Friday, 16 April 2010

Staying longer than to breakfast (1)


Despite rumours that last week J. and I had gone to Morocco, Cambodia or Ireland, we had only gone to Scotland, where we go once or twice a year mostly because certain family members live there, not one of them with a single drop of Scottish blood coursing through their veins.

We went to Nairn, a pleasant little town on the southern shore of the Moray (pronounced 'Murray') Firth, and apparently the largest town in the Highlands after Inverness. I lived in Nairn for a few months some years ago, unaware that Dr Johnson, who passed through with Boswell on their journey to the western islands of Scotland in 1773, hadn't been very complimentary about the place:

'...we travelled on and came to Nairn, a royal burgh, which, if once it flourished, is now in a state of miserable decay ... At Nairn we may fix the verge of the Highlands; for here I first saw peat fires, and first heard the Erse language. We had no motive to stay longer than to breakfast...'

Roughly 200 years after Dr Johnson's visit I spent a couple of summer months in Nairn looking for a cottage I could call my own. After much exploration of the Nairnshire hinterland on an old motor-bike, itself in a state of miserable decay, I found a row of cottages a few miles inland. No. 2 seemed to be empty. (It's pictured above, after I'd painted the porch white and yellow and called the place Cruachan, which I understood was Gaelic for 'a heap of stones'.) The neighbours, one of whom did indeed speak the Erse language (i.e. Scots Gaelic) as well as English, suggested I should approach the Laird.

It turned out that the Laird was away, staying with his daughter in Wiltshire. Despite the immediate inconvenience, I was glad to hear this: it implied that his horizons were a little wider than the Deepest Darkest Caledonia I found myself in. He came back a few days later, and agreed to rent me the cottage for £4 a year, with the first quarter's rent payable at Lammas (August 1st) and thereafter at Martinmas, Candlemas and Whitsun.

This seemed reasonable to me, so I moved in immediately, piano first, followed by a few sticks of furniture mostly bought in a local auction room. These included a massive armchair with the imprint of an enormous, size 15 boot on the seat and a metal button engraved 'Northamptonshire Constabulary' hidden down the side. A Camping Gaz stove and a paraffin heater. And, since there was no electricity, water or sanitation, a chemical toilet, an Elsan. This was little more than a large metal drum with a seat, which you prepared for use by pouring in a few inches of water followed by a blue sanitizing liquid which you could get quite hooked on if you sniffed at it for any length of time. I can't say I ever discovered any house-guest kneeling before the Elsan for this purpose, possibly because whenever guests needed to use the Elsan, which was very noisy indeed as the drum tended to act as a kind of resonator, I was required to drown the noises off in the Elsan parlour by sitting at the piano and playing loud, military music.

23 comments:

Dave said...

£4 a year! Were you made of money?

I, Like The View said...

a very welcoming front door!

(word ver has to be seen to be believed: hovel)

ziGGi said...

I think I would have missed windows more than the bathroom! Beautifully painted porch.

Christopher said...

Dave: Ah, but wait until the next instalment of this saga, when the devil mask of naked capitalism peers in through one of the windows...

Jax: Hovel-ish it might have been, but the roof didn't leak and I loved it.

Zigs: You imply an interesting metaphysical point in the windows v. bathrooms debate: how far can you cleanse yourself in daylight?

Sarah said...

I still live like that...barely better than camping! who needs fresh running water and electricity anyway.
My friends throw their arms up in horror when I tell them I don't want a dishwasher ( I hate emptying the damn things), and I must be the only person in the country without a microwave....soooo unnatural and something very scary about cooking your food from the inside out....

Hope you had a nice time

Rog said...

Nairn is just 68 miles from the magical little Local Hero Port at Pennan. Lovely!

Christopher said...

Well, Sarah, you'd have felt very much at home there and I'm sure you would have graced the place with your élan, panache and fougue.

Rog, by a very curious coincidence tonight J. and I are going to watch Local Hero, which I ordered via Dave's Amazon spot. Curiously, I've never been to Pennan, but I do know Lochinver, which was the setting for the seaward scenes.

Rog said...

You are so lucky to be experiencing the finest film ever made for the first time!

And Mr Capaldi doesn't swear at all.

The music and scenery make it.

I, Like The View said...

Local Hero is one of my very very favourite of all time films. . .

