The nice thing about receiving rubbish news was that we had already booked a long weekend getaway to Oban. Or, more specifically, to Loch Melfort, about 17 miles south of Oban.
So we let it go and piled the family, the luggage, and the dog into the car.
Wait, we don’t have a car.
Fortunately it is possible to hire a car in Scotland. Angie finished off the packing while I caught the bus to Falkirk to pick up the rental car. I chose Mitchells Hire Drive, Scotland’s favourite vehicle rentals. Scotland must love low levels of service and product quality.
The next cheapest company was double the price of this bunch, so perhaps I expected too much. Most people probably don’t think they deserve to receive a clean car and full tank of petrol when they pay £40 a day for the privilege of using a Ford Ka. Yeah, it must just be us uppity immigrants. The dirty looks I got when I raised some objections. Sadly there wasn’t a lot of competition nearby, otherwise I would have walked out and tried to rent a vehicle somewhere else.
The beaten-up grubby car acquired, I travelled home and we loaded in all the gang.
Weather was our friend on this trip, and Scotland is a really beautiful place on sunny days.
The drive was beautiful. The place we stayed, Melfort Pier and Harbour, was beautiful. There was a tiny beach and Jethro loved splashing in the water. Bean had her first experience of a beach, and I had the impression that she approved. She seemed to say, “Surely, such holidays are fitting for a dog of my high status, and why have I not been treated to such things previously?”
We travelled a bit around the coast, visiting Oban and taking a boat ride around the seal island. Also got a look at some salmon farms up close.
Other short drives took us to the tiny villages along the lochside. Beautiful little spots like Craobh and Ardfern received our custom and appreciation.
Then we returned, and on the drive back we found a most wonderful spot for lunch. The pictures belong tell you more.
They wouldn’t let us into the Palace. Not to live there, at least. There must be some sort of mistake, so we’re living in a semi-detached two-bedroom place until we get it all sorted out.
Mind you, the place we’ve moved to is rather nice. It has double-glazed windows while the Royal Palace has no windows at all. Sure, there is a lot more space at the palace than the house we’re in, but imagine the palace heating bill in the winter?
We moved because the costs of living in Edinburgh were too taxing. Other than the palace we should rightfully occupy, we chose Linlithgow because of its strategic geographic location. It’s about half-way between Edinburgh and Glasgow, along the railway line, increasing the markets in which we can look for employment. Nursery school teacher and telephone call centre human are not our life-long ambitions, so having a broader range of places to look for other work is an important consideration.
Unlike the place we rented in Edinburgh, our new place in Linlithgow didn’t come furnished. Fortunately, second-hand furniture from charity shops (like British Heart Foundation) is super-affordable — and they deliver! Unfortunately, on the day we moved they delivered only half our bed. And not the soft, springy half. The floor that night was not in any way comfortable.
Bean Dog’s emancipation from quarantine coincided beautifully with our move to Linlithgow. A few days after we moved home, it was up to me to fetch Bean from the Milton Quarantine Kennels, in Strathclyde, west of Glasgow. Angie was off at work, so I had to take Jethro with me on the journey, which complicated matters somewhat.
The SPCA appeared to have a No Fur Cutting Policy, and as a result Bean was a rather massive canine ball of fluff. I told Bean this, and Jethro overheard me. He still hasn’t stopped telling people that Bean is “a ball of fluff.”
Bean was, understandably, excited about leaving solitary confinement and getting her first sniff in six months of the outside world. Bean has neither travelled on a bus nor a train, and both means of transport would be required to get her back home. Jethro, although having travelled on buses and trains, had not travelled on them with Bean. He was rather excited about it all too.
Their excitement was my trepidation. I had terrible visions of dogs and children running off in opposite directions, and falling in front of buses, trains, and other heavy machinery, as I scurried desperately after them. Surprisingly everyone was rather well behaved, with one exception. Bean sat quietly panting while every bus passenger embarked and disembarked. That was until a black person stepped on the bus. Then she let loose with her growly-yap-growl-yappity-yap! Another passenger sitting across from us remarked, “Your dog is racist.” I couldn’t really argue with her, but attempted to deflect the implication of my inherent racism with a story about dogs barking at white people in South Africa, when the dog owners were black. If seemed a flimsy defence and I’m not sure it worked.
With Bean living with us again there is a sense of belonging. A sense of place. Although nothing can ever be truly permanent, we feel relatively certain that we’ll be here for a number of years to come. Our stay in Edinburgh felt transient and incomplete. A rented flat we were not allowed to decorate didn’t feel like home. We are living in a home now, and that’s an important step on getting our life back on track.
Having a home gives us a base to operate from. We’ve found Jethro a playgroup to attend and a child-carer to watch over him while we attempt to rekindle our careers. Although “rekindle” may be a poor turn of phrase, considering we already cast our careers into the bonfire of [clever metaphor I’m too lazy to think of], and scattered the ashes to the four winds.
The Fletchcocks visited us in December for Christmas celebration times. These are a few of the photos I took.
