There can only be one of two reasons for Yachting Monthly – Britain’s favourite boaty mag – choosing to publish a 700 word excerpt from Canvas Flying, Seagulls Crying: the first is that they thought it was bloody brilliant; the second, more plausibly, is that their feature writer has gone on leave. Look out for it on the shelves of all good newsagents from Jan 7th. Smarm.
At the grand age of about 70, Mary has cut a few peats in her time. It’s a calendar event in the Hebrides. Islanders go out ‘onto the moss’ to dig peat in the spring for burning during the long winter’s nights ahead. I’d gone along to see how it was all done under the pretext of being there to help. So it was embarrassing that whenever I grunted from exertion I’d hear Mary’s sympathetic voice in the vicinity of my backside as I bent over my work:
Are ya knackered, Chustin? …Eh? Are ya buggered?
Her son, John – about my age – was cutting the peats like a perpetual-motion machine …sending them flying up from his ditch to land heavily on the bank. From deep in the bog I heard his voice confirming the worst:
Aye – you’re knackered boy …you’re knackered.
With that they both leant heavily on their tools and turned toward me with a pitying look -wondering, perhaps, whether it might not be kinder to have me put down. Eventually their expressions softened and I knew they’d spare me. Never-the-less, they continued to gaze for a while – an Englishman holding a fork, standing in a Hebridean bog being something of a novelty for its own sake.
I don’t mean a ‘fork’ – in the Hebrides it’s known as a ‘g-r-r-rip’.
In a completely uncalled-for act of generosity they gave us thirty sacks of peat and there was absolutely nothing we could do to refuse them: We don’t NEED them, we insisted. ‘But your GETTIN them! John said, raising his voice.
Bearing in mind that Mary’s head had spent the morning a couple of feet from my bum it gave me a hell of a shock, when we’d all got back home and my hand fell into my lap whilst drinking tea, to discover that the gusset of my trousers had a huge hole. Let’s be honest – when I say ‘hole’, there was actually no ‘trouser’ …just that folded seam which is meant to hold the two legs together. A moment later I remembered I’d fallen out of love with wearing underpants six months earlier, preferring to go commando. It dawned on me that poor Mary would not have been able to avoid having both an intimate and prolonged examination of my reproductive equipment – swinging like the hammer in a bell as I worked – and getting to know it all far better by the end of the day than I knew it myself. I flushed with horror – first hot, …then cold. I looked over at Mary who paused as she raised her teacup. She looked at me, held my gaze, then winked.
Linda and I have come ashore now for a couple of months. I’m nervously looking forward to having a hot bath …’looking forward’ because I haven’t had one for a while; ‘nervous’ because if I get into difficulties – will the coastguard think to look for me this far inland?