D, A, M and I went round Arran in A & M’s re-purposed minibus/campervan. We got to a village called Whiting Bay, a strip of mostly white-washed Victorian and mid-twentieth century houses along the coast facing the humpback of Holy Island. Maybe it was just the fact that I was intensely queasy when we rocked up into Whiting Bay, but it soon turned out that the place had a strange, slightly sinister aspect. We stopped for refreshments at a place called the Coffee Pot:
Which had this view from inside:
I can report the tea was good. I couldn’t have the coffee given the nausea. There was cherry pie, but it was not had. Flies’ Graveyard (a sultana pastry slice) was chosen instead by one of our party. The carpet was the same colour as the wall, more or less, as were the tables and chairs.
We went out for a walk to some waterfalls, which turned out to be further away than advertised - two miles instead of ‘just off the road’ in the guide map. M had a dodgy knee from partially climbing Scotland’s tallest mountain a few days before, so we just wandered down the path a little until we came to a house. Another Victorian, red sandstone, with a rain-dripped laminated sign saying ‘free range eggs for sale £1.
50 1.60. The only way up to the house was the dirt path by which we had come. I went up through the gate to knock. The outer door was open, the inner glass door shut. There were lights on in one of the rooms, though it was a bright day.
You know that feeling of apprehension you get, approaching some old houses? The sense that whoever lives there is not really living, only waiting in there? Hollywood capitalises on that sense. That house in True Detective was a shlocky over-the-top version of this house that I came upon.
I looked in on a hallway of miscellaneous carpet pieces, to a kitchen with the world’s oldest microwave. Dust was on the air, not the way it is in a house in need of a bit of a clean, but as it is in a house that is suffering from decades of neglect. But the kind you know, as I said, someone lives in. I peered in another window. The greyness hadn’t settled. It was there, as if someone stirred through it, shuffling through it, hour on hour. There was a piano, some trophies. No one answering. The hens scratched in a black-earthed chicken yard.
While I was waiting for the door to be answered, my friends stood on the path. A woman passed them, that woman you see in the picture, and she stopped to explain some things.
"Mr Gregory hasn’t sold his eggs for a few years." she apparently said. M said the way it sounded came out exactly as written. He doesn’t come out much and he doesn’t ever answer the door. Ominous. Like the beginning of a Shirley Jackson story. We walked on down to the riverside and picked handfuls of fresh wild garlic, shoving the leaves in wads in our pockets. Then flipped back towards the road. We stopped to watch the hens and wonder about Mr Gregory. He hasn’t sold his eggs for a few years now. Was he a hermit? What happened to make him stop selling, but to keep the sign on his gate, so that people would come up and knock and never be answered?
Just as we were walking away, I saw a shape at the window, turning away. Mr Gregory, I presume. No one else saw him. I expect he’s elderly, but why should I think that? There was a house behind his, a little smaller, with a shiny land rover parked beside it. Maybe that was his place too. Maybe he is very selective about his guests.
The cocks began crowing, four of them, standing guard. Who has four cockerels in their chicken yard? Mr Gregory, then. The crowing followed us back down the dirt path, and long into the main part of the village. On our way back to the car I took a picture of this weird mural:
Was the woman riding the goose naked? Or was she just wearing a pink dress? Her face was kind of messed up too.
There was this house on its forbiddingly long lawn:
Bear in mind this place is a strip of houses right by the sea, what need was there in a lawn that huge? I noticed as we were driving off, on out of Whiting Bay, that there was a preponderance of widows-walks, those small balconies with room for a sailor’s wife to pace as she waits for them to come home from the sea. From catching the whiting which gave the place its name.
There is legitimately a place called ‘Fairy Dell’ on Arran and it looks like this. I did not shop in that tiny rainbow. The place is just that ridiculous. [x]
I’m going away for a few days (as you may know) and hope to find an abandoned cottage which was once the home to the McMillan family. Yes, of the publishing and UK prime ministerial fame.
In my absence I hope to receive some rejections. Long in-progress statuses on Submittable make me grossly hopeful.
For you, doves, I hope to have some interesting photos of the faraway places, on my return.
Sure, some news is bigger news than other news. War is bigger news than a girl having mixed feelings about the way some guy slept with her and didn’t call. But I don’t believe in a finite economy of empathy; I happen to think that paying attention yields as much as it taxes. You learn to start seeing.
I think dismissing wounds offers a convenient excuse: no need to struggle with the listening or telling anymore. Plug it up. Like somehow our task is to inhabit the jaded aftermath of terminal self-awareness once the story of all pain has already been told.
“Susan Sontag has described the heyday of a “nihilistic and sentimental” nineteenth-century logic that found appeal in female suffering: “Sadness made one ‘interesting.’ It was a mark of refinement, of sensibility, to be sad. That is, to be powerless.” This appeal mapped largely onto illness: “Sadness and tuberculosis became synonymous,” she writes, and both were coveted. Sadness was interesting and sickness was its handmaiden, providing not only cause but also symptoms and metaphors: a wracking cough, a wan pallor, an emaciated body. “The melancholy character was a superior one: sensitive, creative, a being apart,” she writes. Sickness was “a becoming frailty … symbolized an appealing vulnerability, a superior sensitivity, [and] became more and more the ideal look for women.”
I watched a bit of that sadness video and felt as I sometimes do how awful it is we are all living on this planet together right now but that we will each of us die, some sooner, some later. The man who makes a chili+liquid cheese dip for 3-6 people and addresses his audience as ‘wildcats’ will die. And I won’t get to meet him. Maybe he’s already dead.
I feel like there is a lot of hope though, and that if we just notice the weird moments of connection or effort then maybe that is enough of work for us. Considering the lilies, watching their odd, public-access style sunset cookery videos.