Sunday, 28 November 2010

Fred and the Eagles.

When the "Fear Dubh" was around, and he had been around for some time now, no young animal, bird or fowl was safe from him. His territory stretched from New Shawbost in the north through Dalbeg and Dalmore, to Upper Carloway and Garenin in the south. The "Black One" in question, was a large black male mink, a long-term escapee, and these were his" killing fields". He was the sole ground predator in the area, and didn't always kill for food. Killing was often sport for the mink. Normally the mink will kill and eat fish from the river, nesting birds and their chicks and very often hens, cooped up in the hen house. It is in this latter situation that you see the mink at its deadliest and most ruthless. Within a few minutes the mink will dispatch up to twenty hens in a gratuitous orgy of killing. It will feed only on the viscera of perhaps three birds, eschewing totally the flesh. In such circumstances, the large part of his kill is "for sport". In a short time, he might be a long way off, indulging his sport in some other killing field. With an ongoing supply of food, the mink can range far and wide, and is almost impossible to locate, never mind eliminate. For the most part it travels unseen, and often strikes under the cover of darkness. The bloody carnage it leaves in its train is unmistakably the mark of the mink. So, people and animals in Dalmore were alert to the dangers posed by this escaped mink, and took whatever measures they could to trap or kill the "Black One". This could be very difficult, and even fatal for a small animal to attempt.
One morning, a week into the alert, So-Sally and Rupie took a walk down to the "traigh" (the shore), for nothing more than a stroll along the golden strand, caressed by the waves of the Atlantic and overlooked by the oldest rocks on earth. On the way back past the Allt, they noticed that Mrs Tunnag and her family of ducklings were not swimming in the river, as was their wont. Climbing down the sandy "bruach", they followed the river's course, well into Lot a' Bhoer (the Boer's croft), and it was only after a thorough search, that they discovered Mother Duck and her off-spring hiding under a bank of peat, well away from the river. Soho approached the ducks, and could see that Mrs Tunnag was in a distressed state. Her ducklings were hidden from view beneath her. Her beautiful black beak was streaked with tears, and her voice was just a whimper. She told how the previous day she was leading her little ducklings along the river bank, when out of nowhere and in an flash, a large mink attacked and killed two of her offspring. She asked that Soho and Rupie search along the river and bury her beautiful "tunnagean" by the allt where they were reared. The Shoudie cats tried as best they could to comfort Mrs Tunnag and her three remaining ducklings, but in any case, they led them to the safety of the barn at Taigh a' Bhoer.
The animals in Dalmore and Dalbeg convened a parliament the following morning, on the "Creagan" behind Taigh Glass to discuss all matters relating to the "Fear Dubh", the black mink, which in a short time, had brought fear and death to the "Dailean". People might lose a few hens which would cost them some money, but for the animals, this was something else altogether, a seriously frightening situation which would not be easily resolved.

Stowlia : I spoke to 'An 'Houdie about this grave situation, and asked him to alert Shonnie, Murchadh a' Bhoer and Iain Beag na Cnamhan, the three men in the village with shotguns, but the real problem is locating the mink, before a shot is fired.

Rupie : I can't see any of us cats, even So-sally, being a match for an adult male mink. This one, the Fear Dubh, is a particularly "bad stick". We will of course do all in our power to help, but I fear that it falls to the dogs to take the major role in this business.

Jura : Such fine prose, Rupie. I can see the influence of James Shaw-Grant in the Stornoway Gazette. The Sunday Times of London rated the "Casette" very highly indeed.

Fancy : Shonnie has a wee white ferret with red eyes, which he uses to catch rabbits, but it would be useless against this natural born killer. I fear that we must devise a master plan to trap and kill our foe, and one which minimises the risk to us all. There is no time to waste, so thinking caps on, everyone.

Victoria : As experienced and as tough as Tom Warrener and Kenny Iceland are, our hillbilly friends are still cats, and this mink is bigger, faster and extremely vicious. However, they could play an important part in our plan, if and when we devise one. Fancy is right in saying that we have no time to waste. We owe it to those ducklings and hens, to rid our villages of this unnatural predator. He's an American, for goodness sake !

