Stornoway Stories (3)
I soon found the Criterion Bar in Cromwell Street. The name of the street signalling the island’s non conformist heritage and allegiance. It is further South that the Catholics still hold sway.
While some pubs are closed and others are like empty barns the Criterion is a little darling. Carriage shaped and dominated by the large and friendly Margot. During the day middle aged men in denim nip their way to various points of red faced nonsense. Even to strangers they bemoan the treachery of wives and the problems of an evening meal when the missus goes on strike.
Margot chides them, humours them and eventually guides them home. Its all very much out an Andy Capp strip ,the battle of the sexes circa 1955 and no less delightful for that. I’m told that the empty hotels,the numerous charity shops and boarded up premises are a sign of an island in decline. Certainly the population has halved in the last century, but that is true of all rural areas.
Stornoway which despite its minuscule size features on the BBC weather maps has been called the plug hole of British weather. Storms start and end at Stornoway. Jimmy looks me in the eye and tells me “40mph gales in England and the country closes down, here we don’t even notice.” Later he catches me looking at the stock s and share in the paper and growls “stay off the gee gees it’s a mugs game.” My new best friend.
Later I am in a café and I offer the lady a Scottish ten pound note. I sweetly state “One of yours”. She comes straight back “Don’t forget it was a Scotsman who founded the bank of England.” We know that radio and penicillin follow.
My B&B in Stornoway is run by Donald with wife Margaret in the back ground. He is a fussy very caring man bringing out an obvious prejudice. But it turns out he was assistant director of education of the island but couldn’t stand the pressure and took early retirement. He loves his present job and Margaret , a doctor,“gets so much satisfaction” working in the local hospice. Their son is doing physics at Strathclyde Uni.
On my last day I cycled North to Tolsa. It’s a hard thirty mile round trip following the coast. I pass through the village of Tong where Wikipedia tells me that Donald Trump’s mother comes from. But the ride is worth it. A one mile beach bookended by cliffs. And only me and the sea gulls. The wind whipping the breakers backwards.
Why do deserted beaches have such an attraction, sea the mother, sea the infinity, the horizon were cloud meets wave, the plain beauty of hard sand and dunes. Being alone in any dramatic spot liberates the mind,are we closer to the truth, beauty,our maker,the meaning. Fuck off. Whatever, for an hour it was mine. And mine alone.
You are born alone and you die alone but in between you experience beauty which creates . And then the cycle back