‘The American writer Harry W. Paige said that “home is not a place only, but a condition of the heart”. […] Like being married, being at home is not a passive state. It is a process, in which the heart must be engaged. That is as true for the reindeer herders of Siberia, whose home may be hundreds of square miles, as it is for the inhabitants of a tiny village on a tiny island. For many people this is not so. Home for them is nowhere in particular. It is the house in which their belongings are kept and in which they go to sleep at night. It extends no further than that. This is the condition of our time. It is a marriage without love, a relationship without commitment. And it is, surely, a kind of homelessness. But there is another kind of homelessness, too […] exiled from a home that no longer existed, and which in some sense, never really had […] Some had only ever lived in the place where they were born; they were shaped and defined by those places. Others had left one home and found another, in which they felt a deeper sense of belonging. […] There were also those – past and present – who’d been estranged: political and religious exiles; indigenous people whose cultures had been undermined.’
I thought I might finish the last chapter of Malachy Tallack’s Sixty Degrees North on the ferry to the islands – it’s called ‘Homecoming’, and it seemed fitting. However, reading it just now in this little roaring bay way out west, I’m glad I didn’t, because I had company and it’s had me sobbing for my own little girl self who, more than thirty years ago, awaited a return that never happened.
It is, predictably, both great and hard to come back to the first destination of my optimistic journey, now pressured to stop, set up shop, and house, and knuckle down, possibly even rejoin the ratrace or try for mortgage slavery. (No, the latter two are unlikely – probably impossible – but I’m having to consider all sorts.) The exploration this time is tainted with urgency, need, guilt (at time taken out of work) and fear.
We watched a large pod of porpoises briefly from the boat – only my third ever sighting, though now my fourth sighting is a dead one here on the beach below.
Then I headed here, to check in, and in warm sun and little wind, we camped up on the cliff rather than down on the machair with the other vans. I wonder who my summer friends may be, and hope that some of them will last longer than the few days over which our paths, or vans, may coincide.
Murph was even happier than I for the old engine to stop its shuddering for a few days. He probably didn’t notice or care, as I did, that the old schoolhouse here has been demolished. I thought I’d walk him out to the point to sit and watch dolphins. Not that I’ve ever walked out to the, or any, point and seen any dolphins there, but we walked out to the point and sat and I’d forgotten my fleeting intention but opened my eyes lazily after half an hour and clearly glimpsed a rolling porpoise.
In the last of the heatwave I swam, and then we cycled (too elegant a term for my clunkily-geared-slow-punctured-bulging-tyred-kneebusting-rustbucket) around the higgledy braes, through a sea of buttercups, past Dougie MacLean’s house and round to another sea loch to visit a one-time motorhome neighbour who now has a croft here. Hugs and happiness all round (although Murph was tired in the heat, and it was too far for him).
Then we returned to town, slept in car parks, boat yards and castle grounds, bustled around doing paperwork and practicals. A sale, thank goodness (aka Han). Again that Royal-Geographic-Society-type grandeur of the Stornoway Poste Restante address. The postmaster I liked before. The library where I built my website, and the library van driver I held up when my van broke down (‘Oh yes, I thought I recognised you’). The yarn cave and another hug and a helpful blether about a cottage I’m keen on. A delay as I shelter from Hector, and time to meet a kindly family for tea. A ceilidh with them the following night, and home-distilled whiskey till 3am, and hospitality for the weekend.
Then trips out of town and back to visit bungalows, businesses and housewrecks for sale all around the island. It’s a gift that one of the most affordable places in the UK happens to be one of my favourites. Although not entirely a coincidence. I persevere through deserted moonscapes devoid of topsoil (should I add to the sum of sheep in the world?) and discover pretty bays with art cafés and people who like folk music and lefty politics, and who don’t go away in the darkest months, phew. So maybe even an unfamiliar corner of these Western Isles could offer me a livelihood and a home.
I guess the next steps will be solicitors and surveyors. And decisions. How terrifying. Can I just weave please and hope the rest works itself out without me?