Summer is the time of psychedelia, fractured refracted light, gently sliding shadows, black velvet against the grass. I should explain that we had to get a new car, our trusty red Jimny gave out on us after over 100,000 hard miles in four years. My parents offered to put up the money for a car, saying it would be the last time they could do anything like this (again, the ever-present subtext of preparation for death), and they encouraged us to get something newer with less miles. I wasn't so keen, whatever we choose it's going to take a pounding going over those hills in all those weathers and putting in the miles that we chalk up daily. I found a Land Rover Freelander, a TD4 which means it comes with a BMW engine, at a good price through in Glasgow. Silver and black, the Raiders colours. My parents pushed for various unsuitable things, a Fiat Panda car, a Kia people carrier. Eventually we went through to Glasgow to look at the Land Rover. The test drive went well, except I noticed a little noise. They said they would look at it and put it right, we put down the deposit and waited.
The car would be another two days in the garage, during which time we had sold our own, which caused no end of problems. Eventually it came out and was good to go, my dad drove me through and I drove it home. It's a nice car, no doubt; big, high, powerful, comfortable. But there seemed to be something wrong, it was struggling a little for speed on the motorway. Somewhere around Livingston, my dad indicated in and pulled onto the hard shoulder, so I passed him and did the same to see what was wrong. Nothing was wrong apparently, he just thought that we might lose each other in traffic closer to Edinburgh so wanted to say goodbye. You can't do that on a motorway hard shoulder, of course, but while I was trying to explain this we noticed that the front side lights weren't working, a pretty incredible fault for a newly-bought car fresh from a couple of days in the garage. When I pulled back onto the motorway I noticed the complete lack of power; for the rest of the journey the car would struggle to maintain 50 even on the flat. We barely made it home; the Lammermuir hills had it down to first gear, crawling up the hill at a couple of mph, touch and go whether it would make it.
The next day the garage said they were baffled, but at least it was under a warranty. They weren't at all keen that our own local mechanic get anywhere near it though, they wanted it brought all the way back through to Glasgow. Alarm bells are ringing in plenty now. They offered the money back and we took it; I limped it back through to Glasgow and we undid the paperwork. I owned a Land Rover for approximately 20 hours.
With this setback, my parents were pressing ever harder for something far newer and more reliable. They had found a 2012 Jimny nearer Edinburgh. White. White, I scorned, opening the link. They really have no idea what... oh.
Yeah... that's nice. It has foglights too, an essential out our way, and an essential the last one didn't have. Having seen it, I couldn't find anything else to match it. The price was at least double what I would have considered paying for a car. Not anything above its actual value you understand, just more money than I would put into a car, any car. I told this to folks at work, who reasoned that my parents must be sure they can afford this, or they wouldn't offer it, and maybe I should just take the help that's on offer. And so that's what we did.
It looks pretty sharp, I must admit. I'm going to have to wash it far more often to keep it looking sharp. Inside, leather seats, tinted glass, air conditioning; it's as luxury as a little Jimny gets. Still the 1.3L engine, still 0-60 in 14 seconds, still universally hated by car reviewers. They all hate the same things, and it amuses me to read the comments. The Jimny 'only' has a top speed of 87mph. OK. But the maximum speed allowed in the UK is 70... so why would you need anything over 87? It's small, they complain. The pedals are offset to the right. Well, so they are. I drove one for four years without noticing that, so I guess it can't be too much of an issue. The back door opens to the side, so you will be limited in choosing parking spaces. Will I? Not in four years to this point. Never, ever, been a consideration. It's not smooth, they say, it's bumpy. Which it is, compared to the Land Rover and the awful Fiesta hire car we had to go around in between cars. But it's not so bumpy, and I like to be able to feel the road surface a little. Cars now are little boxes, little self-contained living rooms moving around on roads making their drivers feel utterly divorced from what they're driving through. Giant boxes actually, cars are all chunky and over-sized these days. The more I read the more I thought yeah, the Jimny is for me alright. It's a simple, reliable machine precisely because it is simple, no computers, no fuel injections, just a little vehicle that will give you what it has reliably any time, anywhere.
As I was saying, it looks a bit sharp. On the black spare wheel cover on the back I put on an almost entirely white covering sticker of the moon with a wolf silhouetted against it near the base. If the Land Rover was to be 'The Silver & Black', what moniker does this gain? The albino? Moonlight Drive? It's sharp, and so I feel I have to be sharp too. I can't be bundling into it wearing just whatever, it's worth taking the time to get properly dressed so you can step out looking good. That's the image to portray to the world at large; here I am, I'm at home in my world and why not take a picture because I'm looking pretty good.
Summer is the time of psychedelia then, black velvet on grass, all things possible. The texture of sun-washed ancient stone, the plentiful life of insects, a river rolling by. Dryburgh Abbey in the Sunday sun.
It's hard to fully picture what once was here, the scale is so vast and grand on historical drawings, and the ruin is so complete. They knew little peace; built in the late 12th century, burned in 1322, destroyed and rebuilt in 1385, burned and destroyed along with its town in 1544, never to rise again.
