I left the last entry incomplete; I may pick it up later, when it will all make sense, and the piece will achieve an organic unity. But, like the William Hurt character, Nick, in The Big Chill, I’m not hung up on this completion thing.

News, good and bad. Good: our charity of choice, www.katiepiperfoundation.org.uk has got back to us and is very happy to be associated with our endeavour, and so our Just Giving page is up: www.justgiving.com/David-Graham1 ; bad: my knee is still knackered. I have missed three races (and am therefore about £50 out of pocket, apart from anything else) and, after three weeks’ sans running, I tested the ole Lewis leg on Friday evening. 11:11 minutes in, a familiar tightness made itself felt…I soldiered on through Kingmoor Nature Reserve, but I accepted defeat and returned home, quite chop-fallen.  A flurry of fucks were left on my Facebook status, and, a measure of catharsis having been achieved, I endeavoured to persevere. The knee was going to stop my running, true, but it wasn’t going to stop me from pursuing other pleasurable activities. I was still going to go walking, and the advance party route-familiarisation programme had to be continued.

 After a hiatus of a couple of weeks, I sallied forth on a glorious day. A day more aestival than primaveral, I decided to walk the 5.4 miles (and back) between Carrawburgh and Housesteads. Parked up at the car park (£3, of which I reclaimed £1 due to my usual bit of social enterprise, i.e flogging it on at an appropriate discount) near Brocolothia Roman Fort, and embarked on my ambulation. First point of interest was the Mithraeum, only discovered in 1949, they say:

Nepalese Temple Ball

I couldn’t get close enough to scrutinise the temple, as a party of the dreaded Septic Tanks (Yanks)  were reading aloud and I mean ALOUD from the wee information board. This sorted out a constant dilemma for me. To iPod or not: the answer was a resounding yes in this instance, as there is nothing more annoying than the sound of a booming Seppo. Why can’ t they SHUT THE FUCK UP? I have had many an experience of their ill-informed, highly vocal and intrusive ‘observations’; the worst of these took place in Sandycove, Dublin in the summer of 1999. It had always been an ambition of mine to visit the Martello tower there, the scene of the opening of Joyce’s Ulysses and now a Joycean museum. A group of spoiled Seppo acne cases nearly spoiled this visit for me. One of their number had the temerity to read aloud (yes, it was another READING ALOUD moment) from a t-shirt bearing the novel’s opening lines: “Staytely plahmp Bahck Mahlligan came  frahm the stayurhead…” – and here I gave the spotty jock the full eyebrow, my best glower – “…that bald guy’s starin’ at me…ah’d best sharrup…” Just as well he picked up on the nonverbal cues,  as otherwise he would have been treated to a vitriolic blast of invective, the content of which would have run along the lines of my asking him why Columbine had not happened at his school, thus changing the course of history to enable me to enjoy my visit to the Martello tower in peace.

Scene of an almost-massacre-Columbine-style by other means

Anyway, back to 2011. Later in my journey I had a humorous encounter with another group of Septics, but for now the iPod effectively drowned this group out. The idea of listening to music whilst walking is anathema to some: chacun a son gout or si tu veux, Kevin. The sounds of nature are as integral to the experience as the sights and smells, perhaps, but music can be a complementary soundtrack (cliched, I know, but Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Nick Drake) or a contrapuntal one (The Smiths, Radioswede, Motown). Mood and context-dependent. I like it when the odd poem crops up too; I don’t know how to upload videos, or soundbites, so you’ll have to imagine Richard Burton reading John Donne’s A Nocturnal  – or Charles Dance’s recital of Elizabeth Bishop’s Crusoe in England, which is just wonderful. Here is the poem, anyway:

Crusoe in England

by Elizabeth Bishop

A new volcano has erupted,
the papers say, and last week I was reading
where some ship saw an island being born:
at first a breath of steam, ten miles away;
and then a black fleck–basalt probably–
rose in the mate’s binoculars
and caught on the horizon like a fly.
They named it. But my poor old island’s still
un-rediscovered, un-renamable.
None of the books has ever got it right.

Well, I had fifty-two
miserable, small volanoes I could climb
with a few slithery strides–
volcanoes dead as ash heaps.
I used to sit on the edge of the highest one
and count the others standing up,
naked and leaden, with their heads blown off.
I’d think that if they were the size
I thought volcanoes should be, then I had
become a giant;
and if I had become a giant
I couldn’t bear to think what size
the goats and turtles were,
or the gulls, or the overlapping rollers
–a glittering hexagon of rollers
closing and closing in, but never quite,
glittering and glittering, though the sky
was mostly overcast.

