Blog 100, then. So how did I decide what to put in it? (Warning, this is a Dinsdale-type blog, i.e. only some of it is true). I walked again up that hill which is just a 20 minute drive away but takes me up and out of streets and into heather and vistas. And as soon as you start climbing away from cars and people, you can let yourself think that mystical stuff is possible. In fact, in an absurd world, it’s not only possible, it’s a more acceptable response to life than the logic, solutions and explanations that seek to make sense of everything.
As usual, there were several pauses on the way up because it’s steep in places and, with only trees around, you’re just open to whatever jumps into your head. This time, one of those whatevers was a bloke called Simon de Montfort. We spent a year in France a while back, in the South West, the Languedoc region, and that’s where Simon indulged his fancies, one of which struck me particularly forcibly. He was leader of crusaders who were laying siege to Béziers, where a sect called the Cathars were holed up with some Catholic sympathisers. (This was back in the 13th century.) One of the charming things he did to try to persuade them to give up was to gouge out the eyes of a hundred prisoners, cut off their lips and noses and send them back into the town. A special little refinement was that he let the one at the front keep one of his eyes so that he could see to lead them back. How people can treat their fellow humans in such ways is beyond my imagining – and the fact that similar things are still happening in the ‘civilised’ as well as the less civilised world makes you wonder whether evolution has somehow stopped.
Why I remembered that on a sunny Scottish hill I have no idea. So I carried on walking, thanking whoever had set the granite blocks in place at some points along the track to make it easier to climb. A little aside then made me start wondering whether I could use these carefully arranged blocks, and even the path itself, as a metaphor. It’s an obvious one but maybe I could distort it, undermine its obviousness. Maybe it wouldn’t be a symbol of our taming of nature or our determination to go somewhere, but a scar which would heal when we’ve gone. Maybe it would disappear behind me as I walked on, just as my past was. More than all that, though, I was wondering why I hadn’t remembered to bring any chocolate with me.
Then came the stump – dead, whitened wood, beside the path. A tree that had stepped aside for a rest and just snapped off and rotted away, except for the twisted bole and useless roots. It was like Sartre’s tree root in La Nausée, grotesque, challenging, excrescent. It was also a bloody good excuse to have another pause and pretend I was thinking deep thoughts rather than taking deep breaths.
And it was just past that stump that the dog appeared. No barking or snuffling, no crackling twigs to announce it. I turned a bend and there it was, sitting on the path. The most mongrel of mongrels. Scruffy, yellowish, bits of fur missing, and a face that would never make it onto a puppy calendar. I put my hand out to it but it backed away. Not fearful, just private somehow. And it followed me to the top. And I know that some of you will lose any vestiges of respect you may have had for me but I started to get fed up with it. I’d come here to be on my own and this cur was interfering with that wish. So I shooed it away.
For a while, it stood some way off, then a final rush and a shout from me and it ran off on its stubby little legs. The trouble is that it had set me thinking of the dog in Byron’s poem Darkness. If you haven’t read it, give it a try. Nasty, scary stuff - the black Romanticism, not troubadours, minstrels and princesses - the sort of stuff I didn't want to be reminded of on a sunny day on a beautiful hill. And it was all the dog's fault.
There were more things, more idle musings, more speculations, but this is getting too long so I’ll just tell you one more of them. It came later that evening, just before I went to bed. I went out to lock the garage door and there was the dog, sitting on the pavement across the road. Remember, the hill where I saw him is maybe 16 miles from where I live. But there he was, squat in the darkness, looking at me.
In fact, I’ve borrowed the dog. But what does it mean?