‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’ so said Rabbie Burns in his poem ‘To a Mouse‘. And for me and the husband our plans went awry on Friday. As I said in my last post, we were planning to go away on holiday to Ireland. Bags were packed, fridge emptied, washing up to date, house all clean and tidy. Then the horrid lurgy that Mr Write Enough had been battling for a fortnight came back – bigger and nastier than before. Half the village have had this yukky virus and it leaves its victims with a hacking cough and feeling generally low. There was no way he could travel – so we had to cancel. Of course this was very disappointing for both of us but it was the right decision.
The good news is he’s on the mend (touch wood) and we plan to go to the big metropolis 🙂 of Inverness (200 miles away on the Scottish mainland and our nearest city) tomorrow for a bit of shopping and R&R. Even better, we’ve booked into our favourite hotel in the town for the night – the Best Western’s Lochardil House – a lovely, comfortable place with excellent breakfasts.
So, here’s hoping that the snow and the artificial-UK government-created petrol shortages don’t cast our latest getaway plan into disarray…
This week’s photos were taken this morning when I took my constitutional meander through the village. The wind was a fierce, razor-sharp north-easterly, but it was a beautiful day. I walked up the small hill known locally as the Lump, where rabbits scampered at my feet as I took in the view of the snow-covered Cuillin ridge and the bay at low tide.
The first Tuesday of the month and, as the saying goes, March has come in like a lion here in the Inner Hebrides. Since the weekend we have had snow, a bracing wind and yes, rain. However, we’ve also had some spells of bright sunshine accompanied by the freshest, coldest, most revitalising air and it’s been good to get out and soak up some ‘vitamin D-making’ energy.
Mr Writeanne and I walked out with our lovely granddaughter in her pram at the weekend during one of these bracing spells of bright respite. The Mr wondered if anyone would mistake us for a couple who’d had a late baby. But I had to break it to the poor delusional chap that I reckoned it would be quite obvious that here were a pair of proud new grandparents.
The shinty season starts in March and last Saturday saw the first matches played. The game of shinty is as, if not more, popular than football in highland Scotland. So, all other sports will all but disappear off the back pages of the local newspaper for the next few months, as the pundits turn their attention to the Camanachd Cup. Above is a photo of the Portree pitches and clubhouse.
The tourist season will also be starting up again at the end of the month and hotels, B&Bs and self catering places are all starting to prepare. The island has done well during the last two seasons with Brits deciding to holiday at home. And international travellers continue to arrive in very healthy numbers. The deep harbour means that cruise liners can anchor in the bay and disgorge hundreds of passengers into our wee village who can then explore all the beauties of our wild and spectacular landscape and discover the island’s fascinating and ancient history. Although it can be a pain trying to drive to work behind tourists who don’t understand the etiquette and codes of motoring on single track roads with passing places and who refuse to pull over, it is good to see our businesses thriving for the relatively short season.
Our new home is taking shape – some of the new curtains are up, as are some of the pictures – so it all helps the homely feel. Gradually we’re finding a place for everything and offloading what’s not required. And with order beginning to appear indoors we can now begin to think about what we want to do with the garden. It is just as it was handed over by the builders a couple of years ago so consists of a fenced off rectangle of grass. I’m beginning to make a list of bird-friendly cover planting and some hardy, wind and sea-spray resistant perennials that will bring the patch to life. I enjoy gardening and it’s a good balance for all the hours I spend at both my work and my writing desks.
However, with more snow and gales forecast for the next few days, it may be some time before the garden theories get put into practice. Here’s hoping that with the lambing season getting underway that March goes out like one of those wee woolly things…
Sabre-sharp peaks along the distinctive razor ridge. Black granite and gabbro – a layered and timeless geology – guarding the island. Always there when I step out the door into the morning, into life. Sometimes hidden by the mist, but not today. Today the Cuillin stands stark, snow-topped and steadfast. A personal sentinel.
It’s weird, isn’t it – how sometimes, events ‘out there’ coincide with and match stuff you’re doing in real life?
I’m writing my second novel at the moment. I don’t want to say too much about it at this stage but here’s a general outline.
The book is set in Scotland and Israel and the main character is a half-Jewish Scot whose mother was a holocaust survivor. Her soldier son has been killed in the war in Afghanistan.
