Wednesday, 5 October 2011
I am reading A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland. The cover of the hardback edition, which I bought in Wigtown last week, courtesy of Carolyn Yates our D&G literary development officer, at the discounted price of £9, shows Sara's cottage in its setting of upland heath and sky stretching endlessly around and above . Silence and solitude are attractive to me. Towards the end of my 20 -year (1983-2005) second marriage, I actually began to calculate the hours of solitude and silence I needed; an accrued requirement, like a petrol tank in reverse. Silence has chapter and verse on this well known and not infrequently encountered, human phenomenon. The book records the writer's own journey into silence and solitude (the book might have included both conditions in the title), and is a history and meditation on both. Side by side by Sara, whose intensity requires occasional respite reading, I am also very much enjoying the profusely illustrated, with drawings, maps and photographs, Pilgrimage in Medieval Scotland by Peter Yeoman, published by Historic Scotland. I very much enjoyed staying in a nunnery in New Jersey, USA, some years ago while attending a conference. I found something extremely relaxing about the assumption that simplicity and reflexion are the order of the day. Plain walls; a high hospital-type iron bedstead; lino floor; communal washing facilities and simple nourishing food were - contraintuitively - far more restorative than five star extravagance. Ditto a pilgrimage I joined a year or so ago, to Newcastle, Lindisfarne and a hermitage on Shepherd's Law. Not to mention a real pilgrimage, the annual walk from St Martins in the Fields to Canterbury in aid of the homeless, which takes place every spring Bank Holiday, following the old Pilgrim's Way through south London and Kent, sleeping on floors in sleeping bags. I am glad to be reminded of these things as the rafters of our global economy creak.