Hamilton Hill

Unremarkable behind the house. In summer, beyond the beech hedge, one field of barley and another of sheep. The lambs run speed trials back and forth beneath the horizontal dyke half way up – tiny specks of white, careering, bouncing, like cartoon characters or jumping beans.

I clamber over the wire fence. The first foot bends the rusty wire, pulling it through the staples in a gentle, creaking sag. Swing the second leg over, tight thighs and clenched posture making sure the barbed wire doesn’t snag my crotch. Over safely, and landing on the un-ploughed field margin. If I pick my way along this edge, I can reach the broader pathway steeply up under the ascending rank of beech trees.

Here’s the steep sledging field where Lena broke her leg, tobogganing over ice-crusted snow, straight into the lower fence. Was it fear that numbed or froze their minds, that prevented them from bailing, or dragging feet to slow the descent?

I gently pull a grass stem, easing the upper part out of the grip of the first joint. The tender fleshy end tastes vaguely asparagus-like, and then the remainder settles into a satisfyingly tough chew and cowboy-casual look.

I’m breaking sweat now, as the gradient increases. Over another fence, and clambering along the low-key rocks and muddy margins of the burn. Well, it’s barely that – more a field drain, really.

Sand

The seabed is so pale – wave-rippled sand – just a few feet below us. Dad directs a course across the bay, paddling far out from the beach. The waves are getting quite large, and with each, the aluminium of the canoe shunks as we land, spray spraying from the bow.

Mum shifts nervously. “Is it really safe?”

“Oh, it’s OK.” says Dad, looking serious but calm. He eyes the shore, the headland and the horizon, grips the paddle a little more tightly, and smiles. This is a moment to savour.

Shunk… Shunk… 

Yet bigger waves. From my cross-leggedness on the red cushion, I grip the gunwales and just love. Alice and Lena are there too. We’re like peas in an open pod, the five of us – and a cool box.

It’s shallowing now, and the water’s paler, losing the deeper turquoise and fading to clear. Sunlight refracts and dances on the sinuously rippled sand. We can hear and see the waves hissing onto the beach.

“When we beach, can you just jump out and start to drag us up?” says Dad.

Lena and I ready ourselves.

The metal hull slides and scrapes over the shell sand, and we jump out on either side.

Granddad shirt

Raspberry fool – the colour – and picked up in some Edinburgh hippy clothing store – collarless granddad shirt. It suits me so well, and in my teenage mirror vanity, I’m satisfied.

Lenora and Pete are visiting, and then, Lenora just on her own, as Pete’s back at Uni. The sun’s hot outside, the green world baking, and scents of golden river water, reeds, and newly-shorn lanolin sheep.

Like the sheep, I’m sweating – but in my case, with awakened desire.

Somehow – a word, a hand touched, she moves to me. It’s way beyond my own know-how or self-esteem, and yet in these hot days, it’s soon done.

We camp up North, north of Applecross – a shambolic bus journey of poorly packed gear – arriving in rain followed by a midge-storm.

In the morning, the confined tent smells of blood and sex, warming in sunrise light. Occasional cars dodge sheep on the road beyond the dyke.

Hand in hand, boot after boot, we climb the rocky, rugged mountain above, pausing by pools.