Friday, 30 June 2017


Since the election, I’ve been thinking about how to cope with the next five years. My instinct is to dig a hole and hide in it. I’d like a bunker.
bunker – n. 1. A large container or compartment for storing fuel 2. a reinforced underground shelter, esp, for use in wartime
     I’m picturing a very specific World War 2 bunker, a concrete cube with earth banked up the sides, a small door and a couple of tiny windows. This bunker is a real building, on the east coast of Scotland, a look out post hastily constructed in 1940 as part of a huge effort to protect the country from an expected German invasion. A pillbox.

picture by Sandy Gemmill:

     These days it’s overgrown with turf and gorse bushes. Sheep graze on top of it, rabbits run over it. It’s built into the side of a cliff – not the bare rock variety, but one with a gentler, grass covered slope, that kids and animals can climb up. Walkers on the Fife coastal path approach it from the land side, through a flat field of barley that seems to end in the sea because the land drops away so suddenly. There’s a hole in the roof – perhaps originally a gun hatch; inside a rusting metal ladder leads down to a floor thick with ancient beer cans and broken bottles. It smells of piss.

     I played here as a child with friends: climbing and exploring and peering out to sea, towards Norway and Denmark. Even then it was a relic of a long gone past. Our parents were children during World War Two. The pillbox, like other markers on the landscape, was a remnant of an old conflict. Strange that this concrete structure surfaces from my childhood now. Silent on its cliff edge, waiting all these years for an inhabitant.

     The bunker I long for is dry and clean and the walls are decorated with multi coloured flowers. Against one wall stands a couch heaped with cushions and blankets; against the other, a desk made from painted planks. A sea view through the tiny windows. A source of heat. Books. Writing materials. A good chair. No wifi. In there I will write whatever oddness and peculiarity came to mind. I want to make a counter narrative to the drivel that comes from the top, to go deeper than despair or anger, and to follow my interests and whims without interruption. I want to look out for whatever signs are on the water. Delia Derbyshire - the pioneering electronic musician and composer, who wrote the original theme tune for ‘Doctor Who’ – expressed this state well. 

     She once told a friend: ‘What we are doing now is not important for itself, but one day someone might be interested enough to carry things forward and create something wonderful on these foundations.’

     In 1949, a pupil of the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung once dreamed of a vast temple under construction. The pupil’s name was Max Zeller, a Jewish doctor who had escaped Nazi Germany shortly before the war started. Here's how he described his dream and Jung’s response:

     “As far as I could see - ahead, behind, right and left - there were incredible numbers of people building on gigantic pillars. I, too, was building on a pillar. The whole building process was in its very first beginnings, but the foundation was already there the rest of the building was starting to go up and I and many others were working on it.”

     Jung said, "Ja, you know, that is the temple we all build on. We don't know the people because, believe me, they build in India and China and in Russia and all over the world. That is the new religion. You know how long it will take until it is built?"

     I said, "How should I know? Do you know?"

     He said "I know."

     I asked how long it will take.

     He said, "About six hundred years."

     "Where do you know this from?" I asked.

     He said, "From dreams. From other people's dreams and from my own. This new religion will come together as far as we can see."

     Writers, poets, artists and musicians listen to a subtle voice that tells them what to work on, and how to work. Stone by stone, pillar by pillar, each of us working on our own bit. That’s what’s calling me into the bunker – not an urge to hide from the world, but to focus and make work. The pillbox is a building block in a greater project. It’s one of many across the land.

     Delia Derbyshire said her love of electronic sounds came from hearing air raid sirens sounding the all clear in her wartime childhood in Coventry. The all clear is a haunting wail. It signals a feeling of relief, knowing danger has passed, that death has been averted, for now, as you step out of the bunker, still alive, and look around at the new world outside.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Ninjas of Non fiction: Kathleen Jamie

I've been loving Kathleen Jamie's books on landscape recently so I jumped at the chance of writing an appreciation of her work for The Real Story. Read it here: