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.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Shawbost Games.

Carloway could boast of its prestigious Agricultural Show, and lately its Football Team had achieved some success , under the inspired management of the "Bear". He had adopted the trainer's use of the wet sponge which at that time was looked on as the cure-all for all knocks, aches and pains. Massey and Tormod Nelson were among the first players to feel the cold of the wet sponge. The Bear also had a pail of orange juice, which immediatelyl conferred legitimacy on him as trainer/manager. If truth be told, some of the stalwards of Carloway F.C. actually came from Shawbost. Shawbost was a no-nonsense sort of a place with a secondary school, a large tweed mill and its highly esteemed Free Church. You will remember that Shawbost was also the location of the Avian Free Church, which was the largest animal church in the Isle of Lewis, possibly in all the Hebrides. So Shawbost had a lot going for it, and the residents, animal or otherwise, were rightly proud of their village. The Shawbost Sheepdog Trials, held each summer, were claimed to be second only to Stornoway's in the island's rankings. In the parallel world of the animals, this was always the day when competing cats, dogs and birds foregathered at "Creag an Fheidh" which is a flat plain between the north end of Beinn Bhragair and the hill known as Cleite Rathailt. This was a day of sports and celebration, when the most talented animals demonstrated their prowess and speed, or in other ways entertained the vast throng of spectators, out there on the moor behind Shawbost. The "games" were supported with subsidies and grants, in the acquisition of which the Reverend MacCraw of the local Avian Free Church was foremost . The large animal charities like SSPCA and the RSPB were quickly off the mark in supporting the games, which in their view were unique. (I'd say so). Coinneach Rodd, the local tweed mill owner, made a substantial donation. Some say that Torcuil, his magnificent Scottish deer hound, had a say in his master's benevolence. If truth be told, the animal "stadium" at Creag an Fheidh, was well appointed, with artificial tree stumps and cinder beds provided for the animals' comfort. No special arrangements were required for the birds. For them it was "take your ease where you please". Dogs, cats and birds made their way to Shawbost from every village in Lewis, and probably beyond. The dogs and cats had staggered arrival times, insisted on by the police, and nearer their venues, they were directed down different routes. The dogs posed one extra problem : dogs might be competing at the sheep dog trials, or simply heading for the "games". As Stowlia said, chasing sheep is not every dog's "thing" - why should it be ? The local constabulary were on top of all matters relating to crowd control. All birds, competing or otherwise, simply flew in to Creag an Fheidh, no policing required. The games were formally opened by the Reverend MacCraw, who surprised everyone with an uplifting speech and a short pithy prayer. The games had begun. There were no mixed events between the three species ( Three species because, remember, that dogs who didn't chase sheep could nevertheless enter for the FAC Games, the official designation of the Shawbost games)- F(feline), A(avian) and C(canine). Mr MacCraw thought they stood a better chance of a subsidy or grant if they adopted the impressive acronym, FAC. The running events mainly involved the dogs and cats, and it has to be said that the home grown "coin is cait" took the main honours. Big Torcuil, the Scottish deer hound, swept the boards at the canine cross-country and the Shorter Marathon ( from Creag an Fheidh to the nearest point of Loch Raoinabhat, and back). In the feline running events, there was an obvious correlation between youth, low body weight, and success. For some unfathomable reason, black cats predominated.The vast majority of animal competitors were lean and extremely fit, but one very large tabby cat from Bragair, I think, was referred to as 'obese', but no one understood this word, coming as it did from a teacher from the Nicolson, who was wont to using long or abstruse words. abstruse 'Obese' indeed !
The policing inside the stadium was not done by the local constabulary, but was handled by a team of around fifty members of the crow family. They were impressive, dressed as they were in black cotton blousons, orange berets and all wearing dark glasses in case the sun came out. They called themselves The West Side Crew. To our Dalmore "team", The West Side Crew could only be described as "annasach", an unusual concept in policing, whose members bore the word SECURITY on the back of their jackets. So-Sally and Rupie were fascinated with the crew, their demeanour and their language. They were doing an excellent job inside and outside the stadium. So-Sally recognised their" main man", who was constantly consulted by the other crows, and from whom all orders came. Whispering to Rupie from behind her spogs, she identified him as the crow they met on the road to Shawbost, when they attended the "reitich" of Eilidh (Helen) and Uisdean(Hugh) some time ago. He was the tall shiny crow who appeared from behind a "cruach", wearing a multi-segmented leather cap and a scarf of many colours. He spoke in a strange way, addressing them as "beeches" and asking them "what was going down". Well, here he was now, confidently in charge of fifty odd security crows, all of whom spoke the same patois as their boss, whom they always addressed as Daddyo. " I'm so happy for the lad. Something bad happened to him out in Glasgow, but now he seems fine", said Rupie. "Mo bheannachd air", added Soho. The big birds were now competing in the favourite event "Tossing the Haddock over the Bar" in which the last three surviving contestants were a golden eagle from Uig, a buzzard from Lochs and a giant gull from Five Penny, Ness. The contest was suddenly stopped when the Ness gull was eliminated for eating the haddock, after what was probably the winning throw - probably the excitement, they said. There were many heats before the feline sprint finals took place. Against expectations, Aonghais Ruadh's big ginger tom from Dalbeg tore through the field to lift two gold medals (gold foil, actually). The dogs taking part in the "maide leisg"were very competitive, even aggressive. Their spogs were often wrongly placed to gain an advantage over their opponent, but this was picked up by the referee, Tormod Laidir, who was a past champion in this ancient sport. Our friends from Dalmore were enjoying themselves immensely, and endeavoured to remain close to, and within earshot of the crows from The West Side Crew. The were bamboozled, yet fascinated by their strange talk. Daddyo asked Rupie, straight out, if she was a "square or a cool cat". How does a wee cat from Dalmore answer that ? Another Crew member was saying that Loch Raoinabhat would soon be where the action was at. " It's gonna be a blast over there, really far out." " It's going to be the coolest happening, man - let's split the scene here," said Daddyo, with the hint of a Lewis accent. Stowlia was puzzled, and asked So-Sally what these crows were talking about. Soho threw her spogs in the air, before replying, "A' ghraidh, Chan eil cail a dh'fhios agam." It transpired that the closing events of the games were about to take place over on Loch Raoinabhat. The vast crowds standing on the banks of the loch, were amazed at what they saw. Out on the loch were mallard ducks and Canada geese giving an amazing display of synchronised paddling. They would weave in and out of each other, and simultaneously would plunge their necks into the waters, leaving their rear-ends high in the air. shaking in unison. The final event involved a spectacular display of aerial manoeuvres from the birds of prey. Finally, everyone could see, rising above Dalbeg and coming in over the west end of the loch, a formation of eagles, buzzards and falcons, coming towards them at speed and just above the waves. In pole position, and slightly ahead of the others, was Gillesbuig, our local eagle from Beinn Bhragair. They didn't have this at the Carloway Show - did they ?
By the way, Tiger Navarre's dog Toss won the Sheep Dog Trials.

Glossary : Creag an Fheidh - Deer rock Coin is cait - dogs and cats
Coinneach Rodd - Kenneth Roderick( ? ) Macleod
Mo bheannachd air - Blessings on him
Maide leisg - "the lazy stick"
Tormod Laidir - Norman the Strong.
Chan eil cail a dh'fios agam - I haven't the faintest idea.

Friday, 29 April 2011

On the Crest of a Wave.

