For my last day on Iona, John Maclean suggested that he gave a tea party with scones and hot chocolate for those who were interested to come and see what I had done throughout the month. It was a good way for him to promote the residencies and introduce me to some of the islanders.
It also gave me the chance to look at the body of work together and in an informal way to present it to an audience.
Here are some photos of the finished work.
Holed up in a room in the hostel, John has kindly encouraged me to move from the Shepherds Hut into the building, as we weather a storm. There was a break in the weather yesterday and so after Norrie went home, I rushed down to the beach to make some smaller pieces which has given me something to do today. Too nervous to unwrap the bigger work for fear of the unpredictable direction of water as the wind makes a weather phenomena famous in the West Highlands of Scotland, horizontal rain.
As we walked to the village yesterday, I noticed more island sounds which reminded me of a choral piece I saw on the Isle of Canna this summer. Lucky for me, a friend asked me to join her as her family were unable to, so with an early start, we spent the day exploring the island until in the late afternoon we saw “Away with the Birds” http://www.awaywiththebirds.co.uk, a site specific musical piece based on the bird song heard on the coast. As I heard hail hitting a metal gate, wind whistling through a cattle stall and the thump of the Atlantic breakers, I thought how great it would be to be a musician and just spend all day recording sounds and splicing them together to make a soundscape of the weeks I have been here. At home we have twice been lucky enough to welcome a guest, a composer, David Toop, who does just that. He was so intrigued by the sound of the Singing Sands that he returned with recording equipment to discover the bellow of roaring stages.
The weather has made me feel like a character in one of Norries favourite films. “I know Where I am Going” is about a headstrong woman determined to master the elements to marry a Laird and is based on Mull when a storm blows up as she desperately tries to find someone who will take her on to a smaller island in an open boat. I am glad that my highland experience has led me not only to a highland man but also to respect the weather and to enjoy the cosy feeling of being in my room reading, writing and doing quiet things.
My time on Iona is drawing to an end as I leave next weekend. I was very keen for Norrie to come and see where I have been and what I’ve been doing. I needed someone to talk to about the work and a little encouragement to get through the increasingly irritating discomfort. The boggy path to the Shepherds hut is now UNDER water, my boots are smelly and the daily journey with a bucket full of pee has become annoying as I have a daily dread of slipping on the uneven rocks and pouring it over myself. The pile of finished work is getting larger but there is nowhere to put it without the threat of damp and this morning I found a whole folio of paper that is now soaking wet. So a visit from my husband felt like a necessary essential to keep me going. And then the forecast was for gales and one of the staff was convinced that the ferry service was already cancelled. I set off in a state of despondency knowing that if Norrie couldn’t cross two ferries and deliver my food supply, I would need to shop in the village anyway. At each vista of the Sound I could glimpse the ferry standing off and arrived in the village convinced that the boat would not sail and that we would be unable to meet. I watched it restlessly shifted position convinced that the tide and currents were making the crossing too dangerous but eventually I could see progress was being made and as it got nearer I could see the post van was aboard. When the ferry services of the West Highlands plough up and down on a beautiful summer day often full of seasonal visitors, as we experience living near the Corran Ferry, it is easy to forget the essential nature of the service the ferries provide. Watching the little ferry, a temporary boat whilst the usual one is away for a refit, I felt profoundly grateful to the crew for providing such a reliable service. And then weighed down with shopping and without a proper coat, there was my dear husband, the noble Norrie.
The weather has been severe with the rattling of corrugated iron, swinging gates and knocking metal. The sea has become rougher and rougher as the islands swim in and out of view through the mist. A flash of lightning behind The Dutchman’s Cap, an island Norrie now terms The Submarine, the hostel is freezing as someone insists on leaving the windows of every bathroom open through night and day and even with several blankets and a hotwarter bottle I could not get warm last night. So as the morning dawned it was lovely to sit in bed with a cup of tea having a conversation with my best friend which has fortified me to stay for the last week despite running out of materials, the post being slow so a slim prospect of a new delivery and the Byre, more of a colander than a dry space. And then we had a walk on the beach, leaning rather than walking and found quicksand where the tide is low and the moon full. Finally, studio time and I started to paint. An onslaught of hail which came in through every hole, landing on every surface and threatening to destroy the work I have constructed.
Gave up and withdrew inside, determined to stay the last few days but aware that I have been pushed almost too far. The result is that the work feels authentic and the question we discussed over a cup of tea is whether the struggle is intrinsic to the result and if so, how to bring that into daily life?
We had a gale and lashing rain overnight. Sleeping in a Shepherds Hut made of corrugated iron was like sleeping inside a huge percussion instrument! The various intensities of rain then sudden change of tempo and pace; it sounded like hail and the differing lengths of pauses between gusts of wind. I didn’t mind it at all, wrapped up with a duvet, eiderdown and hot water bottle was really cosy and felt as if I was in the middle of a musical composition of enormous proportions. Of course that’s why I came here rather than staying at home. Feel v comfortable being even closer to nature but am getting fed up with my boots, £20 from a discount store but surprisingly warm!
I wrote this after another night of stormy weather.
The wind picked up during the night and I was woken with the repeated wrapping of something loose blowing in the wind. Reminiscent of a metronome that someone forgot to set, the uneven drumming was enough to drive you quietly bonkers! However, there is a man here called Mark who spends time working on the croft. He must be one of the most gentle of men and when he told me that the croaking of the Corncrake was so load and repetitive in the summer that he had got up and thrown stones at 3am, I thought perhaps I should train myself to ignore such trifles as a rattling chain. After all I am on Iona!