been!

Well, not quite.

He circled the butt-burn on his palm, smiling fondly. That kiss! And there was the dream. The sigil. Her strange songs. Her dancing. Her way of making things go haywire. That woman had magic!

Then his sister’s nagging came back to him, and beyond that, the chorus of disapproval of his Mom, Sitting Cloud; his father, Magnus; and his grandfather, Running Bear – buzzing in his mind like the midges of Manitoba. All telling him to: sort himself; eat well; man up; or, follow the good Red Road.

 Eddy closed his palm, curling it into a fist.

‘Screw it.’

He got onto his bike, fired it up, and turned it back – to the South – shooting off down the road.

Overhead, the glowering skies flashed with a sigil of lightning.

***

Thunder Road – coming soon…

Extract of Thunder Road by Kevan Manwaring

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2020

NEXT CHAPTER

My Garden Universe

A garden universe in Stroud

A garden universe in Stroud

 

My garden universe, on the cusp of autumn – I walk up it at the beginning and end of the day, natural diurnal punctuation, the parenthesis in which my life fits. The various fruit trees this neck of the woods is graced with are like sephiroth on a Tree of Life – or one of the nine worlds of Norse mythology… Appleheim, plumheim, pearheim… I pick blackberries in the rain, and my fingertips turn pink. I return to the hyperabundance of the orchard and pick a bagful of different varieties (and some plump toms).  Then, one more time for kindling. Thank you, bountiful garden. Now I have a crumble in the oven and firewood ready for burning. Its lashing down on my conservatory, but my heart feels blessed.

Since moving into my new place in August I’ve seen the fabulous garden (shared with my landlords) in its summer glory, and now laden with autumn riches. I am loving ‘tending the hearth’ (inside and out) and feel blessed to have such a space. This Sunday was a particularly idyllic day – I awoke in my bell-tent, where I had decided to spend the night, to the most perfect autumnal day, the trees emerging through the morning mist, slowly burning off in the light of the new sun. Richard Jefferies wrote that ‘the dawn makes a temple of the Earth’, and that’s how it felt that day. I made porridge on my stove in the tent, and picked blackberries from the bushes to go on it. I greeted the day with my ‘Sunrise Praise’ then set to picking apples – for today was ‘juicing day’. Our neighbour had made a hydraulic apple press, and everyone on the street was bringing their apples to press. Picking fruit is a soothing and satisfying thing to do. This is ‘hand-to-mouth’ living the way nature intended.

apples from the garden

apples from the garden

Ready to wash

Ready to wash

After getting washed and dressed, I helped wash the apples collected from our mini-orchard with the children. The youngest rescued ‘chucky pigs’ – her cute name for bugs – from the dunked apples. C turned up and when went for a spin on my motorbike to May Hill – walking in the footsteps of Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, exactly a hundred years on from when they first met and started to forge their creative friendship – supporting each other in their writing, while living a stone’s throw from each other near Dymock with their wives and children. They enjoyed long literary rambles, which they termed ‘walks-talking’, and visited May Hill on several occasions – a noticable landmark in this part of Gloucestershire. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we trekked up through the woods to the hilltop. Sitting on a bench we had our packed lunch whilst enjoying the stunning views over the Severn – which snaked like a silver serpent in the distance. We read out poems in situ – most notably ‘Words’, which was written on the summit.

Reading Edward Thomas' 'Words' on May Hill, on the 100th anniversary of Frost and Thomas meeting, 6 Oct 2013

Reading Edward Thomas’ ‘Words’ on May Hill, on the 100th anniversary of Frost and Thomas meeting, 6 Oct 2013

When we got back we chilled out a bit, listening to a Poetry Please special on Charles Causley, (well C knitted socks while I had a bardic siesta ;0) before taking down the bell-tent, which had been up for a couple of months – it felt like ‘rolling up summer’, or ‘bringing the hearth inside’, as C put it. By the time we had lugged everything inside, there were three bottles of apple juice awaiting us and a small jar of tomato chutney – what riches!

Improving your socks life - with C.

Improve your socks life – with C.

Apple juice from 'Chateau Richmond' - freshly pressed

Apple juice from ‘Chateau Richmond’ – freshly pressed

Autumn Riches - tomato chutney, cobnuts, acorns and mushrooms

Autumn Riches – tomato chutney, cobnuts, acorns and mushrooms

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

With a bag of apples from the garden, we made a Dorset apple cake; and then I made a nut roast for our main course. Later, by a crackling fire we shared stories we had written – the perfect end to a perfect autumnal day.

A garden feast

A garden feast

Notes from the Garden…

(I’ve never been green-fingered, and normally like nothing more strenuous than hanging out in my hammock in the garden, but something about this new place inspires me to get ‘stuck in’ – there are raised beds, fruit trees, peace and space. It would be a crime not to make the most of it).

Fungal treasures on our autumn walk - best to check that mushroom guide!

Fungal treasures on our autumn walk – best to check that mushroom guide!

A local heaven

A local heaven

Tuesday 9 October

I pick apples from the espalier, near where the bees buzzed around the lavender only a few weeks ago. Logs are stacked from a tree (sadly) felled to make room for the conservatory – now my dining area. Clearing room for new growth is a part of the life-cycle of all things – if there is no break in the canopy, new trees cannot flourish. We all need some light, rain and soil, and deserve a place in the sun. In the summer, I sit by the woodstack, where windchimes spiral lazily in the breeze. Behind, a compost bin is like a seething cthulu city – its pungent loam rich, dark and warm. A yew tree shelters a cross-section of bikes – in ascending sizes, like a tree-ring of childhood. The hedgerows are neatly cut back – given a sensible short back and sides for winter. Leaves from the three plane trees planted by the owners, lie curled and brown on the lawn like screwed up of poems. The ash tree – a witches knot of trunk and branches – sits in the corner in its own realm, laden with bunches of ash-keys, wreathed in ivy, overshadowing the swings like a kindly old crone waiting for a visit. The brambles have lost most of their bounty now – the few remaining berries losing their sweetness daily. Leaves like tongues turn to flame – the colours so livid, as though they have been dipped in dye. There’s a brown patch where the tent was – the hole of summer. The tomato plants have so many red fruits – like a collection of clown noses. The apple trees, stripped of their casual treasure, have been pruned back. At the top of the garden, a secret realm – of hidden delights: a plum tree, a pear, a giant Scots Pine, guarding the border of our kingdom like some wizened sentinel. There’s a through-route for a family of foxes, their den nearby. One night I saw a trail of their burning eyes, caught in the beam of my headtorch. A pile of undersized apples moulders on a neighbour’s compost heap like unwanted metaphors – our windfalls are collected for Paul’s pigs. Standing amid the orchard is like suddenly stepping into a fairy tale – you are presented with a Goblin Market of choice. A grey cat appears – its fur like smoke. It sidles up and mewls like a baby, letting me stroke it. The walnut tree has been ransacked by Ratatosk – but I’m just as guilty, scrumping the toms, I carry a load back in the belly of my cardy like some marsupial papoose, hoarding autumn – the last blessings of summer.

