Favourite Place by Liz Lochhead
We would be snaking up Loch Lomond, the
road narrow and winding after the turn at Tarbert,
and we'd be bending branches as we slid
through the green and dripping overhang of the trees.
All the bickering over the packing, and the -- as usual --
much, much later-than-we'd-meant-to leaving,
all that falling from us,
our moods lifting, lightening, becoming our good mood
the more miles we put
between our freed and weekend selves and Glasgow.
Driving in the dark means: slot in another CD
without even looking at what it is,
another any-old silver-disc from the zippered case
that, when you reminded me, I'd have quickly stuffed
far too full and randomly, then jammed it,
last minute, into the top of my rucksack.
Golden oldies, yours or mine, whose favourite?
Anyway, the music would spool us through Tyndrum,
past the shut Real Food Cafe where other days we like to stop,
and over moonscape Rannoch Moor to the
moonlit majesty of Glencoe,
over the bridge at Ballachulish, past Corran
with the ferry stilled and the loch like glass;
we'd be wriggling along Loch Linnhe then straighten up
past the long strip of darkened lochside Big Hotels and their
Vacancies or No Vacancies signs
to 30 mph Fort William --
we’d shout it out and we’d be honouring a
long ago and someone else’s family pass-the-time
car-journey game we never even played, but Michael,
proud of his teenage wordsmith son,
once told us about -- and it has stuck.
We'd be speeding up now, taking the bend's wide sweep as
we by-pass the sleeping town, making for
the second-last turn-off: Mallaig and The Road To the Isles.
And you'd say,
'Last thirty miles, Lizzie, we'll be there by midnight'.
The always longest fifteen miles from Glenfinnan to Lochailort
and a wee cheer at the last turn,
down past the big house and the fish farm,
beyond the lay-by -- full of travellers' ramshackle vans
now the yellow's on the broom again --
our eyes peeled now for the white-painted stone so we'll not miss
the overgrown entrance to the field of caravans.
There would be that sigh of
always glad-to-see our old van still standing,
opening the door, the sniffing -- no dampness, no mice...
I'd be unloading the first cool bags of food,
while you'd be round the van’s side, down in the mud
turning the stopcock for the water,
fixing the gas -- and soon,
breathing a big sigh, laughing in relief at
how that huge stag that had suddenly filled the windscreen a mile back
stopping our hearts as -- ho! -- we'd shouted our alarm --
had somehow astonishly leapt free, was gone,
and no harm done,
we'd be lighting candles, pouring a dram,
drinking the first cup of tea
from the old black and white teapot.
And tonight the sky would be huge with stars.
Tomorrow there would be the distant islands
cut out of sugar paper, or else cloud, the rain in great veils
coming in across the water, the earliest tenderest
feathering of green on the trees, mibbe autumn
laying bare the birches stark white.
There would be blood-red rowan berries, that bold robin
eating from my plate again, or -- for a week or two in May --
the elusive, insistent cuckoo,
or else the slow untidy flapping of the flight of the heron,
the oil-black cormorant's disappear-and-dive,
shifts of sun, double or even treble rainbows.
The waterfall would be a wide white plume or a
thin silver trickle, depending...
There would be bracken's early unfurling or
late summer's heather pinking and purpling over, there’d be
a plague of hairy caterpillars and the last drunken bees.
Mibbe you'd nudge me, and, hushed,
again we'd watch that otter swim to shore
on New Year’s Day with a big fish in its mouth, emerge
so near us on the flat rocks we
wouldn’t dare to breath as we’d watch it,
make a meal of eating it before our eyes.
Or it would be a late Easter this year and,
everywhere along the roadside,
the chrome-yellow straight-out-of-the-tube-and-
laid-on-with-a palette-knife brashness, the
amazing coconut smell of the gorse.
But tonight you are three months dead
and I must pull down the bed and lie in it alone.
Tomorrow, and every day in this place
these words of Sorley MacLean’s will echo through me:
The world is still beautiful, though you are not in it.
And this will not be a consolation
but a further desolation.