Wander no. 10

It astounds me and frustrates me in equal measure how much writing – and I use that term in the widest sense of the word – I can do while I sit astride my bicycle. Cycling has changed for me in recent weeks, rapidly transitioning from something to be done out of necessity to something to be done out of pure and senseless joy. But even more than this, it’s become a meditative action that begins as soon as I step onto the peddles. I no longer listen to music when I ride, ever, and my mind contracts immediately and I think of nothing but the road and the sensation of riding and how the sound of my tyres on the asphalt changes with speed; and what poetic language I am able to craft about it all while racing through the streets! And what a shame it is that I can’t ride and transcribe to paper at the same time. When I step off, the words vanish long before I’ve managed to flex my cramped up hands and locate the pencil in the bottom of my bag. Goddamn.

But whatever. The words that I constructed during my afternoon ride on Tuesday are long gone now, but I feel compelled to talk about it regardless, because it was a damn good ride. As a rule, although I wonder now why such a rule exists at all, I don’t ride very far out on work days, but I’d been gifted that which is as rare for me as the shining blue moon: an early finish. I was out of there before noon. To celebrate, I strolled home under the beating sun and gorged myself on the reduced-price onion bhajis and sausage rolls that I’d picked up from Tesco. I lounged around the house listening to LBC’s rolling commentary on Theresa May’s surprise announcement for a snap election. I read a little bit. I polished off the dishes in the sink. Hours seemed to have passed since I was set free from work and I was certain that the sun was plunging towards the horizon, but when I checked the time, it read 14.33, and I’d run out of things to do.

So! A ride to Dunblane, perhaps? It isn’t so far out – in fact, I’d ridden there and back three days after moving to Stirling, and surely I’d progressed so far in my cycling that it ought to be a breeze now. A nice afternoon stroll there and back, right? Sounds good, so I hit the road.

But in all fairness, I’ve only recently moved to Stirling proper; I’d been living in Bridge of Allan previously (known elsewhere here as the burbs), so the first few miles of this jaunt ran over the route that once carried me home from work in the depths of winter. I was surprised to find that I missed this ride – the path that sweeps around the Forth, the bizarre gated pedestrian level crossing at Cornton, the vast playing fields that I used to traverse by foot in down-time such as this.

But soon, all of this was behind me and I found myself climbing up the 765 on Glen Road, past the hillside mansions of the upper class. I struggled up this incline, my state of mind jumping at once from whimsical to resentful, wondering why I’d even left my house in the first place and forgetting entirely that I’d walked this hill last time. Soon though, the ground levelled out, and with it, my angst. I was now surrounded by the woods, last seen back in November, ablaze with orange. Now, on a nondescript overcast afternoon in spring, not far enough into the year for the trees to have been re-sheathed in green, they stood bare and grey and altogether lifeless. I pedalled on, wondering if I’d have to get the train back from Dunblane when I got there.

So up and up I went, winding along the 765. As it takes you deeper into Kippenrait Glen, the road through becomes restricted to vehicular traffic as it turns up around a tiny waterfall. I stopped on a bridge to stare at the water and ponder why rushing water makes the sound that it does. Some ways up the road, I passed a turning that I’d ambitiously taken on my way back to Bridge of Allan in November, up towards Sheriffmuir, where I’d learned the hard way how to read elevation on a map. And suddenly, much sooner that I remembered, I found myself coming down into Dunblane, racing over a road so smooth, so devoid of all traffic, that I was reminded instantly of those California longboarders, drifting effortlessly down the wide residential streets of the American West. This was perhaps the first place that I’d seen in the British Isles where such a thing might have ever been a possibility, had the road not dumped me out onto a busy roundabout at the bottom.

