GAME ON (27)


I've spent this morning making a Date Painting. I've had to rush it (I have until midnight to improve the finish) so as to be able to accompany my latest airbnb guest on an afternoon bike trip through the Cateran Ecomuseum. It came as news to me that the natural environment that I'm used to thinking of on a day-to-day basis as 'landscape' might be thought of as 'ecomuseum'. But isn't it life-affirming to look at something familiar from a brand new angle?


Above, I'm showing the back of today's Date Painting, with traces of the picture's first coat, raw sienna, because of the phrase 'FROM DEEP TIME TO OUR TIME' that is emblazoned across the cover of the Cateran Ecomuseum brochure. It reminds me that On Kawara began his Dates with a layer of Sienna or umber because he had been so moved by the sight of Cave Paintings, with their earthy colours and wild animals, on his visit to France and Spain in the early 1960s.

Thirty thousand years ago… Yesterday, today, tomorrow… Not much point in invoking deep time if one can't make the most of the moments we find ourselves living.

It's 2pm, time to get on our bikes and head off. I must tear my mind from consideration of today's Date Painting and from such thoughts as 'the bottom of the 'E' in 'SEPT.' needs tidying up'.


I will have time to do that later. And it won't be noticeable in the photographs I take out in the landscape. Not even to you, the alert reader.

So off we go. We e-bike through Blair and take the back road towards Alyth (six miles), both of us taking advantage of the battery power that is to hand. Without this electricity, today's trip would be overambitious. In due course we cross over from the vicinity of Bamff to the road that will take us into the heart of Glen Isla. But before we get there, Lisa helps in the setting up of the first photo.


Let me introduce Lisa Pigozzi from Milan, my airbnb guest, having placed today's Date into a gorse bush. She's been staying with me for four days in which time we've talked a bit about why she's here. Her PhD addresses the question 'How can ecomuseums create sustainable tourism?' And to help her come up with answers she is conducting interviews with organisers and stakeholders, including Claire Darmordan who writes for the Blairgowrie Advertiser, and Clare Cooper, director and founder of the Cateran Ecomuseum. I fondly remember Claire for her review of my Evelyn Waugh book in the Blairie. And I fondly remember Clare for her local initiatives of about ten years ago, when more emphasis was put on an artist-led program. I have a feeling that by putting the landscape and the visitor first, as the Cateran Ecomuseum does, the whole thing is much more solidly based. Less egotistical and more ecotistical, one might say. Though that is unnecessarily hard on artists, and I don't mean to be.

Lisa has two case studies, Cateran and Rome. In both places she wants to investigate how the Ecomuseum can raise the profile of an area in the growing market for regenerative tourism. Here, she wants to understand how the Ecomuseum encourages more people in the Tayside region to enjoy what is on their doorstep rather than increase their carbon footprint by travelling further afield. She also wants to see for herself how the Ecomuseum builds recognition - in the minds of Taysiders - of the unique natural and cultural heritage of the place they live in.

Which all sounds great. It really does. Meanwhile, what is the difference between an Ecomuseum and an Ecogallery? That's something I might ponder as this day continues.


Perhaps I will be in danger of putting the artist back at the top of the agenda. I really don't want to do that. If this particular artist appears to be having fun today, then it's because of the simple, inspired, effective structure that has been provided by the phrase 'Cateran Ecomuseum' and its associated website/brochure.

Lisa speaks all the roman languages from Italian to Portuguese via French and Spanish, putting me to shame when I think about it, but still I choose to correct her when she talks of her regard for 'sheeps'. However, she thanks me for pointing out that this is one of the exceptions to how the plural of a noun is handled in English. Meanwhile, we have been advised by a shepherd to dismount and pull over, while a flock of sheep passes by. Lisa crouches down in the road in order to take photos of the flock. It takes me a few seconds to realise that Lisa doesn't realise just how timid sheep are. Her presence in the middle of the road is a significant problem for them, however unlikely that might see to her, and it takes a while before the sheep pluck up the courage to run past on the far side of the road. Some take this even further and jump off into the field to the right of the following pictures.


