By “The Photographer’s Assistant”
In the misty universe that is seven in the morning, the ferry slips out of Colonsay, one of the most isolated Hebredian islands. Passengers linger about, adjusting to being at sea and out of bed. Woolly hatted and bleary eyed they are thinking of breakfast. There is one passenger though, who is not thinking of anything, but the home and the mother that he is leaving. He stands right at the edge of the middle of the ferry deck and this cold means nothing to him. His eyes are only for the island that he is leaving. No one really notices him, but the mother inside the Photographers Assistant is stirred. If this young man let a tear blemish his face, it would be a mark against his masculinity, but his devastation is clear. His whole soul is telling him that this is wrong and he should be back on that island with his people.
The island is too small to have a school, so it has bought a boarding house for the children to stay in during the week while they are educated on the Mainland. The Assistant thought this rather harsh and enquired about education by computer with odd trips to the mainland. No, that good old chestnut was trotted out. A child must be socialised. The Assistants children were never sent to play school and led an isolated life in the countryside with only odd contact with others. Indeed, the passing of drugs, fags and other such stuff at the school gate was the opposite to our rural life. If taking drugs, drinking etc is part of a child’s life, you can keep it. Sorry, bit of a rant off the island there. The look on that young man’s face was not a happy or even likely to be a productive one.
We tourists are a fickle bunch. We leave the young man and are off to enjoy a really hearty Cal Mac breakfast. The Photographer is only allowed a cooked breakfast on a Sunday, so he is salivating at the thought of a good hot fatty breakfast. After breakfast, he indulges in a round of coffee buying and present hunting and is satisfied when he finds the boyfriend a rather unusual present. The Boyfriend is Scottish and has a kilt, but no sporran, and now The Photographer has been able to solve the problem. He has bought The Boyfriend a large towel with a kilt printed upon it and the kilt has a sporran. Indeed when wrapped around oneself, the kilt is all you see and it is rather dashing. Another top mark to Cal Mac for solving this long term problem.
While we were there the ferry that took us away from the island had arrived the previous evening. Ferry staff are obliged to remain on their ferry for two weeks at a time. The bar of the local hotel was full of reconciliation and drams as getting together was celebrated, farmers came down from the hills in their tractors and a good time was had by all. The Photographer and his Assistant hid behind menus and were forgotten as the arguments commenced over independence. A dissenting voice could be heard above the crowd, it was the Eastern European barman, who had been looking forward to receiving a wedge of cash to take home at the end of the season, the pound’s value was rocketing down as he spoke. The chef had got some produce off the ferry and was delightedly changing the menu as the happy chaos surrounded him.
Colonsay is host to 120 souls, who are there in the winter and in the summer. It is obliged to be a resourceful community, much like the little Dartmoor town’s community. In the winter if the weather is rough poor old Cal Mac won’t get there with its little deliveries of the odd bit of fresh mainland food.
The local store on Colonsay had loads of stuff such as the tin below, note the reference to bird flu, and this price for petrol. It makes the exorbitant price for petrol up on the Moor look really cheap!
The isolation on this island had led to a brewery being set up, various tourist facilities and the production of wonderful produce, fruit , vegetables, and glorious vats of honey. The local meat was delicious. The island even supported a wonderful book shop, selling books in gaelic and english, a fascinating treasure trove of rarely found and interesting wonders.
The cafe at the ferry terminal was a great meeting place, full of steam, warmth and hubbub. On this occasion, Brave Heart was being discussed as an explosive addition to the independence debate. The lady owner promised to make the Photographer some cheese scones for the morrow, much as a cafe owner in our own little town would do.
The island was one of the most beautiful places that we have ever visited. It would be possible to live there in splendid isolation and peace for as long as you liked, free of all those trappings that cost so much money, and cost so much in other ways. Isolation can be a splendidly freeing experience, and it is why so many of us live so close to it.