My island seemed to be
a sort of cloud-dump. All the hemisphere’s
left-over clouds arrived and hung
above the craters–their parched throats
were hot to touch.
Was that why it rained so much?
And why sometimes the whole place hissed?
The turtles lumbered by, high-domed,
hissing like teakettles.
(And I’d have given years, or taken a few,
for any sort of kettle, of course)
The folds of lava, running out to sea,
would hiss. I’d turn. And then they’d prove
to be more turtles.
The beaches were all lava, variegated,
black red, and white, and gray;
the marbled colors made a fine display.
And I had waterspouts. Oh,
half a dozen at a time, far out,
they’d come and go, advancing and retreating,
their heads in cloud, their feet in moving patches
of scuffed-up white.
Glass chimneys, flexible, attenuated,
sacerdotal beings of glass…I watched
the water spiral up in them like smoke.
Beautiful, yes, but not much company.

I often gave way to self-pity.
“Do I deserve this? I suppose I must.
I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Was there
a moment when I actually chose this?
I don’t remember, but there could have been.”
What’s wrong about self-pity, anyway?
With my legs dangling down familiarly
over a crater’s edge, I told myself
“Pity should begin at home.” So the more
pity I felt the more I felt at home.

The sun set in the sea; the same odd sun
rose from the sea,
and there was one of it and one of me.
The island had one kind of everything:
one treesnail, a bright violet-blue
with a thin shell, crept over everything,
over the one variety of tree,
a sooty, scrub affair.
Snail shells lay under these in drifts
and, at a distance,
you’d swear that they were beds of irises.
There was one kind of berry, a dark red.
I tried it, one by one, and hours apart.
Sub-acid, and not bad, no ill effects;
and so I made home-brew. I’d drink
the awful fizzy, stinging stuff
that went straight to my head
and play my home-made flute
(I think it had the weirdest scale on earth)
and, dizzy, whoop and dance among the goats.
Home-made, home-made! But aren’t we all?
I felt a deep affection for
the smallest of my island industries.
No, not exactly, since the smallest was
a miserable philosophy.

Because I didn’t know enough.
Why didn’t I know enough of something?
Greek drama or astronomy? The books
I’d read were full of blanks;
the poems–well, I tried
reciting to my iris-beds,
“They flash upon that inward eye,
which is the bliss…”the bliss of what?
One of the first things that I did
when I got back was look it up.

The island smelled of goat and guano.
The goats were white, so were the gulls,
and both too tame, or else they thought
I was a goat, too, or a gull.
Baa, baa, baa and shriek, shriek, shriek,
baa…shriek…baa… I still can’t shake
them from my ears; they’re hurting now.
The questioning shrieks, the equivocal replies
over a ground of hissing rain
and hissing, ambulating turtles
got on my nerves.
When all the gulls flew up at once, they sounded
like a big tree in a strong wind, its leaves.
I’d shut my eyes and think about a tree,
an oak, say, with real shade, somewhere.
I’d heard of cattle getting island-sick.
I thought the goats were.
One billy-goat would stand on the volcano
I’d christened Mont d’Espoir or Mount Despair
(I’d time enough to play with names),
and bleat and bleat, and sniff the air.
I’d grab his beard and look at him.
His pupils, horizontal, narrowed up
and expressed nothing, or a little malice.
I got so tired of the very colors!
One day I dyed a baby goat bright red
with my red berries, just to see
something a little different.
And then his mother wouldn’t recognize him.

Dreams were the worst. Of course I dreamed of food
and love, but they were pleasant rather
than otherwise. But then I’d dream of things
like slitting a baby’s throat, mistaking it
for a baby goat. I’d have
nightmares of other islands
stretching away from mine, infinities
of islands, islands spawning islands,
like frogs’ eggs turning into polliwogs
of islands, knowing that I had to live
on each and every one, eventually,
for ages, registering their flora,
their fauna, their geography.

Just when I thought I couldn’t stand it
another minute longer, Friday came.
(Accounts of that have everything all wrong.)
Friday was nice.
Friday was nice, and we were friends.
If only he had been a woman!
I wanted to propagate my kind,
and so did he, I think, poor boy.
He’d pet the baby goats sometimes,
and race with them, or carry one around.
–Pretty to watch; he had a pretty body.

And then one day they came and took us off.

Now I live here, another island,
that doesn’t seem like one, but who decides?
My blood was full of them; my brain
bred islands. But that archipelago
has petered out. I’m old.
I’m bored too, drinking my real tea,
surrounded by uninteresting lumber.
The knife there on the shelf–
it reeked of meaning, like a crucifix.
It lived. How many years did I
beg it, implore it, not to break?
I knew each nick and scratch by heart,
the bluish blade, the broken tip,
the lines of wood-grain in the handle…
Now it won’t look at me at all.
The living soul has dribbled away.
My eyes rest on it and pass on.

The local museum’s asked me to
leave everything to them:
the flute, the knife, the shrivelled shoes,
my shedding goatskin trousers
(moths have got in the fur),
the parasol that took me such a time
remembering the way the ribs should go.
It still will work but, folded up
looks like a plucked and skinny fowl.
How can anyone want such things?
–And Friday, my dear Friday, died of measles
seventeen years ago come March.