Notes from Nowhere

miðvikudagur, september 28, 2005

Little rainbows in my hand

I'm listening to Allegri's Miserere at the bus stop in the rain, writing to tell you about it, all on this little handheld. One by one, the falling rain alights on the screen, making a tapestry of lines and drops of rainbows and chequered patterns. Something about the beginning of autumn is just like coming home.

miðvikudagur, september 21, 2005

Five hours in Bergen

'Flying, never landing/ in moto perpetuo/ terra incognito'

To go is to live, but arriving is joy. Huge journeys, migrations, across seas, skies, mountains, hope and despair find their redemption in arrival.

Following a trail of recommendations I find myself in a funky little cafe, all round red melamine furniture, Studio One sounds and Talking Heads, and a friendly young woman named Guro. My petitioniarys are strangely met by this hungover architecture student, working in an empty bar in 'The Wettest Town'. I offer my performance to the Cafe Legal, this one night only, and play her my work as an example. She likes, but we are alone. We drink coffee and talk about music, Norwegian style and social planning, and are interrupted only by a guy putting up a poster for a Japanese band playing 'Naked Rock, Naked Soul' early next month. Naturally I tell him that the group I work with is planning a short tour. Naturally, he enjoys the work, and we swap details.

It was in chatting with Guro, because in her friendliness and openness, in her coffee, I found my arrival.

Later I walk with her through this vibrant city to the Cafe Opera, where the 'best audience in town' gathers for a variety of acoustic artistic entertainment each Tuesday. Yet later, I go to the mountain to find suitable accommodation, but I know that Bergen is not mine tonight, it is too big for my heart. I turn for the night train to Oslo. Bergen deserves my time, my attention. The lights, the architecture, the Kunstmuseum, the seven mountains and seven fjords demand a return. And I would love nothing better than to devote to her another migration, another arrival, another chance for redemption.

Despair and revelation

Its a fine line, but I maintain there is a difference between being a tourist and a traveller.

And I've had it with being a fucking tourist. I found myself on yet another epic train journey, this time to Bergen on the West coast, sitting opposite two brothers from Tennessee. We talked country music, travel plans, photography. 'Scandinavia!' came the knowing whisper, when the German girl in a long- sleeved off- shoulder yellow t- shirt walked by.

There was a familiar tinkle of warning bells when I overheard them speaking about 'doing' cities, countries, using their Eurail pass, I thought, OK, give the benefit of the doubt, it is just a different language, that's all. When they described the landscape as a 'slideshow', I freely admit I was engaged in photographing from the window too. Maybe I was a bit desensitized by then. I met a somewhat joyless couple from Devon. At some point down the line, something happened, and I'm left feeling strangely empty, longing for real connection.

I want to rush up to anyone local, and prostrate myself, 'I'm sorry my Norwegian is so bad! I'm not just a tourist! Tell me about yourself! How can I contribute? I've come for mountains; please may I breathe your sweet cold air? I've come for solitude - are we not all alone?'

But on this, 'the most picturesque train journey in the world', they've seen a thousand people like me before.

And I don't throw myself down on the floor of the well kept train, I don't cry out, I don't even start a conversation with the old guy behind me. I just see a bearded man with a big orange bag, a messy rucksack, and a rifle. He disembarks in the middle of nowhere, in the cleft of a vast wooded valley, and in the emptiness I feel a little spark of life and death. And sit and write my way into another town, wondering how, once more, I will be revealed.


My compartment was one of those where we all, one by one, overcome the barriers of language and culture and find ways of relating. Of course, that means food. Jens and I made sandwiches; Anne opposite shared her flask of black coffee, the older couple across the aisle offered traditional waffeln with skivets of brun ost, slices of flavoursome brown goat's cheese. Touched, I elected now was the time to get that treasured bar of Dark Green and Black's from my bag.

Later a boy toddler and his round mother came sat on Jens' and my table. The chocolate was still going around, so they both had a piece. Boy obviously didn't take to such rich tastes, and ended up with mud coloured lips, going for the balance to the taste that only fresh mother's milk could afford. I offered my napkin.

