The Badachro Gael

Writing yesterday about our holidays at Red Point reminded me of some good friends - long gone to another place - who lived in a manse house called Hillcrest in nearby Badachro. We would make a point of knocking on their door unannounced as soon as we had settled into our temporary home at 'number seven' - a cottage on the point of the Loch Torridon / Gairloch peninsula that is now owned by the super-rich pop singer known as JK. Anyway, old Affie would be in his usual fireside chair as his lovely lady wife Rita would usher us in and leave us before re-appearing soon with an unasked for silver tray, on it a glass of sherry for Dee and one for herself, glasses of the whisky for Affie and me. And the plate of shortbreads, naturally.

Affie was a most unusual man. Veteran Cameronian of El Alamein and many another WW2 battle, retired Edinburgh bank manager, gaelic poet ... how well I recall the music of his voice as he narrated - in Gaelic and then in English - his whole multi-stanza epic paying tribute to 'The Cabair Feidh'. (Sincere apologies if, as is almost certainly the case, I have the wrong spelling of the gaelic for 'stags antlers'.) The stags antlers are - or were, I don't know - the emblem of that most famous of Scottish Highlands regiments.

In 1994 I wrote a poem for Affie Thomson...

When loch-side broom's a fringe of yellow lace,
Through hardest nights of winter by the glowing fire,
His verse is of enchantment saved from modern rush;
His eyes have seen the glory and the funeral pyre
And still there's laughter in the old man's face.

As warming uisge beatha lifts the dying of the day
And sun grown cold has slipped below the Hebrides
So then it is the shot-through colours of the bay
For us his voice has turned to desert's dreary leas,
Returned to life who nobly wore the cabair feidh.

His words are golden gifts for us to hear, in thrall,
As through a mirror see reflections of a better time
As well to hear the ancient pitch of pibroch wail,
Each lift and fall an image of these hills sublime -
We learn the thrust and meaning of his epic tale.

The Book foretells how sea, that ever needs to move,
Must grind all rock to mud, shall conquer all the land:
It may be then, that of us nought save this will live
In murmured chants of some aquatic faerie band -
The verse of man, the verse they did to Afleck give.

We often laugh together about one of our visits to Hillcrest - or rather about our departure from there. I succeeded in reversing our Ford Zodiac into a culvert and had to be towed out by a passing coal lorry. Nothing, of course, to do with the uisga beatha!

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