There are a number of farming expressions here in the Hebrides not in national use – though they deserve to be. One of them is Crogging.
A Crogger is someone who catches sheep in a pen and hands them to a sheep-shearer. A good Crogger will arrive at the shearer’s side with a fluffy sheep at the very moment the shearer finishes working on the bald and bloodied one he has between his legs, and which he is about to release back into the wild.
I’ve done a bit of crogging myself:
On the face of it the word Crogging seems to be of little use outside this rural industry. But I remember walking into a beauty salon here on the island and asking: ’Do you do men?’ …you can say things like that in the Hebrides without the least fear of your question being misinterpreted. The salon was set up in the lean-to utility-room of a low island house and my question echoed briefly around its concrete walls. In the chair having a lovely time until I walked in was a plump island beauty of about 25. As she turned to scowl at me I noticed that her hair was littered with bits of tin foil which tinkled against each other with the movement, like a wind chime …and that the disapproving look she threw me was immaculately drawn in the black curve of her eyebrows and red twist of her mouth – new pastel on spotless canvas. Next moment I fell backwards from the smell of shampoo and ammonia.
‘Mens night is Tuesdays …six to seven;’ the hairdresser called irritably over her shoulder, without turning.
The following Tuesday evening I sat amongst the lumpish bony-shapes of other island men. We hid behind one another, with our backs pressed against the wall. The only time I remember being part of a more hopeless and abandoned bunch of chaps was when I attended a city hospital which dealt with men’s issues.
‘Right – who’s next?’ - the Hairdresser’s Mum appeared from the kitchen wearing an apron with bits of pastry on it, carrying a broom. She was as clammy and as cheerless as a cold plum-duff and stood there wheezing from the effort of her journey. No one spoke.
‘Was it you, Donald?’ (Donald is pronounced ‘dough-nulled’ in the islands). Dough-nulled mumbled something about it being Angus, Angus was sure it was Hector, Hector swore he’d seen Ferguson when he arrived, and Ferguson said it was a full house when he came in. Hairdresser’s Mum came at Ferguson with her broom and drove him into the shearing seat. This is ‘Crogging’.
When I’d been crogged, the hairdresser flourished the nylon shawl which was to protect me from falling hair into the air like a bull-fighter does before meeting his foe – thus freeing it of all its grey hairs which fell lightly down onto my jumper, my trousers and into my mouth when I inhaled. Then she tied it around my neck so that I could breathe, but only just. ‘What was you wantin’?’ she asked.
Now, that question is merely a social nicety - it’s like ‘how are you?’; ‘what kind of dog is that?’ or ‘aren’t your children a credit to you?’ - the world has yet to produce a barber who, having asked it, ever listened to the answer. If moved to reply the correct answer is: ‘A haircut, please.’ …but I like a bit of chat when I have my hair cut – it’s a nervous thing – so for the next five minutes I made suggestions about shape, colour, texture, body, hair irons, cyclic follicular activity, androgens, keratin, and scrunch-drying.
By the end of my discourse the hairdresser’s lower jaw, and that of her mother, had gone slack and they were beginning to dribble. Then there was a ‘bump’ as someone in the queue slid from his chair to the ground in boredom. Normality was restored by a whirr from the clippers which passed over my head from one ear to the other – like a harvester through a field of wheat.
I’m quite chatty, and since the hairdresser was almost mute I thought I’d employ a little role-reversal and ask her all the questions Barbers usually ask their clients …it didn’t go very well: I began by asking her if she was here on holiday? She seemed surprised and threw a furtive glance amongst the queue to see if I was here with my parent or guardian.
‘I stay here…’ she found herself saying. (On the island we talk about ‘staying’ somewhere, rather than ‘living’ somewhere.) That answer naturally suggested another question - a question I’m always asked when I’m on the mainland, and have just informed someone that I live on a Hebridean Island: ‘Really! Tell me …what-on-earth do you find to do for work?’
‘I’m a hairdresser.’ she said, self-consciously, throwing another look into the crowd.
‘You must meet a lot of interesting people?’
‘It hasn’t happened yet.’
I had a long think about that answer, and the next thing I knew, my ordeal was over. In the mirror I threw my head first to one side then to the other. Very distinguished.
I wonder if Kim Jung-un has ever been crogged – he certainly looks like he has.
I’ve just received advanced copies of Canvas Flying, SeagullsCrying. This link will take you to the home page of my website where, if you’d like a signed copy, you can enter your details, and receive the book a smidgen before anyone else does. Having said that, Amazon have already discounted it by over a quid – we all love a bargain – and you can get the same 228 pages of entertainment by clicking here - though I won’t be able to sign it for you. I don’t mind where you get your copy – I just hope that you will get one because I was thinking of you during the whole of the year it took me to write it. In fact, it was you that kept me going really.