And there I was, all too suddenly: Dunblane. An insidiously dull town. Home to the Murray brothers and the only school shooting in British history, I came here in November to eat a steak pie by the river and take a leak in the community loo, only to get back on my bike fifteen minutes later and head back home with lack of all else to do. This time, disappointed now at how quickly I’d arrived here and eager – after my mild torment on the way up – to keep going, I swung my bike around the Cathedral and carried on along the 765. It took me up through the houses, again on an incline, past the high school, and out onto a rural path that was so long and unwaveringly straight, lined on both sides with tall trees, that I began to wonder if I was riding through Scotland’s answer to the Tunnel of Love. I turned off and the 765 came to an end, spitting me out in the middle of Doune.

The National Cycle Network is a thing of beauty, but as soon as it ends – or, more often, as soon as I take a wrong turn and fall off of it – I’m entirely useless at finding my way. Doune is a village (read: not a town) that boasts a famous castle. I’d been meaning to ride up here for some time now to check it out, but even though the route ended in the middle of Main Street, I still lost my way. I found myself heading down an A-road back towards Stirling, legs in need of a break now, and got stuck going the wrong way up a one-way street, but soon, finally, I’d managed to locate the castle, shrouded by trees some hundred metres off the main stretch.

I hung out here for some time, surprised to find that Winterfell (as it was before Northern Ireland’s Castle Ward had taken over the role) was surrounded by a river. I live a stone’s throw now from the Forth and waterways have become a casual feature in my life, but I found myself altogether disinterested in the castle, drawn instead to the banks of the Teith, where I crashed down onto the grass and sat a while, crunching on shortbread (also reduced from Tesco) and gazing at a fisherman on the other side until I began to feel the chill.

I stood. There was still the minor issue of getting back. Doune is too far removed and far too small to be serviced by a train station, so perhaps the most direct route back home would be to head back through the Tunnel of Love and jump on the train in Dunblane. And yet, my mind wandered to the wider Stirling cycle map tacked to my bedroom wall. I’d stared at it so often in the months past that its routes had been burned onto the backs of my eyes, and I knew that there was a path nearby that would take me back down into Bridge of Allan, dropping me off down by the abattoir on the short circular route that I used to ride on my days off before I realised that my legs had the ability to go much further.

And so I went. I wrote a post once about being unable to reach the top of a hill, and now, after climbing many more, I found myself coming down it. I flew past a bank of trees that I’d once photographed as the autumn sun set it alight from its perch on top of the horizon. The Trossachs rose in the distance behind me as I raced home, back down through the old burbs, now invigorated by how far I’d come and how close I was to the finish line.

I stumbled inside. I stood in the kitchen, alive to the tips of every nerve ending. For the pure, senseless joy of it all.

White smoke rising up off the coast

I stumbled into Bakarameistarinn before the sun had really even moved above the horizon, bleary-eyed and starving. I don’t know what I’d been expecting, but I was aiming for the Bonus in Kringlan, crossing the huge dual carriageway – heavy now with rush-hour traffic – that separated it from the residential block where I was staying. Once across, I’d trekked almost the entire perimeter of the shopping centre in search of a pedestrian entrance, only to discover that it didn’t open for another two and a half hours. My stomach, last satiated eleven hours ago with a Cup Noodle and snack-sized pot of Skyr, contracted sharply. I’d spent so long kicking around the city the day before that by the time I’d arrived at the Bonus on Laugavegur, it was too late. I’d already eaten all of my provisions – Scottish Tablet and a grab bag of salt & vinegar Kettle Chips that I’d picked up for the plane from the Sainbury’s outside Queen Street Station – so I’d taken refuge in the nearest corner convenience store, but that was too far away from me now. The bakery, immediately off the dual carriageway, reminded me of the sort back in the United States that serviced white collar commuters from the distant suburbs, but it’d have to do for now. And thus, I spent my first morning in Reykjavik, sitting at a bar at the window with a freshly baked cinnamon roll (which always taste much better straight out of a Scandi bakery) and a much-too-frothy flat white, watching the late-rising sun come up over the morning traffic. I was overjoyed.

I’ve been back in Scotland for over a month now and I have written nothing, but nothing is the same as it was then, when I sat in that bakery waiting for Bonus to open. Everything has changed, and Reykjavik is the tangible barrier between how things were before and how they are now, or perhaps it was the catalyst? I don’t know if the timing of that trip had turned out to be coincidental, or if the stark contrast of the landscape up north that I’d first seen from the plane as we glided over Reykjanes, the Southern Peninsula that houses Iceland’s only international airport, had jarred something in my head. But the last time that I did write here, a tiny entry executed on my phone as I sat alone on that empty flight, there was a sense of disbelief at the easy nature of what I’d done. Staring down at the black Atlantic as it lapped up against the snowy shoreside was absolutely no different to me than staring out at the Southern Uplands on the cross-country service back to England, and how important that sensation turned out to be. I’d longed for years to see Iceland, and it struck me as profound – beautifully so – to find that there was nothing extraordinary about it all. After all, there is little that I love more than spending a few hours on a train, rolling through the hills and heading to nowhere in particular.

I never left the city while I was there. My dorm-mates seemed to have dropped tens of thousands of krona on every over-priced excursion that was on offer, and my excuses to them about my decision to stay in Reykjavik became less defensive and more half-hearted the more I recited them. But I didn’t want to go to the Blue Lagoon or to Gullfoss or Seljalandsfoss or the Black Beach. I did want to go to Vik and I kept an eye on the auroral forecast, but all the same, I felt so soon after landing at Keflavik that this would not be the last time that I would be here. I wasn’t so much disinterested in the Icelandic wilderness as I was straight-up interested in Reykjavik, so instead, declaring my hostel as the true centre of the city, I took all roads that led out from it and I walked for miles in every direction. The woods, the financial district, the impossibly quiet residential areas, across the frozen lake that separates city hall from Háskóli Íslands, and always down to the waterside. I stopped and watched tiny planes take off from the domestic airport in the middle of town, headed out to Greenland and Egilsstaðir and Akureyri. I drank a lot of coffee (the best being from Kaffitár on Laugavegur, although I was sad as hell when I realised that I’d forgotten to hit up Reykjavik Roasters before I left) and very little beer. I read through Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow, and two issues of the Reykjavik Grapevine. I fired through nine rolls of 36-exposure film on my ex-partner’s point-and-shoot camera. And I listened to the Wooden Sky’s Let’s Be Ready on repeat for five days straight as I wound my way through the city, a Canadian rendering of such northern lands. I can hear Gavin Gardiner’s voice ringing out every time I think about it: “White smoke rising up off the coast / heaven surrounds me now.” In the lavatory of the plane on the way back home, I learned some Icelandic. Reyk means smoke; Reykjavik literally translates into “bay of smoke”, named such for the geothermal hot springs nearby. I think I laughed out loud when it dawned on me. Stupidly profound, really.

And all of it so commonplace. As a teenager, I’d created an image of this place that was shrouded in mysticism, taken primarily from my love of Sigur Rós and my lesser interest in the ancient Icelandic sagas. I can hardly remember now what I imagined it to be back then, because instead, I can see perfectly the view of Faxa Bay from the corner of Snorrabraut and Eriksgata. Iceland is invariably white, you know; the only respite from the monotone snowy ground and the overcast sky comes from the sea and the eccentrically coloured buildings downtown. But in this instant, as I stared down that long street, a busy thoroughfare for traffic, a spot of sunlight, low in the sky and brilliantly golden, broke through the clouds and landed on the lower slopes of Esja on the far side of the bay. It lingered just long enough for me to register that it was there. I turned my head towards Perlan on the hillside for a moment, and when I looked back, it was gone, and I carried on, hands deep in the pockets of my coat.

It was so banal, so goddamn beautiful, and finding myself in that instant was no trouble at all. A train, a bus, a plane, another bus, and miles upon miles of footwork over the ground. All of it so simple and agreeable to me, and isn’t that it? Gavin Gardiner’s voice is ringing out again, singing a much older song now: “You were born a fair-haired child of the valley / and though at times it felt that you were tethered to the ground / you’re not a stone.