The underlying themes are those of cultural heritage, homeland and the displacement caused by politics and war. And these are overlain by the more personal themes of dislocation caused by betrayal, bereavement, and the ageing process. The parallels between enforced Scottish migration, the Jewish diaspora and the plight of the Palestinians are all touched on – as are the parallels and contrasts between Scotland’s and Israel’s national status – but ultimately it’s a story about homecoming, recovery and the sustaining power of love.
Part of my inspiration came from the fact that I’m a Scot and had a Jewish great-grandmother. I have Jewish Israeli friends who daily risk their personal safety by taking a pro-Palestinian stance and I’ve been to Israel twice.
So there I am writing away and two published novels are brought to my attention.
First – the Man Booker winner for 2010 – The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. Main storylines in this book – what it means to be Jewish, bereavement and thwarted hopes. It’s a story of friendship and loss, exclusion and belonging, and of growing older. I haven’t read it yet but it’s on my list.
The second novel – I was attracted to it after reading several reviews in which it was highly praised – and I’ve just finished reading it. It’s called ‘To the End of the Land’ and it’s by David Grossman. It’s an anti-war novel. It’s set in Israel and is a story of family love, bereavement, and the reality and surreality of life in Israel. The main characters are Israeli Jews who are ambivalent about their nation’s status. It’s a wonderful book and I’ll be posting a review of it very soon.
Now, it’s gratifying to find that I’m inspired by the same themes that inspired two such revered authors but I also feel rather daunted.
However, I’m choosing to interpret this synchronicity as auspicious rather than ominous. I’m going to finish my book and can only hope it will be at least a zillionth as good as the two mentioned above.
Footnote: I had dinner at the Haifa home of the first Arab Israeli academic to get a post at an Israeli university and the question of land and nationhood was being discussed. The host mentioned this quote from Tolstoy – who said that the only land a man needs is a hole, six feet by two feet – his burial plot.
I was reminded of Chekov’s retort to Tolstoy – namely that a man needs the whole globe, all of nature, where he can display his free spirit.
The Scottish writer Neil Gunn said life’s about us getting along, understanding one another and the earth. He said that when we do that we get peace of mind and with luck a little delight.
I’m with Chekov and Gunn – always was – and now Jacobson and Goodman are at my shoulder too. Exalted company indeed.
The season’s changing – the weather is distinctly autumnal. According to the BBC, autumn will be late this year – I beg to differ. This year summer never really got started in Skye and I think we’ve missed that particular window. The dark is deep enough now for the stars to be visible again and Venus is shining brightly once more in the eastern night sky – as the planet that’s first up and last to bed, it’s both the evening and morning ‘star’. There have been berries on the rowan trees in the garden for several weeks now – much earlier than normal.
And of course school’s now back. There’s also a severe weather warning in place for the Hebrides this evening and overnight. All ferry sailings are cancelled as a force eight blows out in the Minches and gusts of up to 70mph are expected. The wind is roaring down the chimneys and the rain is battering at the windows. The lights are flickering and I hope the power stays on – at least long enough for me to finish this post. We expect this sort of weather in the winter – but in August??
For me the start of a new school year always emphasises that summer’s over. As a teacher my life is marked out in school terms – so I’m always very aware of the passing of the year and it’s seasons. August is my New Year – more so than January. It’s been a hectic first week back – lots of meetings and planning and preparation. I’ve made my new year resolutions to stay on top of the paper work and not to get stressed – we’ll see.
It’s been good to catch up with colleagues and exchange holiday stories. It’s also been great to see the children again. They all seem to have grown and are pleased to be on the next rung of the primary school ladder. The children in the Primary One class have settled in already and are so sparky and enthusiastic – real bright wee buttons. At the other end of the school, the new Primary Sevens are very pleased and proud to be the top dogs and they all appear just that bit more mature than they did in June. And it seems strange without our ‘graduated’ – last years Primary Sevens who’re now at high school. There’s a real buzz and energy about the place as my 33rd – OMG! – year in teaching gets underway.
Every class has a new teacher – so there’s a lot of ‘getting to know you’ stuff going on. As a learning support teacher, I work with children from Primary One to Primary Seven in both the English and Gaelic streams of the school – so I have a good overview of the pupils and am called on as the ‘continuity’ person as teachers and new classes get acquainted. we also have a new curriculum to get acquainted with – Scotland now has a ‘Curriculum for Excellence‘ – I don’t know what that means we had before – and it remains to be seen just how excellent this new one is. Our schools are facing a lot of changes so it’s probably fitting that the new year begins with a whirlwind…