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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Inverted in Inverness

I had just arrived in Inverness, in early June of 1997. I was there to visit the mass grave at Culloden battlefield, on the city's outskirts, where my ancestors were buried together, MacLeans and MacDonalds after falling victim to British forces arrayed against the Highland clans rallied behind Bonnie Prince Charlie.

I'd taken the Yellow Bus from Edinburgh, which dropped me off in the centre of town where I'd caught a local bus headed for the site of the famous battle. It was late afternoon of a rare sunny day with only an hour left before closing. I decided I still had time for a tour if I ran instead of walking -- so I took off at a slow jog around the perimeter of the vast field, hoping to stumble on the graves of my relatives and, if I were lucky, raise the ghost of Charlie -- 



Somewhere in the scrub grass and loose sand, I ran into the only other tourist, a young woman from Ontario, whose name was Cameron. We walked together, comparing family history, until we came to some signs pointing us in opposite directions, Camerons to the left, MacLeans and MacDonalds to the right. I did find the mass grave site,  and spent a few minutes there, until it was time to run back to the entrance and board the last bus back to Inverness centre where I had a room in a hostel.

Back downtown for the evening, I bought an ice cream at a shop and was intending to take a walk around the picturesque square when I passed a parked van with a pair of feet sticking out of it. Seated in the front seat was a long-haired man playing the penny whistle. As I came near he waved and motioned me over.

Before too long I was sitting next to Kim in the passenger seat as he sang me a medley of Scottish tunes related to the Bonnie Prince who had been instrumental in getting my ancestors kicked out of Scotland two centuries earlier. His name was Kim Gordon and he was a busker. He sang for a living and was a fixture on the high street. He was also the spitting image of a young Mick Jagger -- which added to his charm no doubt.

Kim Gordon, Inverness High Street, Scotland, UK - 09 May 200630 Rolling Stones 1975 Montauk Photos and Premium High Res Pictures - Getty  Images

As he reeled off a string of folk tunes, I recorded him on my walkman -- I still have the tape hidden somewhere in storage. He showed me his clipping file -- he was a local celebrity, having swum Loch Ness for a children''s charity, and scaled the Scottish parliament building where he'd torn down the Union Jack and replaced it with the Scots flag of Saint Andrew.

There was nothing not to like about the lad. He was charming and free-spirited, the kind of person who makes you feel you've come home before you've even set foot in the door. I wasn't carrying a camera with me but this is Kim Gordon, as seen a few years later, in front of his jewellery stand:


Then we went for a drive in the hills -- there was still an hour or two left of the endless Highland summer daylight. The gorse was in bloom, incredibly yellow and fragrant on the narrow road where we parked for half an hour to admire the view and get to know each other better. I felt I was communing with the very spirit I had hoped to conjure at the battlefield only an hour or two before. It was none other than Prince Charlie, in the flesh, in frayed jeans and hippie beads, and I was back in my own adolescence with the rock star of my dreams, and suddenly space and time and fantasy were coming together in the rocking van -- casting a Celtic spell over the landscape and propelling us onward.

We drove back into town, where Kim was late to meet up with his girlfriend. She was waiting for him near the spot where his van had been parked. She was angry, about fifteen, and very pregnant -- and he was guilty and apologetic. I thanked him for the ride, waved goodnight and walked to my hotel or hostel, wherever it was, and fell into bed exhausted from my long travels.

The next morning I went to the local bike rental shop --  Ticket to Ride -- borrowed a map, and pedalled off in gale-force winds to see Loch Ness, a place we've all heard about because of its Monster. In some guidebook I had read that there was an ancient stone circle that I could visit. I had no idea, being new in town, that this stone circle had once been used by Aleister Crowley, or that his cottage stood a short distance from it, overlooking the Loch. Or really, anything at all related to Crowley except that a handful of people I knew considered him an important figure in magick and poetry. In fact, Leonard Cohen had once tried to gift me a copy of a chapbook by Crowley but after looking at the drawings I'd handed it back. "Not interested," I said.

The wind on the road to Loch Ness nearly knocked me off the road, but after an hour of furious pedaling I came to the cutoff that led to the forest where, the map told me, the stone circle stood. As it was June, the woods were dotted with rhododendrons in full bloom, but as I pushed my bike along the path, I began feeling a strange resistance. It was as if some force was pushing me to turn back while my curiosity drove me on to find the stone circle which was just up ahead. Eventually, though, my doubts got the better of me and I retraced my steps without ever getting a glimpse of it, or Crowley's cottage with its attached graveyard. 


Cycling back with the wind behind me was much more pleasant than fighting the gale, and in no time I was back downtown where I ran into another famous Inverness busker, Rod MacKenzie also known as Jeep Solid. He invited me back to his council flat for tea and showed me photos he had taken a few years before of an apparition of the Virgin Mary that had appeared one day in the sky over his roof. I still have a copy somewhere in my storage space. Rod, who had once played with Edgar Winter's band White Trash,was a walking anthology of local folklore. He warned me about Inverness, its peculiar energy, how it stood on a massive fault line that both divided and brought together great forces of dark and light. And he also warned me to steer clear of Kim Gordon, his busking rival on the high street --

This is Kim Gordon in 2019, just after his arrest in Colorado Springs, after he was taken into custody having made international news as the Inverness busker who faked his own death to evade rape charges back in Scotland:




Click on Jeep Solid, aka Rod MacKenzie, whose art show we missed ... but there's more on him in the links.

"Live your life backwards"  -- Jeep Solid