I'm expecting to hear the shouts of an irate shepherd at this stage. But it doesn't happen. And the sheep soon calm down. As they pass me and the bikes, they are trotting in a calm way, just keeping half an eye on the human, who, just for the time being, is thinking of himself as a knowledgeable and even wise, local man. Tayside born and bred, that's me!


Perhaps the shepherd (he's just nodded at me) kept quiet when he saw his sheep disappearing into the adjoining field, because he realises that as a stakeholder in the Ecomuseum he must expect tourists who are unfamiliar with the ways of livestock: travellers who observe the creatures with wonder. Yes, maybe that's it. Lisa is still taking photos of the white, wool-covered creatures. Her mood remains elevated as a result of being in such close proximity to our four-legged friends.


Sheeps? Why not? Let's distinguish between the singular and the plural. And let's not pretend it doesn't matter how many of them there are.

We cycle on until we get to the Reekie Linn. This is a feature on the River Isla and it's a popular picnic spot. I sit at a table and consider this part of the Ecomuseum. But first I ground myself. It is a certain day in a certain month in a certain year. Actually, we are having a warm and sunny September to make up for July and August which were both wet. Not that the Ecomuseum cares that much about the weather. Though it does care about climate. And in particular, Climate Change.


In front of me, Lisa takes photos of two boys wild swimming. She wants to know if the water is cold, but I don't think it is. This summer I've been swimming in the sea off the Isle of Bute and in that part of the Baltic that laps against the outskirts of Stockholm. And swimming in both these waters was pleasant. If Global Warming is causing the ocean to rise, that will be a disaster, but if there are minor, positive by-products, like eight September days in a row where the temperature in the UK is over thirty degrees, leading to warm water in the rivers in Scotland, then we just have to take that for what it is, an environmental bonus.


Lisa joins me on the bench and tells me that the Cateran Ecomuseum - in the form of local historians, scientists and volunteers - is currently focussing on four projects concerning rivers. It's collectively called 'River Detectives'. The project she wants to mention in this context concerns the flooding of the River Isla. Well, I know all about that, or at least I know that about a mile downstream from here the Isla completely changes its character. It hits the lowland plain and becomes a meandering river, extremely prone to flooding. So what are the local historians going to do?

"They want to know if the river floods more these days than it used to, due to climate change."

"Clearly the river used to flood a lot, or the monks at Coupar Angus wouldn't have bothered to make the flood banks that are such a bold feature of the landscape in Strathmore."

"By studying sediment deposits, a much better idea of what has been happening will emerge."

"What does that involve?"

"You should find out."

Perhaps I will. But not today. I point out the following sign and tell Lisa that it's not far to the viewpoint.


Ten minutes later, Lisa does not seem to be scared of the 45m-metre height right in front of her. I ask her about the other three river projects that Cateran Ecomuseum began this August.


"One of them concerns the river that goes through Blairgowrie."

"The Ericht."

"The river whose power was harnessed to turn water wheels that worked the mills in the Nineteenth Century. They want to know how the system of lades coped with the river in spate and in drought. Again, they will be thinking of Climate Change and responses to that."

I mention what I know of the various water mills on the Ericht, none of which are still in operation. Though some of the water wheels used to operate the mill operation are still in existence.

After a while I begin to feel uncomfortable sitting like this.


The reason I've adopted this position is to test out the quadriceps in my left knee. In 2019 I was walking through Drimmie Woods and I was curious about a sound I could hear. I went to investigate but slipped on a wet root. My right heel shot out in front of me and I fell awkwardly, hearing something tear inside my knee. I couldn't move without causing myself severe pain. Then I realised I would have to move, so I dragged myself - keeping my left leg completely straight - a mile or two to where help was by then waiting in the form of an ambulance.

