Friday, February 29, 2008
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
My family started going to Iona once a year in the late 1960s after my dad (Chris) accepted a commission from the Iona Community to carve flora and fauna of the island on the cloisters in the abbey. We went there for three weeks every summer; each week Chris would carve one capital. We were taken out of school to go, to some disapproval by our teachers; this may have been one reason for my parents’ disenchantment with the state school system which eventually led them to remove us from the local primary school to be educated at home.
An American journalist who met my sister and I one summer near the jetty took a picture of us, sitting on the sand with the jetty wall behind us. I’m 12 or 13, wearing cowboy boots and a long skirt, and my hair is short and tousled. We thought we were pretty cool, so I was very embarrassed by the caption in the book she later published, which suggested that we “had an innocence about us that American teenagers of that age have often lost”.
All of those reasons and many more are why Iona is such a special place to me. I feel as though I grew up there, and Iona grew up with me: every year we’d arrive and excitedly observe the changes over the last year: the new shops, the new people, the new buildings. Someone I loved at school sent letters to me one summer while he was away in Germany and I took them up in to the hills to read. The outside world was crowding in and the future was coming at us, fast.
Iona is still there, of course, and probably remarkably unchanged even now, because the weight of the hills and the stone and the white sands and the abbey are the things that make it special, not what grows then withers and dies in time-lapse. Iona is a talisman in my mind for all that is wonderful about Scotland and it’s still, to me, the most beautiful place in the world.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Chinese New Year lanterns at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, Causeway Bay, February 11, 2008. The colours are really rich red and bright neon, but my camera phone bleaches everything. Detached from reality it may be, but there's something mysterious about this picture that I quite like.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
I'm a skyscraper wean, I live on the nineteenth
But I'm no gaun oot to play ony mair...
O ye cannae fling pieces oot a twenty-storey flat,
Seven hundred hungry weans will testify to that,
If it's butter, cheese or jeely, if the breid is plain or pan,
The odds against it reaching earth are ninety-nine to wan.
The Jeely Piece
Song (Adam MacNaughton)
Me and my sister used to sing this song at ceilidhs in Iona, an island on the west coast of Scotland where we went on holiday for three weeks every year because our dad had a commission to carve birds and animals of the island on the cloisters in the old abbey. We lived in a cottage, so the song never really meant anything to me.
At the end of the month, after five years of living in high-rise buildings, I'm not going to be a skyscraper wean any more: we're moving to Stanley, on the south side of Hong Kong island, to a ground floor flat with a patio garden. I've grown so used to living at such great heights that it's going to be a strange transition. I'll miss the amazing view (see above), and the sheer, epic laziness of having access to a supermarket directly underneath my block, even if it is only Wellcome; I'll miss being able to get the bus at quarter to 9 and still be early for work, or better still, walking down the escalator and arriving at the office in 20 minutes (or longer, depending on how high my heels are that day). But the place we are going to is a peaceful, calm refuge, and that can't be said of our current flat, where noise is all around and you can hear brakes squealing and car horns and the people upstairs running the bath, or arguing and slamming doors at all hours.
Saturday, February 02, 2008
Clearly the pilot had aborted the landing, but no one said anything for a few minutes - playing it cool - until I turned to the guy next to me and we appraised each other nervously to see how scared we should be. After about 10 minutes the pilot laconically announced that we had been unable to land on that runway and were going around again to try another one. That was all.
I had been thinking earlier in the flight about how you should really tell everyone you love that you love them at the earliest opportunity, in case anything ever happens: I'm not really a nervous flier anymore, I have done it too often, but for some reason it crossed my mind while I was gazing idly at the tiny screen in front of me (watching, as it happens, an amazing performance by Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises).