For a week last summer I lounged by the infinity pool and stared out at the rocky spire of Es Vedra, an islet 2 kilometres off the southwest coast of Ibiza.
It looked enticing - if sheer. Clearly, the thing to do was to set off at first light, swim across the aquamarine sound with a couple of rolls and a pat of butter tied to my head, then scale its 350 metres, before having breakfast on its summit. I only hoped I'd remember the butter knife.
This was what Patrick Leigh Fermor would do - it was what Wilfred Thesiger would also do. (Although in his case he'd probably require the companionship of some lithe Berber lads.) However, I'm made of more pliant stuff. I stayed by the infinity pool, smoking Montecristos, and reading Jared Diamond's Collapse, a comparative analysis of self-destructing societies, while contributing to the destruction of my own by inanition alone.
Nevertheless, Es Vedra got to me, and day after day I found myself corralling my own lithe boys into building ridiculous floating islets out of the numerous inflatable toys that cluttered up the pool. Usually these would be dive-bombed as soon as they were finished, but on a few occasions the lurid periclinal form would still be intact as the sun squished into the Med, a bizarre visual echo of the real thing offshore.
I felt like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, mounding earth in anticipation of an alien landfall. And if a spaceship landed on Es Vedra what would the little green men do? Abduct me, complete with cigars and reading material? Then perform unnatural sexual experiments on me? I lived in hope, waiting for the infinite to come to me as I slumbered by the infinity pool.
Then, in early June of this year, I found myself in the Inner Hebrides on the island of Jura, looking out from the village of Craighouse across Small Isles Bay towards Eilean nan Ghabar, nan Coinein, Bhride and Pladda - the eponymous small isles. These were altogether more homely affairs than Es Vedra; dorsal fins of rock and greenery, barely breaking the waves. Even so, they lured me on with their propinquity and their promise of perfect and apprehensible peace.
The pace of life on Jura was way too frenetic, what with the goaties, the boaties, the drinkies and the folkies. What I needed was a retreat from my retreat. …