Passing Place

This week I’ve been on writing retreat, at the beautiful Moniack Mhor. I’m working on the beginning of a sequel (and consequently thinking about some of the changes that might need to be made to the first!). I’ve got a few, tentative words on the page, when not staring out of the window at the view…

PassingPlace2But while here I became intrigued by the number of PASSING PLACE signs (which, I later saw, illustrate the ‘Work at Moniack Mhor’ page – none currently available, I’m afraid). These diamond-shaped signs reminded me of a couple of other recent journeys, in Cumbria, Perthshire, and Shetland. The signs dot the landscape as the roads narrow down to single track, some faded, some only 50 metres away from the next, some a little further away.

I like passing places – they require a bit of negotiation between you and the oncoming car. Both must slow down, as one draws into the passing place. A wave of thanks goes between the drivers. Occasionally, on a sunny day with the windows open, a few words are exchanged. On a long straight road, the passing places are bulges on either side, pregnant ripenings along the way. At a few parts of the rail network trains, and their passengers, must also be patient. Recently, I saw a northbound train its southbound counterpart before it could proceed on the single track. One of the passengers called over to the platform, wondering how long he had to wait, perhaps wanting to sneak a cigarette in before the journey began again.

MoniackFortuneI took a few photos of passing places while biking around, and started to play with the words and the shape. As well as the literal place in which you pass another vehicle, a passing place can also be a place which is temporary. Or it could be a place within which your presence is transient, in which your time passes, and which, sooner or later, you must leave. I idly made a paper fortune teller, realising that its folded shapes were those of the PASSING PLACE sign. Fortune tellers are commonly used by children to make games, allowing you to choose options which lead you further into its folds. A nice story device, perhaps?

The weather has been glorious while we’ve been here, and it hasn’t rained properly for weeks. When I was in Shetland a couple of weeks ago the weather turned from wild winter to sun to storm and back again in the course of an hour. The locals worried about the new lambs.

FortunesThis week environmentalist George Monbiot’s wrote a diatribe against UNESCO’s potential decision to grant The Lake District World Heritage status. He argued against the seemingly ‘natural’ landscape of the Cumbrian fells, which have been grazed away from their former forest. Water runs quickly off the fells, racing through dredged rivers, flooding the villages and towns below. Rewilding arguments would bring us back forests, and wolves. James Rebanks, author of The Shepherd’s Life, and a working Cumbrian shepherd, tweeted a thread of responses, calling for a more responsible approach to how we feed ourselves, and a sustainable approach to the landscape.

The landscape shifts, and changes. The climate has been affected by centuries of human intervention. And yet in the midst of our Anthropocene moment it is unclear whether the Trump’s US administration will pull out of the Paris climate agreement. The UK is about to go to the polls yet again, and the TV channels give more airtime to UKIP than the Greens, despite the latter’s much greater success at the council elections. Time to choose.

I vaguely remembered the Biblical words, ‘All things must pass…’

‘And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilence, and earthquakes, in divers places.

All these are the beginning of sorrows.’

Matthew 24: 6-8. King James Version

FortuneStoriesI started to write some sentences on my fortune tellers. There’s single track roads, and trains, and sheep, and wolves, gorse bushes and rivers, a straw bale house, a pregnant woman, rumours of fire and floods.

All choices, though, lead to a passing place…