Mavis's Shoe

Author of two novels and a creative memoir.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Bare-Naked Resolution

This is the view from the huge floor to ceiling square window in Cairnoch Lodge, a little holiday cottage where I spent the week between Christmas and New Year, far from the maddening crowd. The thing I want to draw your attention to is the right hand branch of the left hand tree. Does it strike you as odd? It strikes me as eccentric but I’m not sure you can call a tree eccentric. I’m not keen on stories in which animals take on human characteristics and it seems three times worse to do it to trees, even if I’m only suggesting a tree might be eccentric. It does seems a peculiarly human thing to be. Though of course cats are too. All cats are eccentric, in my opinion, which makes eccentricity normal in the cat species and it makes cats, as a species, eccentric amongst animals. But I digress. You’ll no doubt have felt my confusion.

Perhaps what I’m saying is that the natural world is wonderfully varied, even in our own backyard or the backyard I borrowed, as in this case. As a resident of Scotland I find Scotland beautiful but not exotic or unusual. It's too familiar. But it is varied and this tree seems somehow extra alive with that strange ‘arm’ stretching upwards in a peculiarly rhythmic shape, like the movements of a dancer or the line of flight of a small bird.

Winter is the perfect time to examine our trees for eccentricities. The gush and splendour of new leaves in spring (see earlier post) has not yet arrived to cover up their strange and twisting bodies. And here I’m reminded of the artist who photographed ordinary people in little or no clothing in simple settings. Without the homogenising effect of clothes we are all distinct and beautiful. These portraits made everyone look oddly vulnerable. And eccentric. Eccentricity is a good thing I think. I wish I could remember the artist’s name. There was an exhibition going round about eight years ago I think. A brief search on the internet was as dodgy as you would imagine it to be.

On a bus journey this week from Inverary to Glasgow I was treated to still more oddities of the tree world: five deciduous adult trees clustered so close together their roots must have formed a woven blanket (close-knit family?); trees growing out of the floodwaters of Loch Lomond like reeds in a river; branches the width of elephant legs snapped in two by the ferocity of recent storms; a fallen giant amidst an army of giants, the others all still standing tall; two men with chainsaws beside a stack of thick discs sliced from a trunk, like a pile of cakes two foot wide; twigs, sticks, branches of all shapes and sizes littering every field and grass, only the roads being cleared.

Meanwhile, of course, the human population is feeling a little stripped back to its roots by the ‘recession’ and by the austerities of January after the excesses of Christmas. But some of it is deliberate because of RESOLUTIONS. The idea of resolutions is surely to strip ourselves back and get more focussed on what matters, to behave better, give up things which harm us, make this the year all the right things happen. Done the right way we strip ourselves back to our own special core and build from there, perhaps growing in new directions with the elegance of a small bird's flight, or the quiet strength of a tree or even the ferocity of a winter gale.

Meanwhile, in a dark room near you, I am sitting here creating a whole new structure for the life of Lenny Gillespie of Mavis’s Shoe fame. To begin with it looked like the five tree cluster with the various characters all standing round one another, but now some of them are being thrown about by the wind, all of them are growing before my very eyes and one of them falls in a place no-one sees.

This is the same time of year I began Mavis’s Shoe. There is much I don’t know about the history and background of the period I’m writing about. Mavis’s Shoe was written in a frenzy of researching and writing and writing and researching. It looks like writing the sequel is becoming a similar process and in the absence of time to do anything but write, I too am like the trees stripped back to their essential peculiar selves.


  1. If all cats are eccentric then no cats are eccentric. An eccentric cat would be a cat who behaves in a markedly unfeline fashion. We had a cat like that called Tom who used to go missing for days on end and come back battle-scarred and tattered. We never knew who was giving him such a hard time or why he kept going back for more and so one day when he went off on his travels I decided to follow him. Over the golf course, across the railway tracks towards the shore, he finally encountered a pond which one would have imagined—cats being well-known for their dislike of water—he would circumvent. Not our Tom. Right through the middle without batting an eye. I have no idea if he knew I was following him but by the time I got round to the far side he was well away and the next time we saw him he was in his usually bedraggled state. We decided he was chasing some she-cat but that was just conjecture on our part.

    The other way Tom was eccentric was that he had no fear of dogs irrespective of their size. As long as they stayed outwith the borders of his territory he would leave them be but if they set one paw inside our garden he would go for them. A friend of ours acquired an Alsatian, not a pup but still a young dog, and we said to him, “Willie, don’t bring your dog with you when you come to visit; you know what our Tom’s like.” But did he listen. Did he heck. As it happens Tom was indoors when Willie next called but his dog had barely got its snout through the back door before Tom was up and on him and we found the poor creature whimpering three doors down.

    There was one exception to Tom’s rule. The dog at the end of the road—an old golden retriever as best I can remember—was blind in one eye (the left one) and had a habit of taking a constitutional around our street, down one side and up the opposite. Tom would sit patiently in our drive and watch him padding down the other side of the street but when he turned and came up our side Tom would jump on him and send him packing as soon as he crossed in front of our drive.

    He was the only cat I named and he was called Tom because he had the same colouration as Tom from Tom and Jerry. My mother showed little imagination when it came to naming cats: Blackie, Sooty, Snowy, Tigger, Minstrel (he was black and white) and Biggie who was big. Tigger was the complete opposite to Tom. The farthest he ever travelled was to our next doors’ gardens to do his business. He was scared of everything. I was once in the garden when the bin men arrived and I saw this blur head towards the tool shed wherein I discovered Tigger with his head in the corner, bum the air, shivering with fear. So I suppose he was eccentric too in his own way.

  2. It's clearly a very special branch, one would love to hear its story. Special branch, oh dear oh dear.
    Lovely writing!