I am conspicuous by my absence. There are photos of me at this occasion in existence, but they are stowed within the walled garden that is Facebook. I’m not sure what the privacy settings on that gallery are, but at the very least you need to log into Facebook.
If you haven’t forgotten what I look like, having no Facebook account is unlikely to be a problem for you.
On the way to the Edinburgh Modern Art Gallery today it occurred to me that I may have completely fucked up my life by coming to the UK. No job. No money. No nothing.
Angie and I argued. She went home in disgust at my negativity.
I trundled on towards the gallery with Jethro. I was filled with rage, but a determined sort of rage. A rage to take Jethro to the gallery, see the giant furniture, and have a nice time no-matter-what goddammit!
I rounded the corner and beheld the gallery façade…
The neon lights knocked me forcefully. I fell to a bench, and my anger flushed out of me. It wet my gloves as it fled through my hands to the floor. Then it was gone—my red eyes and damp gloves the only evidence of it having ever existed.
When I stopped crying we went inside. . The giant furniture was amusing. The tourists were life-like. Edvard Munch’s lithographs were chilling.
Jethro and I had a wonderful time. I think I believe Martin Creed.
When I was first trying to figure out what to do with my life, I was very concerned about money. No money equated to death, in my mind. Considering that, perhaps I should have become an investment banker. They seem to make a lot of money even when they are actually losing it. That’s a sure bet if there ever was one. I guess I’m just not enough of a socio-path to feel no guilt at that sort of behaviour.
Instead I pursued a career in engineering. It seemed the pragmatic approach to going about things. It was a vocation useful to society, and one which would eventually yield high economic returns guilt-free (well my 17 year old self imagined it to be free of difficult ethical decisions). I remember researching average income for engineers and found the results to be comforting.
Another consideration was the need to acquire a bursary to support my studies. I sensed some pressure from my father in this respect (not blaming you Dad). There weren’t a lot of bursaries on offer for Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, but bursaries from industrial and mining companies in South Africa were literally growing on trees (the trees are rather odd in South Africa — also, lions prowl in the streets of Johannesburg which is the real reason for the high murder rate). Both my brothers had been awarded bursaries for their academic results, and my academic results were of a similar standard, so it seemed the bursary was mine for the picking. But the political climate in the country had changed, and those bursary trees in the white sand were looking a little withered. Their bursary leaves curling up and falling from the branches, all crackly and brittle.
The ANC had been unbanned and Nelson Mandela had been elected president of South Africa. My pale male skin was no longer a particular advantage to me, and may even have counted against me. There was great pressure on companies to support and train young black talent. My numerous bursary applications yielded a number of interviews, but no financing for my studies. Realising this, and sensing the pushing he may have made for me to pursue a bursary, my father told me to study whatever I wanted to. “You like writing. Study English, or journalism. Study whatever you enjoy.”
It was too late though. I heard what he told me, but I wasn’t going to let it interfere with the way I’d predefined what my future would hold. I had conclusive proof in my mind that pursuing any career other than engineering would leave me destitute on the street. I’d beg for small change and scraps of stale bread. I’d dig in dustbins to survive. I’d be bad at that. Then I’d die.
My parents weren’t the only ones I chose to ignore. I ignored everyone that told me that a career in writing was the thing I should be doing.
On the last day of high school my English teacher wished me well and said, “Look forward to seeing you in print.”
Every year I won the English prize at school.
I was rejected by AECI for a bursary in Chemical Engineering, and the reason they gave was “Neil wants to be a writer.”
People working at a chemical factory had a better idea about what I should be doing than I did. I look back at it now, and I want to go and smack my 17-year-old self about the back of his head, and shout, “Look! Look! It’s staring you in the face you bleeding idiot!”
I also created a myth. The myth of doing something one really enjoys to earn money would ruin the love and enjoyment of the activity. Thus writing for a living is something I could never really contemplate, because that would destroy my ability to gain any satisfaction from the activity itself. Broken logic to protect myself from disappointment. I saw myself as a writer, but if I tested this hypothesis and failed to make a living from writing, what would I be?
It’s time to test the hypothesis.
It’s been a long arduous journey to break down the fear that paralysed me. Quitting work in South Africa during a recession, and moving to the haemorrhaging UK economy can hardly be described as “wise.” It has shaken the risk and fear perceptions I’ve held. It’s teaching me to fight.
It’s stupid to fight for something one doesn’t want. For a short while here in the UK I tried to make a professional photographer of myself. This would have been a great idea had I been taking photographs for pleasure all my life, but I haven’t. I felt I could monetise it faster than I could writing, and maybe that’s true, but so what? It will be a fight to get a photography business going. A war even. I’m not going to fight a war I don’t believe in.
Short fiction, longer fiction (Commitmentman? That would be hilarious if I were to make my fortune off that!) freelance article writer. I’m researching journalism courses in Scotland, and have a couple of prospects that I’ll apply to. I’ll also apply for unpaid internships or whatever I can get at publications in the area, in order to get some journalism experience.
However this works out, there is one thing I’m certain of. I’ll be writing about it.