The lives of the monks who served it are fascinating. The abbey was comprehensively destroyed in 1544, yes, but some remained living there. In 1560 Scotland adopted Protestantism and the monks, Canons to give them their proper title, converted. They were allowed to stay in the crumbling ruins, but not to add to their number. There were four in 1580, two in 1584. In 1600 a document records that all the convent are now deceased.
Naturally their order were against pleasure, against comfort. Their day began at 1am, ended at 8pm. They ate twice a day, plainly. They wore plain robes and slept communally. Just off the cloister is their chapter house where they came together daily to hear news, receive instruction and confess their shortcomings. Potential disciplines included beatings and expulsion. Canons were sworn to silence except in certain regulated situations, the daily chaper house meetings being one such. You can well imagine tensions running high, especially as in later years of the abbey the Abbot took separate dwellings. The written record tells us that in 1320 one Brother Marcus was expelled from Dryburgh for going as far as punching the abbot. What lingering issues led to such explosions? How long did it eat and fester in the silence? How many were horrified, how many were only sorry it had not been them to take the step?
The chapter house is low and cold, and it would have been so then. A smaller room nearby is the 'warming house'; this was the one and only room in the entire abbey where a fire could be lit to provide warmth and comfort. The cold must have been more than bracing through a Borders winter, frozen hands clasped together in devotion and thoughts of the life to come, breath rising in clouds. Interestingly this is placed closest to the novice's day room for new arrivals. You begin with all the worldly comforts of a deflected fire and then suffer your way closer to God. The masochistic sufferings of an earlier Christianity are truly fascinating.
Heat, dear friends, I can't very well be without it. Indoors I am like a cat, drawn to the nearest heat source. Outside I can wander the wilds safe in my own body heat. Scratchy plain robes, self-denial? I'm sorry, but I rather think not. It's vanity and lasciviousness for me in this life if you please, there shall not be another to come. But I admire your spirit, your adherence to philosophy (for such is religion), the grandeur of your monument, the romanticism of its ruin.
Walter Scott is buried here, the man who reinvented Scotland and spread its romantic appeal around the globe. It was falsehood and invention, but so is much of what is great in life. He lies just a few feet apart from Field Marshall Haig, who I hope is resting uncomfortably. The visitor information walks a careful line in describing his career as decorated yet controversial, mentioning his historical family link to the abbey and remarking that as well as his grave is a headstone dedicated to the memory of those who died under his command. That the rest of his page in the book goes off into the history of state care of the building before the page is halfway done perhaps says a lot about the lack of delight at having such a figure buried here so prominently, and trying with such determination to nuzzle into the reflected glow of one of Scotland's favourite writers. The last paragraph of the Haig page reads:
"For today's visitors to Dryburgh Abbey, its graceful ruins, nestling in their picturesque setting beside the River Tweed, offer echoes of the monastic way of life that flourished here for over 400 years. Perhaps it is easy to imagine why the contemplative life of a medieval canon at Dryburgh was so attractive."
There is a book cupboard in the abbey, my favourite feature. Books would be assigned to a canon for an entire calendar year, to be taken away and read and contemplated upon, but all books would have to be returned to the book cupboard each night for safekeeping.
At the abbey's edge lies a water channel leading down to the Tweed, though now dry. Flowers crowd the embankment, which leads down and under a low arched bridge that carries the path from the river through a gatehouse and into the abbey. I scramble down the sides and decide that I'm going to pass underneath the little bridge, half-crawling. You have to, don't you? Make the most of what's there while you can, explore it as fully as your mind or imagination desires, leave no stone unturned. You own a place then, own the day, the hour. You possess the moment more fully than those around you, you are free. Or stupid. And those may be the same thing.
We eat dinner at the nearby hotel, tartan wallpaper around the lower edges, heavy tartan carpets. Veggie haggis, neeps and tatties that comes as three circular discs stacked atop each other like a cylinder, potato on top, haggis at bottom. A Scottish cheese selection with oatcakes. A couple sit at a table over, occupied in the silence of long-tenured couples, the silence of two people who have simply run out of things to say. The man sitting alone on the other side is a French Canadian, and his accent is a bizarre new world.
The Tweed flows on a little distance away, surface silver in the sunlight. Canons fished here, apparently. Their order forbade consumption of most four-legged creatures, but the ducks and fish were alright in the eyes of God. I wonder that it says 'some' four-legged creatures; which were allowed for eating and how was it justified exactly? Thou Shalt Not Eat Any Creature Which Walks Upon Four Legs, Excepting Of Course The Muskrat. The Parrot You May Devour Entirely, As Alike The Kangaroo Which I Have Well Hidden And No Mistake.
The gift shop at Dryburgh Abbey sells reproduction gargoyles, and of course rubber purple dragons. And ice cream, to be enjoyed in the summer sun, dressed decadently while dawdling indecorously. The world of tight censure and self-denial has passed, this land of the romantic ruin is mine. Am I of my time or of another? It doesn't matter. Remember me here.