I apologise to you who sets time aside in your busy week to read my blogs as I post them – more than a fortnight has absent-mindedly slipped by; my last post has gone stale, turned up at the corners, and is beginning to grow fur.
Now I know you wouldn’t think anyone could get busy on a Hebridean Island – yet we’ve had such glorious weather this last fortnight (sorry to mention this when merry England’s bluebells have drowned) that I and everyone else have been rushing about to get our summer jobs underway before the midges start breeding: cutting the ‘peats’; painting our boats; ‘planting out’ our strawberries – why, last evening I had to water the vegetables with a hose! No hose pipe ban here, you see – we’ve got lashings of the stuff; and it’s exactly where it should be… brimful in the Lochans. With ducks on it.
Last weekend I celebrated my Birthday by walking to the top of Sgearbh something-or-other with my medical team. When you get to my age and are still recklessly attempting hills with a summit greater than 1500 feet above-sea-level (though I confess that I didn’t start at the sea), it’s reassuring to know that the people you’re holding back are trained in some serious first aid.
After quarter of an hour I noticed that I was beginning to lather-up like a race-horse – which was embarrassing since I was at the back and everyone ahead of me seemed as fresh as a daisy. Eventually I traced the source of my distress to the long-johns I’d put on last October but had forgotten to remove now summer’s come early. I removed them, then and there, blithely sitting down in a pit of adders to do it.
I’m beginning to forget a lot of things, recently. A couple of years ago I forgot my sister’s birthday… a senior moment you will say, kindly – ‘it happens to us all’. But your patience will evaporate in an instant when I tell you that she and I are twins.
I’m not very good at sharing. A week ahead of my (our, then) birthday I tend to drop down a gear or two; start to coast; and abuse the world… I try on the mantle of my new maturity by smoking a pipe; addressing people as ‘old boy’ or ‘my man’ – depending on whether they’re here as a table guest or they’ve come to do the pipes – knowing that they will make allowances for me on account of my age. Who knows – they may even be planning some delightful surprise for ‘my day’ which they wouldn’t wish to spoil with a harsh word spoken in haste now. All this concentration, fascination, I might almost say, with myself, makes me quite forget that I have a twin sister who has pre-eminence over me by having been born ten minutes ahead of me, and that she would like nothing better than a little card – perphaps even a phone call?
So last year we did better than that – we went to visit. Rushing to get the early ferry, bumping into things at five in the morning, the last conversation we have before leaving the house is always the same:
‘Are we going to lock the front door?’
‘I suppose we ought to… where’s the key?’
‘…can’t remember.’ So, off we go for a week, or a fortnight, leaving the house with doors that haven’t been locked since we last saw the key, five years ago, when it was handed to us by the agent.
Phoenix from the Ashes tells the story of seven years afloat, meeting the wonderful, if strange, folk you meet as strangers on the Celtic shore.