An Afternoon In St Andrews - St Andrews, Fife
On Friday I visited St Andrews with a picnic and hopes for a final summer day out. Here are the thoughts I scribbled afterwards in my writer’s notebook.
The wind blows mutinously from the off, closing the Tay Bridge. Finally we reach St Andrews, where it whistles down dingy closes and tuneless cackles, “Game’s up! Autumn is here!”
I ignore it and find warmth by the sea. A pungent fug of rotting weed and salt. The tide is stripped back, a seal lolls on a rock. The houses lining the coast look like they contain mysteries – consulting detectives, vanishing people and cats guarding ancestral secrets.
Desaturated skies. Hair blown into mouth. Dead thistles, downy and blonde, tremble in the wind. A heron, otherworldly and still, observes children throwing rocks at seagulls. Their coats are zipped to the throat. A frisky gust blows medieval pages from my grasp. The abbey glowers, swallows a tourist, reflects them back via arches and glassless windows.
Along comes a bookshop – Topping & Company. A chance to warm chilled fingers on a generous mug o tea, to order the soul with placid browsing. Antique rugs cover the floor. An abundance of ladders for an abundance of shelves. The shop is made into a cave by the amber glow of artificial light. I find Robert Holdstock (the first time I’ve seen Mythago Wood in a bookshop), Alan Garner and Robert Irwin. I could spend hours here, beetling between fiction, philosophy and fantasy. I could live here forever as a spidery book-devourer who occasionally dusts shelves and makes coffee instead of drinking it.
The awning outside is buffeted by a strong gale. Not to worry, confides the bookseller, it retracts automatically in high winds. Yet he eyes the darkening sky with suspicion.
I look for Arendt and Sartre but leave with Lanark and Beloved.
Afterwards, in the café, I read the first sentence of Lanark:
The Elite Café was entered by a staircase from the foyer of a cinema.
The café I am sitting in now is accessed by a similar stairway with a manky, old red carpet. This fiction-reality mirror pleases me. It makes my life feel more poetic and now I don’t care about the crumbs on the table.
Outside again. I eye smartly dressed students, the secretive vennels, splashes of ice cream on fingers. I think, “I’m going to get you in winter.” When the abbey is blackened by rain, when the summer trappings are cast aside and the sea is a whirlwind of rage.
A brown leaf scuttles by my boot. I break it with a satisfying crunch. All day autumn has been tapping me on the shoulder. Perhaps the cold months will be here sooner than I think. As I leave the bright painted doorways and seaside charm of St Andrews I make a mental list of dark-month things.
First chapters of novel to betas, short story added to website, long walks in fog-bound hills, mist and magic, apple crumble, fireworks and pumpkins.
And in the span of a moment, summer has slipped into autumn. Blue skies are unfathomable, the green hills bare. My mind is a wood of glimmering gold, awaiting the dark and all its riches.
What about you? Has the spell of autumn lured you in?