Two weeks after I landed back in Scotland, I moved out of the ‘burbs and into a room closer to town. My new housemates, themselves recently moved in, are folks who’ve just decided to take a break of indeterminate (but not indefinite) length from the full nomadic lifestyle. I laughed out loud when it dawned on me. I’ve been so wrapped up in chasing something, in forcing a sense of purpose here, in elevating myself to something that means something to others, but why? If what I find truly satisfying is the sensation of my feet on the ground, running through the streets of a North Atlantic city, moving over the neutral tones of the airport carpet, down the centre aisle of a train racing southwards, or glued to the pedals of my bicycle as it races down the street at 15 kilometres an hour, then why? 

I came home one night a few weeks ago and retracted my enrolment on a postgraduate course at the University of Stirling. I completed the half-finished application for a work visa in New Zealand. It was approved three days later. And isn’t that it?

I don’t know, but I do think so.

reykjavik-10reykjavik-9

reykjavik diptych 2reykjavik-7

 

Northbound 

I’m tapping this post out 38000 ft above the North Atlantic, on an Icelandair flight bound for Reykjavik. The sea looks solid beneath us, although I know that it isn’t. I feel half-surprised to be here, as if booking the flight back in December, shoving some t-shirts into my backpack last night, and making my way to Glasgow this morning by train, then to the airport by bus, and then through the non-queues at security and onto the plane had somehow been completely irrelevant to where I am now.

Because true, the journey to the airport had seemed so commonplace, no different than commuting into work or heading out to Dundee for the day. I hung out in the departure lounge reading Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, completely ambivalent to my surroundings, as if I’d been reading over a bowl of soup and a flat white in the Fat Cyclist instead. It didn’t become immediately apparent to me until the plane pulled out of the gate and rolled out to the runway, where I watched the Emirates plane bound for Dubai take off ahead of us. Wow, I thought to myself. I’m on a plane.

But I remember, when I arrived in Manchester back in 2011, the very first thing that I did was snap a photo of a gateside Icelandair plane as we taxied towards the airport, and I sent it to a friend of mine in Washington State as soon as I found a reliable Internet connection. Accompanying the picture was “Officially in the same timezone as Reykjavik!” or something to that effect, as if I was more excited at my proximity to this supposed hipster holy land than I was about having come back to England in the first place. But wasn’t I? Perhaps the only preconception that I’d had about England back then that actually turned out to be accurate was the fact that it was more accessible to the world than the US is. From here, I can go.

And I’ve found out since then that lust is a falsehood, that reality is never on par with your expectations, although it’s scarcely ever worse. If I was so excited at the prospect of coming to Iceland when I moved back to Britain in 2011, I don’t know why I haven’t been yet, but now feels appropriate, as if I’ve had to pass a series of checkpoints and test out of lessons to be allowed to make this trip. Whatever Reykjavik turns out to be is what it is, but if I’d have come here at 19 and found out that it didn’t align perfectly with an image designed in my head at 15, an image designed with very little information and thought, I imagine that it would’ve killed me. And how stoked I am now to be heading this way at last, to see how things really are, even if my head is still back in Stirling and wondering how it is that I’m sitting on a plane by myself, gazing down into the ocean seven miles below.

Wander no. 6

My parents went to considerable lengths to get my £30 bicycle up to Scotland for me. I sat in the kitchen on the morning of my departure, head still spinning from the jaegerbombs pawned off on me by my brother the night before, while they spent a good while outside in the cold November air, trying to figure out how to rig a bike rack to the back of their car. And two months after they’d dragged it up the length of the M6 for me, I wheeled it into Recyke-a-Bike and left with another. So long, sweet pal. We’d been together for just over four months. It was a good ride.