The embers of summer

The embers of summer

In Pursuit of Summer

On the shores of Loch Maree

On the shores of Loch Maree

Life on Shuffle

Arriving to stillness. The patter of tiny raindrops on the slender tent; the baaing of sheep; the wind through the birches; and a distant murmur of life beyond the moor – yet here I feel the delicious solitude. I have arrived at my first destination: the Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor – a small stone circle, surrounded by at least seventy cairns – within a birch grove (nearby is the village of Birchover). It feels good to be on my way – and wild-camping at last (much better than a campsite, which I nearly went to, fatigued from my journey and floundering – yet I persevered; found the Cork Stone entrance and parked up). I made myself some food before striking out across the Moor in the twilight – eager to find the stones and pitch my tent before it got too dark; and I did it! So satisfying to find them (no convenient signposts). Even more satisfying to be finally on my way after days of intensive ‘loose-end tying’ and preparation. Fraught farewells; threshold guardians … Now very tired – not feeling eloquent (yet) but hoping the Nine Ladies will bring me inspiration – as I journey to the Castle of the Muses. I feel I am on a mythopoeiac ley-line of sorts – my own songline: one I hope will take me all the way to Callanish (Gaelic:Calanais) for the blue moon. But for now, the old moon is dark, and I feel tired from the road. A good ride here, with my music on shuffle. Turning the wheel again.

The Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor

The Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor

Under the Weather

Perhaps imagination of dark, withered and sodden land, and the change threatening; helped to perfect that sweetness which was not wholly of earth. Edward Thomas

Thomas describes the weather with such precision, lingering longer than he should on its description – the embryonic poet inside the critic dragging his heels, as he embarks upon another ‘hack job’. He leaves London ‘under the weather’, hypersensitised to its whims – taking its unpredictable moods personally. In an extended pathetic fallacy, he describes climate as though he was describing his soul.

Edward Thoma poet

Could it be that the weather is not a barometer of the self; but vice versa – that the Earth’s ‘dis-ease’ manifests in us, its symptoms acted out by human weather-vanes? This notion of ‘bringing the weather with us’ became a throughline for the trip. I was challenged by heavy weather on the way up. It did not let up, making it harder going – challenging my tenacity, my morale. It is hard to stay postive when you have been riding through driving rain all day, and everything is soaked – it creeped into my tankbag, a rain tide-mark edging the pages of Thomas’ book.

The rain was lashing down the day I set off for Scotland. It had been the same old story all ‘summer.’ I use the term lightly – it seems to have disappeared – flown north by the sounds of things; according to the reports of fine weather in the Highlands (‘Sixteen weeks without a drop of rain,’ observed a tough old walker, met later on the shores of Loch Maree). Enticed by this; and inspired directly by Edward Thomas’ classic travelogue on two wheels, (In Pursuit of Spring, 1913), I began my own cycle tour, 99 years on, with 900 ccs more horsepower, on my Triumph Legend motorbike – on pilgrimage to Calanais for the blue moon – via some personal SSSIs (my Sites of Specific Storytelling Interest), starting with the Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor. Here, I would begin my courting of the Muses, that would culminate (I hope) with the lunar communion at Calanais, if the Goddess is with me. Along the way I would consider the Other – who has tagged along for the ride no doubt: a stowaway in my psyche/cycle – a shadowy figure I have yet to meet… (Thomas, in his factual travelogue, describes his encounters with the mysterious Other Man, who appears to be a shadowy alter-ego). At the Nine Ladies stone circle this mysterious ‘other’ seems to be symbolised by the outlier monolith known as ‘The Fiddler’ – masculine in his solitariness, compared to the communal feminine of the circle. Another distinctive stone, the Cork Stone, also stands alone at the other end of the moor. As I set up my slim tent at Nine Ladies, a man in dark clothing lingered in the stones, occasionally kneeling or inspecting the stones. I called out to him ‘Evening’ – he responded with a wave, but did not talk. Seven sheep nibbled amid the stones – grey wethers come to life. A windy, eerie place. Slept when I turned northwards.

Next day, after quickly striking camp in the driving rain and thawing out over a quick coffee at the nearest pitstop, I pushed on to my next Muse-site: Long Meg and Her Daughters – a stone circle east of Penrith. Here, I met a retired Geordie engineer, who walks his dog up to the stones every day and never counts the same number of megaliths twice.

Rest and Be Thankful

Rest and Be Thankful

The Road Between

The Earth was the rooks’, heaven was the larks’, and I rode easily on along the good level road, somewhere between the two. Edward Thomas

Taking the A6 north, (snaking caduceus-like alongside its motorway counterpart) I crossed the Border with a Braveheart whoop – Freedom! The road opening out before me, inviting me on, like the smile of a bonny lass. Quick coffee in Langhame, then a winding back road to Lockerbie, through mist and wildness, entering an uncertain zone of transition. In Hero’s Journey terms, I was now in the ‘Special World’. Pushing on, through lowland Scottish towns; the bold lines and Megacity sprawl of Glasgow; over Erskine Bridge; up the flanks of Loch Lomond; then ‘over the hills and far away’ – beyond Rest and Be Thankful, down an improbably steep and winding track to Lochgoilhead. First glimpse of Carrick Castle – caught in the later afternoon sun. Arrival! Here, I would spend a week, writing and communing with the muses – a guest retreatant of the centre, run by Dr Thomas Daffern, peace poet and polymath.

