Miramar in Scotland, an ode to Mahfouz


For a long time, I’ve wanted to live in hotels, not because I have to – I thank the universe every day that I am not homeless – but because in the anonymity of hotels I find quiet and peace, and the kind of surreal emptiness I need in order to work.

Life at home is complicated. There are too many distractions, too many elements demanding my attention. I hate housework, do it reluctantly; hate domesticity, have no interest in it; In my twenties I craved a house to call my own – it was all I thought about, but as the years dragged on, I realised that this ambition was gradually becoming redundant.  I have a place, it’s an address and a place to keep my favourite possessions – my library of books, but it’s a place I daily long to leave, and most weeks I try to.

Back to hotels. I first became fascinated by the idea of hotels when I read Naguib Mahfouz’s Miramar many decades ago. The Miramar of the title is a hotel in Alexandria and lots of interesting and damaged characters live there. The novel reads from the point of view of each of these characters and it’s emotional and desperate and beautiful, as are all of Mahfouz’s works.

Since then I’ve carried around this idea that being an intentional gypsy, wandering from hotel to hotel might be fun, but for decades I got caught up in the pressure to conform. Now I no longer will.

My children are grown now and I can go – go, live, be, and this is what – in the autumn of 2017 – I am doing.

Scotland is beautiful country; it’s eerie, surreal, wild, unforgiving and it’s part of me. There is no part of my heritage – so I believe – that is Scottish, but I feel an incredible bond with this land – so strong, it feels like an unspoken poem.

So I’ve upped sticks, leaving behind my little flat in Edinburgh’s centre to try on Mahfouz’s Miramar for size and see how the lifestyle fits, even if it’s only for a night here and there.

The picture – taken in Dunbar – from the cliff-top surrounds of the Bayswell Park Hotel – on a stormy Friday evening in late September 2017 – shows the magnificent Firth of Forth. That night at the Bayswell, in my room, overlooking the Forth, I heard in the blackness of my autumn night, the sound of Aebbe, the prodigy of Aethelfrith, the first King of Northumbria, the fiery daughter of the king who liked hanging about near Dunbar.

Through the blackness was a wailing sound, soft and sad, and if it wasn’t Aebbe, who was it? It came up from the pitch colour of the sea and it woke me, then lulled me back to sleep.

Hotels are wonderful for people-watching, personality analysis and soul-searching. They are perfect for other reasons too; there are no dishes to wash, no clothes to launder, no phones to answer, no repairs to consider; service is at hand, there are people to talk to if you need that, but privacy and plenty of it, too.

I could never decide which character from Miramar, Mahfouz’s novel I wanted to be, when I first read it, but I wanted to be them all.

And at the Bayswell, I wanted to be Aebbe.

There’s a deliciousness in deciding how to live your life; in choosing hotels as my safe, writing space, and abandoning the idea of ever being able to afford a large place of my own with a ‘Room’ of Virginia Woolf’s calling and £500 a year. I have liberated myself and opened a door to adventure. This is, the universe willing, just the beginning.





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