Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Kidney Stone


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

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

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