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A wild goose chase for a book and a whisky!
2010.03.26 / Sophia Butler
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As Mother’s Day draws near, I wonder how I can best celebrate my Mama on this special occasion. Although I am categorically against commercialised ‘Hallmark holidays’ which have ceased to mean anything besides over-priced cards and flowers, this is a chance for me to honour the woman who inspired and guided me into womanhood. What a gift is a Mother! As a child, she was a mystery of glittering gems, heady perfume and a swish of dresses; undoubtedly the most glamorous and sensual woman I had ever seen. She also had the added accolade of knowing absolutely everything! I turned 25 this year and the quarter of a century mark demands special recognition in my life as a woman. It feels as though I recently passed through my own right of passage; the girl must eventually become a woman, through decisions and life circumstances, we reach a point of awareness and a way of seeing that we cannot unknown or unlearn. However, no-one said it was easy.

Hamish, my very own equivalent of a tribal elder, asks with a sarcastic grin: “Will you be baking one of your specialities?!”. Mother’s Day in our family has a twist; “Mama is grateful to my father and I on this day; without him, she wouldn’t have become a mother, at which point he usually puffs out his chest proudly, and without me, she couldn’t practise the art”; ‘she always says: “Give me another 100 years and I may become perfect at it”’. I was always aware that Mama’s unconditional love has two conditions: her love may be stretched high and deep, but it must not be abused. The second condition is respect: though my mother is my closest female guide in life, she cannot be treated on the same level as a friend. “It’s a book I’m after Hamish, ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves’; Mama taught me to live in the way the book prescribes”.
She inspired me to stand up and fight for my truth if necessary, to listen to and build a relationship with the wild heart within my soul, instead of trying to smother it. The wild women always know ‘instinctively when things must die and things must live’; ‘they know how to walk away, they know how to stay’. I believe that a strong mother is vital in life, to teach this inner guidance system which must be passed down the female line. If you are a woman feeling “fatigued, stressed, frail, depressed, confused, gagged, muzzled, weak, without inspiration, without animation or soulfulness, without meaning, shame-bearing, chronically fuming, volatile, stuck, uncreative”, then you need to wake the wild within! A healthy woman is “much like a wolf: robust, chock-full, strong life force, life-giving, territorially aware, inventive, loyal, roving”.
Hamish scratches his head and begins a ‘sermon’; “The value of a gift cannot be measured by its price. The best gifts take the form of attitudes, gestures, sentiments and love. Japan’s greatest tea master, Sen no Rikyu established a tradition in which a host invites a friend to his home for a tea ceremony. The room is decorated with blossom and an inscription chosen to celebrate their friendship. The tenderness lies in the refinement of the choice and with it, the largeness of the gift it represents”.
I smile to myself, it is obvious the old devil does more with books than screwing up the pages and loading them onto the fire or pinning them up in my damp hallway! I realise from his recent ‘lectures’ that he is something of an intellectual. “Do you think you could find this book amongst a quarter of a million of them?!”, Hamish snapped me out of my thoughts, “I’d be willing to give it a try” I reply. “Good then, head for Wigtown”. I am a woman on a quest once again.
Armed with my trusty sat nav and Hamish’s approval, I jump into my red rocket. As I hit Scotland’s Book town, I am amazed that this sleepy, backward little town, tucked away in a corner of Galloway was transformed in 1998 into a notorious destination for eccentrics and bibliophiles! I am presented with the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland and the far from second-hand-charm of its proud proprietor Shaun Bythell.
As I walk around the cavern containing 100,000 books, I think to myself that for some of us, nothing more in life would be needed than a bed and an endless supply of tea amongst the shelves. Like Anne Fadiman, I find that my expectations of new and second-hand book shops are very different. From the new I expect: ‘cleanliness, computer monitors and rigorous alphabetization’ and from a second-hand book shop the preference is for ‘indifferent house-keeping, sleeping cats’ and ‘organizational chaos’. George Orwell documented his experience of working as a clerk in a second-hand book shop in his 1936 essay titled “Bookshop Memories”, in which he finds the reality of long hours in a freezing shop, shelves full of dead flies, dealing with lunatic customers was enough for the books to loose their allure; “I really did love books… the sight and smell and feel of them… as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass… books were boring, even slightly sickening”.
Thankfully, Shaun seems not to have been afflicted by disenchantment and ‘The Bookshop’ thrives on the energy and enthusiasm we seem to have for old books and the collective knowledge of human experience they represent. Shaun explains the beauty of his work lies in each day being a surprise: “You never know what you’re going to get, one morning a £30,000 book might be walked into the shop”, in the meantime, it is obviously an enjoyable wait. Book addicts, bird watchers and whisky lovers all flock to Wigtown on the quest for their respective interests – what a combination! For some birds there is only one possible destination – Wigtown Bay, which is how it is for wild geese, wildfowl and ospreys and down the road, Bladnoch distillery produce a whisky for
every pallet.
“What’s all this fuss about books and reading?”, the 1500 strong local inhabitants are entitled to ask – “does it automatically make us wiser and better?” Or the ubiquitous question: “What makes a good book good?!” Without going into a lengthy answer, it is simple: you can live without a book, but you cannot live without a sofa. However, lying on a sofa without a book only faintly resembles life!
I manage to locate a copy of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves’ and escape from the shop, after bidding farewell to “my friends” in the style of A. Pushkin. Something of a bible for the feminine it is a fascinating collection of stories coupled with Freudian analysis and a healthy dose of magic! It is enlightening and empowering for every woman in search of her inner spirit because in every one of us there is a wild and powerful creature, filled with sound instincts, passionate creativity and ageless knowing. Society attempts to “civilise us into rigid roles without souls. Without Wild Woman, we become over-domesticated, fearful, uncreative and trapped”.
I shared this jewel of archetypal wisdom with all women on Mother’s Day. Mama always used to tell me, “My darling Zosia, if you are lucky in life you will have more than one mother, perhaps many, to get all that you need”. There is always hope for those who temperamentally do not fit in with their genetic family.

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