Saturday, 22 November 2008

Eyes at tea-time

Now the night comes in so early, making a cup of tea at 5 involves walking by torchlight across the croft from the studio to the caravan and back. The studio is wood-stove snuggly, but today it has barely edged above freezing outside and last night's fall of hail and snow hasn't melted at all.

The caravan is at ambient temperature, so I keep my coat and gloves on to fill the kettle and as it boils the steam billows like an old locomotive chimney. I stew the tea in the pot then pour it into a thermos flask and head back to the studio. I realise some people would find this lifestyle uncomfortable, but it has its magic.

On the way to the caravan, something rustled in the rushes close to the path and scampered away. I swept arcs with my torch until I hooked a pair of glints, a pair of eyes reflecting the light. They seemed low to the ground but I couldn't tell at that distance what was looking back at me through the vegetation. I murmured to it and it held my gaze. I swang the beam around and picked out two more pairs of twinkles, then walked on.

On the way back to the studio, I hear another scuffle near to the old ruin and the swish of animals moving through long heather. I scan with the beam. Two eyes gleam. It's three roe deer, right there, two with their white rumps catching the light and the other one looking straight at me. The other two deer turn their heads and, for a moment, six little dishes of light shine in the dark. Then three reflective rumps mark their bouncing path as they bound away over the brae and into the lochside woods.

Back at the studio, I strip off the warm gear and sit down to a nice cup of Darjeeling, knowing just why I don't miss the convenience of being able simply to hit a switch in the kitchen when I want a cup of tea.

Monday, 17 November 2008

On rawness

Winter arrived suddenly with a week of gales, a clatter of hail and a half-serious fall of snow. We retreated from the caravan at the shore to the shed in the woods. Then just as suddenly it backed off again, allowing us a couple more weeks of autumn, so we packed up and headed back down to the lochside for a few starry nights and a chance for a bonfire. Shoals of birch leaves rafted in and moored among the bladderwrack. The aspens fluttered their money-leaves for a few more days.

Now winter is back, the days are short and it's raw. Raw. 'Of weather: harshly cold and damp', the dictionary puts it. Harshly cold means just a few degrees above freezing, maybe 5 during the day, dropping to 1 or 2 at night. And damp? Well, after several days of torrential rain, damp seems an ludicrous understatement. This kind of wet cold feels much colder than a dry freeze; it is something about the way the air is saturated that draws any warmth from exposed skin. Plus there's the wind-chill factor: it is blowing due westerly, scouring up the loch from the sea at a steady force 5, gusting strongly enough to lash the rain inside the hood of your coat. Everything's chilly and wet to touch. There is no evaporation at all: nothing dries, the caravan windows are permanently steamed up and condensation pours and pours. The paths get soggier each day, like wet sponges, their peaty basis turning to the consistency of porridge. We squodge back and forth across the croft in wellies and full waterproofs, stripping down to come into the studio, or a shed, or caravan, leaving dripping rain gear to puddle outside, with no hope of it drying.

Having been told by a Siberian that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing, I have learned to focus my loathing onto the most egregious corners of my failing garments. I restrict my feelings about these weather conditions to hating the wet cuffs on my jacket and I occupy myself by imagining how a different design might miraculously wick this moisture away.

But the good thing about such a serious bout of dreich weather is that I'm driven indoors long enough to get round to this. If it goes on much longer, I might even manage my tax form. Now there's something that really will feel raw.