A Cruel Trick
Visiting places to which I felt I can never return is not a habit I’m accustomed to, I promise. However, my last trip to my Aunt and Uncle’s village in Scotland where I myself had once lived, I found myself suffocating in the familiar quaintness of their grand home. I had sat chatting with them in the kitchen all morning. The AGA like some great white monolith kept the temperature of the quaintness at just the right level of overbearing constancy for me. My pores had now opened up and were screaming for a blast of fresh air.
I made my excuses and stepped out the doorway into the dreich October day and onto the gravel lane. I planned to go wherever my feet took me. As I trampled down the path crushing the pebbles into the ground, a satisfying crunch with each step, my lungs drew in the cool autumn air. It had been twenty years since I’d lived there but village life is a constant thing. I walked past my old place, latterly my Uncle’s dare-i-say quaint workshop. It had been a sanctuary for me in my teenage years and a rather good novelty at the time.
The birches lining the path out were bare and seemed to be shivering in the midst of the day. At the end of the drive, I cut across the Brae and onto the old cobbled path that would lead me under the bridge and towards the cliffs and coastline passing Potter’s Bench as I did so. Potter’s Bench is not it’s official name, it’s what I call it though because that’s where I’d courted Heather Dowie when I was sixteen. I’d imagined a plaque there naming it for posterity, it’s true meaning secret to everyone but Heather and I wherever she was. Perhaps a plaque might be better suited to my old digs: ‘This is where Stuart Hadeep lost…’. They say you move on from nostalgia in time…
I soon found myself upon the scrub of the plateau manoeuvring around rabbit droppings towards the hedgerow and rosehip bushes that lined the coastal route alongside the ever visible firth. My descent brought the full view of the beach upon me and the muscovado brown expanse of sand and it’s flatness contrasted against the grey that primed the sky like some cheap hardware paint intruded only by the occasional gull. The salt in the air was refreshing and my pores were sighing with relief. The beach itself remained unchanged but further back where the sand met the grass, new homes stood like maritime dollhouses at the cliff base. A fat woman and three children waddled on the shard of wet sand below as I continued down the path. She was shouting at the children, the sole aberration in an otherwise peaceful scene.
Walking along past tall coastal grasses, a man rose up from where he had been sitting watching me as I approached him. There was something vaguely familiar about him. And he seemed to recognize me. It was my old friend Wullie with whom i’d once played music years before. We shook hands warmly. His rosy cheeks still gave him away. I told him I was visiting for a few days. The baby fat he once carried was gone and I noticed he carried a cane. He didn’t play anymore, he told me, kids and hours at the dockyard foundry had changed all that, clearly he wasn’t aging well. The bellowing of the woman’s colourful language interrupted us. Wullie began fumbling for a cigarette.
‘Wullie!’, the woman was waddling towards us . “Geese a fag willya’ Wullie? Wee bastards”, she continued, gesturing at the children. She gasped when she got closer. Her pudginess hid her natural features. She glared at me: ‘D’ya no ken who it is?…It’s me Heather’. They hadn’t known one another when I’d lived here.
‘So you guys are…’ I looked at the kids. “Great!” I continued. “Three kids?” I looked at Wullie in mock impressiveness. Wullie explained two of the kids were Mickey’s, an old mutual friend, however they didn’t speak anymore alluding to a tug-o-war between them with Natalie’s ravishing beauty seemingly at the centre.
Suddenly, quaint didn’t seem so bad. I made my excuses & left the figures of Wullie and Heather silent on the sand until the sound of filthy Fife brogue polluted the air again, a Mother’s call… The clouds were starting to appear as I headed back. Nostalgia can play cruel tricks at times. I decided a quiet pint might allow me to gather my senses and failing that it would almost certainly allow me to count my blessings, the horizon of my nostalgia now forever changed.