Summer’s End

I’ve spent the summer in a cathedral, talking about cathedrals.

But why is it a cathedral when there’s no bishop and it’s a place for him to sit?

Yes, you’re right, it’s Presbyterian now. Church of Scotland since 1560, though they had them through the 17th century up until the Glorious Revolution and the Claim of Right. The Elders and the congregation pick the minister. As the window in the sacristy says, let them be counted as double.

But I don’t just talk about Mungo, I talk about Magnus too. Though my experience of cathedrals extends beyond that. One such building imprinted on my mind is the imposing edifice of Cologne’s archbishopric. It’s the third to me, and the first city of my year abroad in Germany, in the city where the three-day course before my teaching placement started was held.

France’s cathedrals I have no direct experience of but was happy to hear about them at the beginning of this week from an International Relations graduate with his piece of paper in hand testifying to his diplomatic credentials.

I reflected on my own limited time in Paris when I was almost wholly ignorant of the revolution. My desire to travel was rekindled as I heard about a summer spent working at a French holiday resort only returned from two weeks ago. All you need is the Pass Sanitaire, I was told, and the continent is yours. Well, I’m double vaxxed. Europe, await my return.

Talk of travel also took place on Thursday when I was discussing reading up on Russia. Latterly I’ve looked into the life of Lenin by Robert Service. Lenin is someone who would have loathed Carlyle’s lens through which he viewed history. Yet you can’t deny he was arguably the 20th century’s Great Man.

Apparently, there is a scheme where you can travel visa-free from Finland to St Petersburg. I’ll need to check that out because Moscow and Leningrad are definitely on the list, alongside Norway, Italy, Austria and Bavaria.

I want to see the cities, the mountains, the lakes and the fjords, but I also crave something quieter, subtler and slower.

Though I’ve been away from Orkney for more than a year now, I’ve retained my links with the isles through volunteering. At the start of the month, I was compering again for the Orkney International Science Festival and throughout the annum I’ve kept up my role as website/app updater for the St Magnus Way.

That first year of the Science Festival was for the organisers overshadowed by loss, following the death of Kristen Linklater, internationally recognised acting coach and founder of the Voice Centre in whose workshops we were lucky enough to participate, earlier in the year.

It was really the first proper community event I had taken part in since lockdown and such a time when I was also still experiencing personal grief for my friend Charles who had suddenly passed away that April.

Despite it being online and despite the difficulties, alienation and barriers to communication Zoom erects between us all, the OISF of 2020 truly was a community phenomenon in the most meaningful sense of the word. But it was also a community in a particular sense, in that it was a scientific community with a shared commitment to the expansion of human knowledge and species-capability that transcends both nation and generation.

Science, of course, is impersonal, but that does not preclude a truly tangible solidarity between those who gaze heavenward or into the darkest ocean trench and cry, “Mehr Licht!”

It was this that I most needed at this particular ebb in my life. A reaffirmation of what I’d believed in since boyhood after a summer of stagnation and solitude.

It is, in my opinion, chiefly an exploratory impulse that drives scientific development and being stuck to the confines of four walls when I’d dreamt of the seven seas was, to say the least, infuriating.

Now, though, this generalised Wanderlust was given a focus in a double sense. In a desire for discovery, and in dedication to someone whose attitude to travel on land and on the waves I hope to emulate.

So, when I make it to Russia, when I start off on the St Cuthbert’s Way and when I do eventually learn to sail, I’ll be doing it in tribute to you, Charles Jonathan Peter Wright.

About alasdairflett

German & English Literature graduate. From Orkney. Interested in alternative and indie music, language, writing and politics.
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