LAST YEAR I fulfilled a lifetime ambition: I made it to Italy. The Bad Companion and I jetted into Rome on a warm summer evening and were picked up at the airport by the landlady from whom we had rented a cellar room in Trastevere. As we joggled along the cobbles of the Appian Way towards the Eternal City, we discovered she was some exiled Afghan princess with relations to the deposed Peacock Throne of Iran. She spoke Persian, Italian and French. The BC has passable French, but I was relegated to trying to make myself understood in Dog Latin. The landlady seemed vaguely baffled by my statement that "the soldier killed the farmer with a spear", but was more attracted to the fact that this was my first trip to that city where, it would seem, all roads eventually lead.
She offered to taxi us around the sights at night in her comical beat-up Fiat bubble van. Soon my inexpertise in communication became irrelevant: "Circo Massimo," our guide intoned, pointing towards an old lady walking a poodle on a patch of waste ground. I was speechless. At the next stop Princess Soraya did not have to say a word. We came round the Campidoglio and there it was below us, as real as in a school textbook: the Foro Romano. I was reduced to giggling and profanity. I giggled and swore for the next two weeks through Siena, Florence, San Gimignano and Fucking Venice.
I AM NOT saying that my first meeting with the erection at Stoneymollan caused such a climax of exhilaration as my experiences on the Grand Tour, but my first thought was: it's like the Colosseum.
It was Hogmanay and the BC was driving the Hallanshankers' van to Cove where we were playing their Hogmanay ceilidh. As we approached Loch Lomond at nightfall I spotted the illuminated roundabout ahead and remembered all the editor's threats and intimidations about deadlines for producing an artistic critique of said structure. I demanded that the BC slow down. She slammed the brake pedal to the floor, and with bouzoukis and amps flying out the back we carouselled around the roundabout a couple of times at 75mph.
What can I say? I like it.
Mighty larch-beams jag into the night sky buoying up a passing skein of sheet-steel geese. Perkin Warbeck, man of science, asks why they need to use "these huge bloody railway sleeper-type efforts to hold up such a footery wee thing." Let us ignore the rantings of the Philistine mind. Warbeck clearly has no sense of the great henge monuments of the Neolithic. A few broom-handles would have done the trick for him and probably have saved a few bob. If this Woodhenge at Stoneymollan were to be renamed Stoneyhenge, planners would be required to set aside camping space to accommodate the vans of Crusties and New Age Travellers who would flock with the geese to celebrate astronomical high days and holidays.
I have always enjoyed the totemistic representation of animals. In my Favourites collection I'd have one of those palaeolithic bison from Altamira, a Chinese flying horse, some Minoan octopi, that Picasso baboon with its head made from a Dinky car, a Ted Hughes jaguar, the ducks out of Tony Soprano's swimming pool and that Damien Hirst tankful of eels and cow carcasses. Many of us were brought up with the three ducks ascending the wallpaper on the back wall of the sitting room, emblem of the aspirations of the working class. These geese, I think, are better. Were I doing my Brian Sewell I would say they have something of the arabesque line of late Matisse - like he was using when designing the vestments at the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence - no small achievement if you are working in sheet metal.
Wild geese in the west of Scotland are burdened with a host of allegory: they represent the Scots Diaspora, Irish émigrés from famine, poverty and oppression, fleeing Jacobites, the Holy Spirit of the Celtic Church. We have loaded these creatures with so many referents it's a wonder the poor buggers can get off the ground. And yet, for all our identification with the animal worlds, we have a poor record in specism when it comes down to cash terms. We gaze into the big baby eyes of Disney's rabbits and pour chemicals into them in the research lab. We cheer on Nick Park's Chicken Run but know the reality of battery production. The distant cousins of our represented wildfowl know they are going to get seven bells blasted out of them every Glorious Twelfth by the animal-loving Brits. We are expert at using the animal world for our own aggrandisement. It would be a romantic indeed who would see the Stoneymollan installation as an indicator that we humans were going to start sharing resources and habitat more equitably with our creature neighbours.
A little more perspective however comes as the BC guns the campervan over the military road towards Garelochhead and through the blackness and mist and blowing snow the floodlights of the Faslane base blaze above and below the road. Here's another installation. All part of the same nature, I suppose. We crawl ant-like across the face of our planet, burrowing, building our termite mounds, making our marks, searching for power, immortality, significance - however you want to frame it. Some of these monuments just feel a little better and kinder than others.
THE CEILIDH is great. There's all ages there and they all want to dance. They ply us with booze and sandwiches. On the way home I get the BC to park on the roundabout. I don't drive meself. She says it's legal to park on a roundabout at 4am on Hogmanay. We look at the geese. They gleam against the clear starry sky, forever flying away, forever frozen where they are, like the procession on Keats' Grecian Urn. Snow whirls off the fields. It's like being inside one of those wee snowstorm globes that Citizen Kane dropped as he muttered "Rosebud".
Down the road towards home there is the big red neon Ballantyne's distillery sign. Wasn't it Ballantyne's that used geese at their bonded warehouse to act as watchdogs? Geese, apparently, can smell the odour of man better than any other animal. And wasn't it the cackling of the sacred geese that saved Soraya's Rome from attack by the Gauls? Whatever ... sitting there under the big timbers at Stoneymollan in the dark it seemed quite cosy and familiar and safe.
Stoneyhenge is at the junction of the A82 and A811, at NS381814 on Landranger 63.
TAC 67 Index