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TITLE
'Out West' (3 of 4)
EXTERNAL ID
AB_NG_OUTWEST_03
DATE OF RECORDING
2008
PERIOD
2000s
CREATOR
Anne Morrison
SOURCE
Am Baile
ASSET ID
1477
KEYWORDS
poem
poems
literature
competition
competitions
writing competition
writing competitions
story
stories
audios
audio recordings
recordings

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'Out West' won first prize in the adult prose section of the Neil Gunn Writing Competition, 2007. It is read here by the author, Anne Morrison, from Lairg.

To celebrate Highland 2007, Scotland's year of Highland Culture, the theme was 'Highland Spaces'. Judges for the adult prose section were Scottish writer Margaret Elphinstone and Ann Yule, Convenor for the Neil Gunn Trust.

The Neil Gunn Writing Competition is organised by library staff from The Highland Council Education, Culture & Sport Service with support from the Neil Gunn Trust. It was first established in 1988.

'When she first came to live with me on the island, Kathleen worried a great deal about the boat. Not the boat as such, but the way plans had to be altered at short notice to account for the weather, the way each journey was different to compensate for tides and wind direction. Our marriage, like most, was punctuated by arrivals and departures. A draughty zinc-roofed lean-to was the beginning and end point for innumerable journeys, each one characterised by putting on or removing a particular set of clothes: light waterproofs for working with sheep and for digging; fluorescent oilskins for the boat; boilersuits for the workshop; smarter jackets for town purchased in over-priced outdoor clothing franchises. Jumbled on the concrete floor beneath there are steel toe-capped work boots, thick-soled rubber boots, a stray sandal from another decade, wooden and synthetic clogs, filthy training shoes. I find it comforting to think of all these items waiting to be picked out from among their fellows in the gloom of the back porch. Some of them I have inherited from my father who used them for similar purposes, others I have bought or acquired while working for international shipping companies and marine agencies. In the house beyond the porch, first my mother then Kathleen maintained a comfort zone of heat and food.
When my parents ran the land around our home, every task was managed with meticulous care, work, indeed life itself, ran smoothly along pre-ordained lines set down back in who knows when. The sheep were always put out to the small islands in June. The dogs never slept in the house. Nobody used the name of the island when we were at sea. I think that for most of my life I believed I'd managed to do things differently, that I'd escaped those invisible tracks and carved out a separate life for myself until the day I returned to find my parents looking withered and frail and realised I'd come home to something unavoidable, something that had been waiting for me all along. Their voices were the same, but their clothes seemed ill-fitting and loose. Outside, choked gutters spluttered rainwater down peeling whitewashed walls and last year's hay, rancid with mould and mouse droppings was stacked untidily in the byre. I got to work straight away, making bonfires and clearing out gutters, my father trailing after me from byre to field and back again, making suggestions, commenting on the weather. Over the weeks that followed, I noticed that most of my parents' energy was spent on preparing meals. For the first time in my life, I watched my father rummage in the fridge and mutter ''what will we have today then', before passing the vacuum packed bacon and shop eggs to my mother to cook, which she did as though on autopilot. I left them there and took a walk down to the shore, trying to figure out what to do about my parents and coming to terms with the responsibilities that land inevitably brings. On a rough shelf of grass well above the high tide mark, I saw that the old boat, upturned, was slowly sinking into the earth. Her timbers, greasy with rainwater, sagged hopelessly inwards and pieces of perished tarpaulin flapped listlessly against the keel. A good sized boat, a sea boat, made for the sail. When I was a boy, my father and I had made numerous trips in this boat, moving sheep, collecting seaweed and occasionally dropping a softly hissing net over the side when the conditions were right for that kind of fishing. Whenever we could, we'd go west. As it was, we already lived on one of the most westerly of the small islands separating The Sea of the Hebrides and The Minch from the Atlantic Ocean. To our neighbours in the inner reaches of the sound, we were the people from the west, the first to feel the cold rush of winter, the last to see the sun blink then disappear into the waters of the Atlantic. In their minds we held the west like a territory just as the whole chain of islands we belonged to held it for people on the mainland. When I sailed with my father into our very own west, the need to push out and away from the land was still very strong; the desire to know what came after or before the safe harbour almost overwhelming. Rounding the last skerry off the headland, we would arrive suddenly in open water, all visible land behind us, sky and sea misted together on the horizon. Each time it happened, I experienced such a sense of shock it was as if my insides had been whisked away by a keen slicing blade. Outwardly, I was still a boy made up of flesh and bone and sinew, but inside, I was gutless and clean and filled with a huge rolling emptiness just like the one into which my father and I sailed. As we moved farther and farther into the west we noted the flight paths of sea birds and listened for their distinctive cries. We tasted the blandness of rain mingling with dry salt on our lips while watching patches of green water dimple above mackerel and effervesce where whitebait swarmed. We spotted tiny wavelets breaking in open waters, a signal to us that an underwater pinnacle nosed the air there, a place where we would be sure to find lobsters creeping and clustering, ready for harvest.'