The next thing I remember was assuring the surgeon at Ninewells Hospital that I wanted to be able to walk again, so as to continue my exploration of the varied landscape that surrounds my home in Blairgowrie. He told me I wouldn't be able to walk at all for three months, but that if all went to plan in the operating theatre my recovery would eventually - after a full year - be total. My recovery has been total. Except when I try and put my body into this particular position. The man-made fibre that has replaced my tendon won't quite give me full range of movement. If I was to force my bum any further towards my heels I would feel a tight, uncomfortable feeling in my knee. No price to pay for full mobility, though. No price at all. I stand up.

My accident happened in the Glenshee part of the Ecomuseum rather in the Glen Isla part, where we are now. The cycle ride mentioned by the website that Lisa has shown me - and by the brochure I photographed earlier - is called 'Drimmie Woods Gravel Bike Stravaig'. As opposed to 'Drimmie Woods Nightmare Scenario' that I experienced back in December, 2019. By the way, the mysterious sound I'd heard that night which had lured me from the path was the sound of the wind going through a newly erected wind turbine. My unpleasant experience didn't change my mind about wind farms. The 70 million people who inhabit the UK need cheap power, and wind and solar are surely the best ways to go.

On to the next vantage point. I mark it with the Date.


After taking the above photo I reposition the Date so that it's in the sunshine. Then we go along to the next vantage point in order to look back at it. This means I have to leave the Date unattended. But what are my fellow visitors to the Cateran Ecomuseum going to do? Toss SEPT. 23, 2023 into the abyss? I would be astonished (and impressed) if anyone did this.

OK we're there. Can I see the Date? Yes, I can just make out the white-on-cobalt blue canvas at the base of a tree, toppish right of the following photo. Please don't read on until you've spotted it also…


What a wonderful place this is. The play of the light in the leaves. On days when there is more water coming down the waterfall, the air here at Reekie Linn is thick with water particles. Maybe those, and the ionisation of the air that goes with them, keeps this place special. Maybe, without even trying, we have reached the centre of the Cateran Ecomuseum.

I ask Lisa if she will take a photo of the Date Painting with her camera, in case it takes a better photo than my iPhone. She kindly does as I ask, but she can't say what the result will be like.


Lisa Pigozzi loves the view, the place, the atmosphere, the unique heritage, the sustainable tourism… If she lived on Tayside she would be studying the four River Detective projects and picking the one that she felt most interested in. Probably the one she felt most curious about what its findings would eventually be. Yes, I must have a close look at the four. And a ponder.

The view reminds me of something right now. I did mention, dear reader, that both Glen Shee and Glen Isla are part of the Cateran Ecomuseum. Really the Ecomuseum has been derived from the 60-mile Cateran Trail, which was itself drawn on a map by Bob Ellis and a friend of his a few decades ago. The Trail was devised as a tourist route to enable walkers to enjoy the landscape of this part of Tayside. This whole concept has been deepened by the creation of the Ecomuseum, where the line of the Trail has become a three-dimensional space. Anyway, the equivalent of Glen Isla's Reekie Linn on the River Ericht - which flows through Glen Shee and used to power the mills of Blairgowrie - was long ago commemorated with an engraving that I showed Lisa this morning. It shows an equally dramatic spot, and in the reproduction below you can see the stately home of Craighall in the distance, built on top of a rocky outcrop.


The fall from Craighall may be greater than 45 metres. But why Craighall won't feature on the Ecosystem website is that it lies on private land, and public access would be limited. True, there is the Right to Roam in Scotland. But the two-mile drive leading from the public road to the 'castle' is not really suitable for cycling. This place is in my own personal Ecosystem. I live within three miles of it and know several ways to approach either Craighall or the grass-topped outcrop on which the figure lies.

Let's zoom in on him. The engraving is a thing of beauty, gouged out of steel with the same kind of razor-sharp nib with which the surgeon made a six-inch cut across the flesh of my knee. Indeed the man in the engraving may have suffered a fall. The quadriceps tendon in his left leg may have been torn, which would be bad news indeed for him given the state of surgery in the nineteenth century.