I’ve had my new wheels for about five weeks now, and in that time, I’ve learned how to take it apart and put it back together again, how to fix a flat, how to ride with my hands idly catching wind at my sides. I remember, not long before I left, I went on a bike ride around Preston with a fella that I’d been seeing at the time, and he told me that riding hands-free was one of the great milestones in the life of a casual cyclist, and I remember never once being able to do it as a child. But I can do it now, and it came to me so effortlessly that I wonder if it was ever really any great feat at all.

The first thing that I did when I moved to Stirling was ride to Dunblane. I’d been here for perhaps three days. It was mid-autumn. Everything was ablaze in deep orange. The distance was comparable to that travelled whenever I rode into work in England, over fields of pale green and down along the industrial canal. It was a breeze, but I never did it again. I cycle in and out of work every day here and I’ve cycled many times down past the abattoir and through the farmlands at the bottom of my road. I’ve cycled through the university campus. But it’s been three months and I haven’t been anywhere! I get such a buzz on the bike, and how desperate I’ve been to get out and ride!

So I gazed out of my kitchen window on Monday morning, staring despondently at the mist descending down over the foothills immediately behind the flat opposite; at the puddles of water in the parking lot, rippling in sudden uptakes of wind. It was my day off, it was the day!, and I stood in my kitchen, deliberating postponing the ride yet again. Not only was the weather questionable, but the ride that I’d been planning all this time took me down a road that had, that very morning, been closed for maintenance. For five weeks! I was too damn late.

But sack that, right? I grabbed my helmet and hit the road anyway.

I set off towards Stirling as I always do, and it was a battle to get my legs to cooperate and take me down the cycle path that runs along the railway tracks. But once we reached the end, near the pedestrian crossing that I dash across every morning, I turned left where I would’ve typically turned right, and suddenly they were up for the game.

I rode the entire eastern outskirts of town, from the bottom of the university to Bannockburn in the south; through industrial farmland, past the short smoke stacks that I can see from the dead centre of town every morning when they push steam out against a burning sunrise. I found myself underneath a railway bridge so short that I had to touch my chest to my handlebars to get beneath it, on a path so close to the stream that the cycle map pinned to my bedroom wall advises me to avoid it completely in the rain. I turned down off a busy A-road and onto the descent of a vast, suburban hill on the way back into town, and I saw the Ochils for the first time in all their glory to the north. Living far too close to them to really comprehend their size, I realised just how high we’d climbed when my cousin and I had scrambled to the top of Dumyat, their eastern-most peak, last month. I got lost for a while in Bannockburn, and when I finally made my way back into Stirling, I ditched my bike outside the Thistles and stumbled directly into Our Place, where I ate the best goddamn bowl of soup that I’ve ever had and flicked through the final pages of Ways of Seeing on my e-reader.

I slept for hours that night. I pushed through a nine-hour shift on Tuesday with so much energy, with such totally high spirits. The sensation that you get when you stare down at the road rushing underneath your feet is everlasting.

It was 18.9 kilometres in total. It was just precisely one-quarter of the distance of the race that I’ve signed up to do in September. It was nothing, but it was so goddamn fun, like cycling hands-free, half-asleep, to work under the rising sun.

+ 3 months: retraction and redirection

A year and a half or so ago, I sat on the edge of the couch in the university photography department. Across from me sat my course leader, prodding me for insights into a psyche I was always, for reasons unknown to me even now, reluctant to let him have. But he knew me regardless, and I’d been complaining to him about feeling a certain uncertainty in regards to my creative practice, and after a long period of consideration, he leaned across and said to me, in all seriousness, “you’re culturally under-stimulated mate.” I didn’t like the sound of that at all, so I huffed and dropped my gaze to the stack of digital photography rags on the IKEA-grade coffee table between us. Son of a bitch! I thought to myself, but I knew he was right. He told me to read more books, and I did. To watch more documentaries, see more shows, to do something, and I did. It paid off in time. I graduated with a First. Holla.

