Is this Willies punt?
Shortly after I met my wife (she wasn’t my wife when we met, of course, she was a complete stranger to me) we went on holiday to the Island of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. I wanted to take her somewhere from which she couldn’t easily escape.
We drove up from London to stay in a croft – it was the kind of holiday where you pitch-in with crofting life, milking sheep, shearing cows… that kind of thing; and on one of the days was trusted with Willy McPherson’s skiff – a boat built by his grandfather – to go and trip the Lobster pots which we’d watched him lay the previous day. It was glorious weather; flat calm, dazzling sun – we caught 40 mackerel (Linda 39, me 1) (this was back in the days when there were 40 mackerel in the sea to catch) and lifted the pots to find four lobsters.
Taking the following day off to recover from our exertions and explore the island by motor car (their words), as we left the croft-house we were unexpectedly handed a picnic lunch on a tray covered by a crisp linen tea-towel. It seemed rude to peek under the tea towel and inspect our gift so we waited until we’d driven to the end of their gravel track. I watched Linda pinch the tea towel to lift it by one corner, and saw her jaw fall open: Four Lobsters, cooked, halved, and served with sauce boat of mayonnaise, twist of lemon, and crusty bread. Where in the world are there people more generous than Scottish Islanders?
That’s why Linda and I now live in the Hebrides. And, of course, what with booking the ferry and everything, Linda finds it easier to stay than to leave.
If you heard our Radio 4 interview (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01bsmdd)… it won’t have escaped your notice that once-upon-a-time we had a house fire in which we lost everything.
On the evening following the broadcast I was celebrating how marvellous we both sounded with a glass of whisky when I accidentally started another.
Earlier in the week I’d mentioned that I thought it was dangerous to keep a display of dried Pampas grass on the mantle-piece directly above the wood-burning stove… ‘Suppose a spark flies up from the fire?’ I asked. Putting the whisky to my lips I found I’d inadvertently poured myself a brand I don’t like so, puffed-up by the days’ events, and imagining that there were things to which I was superior, I opened the door of the wood-burning stove and chucked it on. There was an explosion, of course, followed by a ball of fire which took off lazily – like a hot air balloon filled with sightseers – until it reached the height of our pampas grass which it stopped to admire; all of a sudden there was a phenomenon which I think firemen call a ‘flash-over’.
Sitting in our dining room, for the next few moments, was like sitting in a wood-fired pizza oven… and I think I remember Linda calling my name from her side of it. When I came to my senses I grabbed the vase – more aware of the roar of the flames than the heat they threw off – ran to the front door, and launched it into the darkness to arch over the gate like a terrible comet.
Back in the house the first thing that struck me as the fire alarms throbbed was how black were the walls and the ceilings – which a moment earlier had been white – and how miserable the room looked as our lamps struggled to illuminate it.
This incident, small as it was, shocked Linda. After all our years together I’ve become pretty-good at spotting subtle changes in her behaviour, and couldn’t help noticing that as soon as I’d got the house clear of smoke – by opening everything up, on what unfortunately was one of the coldest nights of the winter – she took herself off to bed without wishing me ‘Good Night’
The story of how Justin and Linda came to be live on a boat, following a house fire, is told in his book: Phoenix from the ashes; published by Bloomsbury http://amzn.to/xc4qn3