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

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Watching the water and “The Silver Darlings”

I am watching the river and the sea - still fascinated by their unending changing characters - colours, surfaces and movements, all within a hundred metres of each other. This morning I walk up to the new (ish) A9 bridge over the river mouth and look down at both waters moving towards each other. It is low tide and the wind blows from the North-West (I think) – lifting tiny waves on the surface of the bigger ones. It chases them the opposite way and they flee skittishly out to sea and towards the approaching sun.

The water is steel gray, purple, darkening blue towards the horizon a line so straight it could have been drawn with a ruler. Close to the shore the colours change, turquoise, pale yellow, pink and green and as I walk down the path to the beach the tide begins to turn. The slope here down to the sea is steeper and the waves pull the gravel and pebbles back with them after they crash down on them. The sun is a tiny sliver of molten orange bright and far away - the clouded sky has many layers in the sun’s light – trails wisps of pink and orange, huge washes of yellow ochre almost brown and back to the blues and the grays. Behind me the rain approaches, the sea changes again and although it is not rough I am reminded of the talk the night before last given by Tony Sinclair from Wick Heritage Society about herring fishing. We watched early films from the Johnston Collection which showed Wick in the days when it was a thriving part of the fishing industry. Some of the newer boats were powered by steam and some were still sail – but the most obvious difference was the sheer number of them – the sense of busyness, of hard labour, of noise – even though the films were silent. Men carrying huge weights of coal, of fish, women gutting herrings with cloths tied round their fingers to protect themselves from the knives and the salt. This work was piece work, the more you gutted the more you got. The herring were salted as they were unloaded by the men from the boats, salted again and then packed - belly up - in wooden barrels made by the cooper at the harbour. The herring were left to settle for a week or so and then more packed on top. Tony Sinclair then showed us a short but terrifying/wonderful film of a film on a Kinora home viewer. These worked on the same principle as a child’s flick book but were operated by turning a handle at the side, only one or two people could watch at a time. The film was of the lighthouse in the harbour being swamped by storm waves – and part was of a young boy standing at the end of the harbour wall. The mechanism of the Kinora was so smooth that the separate frames could not be seen – these images were also in colour.

I thought about all of this while looking at the sea, I thought about how frightened I would be if I was out in weather like that, I thought about how hard life can be, and is, and was, for some of us. I was woken from considering all of this by a warm nose snuffling at my hand – I turned and looked down and there was a light-eyed, brindled dog looking up at me and wagging its tail . . . time to go home for a hot cup of tea.

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