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ALISTAIR HEATHER: A letter from the Dark Side

Alistair Heather has loved the dark nights since he was wee.

I love the dark, and I’m delighted it’s back. The ink-black evenings, the 4pm sunsets, the blast of winter whipped off the pole and driven through the dark Dundee streets. Bring it on.

Summer has its charms, this summer more than most.

The honey-sweet sunshine days in July were a joy. They allowed us to revel in the “beer gardens” that appeared, as picnic tables in car parks, or AstroTurf rolled onto flagstones, to greet us lockdown-weary masses.

But I don’t miss it like I missed the dark.

I first discovered my nyctophilia when I was wee.

Adventure and fun but frightening things can happen in the dark

The street I lived on had streetlights, but a fair few pals stayed down the dark lanes and farm tracks that link like clarty arteries into the heart of Newbigging.

Any time after October that I wanted to get a crack at a pals Nintendo 64, or listen to heavy metal CDs, I’d have to plunge into rural darkness to do so. I associate it with adventure and fun.

Genuinely frightening things happen in the dark.

One time we were playing manhunt round the village – basically tig but on a grand scale involving half the bairns of the village – and a lunatic emerged from the undergrowth.

We ran, and this figure gave chase. It was a grown man in a balaclava holding a screwdriver and he scared us all shitless.

That person ended up being arrested over another incident shortly after, and has been regularly institutionalised since.

Other times dogs would appear and bark or bite. The dark can be a scary place.

But dark is the most imaginative environment. It is also the most calming. I go out walking in it often.

Members of the Beltane Fire Society take part in the Samhuinn Fire Festival in Edinburgh some years ago. Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Darkness is seldom pure blank, instead it’s moonlit, or star-lit, or phone-torch-lit.

Your eyes pick out the few greyscale features of path, of hedge, of branch overhead, and plot your feet a forward course. Your faculties are so absorbed in the process of navigation that the worries of the day are shunted to the back burner.

That vague sense of lurking danger that the dark brings keeps your senses heightened, and fixes you present in the moment.

Scotland’s long winter is not one of isolation; all our best gatherings happen through this period.

The modern recapturings of Beltane and Samhainn bring fiery bookends to the winter in Edinburgh.

In the north, the Clavie barrel-burning festival lights up the Moray Coast, and Shetland’s famous ship burnings punctuate the lull between hangovers of Hogmanay and the bawdy bardolatry of Burns Night.

Bonfire night came too soon for us this season, but it looks like this is the only winter fire spectacle that will not re-emerge from Covid’s shadow.

Locally, floodlit fitba is one of the many joys of winter.

I fair bounced along with ma pal Billy to Tannadice for the evening cup game against Hibs, our first night game since we could get back into stadia. What a way to perk up a dreich weeknight than a big cup tie under the lights.

The communities around Stobbie, Coldside, Hilltoon, pouring forth Tangerine clad mobs and rugged-up families for a communal thrill. Hibs hammered three by us, but the evening was still one to savour.

The darkness puts that wee bit of fear in us, and we seek out safety in the herd. Night binds us, in a way light doesnae.

First kisses

Dark is of course where sexy things happen.

Looking back over memorable first-kisses, the ones that stand out happened in the dark.

One such joyous event took place beneath a sky thrang with stars in north Sutherland, the dark and its cold pushing us together.

Another was on Princes Street, infused by the cocktail of drink, Christmas lights and the permissiveness of night.

Take a moment, reflect on your first kisses. Bet they were in the gloaming if not later.

Longer nights mean more dark hours, meaning more first kisses and opportunity for romance. Who couldnae support that?

“A connection with something ancient”

Dark lies on the landscape like a blanket of snow, changing it, making the same old world seem fresh and new. Leached of light, the familiar becomes alien and invigorating.

Last night, fashed fae another long day’s labour at the laptop, I drove out to Balkello Community Woodland, and walked a dark lap of the hill.

I felt a connection with something ancient, crunching along the hill paths.

The silence was nearly pure, as heavy as the darkness of the heather.

The startle of birds beating wings amongst branches, the mysterious crunch of undergrowth twigs, the heightened awareness; these are things we share with our ancestors.

Yes, the nights are back and I have a full heart contemplating about them.

I even have a new mission: I want to see the northern lights in Scotland. I was jealous of all the great snaps fae across the North-East of the Borealis recently, and I desperately want to get in on the act.

Perth photographer – Andrew Allan, 24, captures stunning images of the Northern Lights display over Perthshire. Supplied by Andrew Allan.

I plunge into this winter darkness, in expectation of adventure and fun. Join me.

Postscript: I understand that all of this is an intensely male privilege. Unlike many females, I have nothing much to fear at night in the city or the country. Enjoying darkness is just one more freedom we tacitly take from women.

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