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Another World (episode I)

5 June 2013 | Category: Stories | Author: Clare

The tires skidded on the wet tarmac, the plane lurched to an ungainly halt, and guests jostled in their seats, impatient to disembark.

I stared out of the window in wonder.

I was home.

It was with trepidation, excitement, and intense curiosity that I nosed the miniature car from the safety of the airport rental lot, out into a tapestry of interconnected roundabouts, lights, slip lanes, and sadly, oncoming traffic.

I breathed in sharply, and careered to the other side of the road.

First recollection. We drive on the left.

I was baffled to realise that I had not only forgotten how to drive and use a clutch, but I had also forgotten exactly how to get home.

I lived in Glasgow for years when I was at University, and at one time knew the City like an old friend.

The quirky personality, the places you could go, and the places that you couldn't.

A sense of bemused bewilderment started in my stomach and crawled up my throat, settling there in an uncomfortable lump that I could not swallow.

A strange distraction as I tried to focus on navigating the stream of odd looking vehicles, highway signs, and instructions.

I wondered at the sensibility of allowing someone so unaccustomed to all of these influences to jump into a motorised vehicle, and drive. And despite myself, I pulled over at a petrol station and bought a map of Scotland.

Glasgow unfolded around the motorway, and my jet-lagged delirium was peppered with moments of intense lucidity, as something known or familiar flashed by; reaching into the car and grabbing my attention, like scenes from an old movie reel.

The spiral of a church, the mass of a museum, the silver insinuation of the Clyde; vanishing quickly back into the obscurity of the city landscape, gone before a memory could solidify.

The temptation to take one of the exits, descend into the City, marvel at it, and wander from street to street trying to find something familiar tugged at my determination to get home.

But the road North beckoned, and I gently closed the box that housed the dusty memories of years of school and self discovery.

I felt apologetic. In the same way you would if you failed to stop and take the hand of an old acquaintance; to recognise in hindsight how influential that person had been in your life.


The drive home was an epic exploration of Scotland, the beauty of the landscape rolled by, and I stopped frequently to drink it in.

I decided, somewhat idiotically, to drive up the west coast, traverse the north coast, and find myself on the farm where my mother was presumably busy with lambing, gardening, living; completely unaware of my recent arrival.

Feeling battle hardened from my years of North American driving, I believed the journey would seem quaint in comparison to the treks between Calgary and Vancouver that epitomised my early tenure in Canada.

But the quick deterioration into single track roads, and the narrow uncompromising twists and turns that characterise travel on the west and north coasts of Scotland, rendered the journey long, and slow.

Not to mention the unshakeable belief on part of the resident sheep that there was no need to hurry down these paths of least resistance. Being one of the original reasons for the significant Scottish exodus, I should not have been surprised that they were damned if they were going to get out of the way to hasten someone's return.
The lack of sleep, excitement, the crazy roads, and the weather combined to force me to take my time picking my way North.

It was one of those ill-thought out decisions, that you are eternally grateful for later.

Re-discovering the forgotten highlights of home was like stumbling across a box of treasures from another era. Your life's hallmarks packed away to be found later; poured over, marveled at.

It was like sitting in an unexpected heap of boxes and disorganisation in a loft somewhere, smiling at innocuous objects, crumpled photographs, old maps; things that would mean nothing to anyone else, stimulating a memory of another time.

That was my trip North.

The soaring, squalling seagulls playing with the wind; the sound of boats thrown around in harbours; the heart wrenching realisation that most people I interacted with had that soft, lilting accent; that same thing that would always give such a warm rush of recognition should I hear it in Canada.

The fact I had to find a 20 pence piece to use a washroom; the fact no-one knew what a washroom was; the sound that strong wind makes in your head that you don't hear until it is gone.

The crumbling remnants of crofting life that litter the landscape, the morose, but beautiful brownish purple hillsides; the random, forgotten handfuls of wool left on barbed wire by adventurous (or in equal measure, stupid) sheep.

The distilleries around every corner, the crumbling castles barely sign posted, the smell of fish and chips as you walk down the street.

Scotland was extending a hand to me like a lost companion. Someone you barely know, but feel as if you should so intimately. Someone you smile at shyly as you try to establish how much of each other you have forgotten.

I stared in disbelief at the Highlands, I grinned at the incessant rain on the first day, and I cursed as the wind rocked the car at the side of the road, as I tried to sleep.
Stopping periodically on the way north, I picked up McCoy's crisps (cheddar and onion flavour), lucozade (original flavour), chocolate bars, and any combination of bacon, tatties and cheese I could find. 

By the time I had made it to Durness, and the homeward stretch along the North coast, I was more or less adjusted to the monotony of miles (as opposed to the more digestible kms), the balking of my stomach at the local cuisine (self inflicted of course), and my strange inability to actually judge just how wide a single track road is.

Numerous times on the way, I had scowled at local drivers for commandeering too much of the road, for driving too fast, for failing to pull over; still muttering to myself I would glance in the mirror, and realise ruefully that in fact it was my own fault. Driving a tiny, European car as if it were a semi trailer.

Interestingly, you can characterise the things you encounter on this kind of trip in 2 ways. The things that you have forgotten, and the things that have changed.

For the most part the first will leave you delighted, grinning like someone who has just found a $10 bill in their pocket. The latter tend to make you melancholy; you realise somewhat stupidly that life of course marches on without you. That if you stay away too long, things may be so different as to remove all familiarity, and render you alien in every way.

Something as irrelevant as the change in number plates made me frown. They are now bright yellow on the back, white on the front. Perhaps a European Union directive, something new. Small, irrelevant, but everywhere. An inescapable reminder of your absence.

I have traveled a fair amount in my time. But perhaps the difference in the stimulation of your senses on returning home, is that it is totally unexpected. 

Something that should be so familiar, that should almost be boring, is transformed into an enticing mix of reminiscence, and shy curiosity.

At it's best it is exciting. At it's worst, it leaves you feeling disconnected, like a stranger.

The double edged sword of being an emigrant; home becomes something much more difficult to define.


It was around 1900 on the second day, when I finally pulled up to the gate at my Mother's house.

I got out of the car and breathed deeply of the fresh sea air; expecting an onslaught of dogs at any minute to shatter the surreal sensation of being home.

I shook my head in disbelief as I slid the latch of the gate back, carefully closing it behind me.

I stared for a moment at the white building, the geese in the garden, the farm in the fields beyond, and the sea in the distance.

I had no idea what I was going to say.

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