In this excerpt from my favorite memoir (mine),
Gimme the Song O' the Pipes!
I continue the saga of my first holiday cottage on Skye.
Wot a fine tea, he says,
Oy’ll sit me down to sup!
Milady never bats a lash
But titters behind her cup.
2009, 6 October: After an evening in this finger and nose-numbing cottage, with me protesting (and now understanding) the many webpage comments about 'romantic fireplace', I and Fooh, my English-bear traveling buddy, lie in bed waiting for the heat to come on - to no avail. I fuss with the radiator and become a bit perturbed at my host. I figure she’s aced my heating privileges so I leave her a note.
In ‘town’, I do a little laundry—this may become a habit like going to the bathroom every time I see one, in case the opportunity doesn’t arise again. While waiting, I pick up a book on early crofters and the Clearances.
There is a long history in Britain, behind the Clearances. In Tudor times, this concept was begun to depopulate rural England, for ‘better’ use of the land. In the Highlands, the clans still expected to have homes and land to work, provided by the chief. After the last Jacobite uprising in 1746, clans were ‘discouraged’ and families were displaced by sheep and cattle-raising land owners, for higher income. By the nineteenth century, the Clearances had become even more brutal, and emigration was forced. The Highlanders have never really recovered from this tragic upheaval of their family life and existence here.
A sign on the road seen several times - 'Spinners Having Fun Spinning' - finally entreats me to turn into the old pier road at Broadford. I discover Teohandspuns and the beautiful yarns of my dreams and must have a bunch of some mixed chocolate-colored, curly Wensleydale yarn...the most beautiful I’ve seen. Owner Teo will wash the lanolin from it, so I am to pick it up Friday.
Contrary to information from locals, I discover an internet cafe on the end of the town road. For £2.5 for thirty minutes, I plug in. (Note: this cafe is no longer open.)
Okay, time to begin celebrating my sixty-first early. A drive down the Sleat Peninsula takes us to Kinloch Lodge, home and business of famous Scottish cook, Claire Macdonald. She is married to Godfrey Macdonald, High Chief of Clan Donald.
|Old World tea and service is available at Kinloch Lodge.|
The buildings sit on Loch na Dal, surrounded by trees and hills. With Fooh in my small pack, I open the front door to what resembles a mansion-like croft house, to be met by an older woman who says, ‘How mae I help yoo?’ I say I’d like tea, so she leads me into a cozy front sitting room, with five people sitting around the inviting coal fire. I settle in on the love-seat against the wall behind them and take up writing in my journal.
On the table is a menu listing afternoon tea as £15, which puts it around $25 without tip; Fooh says, 'Go for it.' He has a nose for the delectable sweets that are hiding around the corner.
After sitting here for twenty minutes or so, an older gentleman (older than me!), has come back into the room and gently says to me, ‘I apologize for you being tucked away from the fire; would you like to join us?’ in an impeccable British dialect—no Scots in this room. So, being uncharacteristically hungry for human communication, I accept readily and settle into the plump overstuffed sofa next to the fire. I am drawn into the conversation immediately.
The man and his wife are waiting for longtime friends from England; the wife of the expected guests has no clue she and her hubby are meeting these people here. They seem to be upper crust, she more quiet, he sociably adept. Next to me on the overstuffed sofa is a heavy-set guy in his twenties; on chairs next to him are two ladies, with the dialect I have come to recognize as Welsh.
Their tea starts to arrive, along with goodies on three-tiered servers. I hungrily inspect my neighbors’ offerings with no reserve, while they do the same openly and remark about each lovely morsel – a mini chocolate cake, fruit tartlets, tiny cups of chocolate and smoked salmon tea sandwiches. My tea arrives; I pig out with, yes, characteristic piggishness and Fooh devours the little sandwiches.
I beg clarification from my companions: A-ber-ge-VEN-ny is the proper pronunciation of that town in Wales. I certainly wouldn’t want to be guided about by anyone on a tour, but it is helpful to have someone to ask these things, and getting the correct pronunciations is so much fun and important to me. It always makes for conversation, as when Sally in Lacock made fun of me for the way I said ‘Sal-is-berry’.
Lots of laughter abounds. I am chatting away to the young man next to me and not paying proper attention to the way he is being addressed. Thus, I embarrass myself, when I refer to him as ‘he’ when talking to his mother, who doesn’t miss a beat when she corrects me: ‘She.’ Oh my gawd. We all just keep talking and the moment passes. Oick!
The expected couple finally arrives and I love watching the exuberant joy of friends meeting friends. What fun talking to someone humorous, intelligent and friendly, as these folks are. Just what the doctor ordered.
Thus nurtured emotionally, I decide to break my protest against the lack of heat provided in my cottage and nurture my chilly little body. I head to the Co-op. The guy at the internet cafe had instructed me on how to build a coal fire. I decide not to use firelighters but buy the cheapest local newspaper. I get a laugh from my friendly cashier who nods and says, 'Aye, bum fodder for kindling—smart lass!'
There is a note from my host, who sends her student to bleed my bedroom radiator. I tell her I’m impressed. When my host shows up, I whine about being surprised by the added expense of heating the house, since I paid for a week’s utilities. She says the rent is very low, but understands that I am one person, so it does seem higher for me and out she goes to her shed to get me a generous bucket of wood.
She informs me she’s leaving on Thursday for the States, to stay with friends for a month. Harumph. Not even a neighbor for my last three mornings. I think my disappointment comes from her being an interesting musician and I had so looked forward to some serious chat. This is surely why she doesn’t offer bed and breakfast,to avoid these cozy natters, and certainly, couples staying here would usually prefer being left to themselves. The cottage is perfect for that but I would not choose self-catering again. No point in hiding out alone when there are so many Scots to be had in conversation, not to mention the international set who come and go in a B&B.
Once alone, I crumple my newly discovered ‘bum fodder’, lay down sticks of wood and coal on top and voila! We are in a cozy room. What a difference warmth makes in a cold, damp Hebridean abode. With rain outside and dinner cooking, we are in bliss. Now I recognize the little fireplace for what it’s worth—quaint and precious in appearance and a life-giving vitality in the cottage.
29. Ahhh, yes!