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    Journalism

    Paul McCartney, the Mull of Kintyre and No Going Back

    Category: Beatles File
     

     

    There was shock and disappointment in the west of Scotland this week when an absentee landlord told two employees that, after decades of service, they won't be needed on his farm after Christmas. From the employees' point of view this is obviously upsetting.

    But when the landlord is Paul McCartney and the farm is on the Mull of Kintyre, a remote part of Britain he once loved as a family hideaway and then made famous musically in one of his biggest hits, we wonder why this might be happening.

    It's believed the former Beatle has rarely spent much time on his vast 600 acre farm since his first wife Linda died in 1998, and that the house has since then now fallen into a state of some disrepair. That's sad for a once much loved home, but it also reveals a touching trait of human nature that we all share.

    High Park Farm was the first home that Paul and Linda created together. He'd bought it in 1966 when living with actress Jane Asher, but it was only after he married country loving Linda Eastman in 1969 that he began to spend much time there.

    The first I ever heard about it was early in 1970. We were sitting in a fish restaurant in London and Paul, with Linda at his side, was rhapsodising about the mud and the bare simplicity of the place, about not having a bathroom and how he'd made his own furniture, fixed the leaks in the roof and sheared a sheep.

    It sounded to me like some kind of hippy purgatory in endless lashing rain, but, he insisted, he loved it. The Beatles had secretly broken up the previous autumn, and he'd been devastated. Playing with the Beatles had been the only job he'd ever had, and, unemployed though rich, he'd crept away to Scotland to grieve. After seven years during which he'd never been out of the world's microscopic gaze, his only need was the comfort of his wife and daughters Heather and Mary.

    He would say later that, in his despair, he flirted with hard drugs while there, but that would have been only a momentary aberration as Linda, the Mull of Kintyre and Mother Nature, in all the kindness of her sometimes inclement weather there, set about healing him. "I'm not some kind of hermit or recluse with a long beard having an awful time," he told me that day. "It's a tramp's life and I can wear the same shirt for ages up there. I need to get with the earth a bit. I love nature."

    Indeed, as he sang in Mother Nature's Son, he did. And as the McCartney family added Stella and James, and the house near Campbeltown took shape around them, Linda coaxed Paul's confidence back. Sitting with his acoustic guitar some of his best post-Beatle songs were written there in the heather in the early Seventies, while Linda took her photographs of him and the children.

    For generations rich Englishmen have bought great estates in Scotland, and taken their smart friends up to shoot the animals and birds on them. But toffing and killing was never the McCartneys' way. And the local people admired them for it.

    Animals were never shot at High Park Farm: quite the reverse. It was while having a Sunday lunch with the children, watching young lambs bouncing happily in the field outside, that the entire family suddenly pushed aside the roast on their plates and decided to become vegetarians. Later Linda, with an evangelistic fervor, would create a whole range of vegetarian foods.

    The west of Scotland wasn't the handiest place for an international rock star to bring up his family, so another estate was found in Sussex. There, once again, the McCartneys started with a small house followed by a much bigger house and more and more land was added. But always their homestead on the Mull of Kintyre was waiting for holidays.

    Then in 1998 Linda died, and the visits to High Park Farm became fewer. In his solitude, the memories of a young family starting out thirty years earlier in this place of romantic isolation would have both comforted and lanced. By now all the McCartney children were grown up with their own lives to lead. The Scottish farm had been a part of Paul's life with Linda. Without her, it wasn't.

    Now that he has a new American wife and life and several other homes, even his helicopter visits to his Sussex house are fewer, and he's rarely been busier, as this week he flits from TV studio to radio microphone promoting a new album.

    Speaking about his country life, he once told me: "I do all the things everybody else does. The only difference is I'm more famous and richer than they are." And, like all of us, it seems likely to me that Paul is moving on, as he has to, as we all have to – though sometimes it isn't easy.

    How many of us think fondly of our childhood home, picturing its cosyness, almost smelling the polish on the furniture, remembering the banisters we slid down, the lawns we had to mow, the hedges we cut?

    Or do we see home as the sanctuary we decorated as newly weds, where we ladled Polyfilla into gaps in the plaster, hung ill-fitting curtains from trembling curtain rails, and then later watched as our young children rolled and giggled on our proud new carpets?

    In moments of reflections we think we'd like to go back, but we really know we can't. As Paul McCartney is no longer the 27 year old restarting his life in the "mists that rolled in from the sea", as he told us in Mull of Kintyre, we are not the same people we were either.

    We don't feel it, but time changes us. Our perspectives change, and the people we shared those moments of our lives with have changed, too; some to leave us, some to grow up, some sadly to die. And without those loved ones to people a place, the place will neither look nor feel the same.

    Actually, it often doesn't even need the people to change. Looking through old, fading photographs have you ever remembered a wonderful little empty, sandy cove on a perfect holiday, where you looked so much better looking than you thought you were at the time – because youth is beauty?

    And, against your better judgement have you tried to find the place twenty years later – only to be confronted by a noisy holiday village and a patchwork of sun worshippers flattening almost every grain of sand?

    Obviously it's good that more people can enjoy the sunshine, the sea and the sun, you might try to charitably think, but, in your heart you're with Joni Mitchell when she sang, "they paved paradise, put up a parking lot". In truth, we shouldn’t even try to go back. It rarely works, seductive though the memories may be.

    "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again," wrote Daphne du Maurier in the first sentence of her novel Rebecca, thus cleverly tapping into our subconscious yearnings for times and places past. But the deeper we go into the novel, as into life, we find how selective memory can be. For the storyteller in Rebecca, Manderley had turned into a hurtful, hateful house. There have been tears in even the happiest homes.

    The word in Scotland is that Paul wants to discuss with the Forestry Commission new ways to manage his land. Does that mean he wants to turn it back to the historic natural British woodland it would have been before sheep farming overran and close-grazed Scotland, as some environmentalists now advocate. It wouldn't surprise me. But we'll have to wait and see.

    In the meantime, though he now moves between London and New York, more than Sussex and Campbeltown, and the "smiles in the sunshine and tears in the rain", that he once sang about, are long behind him, their memories will remain.

    He, like all of us, will always have the memories, often better preserved if we don't try to relive them.

    As for the staff about to lose their jobs at High Park Farm, I'm sure a comfortable compensation can be negotiated.

    The Ray Connolly Beatles Archive is now available as an eBook.