The Redeemed World

Loch Goil

Loch Goil

Sitting in the sun by the shores of the loch. Shadow on the fine gravel. A single shell. Straggle of seaweed. The brown bubblewrap of bladderwrack. Deep blue loch. Deep green of the pine forest rising opposite to knuckle of rock – the bare granite summit opposite. A couple of white boats thread the waves. Lap of wave, gently swaying seaweed. Spaciousness. Solitude. Enjoying being still. In love with life.

The robin sang in one of the broad oaks, whether any one listened or not.

Edward Thomas

I stop and turn to look back, inland, along the loch – the beach making a clean right angle left, leading the eye. Birch trees in the foreground. Mountains, blue, purple and green in the distance. The water so clear here. Pebbles, like gems and jewels – gleaming beneath the surface. Perspective – of the road taken; a new path ahead, unknown. Sense of freedom and peace so rich you could slice it – break it off, like slabs of shortbread. The signal fades. Off the grid. Stones like fishscales on the beach. Chunks of quartz. Intense blue shells. Everything so vivid. The redeemed world. Redeemed by what? An act of vision? Of compassion; of imagination. By the simple act of deep appreciation, of gratitude. Letting it touch us (a furry caterpillar crawled onto my bag. I caught it in a shell, carried it to a leaf). A blast of fog-horn – I look across the loch. I see a train in the distance, threading thru the hills above Gairlochhead; then steaming inland, an old-fashioned paddle-steamer – like something from HG Wells. Red, white and black funnels. A crowd of passengers on the deck. Something splendid and stately about it. Something thrills the blood – then its gone. Civilisation (in a puff of smoke)?

With some relief, I left the intense eccentricity of the Castle, and headed for the Highlands – taking the scenic coastal route up the West Coast to Achnasheen – an Adelstrop of a train station – where I rendezvoused with my partner, J, and took her pillion, to our domicile for the next fortnight – on the coast of Wester Ross.

Tom’s Bothy

Tom's Bothy

Tom’s Bothy

We have arrived at Tom’s bothy, (a Stirling man, met at a Resurgence Readers’ Summer Weekend)… A lovely, simple cottage at the end of an improbable lane – a hairy ride on the bike! A wild, windswept coast – though peaceful and beautiful this morning. So spaced out with fatigue when I arrived – everything was a little surreal. After we ate an improvised meal I fell asleep in front of the fire – wiped out, relieved to have finally arrived. Slept well! Dog-tired. … Waking up it felt very different – the north wind had gone and the day was bright. We had arrived at Badininal. Tom’s family have been coming here since childhood. There’s a wonderful journal on the table in front of me – the Badininal Diaries – charting ten years’ of its history; guests; etc…. It’s very remote – Gairloch is the nearest town. There’s a pub at Badachro. The view from the conservatory across the loch to Strath, Lonemore and Big Sand. From the headland you can see a stunning vista – the mountains inland, and, across the Minch – the Western Isles: Lewis, Harris, and Skye. Things are on a different scale up here. It lends itself to big thoughts, big hearts. The bothy is well-made and surprisingly aesthetic – with a wooden interior. There’s a kitchen with a burner; and a living room where I made a fire last night. The water is from a spring. Gas-lamps and candles provide lighting. There is a first floor created in the attic space, with two bedrooms, and a third bunk on the landing. It is comfortable, solid and remote – the perfect bolt-hole. I can see why Tom and his family have been coming back here for many years. It is a place to retreat from the world; rekindle the flame; and seed dreams.

Venturing out, we visited the fabulous Hillbillies in Gairloch – run by The Mountain Coffee Company to promote The John Muir Trust. A cafe bookshop, this seemed an ideal place to hang out. After a lot of travelling, it was good to be stilll. (‘All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go… The spot where we chance to be always seems the best’, John Muir). We walked to Flowerdale waterfall – had a quick skinny dip – before the midges bit!

I went on more cheerfully, as if each note had been the hammering of a tiny nail into Winter’s coffin. Edward Thomas

The day after we had arrived there was a terrible tragedy in Gairloch Bay – two fathers, out sea-kayaking with their four children, ran into difficulties. Three of the children drowned and one of the men went missing. A Sea-King scoured the coast – passing right in front of the bothy, searchlight piercing the gathering gloom. Like us, these poor families must have gone ‘in search of summer’, but their pleasant outing had resulted in a devastating loss. Inexplicably, the day had been calm and sunny. What had seemed idyllic to us (on arrival) revealed a darker side. It (brutally) showed how nature is not to be sentimentalised. The sea has a cold heart.

The Truth is Simpler and More Grounded than We Imagine

There is a strong wind today. The sea is constantly changing – alive, swirling, the wind’s shadow moves across in pulsating rings of darkness. Deep blue, white caps out in the race, a thousand ships beseiging the coast, sails furled. Bands of marram grass in immediate foreground – sharp outlines encroaching on storm beach, scattered with loaf-sized rocks, graded into ever decreasing size up the beach. Shades of dark and light. Lichen and seaweed; then, submerging into the shallows where this morning J went for another dip. An elemental life. Fire. Water. Earth. Wind. Stars singing in the silence. The solace of sleep. The rhythm of sheep. Identifying seabirds. Mugs of tea. Head in a book. Heating water for a wash. The simple life. Hearty and satisfying. The truth is simpler and more grounded than we imagine. The bedrock of existence. Here, upon the ancient rock of this land, this Lewissian Gneiss, we hit the core reality. Terra firma.

The Wild Waits at the Edges

J. pointed out star moss on the way back along the lane to the bothy – and an orchid on the walk. I commented how plants liked to hang out with each other (e.g. gorse, heather, rowan, fern). J called them companion plants – loving the same soil, and altitude/light/drainage, etc. Like people, although perhaps not all. Sometimes I crave the opposite – feeling the claustrophobia of the centre, I yearn for the edges.

We kept our trousers tucked in – for the ticks. The midges weren’t a problem tonight – the wind had blasted them away. Apparently, their hyper-abundance has been caused by deforestation, resulting from the Highland Clearances. We would love to see an eagle, otter or pinemarten. The wild waits at the edges for us to be still and silent enough for it to let us in.

