From Woodside to Woodlands

I recently moved flats from the Maryhill/Woodside border zone to a place off Woodlands Road right beside Kelvingrove Park. After two years together, the Grovepark gang disbanded. I moved my stuff piecemeal in the final week of the lease, but the majority was in two carloads of my friend’s convertible Saab. Within an hour we had tried the falafel shack that had been recommended by my cathedral colleagues and decamped to the Arlington – one of two notable “teuchter” pubs in the vicinity.

The move has not been without problems. The toilet seat was a flimsy plastic shell-shaped thing that slid about all the time; the sofas are basically metal frames with a sheet of fabric stretched across and my New Stateman subscription (a graduation gift) doesn’t seem to have survived the change of address. By the use of the past tense for the first item on the list you will be able to see that these are gradually getting resolved, no thanks to a decidedly non-interventionist letting agent. Anyhow, to focus on the positives, I have upgraded in terms of space and location (in terms of trendiness, but not in proximity to Lidl).

August will be my last full month full-time at the cathedral this year. In September I’ll start the diploma in professional practice at Strathclyde, which requires me to attend three days during the week, meaning I’ll only be under Gothic arcades for 11 days out of the 30 that it hath.

I feel I’ve had a happier summer than last year. 2021 was still quite far from normal. Social occasions were still fraught with cost-benefit analyses. It was only until mid-August that I had my first gig back – not that I’ve seen too many bands in the summer of 22. I was going to go and see Rage Against the Machine in Edinburgh but was put off by the £90 ticket price. That’s been cancelled now, so I guess I needn’t have worried. I was due to see Parquet Courts in June but had just been appointed coordinator of the Initial Advice Clinics so felt I couldn’t abandon my event, falling as it did on a Wednesday evening. My next scheduled one was Francis Lung at the Hug & Pint on a Friday. The Friday I had finished feeding a newfound feline friend – king of the gods, the apex of the pantheon – Zeus! (The cat, I was cat-sitting and house-sitting, to be clear).

My sojourn in the Southside, where said deity did reside, had come to an end. I’d decided to accept the offer of an Uber home instead of cycling back in torrential rain, and in an all-of-a-sudden fit of exhaustion opted not to go to the gig.

That means my last one was also at the Hug & Pint, at the start of July. Indoor Foxes. I think I’d heard them on Vic Galloway one night driving home from a shift at the Orkney Hotel. Not that the act was particularly important, rather the company. Yes, that was a fateful Saturday. I had flown back from Orkney to Edinburgh – the flight was somewhat cheaper and more convenient than direct to Glasgow – and I thought I’d see a couple of friends from uni round one while I was in town. The Orkney excursion was preceded by a trip to Aberdeen for my sister’s graduation from med school (now working as a junior doctor in the same city after a well-earned break) and occasioned by a citation as a crown witness in a Sheriff Court case (which failed to materialise after a last-minute guilty plea).

A week prior I had graduated for the second time, in law. The weather was poor, and there was a lot of hanging about, but it was a good excuse for my mother to visit and for us to spend some time together – an excuse to see the new Top Gun and A Play, A Pie and A Pint at least, which I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Anyway, at well past the halfway mark I can count 2022 as one of the more successful years (touch wood). Of course, I’ve got the formal certificate – Clinical LLB, Bachelor of Laws; the accepted traineeship, but what I value more is the nurturing of friendships, painfully missed during those lost 18 months or so of Covid misery. When you are torn away by time and circumstance you are forced to consider what you value in people and the people you value. Why is it so hard to be apart from a certain type of human being? A certain type is hard to find. Rare. Once found you cannot let them fade.

It takes effort to keep the flame of friendship aglow. Maybe you’ll spend hours hacking at a hillside, and when the season is right, store up a barrowload of peats to last the winter. Sometimes it’s as simple as striking a match. But by whichever method, once the blaze gets going again, the light you bask in is the same as it always was.

I started the year with confidence and optimism I hadn’t known since probably July 2019, except this time my goals were far clearer. Within the first half, I’d achieved at least two, with my aim of French proficiency in the works.

The self-confidence I felt probably spilt over into arrogance on occasion. I came close to losing a friend because of hurtful words spoken in jest, which were, in truth, just callous. That was two years to the day I did lose a friend, all too literally – the 7th of April. A date I will never forget. I suppose that was a turning point. I began to recognise my confidence had mutated into a decided lack of humility. That was something I decided to rectify in the remainder of the year.

My pilgrimage I think helped to an extent. It’s difficult to be arrogant when you’ve just walked 25 miles, sodden and stinking, and 15 are on the cards the next day. But I suppose there was an arrogance in embarking on it in the first place. After the sufficiently humbling experience of the first day, however, I was practically weeping with gratitude upon cresting the hill on day three of three and glimpsing the glorious expanse of the North Sea after more than 48 hours inland.

Among people, one is always at pains to distinguish oneself. Set oneself apart. Remain above it all. Aloof. In nature, in torrential rain, uphill for miles on end, it’s just you. No comparator. No companion. There is no mastery here. No conquest, just completion. But this is just something you’ve been through; it’s not an achievement, not an accomplishment. It’s only a goal insofar as it is a point on the map. Once you’ve eaten up the miles, they disappear. They’ve only eaten you.

I think I’ve reached a point where it’s no longer about becoming, on a personal level – becoming is a byproduct – but being. I want to be more and more the agent of my actions. I am not my CV, not my credentials or qualifications or positions held – my biography, but my acts, in the here and now and in the past; the sum-total of the way I’ve treated others and how they’ve perceived me, for ill or for good.

I set out this year to achieve personal satisfaction – fulfilment[1] if you will – a career and status I can be proud of. But I have learnt that there is no true satisfaction in personal satisfaction. There is only mutual satisfaction – call that friendship, companionship, brotherhood, solidarity or love. Collective love, or solidarity, I think, is the political aspect of life. Companionship is the love of strangers brought together by circumstance, but friendship is the most precious of all, and the former is a gateway to the latter.

I am lucky to be able to say that I have discovered two dear friends this year. This is not an achievement or an accomplishment but merely something that has happened to me and for which I am grateful.[2]

[1] In my opinion, pure contentment/fulfilment/happiness is unobtainable. We may only approach it, draw within a few nanometres, and then pull away again. Like the logarithmic graph, we never touch the axis. Greek Orthodoxy has the idea of Theosis; I think happiness works in a similar way. One cannot fully become God, but one can near ever closer to Godliness.

[2] Not to anyone/any entity in particular – I’m an atheist. Let’s just say Providence/the Supreme Being etc. To be clear, I don’t believe that some cosmic Other actively bestowed this on me.


About alasdairflett

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