Friday, 14 September 2012

Fifi Lamaar Travels To See MacCollie

It was a summer's evening in early August around 9 o'clock when the Loch Seaforth came alongside Pier Number One in Stornoway. The boat was full to capacity and there was a buzz of excitement among its passengers. A large throng of relatives and friends had gathered on the quay.  The tired but happy families were beginning to descend the gangway, assisted by the strong hands of the dockers. The sweet smell of peat smoke and the gentle lilt of Gaelic brought back memories of their island youth. " Bha na duine bho tir mor a' tilleadh dhachaigh." Gael :  The people from the mainland were returning home.
                   Suddenly there was a hush among the assembled crowd. Donald Alex, who was carrying luggage across the pier, turned round to see what might be amiss.  There at the top of the gangway stood this magnificent black creature, which was, as it were, posing for some unseen cameras. Here stood this tall, elegant "standard" poodle, whose curly coat had been cut in the most amazing way, reminiscent, it seemed of the way tall hedges are shaped in the gardens of fine houses. They call it the art of 'topiary'. This female had teeth of incredible whiteness, and eyelashes as long as the bristles of a scrubbing brush. She had a pink ribbon fashioned as a bow atop her head, and the most dazzling collar of diamonte on leather.
 "An e cu na caora ha sinn air neo an Donas Dubh ?" shouted Donald Alex to a work colleague. Gael : Is that a dog or a sheep or the Devil.  There were few on that quay who had ever seen or heard of a standard poodle, except perhaps those making their way to Matheson Road. But people were thrilled to see this exquisite lady moving like one of those fabulous horses of the Spanish Riding School. Slowly she made her way to the buses parked on South Beach Street. It was then that one realised that the lady in charge of her was the lady five steps behind.
                    Lewis had witnessed the arrival of a very special personage, Miss Fifi Lamaar from Glasgow, whose name would be engraved on the memory of people on this island for years to come. Miss Lamaar and partner obviously knew which bus to board, as they alighted the blue bus destined for Carloway. The "Magaran" helped them on board and, carrying their fine leather cases, he found them seats at the rear of the bus. A crowd of Stornoway children were now gathered below the window at which Fifi sat. They were entranced at the sight of this exquisite creature, and waved and cheered as the Carloway bus moved off. Fifi responded with a beautiful smile and waved a bejewelled 'spog' in the manner of Her Majesty. It began to rain as the bus made it way across the Barvas moor. Fifi and her companion, Isobel, looked forlornly out of the misted-up windows, looking for evidence of a living creature. Apart from the distant cry of a sheep, there were only heather clad moors, giant boulders and small lochs dotted across the landscape. Isobel could see that Fifi looked worried, if not a little afraid, and putting her arm around her, she whispered consoling words in her ear. Fifi might not understand what Isobel was saying, but there was no doubt of the love behind these words. After reaching the village of Barvas, the rain had stopped, and the red rays of the setting sun fell upon the faces of the passengers. Fifi's spirits rose as she saw the lights go on in the houses. Children, gathered beside a small shop, waved at the people in the bus as it passed. Up the road a bit, the bus came to a standstill, as a group of cows were slowly making there way home for milking.
                                          As the bus slowly made its way through various villages, it would stop at times to let whole families of Gaels off to be met by their "cairdean". Gael. relatives.   Tears, and tears of laughter would see the Magaran put the cases and boxes down by the croft gate. A half crown often made its way into a pocket in his bib overall. Fifi had formed a picture in her mind of this countryside, and only after delving into the recesses of her memory, did she make the connection. Stanley Baxter used to read the Broons to her during breaks in rehearsal, and her favourite stories would see the entire Broons family at their 'but an' ben'  in the country. This was as near to that as one was likely to get. This was a unique place, but very different from her home at Charing Cross Mansions in Glasgow, which she shared with Isobel.  It was now darker, and the headlights of the bus picked out sheep with their lambs, many lying down on the road, where it is said they benefit from the heat absorbed during the day.At Beinn Ghuidalum, overlooking the village of Dalbeg, a large part of that hill had been excavated in successive quarrying operations. The large number of lorries and various machines would suggest that Beinn Ghuidalum was working at full tilt at present. The darkness within the bus and the drone of its engine had lulled Fifi into a pleasant reverie. She instinctively knew that the journey which had begun at Queen Street Station this morning at 6am.must now be near an end.
                                           At that moment, the Magaran announced that they were now at Carloway Bridge, and that this was the terminus ( he didn't use that word, exactly ). He was saying that this was as far as he and his bus was going.  "Is this near Doune Carloway", asked Isobel.  "No, lady, this is Knock Carloway.  Doune Carloway is a couple of miles further on past Chiribhig, but this bus doesn't go there. Fifi whispered something in Isobel's ear. " Sir, would it be possible to hire this bus as a taxi with you as driver of course? We could then get to Doune Carloway?"   "Ah, well now. That is an unusual request, but being as it is dark, and late , I'm sure something can be arranged," said the Magaran. "Do you have in mind an address there. "Yes," said Isobel. "It's the Church of Scotland manse house in Doune."   The Magaran was Free Church, but this was business.  More half-crowns would be exchanged before the "taxi " reached the gate leading up to the Doune manse. The Magaran led the way to the front door, where he deposited the ladies' luggage, before making a timely retreat back to the bus. There were lights on in the two rooms either side of the front door, but the heavy drapes inside the windows were only partially closed.
                                               The moment had arrived, and with Fifi's nose maintaining pressure on Isobel's back, there would be no going back. Isobel stretched her arm to the wrought iron bell-pull, and pulling hard, the sounds that followed might have wakened the good people of Doune, if not Hell itself.  The bell or bells peeled for a long time, or so it seemed to Isobel. The movement of shadows cast by the lights in the room suggested that someone, or something was stirring in that house. "Co tha aig an doras aig an uair seo?" could be heard quite clearly, but these words were lost on the ladies outside.  Gael.  Who's at the door at this hour ?  Shortly, the door opened and silhouetted in the hallway was this tall, powerfully built man. This was the Reverend Kenneth Graham, the minister residing in the Church of Scotland manse at Doune Carloway. What the Reverend Graham saw on the other side of the threshold struck him with awe and disbelief.. In front of him stood a woman dressed in  gypsy garb, and tethered to her was this very large black beast with pink ribbons in its hair and a collar sparkling bright in the hall light. The reverend gentleman was very confused when Isobel made their introductions. " Sir, let me introduce myself and my friend to you. I am Miss Isobel Craig and this is Miss Fifi Lamaar, theatrical personages from Glasgow. I regret descending on you at this late hour, but Miss Lamaar is here at the invitation of her close friend, the Reverend John MacCollie, whose acquaintance she made a while back at the Cardonald Reunion in Glasgow. We believe he resides here with you."   Fifi revealed her full set of brilliant white teeth, and gave a rapid flutter of her long black eye lashes. The Reverend Graham was by now apoplectic, and summoning  his last reserves, he called out in a booming voice, MACCOLLIE ! ! !
                                       Big John MacCollie appeared at the top of the stairs, a bit unsteady and bleary-eyed, as if he had just emerged from a sleep ( which he had ). He gave a high pitched strangled bark, very unlike the deep growl his congregation were used to. Told he had visitors, John started down the stairs. He couldn't believe his eyes. There in front of him was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Fifi and John could not hide their love, which Isobel knew about, but which was all news to John's master, the Reverend Graham. "Come now," said he, "Let us all come through to the sitting room, where the peat fire is burning warmly. Perhaps someone can tell me what's going on. What do you say, Iain,'a bhalaich"  Gael.
John, my boy.  John couldn't say anything except to bark very quietly. Isobel might be able to explain the present situation, but for a fuller account the interpretative skills of 'An 'Houdie would be needed. John and Fifi's tails were wagging in a show of love. The Reverend Graham mused that tongues would be wagging before long.
                                         They all went down to Dalmore to visit their friends in taigh 'Houdie  Gael.  Shoudie's house. where they received a warm welcome. The animals were amazed to see the Reverend MacCollie ( it wasn't time for the communions,) but his lady friend, Miss Lamaar, rendered them all speechless. A visit from the Queen could not have been more surprising. It was noted that John MacCollie had dispensed with his dog collar and sported very modern casual wear, which you could only buy in Glasgow. He was by Fifi's side as he introduced her and Isobel to each one there. Fred thought that Miss Fifi was a "big darling" ( a "brammer" in the local vernacular ), and hoped that he too could find a beautiful curly cutie like Fifi.  John assured the Wee Man that the poodle was a very popular dog out in Glasgow, and that they come in all sizes and colours ( well, black or white, to be sure ). For Fred, this news made leaving Dalmore a little easier to take. Big John was now relaxed about being without his clerical collar, which at times felt like a burden to him. He seemed to have experienced a kind of rebirth, which had imbued in him a new happiness, for which the beautiful Fifi could take much of the credit. Iain 'Houdie placed Fifi and John in front of the fire, with his arms around their shoulders. He spoke to them ( as only he could ) about their future plans, and whether these involved living in Lewis or going off to Glasgow. Confiding in 'An 'Houdie, they revealed that they had determined to live in Glasgow, where Fifi could continue her theatrical career, and where John would probably find a charge in one of the many Animal Churches in the Glasgow area. Isobel would stay with them, of course.
                            The holidays were over now for both the people and their animals, and they would return to the "tir mor"  Gael.  the mainland.  For John it would be to start anew in the City of Glasgow, albeit with Fifi by his side. For Jura, Fred, Guinness and Victoria home for them was Renfrew. Although everybody was sad at leaving Dalmore, they knew that they would return again. Iain 'Houdie spoke to the animals once more, and recited this little ditty, which brought a tear to some eyes.