And yet, here we are. My last post is something of an embarrassment to me at the moment, but I always crumble to the January Blues, and it’s perhaps the most honest thing that I’ve written here so far. I’ve been reeling around in acute sadness and panic since New Year, not knowing what to do with my life or my future or my money or my time, but you know, February always brings about a sense of clarity and direction for me, and here it is: I’ve been so quick to blame all of this angst on everything around me – my job, this town, the seemingly endless bands of bitter rain that drive me indoors when all I wanna do is ride my bike. But the other day, I sat down and I read back through the first chapter of the late John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, and perhaps it’s because it’s such a pinnacle text in photographic education and theory that it sparked something in my head, but those words spoken to me by my course leader last year drifted back into my periphery. Culturally under-stimulated. It’s real fucking apt alright. Might’ve graduated okay, but it seems to me that I haven’t really learned anything concrete. I am chronically under-stimulated, even now, and I ain’t got no one to blame but myself. Shieeet.

Let’s face up to it all for a second: Working full time is a drag, but my job is actually pretty rad. The hours are semi-unreliable I guess, and the pay could be better, but I’m actually doing pretty great financially and professionally. And I’ve been feeling kinda trapped, but I wonder if perhaps my biggest problem is not Stirling itself, but that I live out in the suburbs (and it’s not just the suburbs, it’s the pensioner’s suburbs), and maybe I should move into town. And I’ve been thinking that maybe I should bite the bullet and learn how to drive already. And may-be, I just need to pull my head out, stop moping around, and make some shit again.

I started this blog a few months back because I had this sort of ingrained assumption that moving out and moving away would be hard, and I wanted to document this sort of mid-millennial adulthood that I was about to step into for the first time. And it has been difficult, in exactly all the ways that I’d imagined, but it’s also been nothing like I imagined. I’ve felt lonely, over-worked, bored as fuck, pretty cosy, hideously optimistic about the future, sick to my stomach over the the general state of humanity, constantly confused, utterly terrified, fairly content, and often completely stoked on life; and I’ve documented it all so inadequately. So vaguely. I’ve got so much to learn about writing, and so much to learn about life.

But listen: yesterday, I left my house in the subzeroes at 5.30am to cycle into town. I was working the early, and the only vehicles that passed me on the way were the road gritters. But the night before, I’d really struggled to fall asleep. I was up long after lights-out, thinking – for the first time in a goddamn long time – about photography, and about zines, and about art shows and self-employment, and about books, and about how nothing materialises from anything without effort. And before I set off to work in the morning, running strong on only a couple hours of sleep, I threw my point-and-shoot Mju into my bag, and I spent my afternoon shooting, working through two rolls of film before I’d even really started. And shit, how I’ve struggled and struggled to write things down here, but how easily this is coming to me now.

These vibes followed me into work again today. They followed me on my bike ride around the ‘burbs. They followed me to the Co-op to pick up mushrooms and Onken. I feel alright, and when my pals share things like this on Facebook, I feel even better. I feel inspired and creative, and I’m so over being down about this incredibly privileged life that I’m currently hanging around in. Things are good, man. And for the first time in a goddamn long time, I am totally calm.

Here’s to art and writing, y’all.

Onwards, with nothing (/everything)

Tonight, I sat on a bench, and the bench itself sat perfectly parallel to the road, which ran parallel to the community pavilion building, which sat parallel to the playing grounds, which sat parallel to the river, which ran parallel to the railway tracks in the distance. I stared out towards them in the dark and waited for the passenger trains to race across my horizon – I caught two travelling south into Stirling proper and beyond, and then the much faster northbound service, headed perhaps to the Tayside coast or up to Inverness. Much closer, cars and cyclists and runners passed me on the road. My ass was wet on the bench and my hands reeked of the rubber cement that I’d used to patch a puncture on my bicycle tire. My head was in tatters, and I scarcely knew why.

Yesterday, I dumped half of my belongings into the clothing bank at the fire station. I felt immense, and still do. I don’t own much anyway, owing to a base character makeup of frugality and non-commitment, and when I’d moved up here in the first place, I’d abandoned half of what I’d owned then as well. I now own roughly a quarter of what I did three months ago, and the ultimate dream of whittling down my possessions into a single bag doesn’t seem quite as far-fetched as it did then.

