He could be an axe murderer…

The night before I met Jim Murdoch in person, I
dreamed about our meeting, only in my dream Jim Murdoch had morphed into Gerald Murnane, the Australian writer, once in contention for a Nobel prize in
literature, with whom I’ve been corresponding for over ten years. 
Gerald Murnane and I have agreed it’s better to have a
relationship through the written word than to engage in person, and until the
time we met, Jim Murdoch and I had a similar relationship, one that existed on
the page only, or should I say on the screen, an online relationship that many
of us in the blogosphere share. 
In my dream, the entire Murnane family came to meet
me, but there was some trouble over who might drive the family car, Murnane’s
elderly father or me.  This dream speaks to me of all sorts of things, but
for now, it’s enough to observe how much it hints at my anxiety in meeting Jim.
Nevertheless, I tried hard not to be nervous about our
meeting.  I had only just arrived in Edinburgh two days earlier so I was
still in that fog of newness that descends whenever you arrive in a foreign
place and my nervousness was hard to shake. 
  
My Edinburgh-based daughter had shown me the day before how I
might walk from our hotel room along St Mary’s Street to Waverly station in Edinburgh to take the
train to Glasgow’s Queen Street station where Jim and I had arranged on Facebook to meet. 
If only we’d agreed to meet alone.  I say this now because in our initial
planning I had mentioned to Jim that my husband would also like to meet him and
suggested that Jim’s wife, Carrie, whom I’ve also met online – my husband does not
communicate online, he prefers to keep out of cyberspace – might
like to join us too, and so we became a foursome. 
The extra invitations were a protective manoeuvre, I reckon
now.  As one of my daughters said to me
when I told her I’d be meeting the Jim Murdoch from my blog, ‘How do you know
he is who he says he is? He could be an axe murderer.’
The thought had not crossed my mind that Jim could be anyone
other than the man he claims to be on his blog. I had no doubt as
to his actual existence, but to appease my children and my husband and maybe to
appease that doubtful part of myself that I here deny, that just-in-case part
of myself, I thought it would be better to include our spouses.
I can still see myself arrive at Glasgow station.  I look up in awe at the overarching ceilings on these amazing railway stations in Scotland.  It’s like being in the movies. You mind the gap as you step off the train under the glare of light; you walk the stretch of platform, jostling with other passengers; and then you take out your ticket, and slip it into the slot, not entirely confident that this machine
will offer it back for the return journey nor lift the bar to let you through. 
This time it worked and almost before I had time to clear the exit,
with my husband close behind, I saw Jim. 
I recognised him instantly from his pictures and he recognised me.  Jim was, as his photos suggest, a man with a ginger/grey
beard that almost hides his face and glasses. 

My impulse, my rehearsed greeting, was one of
a slowly proffered hand, but Jim grabbed me in a hug that was so strong, heart felt and warm it caught me off guard.

I had imagined that Jim Murdoch, the man who tells me about his
reclusive ways, would be less forthcoming. 
More like me, physically shy and held back.  

I did not say anything of this to Jim at the
time.  At the time, we walked briskly
along one cold Glasgow Street around a corner past the Wellington Monument and we talked about the weather and the fact that Jim had chosen a nearby patisserie
where we might stop to drink our coffee.  

The
monument was decked out with a witches hat/traffic cone that some ‘naughty boys’ probably
put up there years ago.

Carrie was already settled inside, Jim told us, as my husband trailed
behind, all three of us caught up in the niceties of that first meeting.
The rest of our time together swims by in a haze of images.  The coffee lounge or patisserie was one of
those large, efficient establishments in beige colours with dark wood flourishes.  I did not pay it too much attention caught up as I was in this first meeting. 
Jim had told me in his Facebook message that given Carrie’s presence
we would not be lost for words.  He was right. 
Carrie took hold of the conversation and the four of us talked together
about the sort of trivia people share when they meet for the first time across
countries.  How the weather in Australia
compares to Glasgow.  

Together we roamed
over all sorts of vague irrelevancies to clear a space for deeper conversation
that never really happened.  

We two sat diagonally opposite and there were so many times
when I would have liked to shut the other two up and talk to Jim about things
that matter to me about writing, things that I imagine matter to Jim, too. 
I would have liked to cut across the friendly banter and dive
deep into conversation that meant more, but it was not to happen.  And in the end, after we had finished our lattes
and Jim had ordered a second cup of coffee for him and Carrie, and my husband and I had
finished our glasses of water – we’d had breakfast on the way to Waverly station
and could not tolerate the idea of a second cup of coffee, whereas Jim and
Carrie were keen for more – we said our goodbyes.
I was torn between my husband’s needs and my own.
My own wish to plunge into thoughts about writing and life in the online world,
instead we talked about power companies and the cost of electricity. 
My husband had also mentioned how keen he was to visit Mackintosh House, which he had read about.  A house of remarkable design, whose original owners had introduced a new style of architecture in the early 1900s.  We never got there because the
house turned out to be further into town at the university and the
rain was pelting down.