We played 'talking shoe' to his sheer delight, to while away the long hours to Trondheim. Sadly he was one of those kids who only knows one word, and in his frustration to communicate (with which I felt a keen empathy), invented a seemingly endless torrent of, well, loud noise. I wonder if my ears and those of his mother were physically different, or whether we were of quite separate temperaments - for while I found it physically painful, she spent a hundred miles answering the torrent with occasional, reassuring sshhing noises. The boundaries in our compartment were not so relaxed that I felt able to contribute, which was a shame, because I was fairly sure that one scary face, a sharp sound, might save the quiet for the whole train.

After ten hours with such a variety of company, it was like 'clear clean water for to quench my thirst' to have a sleeper cabin to myself. I wrote and played and thought, and slept only when my head had realized that south, to sleep, was the only way it could go.

þriðjudagur, september 20, 2005


When I got off the bus at a little village at the end of the route, a clean, white Scandinavian Kirk with crisp timber verticals and crowned with a stark iron vane was there to greet me. The bus arriving is a major event in Kjerringøy, Crone's Island. Passengers headed for their four wheel drive pickups and saloons, a few people shuffed in and out of the local store. I just seemed to watch as the time passed in the rain.

I was on my own now, rain continued falling, and I started hunting. Hunting for water, for ground on which to make my encampment, and for some sign that I was not intruding or unwelcome.

The latter didn't take long. On the road a stocky genial man wearing a blue sailors cap greeted me in Norwegian. I'm ashamed to say, nothing of what I've learnt in the last couple of weeks seems to have stuck. I just don't have the ear for it. But his English was good, we talked for a while about the current social scene in Kjerringøy (pron. as 'ksharring-gøy - ø being like the 'er' of doubt) Given the current lack of pub in the place, social interactions round here take place in people's houses.

A little while later and I'm at the coast, having made my way through the surprisingly boggy mosses that sit like fur rugs on the rock flooring. I find a beautiful spot that isn't waterlogged, where the shore is close and the mountains remote, but feel a touch suspicious on noticing the fawn and maroon strings of bubblewrap seaweed sprinkled about the place. In my moments of indecision, I see a man working land a hundred yards away and make for him as he tills for potatoes.

I wish Hugh Grant hadn't done such a bloody good job of charicaturing the awkward Englishman, as its moments like this that I'm sent into paroxysms of self- reflexive parody. He didn't speak English well, which was lucky, as it meant I would need to gesticulate my questions, somewhat absurdly, about the state and prospects of the tide.

'High two morning'
That told me what I needed to know. My charming grassy spot was not a wise choice. I would move on.
It was raining harder now.
'You why here.'
I took this as a question.
'Mountains. I love the wilderness, you just don't get landscapes like this in England.. and I love the sea, and really it wasn't too far at all...'
I trailed off. He looked incredulous. He had stopped digging. He looked at the thick layers of grey and dark grey cloud that littered the sky overhead.
'Not weather good here. Why here, you?'
'Oh, its fine, you know, I like the rain, um, its the elements isn't it, makes you feel alive...'

He seemed shocked that anyone would come here out of choice, out of season, out of love. I changed the subject, didn't want to keep him any longer in the rain he seemed to abhor. We swapped names, Stennor, and I, and I took my leave. When I looked back, he was leaning on his hoe, looking after me, as if I was some kind of apparition, still, incredulous.

Eventually I found the spot, on a half island, which I could just reach because the tide was low. Sea one side, wild western shores and a trail of tiny islands just out to sea, great angular, irregular peaks inland. Yet further inland, ice topped mountains, calling. A bay so full with amber seaweeds, a green beach for a handful of residents' little timber boathouses, the opportunity to bravely ford a fast flowing mountain stream. What more could I wish for...

I made my rice and miso soup, water chestnuts floating, with a side salad of sea vegetables, cucumber and spring onion strips, artfully arranged in two rectangular aluminium trays, shiny and matt, with Strandtinden overlooking the proceedings, gathering and rupturing the clouds.

Two days journey, years of yearning, and here I was at last, on the top of the world, tired and worn but holding a hot plate of food. That night was a test of character, the rain drenching and clattering, the wind running in off the North Atlantic in bursts and gusts. I hung on for dear life and worked with considerable layers of anxiety. More natural shelter might have been a good idea. I mused on how happy I was on the quest to find a place like this, and how perversely unhappy to actually be there.

