A metal sign saying Tam O’Shanter hangs low over the black stove along with a cardboard cut-out of a stag’s head. The table is long and thick, hewn from a majestic red wood. The air is suffused with a wood burners warmth, the huddle of people in close-range.
A crystalline shimmering stillness has settled onto all solid things. A sheen of ice wraps its slender, calming fingers around anything that doesn’t move. Things that do move, do so with rapid, quickfire movements, in direct insolence against the cold.
Daylight is watery and weak. A crystal vapour that explodes into legend under a direct gaze. As quickly as you can blink, light is replaced with shadow. On the trees and white stone walls of houses. On wood piles and rusted bumpers of old model cars.
Shadow in all of its textured hues represents different shades of blue. The cobalt, tourmaline and dirty silt colour of old wet wood. The charcoal of fading things that eventually settles into deep black. Occasionally something steps on branches in the wood – a stag, a hare or a fox perhaps.
Inside a sort of post-work camraderie is happening. Each of the workers is under a reverie and delirious with possibility at having finally found themselves able to stand or sit without carrying a shovel or an axe, without carrying a heavy load of sludge from the roadside.
The owner of the estate, Mary gathered them together in a great big ”family sized” pizza at the wooden slab table. The family in this case, a raggle-taggle group of travellers and misanthropes from all over the world of varying degrees of public respectability, all tucking into this glowing salami and mozarella monstrosity.
There are sighs and smacking lips with oily, carboniferous satisfaction. Heat or cold arise from some of their hats. Those who have only just alighted from the outside need desperately to find their inside eyes again, blinded as they are from the snow.
Hands unfurl and become loose again at knuckles and joints. Wrists unstiffen slowly as they cradled small drams of whisky and large pint glasses of cheap Tesco-bought cider.
Others who have had a chance to shower, are unburdened by the severity of the cold and melt into puddles before the TV. Canned laughter emits from programming and empty out that remaining part of their brain dedicated to interaction. Workers tactily avoid the need for talk with exhaustion. The TV vigil signals clearly – look at me and what I achieved today. I can’t even speak I’m so tired.
A day of cleaning sludge from gutters and retiling roofs has left you temporarily speechless. However after several drams of whisky and a lot of pizza, you feel emboldened again. A firelight bears you aloft. Something mischievous, you don’t yet know what…beckons.
Someone is playing a fizzy and effervescent 80’s pop song from a small radio on the floor. A pile of steaming and stinking wellies and blue boiler suits of differing sizes are shed there like a collection of hour-old chrysalises from moths gone off into the night.
Peering down into a wooden box in the laundry, you find several ice skates of different sizes.
‘Mary’, you ask, ‘I see you have some ice-skates there of different sizes, can I’. ‘Yes, of course’, she says, cutting you off with a smile.
‘Do you think the ice will be OK out there, given how cold it is?’, you ask. She pauses and rifles through the utensils drawer, pulling out a hand-held ice pick.
‘Take this down with you, if you fall through, use this to stab into the ice and get a hold on it so you can climb out’. you grab it and wished her a farewell with forced cheerfulness, the words stay with you, slightly menacing.
You thrust yourself back out into the cold wearing a polar fleece, waterproofs and brandishing a pickaxe, torch and iceskates inside of a drawstring bag.
The wood is completely desolate. The quiet without birdsong and human noise is strangely comforting.
There is a pregnant quietude here. Devoid of sound and devoid of colour, there are only varying shades of blue-black against the electric blue snow and crackles of white ice. The air is electrified and empowered by cold.
Out at the jetty you try and sit down but fall down hard on the ice. All of that whisky! The icy wood sears into your backside. Instead of waiting to experience the pain and cold you spring into action and put on the ill-fitting ice-skates.
Bright pink and metal gleam in the moonlight. Out on the icy corridor you hear a faint crackle like gunfire and think nothing further of it.
On the ice your footfalls reveal no sound other than the soft scrape of metal against ice. No echo from the water beneath. Seems safe enough, so off you go.
The black trees as still as marble encircled the lake, some semi-submerged and others tall and regal sentries. The faraway lights of Aberfoyle houses shine amber, like thick and syrupy ale, they are foreign and remote because of their warmth. Centuries away from where you are right now.
The skates are rusted out and wobbly as though they hadn’t been used in years. Or perhaps it’s you that’s wobbly? An effortless glide to your limbs comes after about a kilometre or so. The ice freezes your nose and generates stabbing swords of ice of the inside of your nasal cavities and throat. Your body feels raw and frozen. It’s suspended in a watchful stillness and you’re outside of yourself watching another person skating.
The farther into the darkness of the lake you skate, the more alone and free you feel. The wind whips up and hurtles you through an icy causeway between two islands. A dark hillock of black and cobalt blue and a half-formed structure hidden among the trees – Inchmahome. There enshrouded by trees bending over like ancient crones is a priory, built in the 12th century.
Robert the Bruce stayed there three times in the 12th Century. A few centuries later it was a hiding place for a four year old Mary Queen of Scots – her life threatened by the English maurauders.
The priory is full of ghosts and should be left well alone, Mary said. Alone out on the ice curiosity spurs you towards it, fear away from it.
From absolute silence another world takes over. The crackling and breaking up of ice, echoing through the frozen water towards you. It’s a shifting sound from outer space, like the sound of planets colliding from light years away. A cosmic cowboy lasooing the elements of air, earth and water together into trapped hydrogen and oxygen atoms. A sonic world of pleasure opens up like never before.
You stay out gliding until the midnight moon is at its highest zenith and seems to light up the frozen lake like a heavy porcelain plate. You fall over numerous times and cut yourself on the shin. It’s not until you go back to the chalets do you realise that the cut is deep and is bleeding quite heavily. Its not until you go back do you realise that you have a body and it hurts.