By the time we left Jim and Carrie, the first thing we did, in
order to get out of the rain and for warmth, we went
to GOMA, the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. 
Up and down stairs, the bright lights and colours of paintings on walls
by some of Glasgow’s finest artists, left me hankering for the cosy warmth of
the patisserie. 
In retrospect, my visit with Jim Murdoch became an opportunity lost.  How could it be otherwise in the circumstances?
There are times when the written word can be more enticing
than the flesh, the face to face, the ordinary defensiveness of real life
contact. 
In writing we can be more honest, however much we might
construct our stories.  In person, we are
polite and hide behind our smiles.  

In writing we can tell the truth about lies

Far from home

You’d think I’d get over this aversion to travel.  You’d think I’d join the ranks of all those
who ooh and aah at the thought of some new country on their horizon, those who
love nothing more than to be tourists exploring other people’s back yards.  
But I’m still averse, even after two amazing weeks in Scotland.  
I should start with the
positives, the pleasurable moments, the moments of bliss when we drove through
the single road from Glasgow up to Fort William through the mountainous peaks
of Glencoe in our upgraded hire car – upgraded to a brand new BMW, which was
comfortable, but anxiety producing in so far as we feared putting so much as a
scratch on its exterior – the insurance excess is phenomenal, even though we
paid for it. 
See how easy it is to slip into the negatives. 
We drove through magic territory, the stuff of movies, as in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, snow capped peaks that loomed down on us
through thick mists. 
Ever so romantic from the comfort of our car.  Ever so inspiring, but not when you stepped into
it.  Then it was cold beyond belief. 
And everywhere these huge expanses of water, the lochs of
Lomond and others, alongside the Trossachs National park.  All the signs written in Gaelic to add to the
effect of being in a foreign place. 
Likewise in Edinburgh itself, this extraordinary crag,
Arthur’s Seat, which tourists climb from numerous angles.  One cold afternoon I walked around the back
of the section they call the crags, alone except for the twenty or so tourists
I encountered, and found myself between two gorse covered peaks in a green
grassy valley. 
I felt again the awe of the natural world, however much people
have spoiled it by their presence. 
That said, I do not enjoy being a tourist, one of the many, who spend
their days window shopping on the world. 
Here you see I slip back into the negatives. 
The positives of this trip include, first and foremost
spending time with our youngest daughter, which was in fact the reason for our
trip in the first place, the reason for our choice of destination, which had
been her choice of destination, hers to study in a foreign place on exchange
and ours to visit her halfway through her time away. 
She made the trip easier. 
She knew the place well enough by then to be able to take us to good
restaurants and to help us to avoid the crappy ones. 
Even then when we moved around without her we still found
ourselves lunching in a place in Edinburgh called Biblos.
‘Didn’t you know that’s part of a
chain, one of those horrible tourist joints?’ our daughter said when I told
her about our lack-lustre lunch.  ‘You
could have guessed.’  In hindsight, we could have guessed, but by then we were tired
and wanted to stop almost anywhere.
If I were in Melbourne, I’d know where to stop and what to
avoid, by and large, but that’s another of the hazards of travelling, the stuff
of not knowing where to stop for basics, like food and drink. 
The same could be said of accommodation but by and large we
chose wisely, though our bed in Oban on the way to the Isle of Mull sloped into
the middle and I felt as though I was on the edge of a hill all night rolling
down from a high point.  And the bed
itself was as hard as a board which made the roll downhill even more
unavoidable. 
On the other hand, Strongarbh house, the place we stayed in
at the Isle of Mull in Tobermorey, was a place of fairy tales.  The most magnificent house I’ve ever
occupied.

On Easter Sunday morning the condensation on the window was
so thick I could not see out to the sea below but over time given a hint of sunshine,
it cleared.
Strange how much pleasure renders me speechless.  
If I had things to complain about in
Tobermorey, I’d have had heaps to write about, but here it was all so
magnificent it’s hard to gripe. 
In the afternoon we visited the basement library at
Strongarbh house, which the owners made available to us as guests and we read
and rested, while in the morning we explored the small town, with its curve of
coloured shop fronts over the way from a protected bay and there we sensed
something of a Scottish way of life that beats all the postcards in existence.

In the heart of me, I enjoyed these experiences, but every
time we three knocked heads over some disagreement – which side of the road we
might walk on, or where we might head from one moment to the next – I longed
for home. 
We seemed so different from one another in Scotland. 
Between the three of us it could become a tussle of our
individual insecurities.  Plus we tended to pair off, me and my husband, me and my daughter.  And on occasion I was left alone. 
We fell naturally into these divisions, and there were times
when each of us wanted to be alone.  The
greatest conflict erupted when all three of us were together.  We are family after all.  And I often wondered about the pressures on
family life in what must have been a very difficult environment, given the
remoteness of the terrain and the weather.
One day, we visited Glencoe,
‘the glen of tears’ and scene of a major battle in earlier times.  The
details evade me, but the sense of walking through that land, occupied by the
likes of Lorna Doone, stays with me. Orange covered gorse and dried out
ferns long killed by the snow, trees still bare of leaves, and a few leaf buds
visible everywhere.
The daffodils sprouted in bunches all over the place in green
patches of grass, the grass more green than in Australia, the daffodils more
yellow, the yellow of Wordsworth’s day, and during our first few days there,
with only one exception, the skies were grey.

I’ve more to write about this trip to Scotland, including
meeting my blog friend, Jim Murdoch in Glasgow, but that’s for
another day, for now the jet lag renders me speechless.