                  When Big Fred Hill will come with the bus,
                  There will be no more winking again,
                  One more wink at Stornoway Quay,
                  And no more winking again.
                  One more wink at Kyle of Lochalsh,
                  And no more winking again,
                  And one more wink at Renfrew Cross,
                  And no more winking again.
I know, I know, but it did have some meaning for the cats and dogs.

Dalmore Tails is now available as a book ( 196 pages ) from Amazon Books and on Kindle. It can also be sourced from many outlets on the Isle of Lewis

Google Amazon Books and enter "Donald John Maclennan" in the box named Book.

My original book "Dalmore - Tales of a Lewis Village" appears as a New Edition, newly ( also on Amazon ) formatted and greatly expanded, with new stories and 60 more photographs ( 333 pages )

Cost of books :

Dalmore Tails  £9.95
Dalmore Tales of a Lewis Village  £13.95


Friday, 7 September 2012

MacCollie returns to Cardonald.

School reunions are not always what we imagine them to be. We harbour sentimental thoughts about our fellow alumni, and imagine them to be larger and older versions of how we saw them, all those years ago. Reunions, if they have to be arranged, should take place within the first twenty years of leaving school, but not after that. A favourite with some is the "Class of '54" type reunion, an idea which has come from America, like so many other things. The Class of '54 involves all the pupils who started their first year at school with you in 1954. I knew of an old friend of mine, Robert, who was invited to his Class of '03 school reunion dinner in a large hotel in Edinburgh. This was to be a 50th anniversary reunion, the first time most of these people had seen or heard of any of their "old school friends", bar a few. For our old friend, it is easy to compute that the reunion of '03 took place last year in 1953, and that he would be around 11 years of age when he started secondary school in 1903. So, if you're still with me and your arithmetic is holding, it is obvious that Robert was 64 years of age when he entered the portals of that grand hotel in Edinburgh. What he expected, goodness alone knows. What he saw was something entirely different. Before entering the reception room proper, Robert was handed his name badge by an ancient man, bald and lean, whose name meant nothing to Robert now, nor for that matter 50 years ago. With a handshake of welcome, and a weak smile, my friend passed through "on the other side." Holding his drink, he started to navigate his way through this throng of long forgotten names and faces. People would approach him to ask quite openly, without demurring, "Who are you, and do I know you." Robert felt like saying "Read the bloody name plate," but of course he didn't. Here was a collection of grey hair, blue hair, no hair, people with cocktail sticks, others with walking sticks, and the whole atmosphere replete with the smell of eau de cologne and moth balls. People were peering closely at the names on lapels, hoping to find someone to hold on to, someone to talk to, a person they might have remembered from the distant past. They quietly moved away with him/her, as if it were their first morning with their new pal in the school playground all these years ago. Robert had a terrible premonition that he was attending a future Christmas party at his own eventide home. He panicked at the Hogarthian scene before him, and left as soon as he could, without causing offence. A 50 year anniversary reunion only happens once in a life time, and for some it is once too often. It is an intimation of one's mortality which can be a frightening thing.
The Right Reverend John MacCollie had risen early that morning and was fully dressed as he prepared a simple breakfast for himself in the kitchen of the manse in Doune, Carloway. The postie had left three letters on the hall table. "Is that a new collar you've got on ?," asked the postman as he left. MacCollie barked once in affirmation, thinking it pointless to tell the man that it was a new clerical collar of the best quality. However, 'An 'Houdie would understand, and what a boon that was, when his services were called upon to mediate between man and beast. You will remember that Big MacCollie took the "curam" at the same time as his master all these years back during the great "revival" (or awakening) that had swept through the island, His master had entered the ministry, and Doune was held up as a truly unique place where one man and his dog occupied the same manse house in two branches of the established church. John MacCollie was handed one of the letters, which he could not read nor understand, and which his master could not translate for him. Told that the letter was from Glasgow, John became very excited, and he determined to make his way to Dalmore to have Iain 'Houdie look it over.
MacCollie handed his letter to 'An 'Houdie ( to be accurate, it was passed from mouth to hand) and sat down on his haunches, tail wagging in excitement. He straightened his new dog collar with a spog, and watched Iain's face as he read the letter. Finally Iain 'Houdie sat down beside him and said, "Well, a' Mhinistear, this will be a surprise, for sure. This letter is from the staff at the Cardonald Dog and Cat Home in Glasgow, inviting you to the first ever reunion of former alumni ( whatever that is) in Glasgow at the end of September. They go on to say that, for obvious reasons, the number of guests must be restricted, and in that regard,they are looking to invite those that have made their mark in the animal world. A similar reunion will be held for the cats who started their lives in Cardonald."
At the end of September, John MacCollie travelled to Glasgow by train and Macbrayne (wee joke), accompanied by 'An 'Houdie who would intercede on his behalf, and Fred, the wee Glasgow dog, who would connect with the 'keelie dugs' (as he said) using the approved greetings of 'Big Man' or 'Wee Man'. A bit of a swagger and a good deal of attitude were important when confronted by the baying hounds of the South Side Team. Fred and Big Eck had a long-standing respect for one another. Fred called Eck 'Big Man', and Eck called Fred the 'Wee Man'. Thus honour and respect were mutually satisfied. Big Eck was of course the leader of the South Side Team, which Fred knew controlled the Cardonald area.
Reunion day arrived and the Cardonald Home was spick and span for the occasion. Iain 'Houdie accompanied John to the venue, and they were astonished to know that each famous alumnus was announced at the door. "Right Reverend John MacCollie, former Moderator of the Animal Church in Scotland, now ministering to our people on the Isle of Lewis. John was of the Class of '49. Welcome John ." There was applause, but many eyes were fixed on 'An 'Houdie whose presence was strange, to say the least - what was he doing here, among the great and the good of the dog world ? Over a beautiful meal, MacCollie got to know many of his fellow alumni. Bill was a black labrador, very like Jura, but, in truth, he thought they all looked the same anyway ! Bill was a guide dog for a young lady, born blind. He was very skilled and it could be hard work depending on what the young lady was doing. It had its benefits and people were very kind. With the young lady, he was allowed into shops, cinemas and various other places where an unaccompanied dog could not go. Then there was Maisie, a cross collie who, she said, was a "sniffer" dog and worked along with the police and the fire brigade. John thought that all dogs did a bit of sniffing, but to land a job sniffing, well ........ "It's not something I'd care to mention in polite company", he told 'An 'Houdie. There were dogs who saved lives, dogs who could bark out answers to arithmetic problems, employed by the banks, and a beautiful standard poodle who had a large repertoire of songs, which saw her perform in the Five Past Eight Show at the Alhambra with Jimmy Logan and Stanley Baxter. She went under the name of Fifi Lamarr. She
even persuaded our minister that he'd feel cooler and more comfortable, if he removed his dog collar - and he did ! In the company of so many dogs, Iain's presence here was of growing interest. Many had seen Iain and MacCollie in conversation, and it wasn't long before 'An 'Houdie's secret was out. This was amazing - a person who could talk to all animals and understand them. As you can imagine, he was feted by the alumni, who spoke as if they'd never get another chance to speak to a human being on equal terms.
Iain and John MacCollie were met by Fred outside the Cardonald Home. Fred gave them a guided tour of Glasgow's south side, ending up at Water Row,beside the Govan Ferry. There in numbers were the South Side Team, with Big Eck at the front. Eck asked if the Reverend MacCollie would give him and his boys a blessing, which our minister felt would not be amiss, under the circumstances. Passengers off the ferry were amazed at the sight of perhaps thirty dogs, all with their heads bowed, listening to the barkings of a large black and white collie.
There was one final surprise in this amazing week. Some time later, another letter arrived at the Doune manse for Big John. He hurried down to Dalmore with this letter to have 'An 'Houdie take a look. Iain's face said it all. This was a letter from Stanley Baxter to say that his friend, Fifi Lamaar, was sending her warmest greetings to the Rt. Rev. MacCollie. He was, she added, an imposing figure and a fine Highland dog, whose company she was blessed to keep. She did say that he didn't need to wear his dog collar at all times, and she looked forward to them meeting in the not so distant future. The assembled group on "leathad 'Houdie" clapped and cheered, and although John was a bit embarrassed, Fred noticed a smile breaking on that bonnie, sonsie face of his. Donnachadh Spagach, the church precentor noticed a marked difference in his minister's demeanour. John was now easy going, and happy as the day's long. Duncan was happy for his friend who went to Glasgow fairly often now, on church business of course.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Kidney Stone