Midday Saturday the weather abated and I could leave camp. I walked mossy foothills and met small welcome trees waving leaves, photographed flocks of geese in formation, dried my sodden waterproofs in the guest rays of the sun. In the middle of nowhere on the Tarnvik road the breezy silence was made melodic by the most incongrous ice cream van I've ever seen, strolling past. I stood at 67°33" aside Strandtinden, paid homage and turned south for the first time in days or years.

My camp was still there. I stayed out for as long as possible to savour the place. Tomorrow morning I would walk to the village at low tide to get the morning bus. I packed as much possble, and slept early after dark, waking to drink in the yellow sun dawning over the gray mountain in a pure, cold blue sky. Oh, North, this is just the first kiss in our beautiful love affair. x

laugardagur, september 17, 2005


I travelled through the night, after yesterday's epiphany of a journey. I couldn't sleep. There's a major problem with sleeper trains - they're far too exciting. Having passed up and down the train, to know it, beaming like a kid at all the strangers, I stayed up late rewriting and re- rewriting a piece of work that my editors suggested needed it. Having ditched most of it the first time, the process allowed me to see what the piece was actually about, and I went back, keeping all the main ideas, but slashing away over half the content. Such was my excitement, I had to tell someone. The surly Scandinavian woman serving the buffet did just fine, if she was a little nonplussed.

I used to take the sleeper North with my Mum, to see Auntie Joan in Port Appin, Argylleshire. Maybe it was then that the connection between travel, dream and the North was forged in my imagination. Joan died this year, and I couldn't make it to the funeral, but if I had, I would have liked to have rejoiced in her qualities as a woman, her bracing wildness and yet extremely kind and civilised nature. One thinks of her out in the windy highlands, with her loved and ever faithful dogs Jock and Croachan one moment; back with them by a roaring fire with cream scones, homemade jam and imaginative blends of the most delicate tasting exotic teas the next.

However the connection was forged, it persists. Taking a night train is a Big Dream, you enter a journey in unconsciousness, and awake in a new world, changed and refreshed.

I'm sitting in the bus station, Bodø. I saw it on the map, the end of the line, the first city in the Norwegian Arctic. This is where the plan ends - I haven't thought further than this except to dream. Part of what got me out of the rut of home was Bob egging me on, 'Like, totally Bo-do, dude!', as if the city had been named by Californian surfers. Of course it hadn't, and in fact there's a a slight lilt in the pronunciation, like 'border' (stress on the first syllable) but with a bit more 'oo'. The 'dø' - read 'der' - is almost a neglected afterthought.
I spent the last few hours poring over timetables, asking the tom- boyish girl (amazingly actually caled 'Lasse') at Bodø information office questions of the class 'where- to- go' and 'how-' and 'when- to- get- there', and passing the time with a young Swiss lad ironically wearing a t-shirt emblazoned 'enjoy Capitalism' in the style of the Çóca- čøla logo, a punk and aspiring physicist named Philipp. Maybe there was no irony involved, as he proceeded to raise a 1½ litre bottle of the sticky black liquid to his lips and slug it back.
It was good to compare notes with another Northern pilgrim, though. He's going to head for Narvik, and South through Sweden and Finland, a land route I have been considering myself. For a few minutes I thought I should go to a hamlet I noticed, impressively called 'Å', because it's there, but manage to exercise some self- discipline. Philipp and I laughed about whether it was really that tiny (think Ångstromm).

As we parted, I offered myself as crew, should he ever set sail beyond Lake Constanz, in the Right Direction. We agreed to meet, one day at Nordcapp, Spitzbergen or the Pole itself, or in a hometown, however distant it seems right now.

föstudagur, september 16, 2005

Meet the snowline

The tall, pretty girl with young eyes like timeless lakes never rippled, at information, has confirmed that I'm not the average tourist. I like that. I think it was the queries about where in town songwriters from other islands might perform, where to meet the Sami and where hear their music. Better known as Laplanders, apparently they have 400 words for reindeer, but one of their words has passed into international use, but also guides and inspires much of my creative life. That word is Tundra.

Now I have been on the train North, for five hours straight, from already the furthest North I've ever been. Each second that passes pushes back my frontiers; each centimetre I travel takes me closer to the cold, infinite wastes, the closer to absolute zero, the closer to love, death, rebirth.

