When you live on a remote Scottish island you have to lie to friends so they’ll come to visit you for a holiday.’Oh! Well that’s kind of you …but we were thinking of going somewhere hot.’ they say.
‘The island of Tiree is one of the sunniest places in Britain.’
‘Tiree? Zat where the storms are …on the shipping forecast?’
‘Only in winter …in summer the islanders all live in caves to escape the heat.’
‘How come everyone doesn’t go to Tiree for their holiday then?
‘Because the caves are quite small and there wouldn’t be room.’
The first sign of success comes when your friend promises to discuss the idea with his wife and to call back a few days later. The phone rings: ’I can’t believe that …is that right – eighty quid to get the car across on the ferry?’
‘…onto a squiffy little island? …for like, one week?’
‘Could we come as foot passengers and you pick us up …if you don’t mind driving us around – I don’t mean all the time, of course …just to the main sites-of-interest …if there are any… ‘
A tearful re-union at the island ferry terminal fortified me to the task of fitting a people-carrier load of adults and children together with their personalised luggage into a family estate. My wheels disappeared up inside the wheel arches.
On the island we pay the same amount of money for a Road Fund Licence for our 60 miles of road as people do on the mainland; but people on the mainland benefit from a scheme by which their 250,000 miles of road are repaired.
I carelessly allowed one of my wheels to drive over a pothole and – what with all the load – the sump bottomed-out prompting a witty observation from the passenger seat:
‘Thank God this isn’t my car…!’
Showing off my island to new and appreciative eyes brought so much pleasure that it easily remunerated me for the burden of visiting its attractions for the fourth time in six weeks …and in any case each visit is different – this was the first time anyone had slammed the door so hard that the windscreen fell out, for starters.
Day four and even I was surprised to find that in my enthusiasm to bring my guests into an intimate acquaintance with every nook and cranny of the island I’d notched up three hundred sightseeing miles. It was time to top-up at Jimmy Campbell’s. He’s got a new car-washing machine, too, consisting of a length of garden hose and a tap.
‘Oh God, yes – how much do you pay for petrol on the island?’
‘…bout one-sixty a litre.’
‘ONE – SIXTY….!!!??? ONE – SIXTY a LITRE!!!?’ My guest was on the brink of Cardiac arrest …but a muffled snort started his breathing again and the danger passed. His expression fell to pity for the simple islanders and their willingness to shell out one pound-sixty a litre for fuel when no one in their right mind would pay more than one-thirty. Quite naturally he wanted to point out that he was more worldly wise and couldn’t be duped: ’God - I wouldn’t pay all that!’
…so he didn’t.
I always console myself in these circumstances with the words: ‘You’ll get it back’. I learned them from Marilyn Whirlwind – the native Alaskan medical receptionist in Northern Exposure. She said it to Dr Joel when, at her suggestion, he held an ‘open house’ and the native Alaskans wandered in and cleared him out …just walked off with everything he owned – like a charity shop for people who don’t use money.
‘My reward will be in heaven’. I explained to Linda as we sat down to a meal of pulses flavoured with nettles. ‘And they’ve invited us to Luton.’
What’s the attraction of Luton?.’
‘Well, as I understand it – they’ve got cheap petrol; no potholes; Churches close on a Sunday to give people a chance to go to the shops; and whereas we have a mobile cinema come to visit the island every four months to see if anyone fancies a bit of night-life, I heard one of the children observe that in Luton shit kicks-off every night.
Let’s not forget our holiday reading.