. . .hope you enjoy it

(hey Sarah - I don't do microwaves either!!)

Dave said...

Thanks for the order. I've already made over £1 from all the orders my readers have put in. I can afford a loaf of bread this week.

Christopher said...

Rog, Jax: REALLY enjoyed Local Hero and clearly your taste is unimpeachably impeccable. (One of the cast is a good friend so now I can talk about it on equal terms.) Included in the same Amazon order was Carol Reed's The Third Man, which we've had on video cassette for ages but no longer have anything to play it on. Is this too an all-time favourite?

Dave: Good. If everyone ordered via you, you could have butter (please, no marge) and jam as well.

I, Like The View said...

so glad you enjoyed it - so glad

haven't seen The Third Man, so perhaps you'll be able to advise me on that

Christopher said...

I don't know whether you'd like it, Jax - I've always had this thing about Vienna. Although the Third Man's a pretty uncomfortable but classic (1949) film noir about post-war petty criminality in Vienna, there's a powerful evocation of the lost grandeur of a major European city. For me its appeal is partly to do with the music, which is totally wrong while being totally right, and I wonder if Graham Green (who wrote the novel it's based on) had any opinions about it.

I, Like The View said...

let me know - had a phase of reading Greene novels. . .

Sarah said...

Thank you

Christopher said...

A pleasure, Sarah. I should perhaps have added espièglerie.

Z said...

I think that the film of The Third Man is better than the book. As are To Have And Have Not and and Brokeback Mountain. I don't know if it's something about being short novels/novellas, as normally, of course, too much is left out, but if anything in these stories made into films, loose ends are tied up.

Z said...

between 'and' and 'and', I managed to delete another novella made into a film. When I remember what it was, I'll tell you.

Z said...

Oh yes, The Shawshank Redemption. It was all that htmling. Put me off my stroke.

Christopher said...

Isn't it great how comment threads can take on a life of their own, far removed from the original post?

Graham Greene had some interesting things to say about The Basement Room/Fallen Idol, the novella that morphed into The Third Man:

'My film story, The Third Man, was never written to be read but only to be seen. The story, like many love affairs, started at a dinner table and continued with headaches in many places: Vienna, Ravello, London, Santa Monica.

…long before, on the flap of an envelope, I had written an opening paragraph: "I had paid my last farewell to Harry a week ago, when his coffin was lowered into the frozen February ground, so that it was with incredulity that I saw him pass by, without a sign of recognition, among the host of strangers in the Strand." I, like my hero, had not the least inkling of an explanation, so when Alexander Korda over dinner asked me to write a film for Carol Reed — to follow our Fallen Idol which I had adapted from my short story "The Basement Room" a year before—I had nothing more to offer him except this paragraph, though what Korda really wanted was a film about the Four-Power occupation of Vienna...


(Graham Greene, Ways of Escape)

As for the famous music, Carol Reed apparently discovered the zither player Anton Karas, a little bloke with glasses, playing in a Viennese café/wine bar. Although his music is completely derivative of the Strauss family music Reed and Korda so much wanted to avoid, Reed signed him up on the spot. Greene never showed any great enthusiasm for the music, having merely suggested some kind of leitmotiv associated with Harry Lime.

Dear Z, don't get me going on any more about Vienna or we shall be here for ever.

Spadoman said...

I need to comment on the post, then I'll come back in a decade or two and comment on the comments.
In the meantime, yes, a lovely paint job, but does it look that good when the light isn't as perfect as it was the day you snapped this photo?
How far is this from the place where they mine the stone for curling rocks?
The deep resonating sound of one's relief landing in the bottom of an addictive smelling receptacle makes me want to spend a lot of time outside when visiting you at your, er, cottage.
Here in Merica, we have the outhouse, a sensible contraption that usually doesn't quite smell so addictive.

Pax Vobiscum Brother Christohpher

Christopher said...

Spadoman, I take it that your outhouse, like many thousands of others, was built to the specifications of Chic Sale's The Specialist, whose watchword was 'Dig her deep and dig her wide.' I'm sure this indispensable little book occupies as honoured a place in many a US homestead as the outhouse itself.

Pax vobiscum

Christopher said...

...I forgot to ask, Spadoman, whether you have a half-moon or a bunch of grapes cut into your outhouse door?

Pax, and thanks for dropping in. Always welcome!