Badachro Bay

Badachro Bay

God’s Own Country

Walk from Redpoint to Craig Bothy (approx. 10 miles there and back). Sea very calm today – like quicksilver. Saw an otter this morning – dipping and rising in the water immediately in front of the bothy. …The staccato rhythm of walking. The body’s language. Putting our mind into our feet. Batteries run out on phone, but we have all we need. Heaven, despite the midges keeping us on our toes. Creation, creating and uncreating itself, before our eyes – in swathes of rain and light. The islands, like legends, faint outlines on the horizon – appearing, disappearing. Skye, vanishing into the sky. The Hebrides, fainter still. Walking through the rain. We saw it roll in. just in time to put on our waterproofs. Sting of sea-shower on cheek. Then, a glimmer – the sun breaks through. The world is remade. The sea, so alive – giddy with tide. We spot another seal, spy-hopping. We wave. I sing to it. No response. (He was obviously not impressed – I’d had better luck on Bardsey when I got a whole group of them to sing with me). We push on – ‘making time’. Reach Redpoint, just in time – as the storm hits, driven by the north wind. At the viewpoint we chat to a man from Kendal – in a white van with a collie with one white eye, settling in for the night with a bottle of wine and a book. ‘God’s own country’, he called it.

Wanderline

The weather changing so dramatically – from a sublime calm to this wild chaos. We wound our way back home along the wanderline of the road – as though someone had made it up as they went along (like Creation perhaps). Chilly ride back in blustery gale – damp and tired. It was a slog back up the track in the driving rain. This is the reality of Highland life. A taste of the Cailleach’s broth! This isn’t the Scotland of tourist shortbread and tartan dollies. We make it back with relief – got the kettle on and thaw out by the burner with a hot drink; drying our clothes on chairs. The primal imperative of simple survival is satisfying – but demanding. The Mountain Mother demands all from us.

With no wildness a landscape cannot be beautiful.

Edward Thomas

Wild beauty

Wild beauty

Skewered

A perfectly clear day – the sky cloudless above, fluffy clouds on horizon – the sea, an almost Mediterranean blue. We walked up to the nearest highpoint. Stunning views towards the Western Isles, and back across the mountains. Feels like anything is possible. Blue sky thinking. Sitting on ‘summit’ when a bird of prey (possibly a Great Skua) flies directly towards us – soaring overhead – and arching around for another view, checking us out. We played ‘I-Spy’: buoy; sand; lichen; yacht; island. The sea was like a blue wall – a sarong, or bolt of crushed satin, stretched from north to south. ‘I am so content, in this moment.’

God Looking Through a Keyhole

J. exclaimed, calling me out to have a look at the (nearly) full moon. The light was so bright we could play shadow-games on the wall of the bothy. We gazed at the moon – the object of our desire, the focus of our trip. I said that it was: ‘God looking through a keyhole.’

A Ragged Banner

Made it!

Made it!

Arrived at Stornoway – hooray! – after a ‘dramatic’ morning (line of tension – from Badachro to Ullapool – running low of gas, and out of time) and a spectacular, but very chilly, ride. We awoke at 5.30am – I made us tea, and we quickly got on our way. The sunrise set the sky aflame, a ragged banner across the mountains. To see the light return across an endarkened bay was … moving. All things are possible, it seems, when you arise with the new day, working with the diurnal tide. As George Harrison sang: ‘Daylight is good at arriving at the right time’. However, we should have heeded the Scottish Gaelic weather saying: ‘…when the morning sky is red, the hero Fionn would go back to sleep’, for, unbeknownst to us – we were riding towards a storm.

The Dancer in the Stones

Calanais - temple out of time

Calanais – temple out of time

We walked along the back lanes to the stones, which we could see on the hillside, silent sentinels of mystery. As we drew near we decided to experience them in silence. It was such a powerful, visceral experience – the stones were truly mind-blowing in their majesty. We had something akin to the consciousness of the pilgrim – slightly euphoric from the ardours of the journey and relief at getting there. We had made it! We walked the main avenue hand-in-hand, as though up an aisle. We let our hands linger over the glittering Lewissian Gneiss – like driftwood sculptures, honed by nature. They are extraordinarily thin and graceful. The thirteen central stones – standing around the tall central stone – are all the world like cloaked priestesses. They seem very human, caught sight of in the grey haze. The setting is truly spectacular – high up – surrounded by the loch, moor and mountain. One of the most dramatically situated circles I’ve ever seen – a truly World class temple (the last time a place had evoked in me such awe, was the Temple of Karnak, at Luxor).

Kali’s Ness

The slender

stones, like

figures turning.

Wise women,

cloaked figures

in the mist

standing tall

on the hillside.

Thirteen sisters

sharing their

(in) sights,

the moon’s dance

of veil revealing,

the rising of the

Pleiades. The

Old Woman of the

Moors, giving birth

hope re-gleams at

the darkest hour.

Tourist-pilgrims

glimpsed between

the negative spaces

of the stones, as

though they were

designed for this

peekaboo. Contact

and withdrawal;

sliding closer,

then away. Running

fingers over the

sparkle-stone,

familiarising

one’s skin with

it, like the way

lovers know

each others’ bodies.

We part, ships passing

lines intersecting,

diverging. A

plaid of light.

Riders on the Storm

Our visit to Lewis was a flying one – we could only manage a night at Calanais. Our time there was overshadowed by terrible weather. A storm hit, with 100 mph winds causing death (7) and devastation across Scotland. Riding back across the almost treeless interior in a gale was particularly challenging – right into the teeth of the wind. We felt the bite of the Cailleach – a fierce and fearsome presence. A local lass in a garden store called it dreich’. We took shelter in the Arts Centre Cafe, and dried our clothes out on the ferry as best we could. Wiped out, we decided to treat ourselves to a B&B in Ullapool. Things picked up when, warm, dry and fed, we went to the Ceilidh Place to enjoy some live music and sample the fine array of malts. A dram of Ardbeg hit the spot!

An Embarrassment of Riches

(Returning from Ullapool) we stopped for a cuppa at a beautiful river – wide and sparkling, which swept around in a big slow arc on its way to Gruinard Bay – descending in white rapids under the bridge. It was too good to miss, to cherish the sheer majesty of it all. If this was England, I observed, it’d be a major tourist attraction. Instead, such Scottish beauty spots – lochs, waterfalls, mountains – are almost two-a-penny. Scotland has an embarrassment of riches.