Jura, the black labrador, was in the mood for adventure, nothing too taxing, mind you, just something different. " What kind of adventure did you have in mind ?", asked Stowlia, (Cu 'Houdie). " Well, back home, I and my best friend Solas would build a den in the depths of the Erskine woods in the springtime, and this was a grand place to get away from it all. We could spend all day there, returning home only when hunger or sleep beckoned. I'm sure that you and Fancy must know of a place like this in Dalmore that would suit us all." "Jura, there are certainly no woods here, as you know, but a "bothan" or an old "airigh", might serve your purpose," said Stowlia. After giving some thought to Jura's proposal, it was Fancy, using Kenny Iceland's local knowledge, who made the following suggestion.
Fancy : " Just outside the village gate, high above the Mullach Beag, there are the ruined walls of an old dwelling, which date from around 1830 ( Seoras says ). It is an area of rock, interspersed with finely cropped green grass, beloved of sheep. This eminence is called Carnan Dubhagan which translates as The Cairn of the Kidneys ( And Jura, before you ask, I don't know why it's called that ! ). There are superb views from this high point, taking in the whole village, with commanding views of the Dalmore road, along most of its length. It would be an ideal centre from which to launch your 'adventures.' Let's tell the gang, and see what they think." The gang thought about it and said that it wasn't a bad idea (faint praise, you might say), and resolved to visit the "Kidney Stone" later that day. " Rupie, na faighnich air Jura carson a ha feum againn air an aite seo - Dubhagan dha-riribh," said Soho a little forcefully." ( Eng. "Rupie, don't ask Jura why we need this place - Kidneys, indeed"). When it was revealed that the Kidney Stone was 250 feet above the road, Victoria, ever the diva, baulked at the idea. She maintained that her beautiful blue-cream coat would all be matted with disgusting oily peat and tangled in heather, that is, assuming she ever made it to the top. She added that an adventure could just as easily be conducted at sea level, or possibly a few feet above. Still, for her pal Jura (the "poor dear") she did sign up. Fancy offered her a coalie-back to the top if she ever felt the need.
The whole team arrived at the "Kidneys" to assess the site, and to discuss what was required to build a den. Soho had told 'An'Houdie of the gang's plans (Jura's actually) for Carnan Dughagan, realising that a lot of human input would be required to see their plans through. Iain Shoudie suggested that Domhnull Glass and Iain Mac na Cnamhan would be willing to help in this endeavour. Donald and John were up in Dalmore as they were every summer, Donald from Renfrew and John from London. These two young lads were so proud at being asked to help build an "adventure centre" for their friends, and they liked the "new" name for an old bothan. Little were they to know that Jura had sown the seeds that flowered into "adventure centres", across "an taobh siar" (the West Side) and even in Shawbost. Seoras provided the little wood and stone ( and the technical advice) which would be needed to convert the bothan at Carnan Dughagan into a comfortable den for the Dalmore Gang. It had a wood and turf roof, and the interior consisted of three apartments, whose walls were stone-built. Donald and John would occupy the room at the entrance, where a fire could be set when they were in residence. The boys would make occasional visits to supply some victuals, except rabbit which those inveterate hunters, Tom Warrener and Kenny Iceland could supply ad nauseum ( These were Victoria's words). Actually the Gang would be grateful for rabbit, because it was not usual fare in Dalmore homes.
The Kidney Stone was a great den, better than any Jura had seen in her neck of the woods. Even Lady Victoria was impressed, but she kept in mind how any adventure starting here might entail a return climb of 250 feet. Still, Fancy had promised to be there for her. It didn't take the second sight for Fancy to read Vicky's mind. Guinness and Tigger were saying that coming up to Dalmore was adventure enough for them, and that this idea of Jura's (of all people) was frankly surprising. Wee Fred was always game for anything new, and he recalled his excitement and pride the day they caught and dispatched that mink. "Listen, gi'e Jura a bre'k. Our Dalmore cousins might just enjoy something a wee bit different, and that gang hut sounds just the job. Dick Whittington's cat had an adventurous spirit, and people are still talking about him ! We will only get out of this, what we put in." ( That's what they said in the shipyards )
In truth, the Dalmore Gang normally had plenty of opportunities for "adventures", and with all the time to do so. The Dubhagan, by its location, allowed them to recce parts of Dalmore they wouldn't normally inhabit, and it brought the gang together, cats and dogs, in joint activities. Well, that was the theory anyway, and if all else failed, they would be left with a super gang hut, where they could retire from humanity, for short periods at least.
Donald and John arrived at The Dubhagan with various comestibles and a bag of peats (Where from ? Don't ask !). They had with them some fishing rods and tackle, and announced that they had a mind to catch some trout for supper. "Will we really get some trout ?", enquired Tigger. " Of course you will," said London John in his usual booming voice. " We all shall have trout this very day" boomed Big John, with all the assurance of a London parliamentarian. John had great stories to tell, and Donald at times thought they were as amazing as 'An 'Houdie's. They were big stories, fresh with the imprint of the capital. They were all there, including the normally reticent Tom Warrener and Kenny Iceland tramping down over the road at the Mullach Beag, heading for the Leathad Riabhach and Loch Langavat. This is one of the larger lochs in the area, whose Norse name means 'long lake'. There are quite a few lochs in Lewis with this name. In the fishing party there were two boys, who would do the fishing, and nine cats and four dogs to support them in this their first adventure from the Kidney Centre. Catching fish on Loch Langavat was difficult, but the ones that took the fly were generally of a good size. It was hot and there was the first hint of midges. A whole hour had elapsed, with only a few "tickles" on the lines, and one decent bite, according to London John. Some of the Dalmore Crew couldn't stay awake, and had fallen asleep in the shade of a small "bruach". The adventure had proved too much for them ! Fred lay with his front spogs over his eyes, but he was awake and listening to the lapwings' call in the distance, 'pee-wee, pee-wee'. He smiled when Victoria exclaimed, "This is so, so exciting - must repeat this adventure again !" Unbeknown to her, a dense cloud of midges was forming just above her head. Suddenly, Donald had a fish on his line. The rod was bending in all directions, and the fish,a brown trout, was leaping out of the water in a great show of acrobatics. Donald played the fish carefully all the way to the side of the loch, where John grabbed it, throwing it up onto a heather bank. When it was weighed later in Seoras' workshop, it was two ounces short of two pounds. Donald was really happy as this was by far the biggest trout he had ever caught. The happiest "person" there was Jura the labrador - her first adventure had been a success ! In all, two smaller trout, brought the tally to three which were roasted on the peat fire at the Dubhagan. Strangely, that same cloud of midges had followed Vicky all the way from Loch Langavat, and was hovering above her like an avenging angel.
After adventures would come rest periods of a couple of days, not long enough for some. Coincidentally it rained during this first period, not the kind which causes corrugated iron to rattle like a kettle drum , but that fine rain which licks your face so gently, while seeking out every crevice in your 'clo' guernsey. Donald and John were in the "anteroom," tending the fire using some "borrowed" peats. It was very cosy in the Dughagan, and sleep was catching up with the gang, replete after a lunch of rabbit. Forty winks later, they were refreshed and looking for some entertainment. Soho and Rupie caught Donald's eye gesturing towards London John. "John, I'm sure our friends would like to hear one of your amazing stories," said Donald.
London John :- " Last summer I was training at the White City Track in London doing sprints and starts, when these two athletes approached with a request. Would I be prepared to run a leg of a mile race in a training session where we would set a fast pace for the last runner. I was to run the last leg taking over the pacing from the other two. Going round the last bend I looked over my left shoulder to see no one there, but passing me on the other side was this tall lean man overtaking me with the speed of a gazelle. I literally could not see him now for the dust he left behind.
"These guys were in a different league to me, but it was later that I realised that the tall lean man who had passed me on that final bend, was a certain Dr. Roger Bannister, who at Oxford on the 6th of May, 1954 run the mile in under 4 minutes with the now famous time of 3 mins 59.4 secs."
What a story, a truly amazing story ! "This guy is unbelievable," said Fred. "You are so right," said Victoria, with a long wink and a fixed smile on her face.
Fred, Jura and Guinness paricularly loved the novelty of eating and sleeping within the walls of Bothan Dughagan. They were in the innermost chamber, which had a small window through which shafts of light were thrown into relief by the blue peat smoke. They loved it there. The Shoudie animals, Soho, Rupie, Stowlia thought there was little difference between here and the taigh dubh they normally inhabited, albeit a bit smaller. Kenny Iceland thought this an ideal base for future forays into the hills. He would speak to Tom Warrener about this.
On another day, Donald arranged for the young adventurers to have a game of football, down on the old "leas" on Shonnie's croft No.1, down by the "traigh" overlooking the cemetery. This "leas" dated from the time of the 'old people' (1780 - 1840) whose occupation of Dalmore was entirely located at the "machair", which was very fertile. Now, of course, it was an area of close-cropped grass (sheep again), perfect for football, once the area had been cleared of "cac an caoraich". The sheep had been grazing here for months, and had left a good bit of themselves behind. Victoria was at pains to state that since she was not taking part in the football, she would not spending hours cleaning up after sheep. "Why can't they bury it, like all cats do ?" The game got under way with a ball devised by Donald, not very large and made from Harris wool thread. Stowlia proved useful in goals, and Fancy crossed some beautiful balls on to the head of wee Fred.
Soho and Rupie both raised their spogs to stop play - they saw a hearse drawing up at Taigh a' Bhoer, and a great crowd of men gathering up the road, stretching beyond Taigh Dhomhnull Chalum. The coffin was transferred to an "eilitriom", a wooden platform, known as a 'bier' in English. The coffin is carried from here all the way to the graveside, with a succession of men moving forward to take their turn with the "eilitriom". It is a moving sight to behold. No woman ever went to burials, even at the funeral of a husband. After the burial was over, none of the gang were in the mood to return to their game of football - another day, perhaps.
Donald (Domhnull Glass) actually spent four years of his childhood (1939 - 1943 ) in Dalmore, away from the threat of bombing in Renfrew. He stayed with his two aunts, Peigi and Dollag, and his grandfather, Old Bodach Glass in the taigh dubh at No. 5 Dalmore. You will understand that in these days, few vehicles ever came into the village, the exception being the hearses which would arrive at the Dalmore Cemetery at fairly regular intervals.
Donald, speaking only Gaelic, had to return to Renfrew in time for his first year at school. One day my mother noticed Donald staring out of the front window of our tenement house on Inchinnan Road, which overlooked a road junction, busy with all kinds of buses, vans and cars. Mother asked Donald what he was looking at. After a short pause, Donald turned round and said,
Donald :- " A Mhathair, nach eagalach nan thiodhlacadhean anns an aite seo." English. "Mother, there's an awful lot of burials in this place !"

Glossary : Cu 'Houdie / the Shoudie dog; bothan / bothy; airidh / shieling;
Mullach Beag / small crest; Iain Mac na Cnamhan / John the son of "Bones";
Seoras / George; spogs / paws; Leathad Riabhach / brindled slope;
Clo guernsey / tweed jumper; leas / small enclosed field;
traigh / shore; machair / sandy foreshore.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

An Latha a' Thainig a Bhanrigh.( A Royal Visit )

It would be the summer of 1956, and there was much excitement surrounding the visit of the Royal Family to the Western Isles. Elizabeth, the young queen, had been crowned a mere three years earlier, and here she was visiting some of the most distant islands in her realm. With her on board the Royal Yacht "Britannia"were her husband Prince Philip, her children, Charles and Anne and other royal personages. Tomorrow they would be in Stornoway, and many islanders would turn to, to see them in person, the visit being an "occasion", rather than any demonstration of loyalty to the crown. From the time of the Lords of the Isles, and through the Jacobite Risings, Lewis never had much time for kings. But this young queen had captured the hearts of her people, and the Lewis folk were no exception.
The people and animals in Dalmore were, in a small way, excited about the Queen's visit. It's not everyone who would give up a full day at the hay or the corn to visit the town, to stand for long periods among large crowds, with no guarantee of a glimpse of the royal party. Others felt that a day like tomorrow might never happen again in Lewis, during their lifetime. The four dogs, Stowlia, Fancy, Jura and Fred had made arrangements for a lift to town with Archie Bones at No. 10. Archie had one of those Bedford Dormobile so beloved of the whalers when they hit the island during periods of leave from South Georgia. The cats were not fussed about the royal visit, and kept saying things like " A cat can look at a queen, anytime". This was a cause of much hilarity, especially when Victoria repeated this sentence in a cut-glass BBC accent. The dogs did not share in their humour, principally because they hadn't the faintest idea what the cats were on about. Fred kept repeating to himself "A cat can look at a queen", but he too, apart from the obvious, was quite confused. As he looked at each cat in turn, hoping for a clue to this riddle, Fred's gaze fixed on Victoria, haughty and with a curious thin smile on her face. She proceeded to regale the assembled company with the following "poem", which one felt was really for Fred's benefit.

" Pussycat, Pussycat where have you been
I've been to London to see the Queen
Pussycat, Pussycat what did you there
I frightened a little mouse from under her chair "

All the cats fell about in paroxysms of laughter, belly-up, with their spogs flailing about in the air. The dogs felt uneasy as this was a very strange situation indeed. Here in front of them was a group of demented cats, caterwauling with gusto, oblivious to the effect they might be having on their audience. Here we had So-Sally, Rupie, Filax,Guinness, Tigger, Vicky, Tom and Kenny Iceland strangely transformed in front of their eyes. Within the space of minutes, their feline friends took on the mantle of crazed creatures. This really spooked Wee Fred who had only ever seen one or two cats together, hissing or pissing in the back court of a Glasgow tenement. In the city, sustained laughter like this, for no apparent reason, has a special name. Those involved are said to "have the bonk", and as they tire, the least cackle from one, can bring back the "bonk" again in a communal explosion of laughter. There are some other expressions similar to this. One that comes to mind is when a woman or animal is said "to have the smit". This happens when one woman is holding a friend's newborn baby, and becomes broody or, as it were, "smitten" by an overwhelming desire for a child herself. Fred was fairly sure that the cats did not have the "smit" (certainly not Old Tom and Kenny). Having the "bonk" was bad enough. In time, the cats slowly regained their composure to the relief of all present. But Fred seemed determined to pursue the supposed relation between cats and the Queen. There were raised eyebrows and some head shakes among the other dogs. One felt that some of them may have been familiar with the doggerel espoused by the Lady Victoria. But not Fred.
Fred : " Of course, a cat can look at a queen, but so too can a dog or anything with two eyes. So what's the big deal and why do you find it funny ?"
Victoria : " A dog can look at a queen, Fred, but it doesn't say that in the saying ' A cat can look at a queen'. So there you have it. There must be a good reason why a cat was chosen over dogs, horses or sheep. I'll admit it's strange and funny when you think about it. Just accept it, Fred, and don't get yourself in a lather." Fred just had to bite the bullet, as they say, on this one.
Fred : "Now, lady, who was this pussycat who left her friends only to pop up in London in the royal apartments of the Queen ? Did this clever cat go there on spec, or was she answering a royal summons. After a long and dangerous journey to London, she somehow avoids the attentions of Her Majesty's guards, only to scare one poor bloody mouse from under her chair. No wonder you lot were almost dead laughing at your catpal's heroics. The least he could do was to toy with the mouse for a while before delivering the coup de grace ( French, for children present.) Chasing a mouse away only invites it to return. Now Vicky, tell me the story behind the story of the pussycat and the Queen. I'm all ears Big Fluffy !
Victoria : " Fred, Fred, You darling boy ! It's only a nursery rhyme which parents recite to their children. There never was a real cat, or a mouse in the Queen's rooms in London. It is just a bit of fun. When we cats saw you taking the story about the "Pussycat and the Queen" so literally and seriously, we could not contain ourselves from laughter. I am sorry, Dear Boy - just a jolly jape - a bit of feline fun, one might say."
Fred didn't think it at all funny, but the Wee Man gave a wan smile, hoping to hide his embarrassment. As Fred moved away, the cats knew that they had hurt his pride, and must somehow make amends. Vicky was upset, and realised that her "bit of fun" was someone else's pain. She didn't mean that to happen, but happen it did.
It was obvious that the cats would not now be going to see the Queen , only the dogs. Fred's good humour was restored, and he was excited at the prospect of today's outing to Stornoway. There were large crowds in the centre of the town to see the royal procession of cars as they slowly passed by. The leading car, as you'd expect, contained the Queen, and being a sunny day, had its top down. Prince Philip was driving, looking relaxed and cheerful. The Queen's sister, Princess Margaret Rose, followed in a Land Rover, and everyone declared that she was a young princess of exceptional beauty. The Dalmore boys, pushing forward and peering through people's legs, had an excellent view of proceedings. They were sure that as they passed, Charles and Anne, the Queen's children gave our friends a special wave. There was no doubt that a reception would be held for the royal party in the Town Hall, or perhaps the Queen had invited the Provost and leading councillors to the "Britannia" for drinks and canapes. The crowds were breaking up, and the small flags and bunting were now looking a bit sad along the "royal route."
Stowlia, Fancy, Jura and Fred were a little tired now, and climbed down the steps of the harbour at South Beach Street. There, they bathed their spogs in the salt water, as they had taken a bit of a bashing in the crowds. Ah, ecstasy - pure and simple. Sammy, the resident harbour seal barked a greeting to them. Suddenly, they noticed a beautiful white launch coming across from Cuddy Point in their direction. It turned out to be a tender from the "Britannia" with four RN sailors aboard, and standing in the prow were Charles and Anne and a couple of wee brown dogs. A young sailor said that the four Dalmore dogs had been invited to join the royal children and some more dogs on board the Royal Yacht. It seems that Stowlia and Co. had caught the royals' notice as they turned into Cromwell Street. The Queen said that it was nice to see loyal canine subjects in the crowd. In fact, she couldn't recall it happening before. Philip laughed and said that Her Majesty was grateful that there were no cats in the crowds. Philip quietly said that Lilibet (that's what he called the Queen) did not like cats that much. Fred wished that Iain 'Houdie was present, so that he could pursue the topic of cats with the Queen. Bowls containing bits of lobster and salmon were put before our dogs, nothing short of the ambrosia eaten by the ancient gods. Before they left, they were assembled to sit in front of this flight of stairs which led to the upper deck. Then the Queen and Princess Anne led out about twenty dogs and had them sit in three rows. God, these were Welsh corgis, and this was a choir of Welsh corgis assembled to entertain their guests from Dalmore. The Queen took over the baton, and the corgis gave renditions of 'Cwm Rhondda', 'Land of My Fathers' and surprisingly, 'Hey, Big Spender'. Jura and Fred had seen choirs of Welsh corgis on the Sunday "Dogs of Praise" programme on television, and knew that unless they left now, they could be there for a long time. You see, where you have two or more Welsh dogs brought together, then that constitutes a choir, and you can be held there for bloody hours.
On leaving, the Queen invited her loyal Scots dogs to visit her again sometime in the future.
Fred : " Puppy-dog, Puppy-dog where have you been , I've been to Stornoway to see the Queen,
Puppy-dog, puppy-dog what did you there,
I ate lobster and salmon next to her chair."
"I'll have to see if Victoria knows this nursery rhyme ? She can teach it to the other cats."

Monday, 31 October 2011

Billy Dubh.

It was a strange sight to see two huge golden eagles circling the Beinn low above Taigh ' Houdie. Equally strange was the fact that the people in the village below, mindful of the great birds' presence, were not in the least perturbed, which they certainly would have been in the past . Then, the sound of gunshot and the hysterical cry of "Iolaire" would have filled the air (Gael. "Eagle") Possibly, they remembered how an eagle had played an important role in ridding the village of a killer mink, not so long ago. The great birds landed at the top of a feannaig (Gael. strip field) beside Taigh ' Houdie, and the Shoudie "boys" ( Balaich ' Houdie) and their animal friends could only marvel at the majestic sight of two golden eagles approaching them with a waddling gait, reminiscent of a capercaillie, if you ever saw one. If any of the observers felt like smiling, then the great beak and talons, not to mention the camera-like flicker of their wild eyes, persuaded them otherwise. Here in front of them stood Gilleasbuig of Beinn Bhragair and a young male eagle, who was introduced to the company as Ailpein. Gilleasbuig approached Iain 'Houdie, perhaps too close for comfort, and addressed him in heavily accented Lewis Eaglese. "Mr. Maclennan, your understanding of animals is legend in these parts, and it is because of this that we are here today." At this he unfolded his mighty wings to reveal a passenger clinging to the feathered neck of this awesome bird. It was a pigeon, thin and scrawny, unlike the large, plump specimens inhabiting the woods. Iain 'Houdie could see that one of the pigeon's wings was trailing, possibly fractured. That was why Gilleasbuig had brought the pigeon over to Dalmore, hoping that the Shoudie Boys could help. The bird was a racing pigeon en route from Thurso to Edinburgh, but strong easterly winds had greatly altered its course, and the bird was found injured by the eagles at Tom an Eoin near Beinn Bhragair. Gilleasbuig said that his name was Billy Dubh (well, that's how it sounded like to him), but Billy insisted that his second name was "Doo", with the emphasis on the 'oo', as in 'too'.
Billy : " My name, as recorded in official documents at the Edinburgh Dovecote, is William Doo. I am a racing pigeon nowadays, but before that I had a very unusual career. My lineage goes back a long way, to France, my mother told me. There was in the Mortonhall district of Edinburgh a unique group of 'doocots' where the resident pigeons were employed in a very old business indeed. We were carrier pigeons who were trained to carry messages between people and places. Everything depended on our well known homing instinct, used so often during wars, but the Mortonhall pigeons were involved in a more romantic and pleasing way. Specifically, we carried love letters between people, the lovesick and the lovelorn. We worked every day of the year, not just St. Valentine's Day. Rupie helped Billy down from off his own eagle "nest", and a comfortable corner was found for him near the fire. Iain 'Houdie had already arranged with Seoras to drive him and the injured pigeon over to the vet's surgery in Stornoway.
Iain 'Houdie : " Billy Dubh or Billy Doo, we'll have to take you to the veterinary surgeon in Stornoway, who will see to your injured wing." The vet was a kindly old gentleman, who had treated quite a few hens, some ducks and a grey parrot belonging to a Dutch seaman, but never a pigeon. With the use of a splint and some tape, the vet was positive that the wing would heal within a short time. As this was an unusual case, whose history amused him greatly, the vet said that there would be no charge.
Billy was very happy that he had come across such kindness here on the Island of Lewis. He was given some corn seed and a small saucer of water. So-Sally and Rupie were amused as Billy seemed to toss more seeds about him, than he consumed. Stowlia reminded them that this was no different from the behaviour of the hens at feeding time.
Billy's wing healed and there was no reason now for him to hang about Dalmore. The thought of leaving this idyll of a place, leaving all his new found friends made Billy very sad. Iain 'Houdie picked up on this, and asked his brother Murdo if a place could be found for Billy on Lot a' Houdie ( the Shoudie croft). Murdo said that Billy Dubh was welcome to stay as long as he wished - forever, if he had a mind to. Small tears of happiness formed on Billy's beak, as Soho, Rupie and Stowlia moved closer to embrace the latest member of Taigh 'Houdie - Billy Dubh, Calman Sitheil. (peaceful dove)
Seoras built a dovecote for Billy which was second to none. In all Edinburgh, where pigeon fancying was strong, Billy knew of no dovecote that could match the one which Seoras built. Billy was ecstatic with joy.
Rupie : "Billy, tell me. When you were flying about carrying these love letters, did you carry the paper messages in your beak ? Didn't you suffer from "lock beak" and did the paper not get wet from the drooling."
Billy : "No, not in my beak ! Around my neck I wore a fine silk ribbon, to which was attached a very small silver cylinder, into which the paper message was placed and the top closed. When we were out flying on these love missions, we weren't aware of the gear around our necks. At the receiving end, the message would be removed and read. If there was to be a reply, we often got a small feed of corn, a message would be attached, and we were released from whence we came. It was a good system, but the telephone more or less did away with it. The telephone is faster, but far less romantic, and for the shy or the tongue-tied, the pigeon post was sans pareil".
Soho : "Was that French you spoke just now, Billy ?"
Billy : "I think it was. This happens from time to time, and I never know why."
Soho : "Didn't you say that your ancestral pigeons came from France ?"
Billy : "That's what Mother always maintained."
Soho had been thinking about Billy, and his past involvement in a very specialised branch of the pigeon post. He asked Murdo about it, who was the village postman, but Murdo knew nothing about an equivalent service offered by the General Post Office. The Post Office did deliver Valentine cards, but I don't think pigeons were involved.
Soho : "Billy, do you think you could carry messages again, except here in Lewis ? I take it that you intend to stay here with us in Dalmore !"
Billy : "I am staying here, and, of course, carrying messages is not something a pigeon like me forgets."
Soho : "I think you would be in great demand. There are many spinsters and bachelors in the district, who are possibly too shy to make a move on their own, but on paper, can be quite bold in stating their case. There are many lovelorn souls around here, Billy, who would use your services. In Upper Carloway and Garenin alone, there are enough clients to keep you flying for months at a time. Shawbost would keep you going for years to come."
Seoras fashioned a beautiful little mahogany cylinder to carry the love notes, and Mairi, his wife, fashioned a narrow tweed band for round Billy's neck. The love enterprise was ready to be launched. Small adverts were placed in the "sheds" in Carloway, and Coinneach Uilleam even displayed an advert in his post office. The charge was six pence per letter, and moneys would be collected each Friday night, by Stowlia or Fancy. Billy was in his element again, but on two occasions he was blown off course, as the winds here on the west coast can be hard work for a wee Edinburgh doo. There was one young man from Ceann a-Staigh nan Ghearranan ( inner Garenin) who spent a fortune on pigeon post, with excellent results, he maintained. It has to be said that love was in the air, and there was a surge in betrothals among persons you would never have thought of.
On a day off (and did he need it), Billy, Iain 'Houdie and the Dalmore Crew took a walk down to the traigh. There was a family staying in a large tent by the allt, and on the way back, greetings were exchanged. The people were from France, and were amazed at Iain's ability to interpret for this disparate collection of animals. He introduced them one by one, but when he mentioned Billy Doo, the French woman smiled.
French Lady : " That is a very sweet name, Billy, mon petit. It sounds exactly like the phrase we have in French - " billet doux" which is a love letter, literally a "soft, sweet letter".
Well, Billy could hardly believe what the woman had said, and everyone cheered.
Billy : " My mother was right about my French ancestry. My name is Love Letter, and my French ancestors were probably in the business of carrying messages long ago. Imagine finding out about 'billet doux' here in Dalmore !"

