Sheep Whisperer

Weather: Some wet days, mostly dry and bright, the 25th of December was particularly glorious. 28th December onwards – windy, stormy, very wet and overcast.

So much has happened in such a short time. The General Election unfolded pretty much as expected. Mr. Corbyn gifted the government of the UK to Boris Johnson by allowing  this election with its inappropriate timing to be all about Brexit – we now have five -long years to wait for an opportunity to vote-in a government with an agenda which is meaningfully socially progressive. Boris must have thought that Christmas had come early (for him)! Certainly there is no surprise in Scotland, what with virtually only representation from the S.N.P. – the cries for independence have understandably become ever more demanding, other agendas and policy discussions are inevitably taking a back seat. The call for ‘Indyref 2’ (ugh) becomes the only show in town..

Ordinary life, nevertheless, prevails – schools closed and the festive preparations began. The blissful lack of advertising on the island made the rampant Christmas consumerism less obvious and even gave me and Nicola space to appreciate the ‘gaudy’ Xmas jumpers worn by the co-op staff – although I have recently been informed that “Christmas jumpers add to the plastic pollution crisis”. ‘We humans’ have become an environmental disappointment!

Trail camera
Trail camera

The Hebridean Smokehouse is situated in Clachan on North Uist. The Smokehouse is a notable place to shop, whatever the season, and over the festive period (I am told) this becomes an extremely popular place to shop in and online. Their products are being sent to UK and non-UK addresses as well as to select Super Markets. Food Hampers are such a great gifts and Scottish Salmon, such as that produced at the Hebridean Smokehouse is a commodity that is scarcer than might be imagined. Most the Salmon farmed in Scotland is from Norwegian stock rather than from local strains as they are larger, and wild salmon are becoming a scarce commodity. Many people from this island work or have worked at this institution, and when in Newcastle recently, shopping at Waitrose, it was hard not to feel a certain pride in the elegant packing and presentation of their prime peat-smoked salmon and to wonder who had packed it… 

Nicola and I planned to spend Christmas in Glasgow with Abigale, Nicola’s youngest daughter, and to this end, set off in our van complete with Alice (our siamese cat) in her portable transporter, Needless to say she complained so loudly that by the time we had reached Portree on Skye, she was sitting on Nicola’s lap in the front passenger seat. This pattern continued for most of the day, with Alice being intermittently returned to her travel basket when she became too difficult. She did settle down though and the journey, although long and mostly in the dark with pouring rain, was tolerable. Angelo (the other cat was left in Uist, in charge of rat control, and was checked on by our friends and neighbours Keith and Fran).

Christmas eve – shopping in some of Glasgow’s more fashionable independent shops together with a visit to the local Morrison’s before taking off in a taxi to the Arlington Baths Club, where Abi is a member and Nicola and I could attend as guests. As before, it was ladies’ day in the wonderful Turkish Suite and Nicola and Abi could make the most of this. We also attempted swinging on the loops above the pool (with limited success) and Nicola shamed us both into jumping off the diving board. The rest of the Christmas period was spent quietly in the usual way, with periods of mild indulgence and relaxation, interspersed with a sharp winter walk in nearby Queens Park.

Boxing day found me on the Megabus to Newcastle to complete the Christmas agenda of visits including an excellent Sunday lunch at the Tanners Arms on Stepney Bank before returning to the Western Isles via train and bus the following week end. Nicola stayed on with her daughter and returned to Uist on the 28th December.

December the 30th, I arrived in Uig at 2 pm and the ferry was due at 6pm. This was my only booking option, as I had not pre-booked and the other connections were full. There is a lesson in there somewhere?

In Uig the Café’s and pubs were closed. I spent 5 hours in Calmac Ferry’s Terminal waiting room, reading a crap novel that I had hastily acquired together with some nuts and a flapjack during the 15 minute lunch stop, at Fort William. During my time in the Ferry Terminal I noticed the changes to the Ferry Port Terminals planned for 2021, to accommodate the new ferries being constructed for this route. It looks as if the Lochmaddy service will run from Ullapool for a few months..

Nicola met me off the boat at 8.30pm, after a relatively calm crossing – a mere 12-and-a-half-hour journey from Newcastle.

30th Dec. Back on the island and the winds have started to blow. The sheep are once again on the croft surrounding the house and there is a hiatus as the old year ends and we celebrate its passing in the usual fashion. The new year promises much.

Our cats are pleased that normal service has resumed.

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