More Room to be Yourself

Wild and Free - the beauty of Scotland, KM

Wild and Free – the beauty of Scotland, KM

This big country lends itself to expansive thoughts and feelings. It lets the soul grow into itself – rather than shrink to ‘fit in’, as it sometimes does in cities and crowded lands. There is more room up here to be yourself.

The Tongue of the Lake

A bike-free day today and a local walk – from Badachro to South Erradale (at least, that was the intention). It was great to get to know the lay of the land with our legs. Just as we were about to set out it chucked it down – we waited ten minutes and it cleared and off we went. Badachro lives up to its name – the Bay of Saffron – the seaweed looking yellowish in the sudden intense light. After the rain, all of the colours seem to come to the surface. The blue of the inlet, the green of the hills, the distant blue of the mountains, and the scudding sky. A rainbow presented itself briefly. We pushed on – taking the footpaths over the hills. 5km it said on the sign – it felt like a lot more, as the going was heavy in places. The ground underfoot was boggy and we were walking into the teeth of the wind. The path peetered out by a loch – where we trod the ‘pathless path’. We stopped a few times, finding refuge against the rocks. The lichen on them stood out. Everything seemed more itself here. The light rippled on the loch in silent symphony – a local might describe the experience of this, ‘Teannalach’ – the tongue of the lake. As a farmer so beautifully put it: (quoted by John O’Donohue in Divine Beauty): ‘I can hear how the elements and the surface of the lake make a magic music together…’

I sort out a cave of gold (‘Uamh an Oir’) where a piper was said to have lured local children, Pied-Piper like, into the hillside, never to be seen again. I investigated with my head-torch, but only found flotsam and jetsam. (Later, though we were treated to a golden sunset – the true sun comes out when we let go).

Passing Beauty

A glorious day yesterday – the only day we’ve had when it hasn’t rained. We were determined to make the most of it, and planned a walk to Loch Maree (‘the most beautiful loch in the Highlands’). We took the stone path to Slatterdale – extremely well-made, to begin with anyway – constructed with solid wedges of stone, creating a stone age pavement – passing through a spectacular glen flanked by sheer cliffs. The day was dry and warm, mercifully for once, and it was pleasant walking conditions. I ploughed on ahead – it felt like I could go on for miles and miles.

Finding my gait – lost in the rhythm of the walk. Making my way, by my own efforts, through life. The path, a metaphor for the journey, its own destination. I push on, determined to reach the viewpoint for lunch – a goal, a reward – yet, as I do so, realising the absurdity of it. A ‘viewpoint’ is, after all, only someone’s point of view. We have ‘views’ wherever we look – the rocks below our boots; the star patterns of the moss; the brittle lichen. High overhead, an eagle keens. We pass a couple of walkers with their boxer; a runner in St Andrews’ colours; no one else. The peace falls upon us when we finally stop. It fills the glen to the brim. Waiting for us all along, to finally listen to it, to be. A place of wild beauty. The shadow of the wind on the loch, passing – like us.

The focus of Thomas’ pilgrimage was Coleridge’s cottage in Nether Stowey. It felt like our humble and remote ‘base-camp’ (Tom’s bothy) was ours. Here, off the tourist track, we found our Grail.

The Bothy of Lost Summer

The perfect place to write

The perfect place to write

So, we have come in ‘pursuit of summer’, in the spirit of Thomas – and yet I realise that summer isn’t (just) about the weather, about sunshine and t-shirt days – it’s a state of mind; or, rather, of being. And so it almost doesn’t matter where you are (although some places are undoubtedly more conducive) but the way you are. We have ring-fenced these two-three weeks as our holiday – and have dropped down into that day-to-day being. Slow time. Here-and-now-time. Being spontaneous – no timetable, except what we make. Creating it as we go along. Making-it-up-as-we-go.

Tom’s bothy encapsulates the spirit of lost summers – it is a temple of play and good times. Every detail attests to it: the cupboard of games and art materials – Scrabble, Monopoly, Jenga…; the wetsuits and flippers, masks and snorkels – and sea-kayaks; the wendy house in the woods – swings, ropes, balls, childhood heaven; the books; the Badininal Diary, describing ten years’ of adventures enjoyed by Tom,his family, and friends – catching fish, lighting fires, going for walks, sharing stories, singing and singeing sausages round the fire, football and ‘weeja’ board, ghosts and wildlife, local characters, days out, rain and midges, repairs and improvements. The folksy touches – the washstand, jug and basin; the woodstove and fireplace; the gas-lamps and candle-holders; the homely simplicity and unpretensiousness. The spare beds and chairs – for extra guests and unexpected visitors. The sense of wild freedom.

Tidying the place, we depart our home-from-home at the end of our fortnight stay and head east – via Inverness – towards Findhorn, to spend a night with a couple of friends, before heading south.

The Green Life

Pictish stone, near Dyke, with friends

Pictish stone, near Dyke, with friends

A sunny morning at Chris and Kirsty’s place (Am-Muillean-Dubh – ‘the Dark Mill’.). A perfect end to our trip. It has been really nice, enjoying some homely energy – a lovely meal, fire, conversation, soft bed, hot shower – after ‘roughing it’ for a fortnight (relatively speaking). Our hosts are an inspiration – Chris is a writer/therapist (co-author of ‘Active Hope’ with Joanna Macy); Kirsty, a historian. They are leading the ‘good life – their garden is an amazing cornucopia of fruit and vegetables, free-ranging chickens, a small forest, and two happy black labs (Millie and Zak). We sat around a fire last night (one of Bristol Kev’s fire-woks) savouring the dry, warm evening with a neighbour, Chris P (a musician who made rocket-stoves, builds round-houses, and doors). There was a good sense of community – sharing their garden with their neighbours, planning a polytunnel. This place feels like a fitting conclusion to my ‘quest’ in pursuit of summer. I found it here – on two golden days, with good friends, good food, and music around the fire. Chris played ‘Summertime’ on his mouth organ, while the neighbour picked away on his guitar. The stars glimmered beyond the alder tree, like dogs eyes’ glistening in the dark.

The Shadows on the Road

Here Be Monsters ... By Loch Ness

Here Be Monsters … By Loch Ness

You can’t follow the light without embracing the darkness – if you don’t own your shadow, it’ll manifest in extreme ways. Thomas’ certainly took his with him – his writing soaked in a melancholy tinge: ‘Robins and blackbirds sang while bats were flitting about me.’

