Sunday, 15 September 2013

When I grow tired of London



The house that squares up to the mountains
I’m going to live in a manse in the Scottish Highlands, within striking distance of a Victorian railway station, with glass canopies and pillars with cast iron flowers. I want an honest granite house that squares up to a view of mountains and water. Fit for a minister, his wife, four children, and domestic, the manse has grounds (unmaintained), outhouses (unconverted), and fishing rights (mainly pike). The chimneys lean towards Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but the architect is unknown. The rooms are generously proportioned, and sparsely furnished. There are more bedrooms than a bachelor could need, and not quite enough bathrooms.

The manse is set well back from the road, invisible to traffic on the A9. On rare days when the clouds have lifted, the view of the Cairngorms makes you want to stop and stare. There is no heating to speak of, and lighting fires between March and October is forbidden. There are potholes in the unmetalled track to deter visitors. I am furious when intruders come to picnic by the river. The midges drive them away.

I will have a manservant called Duncan who seldom speaks. Duncan does everything. He runs the house, grows vegetables, chops wood, and fixes the car. Duncan knows what I am thinking before I do. Duncan reads books about the Second World War, and keeps a firearm that he knows how to use.

I will drive a beaten up second hand car, a Bristol, or some classic tourer that has not been driven by James Bond. For entertainment I drive recklessly into Inverness, and drink gin at the Station Hotel. I post letters in the antique post box. Sometimes I enjoy myself too much to drive home. The hotel staff, who all know me, arrange parking for the car, and a bed for me.

I am on speaking terms with my distant neighbours, most of whom could be extras in the Carroll / Donat version of ‘The 39 Steps”. We hail each other at the annual Highland Gathering, and, more often, at Tesco’s in Inverness, when I am stocking up on malts, and other essentials.

People bracket my name with Fitzroy Maclean, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and Compton McKenzie. I have Whisky Galore in my cellar.  I write prickly prose and poetry in 72 page notebooks bequeathed to me by Muriel Spark from the stock she acquired from James Thin in Edinburgh. People think I am writing a great work. I will never complete it.

Increasingly, I am absent from the manse. People say I am doing something ‘hush hush’. In fact, I am sailing around the Mediterranean with a troupe of dancers from the Royal Ballet, drinking gin martinis with friends up at their villas. I repay their hospitality with advice on what to plant in a hot border. When it comes to drought tolerant plants, I am a fount of knowledge. Small wonder I never made much of the bog garden at the manse. I’m going to give up the manse. It’s just not a realistic proposition.