I’ve been wondering how long I’ll stay in Stirling, and it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that it likely won’t be much longer. When is it appropriate to leave? I’ve got my eye on the Hebrides, on Dundee, on Aberdeen, on Kirkwall, but how do I get there? How do I stay there? The logistical distance between where I am and where I want to be always seems insurmountable and the restlessness builds and builds.

I feel sick and nervous. Suffocated and frustrated.

And so on.

And so, as it goes, I thought too much about the future and stormed out of my apartment, setting off towards the open air and the open arms of a panic attack. I thought too much about the words, and a heavy palpitation pounded in my chest; a thick, torrid thump that reminded me of the physicality of my blood and my body. “This is fine,” I told myself, capable now of coping with such sensations, and I sat down to stare out towards the trains until the January air sank through my coat and I began to feel cold again in the winter mist. I took the long way home, joining the river at the footbridge where it veers away from the tracks and towards the high street. And passing over it on the main road, I thought I spied a heron through the dark, standing stock-still on the edge of an ait. I called my dad to tell him about it. I told my mother that I wanted nothing more than to live out of my backpack and head elsewhere. And they said to me, 220 miles to the south, “why not?”

Why not?

 

On snowfall

Year after year, with the arrival of the solstice, I always feel a deep-seated disappointment at the fact that, come morning, the pendulum will begin to fall back in the other direction. There’s something about the inherent extremity of the solstice that attracts me in the weeks preceding, but the day itself is over far too quickly for me and I begin to lament its passing before its even out. This happens to me in the summer as well, but it bites more in December, when I get it into my head that the lengthening of the days must mean that it will no longer be cold, that the weather will no longer be severe and unreliable.

But the solstice marks the first day of winter, and year after year, come the January snow, I wonder how it is that I seem to remain so consistently ignorant of that fact. It’s the first day of winter!

I guess that growing up, the first snow often fell on Halloween – actually on the day itself. I spent so many years squeezed into my trademark pumpkin costume, gazing expectantly at the sky while I dragged my pops around the neighbourhood for candy, and I wasn’t often disappointed. But the snow falls here in January instead and I always feel surprised, almost as if it shouldn’t be falling at all if it can’t be bothered to start doing so in October. But 52 and a half weeks ago, I was descending into Ambleside from Loughrigg Fell with Harley, patting off a thick layer of snow from the top of his hood before we retired into the jam-packed Apple Pie Eating House; and two years ago, I was climbing into the Lakeside mountains with my then-girlfriend, collapsing into the fresh powder when we got to the top; and today, I stared out at the dark gray that hugged the horizon to the West and bled out into the pure white sky above me, and I knew that it’d come. And no sooner had I even formed that thought in my head than it did.

The lower Northwest – Lancashire, Manchester, coastal Merseyside, Cheshire even; the places that I lived and roamed – usually experiences the January snow in the form of a dismal sleet (hence, I suppose, my winter trips into the Lake District.) But this is my first winter in Scotland and it’s been falling properly for hours now, occasionally as a flurry, now heavier, burying the grit that was preemptively laid out by the council yesterday evening.

It’s no secret that I love the snow. I love the harsh Arctic wind that rattles against my windows and threatens to throw me into the Forth as I cycle over the old city bridge. I love sub-zeroes, and I know that when the clouds clear tonight, the temperatures will plummet, and tomorrow will be fresh. And I can’t wait.

 

On December 21, the sun was up for six hours and fifty-five minutes in central Scotland. It didn’t seem like a satisfactory number to me, and I longed to be somewhere where it was six hours and four minutes, or four hours and nineteen minutes. Or somewhere that won’t even see twilight until mid-March. But the solstice is arbitrary to the jet stream, to conflicting air masses from the Arctic and the Continent, to the Atlantic currents. Winter comes regardless, and thank goodness.