Can we be more specific about the date? The plate was specially commissioned for a book, Perthshire and the Queen's Visit, that was published in 1844, to commemorate a tour through Perthshire in 1842, taken by Queen Victoria, who had fallen in love with her Balmoral estate by then, and by extension the Highland landscape. So shall we say: 'SEPT.10,1843'? The man is staring into the distance in an effort to spot the Date. He is looking for white characters on a blue rectangle. Though it could just as easily be white on a red canvas or white on a black canvas, I would remind him. Once he spots his Date, he will shoot it, not with an iPhone but with the rifle he has at his disposal. He will blast it to pieces. What does he keep in his top hat? Let's say his game pie lunch. Really, we have made so much progress, in all sorts of ways, in the last one-hundred-and-eighty years.

Or have we? Has the Ecomuseum not got timeless properties that benefit us all? In my mind's eye, the 1842 guy gets up and walks on, rehabilitated by inhaling the rising spumes of ionised water. Good for the lungs. And what's good for the lungs is good for the liver. And what's good for the liver is miraculous for the knee.

I may be being unfair to the 1840 guy. Let's stay with him on his grassy knoll a bit longer. He may be following the river in his mind's eye. About a mile after it passes Craighall, the Ericht comes to the stretch of the river that had mills on both sides in the Nineteenth Century. The river turned the water wheels adjoining each mill, powering the whole factory. The big wheel turned a huge horizontal pipe and from that there were all sorts of smaller and smaller pipes, some turning on a vertical axis, some turning on a horizontal one. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, and that includes kinetic energy. Which is why the whole place, each of the mills, would have been humming with the turning of pipes and wheels. To what effect? Look at it this way. First, a whole lot of small pieces of wool would have been twisted together to make a line of wool of infinite length. That's the spinning process. Then the line of infinite length was woven into a million articles of clothing. No wonder sheeps are fearful of humans. We take the wool off their backs and make miracles out of it. Or we did.

But the river is not finished. The Ericht carries on downstream and hits the lowlands, and then it does what the Isla does, it meanders over the plain. In fact, the flooding of the Isla that's being studied in River Detective project 2 is really the flooding of the Ericht and the Isla together. That takes us close to one of the beauties of the Cateran Ecomuseum initiative. Traditionally, Genshee or Glen Isla would have been studied alone. The ecosystem created by the River Isla in Glen Isla or the ecosystem created by the River Ericht in Glen Shee. In the Cateran Ecomuseum, both ecosystems are included. Thus the two can be compared and contrasted. Researchers can hop between the Ericht and the Isla. Today, Glen Isla; tomorrow Glen Shee. The day after that, put the findings together and add a layer of history and geography and wisdom and mystery to the Cateran Ecomuseum. The tourist's cup runneth over. As does the local's.

On the way out from Reekie Linn, we meet the very same man from the engraving. To prove that he is over two-hundred-years old, I ask him to pose with the Date Painting. He tells me that he's part of the three-person BBC team that is here today to shoot a scene that will be part of their TV program. It's the team's presenter that's been handed the heavy-duty camera, so that my guy can hold both sides of the Date Painting. What programme are they shooting? I choose not to ask, though I immediately wish I had done so.


We cycle on. Another six miles to Kirkton-on-Isla. There is one steep hill, just around the corner from the Reekie Linn, that requires the bike batteries to be used at maximum power. As soon as we get to our destination, we park our bikes and look around for a place to rest. I spot a monument that I've never seen before, so we approach it.


Britain is covered in War Memorials. There are at least two in the Cateran Ecomuseum, the other being in Glenshee kirkyard. But that's nonsense. There are larger War Memorials in Blairgowrie, Kirkmichael, Alyth and Bridge of Cally. My Great Uncle's name features on a War Memorial in Kenmore churchyard. 'JOHN McLAREN' who died in the Spanish flu that killed so many millions of shell-shocked soldiers on mainland Europe in 1918/19.


