As I write, I’m allowing a jumble of thoughts to tumble around in my mind, like kittens playing. I see images of places I’ve been to, these last two weeks. The Meadows in Edinburgh – having a picnic with my dad, who kept saying how surprised he was to turn 80: “How did that happen?” And, the following day, I was sitting in Madigan’s Café and Bookshop in Dundee with Isobel, celebrating our third wedding anniversary in the place where we were married. A couple of days later, we drove in the little red car up to Pitlochry. It’s another of our favourite places. There, I bought a copy of a biography of Hugh MacDiarmid, in a tiny second-hand bookshop, which could only cope with one customer at a time. Then, we walked for a few miles along by the river and through trees magicalised by sunlight glowing through abundant leaves. (What do you mean ‘magicalised’ isn’t a word? It is now.) A few days later, we walked a few miles through another forest path, this one in Edzell, and it was also by a river. The river was quiet at some parts and roaring at other sections. Every few minutes, we stood to one side of the narrow path to allow families with children and dogs to pass. A lot of people were smiling.
Other images in my mind, of places recently visited, are bright: each image pops up and bobs along for a while, like a hat fallen into a fast-flowing river. Aberlemno – a name shining with mystery. Three large Pictish stones by the side of a narrow, country road. The deeply carved symbols on each stone still clear after more than a thousand years. There’s something wonderful about touching a carving made so long ago, as if it was made in a different world. And we also visited a large stone in a churchyard: a Celtic cross on one side, and on the other, Pictish carvings of men on horses.
One day, we sat on the beach at St Andrews, watching young canoeists in a line of yellow canoes pass by one by one in a line on the water, led by a surfer standing rock-steady and slowy paddling a surfboard. Another day, we scoured another beach for seashells, not for any particular reason, other than – that’s what you do when you are on the beach when you are a child, or you’ve forgotten you’re a grown-up.
I suppose you don’t always need to travel very far, as measured in miles, to leave behind all the worries of normality. At least, for a while. To reconnect with feelings you forgot you had. To look at an unexpected stone cliff in the middle of a forest, which seemed to grow out of the trees, and it makes you remember old Robin Hood movies. Or, you might close your eyes beneath tall trees and still see, or think you see, shadows and blobs of sunlight dancing and you sense a smell of strawberries which instantly becomes the sound of an ice cream van playing a tiny, tinny tune, in the distance.