The whims of the road, the fall of the weather, mirrored his shifting moodscapes. His comical meditation on weather-vanes (via his alter ego, the Other Man) seem to provide a metaphor for himself – blowing with the wind.

We can no more escape our Shadow than sunlight can. I realised my outer personality (what my students, audience, and some readers see) is the Summer Man; all the while, the Winter Man is waiting in the wings, lurking in the dark. He needs to be honoured to – with silence, space and solitude (which Scotland has in bucket-loads).

We can only shine, if we have the shadows. The days of sun more delicious and poignant because of their frequent absence. ‘And likewise, ‘good times’ are perhaps more so because of the more ‘difficult times’ that often frame them. Tiffs and squalls are inevitable in any relationship. Wherever you go – no matter how far – you’ll always end up meeting yourself. Yesterday, as we walked to South Erradale the line of the Crowded House song haunted me: ‘Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you.’ Summer is a state of mind – and it is so easy to have four seasons in one day; or, as the Gaelic saying goes: ‘A day of seven storms’. It certainly felt like we did, most days in the Highlands and Islands!

On return to Ullapool from Lewis, we had passed the Summer Isles as a storm blasted around us, sending tall waves crashing over the prow of the Caledonian Macbrayne ferry. Apparently, the islands were given their names because cattle swam across to them for their summer pasture. It felt like our taste of summer was equally as hard-earned – though more appreciated for it.

FIN

Bard on foot - trekking in the Highlands

Bard on foot – trekking in the Highlands

The Future Killers

The Future Killers

The-End-of-the-World-as-we-know-it Show - coming to a planet near you

According to the many news stories and articles about Climate Chaos, the future, it seems, has already happened. The carbon in the air will increase by so much, sea levels will rise by this amount, so many species will become extinct, so many hectares of rainforest will be razed to the ground, the Arctic ice-shelf will melt and major cities will be inundated. You can almost hear the doom-mongerers rubbing their hands in glee. Just like in one of those 1950s Sci-Fi movies, which echoed humanities nuclear night terrors, the boffins declare: ‘…climate change is a threat to civilisation as we know it*.’

Something can be learned from those wonderfully garish retro warnings ‘from the future’ – they confirmed a generation’s worst nightmares, but also sold popcorn and made your date hold onto you tighter. Scary movies got you laid. And somehow the human race continued. The world didn’t end, only the Cold War.

Yet in the cold light of our 21st Century dawn, it is undeniable that ‘something is rotten in the State of Denmark’. As McKibben said in Ecologist (Feb ’07): ‘The Something Bad is here’. Reality has become a Spielberg movie. Are we going to procrastinate like the fatally-flawed Prince Hamlet, until the polar bears become extinct – white-furred Ophelias, floating away, drowned in the ice-melt, no place like home?

Are we going to give up? Or are we going to do something about it?

Denial is not a river in Egypt

ignoring the problem won't make it go away...

The publication of the 700 page Stern Report on October 30 2006 stated the cold facts: ‘Business as usual is the economics of genocide.’ It hit the fat cats where it hurt, in their pockets. Basically, it makes quite clear denial is not an option. Stick your head in the sand and it’ll cost more in the long-run. Industry has to act. Going green is now di rigeur – greenwash is this economic cycle’s en vogue colour. Anyone in the market-place with products or services to hawk is now bending over backwards to be seen as green, even if it’s cosmetic green spin. Slap a worthy Fairtrade or Soil Association seal of approval on it and it’ll sell – consumerism with a conscience. Carry on shopping without the world stopping. But a more worrying trend has been noted by George Monbiot, in his Guardian column (30 Oct. ‘06) says: ‘There is one position even more morally culpable than denial. That is to accept that it’s happening and that its results will be catastrophic, but to fail to take the measures needed to prevent it.’  The denialists have become nihilists. Before it was ‘Climate Change is natural – it’s not me, guv,’; to ‘Climate Change is happening, it is my fault – but we’re doomed anyway, so I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing until it all goes tits up’. This is a kind of suicide that dooms us all – eco-cultural suicide bombing in the form of a 4wheel drive and a short-haul habit.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire

The apocalyptic warnings of the 1950s, a culture having atomic kittens, seem to have come true, but in a way unforeseen by Beatnik Cassandras. The classic British doom-movie, Val Guest’s intensely atmospheric 1961 film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, appears, in hindsight, to be the most on the money, and was eerily echoed in real newspaper headlines when both the Stern Report came out (‘The Day That Changed the Climate’, The Independent, 31 October 2006) and then the IPCC report (‘Final Warning’, front page of The Independent, 3 February 2007):  life mirroring art mirroring life – because the film is set and filmed in actual Fleet Street offices… In it, the Earth is jolted eleven degrees off-kilter by Russian and American nuclear testing – ‘Cold War’ brinkmanship ironically causing the planet to heat up… Well, we’ve discovered it’ll only take six degrees in the rise of the Global Average Temperature to fry the planet (as recorded in the IPCC report). So perhaps the actual day ‘the Earth caught fire’ could be recorded as being 2 February 2007 – when Climate Chaos became ‘official’, and the denialists had to finally concede that ‘human activity is the probable cause’ of Global Warming. The 2001 IPCC Report was humanity’s yellow card, the latest one is the red.

Six Degrees to Devastation

Most accept that a two degree rise in the Global Average Temperature is now inevitable –  and at only 2.4° ‘coral reefs [become] almost extinct’ and a ‘third of all species on the planet face extinction’. But that’s the ‘best case scenario’. According to the IPCC 2007 report, the ‘worst case scenario’ is a global average temperature rise of +6.4°: Most of Life is Exterminated – it would be hard to imagine a worse case scenario:

‘…methane fireballs tear across the sky… Deserts extend almost to the Arctic… “Hypercanes” … circumnavigate the globe, causing flash floods which strip the land of soil. Humanity reduced to a few survivors eking out a living in polar refugees. Most of life has been snuffed out, as temperatures rise higher than for millions of years. (The Independent, 3 Feb. ‘07)

Basically, it seems, humanity is toast. Some would say we had it coming. Tell that to the billions of frightened people out there, to the mothers and babies, to the children staring accusingly at us, the future-killers, from behind their mothers’ skirts. It’s hard being smug when confronted with innocent blood on your hands – a Herod-like Climate Massacre. Don’t drive off in your Chelsea Tractor, looking the other way. No amount of soap will wash your Pilate hands clean.

