Something is read, done, comes to your attention and enjoyed. Then the same happens with something else. And you discover the something else has a link to the first something. Each enhances the other and produces the fizz of coincidence.
My first something was when I loitered in a local charity shop, looking at their books, enjoying being out of the nippy cold outside, whiling away time until husband reappeared after having his hair cut. A book caught my imagination though I hadn’t heard of the author. Later, when I read it I discovered the author was a Glaswegian born writer and director and had been involved with a number of television programmes including Machair, a Gaelic soap. During his involvement with this, the author of my book had for five years spent many months working and living on location on the island of Lewis, one of the isles of the Outer Hebrides.
Though he now lives in France, Peter May has written three gripping and fascinating books, more that just crime fiction, based in Lewis. As well as the hunts for the perpetrators of crimes, the books provide a graphic description of landscape, weather, childhood, island lifestyle and the annual hunt for guga (gannet).
For centuries after our ancestors left their caves for other dwellings, seabirds were eaten, at one time being a favourite dinner table food. Not just gannets were relished but gulls, cormorants, fulmars and shags too. Tastes change, and the oiliness of seabird, presumably along with the easier availability of other meats, meant they fell from menus and diets.
I knew the former islanders of St Kilda, specks of Outer Hebridean islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, had caught gannets (guga) to supplement their meager diets. But until I read Peter’s book, I was unaware that Lewismen in Ness have, since the sixteenth century and before, undertaken an annual two week forage to Sulasgeir, a remote rock forty miles off shore in the middle of endless ocean. Two thousand guga, almost fully grown gannet chicks, are caught, killed, pickled and salted to provide meat for inhabitants of the windswept, rocky island of Lewis. Originally men rowed small boats through often raging seas and gale force winds to reach the rock, a journey which even today, made by fishing trawler, is not for the faint-hearted.
Guga is an acquired taste, those who have eaten it likening it to strong tasting fishy duck so don’t expect it to appear any time soon in a supermarket or fast food outlet near you.
The Lewis trilogy is May’s latest offering after a raft of books with plots based in China and France. I have no intention of giving away plots, if interested (and I hope you are) you can Google Peter to find out more. Suffice to say the second trilogy book mentions a building in Edinburgh which is now known as Gallery of Modern Art 2. This lies across the road from Gallery of Modern Art 1, the original repository of Scotland’s national collection of modern art. The National Gallery houses the main collection with the Portrait Gallery, opened again after major refurbishment, housing portraits of our great and good (and not so good!).
We had gone to Modern 2 to see an exhibition by S J Peploe, one of the four painters known as the Scottish Colourists. While there, with the plot of Peter May’s book still swimming around my mind, I paid more attention to the building than usual, its dimension and shape as well as situation having acquired a whole new persona and significance. I took a few photographs. Building and book fizz together, each adding meaningful depth to the other.