Seasons, seals and secrets

Last night the clocks went back, and while I’m always glad of the extra hour that gives me, it’s a depressing time of year; I’ll be coming home from work in the dark with no chance of a quick swim in the river or paddle in the kayak which I’d often look forward to during a ‘normal’ summer. This year has been far from normal – in fact, we haven’t really had a summer at all, save for the odd bright day here and there – but October has been golden, and unseasonally warm.

The sea in Lochinver has been simply boiling with small fish for the last couple of weeks, bringing in huge flocks of gulls (survivors of the avian flu which tragically killed so many seabirds over the last few months), otters and, at one count, twenty-five seals snorting and cavorting in the bay with full, plump stomachs. Combined with the spectacular autumn colours and some fabulous sunsets it’s been a wonderful time and the scattering of hardy tourists who are still around have been mesmerised.

October, though, always feels like a time of change: a change of pace and of focus. The way my life is at the moment, this is more mental than physical, though I can’t help but embrace it. After decades of working in seasonal hotels, seasonal galleries, seasonal teaching jobs, October is ingrained into my psyche as a time for finishing up, having a rest, getting away. It is true, also, that prices are lower and the roads quieter outside the traditional ‘silly season’ so it’s a good time for a short break, and I’ve had two. Lucky me!

More of a business trip than a holiday, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself (and the tax man), I enjoyed two nights in Cannich at the beginning of the month as the colours were starting to turn in beautiful Glen Affric. I’m still devising a Sketching Holiday itinerary to be based in Inverness and exploring the best painting locations within an hour’s drive of the city. The Glen is a must. I hadn’t visited for some years and needed to pinpoint the exact views we would paint but it seemed, on a gloriously sunny (if showery) day, that almost everywhere I turned was a picture, so it has landed a place firmly on the itinerary.

Two weeks later found me in Glasgow; I journeyed on the Megabus which I find comfortable, efficient and cheap, as the road equivalent of Easyjet. I do wish the train was more affordable; it’s crazy, with the problems we face, that public transport isn’t more practical. I would doubtless make the trip more often if it were quicker, cheaper and easier. I was meeting up with old friends Bridie (who came up from Manchester) and Morag, who I met while working at Dundonnell Hotel in the summer of 1987. There is so much to reminiscing to be done about that season that we decided I could write a book – or at least an article. I think it would have to be heavily censored, though!

It was a weekend of belly-splitting laughter and a warm friendship that has lasted thirty-five years, save for the odd gap in between. We don’t meet enough; I have so many friends I don’t meet enough. The important thing is making the most of the snatched moments we do have. An affordable, reliable railway service would help!

So now that it’s ‘that’ time of year again, I will have my head down in my writing as much as I’m able. Year 2 of my Masters course began at the start of the month and it’s all systems go again. There’s certainly no rest for the wicked!