"A bhalaich" shouted Iain 'Houdie, "thoir suil air a mhachair." His brother Murdo came out of the taigh dubh in a hurry, followed by Stowlia, Soho and Rupie who, in their haste, knocked over a creel and an old milk churn "anns a chuil mhoine." Their view over Dalmore was the complete panorama, as Taigh 'Houdie was located so high up under the Beinn. With an uninterrupted view of the shore, what assailed their eyes was simply incredible. People were walking on top of the waves, not swimming, not sailing, actually walking. They were standing up as they walked on the waves, looking for all like men in charge of several white horses. Of course, everyone knew of the One who had walked on the waters a long time ago, but no one expected this feat to be repeated again, and certainly not here in Dalmore. Iain and Murdo were, it has to be said, a little afraid, as were the animals, but this was no mirage. There was a group of people, some walking on the waves, while others seem to be swallowed by the waves, only to reappear once more on top. No matter what, it was decided to take a walk down to the traigh, and take a closer look.
As they passed the "turning point" at the road's end, they saw this long narrow van parked opposite the cemetery gate. It was painted with strange designs, in loud garish colours and over its body work were may stickers advertising the places the van had visited - foreign sounding names like Bondi, Nanahoa, Biarritz and Malibu. Even 'An 'Houdie in his years at sea had never heard of these strange places. And to stick names on your van - Well ? Seoras would look pretty silly if he were to stick"Timisgarry" or "Portnaguran" on the side of his wee Austin van. The curiosity of our party grew, with every step they took towards the traigh. When the sea came in view, they witnessed the most fantastic circus, people performing acts of great beauty and skill, on and under the large waves that ploughed relentlessly towards the beach. Stowlia looked at 'An 'Houdi in disbelief, and soon they all sat down on the warm sand to witness a most amazing display. There were four people out there on the waves, and had they not been standing or crouching, they could easily have been mistaken for seals in their shiny black skins. After a while, the four "seals" were carried to the shore on the smaller waves. They were lying full length on large curved boards, which they paddled to the shore, using there hands. As they walked up the beach, carrying these strange boards under their arms, you could see from their shape, that the seals were in fact two men and two women. When they started to get out of their skins, Iain 'Houdie had to calm his friends, who went ballistic with their howling and caterwauling. " Istibh a' charaidean, be quiet. Can't you see they that they are just men and women, not monsters from the deep. Fred was relieved. This big guy came towards the group in his underpants (poor man), and his body all over was the colour of a lightly smoked kipper, though to be fair, there was no smell.
Offering his hand to Iain, he said "G'day, my name is Shane, and I come from Australia." " Hello, Shine, my name is John, and I come from Dalmore." This tall Australian was amazed to see each of the Dalmore crew offering him a friendly spog, which the big fella gently shook. " 'Struth, mate, we don't have such cute little animals back home." Wait till he discovered that these little cuties could also speak. "Let me introduce my friends. This is my mucker, Jason, and these two beauties are Kimberley and Shannon." Each were the colour of a kipper, but for all that, they were tall, blond and handsome. Jason too was in his underpants like Shane, but 'An 'Houdie noticed that these pants had no "sper"(very strange). The young ladies wore bathing suits, the likes of which had never graced Dalmore beach before. No woman from Dalmore was likely to possess a bathing suit, since none of them could swim or felt the need to. There must have been a shortage of cloth in Australia (perhaps war rationing was still in place ) as the ladies' bathing suits had a top part, a bottom part(no pun intended), but there was nothing in between. Iain thought that it would be fun to see Bantrach Aonghas Seumas in a suit like this, with the Orb stamped on the bottom. Iain 'Houdie had an active imagination, at times best kept to himself. Fred had a few questions for the young Australians.
Fred : "What were you doing out there on the sea, and what magic allows you to travel so fast on top of the waves, and standing up, at that ?"
Shane : "No, Fred, we were not walking on the waters; we were surfing the waves, as we say. These long boards allow us to ride on the crest of a wave, and the idea is to stay on board (another pun !) as long as we can. For protection we wear those "wet suits". Like most things, your surfing skills improve with practice, but I have to say that surfing is better in places where the weather is warm and the waves are high, places like Australia where we come from, or California and South Africa. People can spend a lot of money having their surf boards specially designed for them."
