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A Journey into Scotland Part Part 58

Tidying Up the Loose-Ends

In October I ran out of photographs and ran out of steam. My memory gave up on me. Without the prompts of pictures I could no longer bring to life the tour I made of Scotland in 1987 on a bicycle. The memories that had burned so brightly, and I believe accurately, went out. It seemed the right time to put away the project: the right time to put aside the blog. Other tasks were calling.

The first part of the journal is based on vivid recollection. As soon as I began to write the memories came back with surprising urgency. I even recalled the colours and the scents; felt the rain and the warmth of a sun that shone thirty years ago.

I’d been excited to find a box file with five packets of photographs. Turning them into fifty plus episodes has been a pleasure. I don’t throw away very much of value but stuff gets lost.  Filing was never something I could encourage myself to do. On top of that we’ve moved house a couple of times. Things go missing. Things get forgotten. And when they turn up, like these packets of pictures, they bring back a time when we were all much younger and hope burned fiercely in our eyes.Borders '87 5-001It’s a good idea to take a break, whether it be from digging the garden or from doing the Telegraph crossword. I get stuck. I lose enthusiasm. I cannot get my mind or my muscles to work. A cup of tea or a walk with the dog may be enough. Sometimes things need to be shelved for months. It is an especially good idea for scribes. Proper writers tell me that they won’t start the re-drafting until they have let the manuscript sit, alone and unthought of, for at least three months. They tell me that it helps to come at it as though it had been written by someone else. With this Scottish trip I feel more like Coleridge than any other writer. I’d been inside the memory; the dream; when “Person from Porlock” called. The ideas were lost in a single day. For  weeks it had felt like it had happened yesterday and all of a sudden thirty years ago felt like thirty years ago.

I dropped in a full-stop. Said “That’s it!” wrote a couple of food blogs and turned to other things.

Other things have given me an office, a study. A delightful room. I’ve wanted one since I first heard of people having them. A whole room devoted to my projects with words. Desk and chairs and table, book cases and filing cabinets all within a room decorated to a point where I still want to say “Wow!” as I come through the door. Of course, being me, it comes with bags and boxes of unfilled memories, memorandums and notebooks, photographs by the thousand and sketchpads by the score.

River Tay Dunkeld '87I’ve unloaded three boxes and have many more to go. But box three contained a prize. I knew that there were originally six packets of photographs taken on my Scottish trip. All I could remember of packet six was taking them. I wasn’t sure they even came back from the chemists’ or Jessops or wherever it was I had my film developed in those days. That was, until yesterday.

The first few snaps were of the school where I took up my first teaching post a month or two after getting back home from the trip that was made in order to decide whether I should plough a pedagogic furrow or not. The faces and the buildings really are from a different age. These fresh faced students will now all be in their forties. I can’t remember their names but can remember the plays they were creating. Under these are the shots that I took on those last few days of the journey. I was rattling along, fired by the fitness of three weeks in the saddle and by a sudden filling of my appointments diary. On several days I surpassed a hundred miles; which was then a huge distance for me and today would be out of my range. My general rule is to always take the smaller route, the road less travelled. At this stage of my journey I was flying down the A9. The memory mystery was simple. I remembered less because I was experiencing less.

Forth Bridges '87Though a cyclist for fifty years I have very little in common with many who would also call themselves cyclists. I detest lycra, hate any clothing with writing on, especially anything bearing a brand name or logo, couldn’t give a toss about Shimano or Campagnolo, find cycling in the company of more than one person unpleasant, and rarely have any desire to go particularly quickly. On these days I was cycling like the peloton; head-down, eyeballs-out. And I can barely remember any of it. I may have been enjoying a high level of fitness, but what the hell was I doing with it? I was bounding along a wide road and seeing practically nothing. Going to the gym seems to me to be about as pointless an activity as there is. Cycling at speed pushes it close. If you want to go quickly why the hell have you chosen a bicycle? Yes there is an endorphin buzz at the time, a wind in the hair exhilaration; but there is precious little for the future to look back on.

I couldn’t sustain it though and had to keep breaking off to have a little look at where I was. As recently as 1987 people didn’t travel as much. I’d gone to Scotland to see it. There was a big chance that I wouldn’t have the chance to go back again. I had to stop at Dunkeld Cathedral. It drew me in. I lost myself in the streets of Perth. I spent a pootling amount of time going around Edinburgh (I’m ashamed to say I didn’t go through it) and I woke up one sunny October morning to explore the redstone beauty of Melrose Abbey in total solitude.

I had several north of England destinations I needed to reach; Hexham, Edmunbyers and especially Malton. The journey was to finish, as the first stage of my life had done, in Huddersfield. I remembered to look at what was there but I didn’t always remember to take photographs. With your indulgence I’d like to take a couple of blog posts to complete a journey I made to sum up the first twenty five years of my life and to prepare me for the next quarter century.Simon @ Carter Bar '87