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