status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage
The summer of 2009 spent in North West Scotland sounded like just the ticket – work a few hours in the local pub, and spend the rest of the time writing, learning Gaelic, walking and reconnecting with nature…
A Highland Burn
Regretfully there were a number of elements I neglected to take into consideration when conjuring up that fantasy: the fact that I chose to work in one of the busiest pubs in the Highlands, for one. Not having worked in the UK since 1995, I also grossly overestimated hospitality industry wages, thus necessitating a 50 hour week. And then there was all the boozy, after-hours socialising – not obligatory by any means, but very hard to walk away from when you are a person of minimal self-control.
And I mustn’t forget the biggest and most unexpected spanner in my Highland works: the moody bisexual lover.
Oh yes, no girl should be without one of those in her past. It makes one look frightfully modern and open-minded, don’t you know.
Just a rainbow…
Actually that is a lie.
It’s horribly confusing, and potentially very damaging to a girl’s self-esteem. Lured in by tales of world travels, an exotic background and a bloody-minded body clock tempting me to desperate measures (don’t worry, I have since removed the batteries…) I found myself caught up in an obsessive tangle with a most unsuitable man.
Sexuality aside (he professed to love “women’s souls”, but his eyes certainly preferred young men’s legs, and his memories of past seductions – primarily of inebriated younger, heterosexual men – were fresh indeed), he was financially unstable, slightly delusional and apparently hell-bent on convincing me that I was lacking in most meaningful areas.
It took me nine months and a visit to the other side of the world to come to my senses, and it may be a while yet before I stop kicking myself for my lack of judgement and my utter stupidity.
Anyhoo, he warrants not a mention more, and thankfully he is not my sole memory of seven months in Wester Ross. No, I also have a whole stack of other memories to fall back on: taking orders for local delicacies I would rather have been eating – prawns, mussels, oysters, scallops, haggis, steak, cranachan; tearing my hair out trying to find seating for the queue of tourists snaking out of the pub door, fielding endless questions about Monty Halls (don’t ask), getting constantly stuck behind bloody tourists driving at 25mph on winding single track roads; not to mention the many, many blurry evenings spent consuming far more liquor than was good for me…
They maybe bendy, but 25mph IS STILL TOO BLOODY SLOW!
And although I never did get round to the Gaelic, like all the other Sassernachs now residing up there, my vocabulary was soon splattered with ‘wees’ and ‘ayes’, and there was generally a good craic to be had.
I have lived in small communities all my life, but I don’t think anything can quite compare to the isolation of some of these tiny outlying villages. Everybody knows exactly what you are up to, probably even before it has occurred to you to get up to it. Many of the residents greatly enjoy the pub and the wealth of drams it has to offer, but there are still those who live bound by the strictures of the Kirk, the Wee Free, or even the Wee Wee Free (I have yet to learn the differences).
Alcohol and depression are two prevalent problems in these areas (the rigours of the climate and the sheer remoteness surely being
Looking at a loch
contributory factors) but there is still a great sense of community spirit which especially comes to the fore during the ceilidhs that are put on by local bands throughout the year.
There are many aspects of life which for necessity’s sake are not lived as they would be in the metropolis, but even these communities are not immune to the adverse affects of Southern bureaucracy. Only recently the Post Office, in all its great wisdom, and from the comfort of its HQ somewhere in Englandshire, decided that post vans should no longer carry anything but mail. So older and/or carless people, who would have relied on the postman to drive them to the next village, or collect their shopping, were suddenly cut off.
(Globalisation? Centralisation? I don’t know what you call it, but it has definitely brought with it an inability to think outside the box or take into account that humans do not all live identical existences.)
The scenery wasn’t ‘arf bad
So despite not doing any of the things I had intended to do, and instead doing a lot of things I had absolutely no intention of doing, I am still very glad to have been able to spend a summer in such a beautiful and unique place. But should I ever make my way back, a writing, Gaelic learning, walking and reconnecting with nature orgy would most certainly be the ordre du jour…
This is Status Viatoris, Hey! Madame Poisson and Mademoiselle Noix, I’ll take the lowe road if you’ll take the high one! in Northamptonshire.