Friday, November 23, 2012

The Time Traveller's Wife

Well, well shipmates, today's empty lunch box of the sucked chicken bones of life is a strange one and that's no mistake.
Mr.Sheephouse has gone all weird on us again.
He took receipt of a shipment of 30,000 packets of dried Ramen (that be the proper term for 'noodles' to you and me matey). He'd bought 'em on the cheap, for about a penny a packet, which is not bad as they're usually about 50p down the Chinese's Supermarket. Though why anyone would ever spend £300 on noodles is beyond me.
Anyways, we accomodated him and had 'em stored in the hold. I didn't tell him of course that the hold had had a bad bilge-leak problem for a number o'weeks now. So to cut a long story short - noodles in damaged packaging, stored in close and damp quarters, with a few inches of rather nasty water swillin' around - doesn't bode well does it?
The first we knew was when the hatches blew off on Wednesday night and the deck was a seethin' with freeze-dried vegetable bits and yards of slippy noodles.
It was like one o' they great Greek tragedies, but real, and frightening.
If you've ever had to hold a ship to its course on a high sea with a deck covered with writhing cables of tasty noodles all a lashin' around and generally giving the impression of being some wrathful entity from the Deep, then you haven't lived!
Mog sorted them out though.
He thought they were eels and laid into them like there was no tomorrow, but he's been a payin' the price since.
Ever see a cat eat 11 miles of Ramen?
Thought not.
He's got a bit of a sore tum.


The other morning, in that time between the fourth blare of the alarm and the time I have to haul my weary bones out of bed, I discovered something.
It was something I have known about for years, so I suppose put like that it was really a rediscovery.I suspect most people have it too (if they are willing, or try hard enough to listen to themselves.)
It's a place of silence and peace.
Somewhere you can quite literally travel time.
Yep - your own Internal Time Machine!
Sounds mad? Well, read-on oh scoffer at interesting phenomena . . . .
My wife was quietly sleeping beside me.
She was wonderfully warm, and seeing as this is Scotland and Winter is coming, that is very important!
The big alarm had gone off and I'd reached out and switched it off, but the alarm on my watch was going too, so I was neither awake nor asleep.
Moving my hands out from under the quilt (woollen by the way  . . . much nicer than feather!) I put them behind my head in a sort of 'Oh all right, give me a chance . . . just five minutes more' attitude.
I opened my eyes and forced myself to stare into the blackness to try and gee my brain into waking up, but then gave up and closed them again and savoured the complete silence.
I was warm and drowsy and in that bit of my sleepy brain that was awakening I became entirely aware of me -  this great bag of flesh and bones and spirit and humour, and I knew that really, apart from the affects of gravity and the world, I was little changed from another me.
My teenage self.
All those years ago, lying in the same repose, except on my own in my single bed which was in my tiny bedroom, which was in our small cottage in the middle of nowhere.
It was dark outside and apart from the odd honk of geese across the river, the songbirds hadn't made their lazy cold-weather start yet. The A74 rumbled with lorries every now and then, but what did I care, my room was still warm from the heat in the airing cupboard at the foot of my bed and everything was relatively cosy.
My cat, Cookie, was sleeping on some blankets on the large shelf in the top of my built-in wardrobe.
I didn't need to imagine the purple nylon carpet or lime green walls (honest), or my Brentford Nylons hollow-fibre quilt and the proper Eiderdown (which I preferred) and the pale cream, pink edged, blankets or yellow cotton sheets.
I didn't need to imagine the small hallway, kitchen to the left, bathroom to the right, and just around the corner, Mum and Dad's room, where they were both still warm and alive and sleeping comfortably. And there, outside, the wide open silence surrounding our cottage, and the light snow that was starting to be the harbinger of that Winter of 1978.
There was no need to imagine them, because they were real and I was there.
It was a strange place to be, because I was me, now, and I knew obviously that people cannot time travel physically.
Yet there, lost in time, I was.
It was totally palpable; the feel of the nylon of the quilt; the feel of the satin of the Eiderdown; the soft roughness of blankets that had had a lifetime of washing and flapping on the line.
Everything was real. So real I didn't need to think about it.
I knew the position of my bed; of how to move around in the pitch black of a country night.
I knew the feel of the carpet, and the sound of my door where it stuck slightly at the top, and could sense Cookie's quiet cat-drowse and the slumbering embers in the multi-fuel boiler in the kitchen.
The quiet flow of icy waters in the river at the bottom of the bank.
I didn't need to worry about my mortgage because I didn't have one and didn't even realise that such things really existed.
Nor did I need to worry about where the food was coming from, because we went out and got it every week, though I did worry about how I could afford to buy the things I really wanted, like a new guitar, but then again, I'd never had any money, so what was new!
I didn't need to imagine all my hopes and aspirations and how school was a pain but also a laugh; things were changing rapidly and I wasn't keen on the fact that guitar playing skill was largely being ignored by the nouveau punks there.

