I am standing at the front door, clapping the NHS workers.
Last September, before such things became impossible, we took a journey, my dad and I. Up West. That directional point back to childhood. A boy with a purple body warmer and an obsession with football. A friend whose dad was a forester. Who came from ‘up west’. We never said ‘up east’ or ‘up north’ and only the Friday night esoterics seen rolling home from Balloan would have said ‘up south’. The only ‘up’ was west; a direction and a destination.
There is fact and fiction in remembrance. The boy with the bodywarmer, let’s call him Tommy, he’s walking home with his football under his arm, gaze following the dark clouds west. He says the word out loud, extends the sibilant ssss, thinks it wistful and melancholy with the promise of distance, something unknown.
Except he doesn’t think that. That’s me decades on (Tom now, not Tommy, which says something else about perceptions), making bigger the moment when I noticed the west and thought, I should go there. Simple as that and likely as fleeting. The only ssss was when I suddenly punted the ball across the field and wheeled away shouting yessss as Tannadice rose to applaud another magnificent goal from the Marybank Maradona.
So I went Up West.
Climbed mountains with my dad. One time we planted conifers at Lael. Midge hell and an ever-lasting joke about a piecust (‘what’s a piecust?’ ‘About 80p in the baker’s’). We drove by years later on another journey and the trees were all dead. Another time I was up in Kintail with a friend for the fishing. Roused at 5am by his dad hitting me on the face with a pillow. Then all those years in cities, the Flatlands of the south, when I told myself I couldn’t go there now, although I could have, all those years I told myself I’d go back again.
So I did.
Last September. To Torridon, Diabaig. My dad and I.
We walk the coast, watch Skye become sky become Skye, hear the echo of children playing on a rope swing hanging empty from a tree outside a rundown cottage. Then a fire under dusk, Big Country and MacCaig, a lattice of branches above us like shifting lacework. Drunk on whisky we have a conversation that we instantly forget everything about apart from the most important thing; the actual having of the conversation.
I come back from the front door.
I think of Up West again.
I write ‘you think of places when you cannot go there’ and catch myself. It’s true, but I also think of places when I can go there. Somewhere is no more special for being inaccessible. The specialness is the somewhere but the specialness is not special at all. Because I have never had any particular yearning, no need to go. Just a sense that I should. Tommy looking west and booting the football. Follow a river to the source and it’s the most humble of things, a simple welling, a trickle that we end up turning into a torrent.
It’s raging now, but there’s quietness in the promise of the return. ‘Doesn’t know why, only knows he wants to walk the sky’. An inscription on a book from my dad. I take it down sometimes, I read it and I go back.