Perfect Blue
Kona Macphee
 
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Commentary: Repatriation

The following is condensed from an article written for BooksfromScotland.com for the Homecoming 2007 celebrations. The poem "Repatriation" was published with the article.

In July 2006, after more than a decade in the fenlands of Cambridgeshire, I moved with my family to the small town of Crieff in Perthshire. I'd like to have a neat and rational explanation for why we moved from a large academic town in England to a small rural one in Scotland, uprooting a business, three children and two cats in the process. I could, I suppose, mention the clean air, the incomparable scenery, the sense of community and the outdoor activities accessible from our doorstep. I could talk about downshifting, or re-prioritising, or simply starting over, but in truth, the decision to come here was mostly instinctive.

I've always had a sense of connection with Scotland. I'm sure this is partly down to the cultural anxieties of a far-flung and bastardised Colonial: being born a Macphee gave me a sense of being "from somewhere" historically, even though, genetically speaking, my heritage comes as much from the decimated Ashkenazim of Poland or the mild contingent of Kent shopkeepers as it does from any romantically wild and hairy Highlanders.

Nonetheless, when I lived Down South I'd sometimes come up to Scotland and notice how at home I felt. Driving up by car, I'd feel my mood lifting when the M6 rolled us through that brief transit of the Pennines, and lifting still further once we reached the hills of the Borders - travelling through places where the landscape became suddenly wilder, bleaker, steeper. All the man-made grandiosities of Cambridge - the ancient streets, the iconic college architecture, the pomp-filled and often pompous ceremonies of Academe - seemed tired and small and very far away. Looking out over the bare hillsides of Scotland, I sensed that my true self belonged to the harsh and empty places where I might really hear that "still, small voice" once again.

A couple of years after moving to Crieff, I wrote a short poem about my Scottish homecoming, "Repatriation". At first glance it seems rather gloomy, I suppose, but it's more than that. It captures the yearning I've always felt to be "at home", attached to a place by more than just the force of circumstance. My connection with Scotland might not have anything to do with my fragile Celtic heritage, but I do feel it strongly; I was amazed how emotional and familiar it felt the first time I saw a pipe band play, the first time I stood at the top of Choinneachain Hill to the north of Crieff and looked out across "my" countryside. Whatever else these reactions might tell me, they reassure me that I'm in the right place at last, after so many years of feeling lost, exiled, wrong.

The poem is also about mortality, of course - about those sudden, sickening 3am moments when you wake and understand, really understand, that the time will come when the building surrounding you will still be here, but you won't. As a theme, mortality has often appeared in my writing, but it's only since I came here that my awareness of it has graduated to a full-blown (if mercifully intermittent) terror, rather than an abstract, not-unpleasant melancholy. I think that's because, for the first time, I'm in a place where I really want to be - and even my own life is more precious to me as a result. I've found my home, and I can think of no greater tribute to Scotland than the fact that I should choose to spend the rest of my days here, knowing in my deepest self just how fleeting they are.

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