Fred : " Shane, do you think we could learn to surf if we practised"
Shane : "What we can do is to take you out on the waves with us, and we'll see how it goes. We will probably have to keep a hold of you, or if you're brave, you can hold onto our feet down at the surf board. So what do you say, cobber ?"
Before Fred could reply, there was an outcry from the rest that answered Shane's question.
Kimberley : " If you guys come back around six, we'll have a kick-out, and maybe we'll have something to throw on the barbie."
So-Sally : " Kick-out ? I don't think so ! and no one is going to throw me on a barbie , whatever that is."

Six o'clock and they were all down on the traigh to see some very high rollers heading their way. Kimberley and Shannon were already in their wet suits and were standing in the surf holding their boards. So-Sally and Filax were the first to take to the waves with the Aussie girls, who held them high, as the boards carried our intrepid piseagean across the bay at speed. So-Sally and Filax were transported, deliriously happy, if a little wet. So-Sally didn't give the kick-out a second thought. Fancy(with aviator goggles) and Fred being dogs of course (well, of course) elected for the more daring option of sitting on the surf boards, holding on to the feet of the boys. Shane and Jason, lying flat on their boards began paddling out through the surf to a point where the larger waves were forming, no easy matter with a dog on your back, hanging on to your "shorts", for all its worth. At a prearranged signal, Shane and Jason stood up to surf the big waves, and Fred and Fancy held on the boys' feet as if their life depended on it - it did actually. "O bhobh, bhobh", cried Fancy, while Fred shouted " Go on, yersel, Wee Man." The surfing boys were enjoying themselves, and were determined to give their "wee pals" the experience of a life time, riding their boards on the crest of the waves. Even Fancy began to relax, although she couldn't see much through her water-logged goggles ( a blessing, perhaps). They were kicking out, walking the nose and using the wind swells. Then they started the most terrifying manoeuvres of all; riding through the barrel waves. Jason and Shane told the pals to hold on tight as they were about enter a long tunnel of water. Man, O Man, as they sped through this long barrel wave, it was as though they were in world of green, blue crystal glass, through which you could see the sky and the white clouds above. Finally they came ashore, soaked and exhilarated. They thanked their friends for a wonderful time, and encouraged the rest of the gang to try their hand at surfing. Kimberley and Shannon took over, and everyone was amazed to see Victoria, the beautifully coiffed blue-cream Persian cat, riding out onto the waves, holding Shannon's ankle very tightly.  Fred asked to have another go at surfing, this time with Kimberley, who was happy to oblige. He held on to her legs very tightly as they passed through two successive barrel waves. The young Australians had explained to Iain and Murdo all about the "barbie"they were arranging for later on, down by the allt. Shannon, it was revealed, is an accomplished diver, and earlier that day had caught some large crabs and two lobsters out at the point near the "Man's Head". John had caught some saithe yesterday over at Bandaberie, and this would be cooked on the barbie along with Shannon's shellfish. The barbecue (barbie, in Australian) was made from a number of large round stones, in which the peats burned, and lying across everything, was a large metal grill, on which the fish, crabs and lobsters would be cooked. The food was continually turned on the barbie, and what resulted was some of the sweetest fare that you could have imagined. Shane remarked how the peat smoke had enhanced the flavour of the food, and Murdo and Iain thought that Atlantic chilled lager added something to the taste of the lobster. The Dalmore crew were used to eating saithe, but who could have imagined sitting on this golden beach eating crab and lobster, as the red sun set in the West.
There were a few more peats thrown on the barbie and a few more tinnies despached before everyone parted as friends. It was unlikely that a surf board would ever again be seen on Traigh Dhalamor, but Kenny Iceland was not so sure. Last night he had a dream.

