THIS morning, by the grace of God, the co-operation of a 16-year-old motor, and the kindness of my carer/partner, I should be heading across the water to Arran.

It is my third, successive annual visit but the first of these came after an exile that lasted more than half a century

On that return in 2019. I stopped at a shop in Pirnmill and told the shop assistant: "It is 52 years since I last was here.’’ She took the news calmly.

I, in contrast, spent much of the trip catching flimsy, colourful fibres that swirled into the recesses of my napper on the capricious winds of times past.

The summer of 1967 may just be remembered universally for more than the MacDonald family holiday in Pirnmill, however difficult that is to believe.

But on my return to Arran as an old man, I found my memories were oddly vivid and that the significance of that particular holiday in the sixties has endured.

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There are the obvious facets. It was the first holiday that I realised we had a bit of money. Not oodles. But a bit.

Pater had moved some years before, resisting the allure of being an electrician in Dalmarnock sewage works to being an early and unrecognised source for Mad Men. This owed something to his undoubted eccentricity, but is mostly attributable to his rising success as an advertising executive.

We stayed in Pirnmill for most of the school holidays, with dad travelling down on weekends. With the instinct of a clan unused to money, we knew this cost money.

It was also the last time the family spent a holiday together. It seems odd but we were heading off in different directions even then. With a spell at seminary and then a career in journalism, I never really lived at home again and never joined the rest on holiday, at least en masse.

My reminiscence also recovered something slightly odd but utterly irrefutable. The boy of 12 was not much different from the dodderer of 64. In Pirnmill of 1967, I was plagued by puberty, racked by doubt, immersed in self-talk, and thrummed to a gentle, constant pulse of anxiety. At 64, it was largely the same, including the battle with puberty.

There was, though, an acceptance of these traits that did not quite exist in the past.

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There was, too, a recognition that what consumed me then, sustains me now.

Arran then was constantly sunny, or so it seemed. The MacDonald clan revelled in swimming, walking, cycling and fishing. It was like an Enid Blyton novel without the odd events at Smugglers’ Cove and stripped of lashings of ginger beer and English exceptionalism.

At its core for me were the transistor radio and the book. The small radio was stashed under a pillow and was a faithful companion late into the night and early into the morning. It crackled, misfired and occasionally caught a radio station across the spectrum. My love of music and radio was kindled in these sessions. It lives on, allowing me to drift through restless nights.

It was the arrival of the books, though, that fully stirred communal emotion. The MacDonald family consumed books the way the Kardashians use up spouses.

A new supply (books, not spouses) was delivered by my father each week. We fell on them with the energy of wolves after a six-week fast. We then passed them around in a sort of literary game of speed dating.

It was the way I was introduced to F Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby, presumably brought for mum, was guided into my hands. It was read then. It is read now.

I am not a committed re-reader. I believe there are too many great books still to be read and so shirk from revisiting a past delight.

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There are exceptions. Gatsby is one. It is rewarding and infuriating. It offers constant gifts on every visit. It retains its intrigue. Most of all, it reminds me of why I read.

Of course, there is the pleasure of being immersed in good prose, there is the delight of a visit to another place, there is the comfort of being lost in another world.

I realise now that it also takes me back to the boy. It shows me that many things change in the world but beliefs, passions and pleasures can survive the depredations of time. Of course, they are refined or adapted to present circumstances but what carried me then somehow bears me now.

This owes something to the physical aspect of a book but more to its spiritual power. It can remind us of a family that has suffered but routine, natural but grievous loss but carries cascades of love that accompany that bond and need no physical proximity to survive.

It is why snatches of prose, snippets of music or even a visit to the wee shop at Pirnmill have such power. They remind us of who we each were but also reveal who we are now. Certainly, there has been change. But beneath the bruises and the scars inflicted by time and wilful self, this soul can look back at the child and say: “I recognise you.”

In the routine excitement a ferry trip prompts in me, I may glimpse him today. I live in the present but occasionally heed the call of the past. It is, after all, very F Scott.

The ferry finds me today living his famous last line of Gatsby.’’So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

I will not resist. There are worse journeys.

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