Smoke and Mirrors

Things are not what they seem

Although George W finally conceded there may be something in the ‘Smoking Exhaust’ theory, his doomed administration came up with a typically dumb-ass solution: let’s build solar mirrors to reflect all of those nasty sunbeams. Then we won’t have to curb our carbon habit. The Dubya solution to the Greenhouse Effect – paint the panes of glass silver. Never mind the tomatoes. Another solution is to scatter microscopic sulphate droplets into the stratosphere to mimic the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption – coming soon to a sky near year: Nuclear Winter: the Final Solution from the Carbon Nazis. The IPCC said such ideas were ‘speculative, uncosted and with potential unknown side-effects’ (The Guardian, 27 Jan. ‘07). It seems they just don’t get it in their reductionist Lego version of reality, playing with life’s building blocks: tamper with one thing and you entertain the possibility of affecting everything else. Haven’t they heard of the Butterfly Effect? Ol’ ‘happy goat’ Dubya sneezes and the world catches cold. Beyond that, it seems just another ludicrous ‘Star Wars’ propaganda ploy. The Sovs fell for that one – will we fall for ‘Space Mirrors’ – beaming atcha from ‘Moonlanding Studios’?

The Biodiversity of Culture

Saving the planet means also saving the texture of life (as celebrated in books like Common Ground’s England-in-Particular, Clifford and King, Hodder & Stoughton, 2006). We can’t all be eco-warriors. We should do what we’re best at to prevent cultural mass extinction. Otherwise, what are we fighting to preserve? A planet without human biodiversity?

It may seem redundant or indulgent now to do anything other than join Greenpeace and throw ourselves in the sea in front of whaling vessels and oil tankers, but however inspiring and awareness-raising such direct action is, we can’t all be so intrepid. Some-one has to keep society going – otherwise there won’t be any ‘civilisation’ to save.

So carry on writing poetry, painting, making music, making love, singing in a choir, supporting the school-play or local theatre, creating ‘meaningless acts of art’, morris-dancing, even stamp collecting – for it is the minutiae of life that things are at their most intense. Like the countless bug specialists, fungi specialists, lichen specialists, etc, if we don’t have those with expert knowledge and, yes, even amateur enthusiasm, for such things, then such precious detail will slip through the net.

And if we don’t care, then who will?

Like the Australian Aborigines, each with their Dreamtime animal they and there tribe are responsible for, we are all stewards of the planet, of its exquisite detail. It is a big place, and the level of complexity and abundance is overwhelming, but if we all focus in on one or two things, then we can pretty much just about cover everything. Everyone has their anorak. Perhaps the geek shall inherit the Earth. Super-Anorak may save the day, but of course we have to be holistic – look over our parapet, the ghetto of our particular specialism. Join the dots. See the bigger picture. It’s all about Paying Attention – perhaps that’s what we are here for. Humans are proud to think of themselves as the only (apparently) self-conscious beings on this planet, but perhaps we are here to be conscious of the Earth – and its conscience.

The Last One to Leave, Turn Out the Light


The 1951 SF film When Worlds Collide (a new Spielberg-produced version was released in 2008, merrily cashing in on ‘apocalypse fever’) foreshadowed the Ark mentality worryingly prevalent in contemporary Space scientist circles – who seem to be looking ‘anywhere but here’ to save humanity. This Noah attitude – ‘God’s given us the nod and the wink, so let’s get out of here’ – is perhaps the result of Western Christian hard-wiring: we’re brainwashed from our first day at our State-funded ‘Faith School’ that the End is Nigh, and only the Chosen Few will be saved, whether in an Infidel-free Paradise or WASP Heaven. It’s giving up the ghost. It’s pie-in-the-sky. Salvation is elsewhere, God is elsewhere – the grass is greener on Uranus. And the huge waste of resources, and vast amounts of pollution caused by phallic-symbol rockets going up into Space, penetrating, in a puny way, its ineffable Mystery, doesn’t exactly help things. It’s not re-arranging the deck-chairs on a White Star Liner, it’s dynamiting the hull, puncturing all the life-jackets and hogging all the life-boats. It would be Douglas-Adams-funny, if it wasn’t so deadly serious. The Vogon fleet is on its way, and they are practising their poetry.

Between Venus and Mars

As Adams said, space is big. Very big. It’s a lonely universe out there, as far as we know. We live on the ‘third rock from the sun’, luckily. Our number came up in the ‘Thunderball’ of Creation. An incredible chain of ‘happy accidents’ led to life on Earth being here. We haven’t found any anywhere else, yet – however high the possibility. In an infinite universe all things are possible. But until we find other life-sustaining planets, planets with the essential criteria for life (water being the main one) we live on a knife’s edge: ‘On dead planet’s such as Venus and Mars, CO2 makes up most of the atmosphere, and it would do so here if living things and Earth’s processes did not keep it within bounds’, (Flannery, The Weather Makers, p5) but this delicate balance is in danger of becoming undone by Man’s carbon habit. It seems we need to find a balance between these two extremes: we need compassion and focussed energy, the feminine and the masculine to solve this fix we’re in: a chymical wedding on a grand scale. It is telling that men are obsessed about going to Mars, on a symbolic level. Venus is too hot and toxic of course, but no one talks of missions to the planet of love – it’s what the world needs now, as the song goes, let’s face it, not more aggressive energy.

War of the Worlds

No One Would Believe...

In the face of over-whelming evidence that we have doomed our planet, that positively negative feedback loops are already kicking in, which will spiral out of control even if we do curtail our Carbon-habit, it is all too easy, and perhaps understandable to give up, to think: ‘Ah, sod it – the planet is screwed anyway. Party on, dude!’ But this is not only a risible Clarksonesque attitude (what will the boys with toys do when the oil runs out?) but pathetically defeatist: Texan sandsuckers and their ilk are the true ‘surrender monkeys’!