A bhalaich, thoir suil air a mhachair - Boys, take a look at the beach / taigh dubh - thatched house
anns a chuil mhoine - in the corner peat store / beinn - hill / traigh - shore
Seoras - George / Istibh a' charaidean - Be quiet, friends / spog - paw
"sper" - front opening of trousers / Bantrach Aonghas Seumas - Angus James's Widow
piseagean - kittens / O bhobh, bhobh - O, dear, dear / Allt - river, brook

Monday, 25 April 2011

Making Hay and Old Stories.

It had been another warm day. This was the fourth day of glorious weather, which elsewhere would not be deemed unusual, but in Dalmore, even in July, this was exceptional. The air was warm and balmy and the smell of cut hay hung heavily over the feannaigean. Clover flowers gave off a delicate perfume, and the bees were ever busy gathering nectar. The sky was a pale blue with a few cirrus clouds seemingly motionless, high in the firmament. Down at the traigh the sea was azure blue and no sound was heard, but for the few small rollers to reach the beach. On a day like this, Dalmore really is God's Little Acre. The animals from Taigh Shoudie and Taigh Glass animals had worked hard at the hay making, Iain Shoudie had said, but their contribution was of a specialised nature. They caught the mice (and a few rats), which fled the advancing cuts of the scythe. They carried their fellow creatures to a place of safety, and there released them. This was a policy now favoured by them all, called "catch and release". Fred, the wee Glasgow terrier, could not get his head round this. It was against nature, he said, and certainly against his nature. Still, when in Dalmore, do as the Romans do. The ministrations of the Reverend MacCollie had won over the hearts of his Dalmore "flock". They now lay on the hay, tired but happy, and it was not long before they fell asleep in the shade of a hay stack. Filax, Victoria, Rupie and So-Sally, the cats, were asleep, lying close to one another, while the dogs, Stowlia, Fancy, Jura and Fred were lying on a bundle of hay near the top of the feannaig. Shonnie and 'An 'Houdie were good with the "speal" and had cut a fair amount of hay that day. The hay would be turned in the following days using pitchforks and rakes, to ensure that it was thoroughly dry before it was taken by cart to the barn.
After their rest, Fancy suggested a climb to the top of the Beinn Dhalamor above Taigh Glass, which afforded a magnificent view of the village and beyond. The highest point on the Beinn is an outcrop called Clach Thormaid, and no one knows why this large boulder, stranded here during the Ice Age, is called Norman's stone. Fancy offered himself as guide, this being his own backyard, and suggested that he might mention a few stories , which he had heard in Taigh Glass in the past.
Fancy :- "The dark, dank passage we passed through has taken us part of the way up the beinn. It is known to this day as Sgorr Dhomhnull Duncan, and it is said that it was here that this man, Domhnull Duncan, chose to say his prayers. He was at that time a shepherd on the Dalmore / Dalbeg sheep farm, run by the Sinclair family from their house in Dalbeg. The people in these villages were cleared from their homes about 100 years ago, to make way for many hundreds of Cheviot sheep, which would enrich the tacksman, but disinherit and impoverish the people of the Dailean. Domhnull Duncan was devoutly religious, and a man credited with the second sight. One day, while walking on the Beinn, he was amazed and a little afraid as he looked down at the valley below. Where he might have expected to see a land ravished by hundreds of sheep, he now saw fields of potatoes, and others of corn and barley gently swaying in the breeze. When he reported this strange spectacle to Old Mistress Sinclair back in the farmhouse in Dalbeg, it is said that tears filled her eyes. She knew that their days here were over. Rupie :- Since the time of the clearances from the two villages , and throughout the years of the sheep farm, up until the land was set aside as crofts, this was a period of 60 years. Kenny Iceland claims that one day while emerging from a rabbit burrow, he beheld Dalmore 60 years into the future. He makes no claims of being a seer, but what he saw that day was real enough, and is in his mind, a portent of a time to come. He saw a glen where no crops grow, where sheep have returned in even greater numbers and where the land is not green, but grey, "odhar" you might say. He saw the land again raped by the Big Sheep, as it had been following the clearance in 1850. Neither Padraig Sinclair nor Sir James Matheson can be blamed for what Kenny Iceland saw that day. The future Dalmore made a pitiful spectacle, in which today's industry and thrift would be replaced by greed and indolence. And yet, when we look down on the beautiful village now, it is hard to believe what Kenny saw, but like Cailleach Sinclair's response to Domhnull Duncan's prophecy, one day we too might have tears in our eyes, but for different reasons."
