We never talk about shrimps up here. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that word used anywhere in Scotland. Up here, across the tempestuous border, we talk about prawns, and they are quite believably so. Shrimps I remember from Norfolk days, and you needed 3000 of the little so-and-so’s for all of seven sandwiches. I have been served up a plate of ‘prawns’ before now, and knew fine I was being ripped off, but not up here. Folk can’t believe their good fortune when they order a prawn dish, savouring the fat pink bodies, dense and firm and tasting of a fresh wild ocean.
In Tapselteerie days, I would drive over the hill to meet the fisherboats coming in, bartering with the raw and ruddy-faced hard-working ‘boys’ for an overflowing crate of still-twitching jewels, the huge aga pans left to bring themselves to boiling point as I travelled. The eyes of the guests grew wide with amazement as I laid down plates of them, pan fried with garlic and fresh herbs. Then I would make bisque from the shells. Nowadays, you can’t buy them on the quay, as I did, because they all go for export. But there are a few choice restaurants who either make sure they have their own creel boat, or have found a way to do as I did, and connect with the fishermen. Some of these ‘boys’ are still fishing, some have stepped back to let their sons carry on the good work. After all, shrimp or prawn, lobster, oyster or mussels are always a different experience when they are fresh and still full of personality.
Much like us.
So why am I talking about shrimps and prawns and the like? It isn’t to lead on to the obvious Bigger is Better thing. What I am talking about is choice and quality, yes, but more about paying attention to the strings that bind us. Driving over the hill to find fresh shellfish meant I had to know and befriend the fisherman. If he thought I was a stuck up little madam, he would have said nothing was available and I wouldn’t have blamed him for that. I know that the lonely process of buying goods, any goods, via the interweb is easier, cheaper often, but it involves no human contact, or very little. In fact, we seem to enjoy as much ‘very little contact’ as possible these days, and, yet, it is only through a bonding process that anything in life really works. Oh, I am not saying we don’t need, use and value the internet, but out of balance we can find ourselves clumsy and careless at times when we are with another person. Out of practice.
When I go shopping for clothes (I hate shopping for clothes and am the very first to look online), I will avoid with great energy, huge shopping malls, caves of blue lighting, plastic walls and no air, or none already breathed in and out again. Instead, I will choose the little shop with a ‘ping’ as I open the door and a welcome smile on the face of the assistant. I don’t want ‘NEXT!’ yelled at me. I have a name, and it isn’t that. Although I absolutely do not like a pushy sales person, I do like the question ‘Can I help you with anything?’ and then, when I say I just want to browse, to be left to do just that. If I buy something, I want her, or him behind the pretty counter, to be interested in me and my choice, as I will be in them. I want to walk out feeling very chuffed with myself and with my purchase, and, more, the pleasant memory of our human encounter.
If I sound stuffy, I don’t mean to. I blog, I Facebook, I text and tweet, but it isn’t all I do.
Recently I came to realise that my work is lonely work. Writing, painting, loving my little home and being in and around it, walking with Poppy in the fairy woods, none of these get me in front of people. This is my choice. I am, at heart, solitary and I need that space around me to feel creative and healthy, but, out of balance, I get fearful in crowds and resist meeting friends. The good news is, that this is instantly fixable, once recognised. Driving through Glen Coe, beneath the craggy snow-covered tops of the Three Sisters, I pulled over to call Lisa, my publisher. We talked of mice and men, cabbages and kings, and, as I turned back onto the road, I felt a lift. It wasn’t the content of our conversation that did that, but her voice in my ear, connecting me once again to the outside world and, in doing so, raising my confidence in me, making me feel important and interesting and changing my whole outlook so that I was, once more, fresh and full of personality.