For hours we could have almost been in a taller, tidal Scotland: but then something changed. First the gray granite streaks gave way to pine and scree steeps, and then to mighty, dense, cold, nameless masses. Around the train I saw short, staggered fences that I thought might have been placed to protect the supposedly ubiquitous elk, but I gradually realized they were designed to shelter us from avalanche.

Then as we went through our first snowline, and the leaves turned the whole land a monochrome like sepia, white and green- grey, I saw that this truly is another world. Oh, North, I have always felt in my skin the small perimeter of my native island. If I can keep my eyes open to you, my heart can at last start to open to the true scope of this big World. I have never seen in my life the number of silver birch that I've seen in the past few hours, yet they represent surely just a negligible fraction of the trees here. I've never been able to imagine how civilisation keeps on burning its midnight candle, never understood where all the physical resources came from that sustain even just my life. I've travelled a tiny strip of maybe a third of your length, Norway, and now, at last, maybe now I can start to imagine.

Nowhere, no blog

So no blog- as- I- go.
More anon.


Honey, you'd love it here.
There's such attention and tidiness; clean lines, good materials, space, light. The people are stylish, but not self-consciously so like in some Mediterranean countries. All the colours are understated; the men look like men wearing black jackets, the invariably pretty women with their hair noir or strawberry ski blond. And though there is marketing, it is not rife and overbearing as in Southern England. One still has the choice whether to look at advertising.

The atmosphere in the streets is undeniably European, with the cafes and the wide streets/ block architecture; yet there's more than a touch of the New World - maybe its the combination of the occasional tall building, the climate that feels a month- and- a- half advanced toward winter, and the strains of, unbelievably, Rod Stewart crooning standards from a nearby record shop that brings to mind that idea of New York in December.

Beyond these comparisons though, the place has an identity all of its own. The baker delivers his bread in stacking chrome baskets. The few pigeons around are relatively polite. The train station provides neat little foldout timetables, the maps featuring schematic- style fjords. There's a large neon art-deco clock, proclaiming 'Freia'.

The air is cool and transparent; the sky is so blue.

fimmtudagur, september 15, 2005

On anonymity

I don't exactly know why, but for the writer of an anonymous weblog I seem to be rather inclined to introducing myself and letting you get to know me.

Maybe its because I aspire to an intimacy with the world; maybe because I'm really using this space as a place I can construct an identity and get to know myself, at the very same time as starting to see this identity as inherently empty of any real existence. All done safely behind a tenous veil of anonymity.

Or most likely, I'm imagining that no-one but the handful of intimates I've told about this page can find, or have any interest in it. Either way, I rather like the opportunity, so thanks for bearing with me..

The whole question of why I write like this inevitably points me to a deeper question, why write at all? And this question I've never come to answer satisfactorily, other than to respod, I can't seem to help it.

Singing, playing, writing, friendship, most things we do, beyond what we must to ensure physical survival, cannot be explained by mere utility. I suppose I have come to the conclusion that creativity is an inseparable part of our being, with no explicit purpose.

At best though, I sense that good writers, players, singers and friends glimpse, in their own life, the merest shadow of a pattern, suggesting a tapestry much larger. Sometimes the events of our lives might have a deeper resonance, with people in general, and by writing (or otherwise expressing) these threads, maybe the patterns might become clearer to others. Sadly, there is no guaranteeing that will happen; but hey, if some little piece of prose does one day transcend its personal origins and become meaningful to others, I think it would justify almost any amount of vague, incoherent, anonymous, public speculation.

We live in hope.

On another Northbound train

I am a compulsive packer. It is impossible for me to go anywhere without at least five journals, a guitar, full waterproof kit, camera with spare lenses and a generous emergency supply of chocolate.

Therefore, in order for me to go on a journey, I have to have about a week to prepare, and get into training months before, if I'm going to be able to carry the suitcase. Today marked continuity with and a break from this tradition.

I don't think of myself as an apologist for technology. But today's change in practice is largely down to my erstwhile companion, my pocket telephone, and a good, human, friend. Instead of taking a compact disc player, headphones and discs, I was able to sideload the new album by Sigur Ros, along with some other old faves; Oraison by Olivier Messaien, PJ Harvey's Peel 60 Sessions, some John Cage, Allegri, and Arvo Part's sublime Tabula Rasa, all onto my little touchscreen. I downloaded a copy of Joyce's Ulysses from the Gutenberg project and sent myself an email with all the information needed for my major creative project. Whether or not I will justify these resources by use remains to be known.