I tell Lisa that I was born in 1957, part of the baby boomer generation that came after the Second World War. I've lived in a time of peace, The Beatles, David Bowie and progressive taxation, that is until the last five years when Brexit, Covid and Putin have rocked the boat. But, coming up for 66, I'm too set in my ways to be rocked by the things that are rocking today's society. And so I happily carry on with my On Kawara project.

I ask Lisa how old she is. She points to the date, and says, to make it easy for me I suppose: "I was born on a day other than September 10th in 1988."


She's a 35-year-old millennial, then. She's grown up with a greater concern for the environment, and in a far less buoyant society than I was presented with in the 1960s and '70s. She's grown up with technology, especially the mobile phone and the personal computer. Though she is well aware that technology is part of the present day problem.

Apart from the war memorial, Kirkton-of-Isla consists of a straggle of houses, no pavement, a pub, a church and a community centre. We go into the churchyard. Lisa comments on the simplicity of the graves. They each consist of a sheet of stone, engraved with names and dates. 'Deeply missed' is about as emotional as it gets. Of course, the Christian Church here is Protestant, and far less effusive and ritualistic than the Catholic Church that Lisa is familiar with. I too am aware of graveyards in Italy, Portugal and Greece where huge blocks of marble seem like quasi-homes in which the deceased might continue to live their lives as if their death had never happened.


It was only two days ago, Friday September 8, that I was sitting in Glasgow Cathedral attending an art event staged by Hanna Tuulikki. She and two other women were made up to look like a cross between priests and British birds. They took part in a musical event that the artist had created for a religious setting. Would it have worked here in this more modest building? Oh, yes, I think so. The high vaulted roof would have been enough to give the atmosphere required.

The robin, the capercailzie and the greenfinch were three of the birds that gave voice to their concerns in Glasgow Cathedral. Words of a tradition poem were the Finnish artist's starting point:

Here is the bird that never flew.
Here is the tree that never grew.
Here is the bell that never rang
Here is the fish that never swam.

As I recall, during the 40-minute performance, the greenfinch sang:

"Dear green place
We cannot flourish
On a dead planet."

Those few words were sung over and over again. Each word given emphasis. I can still hear the word 'FLOURISH' ringing around the cathedral. But also the word 'DEAD'.


I think it was entirely suitable, bringing eco-concerns into the church. Putting the environment centre-stage in the middle of our religious architecture. And singing for dear life. Resurrection is still what we're looking for. Resurrection for our once dear, green planet.

Perhaps artists are the new priests. I would like to get into this church with my Date Painting. I would like to stand at the lectern, look out across the congregation, and say "Let us pray."


What I'd say next is not so clear. Something about valuing each day to the max. Something about treasuring all the little things, the seemingly insignificant moments. Every blade of grass walked on, every singing robin listened to. What a miracle it is to be alive! Consciousness is the thing to be everlastingly grateful to the Universe for. And what does consciousness lead to? Oblivion. And after that? Don't ask. Oh, Universe, how could you be so cruel?

And as for the date itself. Well, what does 2023 refer to but the death of an alleged man called Jesus Christ, son of God? The most important thing that ever happened in Western society, allegedly. And it will remain so until we set the date back to zero and start again. Whether after the Big Bang, if that proves to be possible. Or the glorious day that Big Bang and Ground Zero are averted.

We have wandered back to our bicycles. As Lisa holds up the Date, I get the impression that she is signalling to a helicopter.


That would certainly make getting back home easier, but I don't think Cateran Ecomuseum runs to e-copters. In fact I don't think they would be allowed in the Ecomuseum. This is a place for walkers and cyclists. A place where a cyclist's bike is powered by a battery, the electricity for which has been produced in a clean way. From falling water (as in the old days of mills working flat out), or blowing wind (be still my trembling knee).