That evening in Taigh 'Houdie, the animals were gathered round the fire, listening to Old Murdo telling stories, and, as often is the case, the stories gravitated to ghosts and the "second sight." After some time, Murdo hushed his excited little friends.
Murdo :- " People somehow believe that ghosts only existed in the distant past, and that nowadays we never hear anything about them. But that is not the case, and to prove the point, listen to this story about events which happened only 30 years ago, in a village near here. It concerns a widow lady called Mary, who died a few months after buying a cow from a man in her own village. She was buried in the cemetery here in Dalmore, but some time later strange things began to happen, which frightened the villagers. Mary could be seen walking through the village still dressed in her burial shroud, with her eyes fixed pitifully on people, as if she wanted them to stop her and to speak to her. Word soon spread and people were terrified of the unearthly spectre of a woman whose burial they attended only weeks before. For days Mary walked down the road through the village, but no one dared speak to her. However, one day, a man who had lived next to her during her life, saw Mary approach and addressed her as follows :-
Man :- "Mary, why in God's name do you still walk this earth, when I know that you died, and saw you buried in Dalmore ?"
Mary :- " My soul is greatly troubled, and I will not rest easy until my name has been cleared of the vile rumour that has been spread about me among the good people of our village. You will remember that I bought a cow from Duncan, some weeks before I died, and he now claims that I did not pay for it, and is claiming the money from my relatives. What he says is a lie, and I cannot rest in my grave unless the truth is told. If you go to my house, you will find under a lamp on the dresser, a paper which is the receipt for the sale of the cow. The man found the receipt, confronted Duncan, and Mary was never seen again."


Feannaigean - strip fields / traigh - sea shore / taigh Shoudie - Shoudie's house.
speal - scythe / sgorr - steep hill / Domhnull - Donald / cailleach - old woman / Dailean - dales

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Travellers Make Camp In Dalmore.

In Lewis, as in other islands of the Hebrides, there was little in the way of motorised transport to be seen on the single track roads, except for vehicles with a very specific purpose. In the early 1950s, each district could boast of having a few buses and lorries, usually owned and run by an established family of entrepreneurs, who probably also had the local shop. There was a small number of vans which" brought the town to the village" - essential groceries, clothes (Co-op Drapery), post office van, mobile library, travelling bank, fish van (herring mostly) and of course the Harris Tweed lorries, keeping the weavers supplied, and returning to the mill with the finished tweeds. To get about the district, you hoofed it, or, as was becoming increasingly popular at this time, you bought yourself a sturdy bicycle, a Raleigh or a Rudge. There was perhaps the odd motorbike, but saloon cars were frankly rare, the local doctor's being such a rarity. The ministrations of midwife and nurse were usually accompanied by bicycle (doctor's car in emergencies). Non-urgent religious matters could normally be dealt with by the minister on the Sabbath. In Dalmore, with its cemetery-by-the-sea, we often had occasion to see a long black carriage passing slowly through the village. Glass-sided to reveal a fine oak coffin, this was a hearse on hire from the Stornoway undertakers, which transported the deceased to their final resting place by the "traigh". In many respects, you could say that this was a van, albeit a very special van, which no one stopped, because it had nothing to sell. Now, a different vehicle had arrived in the village, and it had not come alone. This morning, Rupie was the first to emerge from Taigh 'Houdie. Murchadh had just got the fire going, and there was a good deal of bluish smoke rising from the stone chimney, snaking its way up the "beinn" at the back of the house. Rupie went through the elaborate cat ritual of cleaning herself with her tongue and the deft use of her white spogs. Looking around her, Rupie's eyes happened on a strange scene at the corner of the cemetery nearest the "Allt". There were two round tent like dwellings, with wisps of smoke coming from the top of one, and a small lorry parked at the side of the tents. There was the sound of children's laughter and the barking of dogs. At that moment, Iain Shoudie, cup of tea in hand, came out to sit on the bench, and immediately lit a Senior Service. So-Sally sat close to Iain on the bench, which amounted to a long heavy plank supported at each end by some breeze blocks. At the end nearest the door, there were two white enamel pails used to hold water from the old spring well situated below a large rock at the base of the beinn. Very cold and pure, this water had the reputation of being the best in the village. Iain Shoudie : "A' Ghille, thoir suil air sinn. It's good to see them back in Dalmore. It's a few years since they made camp here." Rupie : " I don't remember seeing them here or anywhere else, but Soho, being that bit older than me, may well know who they are. There was a hint of a smile on Rupie's face as she turned towards Soho. Soho : "I've seen them here twice before, and they camped in the same place by the river. They are the travelling people, probably the Drummonds or the Stewarts from outside Stornoway." Iain : " The travelling people, sometimes referred to as tinkers, are people skilled in the use of tin, making or repairing pots from tin or tinplate. They are often called Highland tinkers, and move camp from place to place in the months of spring and summer. The Gaelic for tinker is 'ceard', but the word has been so misused by some people, that the tinkers themselves dislike this word. They are not that keen on the name "tinker", for much the same reason, and prefer to be called travellers." The two cats, Soho and Rupie, followed Iain down the leathadh, and they headed towards the traigh to speak with the tinkers, if that was possible. One got the feeling that Iain knew these people, because frankly, 'An 'houdie knew everyone (almost). Iain : " Seamus Drummond, I believe ? Drummond: "Yes, Seamus Drummond, and that is my wife and children, and some of the grandparents. We'll be in the Carloway district for the next week . We haven't been here for a few years, so I suspect that we will be able to sell some new tin pails and mugs, and repair any old ones that are leaking." Rupie : " You don't seem to have any cats here with you, only dogs," Drummond : "We never take cats on our travels. Cats prefer a settled existence and our three stay in our home in Stornoway. But, come over and meet the dogs, Cormac the Irish wolfhound and Billy the border terrier. You are quite safe - are they not, boys ?" Tentatively, Rupie and Soho approached the dogs, and were surprised to see Cormac and Billy offer up a spog for them to shake. Even Iain Shoudie had never witnessed such amazing animal behaviour. Cormac was a giant of a dog who towered over Soho and Rupie, but his calm demeanour and measured movements put our cats at their ease. His hair was long and grey and he had bushy eyebrows and a neat beard. The wolfhounds had been the hunting dogs favoured by the ancient Irish kings. The border terrier was a braw wee lad, who went everywhere with his big pal, Cormac. Billy loved this gentle giant, and he looked up to him, in more way than one. Cormac : " Of course, we hope your dog friends will feel free to visit us here in camp." Iain : " Of course, Seamus, pots and pans is not your only business. You are famous for trading in horses, and buying quality scrap metal." Drummond : "Absolutely. As they say 'Man can not live by bread alone.' In our case, we can no longer survive solely on our traditional skills. The world is moving on, and we must move with the times. Yes, we buy certain metals, and in this village, for example, there is a young lad who trades with us in those metal floats which detach from fishermens' nets at sea. I buy them from him at a shilling a time, and sell them on to the fishermen in Stornoway at a profit, of course. Most of the horses bought and sold in Lewis are traded through us. In fact, tomorrow I am going to see a horse in Upper Carloway, and you are welcome to come along. If it is as good as they say it is, then I have a mind to buy the horse. The following day, Seamus Drummond, with his son Angus, stopped to pick up Iain Shoudie and the dogs, Stowlia, Fancy, Jura and Fred in his little lorry, which he happened to call the "pickup" - a very