It gets dark early up here in late November. Scary too. We were on a wee road at the other end of the strath last Saturday, just me and R, listening to Sabbath as we drove because the wind was tearing the few clouds in the cold sky across the face of a nearly full moon and it seemed fitting to have some overblown metal jams playing. We crossed the little bridge that marked the boundary between two estates as Iron Man peaked, and a shadow leapt across the bonnet of the car – a huge stag flying from above the wall on the left hand side and vanishing into the darkness on the other. A fraction of a second more…good thing you can barely hit 40mph on these little roads…
‘Aye? That’s mental!’ J2 drawls from the backseat. ‘Remember when we saw the meteors collide?’ says A. Yeah, I do. Flash of light as bright as the day and a cloud of green staining the night. The highlight of another underwhelming Leonid shower. Highlight of the year, in fact. The things you see when you least expect it, nature reaching out to remind you how little you matter…Everyone starts talking at once. Three conversations bouncing around the car and filling the space where the music is supposed to be. I turn up the stereo. Future Sound of Chicago; Boo Williams morphing into Tim Harper’s Return of The Dragon.
‘Where we going?’ R asks.
‘Don’t know. Where do you want to go?’ There’s no answer to that, just a shrug that’s almost invisible. I slow and make the next turn, drifting down another tiny Highland road in the middle of nowhere. I can probably drive these roads blindfolded. We take the piss out of the boy racers, scorching the tarmac from the end of one village to the end of the next and back again in their Cortinas and souped up Fiestas with the rally racer style headlights and Go-Faster stripes, but I’m not sure we’re any better. Well, we’re better than —— I guess, who does the boy racing in his tractor. It would be gloriously stupid if he didn’t threaten to shoot people who laugh at him.
The CD ends and I ask what I should put on. J2 demands Janes Addiction. ‘No, They’re shite’ I say. Everyone else says they’re brilliant. I argue the toss, pointing out Perry Farrel is a tit. I can’t see the eyes rolling but I know they are. A says she’s got a Faith No More tape in her bag. That’s even worse I say. What about Mills: Live At The Liquid Room?
‘Don’t put it on,’ J1 moans. ‘I can’t listen to that ever again.’ A sighs: ‘We always listen to that!’. She’s right. Sooner or later we always get around to Mills. I concede defeat and get R to play Model 500, but we only get through about half of the first track before I remember I’ve got a mix tape somewhere. That goes on instead, but by then Juan’s alien sounds have got J2 talking about UFOs.
‘Did you care about aliens before you saw The X Files?’ I taunt J2. He swears at me. R says something foul and dirty about Gillian Anderson and A slaps the back of his head, which sets off a chain of giggling. ‘You would, though, yeah?’ R implores me. ‘Oh, yep, Of course. Aliens or not.’ I agree. All the lads agree. R Shifts around in his seat and says to A ‘I bet you would too!’
‘Shag Gillian Anderson?’ A says in a seductive voice. ‘Definitely!’ and collapses into fits. R looks delighted. ‘Told you!’ he confirms smugly.
We come to the end of the road and I pull into a parking spot that lies above the banks of a still and dark loch. During the day this place would have been full of tourists: cars with licence plates from all over the continent bringing people for their whisky tours, for their golf and walking and mountain biking. And they come to this loch for the rare ospreys that nest in the ancient forest of Scots pine that crowd the shore. We stop and get out, keeping the doors open for the music. R crashes some fags and J2 moves away from aliens to William Burroughs but no one is really paying attention. A mentions college and we fall quiet. It’s a funny thing. For so long all we thought about was leaving, but once there were opportunities there was a reluctance to take them up. And now we’re mostly gone, we keep coming back.
We sit for a while, talking quietly about this and that and enjoying the night until the growing cold sends us back to the car. Unspoken thoughts hang in the air like sharp clouds of frosted breath and I start the engine, reversing slowly back onto the road and aiming back up the way we came. It’s getting late: gone midnight which is as good as until dawn up here. We already know bored police will be haunting the busier roads.
The mix tape finishes and I put on a CD I bought a few weeks before but still hadn’t really gotten around to playing much. I grabbed Themes From Vapourspace out of One Up in Aberdeen when I was in a hurry to get to the bus station and it sat in my bag for a month before I remembered it was there. I’d dipped in and out but formed only the lightest of impressions. That didn’t take long to change.
Everyone’s still silent, staring into the darkness from the cocoon of the car as Gravitational Arch’s slow sirens began to unfurl around us. R reaches out and turns the volume up. Gently, a notch; enough to accentuate the richness of the frequencies over the rattle of the engine. Slowly it grows. Slowly it engulfs us until the car seems to leave the road, carried forward on pulses of sound as the nusic rises and falls before plunging back to earth as the ever so slightly out of phase beats pump into life. Ten minutes vanish.
I drop everyone off. J2 first, then R and J1. Finally A departs with a hug and a sleepy ‘Goodnight’. I go home and park outside the house, putting Gravitational Arch on again one last time before going inside. I revel in it, luxuriate in the way the music sweeps everything else away. It seems a good way to spend a Friday night, listening to tunes. I feel like I could do it forever. I wonder if I could?