Monday, 21 June 2010


One thing I always notice about Arbroath, when I've been away, is the light. The sun, even when it's wearing a mask of cloud, skims in off the waves with the north-easterlies in a particular way. It's what makes it unlike anywhere else I've been. Its USP, like the A & R men would say.

Other seaside places, St Ives, or St Tropez, draw painters like moths to a flame because of their light. Arbroath, not so much. Although that could be the smell from the smokeries.

What the light does, though, is etch in every line, every crow's foot on the people I know. This time, 1991, was no different. It was like the folk had been sandblasted by the wind and weather, and then by that rain-sodden sun.

“You're back, then,” Mum Said. She didn't look surprised, or pleased particularly. “Your room's made up. I'm off to the bingo at seven, mind.”

I walked her to the end of the street. She'd retired the previous year, and seemed to have settled into old wifiedom already. Keeping the house spic and span (who for, I've no idea, since Dad was long gone by then) telly, bingo, tia maria and coke, occasional trips with her cronies to Forfar, or Dundee. I asked her if she ever went to Edinburgh.

“Naw, hen. Too far.”

I spent the evening in the local, being chatted up by a guy who'd been in the year below me at school. He'd got his own building business, he said, although most of the profits seemed to be going into Tennent's lager. I stuck to vodka: less hangover that way.

“Comin hame wi me, then?” he said, at closing time.

“I've got my own home to go to,” I said, and left him propping up the wall. I didn't tell him it was thousands of miles away, and that the bank had probably foreclosed on it by now.

The sea haar had come in with the night. Water droplets settled round my paisley pattern shawl, each with their own salt secret. Back in Mum's, everything was quiet, and dark. My old room smelt of the sea as well.

I lay awake for a long time, thinking of the places I'd seen on tour. Europe, in all its different shades and guises. The States. Even Canada, one biting winter, when I was supporting the boys on their stadium tour.

I hadn't unpacked much of my bag, so it didn't take long in the morning to get ready to go. Mum didn't seem surprised, or pleased.

“I knew you wouldn't stay,” she said. “Where will you go?”

“Edinburgh,” I told her.

It was the last time I saw her alive.

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