They were herring boats. They were hauled ashore a hundred years ago, turned upside-down, sawn in half, and turned into fishermen's sheds. Top to the
earth, doors to the sea, keels to the sky. Huge new steam-driven ships took their place, harvested the North Sea's icy depths and quickly fished them
They lie on Lindisfarne, the island that's only an island at high tide, the island of St Cuthbert. His wattle-and-daub monastery has long been blown
away by time and the northern weather. He prayed neck-deep in the icy sea while seals and eider duck played around him. He lived for years in a cell
from which only the sky was visible. After death, his uncorrupted body was dug up, and carried for years across the northern wilderness to protect it
from the Vikings. His life was written by St Bede, one of our first great writers. One of the first great books - The Lindisfarne Gospels - was made on
the island in memory of him.
The sheds lie as if they're waiting, poised for a voyage that will be a flight. I have seen their echoes in the Lycian tombs that stand in the sea at
Ucagiz in Turkey: in the ark-shaped roofs of Coptic churches in Cairo; in Gallorus Oratory; in my grandfather's allotment shed; in the roof of the pebble-dash
council house in which I grew up.
They've been in my dreams since I saw them as a little boy with my family on a parish trip, since I slept curled up against them as a 15 year old after
a beach party. They've haunted my notebooks since I started to write. I've written half a novel with the boat sheds at its heart. I'll write another,
and I'll finish it.
When my mother lay dying, her words condensed by pain and her dreams enhanced by morphine, she talked of them. She said the doors had opened and she
was carried in. She said it was proper to be upside-down in death, and proper that the earth should be the sky. When she died, I dreamed that she was
ferried away by a Lindisfarne boat shed across a sea of neverending stars.