It began to sound like the deliberations of The Famous Five on one of their picnics, with lashings of ginger beer.

Jura : The land cover in the village is a mix of heather, short grass,' machair' land and 'feannags' of corn or potatoes. He must be flushed out from hiding into the open ground. If we can't see the mink, we have no way of trapping him. But, help might yet be on its way. I had earlier asked Shonnie if we could invite my wee friend, Fred, from Renfrew up for a couple of weeks, and Shonnie said 'Yes', if Fred can make do in the weaving shed.

Stowlia : Pardon me, but who is this Fred, and how can he help us ?

Jura : Fred is a "Parson Russell Terrier". Basically, he is a Jack Russell Terrier with longer legs, and, in his case, a rough coat of white, black and tan. He has, as they say, " a nose like God knows". He is very swift, can turn on the space of a sixpence and is both fearless and tenacious. The Reverend John Russell crossed his terrier with a fox terrier to get a dog with longer legs, who could keep up with the hunt, and of course flush out the fox from its bolt hole. I am hoping he can do the same for us with the "Fear Dubh".

Fancy : For aerial reconnaissance, we have enlisted the help of our friends, the golden eagles. Gilleasbuig and his brother-in-law, the Kaiser from Harris are delighted to be part of our mink hunt. Gilleasbuig has asked that the gunmen refrain from shooting at them, as they usually do when the eagles fly high across Dalmore. They are now here to help, not harm.

The next morning, Fred the Terrier was introduced to the rest of the hunting party, and nodding in the direction of the eagles, he whispered very quietly to Jura "Big Man, who the hell are they ?" Although Fred was a dog with attitude, he and the eagles seemed to bond in no time. (a little time, perhaps) This really had to be seen to be believed. Iain Shoudie and Murdo rehearsed them thoroughly in what would be required in the hunt for the Black One. Fred and the eagles would have the leading roles, while everyone else would act as beaters, but only when directed to by Jura, overall coordinator of manoeuvres. The eagles and Fred rehearsed call signs that would be used. The shrill cry of the birds and Fred's piercing bark announced the start of the hunt. Yet they realised that they could not underestimate the guile and intelligence of this deadly animal.

Kenny Iceland and some of the "beaters" kept to the northern parts of the village and hill, familiar to Kenny. He and his party would move in a line, raising hell by barks and mewing, in order to force the Black One towards the "machair" where the grass was short. Kenny would inspect any rabbit burrows or overhangs, as the hunt progressed. Tom Warrener and party covered the other half of the village. Jura, hunt coordinator and Fred, occupied the centre ground, at all times ready for action. Gilleasbuig and the Kaiser were" the eyes in the sky", as they say, taking long slow sweeps across the glen. With these lads flying high, shotguns were now redundant, for which the boys from Beinn Bhragair were thankful. Having done one sweep of the valley, it was repeated by broadening the net.

There was no "result" on Day One, but towards the end of the second day, the eagles spotted the undulating movement of a black animal at Geodha an Uillt, near the cliffs on the north side of Dalmore Bay. Jura barked her orders that everyone, except Fred and the eagles, were to fall back. Fred was soon in place by the cliffs, waiting for instructions from Gilleasbuig, who with the Kaiser, was circling on high. At the word, Fred nosed his way from one rabbit hole to another, partly entering each, and giving a muffled bark. There was an explosion of action now as the Fear Dubh emerged from a burrow. Fred moved quickly and carefully towards the mink, who turned menacingly towards him. As Fred halted, he heard and felt this phenomenal rush of air behind him, to see Gilleasbuig carry off the Black One in his mighty talons to a high "creag", a little way off. The eagles were left with their prey, and the animals could live their idyll of life in the "Dailean". Mrs Tunnag resumed her life on the "allt" with her ducklings, the eagles went back to Beinn Bhragair, and Iain Shoudie sat on the bench outside the "taigh dubh", smoking his Golden Virginia, and holding his animal audience in thrall with tales of derring-do, "always new, and always true". Stowlia just smiled.


