My current blogging slump has been saved by the receipt of a guest post. My great blogging friend and occasional collaborator, Cindy Bruchman, has sent me this delightful story about her time in the far north of Scotland. At the time, she was serving in the US Navy, and this was her experience of one of the really remote parts of the British Isles.
“I once lived four years in Scotland back in the early1980s. The US NAVY had a communication station about seven miles outside of Thurso on the cliff’s edge of the North Sea. When I arrived in February, it was dark, and ropes tied to the base buildings allowed me to cross the compound without blowing away. Seriously. The slapping of the waves upon the ancient rocks and the roar of the wind made it impossible for anyone to talk outdoors. The wind was a constant companion. At its best, it was breezy. At its worst, the rage would scoot my Mini across the road. I gave up trying to comb my hair. The wet assault on my ear drums contributed to my partial loss of hearing. I was nineteen and naïve and excited to be stationed in the UK. For the first three years, I was a petty officer (E4), sending and receiving messages to and from sub tenders. In the last year, I was a “dependent wife”. I gave birth to my first son there.
At one point, we lived in a farmhouse on top of a cliff the Navy rented with one of the finest views on the planet. It overlooked Scrabster Harbor. To get to it, one had to drive up a lane and open and shut the fence gates. The sheep would surround your car and wander up to the front door. Sometimes the big male would charge at you. One clear day, I went for a hike, and I explored out past the barn to have a look at the lighthouse which pointed toward the Orkney Islands. I stumbled upon a lamb which had died; the image of the corpse is tattooed in my mind. Coming home in the dark, standing on the plateau by the cliff’s edge with the lights of Thurso sparkling below and the moon dipping in and out of the clouds, and that wind nudging you like a burly big brother, I felt my life was formidable and awesome. During the summer months, the sun was reluctant to set; at two in the morning, you could still see it, lazy on the horizon. Like the weather, my personal experiences contrasted. I buckled and failed. I soared and grew. I was living my own coming-of-age story within a setting of darkness and light and an explosion to the senses.
One of the interesting aspects about Thurso is that it’s the happening place if you like to surf. The water is freezing, and I think they are mad, but every year tourists ferry across from Sweden or the Netherlands, bringing their bicycles and tents and boards to surf.
We used to barter with the locals. We could get them tax-free liquor in exchange for North Sea salmon. After a mid-watch, we’d catch a taxi and frequent the Pentland Hotel, The Upper Deck, or The Central to have toasties with tomato and pints of lager for breakfast. Yum. Scotland is where I learned how to shoot darts.
It took me about six months to understand what on earth they were saying. The locals had a fun time teasing the Yanks by speaking their Gaelic. You knew they liked you when they finally spoke English. But even when they enunciated, it took a time to understand their brogue.
My Navy peers complained that the sun rarely came out, but I kept pinching myself to see if I were dreaming. When the sun shone, we flocked to the roofs and exposed our white-white skin. If you want the fizz of palm trees and lights and discos and urban variety, you would not like Thurso. But, if you appreciate ancient history, authentic people, the fizz that comes from the wind and waves of the coastline, you’d have a fine time. Don’t forget to bring your wellies and brollies. You’ll need them.”
My warmest thanks to Cindy for taking the time to write this, and to include her own images too. Her own site is an absolute treasure; full of great photos, literature, film reviews and articles, and her own interesting fiction too. Here’s a link. I suggest you scoot over and check it out now.
If anyone else would like to send me a guest post, they are always welcome. Please submit your idea to my email address, email@example.com