Timespan's Artist in Residence programme is supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Eurpoean Community Highland Leader 2007-2013 Programme

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Sunday 15 January - Timespan-Third Stay

The weather was still cold when I came back on Wednesday this last week although it was not so intense - much of the snow had gone. When I looked through the photographs that I had taken here in Helmsdale before Christmas the light had a different quality then than it holds now.
In December I had said to Lorna, who works here, that what I loved about winter was the colours and yesterday we spoke again about the clarity of colour when there is snow and ice around. Violets and oranges, greens, blues and reds. Sometimes they are muted when there is mist or rain but when the sun shines and there is ice in the air they sing all around. Sing is the only word I can think of which speaks of the feeling they create- the colours resonate-resembling birdsong at dawn or robins at dusk.

Now, in January of the New Year, I am back by the River Helmsdale in the morning sun – warm and watching the water pass below the Telford Bridge. Under the arches the icicles have melted and the last of their drops rain down on the stones revealed by the ebbing tide. The resident crows take flight from the clock tower of the war memorial and clamour raucously as they swoop overhead, their wings flashing blue and black against the sky. A solitary heron beats its wings and trails its long legs behind on its way to the harbour.
At the harbour everything is quiet and still. I go to the Harbourmaster’s office and ask for tide tables so that I will know which way the water will be flowing – it is not always obvious. He comes downstairs and I mention the silent stillness. He has worked here for years and in that time the harbour has lost the last of its fishing boats because of the quotas imposed on Scottish fishermen by Europe. The restrictions have become tighter and tighter and are strangling the industry. At the moment the British public are taking more notice because of Hugh’s Fish Fight, but how long will the impetus for change provided by celebrity input last? Jamie Oliver’s successes with the quality of school dinners have had the feet cut from under them by the latest chancellor’s spending economies.
Food – it concerns us all – not least because most people’s access to it is controlled by big business. Many people wouldn’t recognise an entire cod – still less know what to do with it once they had managed to catch it.

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