Allt - river/ bruach - steep bank/ tunnagean - ducklings
taigh a' Bhoer - the Boer's house /Murchadh - Murdo
Iain Beag na Cnamhan - Wee Iain "Bones"
machair - shoreline grass land/ feannags - strip fields
Geodha an Uillt - the cove or creek of the burn /creag - rock
Dailean - the Dales (Dalmore(big dale) and Dalbeg(small dale) )
taigh dubh - "black" or thatched house.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Tha dithis cait a posaidh an a Siabost ( Two cats are to marry in Shawbost )

"Two cats are to marry in the village of Shawbost". This was the headline in the Stornoway Gazette, and if Donnie Large had not written the article, people would have taken this as some sort of April Fool, even in mid July. "Could this be true," people asked, " and if it is, God help us all. Can you imagine what the Daily Express will make of this ?" " Well," said Catriona Bheag, "the Express features the adventures of a walking, talking bear called Rupert, who wears a 'guernsey dearg agus briogais buidhe', and yet everyone I know thinks nothing of it. Two of his friends are Bill Badger and Edward Trunk; so if you can believe in a bear, who lives in a cottage with his mother and father, and travels to fantastic places around the world with a badger and an elephant, then why are you so surprised at two young Lewis cats getting married ?" Everyone agreed loudly with Catriona, ( they usually did) and wished the couple a happy life together.
Of course, every cat ( dog and bird too) on the West Side knew of the forthcoming wedding between Eilidh (Helen) and Uisdean (Hugh), two of the nicest cats one could ever know. Many of them had attended the "reitich" (betrothal) the previous year in Shawbost, and that was a night to remember. " O, A' Bhalaich", said Donnachadh Bronach, " Poor Uisdean will need all of his nine lives from now on." With the withering look on Catriona Bheag's face, Duncan was quick to point out that it was joke ( "A joke, Kate, a joke, for goodness sake !") Kate smiled. "You seemed to have forgotten, Duncan, that Helen too has nine lives, and, I'd wager, a few more more besides." Those from the mainland might have been surprised that the Leodhaisaich and the Lewis born animals were so good "aig A' bheurla" (at speaking English). People in Shawbost were nowadays very much at ease with English. The bilingual programme had been a great success in this district. A facility with English, and particularly as it related to the finer points of bureaucracy, was well established, and thoroughly rehearsed in the popular evening classes. Photocopies of blank forms relating to grants and subsidies were issued repeatedly, and the class required to fill in the appropriate answers in English, until all were word perfect. Carloway had mastered the nicities of "the English", a long time ago,
The day of the wedding had arrived, and the "Dalmore Crew", all of whom had been invited, were getting themselves washed and spruced up, over at Taigh Glass, with Dolly and Shonnie in attendance. Washing, drying, brushing and combing were the order of the day. Victoria, our recently crowned beauty queen, was carefully brushed and her "fur coat" sprinkled with Lily of the Valley talcum powder. A little pink bow was attached on top of her head, between her ears. She looked a picture ! The three lady dogs were thoroughly washed down at the Allt. After a good shake, and a dry-out in the wind and sun, Stowlia, Fancy and Jura went up to the house, where Dolly gently brushed their coats. There was a sheen on Soho's beautifully black coat, like a panther in miniature. Guinness and Rupie were attended to, and were now eager to make their way to Shawbost. Down from the hills came Kenny Iceland and Tom Warrener, our two rabbit hunters, who normally shied away from crowds, but who now craved the company of their own kind. They had come "down from the creeks" , and were happy to make the acquaintance of some old friends. Seoras (George Macleod) had offered to transport them all to the wedding in his dinky little Austin van.
