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Tome On The Range

Off Nature: On Eigg With The Pictish Trail
The Quietus , June 14th, 2014 04:27

Taken from the latest issue of Caught By The River's An Antidote to Indifference The Pictish Trail - switching reverse delay knobs for a unique brand of silence - reports on nature, inspiration and personal meditation from the Hebridean isle of Eigg

by The Pictish Trail, aged 32 and a half, from Eigg.

Sarah’s constantly telling me off for not engaging enough with my surroundings.

She says I lack an awareness of my immediate environment, and show scant regard for local geography and history; that I don’t casually remark upon the seasonal changes to our landscape, nor - when tested - do I exhibit confident knowledge on the cultural heritage of any place I have ever lived. Ever.

When she tells me this - and, like I say, she tells me constantly - I’m compelled to remind her that during my formative teenage years I was educated in America, and that my final exam History paper in junior year of High School was to simply name all 50 American states and their respective capitals.

(Which I “aced”, by the way ... although I’d probably struggle to name more than ten capitals, now.)

So, yeah, I suppose it’s fair to say I am a bit of a dullard when it comes to appreciating my habitat. Sure, I’d like to say that I want to be the sort of person who is more in tune with the intricacies of the flora, fauna and assorted fabrics of society. I want to be in touch with Mother Nature. I do. I want to be more aware of where I am, who came before me, and what type of mushroom is growing near the hen-house. It’s just instead I find myself pre-occupied with adjusting the reverse delay on my guitar pedal whilst watching archive YouTube videos of Morrissey being interviewed in the 1980’s.

It doesn’t help that my (admittedly feigned) interests in outdoor pursuits are almost always met with a scoff. “Oh aye, ‘Nature Boy’, eh?” she’ll haw, after I recount an afternoon spent up on the hill with my dictaphone, dodging the threatening swoop of the maternal lapwing, and humming half-formed lyrics to myself whilst gazing out across the water.

Although I might not be the most environmentally minded person, since moving to the Hebridean isle of Eigg four years ago, I’ve never felt so alive and in love. She’s heart-stoppingly beautiful. Sarah’s not bad, either.

It’s great, here. No noise, or distractions. Incredible scenery. Dodgy mobile network coverage. Bliss. I get a lot of work done; I’ve written and recorded songs, put together remixes, organised festivals and the label, I’ve even formed a band with three other islanders. It feels odd to say that I live here though, as it’s rare I’m resident for more than three weeks at a time; there’s always some gig or meeting to travel back to the mainland for. But, still, Eigg is home.

At no point do I feel I made a conscious decision to call it that. I just visited, fell in love with a girl, and realised that everything worked. From that point onwards it wasn’t really a question of choice; from that point onwards, there was no good reason not to live here. I get the feeling this is how most of the 86 other inhabitants came to settle. If you can live on Eigg, why would you live anywhere else?


On Sunday evening, having been on the mainland for about six weeks, I commenced the five and a half hour train journey from Glasgow, rattling up through the highlands, taking the Monday morning ferry from Mallaig over to Eigg. I’ve given myself the luxury of 12 whole days in my own home. I find that the journey itself is a vital part of the island psyche. As the Scotrail carriage creaks and moans, wheezes and shudders into Highland stations, I always make sure I sit facing away from the direction of travel, so that it feels like my life is rewinding back. Rewinding to a happier me, a calmer me.

This process of removing yourself from mainland life is exhilarating. It’s like being pinched on the scruff of the neck by the National Lottery hand from the sky, and plucked away into the heavens. There’s a sense of escape, which conjures up fond memories of outdoor primary school class trips; that strangely comforting closeness of softly spitting, forever-Autumn, dreich Scottish weather, and that nostalgic taste of home-prepared overly-buttered tuna sandwiches and rucksack warm orange juice (these were the only times I was allowed a packed lunch). That feeling of wearing casual clothes, and “getting away with it”. It’s weird the train journey should bring up those memories - but, without fail, that’s always what I think of when I’m travelling back.

I wonder if the novelty of escape will wear off?

There have been a few events in recent years that have made me want to embrace this feeling, and perhaps that’s made the difference. The death of my mother, and the dissolution of one of my closest friendships, both made me want to say a big “fuck off” to the world. That oh-so-annoying phrase “stop the world, i’m getting off” really does apply to living on Eigg, and that element of wanting to escape has made the transition to living here such an instant one. The meditative process has been a big part of why I’ve stayed; there’s time to think here, time to breathe and be still. Silence to make decisions, calm to make plans.

I’m not proud of my lack of reverence for nature, and there are times where I’m made to feel like a charlatan. When people visit, they tend to carry away with them a romanticised dream of what their life would be like were they resident here; these people tend to ask lots of questions about the highland crofter lifestyle, the intricacies of everyday farming, and the traditional music scene. None of which I can answer with much confidence. However, I think the fact that I’ve not harboured this dream has made living here much easier; I don’t feel the need to play up to my surroundings. I can just live here, focus and work. There’s no greater pleasure than finding a place where you can feel comfortable in yourself, grow a good beard, and be able to complete a set of tasks, undisturbed.

Now let me get back to my Morrissey videos.

An Antidote to Indifference Issue 9 is out now, published by and available from Caught by the River

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