‘I want (vahnt) to be alone.’
I think anyone who wears tippy-tippy-clicky-clacky heels and works in a building with hard floors should be smeared in jam and given a hat made out of a wasps’ nest. That’ll make them keep still. To me, there is no difference between loud heels, and me marking each step I make with a thwack on a tambourine. And people who talk loudly into mobiles in buses and trains? There’s no difference between that and me bawling at myself about what to cook for tea tonight. And that is probably why my childhood dream was to be a lighthouse keeper, back before I found out keepers worked in twos, and now have enough experience of colleagues to know being locked up with any of them would result in a warrant for my arrest.
Solitude is as necessary to me as air, and dreaming about being alone on a rocky cliff or, and even better, in my favourite lighthouse of them all, the Bell Rock, a tower of Aberdeen granite parked on a reef, is how I get through the day. This lighthouse is my desktop wallpaper, it is on the postcard I use as a bookmark, and is one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World. The computer image below shows how it was built, growing up alongside it’s small wooden mother, where the builders lived until completion, similar to how little Sophia managed to build big Dorothy. 200 years and the sea-washed structure hasn’t required repair, you don’t get builders like that anymore.
So, on one of my regular jaunts to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserbugh (fun for all the family, if all the family happen to like giant glass lenses, educational presentations and a reasonably-priced tea shop) I picked up Stargazing by Peter Hill, a memoir of a lighthouse keeper, written in the last days of manned lighthouses. That is actually one of the best parts of looking about the Fraserburgh lighthouse, all the cool retro brown crockery and the bog ol’ telly, all left behind by the last men to keep a watch, and a very nice gift shop. Also the lighthouse is built up out of an old castle, looking like what happens when you mix two themed Lego sets. The structure next to it is the Wine Tower, where it’s suspected castle folk kept their plonk. From Wiki –
The tower has been dated to the 16th-century, and may have gained its name through use as a store associated with the castle.The tower is accessed via the second floor, and contains elaborate carved stone pendants. It is reputed that in the cave below, one of the Fraser family imprisoned his daughter’s boyfriend, leaving him to drown there. The daughter then jumped from the roof of the tower. There is red paint on the rocks below to illustrate her blood. According to local tradition, the tower is said to be haunted.
The only problem is, this is more of a memoir of Peter Hill—the man, the art student, the music fan, the world traveler, not just littered with song 70s lyrics and Rizla references but buried under a retro-reference landslide of them. After his initial interview he says this –
There is a reason for everything in this world, I reflected as I left the interview, and in the early seventies most the answers were found between Richard Milhous Nixon and the Grateful Dead.
It’s such an unnecessary sentence! And this book is not short of them, it is in sore need of an editor’s blue pencil. He may as well have said Margaret Thatcher and Dexy’s Midnight Runners, David Cameron and a tadpole, Boris Johnson and a cheese sandwich, a fedora and a tea bag. Stooopp! Hill quotes almost in its entirety a wonderful letter written by a keeper regarding his experiences of an event in 1900, then rounds off the next page with a large quote from the Velvet Underground’s Venus in Furs. Argh!
In spite of my ranting, I did like this book, it is interesting, if you like listening to middle-aged-plus men talking about the seventies and the hair they had back then, but for me, it was too much like listening to my dad telling me about the time he saw Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight festival, and being inches from Jimmy Page while watching Led Zepplin. For people with a mild interest in lighthouses, all the cultural references might help ease the book along, and I know it’s a personal memoir so supposed to be the whole human experience, but I wanted more lighthouses, less Peter.
And so it seems I’ve spoken more about Scottish Lighthouses than I have the book I am here to review, but if Hill can spend half a book off-topic, I should be forgiven for this.