So that's that. A day out in the Cateran Ecomuseum. The next morning I served Lisa her breakfast and she got the bus to Edinburgh via Perth. I thought about asking if she would pose one more time with the Date Painting, but decided not to make such a request. After all, it wasn't September the 10th, any more. The calendar had moved on.

An important change has indeed happened. In Scotland there is new legislation that means if you offer accommodation from October 2023, you need a short-term letting license. This involves paying a fee to the council, a lot of extra administration, and the hassle of organising local tradesmen. An electrician told me that, though my fusebox is working fine, it would have to be replaced at a cost of £1,000 to meet current legislation requirements. And that's before he tests all the electrical appliances, and charges whatever he would charge to tell me that the kettle I use to boil water is safe to continue using. FFS.

So I'm not going to apply for a license. It seems I have hosted my last airbnb guest.


This new legislation is intended to stop certain abuses that have been happening as a result of the airbnb revolution. For instance, homes being made unavailable for renting by local people. Also, a single landlord having multiple lets. But the legislation should not apply, I strongly suspect, to individuals, such as myself, who offer a room in their own home. My local MP has suggested that the government is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I would suggest that a better metaphor is taking a sledgehammer to smash a Ming vase.

By this I mean to suggest that the cultural exchange that has been taking place in this Tayside property has value. Below is a gallery showing some of the visitors over the last year or so. Let me identify the individuals… Danielle, a biker from the Netherlands; Stuart, a golfer from England; Andries, a corporate employee from South Africa (who can work anywhere via his laptop); Tom a fisherman from the Netherlands (who caught a salmon on the River Tay at Meiklour); and Mohammed from Pakistan (who wanted to explore Tayside before settling down to study law at Dundee University). They all liked it here, according to the reviews they left. I very much liked them being here.

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If you have a lot of spare time on your hands, try following the timeline - or timelines - from photo to photo!

What all these photos have in common (apart from the obvious, Date Painting theme) is Vincent van Gogh, walking through - and creating - the Arles Ecogallery. Lisa told me that she liked the two van Gogh's that hang on the wall of her room upstairs. When I told her that they were copies of van Gogh's that I'd made when I was about her age, she admitted that three times in her life she has painted van Gogh's Starry Night. First, when she was a child of 11. Second, when an adolescent of 15. Third, as an adult, directly onto the wall of the flat she shares with her boyfriend in Milan.

I search out the Starry Night image in my box of Van Gogh postcards. And here it is, courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York:


I can't help feeling that On Kawara and Van Gogh were fellow, original spirits. Indeed, when On Kawara made a road-trip with his wife, Hiroko, to America's Great Lakes, he would visit cities that had substantial art collections, including a number of Van Goghs. So he would arrive in the city (Chicago/Detroit/Cleveland/Minneapolis), check into a Holiday Inn, and he would visit the city's art gallery on his first full day. And he would Date Paint in his Holiday Inn room on his second full day. And then he would depart in the morning of the third day.

So Lisa has checked out of her Holiday Inn. And what has she left behind? Well, the vision of an Ecomuseum, for a start. See (below) how the living tree echoes the stone spire. The living remember the dead: our unforgotten ancestors. Vincent was one of the first to give us total Ecovision. A whole team of people are responsible for this new version of the Cateran Ecomuseum: Clare Cooper, On Kawara, Lisa Pigozzi and Duncan McLaren are the names that come to my mind.


Oh God, that truly works! Or it would do if you, dear reader, were looking at the 'original' that I'm looking at, on what is now September 13, 2023.

This may be the first time that I haven't wished that a Date of mine was as perfectly finished as one of On Kawara's. All power to Vincent's roughness, his vulnerability, his sensitivity, his humanity. Though I have a feeling that On Kawara, the perfectionist, would be smiling along with me at this point.

Here is the bird that flew. All too easily.
Here is the tree that grew. All too readily.
Here is the bell that rang. All too noisily.
Here is the star that shone. For evermore.

I've got no idea what that last line means. It wrote itself at the end of a long day.