Sometimes, you don’t need to travel far to find amazing places and things to see. Well, as long as you are in the right mood. If you are stressed or working (the two often go together); or, you are stuck in a rusty fairground of alcohol, or other drugs, or daytime TV, it’s likely you will not see the wonder that is all around us. It’s not that seeing the world and all it has to offer belongs to some privileged group, such as – ‘inspirational speakers’ with plastic hair and blinding teeth – it’s just: for many of us, life is so full of things we take for granted, we can easily forget to look, listen, and wonder.
Thankfully, there are many ways to remind ourselves of the same kind of wonder we once expected, when we were children. It may come from enjoying being with our own children or grandchildren, who look at a park or a toy as if it has just appeared out of nowhere. Or, we find bits of wonder at a game of football; although, that can also include a kind of anti-wonder, or wondering why we support such a bunch of hopeless donkeys. Or, we may map out events and wonders in our lives and relationships through music. I’ll resist the temptation here to wax lyrical about listening to Bob Dylan in a football stadium in Newcastle, about 500 years ago.
In my life, writing and taking photographs has often helped me to see the world freshly, and to wonder at things I might otherwise fail to see. Most days, I don’t quite see the world as if it has just appeared out of nowhere, but when I notice anything that surprises me enough to take a photo of it, or write about it, I feel a sense of wonder which is new and old at the same time. And it could be sparked by anything: the shadow of a spindly plant on a wall, a rusty old lightship, or the way Isobel tilts her head to the side when she smiles but doesn’t notice she’s done it. Or, lots and lots of other wonders.
Walking into town
I think it’s appropriate to begin with a few photographs from very ‘nearby’. These photos were taken not far from where I live, in the Hilltown in Dundee. I walked down a narrow lane called Rose Lane and then past a short street where some of Isobel’s family live – it’s called Paradise Road, and then past – Abertay University; and a very old cemetery called the Howff, and into the heart of Dundee. Altogether, half a mile of easily- overlooked sights. And yet, if you take your time, there’s a lot to see.
I make no great claims for these photographs. I’ve never been sure if photography is an art or a craft or a kind of doodling with a camera. Maybe, it’s all of these things, and more. The main point for me is – it helps me to see. It stops me from just sleepwalking through the world.
There’s two old ships in one of Dundee’s docks. One is a lightship, a few decades old; the other is the Unicorn, a former Frigate, hundreds of years old. Both are worth seeing. The lightship has a character formed from years of usefulness; and, although it looks like a floating pile of rust (because it is), it has a special kind of dignity, like a dinosaur that has somehow not disintegrated but is determined to stay around for a while yet.
In the much older Unicorn, rows of cannons, a recreated cat-o-nine-tails, and ceilings in the lower decks so low you can easily bash your head (we did), all suggest a barbarism which sits weirdly alongside teddy bears in naval uniforms in the gift shop. The publicity boasts that 90% of the ship is the original material, but it is a ship without masts, rigging or sails, and without the sweat and bustle of a packed-in crew, so it seems real but not real, like a flickering hologram of itself.
No trip with Isobel , however close to home, would be complete without a few Isobel photos. After trying out a hammock in the Unicorn, she decided that we need to get a hammock.
Wormit to Balmerino
Fife is the furthest these little stories will go. We first drove to Wormit and parked near a bridge; and then we headed off on foot along the coastal path to Balmerino. Our destination included the ruins of an ancient abbey, and a 400-year old tree. Despite light rain for the 3 miles there and 3 miles back (the best Scots word for that kind of rain is smirr) , not carrying enough to drink for such a hot day, and sort of getting lost, it was a good day. I had no idea that there was such a beautiful path so near to where we live. Hearing only the sounds of birds and waves on the beach for most of the way made us feel as if we had arrived in a different world.