They were singing" puirt- a- beul" on the way to Shawbost. Tom Warrener was up on his hind legs doing a hornpipe, holding his front spogs high enough in the air to touch the roof of the van. What happy times this brought to mind, the times he danced on the mess table to entertain the sailors during the war. Kenny Iceland wondered what had possessed his pal, Tom. Perhaps he had descended from the hills too quickly- "the bends", so to speak. As they approached Shawbost, there were white flags to be seen, all along the sides of the road. The crowds of animals were growing apace; They were in the main cats and dogs, but there were some sheep and lambs, and a fair number of birds. Mrs Tunnag from Dalmore was quacking loudly, and presumably happily, as she waddled down the road past Loch Grinabhat, with her ducklings in tow. While Helen and Hugh's wedding did not quite have the cache' of a Burton-Taylor extravaganza, there is no doubt that it would be the largest "latha posadh" ever seen on Lewis. To say that this wedding was unique in the annals of the animal world, did not quite do justice to this marvellous event. But the national press and television companies knew that this was a story that would run, and run. The Stornoway hotels were full. Journalists like Mary Marquis, Magnus Magnusson and Ludovic Kennedy were translated to Stornoway to cover the big show in Shawbost. David Attenborough was there to interview the young feline newlyweds, from the mammalian perspective, of course. They were to be married in the Avian Free Church at Fibhig in Shawbost, because it was a huge building and because it was the only animal church in Helen's village. The Dog and Cat Church was too far away in Doune. The service was to be conducted jointly by the Reverend MacCraw of the Shawbost Free and The Right Reverend MacCollie of the Established Church in Doune.
The crow family were gathering in numbers, as were many species of sea birds. Dogs and cats of every description and from every place were heading for the Shawbost Avian Church. The wee birds like the wrens and sparrows had flown in early for front row seats. Gilleasbuig Mor, the golden eagle from Beinn Bhragair appeared, out of the blue, so to speak, with his wife and her brother, the Kaiser from Harris. O, Man- What a sight that was, as they appeared out the mist like three massive Vulcan bombers. The Dalmore group were by now very excited as they entered the church. There was a capacity congregation, and anybody who arrived now would need to take a pew outside on the "creagan"(no pun intended). The ushers at the church were a group of very cool rooks , in their shiny black attire, collectively known as the "Blues Brothers", and inside, on either side of the pulpit sat a dozen carrion crow, elders of the Shawbost Avian Free Church. You could not say that these lads were "cool". There would be no organ nor hymns, only the Psalms of David, precented by that Nightingale from Ness, Kate Mhor, sister of the bride.
Eilidh and Uisdean made a fine couple as they took their vows in front of the two reverend gentlemen, and as they walked out the church as a married couple of cats, a ripple of applause spread through the church, which actually brought a smile to the faces of the two ministers - in a Free Church, mind you !
Press and television were there in numbers, but Donnie Large was the first to interview Eilidh and Uisdean for the "Casette". They were all there, the BBC in Stornoway with Neen Mackay, BBC Scotland with Mary Marquis and Ludo Kennedy for the "Tonight" programme in London. The Sasunnaich found this story hard to swallow - Imagine! Iain Shoudie did well as interpreter for the animals, who were constantly interviewed by the media scrum. Doing his " Dolittle" job, Iain was making a "packet" of money - "torr airgead, a' bhalaich, torr airgead". He spent some of it(most, actually) with his brother, Murdo down at Doune, in the company of Fyfe Robertson and Ludovic Kennedy. Iain did enjoy this kind of attention.
The wedding dinner was al fresco (a new departure), and to accommodate the vast number of guests, multiple sittings were required, right into the night. Helen and Hugh attended each sitting, seated at either end of a long white sheet. People came forward and placed their gifts in front of Helen. Of course, the married couple did not eat at all the sittings. The food was excellent and the entertainment and dance would be remembered for a long time to come. Everything prepared for that day and everyone who attended, were testament to the love the people had for Eilidh and Uisdean
Our little friends from Dalmore arrived back home in the early hours, exhausted but elated. The electric light(the only one in the house) was still on in Taigh Shoudie, and from the music and laughter, one might think that the wedding ceilidh had shifted from Fibhig over the beinn to Dalmore.
No one could say when this ceilidh would end.

1. guernsey dearg agus briogais buidhe...... red jumper and yellow trousers
2. O, a' bhalaich ..... O, boy!
3. Donnachadh bronach ..... Duncan, sad and mournful
4. Leodhaisaich .... Lewis people
5. puirt a' beul .... mouth music, when there are no musical instuments
6. latha posadh .... wedding day
7. creagan .... hillock
8. torr airgead, a' bhalaich .... lots of money, boy
9. Sasunnaich .... English people