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'Out West' (3 of 4)

2000s

poem; poems; literature; competition; competitions; writing competition; writing competitions; story; stories; audios; audio recordings; recordings

Am Baile

Neil Gunn Writing Competition (audios)

'Out West' won first prize in the adult prose section of the Neil Gunn Writing Competition, 2007. It is read here by the author, Anne Morrison, from Lairg.<br /> <br /> To celebrate Highland 2007, Scotland's year of Highland Culture, the theme was 'Highland Spaces'. Judges for the adult prose section were Scottish writer Margaret Elphinstone and Ann Yule, Convenor for the Neil Gunn Trust.<br /> <br /> The Neil Gunn Writing Competition is organised by library staff from The Highland Council Education, Culture & Sport Service with support from the Neil Gunn Trust. It was first established in 1988.<br /> <br /> 'When she first came to live with me on the island, Kathleen worried a great deal about the boat. Not the boat as such, but the way plans had to be altered at short notice to account for the weather, the way each journey was different to compensate for tides and wind direction. Our marriage, like most, was punctuated by arrivals and departures. A draughty zinc-roofed lean-to was the beginning and end point for innumerable journeys, each one characterised by putting on or removing a particular set of clothes: light waterproofs for working with sheep and for digging; fluorescent oilskins for the boat; boilersuits for the workshop; smarter jackets for town purchased in over-priced outdoor clothing franchises. Jumbled on the concrete floor beneath there are steel toe-capped work boots, thick-soled rubber boots, a stray sandal from another decade, wooden and synthetic clogs, filthy training shoes. I find it comforting to think of all these items waiting to be picked out from among their fellows in the gloom of the back porch. Some of them I have inherited from my father who used them for similar purposes, others I have bought or acquired while working for international shipping companies and marine agencies. In the house beyond the porch, first my mother then Kathleen maintained a comfort zone of heat and food. <br /> When my parents ran the land around our home, every task was managed with meticulous care, work, indeed life itself, ran smoothly along pre-ordained lines set down back in who knows when. The sheep were always put out to the small islands in June. The dogs never slept in the house. Nobody used the name of the island when we were at sea. I think that for most of my life I believed I'd managed to do things differently, that I'd escaped those invisible tracks and carved out a separate life for myself until the day I returned to find my parents looking withered and frail and realised I'd come home to something unavoidable, something that had been waiting for me all along. Their voices were the same, but their clothes seemed ill-fitting and loose. Outside, choked gutters spluttered rainwater down peeling whitewashed walls and last year's hay, rancid with mould and mouse droppings was stacked untidily in the byre. I got to work straight away, making bonfires and clearing out gutters, my father trailing after me from byre to field and back again, making suggestions, commenting on the weather. Over the weeks that followed, I noticed that most of my parents' energy was spent on preparing meals. For the first time in my life, I watched my father rummage in the fridge and mutter ''what will we have today then', before passing the vacuum packed bacon and shop eggs to my mother to cook, which she did as though on autopilot. I left them there and took a walk down to the shore, trying to figure out what to do about my parents and coming to terms with the responsibilities that land inevitably brings. On a rough shelf of grass well above the high tide mark, I saw that the old boat, upturned, was slowly sinking into the earth. Her timbers, greasy with rainwater, sagged hopelessly inwards and pieces of perished tarpaulin flapped listlessly against the keel. A good sized boat, a sea boat, made for the sail. When I was a boy, my father and I had made numerous trips in this boat, moving sheep, collecting seaweed and occasionally dropping a softly hissing net over the side when the conditions were right for that kind of fishing. Whenever we could, we'd go west. As it was, we already lived on one of the most westerly of the small islands separating The Sea of the Hebrides and The Minch from the Atlantic Ocean. To our neighbours in the inner reaches of the sound, we were the people from the west, the first to feel the cold rush of winter, the last to see the sun blink then disappear into the waters of the Atlantic. In their minds we held the west like a territory just as the whole chain of islands we belonged to held it for people on the mainland. When I sailed with my father into our very own west, the need to push out and away from the land was still very strong; the desire to know what came after or before the safe harbour almost overwhelming. Rounding the last skerry off the headland, we would arrive suddenly in open water, all visible land behind us, sky and sea misted together on the horizon. Each time it happened, I experienced such a sense of shock it was as if my insides had been whisked away by a keen slicing blade. Outwardly, I was still a boy made up of flesh and bone and sinew, but inside, I was gutless and clean and filled with a huge rolling emptiness just like the one into which my father and I sailed. As we moved farther and farther into the west we noted the flight paths of sea birds and listened for their distinctive cries. We tasted the blandness of rain mingling with dry salt on our lips while watching patches of green water dimple above mackerel and effervesce where whitebait swarmed. We spotted tiny wavelets breaking in open waters, a signal to us that an underwater pinnacle nosed the air there, a place where we would be sure to find lobsters creeping and clustering, ready for harvest.'