Thursday, 27 January 2011


Image Above: Bringing Home The Hazel.
Location: The Narrows, Erraid
\Hazel, 26th January 2011

The tide is ebbing and draining a rivulet from the sands of the narrows; the strip of sand that keeps us anchored to Mull. I wade through, shuffling my feet to avoid a bow wave topping my Wellingtons. Despite the expanse of sand this is a trench cut between faces of rock, it is here Erraid lays claim to its island status, emerging from the sand to present a toothy grin to its larger brother. The sea only makes good on the bargain for a few days a month when spring tides race to fill the gap. Between times it becomes a highway of sorts for cows, sheep, otters, deer and on rare occasions wild goats. I place my own prints into the wet cement and join the list of other stars.

As I walk my eyes follow the contours of the low cliffs, here stunted oaks, birch and aspens hide out from the herbivores. I am looking for hazel to make some low hurdles for the garden, but it is not until I am about to run out of island that I find a small stand of bushes above a rough hewn wall of boulders. The pruning saw slips easily through the thin sheath of life and bites into the bone whiteness of the wood. I cut three or four poles from each bush, trimming out the crown ends to release them from the tangle of other branches and then throw them to the sand. The cuts will sprout again and the limbs re-grow in profusion like the split brooms of the magician’s apprentice.

On the sand I bundle up the rods with the belt from my trousers, twisting it as a Spanish windlass to add tension. Lifting one end, it seems bearable but I am aware, looking back over the sand, that distance adds its own weight. I move off covering my tracks Indian style as the trailing branches scratch out my foot prints. Behind in the lagoon the seals have gathered to watch, extending their heads, clear of the water, as the strange half man half tree shrinks into the distance.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The lie

Image above: Fog moves through the narrows

The Lie

The snow that had remained clung to the shadows or was scattered over ground less popular with cars and foot traffic. I wandered into the ferry terminal and bought a cup of tea from a kiosk that would of worked equally well at the end of a dole queue. Conscious that silence had marked my entrance and feeling a little uneasy I retreated to the gallery to watch for the ferry.

His grandfather spoke first, the story was about the snow plough that keeps Mull’s central glen open; over the last few days the plough had packed the roadside snow so tightly that the route had begun to look like a bob sledge run. His grandfathers friend relayed another story about a local youth known for pushing the speed limit who had ditched his car and abandoned it to the snow.

Sat between the grandfather and company the grandson had been waiting for his turn in the conversation and when a natural lull presented itself he began with his own tale. I knew he was lying from the onset, and so the story of a friend of a friend who had crashed in some place a while ago filled the small waiting room. The grandfather played devils advocate asking those awkward questions that made the lies more obvious to the rest of the room. Answers were given that became even more dubious but none the less he pushed on until he had used up all the available words.

The snow has long gone but I am still haunted by that story. I like that he tried; the story was never about cars and snow or the truth but about fitting in. Recently, when out walking the island I have found myself turning it over in mind, not so much the lies but whether the truth is any better or distinguished only by its commonality.

Image Above right: Running Mooring

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Miracles On The Sand

Image above: Orlando collecting mussels from the bay.

Miracles On The Sand

Wednesday January 19th

Out of the breeze the bay has warmed, I follow Orlando who has equipped himself with a bucket and a staff borrowed from a biblical epic. The waters have already parted and the retreating tide has left a deep mat of kelp. I pad through to meet my wife and our neighbour who are returning over the sands from a trip to the doctor’s. In the haste to check the post and any news they are carrying I forget to ask about the new doctor.

Orlando has been slowed by the kelp and I wait. He catches up and we walk on fording the stream and checking rocks for mussels as we go. In amongst the stonewalled fish traps he answers his mobile and is away in conversation as I walk on towards the corner of the bay. I make exploratory kicks at empty shells hindered in my movements by youngest son who is perched in a carry frame on my back. When Orlando returns we are in the thick of mussel territory, the bucket takes only a few minutes to fill.

As we walk back he talks about the phone call; news of an operation that he has been waiting for to correct the vision in one of his eyes. Later he jokes that the operation should miraculously halve the island’s population ; at least through his eyes.

Image Below: Orlando collecting mussels from the bay.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Images: Candles shine along the street as we bring in the light.

New Year’s Eve, New Year’s day

The health centre’s waiting room was almost full, we took the final spaces joining the ranks of those looking for a cure before the turn of the year. The locum boomed out the name of the next patient as if he had worked all his career in a much larger practice, I looked to see if the waiting room had somehow been extended while my attention had wandered.

With the doctor returned to his consulting room and a respectful pause given, those who remained felt compelled to share their view of the temporary doctor or more importantly his manner. Briefly I felt like a local as this proxy parliament swung into debate. Our ‘old doctor’ who is still confusingly referred to as the ‘new doctor’ by those who can still remember the previous occupant of the position has retired due to ill health. And so we await the arrival of another ‘new doctor‘, who shall carry this title until he or she faces their retirement. Every initial greeting will be prefixed with , “you must be the new doctor,” as if somehow those of us who still qualify as tourists having not been born on the island of Mull will have gained some history with the place. Conversations beyond the health centre will begin with “have you seen the new doctor?” and answered with, “do you remember the old doctor?” Older residents will of course secure their positions as community elders by correcting their youngers and referring to the old doctor as the new doctor and the latest arrival as just the ‘latest doctor’.

There is a weighty duty on all of us to practice our appraisal skills. Undoubtedly our opinions will be sought in pubs, on fishing boats, in the local shops, over fences and fields, in the huddle of parents that haunt the home time bell, and when all is said and done in a crowded waiting room.