Saturday, 22 October 2016

Faraway, So Close!

Right now we are enjoying an unexpected but very welcome Indian Summer upon Skye. Blue skies and an amber sun have encouraged us out into the island's great wide open. And with the days seeming longer and less hurried, I have also been given the chance to pause and reflect upon the scenic road along which we have traveled to this place, the course of which has as well often appeared impossible to predict. 

One moment of reverie that happened just the other day was for me particularly resounding. At the time, I was sat on a heather-coated outcrop that afforded an aspect of the impressive span of Glen Brittle, an arrowhead of land carved out between rolling hills and the looming teeth of the Black Cuillin range. The great glen looks out towards a majestic sea loch and whilst appreciating the dulcet lapping of the waves and scanning the clear skies for eagles, it occurred to me that almost five years ago to that day I had regarded another evocative sea view. This one, though, was from many thousands of feet in the air and the vantage of a private jet ferrying the members of U2 across the Irish Sea and on to London.

Just then I was coming to the end of my ten-year tenure as Editor of the music magazine Q. Being fully appreciative of this fact, in the time that I had left at the job I had resolved to enjoy as much as possible its manifest fringe benefits. I had therefore commissioned myself to write a cover feature marking the 20th anniversary of perhaps U2's best album, Achtung Baby. This endeavor had taken me at first to the band's hometown of Dublin where I had interviewed the Edge over a pint of Guinness in the lounge bar of the city centre hotel the professorial guitarist co-owned with his shy, retiring singer, Bono. And since the band were going on the next day to an awards ceremony in London, I had hitched a ride home with them. 

So there we sat, U2 and I, in tan-coloured leather seats as deep as buckets and as comfy as a mother's embrace. Opposite me the Edge and Bono reclined, the latter with his eyes shaded by dark glasses and talking a mile-a-minute about how he had spent many a childhood day spotting planes at Dublin Airport. Across a wide, carpeted aisle, debonair bassist Adam Clayton was stretched out with the morning paper. Only drummer Larry Mullen was absent attending to a family matter, which had deprived us of the party's driest sense of humour. We proceeded in this state of gentle repose for perhaps 10, 15 minutes and until the plane suddenly dropped through the air like a stone, the murmur of its engines turning to a protesting whine. The craft then jolted and lurched to one side and the other. "Turbulence," muttered Clayton, hands tightening on the arms of his seat. 

The next several minutes passed with our plane being bucked and buffeted wildly through banks of deceptively benign looking milk-white cloud. Expressions froze on faces. Sphincters tightened. And no-one spoke, until that is Bono leaped to his feet, stood rigid to attention and announced in his loudest voice, "I'm gay!" And just like the classic scene from Almost Famous that he referenced, we also did not end up crashing to earth in a fireball, but instead landed at a well-appointed airfield on the outskirts of the city and from where we were chauffeured to our final destination aboard a fleet of sleek, black executive cars. I shared a vehicle with Bono, and on occasion even managed to get a word in edge-ways as we glided along. 

We were disembarked at a discreet side entrance to the Savoy Hotel. At Bono's bidding, I followed him inside the grand building. His was not a routine check-in procedure. Rather, we were led by a liveried gentleman past a group of staff lined up to greet their VIP guest, their uniforms crisp and freshly starched, and into a private elevator that whisked us several floors up to the Winston Churchill Suite, named after the Prime Minister who had resided there during the dark days of the Second World War. The suite was the size of a football pitch and as opulently dressed as a papal palace in dark teak and crushed velvet. 

Bono and I had tea and biscuits together. I had spent time with him previously in London and also in the South of France and Hawaii, and on each occasion he had been warm and entirely engaging. Since I very much suspected that this would be our final meeting, I savored the last fleeting details. How tiny and vulnerable a bone-china cup looked in his meaty hand. How the late-afternoon light cast him in the glow of a sepia-tinted photograph. How much I desperately needed the toilet. Before I left, he took me out onto the balcony to better appreciate our elevated location. As we gazed down at the Thames, shimmering in the gloaming, Bono threw an arm around my shoulder and said with a smile: "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore."

Over and again during the past two months I have thought similar, albeit that the circumstances and context have been so different. For example, I would once not have imagined that I might undertake a five-hour round trip by car just for the purpose of viewing a fitted kitchen. But as Denise and I now have to make decisions on the fixtures for our future home, the venture of driving 90-plus miles coast-to-coast to Inverness to acquaint ourselves with an example of precisely what can be achieved within our budget seemed not only entirely worthwhile, but rich with tantalizing possibilities. Likewise, and upon hearing from a neighbour of an unfortunate incident involving a gale and a blow-away trampoline, I spent an afternoon pottering about our temporary garden in quiet contemplation of what could and should be tethered down in the event of the inevitable winter storms. Bikes, bins and even the shed fell under my steely gaze, though given as I am in such matters to eternal prevarication, all remain at risk of being swept away.

It was on another potter, and to familiarize myself with the immediate area, that I happened upon Cuillin FM. The island's local radio station is sited across an undulating cow field and uphill from us in a small wood cabin and from where one can look out over a sleepy collection of homes and beyond to the hills and sea. In many respects Cuillin FM is wonderful. For instance, thanks to its Catholic approach to programming it is entirely possible to hear a Scottish jig, a Broadway show tune and Judas Priest all within a couple of hours of each other. And so closely is the station linked to the people of the island, that no-one listening would have been surprised that a morning news bulletin led off with a story about a Dunvegan lady who had woken to find her garden gate had vanished and was appealing for information on its whereabouts, as was indeed the case just the other day.

Cuillin FM is also island life in microcosm. It is populated by a motley collection of folk, all of whom band together to bring it to life and keep it running and in their various and different ways. The station MD, for instance, doubles up as on-air commentator on the island's shinty matches and also as Skye's resident grief counselor. It is also ever likely to throw open its arms to interlopers offering assistance, which is how it is that I have come to be presenting a weekly Friday night show between the hours of 8pm and 9pm. As much was arrived at via an introductory email and an afternoon coffee, and in my case most certainly on account of my willing and enthusiasm rather than any particular talent. This seems to me - if not whatever audience I happen to be broadcasting to - a very good and healthy way to progress through life. 

Doubtless I shall ponder as much and more when I sit in the darkened radio studio next Friday night and the one after, and am otherwise just about as content as I believe its possible to be. Such will be the case for the next 12 weeks at least and by when I expect to have reveled in yet more interior design porn and for our path to have undergone a few more twists and turns.

[Hear the Friday Night Chronicles 8pm-9pm each Friday at:].  

This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:

Bon Iver- 00000 Million.

The new Bon Iver album is, I think, one of three bold, beautiful and often extraordinary records to have come out in recent weeks. Another is Nick Cave's. That the third so happens to be by Marillion I'll just leave dangling here...

1 comment:

  1. ahh yes... the Irish singer... a man of many tales... and a kitchen viewing in Inverness: whats not to like?!