And this morning, my best friend Bob, enthusing, beautiful and generous hearted as ever, lent me his extremely good wilderness equipment. This man was the first I ever felt comfortable being completely quiet with. It is as if there is some deep river in his soul that, if you listen closely enough, will refresh the World. When I had been living amongst the Modernists, he reawoke my heart to the beauty of the music of my youth. Bob was there when I was way down and he showed me a way to live, he is there with me at the top of every mountain. And he understood and shared my yearning for the North, just as I understand and share his desire to genially converse with, to know and love reality on her smallest and largest scales.

We rejoiced in the design of these things- that- make- you- warm, and that fold up small, because of their reliance for insulation and compactness on that great universal, the air. Sometime later, with me excited and anxious, stalling for time, he conveyed, with his barren silence, 'Now is time to go, friend.'

I left the house, to grey skies and rain, seeking to venture further North, not knowing how the climate will welcome me, not knowing what I'll find when I swap the map of those wild western shores for the territory, not knowing whether one day soon I might awake in those lands where the Sun sometimes never claws his heavy head up over the horizon, inside the Arctic Circle.

þriðjudagur, september 06, 2005

Just like honey

I have two beautiful and talented blood sisters.
And Honey.
She didn't like me at first, but to be fair, I was trying to chat up her girlfriend. Since we got to know one another she's always been one of my very best buddies. An honorary sister.

We summered years ago in treehouses, full of energy and ideas, to assert our love of the Land, helping to put off the building of two roads in Weymouth and Guildford. She looked great in a harness, knew her knots and dated some strange, if charming characters, in her orange British Rail-workman's coat. I think one of them was Septic. I mean that was his name. Yes.

Back then she was 'Punk Honey'. But as time wore on we both matured a little, and although she now espouses a love for the Telegraph and Kenneth Clarke, I love her more every day. ( To be fair, she adores good food, and responds to charisma. And she just so happens to exhibit both in abundance.) We've had an uncomplicated Platonic relationship for long years, and she has grown to be one of my closest confidantes, even where 'affaires du coeur' are concerned. And I've learnt much from her timely tell. She is also the only person whose creativity I trust anywhere near my haircut!

More recently she's inspired me with the presence and tone of her writing, even to the point of making me want to write regularly for the first time- here. Her words are like birds, singing sweet, clever and strong; singing of life and all the good things of life; destined to fly to lands far and yonder. Honey always tells a ripping yarn, and her history of blarney exaggerations has mellowed, but intensified, to the point where now, they merely make her point fairly, succinctly, emphatic and poetic.

So it seemed quite in keeping with the spirit of our long sweet friendship to sit by the river's edge past south of Southeaze a couple of Saturdays past, chewing satisfyingly crispy hunks of French bread spread thick with salty, buttery Chaumes (a name to delight her if ever there was one) and sipping orange juice in the aching late summer sun.

After what seemed like years of waiting for this moment, feeling uncomfortable wearing this thing I call my head, at last she turned to me and confirmed that my hair looked awful. Relieved, I enjoined her to behave once again in the manner fitting my 'official hairdresser', and found for her a tiny pair of scissors on a new penknife. She looked at me disbelievingly.

'You want me to cut your hair with those?'
'I've been waiting for this for six months! We must seize the day!'
'It'll take all night. No way'
'Way. What if I promise to blog it?'
'Hand me the scissors.'

Just like honey.

Each tiny snip was as a bon môt; sensitive, expressive, knowing. Needless to say, the emergency scissors lasted only half an hour. We realized the sun was setting, balancing on the ridge of the glowing downs, and sending the cobwebs in the reeds into wide coronas of light. We made for home, half my poor head renewed, half awaiting attention, which Honey duly supplied in town, along with a rather excellent, leafy, sorrell, lentil and fennel salad.

I could write for weeks about all the adventures, meals, inspiring and entertaining conversations and moments of beauty we've shared, but she does it all so well I'll leave you to discover her yourself.