The other extreme can be found in the New Age movement, where people under pyramidal frames chanting from their yoni chakras await the Mayan apocalypse in 2012: the next millennial enema. ‘It’s all part of the big plan, man. Karmic – like African famine; those AIDs babies. Just ride it out. And buy some decent shades for the end-of-the-world show, as you chase eclipses around the planet, farting greenhouse gases.’

An analogy: imagine if planet Earth was invaded by a belligerent form of extra-terrestrial (bug-eyed aliens with laser beams!). Okay, not an original concept: HG Wells did a pretty good job. But let’s pretend it actually happens. They land; they fry the welcoming committee, consisting of the Dalai Lama, Hilary Clinton, Prince Charles, Robbie Williams and Jordan. Then they start razing cities with their death-ray. The lucky ones make it to the hills, or go underground. Survivalist fantasy time – your chance to grow a beard, wear army fatigues, eat cold beans out of tin, drive a land-rover at high-speed through empty shopping malls, and wield a shotgun like an iron dick. Would you go to them waving a white flag made from your Save the Whale T-shirt, as they strut across the burning fields, like giant angle-poise lamps with bunsen burner eyes, and say: ‘I surrender?’ Only to be turned into fertiliser. Or are you going to fight until the bitter end, until your dying breath? Fight for humanity, for the dream of civilisation, for the achievements of our ancestors, the hope of our children? Are you going to ‘fight them on the beaches’ with everything you’ve got, or are you going to let them win, and watch the whole history of the world go up in flames, and the human race become extinct? I know what I would do, however long I would or wouldn’t survive in such a scenario. In his foreword to Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers (Allen Lane 2005), *Robert Purves, WWF President Australia, says: ‘If we are to win the war on climate change we must all be part of the fight.’

If we fight to preserve from extinction endangered species – because they matter, in terms of the ecosystem they are part of, and because it would be an insult to millions of years to do otherwise (imagine spending a lifetime painting your masterpiece only to have some philistine thug put his DMs through it: now multiply that by many lifetimes, by millennia – are we going to be the thugs of Creation?) – if we agree that all life is sacred, then that includes us. We are part of the biodiversity of this planet and deserve protecting and fighting for as well. Don’t let those ‘alien’ genociders win! Start stock-piling those beans now – maybe not, methane is enough of a problem as it is… Not good in a bunker. Better still, get out of that frigging bunker, and that tyrant-downfall mindset. Do you want to be caught lice-ridden in a rat-hole, when Armageddon comes, by God in his Stars and Stripes boxers, playing Hendrix’s ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ on his Hummer sound system? Do you want to stand trial with Clarkson and his cohorts for crimes against the planet? And have you last moments videoed on someone’s mobile, as you do the gallows’ twitch?

This Island Earth


The future is unwritten. No one can say exactly what is going to happen. Even  Flannery admits ‘…science is about hypotheses, not truths, and no one can absolutely know the future,’ (The Weather Makers, p7). Climate Scientists scry into the swirling orb of their climate models like fortune tellers. I do not doubt for one second the rigour of their prognostications: climate science is what is says on the tin: science, not tea-leaf reading.

And yet why should we have such faith in their ability to predict the future – aren’t Sir David King types the modern equivalent of the augurers, reading entrails in front of the Roman Temple, telling us what we want to know, or what the powers-that-be want us to think? Science is modern magic. We have (mostly) complete faith in it. Until its orthodoxy is over-turned by the next paradigm-shift. Received wisdoms are there to be challenged and, when proven false, destroyed. The Flat Earths of the present become the Spheres of tomorrow. The Reds-under-the-bed prove to be in our head. Martians won’t attack after all – although radio-listeners thought they were going to when Orson Wells broadcast his version of War of the Worlds in the Thirties, causing panic. Not that Climate Chaos isn’t genuine. But a Culture of Fear is intentionally disempowering: frightened people are easier to prey on – to go ‘boo!’ too. They jump when you want them to. Y2K, WMDs, Anthrax in the post, Bird Flu, Swine Flu … the bogeyman keeps coming to get you, but does he ever really arrive? Climate Chaos is a fact that won’t go away – but as with terrorism, caused by individuals, cells or states, if we let them scare us, they have won. Let Climate Chaos paralyse you into inaction – like the sleep-paralysis when you awake in the night because of some ‘bump’, too terrified to move – and it has defeated you.

Always remember: the human creature, with its amazing imagination, its ingenuity, its resourcefulness and adaptability, could quite possibly rise to the occasion. Surprise destiny. Not necessarily with a techno-fix, Branson’s £24m miracle carbon-burner or equivalent (carbon credits are modern day ‘indulgences’ – like medieval pilgrims, we can choose to pay a ‘guilt-tax’ to off-set our carbon-sin – the fact remaining, each flight pumps more CO2 into the air and takes the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight. Plant more trees, for sure, but better still – don’t make carbon skid-marks in the sky in the first place. Do you really need that last minute cheap flight to Malaga?) but with a shift of attitude. With an act of collective will, anything is possible. If politicians don’t take the initiative (and I don’t mean jetting to some glacier to ‘find out about Climate Change’ in some spurious ‘hug a husky’ publicity stunt) then we will anyway, with or without them. Eventually the general public will be forced to changed, through lack of oil, dry land, clean water – but, of course, sooner is better. Wait until the flood-waters or climate refugees are at your door and it’ll be too late. Don’t wait for fate to come and find you – go out there and face it. Be bold.

The future is a challenge. Let’s rise to it – a human ‘rising tide’, to counter the tide of indifference. This is what we are here for. It’s up to us. No one else.

The future is in our hands. Make it happen, don’t wait for it to happen.

As Gore and others have suggested, this is a moral choice. And Monbiot emphasises this: ‘Climate change is not just a moral question: it is the moral question of the 21st century.’ Whatever decision we make – even no decision is still a decision – will be on our conscience, and will be remembered by future generations. Flannery concludes his influential book with the home truth: ‘We know enough to act wisely’.

Ignorance is not an excuse anymore

To leave you with Klaatu’s warning from The Day the Earth Stood Still (Wise 1951):  “Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration…the decision is yours.”

***

Recommended Viewing:

The Age of Stupid – Franny Armstrong’s film

Home – Yann Arthus Bertrand

The Eleventh Hour – Leonardo di Caprio

An Inconvenient Truth – Al Gore

Recommended Reading:

The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins