Monday, 20 April 2009

Bha Soho agus Rupie a' comhradh. (Having a Cat Chat)

Darkness had just fallen on Dalmore. As always, the roar of the Atlantic rollers could be heard hitting the wide sandy beach down at the "traigh"(shore). The ever present west wind was strong, and hurried the rain directly up the glen which is Dalmore ("dail mor" - Gaelic, big dale ). Even at the "Mullach Mor", about half a mile out, you could taste the salt in the raindrops which passed your lips. Weather like this was not unknown in the "dailean".
High up on croft number 4, a single yellow light could be seen, but only with difficulty could one make out the outline of the long "taigh dubh", directly under the "beinn". On a night like this, the light coming through that single skylight was comfort indeed to any passing stranger. Inside this house of thick walls and thatched roof, it was warm, and the illumination came from a single 100 watt bulb, when before it would have come from the glowing mantle of the Tilley lamp. The two boys (the "men" in the house) were having a wee "norrag" to themselves (forty winks). Murchadh had lain down his book and his bendy, rimless "spegligans" and was fast asleep sitting by the fire, his back to the dresser and his head leaning against the wall. By the way,"spegligans" is not the Gaelic for spectacles, although one might think so. It is one of the word corruptions used in this house, baffling to some, but appreciated by the initiated. Iain was stretched out on the "being" (bench), sleeping soundly, his head resting on his rolled-up bib overalls .
The peat fire was burning nicely between the stacks, radiating a warm heat. Sitting close to each other, with their eyes half-shut, almost hypnotised by the flicker of the yellow flame, sat So-Sally and Rupie, the resident cats in "Taigh Shoudie"(the Shoudie Boys' house). As the "boys" slept, Soho and Rupie would discuss matters concerning only themselves, without Old Dolittle giving "fatherly advice". After all, there were certain cat issues which were easier to discuss on their own, without the distractions of man or dog. Occasionally they would hold their front "spogain"(paws) up to the fire to toast their pads, something they had seen the "boys" do. You may have noticed that Killy-Soho has had a few name changes in a pretty short time (ie.So-Sally,Soho) This was the doing of Iain Shoudie, who was wont to play around with words and names, just as one finds the names changing so disconcertingly in the Russian Novel.
Soho: "Isn't this just nice, now, A'Ghraidh (My Dear). Listen to the sound of the wind whistling through the thatch and the rain hitting the window pane. We have a good home here, Rupie, and we are very fortunate that the "boys" can speak our language and understand us. It makes life so much easier for all concerned."
Soho was the alpha female by dint of age and experience, and when required, had demonstrated well honed fighting skills, but not among her own household, to be sure. She was sleek, with a very shiny black coat, and moved like a miniature panther. She liked mankind, but was not so keen on dogs, unless she got a nod of approval from the "boys" for a visiting dog. Julia,the resident dog, was obviously an exception, and if truth to be told, she loved Stowlia to bits(Stowlia, a patronymic for Julia).
Rupie:"You are right, So-Sally. We have a good home here, and Iain and Murdo are so kind. I am glad we can have this wee chat while the others are asleep. Last week in the morning, I accompanied Murchadh (Murdo ) as he took the cows out to their usual pastures, over the other side of the Beinn. On the way, Stowlia and I listened to Murdo regale us with some old Gaelic proverbs. He is good at the proverbs, but some of them I've heard a few times now! I was feeling very happy, and content to let Stowlia lead through the tall heather. When Murdo stopped at Loch Dubh na Cleit to water the cattle, and have himself a cigarette, I decided to strike out on my own and bade farewell to them both as I headed down the Cleit towards Dalbeg. I had never been as far from home before, and this would be a new experience for me. And yet I felt that old Stowlia was uneasy at me going to Dalbeg on my own. As I descended from the Cleit, I reached the edge of the Village Loch, beautiful in its massive show of white water-lilies. In what spaces there were between the extensive floating lily rafts, brown trout made many "rises", some clearing the water completely in a great show of acrobatics. Dail Beag (Gael: small dale) is Dail Mor's wee sister, and some would attest to its greater beauty. I was crossing high above the little golden beach along a rabbit run, when a little ahead of me I saw something which made me freeze to the spot. There, dead ahead was a very large male mink, bigger than any I'd seen at George Macleod's mink farm in Dalmore. Long, with a black glossy coat, this animal had escaped from an island mink farm, and looked good on it. Those who bred the mink never acknowledged that it could be a farm escapee. Old Archie used to say that, in that case, they must have flown in from North America by plane."  Mink are ferocious killers, deadly in their entrapment of prey, and if free to roam at will, they will wreak havoc with nesting birds, rabbits and domestic fowl. Rupie did not move a muscle as she observed the mink's nose twitch below a pair of beady red eyes. Rupie had only ever seen mink behind the secure mesh of a cage, but here out in the open she had no idea what this big mink might do. Her wee heart was pounding against her rib cage, and she could only hope that the mink would not notice. Then the strangest of things ! The mink looked Rupie straight in the eye, climbed unhurriedly out of the rabbit run and vanished into a field of hay. As soon as she realised her good luck, there was a massive adrenaline rush which carried Rupie at speed around Loch Dalbeg, and up the hill to the safety of the Cleit. Soho, that wise old cat, was sitting outside No.4, as was Stowlia the dog, when Rupie arrived home. Stowlia was a little upset with Rupie, and only shook her head when they met. Soho asked Rupie in a quiet voice to sit down beside her. She asked her about her solo trip to Dalbeg, and cautioned her against repeating this "adventure" again on her own.
Soho : "Rupie, did you realise how concerned we would be about you ? As bad as that meeting with the mink was, it could have been so much worse if it had been a female mink, especially if her young had been close by. The female is much smaller than the male mink, but in agility and speed it is fearsome. It might not have attacked you, but had it done so, you, Rupie, were in mortal danger. Please, A' Ghraidh, always say where you are going, and if it's out of sight of home, make sure that I or Stowlia are with you." Rupie nodded agreement, and Stowlia gave her a warm smile."
The Shoudie Boys had just awakened from their "forty winks". Murdo threw a couple of peats on the fire, and the old black kettle was put on to boil for their "copan teatha" (Gael : cup of tea). All was hunky dory once more, the more so because Kenny Iceland, their hill cousin had "come in from the cold" and was warming himself "aig an teine" ( Gael : at the fire ).
Post Script.
Murdo was knowledgeable about the history of these parts, and had this to say to his small assembled audience, which included his brother John, who knew less about history and more about humourous ditties and nonsense rhymes.
Murdo :
We must not forget that not so long ago, around 1750, the Isle of Lewis was a lawless and dangerous place,where the rule of law had hardly taken root, and any religious awakening would have to wait some seventy years. It was in such times that an awful incident occured in the bay at Dalbeg. A tall sailing ship known as a clipper was shipwrecked during the night on the large rocks at the Ard on the northern side of the bay, during a furious storm. Its cargo was mainly tea, held in hundreds of chests, which were destroyed on the rocks. Witnesses said that the seas in Dalbeg Bay were now a deep brown colour. The piles of tea leaves heaped on the shore were later gathered by the villagers, and spread on their feannagain, thinking it a good fertiliser. It was said that nothing grew on that ground for quite a few years. The men of Dalbeg were not there to save lives or to show mercy to those sailors struggling ashore. They were there for booty and plunder. Those poor souls who reached the beach were slaughtered as they lay there. Others of the crew who could see what was happening, attempted to climb the high cliffs to reach the Ard. Those who made it to the top were systematically murdered, usually by chopping their hands off at the cliff's edge. One man is said to have escaped that night with only one hand, the other having been amputated, but not before putting a curse on the village, a curse which has never been raised. Remembering that Dalbeg (Gael : Dail Beag) means "small dale or valley", the sailor said
"Dalbeg, as small as you are now, you will be even smaller in times to come. No grandfather will ever see a grandchild born during his lifetime" And to this day, that has been the case in Dalbeg. Rupie, Dalbeg is a very strange place."

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