Friday, 16 September 2011

Ordaighean Siabost. (Shawbost's Communions)

It was that time again. There were noticable and unusual movements of people and animals throughout Lewis. Buses were transporting hundreds of people dressed in dark clothing, to various places around the island. At first glance,one might think that they were destined for some distant funeral. There was a certain gravitas about these people, and inside the bus there hung the strange odour of camphor and peppermint. As the bus passed through various townships, the people did not talk, and the silence was broken only occasionally by the rustling of paper. The driver certainly had a destination in mind, and was aware of the nature of this journey. The people were mainly old in age, but not exclusively. Hard toil and a harsh climate were etched on their faces, and here their Sunday clothes seemed strangely out of place. However, any onlooker might underrate the strength of character of the people who travelled in that bus, some perhaps sucking quietly on a Mint Imperial. Any Leodhhasach would know that this was the season of Communions called "Na Ordaighean", held in all the churches across the island. It is a unique Presbyterian season, consisting of various services including the sacrament of communion. All are welcome to these services, but only the worthy can approach the table to partake of the bread and wine. These communicants are known as "comanaiche", and are often described as "curamach". Those who do take communion are known among their brethren as committed to their Lord. It is a very public affirmation of their faith, and is never taken lightly. It was because of 'Na Ordaighean' that presbyterian manses were built so large, to accommodate visiting ministers at such times.
The animal churches had always synchronised their communions with those of their human kind. If you knew that there were communions in Shawbost, for example, then you could be sure that Na Ordaighean Eaglais na Eoin were being held in Shawbost too. Dogs and cats from the Doune church were welcome here in Shawbost, despite being of a "different denomination". Among the animals and birds, the word "denomination" was borrowed long ago from man's lexicon, but now it was meaningless, and of little import in the animals' doctrine of faith. The animal churches were an example of the ecumenism that had long eluded the "man churches" in Lewis. Theirs was a history of dissent and schism, which baffled the animal congregations. At the animal communions one might expect a great, if not incongruous, mix of communicants sitting side by side in the pews - the eagle with the lamb or the cat with the sparrow. The elders of Eaglais na Eoin had wisely anticipated the problems which could arise by dint of hunger or an animal's natural instincts, and they did all they could to allay the fears of the small and the timid among their flock. Animals were matched in size and temperament in the various services, although there would always be a problem with the golden eagles.
The Dalmore crew were fairly regular churchgoers, with the exception of Kenny Iceland and Tom Warrener, who long ago had foregone the comforts of home for the cold and damp of the rabbit burrows. You would only see them on the odd occasion if the hunting was poor or the weather was foul. They had no idea what day it was, and wouldn't know that it was a Sunday, assuming that they had a mind to go to church, which they didn't. Fancy was out at the "geata iarran" this Wednesday evening, when he espied three dark figures making their way in the Dalmore road. Positioning himself behind a peat stack, closer examination revealed that it was the Reverend MacCollie with two large dogs, probably elders in the Doune church. Forewarned, Fancy sped ahead to the village to announce the imminent arrival of these dogs of doom.
MacCollie and his cohorts stopped a few times as they went in the road, to talk to the odd cat or upbraid some poor dog for his irregular attendance at church - leaving the poor soul with a "hung dog" expression across his face. MacCollie was in his usual garb of large dog collar, long dark coat and the obligatory Homburg hat on his head. His elders were dressed in dark attire, and walked a few paces behind MacCollie, in a "crub" posture. The Doune churchmen looked as if they had walked straight off the pages of Revelations. Kenny Iceland in Taigh 'Houdie maintained that he had heard The Horses of the Apocalypse out at the Mullach Mor. We must remember that Kenny was credited with the second sight.
Rupie : " And what kind of horses are they ? Are they like Jimmy, or Each na Cnaimhan ? "
Soho : "No, a' ghraidh, much bigger, you could say, but don't you worry yourself."
Iain and Murdo, Balaich 'Houdie, were seated on the "leathad" down from the house, with their animals seated around them, when the minister and his elders approached.
Iain : "Madainn mhath, a' Mhinister. De tha a dhith oiribh ?"
MacCollie : " A courtesy call, 'An 'Houdie, just passing through."
Elder no. 1 : " Dha riribh, a' dhaoine, dha riribh.
Stowlia noted that Iain used that same phrase a lot, but as often , he exaggerated it to sound like 'gha reeroo'.
Soho : " Mr MacCollie, rest assured that we'll be attending a service in Shawbost. Isn't that right, folks ?"
In unison the others answered 'dha riribh, dha riribh.'
Fred : " Take a gander at him wi' the big stick. He's a bear of a man. Is he the Witchfinder General or the Wicker Man ? He scares the hell outa me."
He was referring to Elder no. 2, whose eyes were fixed on Kenny Iceland.
MacCollie : " Kenny, It's been many a year since I saw you in church. Are you not afraid for your immortal soul ? The communions are on at the moment, and we are on our way to the Wednesday evening prayer meeting in Shawbost. We'd like you to come with us."
Kenny : " You pray for Shawbost if you like, A' Mhinister, but I am staying right here in Dalmore"Mac Collie : " Many in our flock have taken the "curam" at these meetings. They have been collapsing in raptures - even Gilleasbuig the golden eagle. Fred : " A' widnae like to be anywhere near the Big Man when he collapsed. I remember a few years ago in the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow when the American evangelist, Uilleam Greumach, was calling on thousands to come forward to be saved. I made to join the throng of howling animals, when my brother grabbed me by the tail and said. "Sit doon, Fred. If you join that lot, there will be no more raids on the Lucky Midgies, doon the Double Dykes." I could never fault my brother's advice ! Fancy : " I think Kenny is a Pantheist. We should respect him for that." Mr MacCollie smiled, bid farewell and left.
Ordaighean Siabost were a great success. The Reverend MacCraw, Macraw Mor, was on his home turf' and his preaching was as powerful as anyone can remember. When he spoke to the book of Isaiah, the very rafters shook. Here at the communions, there had been powerful sermonising, intelligent discourse on doctrine and the articles of faith, and very many conversions. The greatest of these was surely that of the big eagle from Beinn Bhragair. The example of his faith would be carried higher and further than ever before. The buses left for Doune and other villages, and the peppermint sweets were being handed around with abandon.
Even the Right Reverend John MacCollie deigned to take off his dog collar, before slipping into his bed, that night.
Glossary of words.
Leodhasach / person from Lewis ; Na Ordaighean / The Communions ; comanaiche / communicants ; curamach / the converted ; Eaglais nan Eoin / church of the birds ; geata iarran / the iron gate ; crub / bent down ; Mullach mor / top of the pass ; Each na Cnaimhan / "the Bones"horse ; a graidh / my dear ; Balaich 'Houdie / the Shoudie boys (brothers)
Madainn mhat a' Mhinister / Good morning, Minister ; De tha a dhith oribh / what do you want ? ; Dha riribh, a'dhaoine / indeed, people ; curam / conversion ;
midgies / rubbish bins (Scots) ; dykes / walls (Scots)

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Road

If you live by the sea, this is something with which you will be very familiar. I refer to the tides, high and low, of which even the animals are aware. Murdo explained to his friends that it was caused by the pull of the moon and the sun on the waters of the earth's oceans. He mentioned 'gravity', but now the explanation was getting right complicated, flying right over our heads, even for the tallest among us. Recently, they noticed that the low tides down at the traigh at Dalmore, were getting very low indeed and that the sea was very far out. It was now possible to walk across to the Gearraidh where the sea would normally be, and a day or two later, the sea was out beyond Rudha an Trilleachain, and all the geodhain and stacan(creeks and stacks) were now totally accessible, where normally they were below the sea, and battered by powerful waves. Murdo said something about the sun, the moon and our earth being in line with each other, and it was this that caused these very low tides. A tide like this was called a "Road", and we were never sure that this name was used anywhere else. Fancy reckoned that it was a perfectly good name, as the withdrawal of the sea gave you a road, where there hadn't been one before. Fair enough ! Soho ventured that you could only get a Road where the traigh's sandy beach sloped gently out to sea. Soho was recently visiting friends near the Big Sands at Uig, and she said she saw a large lorry full of peats motoring across the sandy bay there, which only a few hours earlier had been covered by the incoming waves.
When you looked out from where the traigh normally lies, it gave you an eerie feeling that the sea had disappeared, and it might return no more. Rupie looked to Murdo for reassurance, who told them all that the sea would come back again. He remembered reading about such things in a National Geographic magazine, which a visitor had left with him.
"Would it be possible to walk all around the coast to Garenin, where the sea used to be ?", asked Fancy. "I'm not sure about that, but it might be possible. But we will stay here on Traigh Dhalamor, and see what happens", replied Murdo.
In the next few days, there was a lot of activity on the traigh. Stowlia stayed close to 'An 'Houdie, who was laying his "loidhne bheag" (small line) across the dry sandy beach, attached to those of Seoras and Shonnie. That amounted to a lot of 'hyooks' all baited with herring, and the idea was to catch small flounders that bury themselves in the sand, when the tide returns.
" So the tide comes in after all. We thought that the seas stayed away out there for days," said Fred, looking at Seoras, having heard he was a bit of a sage.
Seoras told him that the tides still operated, but to a lesser extent; the low tide was very low, and the high tide was not as high as usual, only coming into the traigh part way. That's where the fishing lines were set.
"Do you see how simply Seoras explained the tides. That's the mark of the sage," said Soho.
But for the women of the village and the children, an important reason for being down at the traigh was to harvest 'siolan', which they could not do at other times. Siolan are known also as sand-eels or whitebait, which, when disturbed, can use their long pointed noses to disappear beneath the sand. Siolan are the fish you see arranged so neatly along the colourful beak of the puffin. Equipped with a corran (sickle) and a tin pail, we see the people pulling the corran through the wet sand. When the blade comes into contact with a sand-eel ( It is in fact a fish), you search down with an open hand to catch the silver siolan. You can fill buckets and pails with these fish, and if they are full, then it's into the pockets of your overalls. They make very tasty fish soup.
Stowlia, Fancy and Fred joined in this fish free-for-all, but not with any great success. Fred however, being a terrier, could dig furiously, and did score a few times, casually flicking the fish towards his feline friends, now in raptures of delight with their hero, the "Wee Glesca' Man." Nevertheless, their excitement was palpable as they watched their human friends fill one pail after another with those beautiful silver fish. Seoras remembered that when he was a young man in Dalmore, there would be people with their horse and cart far out on the traigh, collecting seaweed which would later be used as fertiliser. We collected the red dulse (duileasg) and limpets ( bairneach ), while others harvested great quantities of mussels ( claba-dubha ), favoured in Shawbost and points North.
All the Dalmore cats and dogs got into the spirit of thing, racing about on the new-found sands, splashing about in the long sea pools, abandoned by the tide. To see Vicky, our immaculate blue cream Persian cat, splashing Soho and Filax, with the deft use of her back-spogs, was a delight to behold. The animals might be wet and covered in sand, but they were truly happy.
Up on the machair grass beside the allt, some of the women had a large peat fire going. They had a large iron pot, into which all the ingredients for the fish soup were placed - the siolan of course, onion, water and a little milk and butter.
This was an outdoor kitchen, and the fish soup ( we called it 'souse') just kept coming ! How I remember the taste of that soup.
When the small lines were lifted later the following day, there was a good catch of small sole (leabagain), and a few other species of fish. The catch was of course divided equally among Seoras, Shonnie and 'An 'Houdie. There was no boat share, and this must be one of the few occasions where this happens.
The Road eventually ran its course, and before the sea returned to normal levels, it had given of its many bounties. And with that, life in Dalmore was to return to normality. One evening in Taigh 'Houdie, when all had partaken of another fish feast, Murdo said that he was minded of a lovely story about another Road, but not on the sea. There must have been a dozen animals looking up at Murdo in eager anticipation of this tale, as he had what people called "blas" in his story telling ( literally 'taste' - a tasty tale ).
Murdo: "This is a true story which involved my father, Shoudie, when he was a young man living in Garenin. He was sitting down by the "cladach" ( shore ), with two of his friends, Tormod Anna and Long ( Glass's brother ), doing nothing in particular, but enjoying it just the same. They saw this man, a stranger from his garb, approaching them from the direction of the Gleann. He must have been at Borriston or Laimishadair, and they quickly had him down as one of these commercial travellers one sees from time to time. The man addressed them in English, and asked them where the main road was, to Stornoway presumably.
Shoudie :   Shaking his head from side to side, shouted " Naw-thing, Naw-thing", and the man understood.
Tormod Anna :  Asked a favour " A dhuine uasail, a' bheil siucar iad ?" ( Sir, have you got a sweetie ?) Bless him !
Long : " The Rathad Mor is up-a-bitty, up-a-bitty. It's coming up again." Gesturing with his hand, Long showed the traveller how he could connect with the main road at Carloway.
The man thanked the three Garenin lads, who returned to take their ease."
The assembled company loved Murdo's story, as always, and they too returned to take their ease. Not much has changed, then.