(I'd been playing for nearly five years and Andy Summers was my new hero [after Mick Ralphs and Jeff Beck] but no one wanted to hear about someone who could play (remember this was nearly a full year before The Police started to become massive. Oh, and my first electric guitar? Well I am proud to say that I shared the most shite plank of plywood ever made (a Vox Clubman II) with a certain well-known player and superb guitarist - Mr.Gary Moore. I loved it, even though the action was more akin to trying to press the top row of fence wire down to the ground. The best thing about it was the pickups, which were wax-potted Vox single coils. I remember Gary once said that its total awfulness just made him want to be a better player - that struggle against adversity and all that.)

Anyway, my guitar was hanging on the wall behind me, along with my Epiphone acoustic and old and battered classical, and they were there!
I was looking forward to getting up and having some toast and a stiff Camp Coffee (no, not a "Oo-ee Ducky! Coffee?") Camp is a cooking coffee and all we could afford. Mum and Dad preferred tea, so I got Camp. I was a teenager. I drank coffee when I could. My Camp coffee days probably explain my two-spooners these days)

A Cup Of Camp Please.
Make it as per the instructions but with cold milk instead of water - delicious.

It was cold outside too. I could smell it. 
Other minutai of my life started to come into my head:
What was I going to get for Christmas?
When were we going to go to Dumfries again so that I could press my nose up against the (three!) music shop windows and oggle the amplifiers?
When was the next issue of 'Beat Instrumental' magazine coming out?
Was that really a pair of Sea Trout I had seen rising or where they Salmon?
Just everyday stuff to me then, but as real as the soft breathing of my wife.
I found myself thinking about my previous night's walk: straight off the school bus; "Hi" to Mum and Dad; downing a Camp made with just milk and a couple of digestives, and out into the twilight to walk, stumble-free, along my riverbank. Avoiding the heavily overgrown bit, I'd moved up onto the tops along the field for a bit, and I had been stunned by the quiet pattering of two hedgehogs as they beat down a circle following each other in the grass, obviously in preparation for mating.
I thought about the birds coming to roost in the floodbank field, and the fish tirelessly making their way upstream to death.
And almost above all else, I thought about how I was really quite lonely - just me and the twilight and the river and the music in my head. All the other teenagers who might well have been friends were tucked up in their cosy worlds spread across the farmhouses and cottages and villages that was my 1978 world.
If the me now, could have somehow got back to the me then, I would have said, 'Mate - be more gregarious - people actually don't give a stuff. They're probably more afraid of the world than you are.'
But I couldn't. 
And the river carried on flowing and the wind blew the trees, and the dark seed of the solitude of my walk in that early Winter's gloaming entered my soul.
And with that, my wife stirred and asked was I getting up, and my body fell back into the now:
Christmas coming (again).
Worrying about how the hell we are going to get the 50 feet high guttering fixed on our building.
Worrying and annoyed by the fact that my new (old) Leica appears to have a finder stuffed with fungus.
Worrying about the Councils attempts to tart up the Western cemetery when all it really needs is to be left quietly alone.
Deeply worried about how my son will do in his Highers, and especially how he seems to regard English as an aside when he lives in a house surrounded by language.
Worrying about the cost of living and how my old-person future is entirely unsupported by anything other than the State pension.
And you know what, somehow, just as I was about to finally crawl out of bed, my 17 year-old self came, and put his arms 'round my shoulders and I felt that seed of solitude still within me, but changed and grown into a yearning.
To go back - to return to the countryside again.
Some day. And soon.
And I knew that together, somehow, him and me, and us, will get there.
And then I got up, for the day was upon me.


Well, this wouldn't be FB without photography, and it has been sorely missing this past few weeks, so, with the magic of the image, I can do my own bit of Time Travel!
The first photograph was made on the family Instamatic in the Winter of 1978. Just the time I have been talking about. Hard to imagine being a teenager and growing in such a wild and lonely setting, but I did and I loved it.
It is the view from our garden by the way and I love the way that the Ektachrome and the light have made such a beautiful painterly job of the Wamphray hills. The large field you see beyond the foreground trees was a roosting place for migrating Geese. You could literally count on thousands landing during Autumn and early Winter - they made a hell of a noise.

Winter View 1978

And this is a photograph of now (2012). 
That's me, with the Leica reflected in a window. 
Unfortunately it is like a car-crash of obvious statements. 
There's me, being true to myself and photographing because I love doing it, and there is the urban scene, which if I am being honest with myself, I don't like. 
As I have said before, I am a country boy
Why am I in a city?

Self Now 2012

So that's it - as usual, God bless and thanks for reading.
Stay dry and watch out for damaged packets of Ramen.
Time Travel?
Try it . . you might just like it!


  1. Brilliant post, Phil. So evocative. I can almost smell the Camp coffee. Whether you would have been happier with a sibling I don't know but there's no doubt about the deep impression your childhood and teenage years have had on you. From your writings it's clear that you couldn't have done anything else but grow up to be the guy you are, if you know what mean.

  2. Thanks Bruce.
    Camp is an underrated beverage . . . that being said I haven't had a cup in over 30 years!


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