appropriate name, thought Jura. With Cormac and Billy already in the back of the pickup, the addition of the Dalmore dogs, made for a barking mad and excitable crew as they passed through Carloway. When they reached their destination, they all caught sight of this magnificent chestnut horse, a young stallion in full gallop in a field by the road. Cormac intimated that he was pretty sure that Seamus would buy this beautiful horse, if the price was right. Seamus gave the horse careful scrutiny, looking at his teeth and hind quarters and there was also some mention of fetlocks and withers, which must have been important to Seamus, but which even 'An 'Houdie had never heard of before. The price was agreed, and Seamus asked his son to lead the horse back to Dalmore. A few days later, when they went down to see the Drummonds, Seamus was making new pails and mugs from sheets of tinplate. Cormac : " I think that you'll find this interesting, folks. Seamus uses the shears to cut out the shapes of tin he needs. He uses these metal compasses to form circular shapes for the bottom of the pail or jug, and special cone shaped anvils to form the sides of the various vessels. He does this using a hammer with a leather covered head." Billy : "That small lump of silver-coloured metal is called solder which is used to join the various parts together. The soldering iron is heated in the fire and when applied to the solder with some soldering paste (called "flux") the solder melts and is guided along the seam with the iron. The solder must be lead-free as the vessels will carry items of food. The "raw" top edge of the pail or jug is "rolled" to remove its sharp edge, and finally a hooked handle is attached to finish the tin vessel. Jura : They are very skilled, the travellers, at what they do, and I don't believe they would change their way of life for any other. Iain : "Now, Seamus, a lot of people are afraid of travellers. They say that you ask people for food for your children, and being afraid that a refusal would result in a curse on them or their home, people do your bidding." Seamus : "It is true that some travellers have played on the superstitions of people that we can "put the spog" on them. They confuse us with the Gypsies or Romany who did claim these powers. We don't have these powers and I doubt if the Romany have them either. I think people see us an alien race, with a different life and customs, and are a bit wary of us. We have lived the travellers' life now for generations, and will continue to do so into the future. No one needs to have any fear of us. We will be leaving tomorrow, and you're all invited down here tomorrow evening for a bite to eat. I hope you can come." Iain Shoudie : " Dha-riribh, we will be there, Seamus." The following night, Iain and Murdo with their retinue of dogs and cats joined the Drummond family around the large fire in front of the tents. Mrs Drummond and her eldest daughter had prepared various small cakes and other sweetmeats. Seamus produced a bottle of malt whisky which found favour with "Balaich Shoudie," There was much talk and laughter around the fire that night, and the animals entered the spirit of the occasion, playing games that were taught to young travellers (and their animals) from time immemorial. As the evening drew to a close, Seamus pointed in the direction of the traigh, and with the help of the light from the roaring fire, all could see young Angus Drummond riding the young stallion in their direction. Everyone cheered the young rider and his beautiful chestnut horse. The night was almost over, but there was one more surprise in store for the company. Again, looking towards the sea, they could hear something approaching, but couldn't make out what it was in the darkness. Suddenly, lit by the fire, they were amazed to see Billy the terrier riding towards them on the back of his friend, Cormac, very steady at an even trot. There was uproar and applause at this humorous jape. There were fond goodbyes that night, but they all resolved to get together when the Drummonds came again to Dalmore. Glossary. traigh - shore / Taigh 'Houdie - the Shoudie's house / Murchadh - Murdo / beinn - hill spog - paw / allt - river / A'Ghille, thoir suil air sinn - O, Boy, have a look at that leathadh - a slope / braw (Scots) - handsome / put the spog on them - curse them dha-riridh - indeed / balaich Shoudie - the Shoudie boys.