Above the door to the room that has become my new study there is a sign: WAITING ROOM. Shades of John Fowles! In Fowles’s brilliant novel The Magus (1965), the protagonist Nicholas Urfe is warned: “Beware of the waiting room.” It takes a while for Urfe to understand the true import of this warning, and in a similar way my new room just feels like a good place to have an office. The sign stays up, but I’m on my guard.
(There is a similar sign over the door to the adjacent room: SURGERY. We quickly worked out therefore that this house was formerly used by a GP. I am currently looking around for the inevitable pile of much-read old magazines.)
From all this you may assume that we have arrived safely in our new home. We have moved out of England and are living on the Scottish island of Bute.
We now have a daily prospect of other islands, of distant mountains, and of a sheltered inland sea. Bute is both romantic and workaday, wild but tamed, under-populated but busy and self-sufficient. It is situated in the Firth of Clyde, not far from Glasgow as the crow flies, forty-five miles or so, but by being an island it is naturally isolated in practice and in attitude, and is therefore a different world.
We were in Devon before we moved – you never in fact tire of being in Devon, because it is an unassertive place of natural beauty, of as-yet undamaged countryside and a quiet way of life, but we had been there for two and a half years and felt, rather reluctantly, it was time to move on.
Why Scotland? Many reasons, not least being the fact that we love the Scottish scenery, the glens and the lochs and the almost endless variety of the island and mountain landscapes, but in reality we felt it was not practicable for us to live in the Highlands, so we have not moved there. Another motivator for the move was the incompetence and dogmatic conservatism of the present Westminster government – they are cutting back on schools, hospitals, social services and renewable energy sources, yet encouraging frackers and seacoal burners, and any kind of presumed financial service they think might massage the economy. There is almost zero support or encouragement from the philistine London government for writers, painters and other artists, while in Scotland the arts are taken seriously at many levels of society. And then there is the matter of Brexit, something I consider to be a disaster, now in the process of being bungled into a disaster of historical proportions by the present UK government. Every part of Scotland voted Remain in the EU referendum. Anyway, we are not farmers or crofters – we need to be close to bookshops, cinemas, theatres, galleries, grocery stores, takeaway food, the Post Office, and more mundane services such as those of dentist and doctor.
Rothesay is the only town on Bute, and it provides all of those (and more), while maintaining the generally intangible aura of being on the edge of the elements. A mile from the centre of town is a huge roadless zone of high moor and windswept hills. The edge of the sea is literally fifty feet from where I am sitting at my desk. Ferries to the mainland come and go at 45-minute intervals all day and every day.
Yesterday the Firth of Clyde was swathed in thick sea fog, and as dawn came up I managed to catch this photograph of one of the ferries just about to head out to sea. Two miles in the opposite direction to the hills and the port is the gothic masterpiece of Mount Stuart House, one of the most astonishing stately homes anywhere in the UK. Less than a year ago a complete First Folio of Shakespeare was discovered in the library.
I intend to get back to writing my next novel pretty soon. The short first draft manuscript I was working on a month ago is in one of the boxes heaped up next door – I’ll keep searching.