Searching for morsels under the mineral lick
I went to the Barber Shop in Lochgilphead, on the West coast of Scotland, and as I walked through the door the Barber – a Glaswegian in her forties who doesn’t suffer fools gladly called out: It’s appointments only on a Wednesday. So I apologised, then left.
But I’d only taken a few steps when I realised that I had an hour to kill, and thought it might just be worth asking if there were any unfilled appointments …even though – as anyone who lives there will tell you – ‘hours’ in Lochgilphead die only very slowly, and in a great deal of pain.
And anyway it’s not as if you can pop down the road and try your luck at the next Barber Shop because the ‘next’ Barber is in Oban …40 miles away. That’s not 40 ‘ordinary’ miles, by the way, that’s 40 miles on the A816 …if you’re a brave and experienced driver you’ll get up to second gear, sometimes – cutting the journey time down to just three days.
I know the ‘A’ denomination makes it sound important – but it earned it by being the only road. It even has a junction with a Drover’s road from which no one has emerged in the last 100 years …beating Cow’s arses with a stick.
Although the A816 has been ‘adopted’ (Ahh!) by the council, it’s really just a cart track with Tarmac on it. In places. For forty miles your motor vehicle must stitch its way busily over hills and around hair-pin bends, during which your arms and legs will be working like pistons. It’s the only road where you’ll see lay-by’s full of drivers trying to catch their breath.
So if you’re standing within a few steps of the Barber in Lochgilphead – even though it’s a Wednesday and ‘Appointments Only’ – it’s still like having a bird in the hand. I popped my head back round the door to enquire after any unfilled appointments, noticing as I did so that the Gentleman in the operating theatre had half his hair missing, and would soon be turned back into the wild, shiny bald.
‘Just a thought…’ I chimed; ‘have you got any appointments free?’
‘Yes'; she said; ‘I can do you in about ten minutes.’
I sat down and picked out one of the information pamphlets she had on a revolving stand – it looked to be about ten minutes long, and told me how I should react if my son tells me he’s Gay.
‘I wondered if I could have the back and sides very short, and nothing off on top’? I asked her ten minutes later.
‘No, you can’t…’ she said; ‘that would be a mistake …you want to look foppish – don’t you? I nodded. ‘You’re too old for that look – I suppose you want to look like Hugh Grant?
I nodded again. ‘…someone once said I look like him.’
‘You? …like Hugh Grant? …were they blind? …and in any case, even Hugh Grant doesn’t wear his hair like that anymore.’
As she ran her fingers through my hair, pulling ‘are-you-sure?’ faces at me in the mirror, I spotted the very moment when she arrived at a decision, and wondered what it could be. For four minutes great clumps of hair whizzed through the air as though she was mucking out a stable; she cut my hair exactly as I had requested …out of spite.
So now I look like Snap – off the Rice Krispies box.
I promised regular reader Stickitoffee I’d post a picture of Islay in January. So I’ve been waiting, and waiting for a corker – but mud isn’t very photogenic. And not much else happens in January – we don’t even get snow, really …not like you’d expect in Scotland. It’s the Gulf Stream, innit?
Then this morning, on my third slice of toast – thickly spread with some surprisingly good home-made Seville Orange Marmalade, and accompanied by coffee so strong that when you get to the bottom of the mug you find a quarter of an inch of silt – I was unburdening all my woes to Linda – I find that Breakfast is a great time for a bloody-good moan, closely followed by Lunch and Dinner – when what should I see walk past the window but a Stag, with two of its friends.
Three Stags and a Petrified Tree
Now that is an Islay picture for January – the Gamekeeper told me why: There are 2000 deer on this part of the island, but in the summer months you hardly ever see them unless you climb way up into the hills. From there they have a vast panorama of unspoilt moor; they can see you coming from miles away, and being shy, all you usually get to see is that curious white bum-patch galloping over the horizon so far away they might as well be ants.
But in the winter not much grows at the tops of the mountains and they are forced down to lower ground to forage. When things are really bleak they will come right down to lonely homesteads like this one; and once here, show a particular interested in mineral licks left out by the farmers for their sheep and cattle – together with any scraps of feed-supplement that may have been overlooked.
As for taking photo’s of Deer – if you stand motionless next to something big – like a house – you can watch them at leisure …because all they see is a house. After a month or two they become used to the sights and sounds of civilisation: someone putting the rubbish out; a dog barking; a car passing – they don’t even mind really busy days on which there have been five or six cars …they simply lift their heads, locate the source of the sound, give it a minute, then continue grazing.
By Spring they seem reluctant to return to the hills, eventually plucking up courage to come right up to the house – by day – they stand in the garden and take a disdainful interest in the Brassica’s you’ve spent a week planting …then they sample a dozen of them or more before finding one that’s really worth eating.
Call this a vegetable patch?
By the Spring they’re fearless.
Spring? Spring seems too big-a-thing to be hoped for, just now.
I dreamed there would be Spring no more, That Nature’s ancient power was lost. (Tennyson)
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