your intrepid traveler...posting from Port Patrick while watching tennis....so I Fit In...
June 4, 2011
As promised, though I cannot post this today, I am writing it. Below see photo of the first Elvis impersonator I have ever seen – this one in a ‘holiday camp’ in Scotland. The two older fellows in front are my husband’s father Willie and his brother Harry. We are here to celebrate Willie’s 80th birthday.
We is: Bill, me, his brother Andy and wife Rachel, Willie, Harry and his wife Betty. Harry and Betty have lived in caravans most of their lives, only retiring reluctantly back to their house in Ayreshire for the winter months. They are both 82 and look, sound and act more healthy than most 60 year olds. Aside from the idiosyncricy of living in caravans and making his living through buying and selling – well anything he ever has – Harry and Betty also do not drink. This makes them rare birds indeed in Scotland. Neither do they begrudge anyone else their drinks. As I cannot drink, I find them quite easy to be around, and enjoy their humor and Harry’s story telling.
This is a relief in fact as when we were driving from the bus at Newton Abbot down further and further a peninsula to this ex army base on the water, the discussion, before Harry and Betty were found, was about whiskey distilleries, etc., and I had the heart sink feeling of: oh god, I’m going to be Alone again with not drinking…feel isolated, etc.
So, I was already feeling cheerful when we met Harry and Betty in the bar at the holiday camp and they had their Coke’s in front of them and I remembered: oh, right, they don’t drink, hooray! This was after eating an only-in-Scotland-at-this-kind-of-place fish and chips with peas from a can as a side dish and drinking a sugar free Iron Bru. Iron Bru, for those of you who have not had the pleasure, tastes like bubble gum, but it’s cold and fizzy and liquid. Sugar free, I discovered, tastes the same, with perhaps a slightly more metallic aftertaste. We ate this in a room with no music, fluorescent lights and red tablecloths next to the shop, which sold about 15 essential items for a self-catering/caravan park.
They also sell used paperback books, one of which – spotted by Bill – was a V.S. Naipaul book, which I suggested we ritually burn, but thinking better of it, took a photo of it (see below) next to its kin a book by Jeffrey Archer and a book about Old Gits.
After meeting Betty and Harry, after playing a rousing round of bingo, which I actually enjoyed – especially when Betty won £40 – there was suddenly in the middle of the room an Elvis impersonator. Now, this made me laugh of course, as I’ve never seen an Elvis impersonator before, and where should I see my first but in the ass end of Scotland with an audience average age 75 - with some teenagers and families in the mix. The big surpise was not the cheesiness of it, the dumb jokes, the white suit, sideburns and shades, but the fact the singer was actually amazingly good at his impersonation, and at working the crowd, knowing when to play with people and when to back away and made a young teenager who had been clearly unwillingly wheeled into the bar with an embarrassed sneer on her face laugh and smile.
Bill and I agreed that this guy knew how to perform and were both kind of amazed by his skill. All of this in a very unpromising looking place, where we have to pay into a meter for heat and light and bring our own towels. I looked around and many people were singing along to the songs. The older folks have a wistful sadness to their singing, the younger people simply enjoying it. Bill’s dad in particular seemed kind of sad. I know he came here as a very young man with his soon to be future wife Barbara, as he told us that when we were waiting for the keys to our ‘chalets’ (Nissan huts). His wife, Bill’s mother, died far too young, when Bill was only 17 and she was 56 or 57. Willie has never re-married or even been involved with anyone since. He shows an amazing fidelity to his love for her. Bill’s older brother Andy I think saw more of their relationship, as he was 26 when she died, and says they were very close. I noticed that Willie seemed quite alone, and I think sad in the way perhaps one is sad when you see someone, like your brother who you haven’t seen in many years, and he is much older and so are you. I was also aware that his two sons were with their wives and his brother with his. He is usually quite loquacious and a story-teller as well, but I think his older brother Harry he adores but also somehow intimidates him. He seemed quite small sitting next to his larger-than-life older brother, and he also seemed far older than him. He lives now by himself in Portsmouth where he moved to follow his work in the merchant navy, and he and Barbara bought their first and only house in 1963, and where they raised their three boys. In this same house, with its echos of so many years, and of course his wife and boys, he still lives. The place is the same as it always was, and I remember the first night I spent there lying in bed next to Bill and looking up at the white tiled ceiling and asking Bill – are these the same tiles you looked up at when you were 2? And he said yes, and that just blew my little mind. The continuity of this place, his father’s life and the basic goodness of their family life until of course the abrupt and horrendous loss of his mother and the emotional glue that held all these boys, now men, together.
