Day 37: Stonehaven to Ballater

‘I think things are changing, where it won’t be normal for people to lock themselves in their little homes, with their TVs, all alone. People need each other.’ – Joe, Banchory.

For the first time in my life, this morning, I watched the dawn break out and filter through the trees. Its gentle golden light streaked across the fern leaves surrounding me, and permeated the tent with a rich and uncanny glow.

It’s also the first time I can remember going to sleep without setting an alarm. Since the age of 11 I’ve adhered to the harsh disciplinary regime of the all-too-early wake-up tocsin. Before that my mum would wake me up for school. The terror of 07:00 on the alarm, the anxiety of worrying you won’t drop off, and over-thinking the moment where consciousness becomes sleep. Or the misery of waking from a great dream half an hour before you must get up, sorely interrupted. How I hate the tyranny of these clocks!

At first I’m worried – will I sleep all day and get disturbed by a local farmer? No no. Instead I discover that I sleep in occasional bursts, as many of us do. It’s the dawn that wakes me at around 4am. I have another snooze and then rise as the sun gets warmer around 8, I think.

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Day 26: Whitley Bay to Bamburgh Castle

‘Different man, different times, different days.’ – three men, comparing the potential consequences of a new hairstyle, Alnwick.

Imagine what perfect harmony would look like it. Sometimes it feels like one stumbles across it in nature, particularly in the wild countryside of the eastern coast I’ve been journeying through. The symmetry on the wings of a moth, the intricate yet always regular swirls on the shell of a snail, or the regularity of wildflowers and trees that wither and bloom each year, from life to death, and back. Even the ancient bricks of different shapes and sizes that each form an unlikely bond together into an old farm wall, marking field from field. Each of these is an odd but effective compromise of chance and opportunity.

I’m starting to wonder if all my politicking about improvements to the communities I pass through has been swayed by some deluded vision of perfect harmony. What makes the dark humour I come across so refreshing is that it assumes the worst and makes the most of it. It’s shit round ere, but … or British weather! or You avin a laff, goin round Britain on that thing?

It doesn’t assume that the given situation would get better, yet in laughing about it and mocking the vanities of oneself and one’s surroundings, it supplies one with a power to overcome adversity with a tough-headed laughter.

The movements of humans suggest a taste of perfection. The whirling Zikr dances of Chechen Sufis are one extraordinary example. Great numbers of men gather together and dance in varying speeds in a large circle. Quickly they become one as a group, following the speeds and movements of the person ahead, moving about in different rings. They chant the names of God as they move, spinning about uncontrollably. The self disappears in this mystical tradition.

‘Sell your cleverness, and buy bewilderment’.

So says Rumi, Sufi mystic and poet. I need to abandon myself more into the unknown before offering up any easy solutions. And possibly take up morris dancing…

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