There is a gap here always, and it is palpable, when they are all together, I can feel Barbara in her absence. To add to the poignance of tonight, the woman’s 70th birthday that was being celebrated was named Barbara, and she appeared to be single. I looked over at Willie a lot and he was simply looking forward and seemed somewhat sad. He looked back at me sometime but simply looked. His brother was more jolly but also went in and out of a kind of looking, which seemed to me like looking into time past and the rapid approach of the end of this life. Nothing of this is discussed of course, but because of it when they sang along to the Elvis songs, I was glad for them that they had these personal sentimental journeys to wander through and that for all of it, including our mortality, the silliness of bingo and the chilliness of a June evening in Burrow Head in Scotland, we all for that moment seemed to have each other. I suppose I felt a part of a family, is that what it is? Multi-generational, present to each other even when it’s not always the most convenient, and even when it does not make sense each other’s lives to the other…
I told them about the Bukoskis and that I would be meeting them. This was greeted with wonderment and confusion – how can you lose a family? For this group I suppose that is a mystifying concept, though the older ones seemed to accept more than the younger ones. Age is about loss it seems to me, and so from their perspective, as from mine, a new family is all about gain, as loss is an inevitable part of life, whether you realize this early or late and gains, additions, the possibility of more connection should always be celebrated.
I’ll be here for a week, so goodness knows what more I will come up with but am deliriously tired now so will end.
June 5, 2011
It’s daylight now and walked to one of the headlands (photo below), and for all the tatty silliness, I think this is the real reason people love this place. There is a sense of bleak spareness and in it a kind of beauty that I have only encountered in Scotland. It is the combination of the wildness with the cozy soft green grass and the knowledge that about 500 meters or maybe a mile away is a small house or cabin or caravan somewhere with a ‘spot of tea’ that makes it unique. In northern Norway or Greenland there is an extreme beauty and isolation, but there is not this sense of coziness to go with it.
There is a movement afoot next door to perhaps leave early, Andy’s wife Rachel not being as accustomed to the semi-spartan Scottish ‘holiday camp’ accommodation. While I am now a veteran of the self-catering Scottish grey-sun-rain-warm-cold routine, she is not and I have some sympathy with her, as I remember when I first ventured up to Scotland with Bill and we started out by camping and I was – well – unpleased.
But even Rachel, having taken a walk out to the headlands is coming around according to Andy. It’s hard to see here right away as there are caravans everywhere and an ‘Oasis’ which is nothing of the sort. I find myself moved that Andy was willing to accommodate Rachel’s complaints as I always feel compelled to work around everyone else and so am amazed when I see it work the other way.
I love Maine, for instance, where I grew up as a young child, but my first step-father, George, had no patience for a child, especially a girl age 3 who was afraid of the snow and so threw me into it to teach me a lesson I suppose. This kind of ‘training’ has led me to believe any discomfort is my own problem. Even if I do complain, and if it is too extreme I will, I always feel ashamed and as if I am in the wrong.
This is why, as I expressed in a comment after it, even after writing the post about Naipaul, and being sure of my anger, I felt ashamed of the post, like perhaps I would seem like I was ‘whining’ or ‘hysterical’ – the accusations historically hurled at women to keep us quiet, and boy is it ever effective. Especially as it can be used by women to women as much if not more than men to women.
With me, anger is anger and it’s a positive thing, means you’re manly or whatever. With women it’s ‘hysteria’ or ‘complaint’ or ‘being a bitch.’ None of these things are ever hurled at men as insults. I know none of these observations is particularly original, but as I move through this period of transition and am piecing together what has made me who I am and where I am to go with this ever-whirling pastiche of personality which swirls around like the weather, somehow it seems important to mention.
What grounds me are the moments like I just had in the headlands, by myself, lying down on soft grass, protected from the wind by walking down a slope, and feeling into the ground almost. A sense of connection with this earth – a feeling I have a lot in Scotland and oddly enough in New York City, go figure. But here it is the natural surround (in NYC its in Carl Shurz park looking at the East River), and a sense of connection inside, with the breath I suppose but also something else. Sometimes I feel I must change things on the outside and sometimes I do need to do that, but sometimes it is about connecting with this sense of a kind of interior expanse, like Dr. Who’s Tardis – the small police box that looks small on the outside and is huge on the inside. I feel connected to this place that connects to this bigness but is also, and this is the paradox, is me at the same time. All the while also feeling the insecurities and strangenesses of a small child, a certain isolation and despair even, a desire to be taken care of that sometimes I can accommodate and sometimes I cannot, and sometimes I really, really want someone else, usually say my husband, to do for me. Of course he cannot and should not, but I want it. And sometimes I don’t know what is this and what is wanting a reasonable amount of care and concern.
Well, the troops have returned from effusive Uncle Harry’s caravan for Port Patrick, so I will end this blog entry here in hopes I can upload some material somewhere back in the land of the internet. Here there is no internet and only intermittent phone signal from the Isle of Man. Life’s good, strange, wonderful, scary, windy, grey and lovely.