Udrigle Millenium

Remember the millenium? You know, midnight thirty first December nineteen ninety nine when the world as we know it was to descend into chaos whilst all our computers crashed and burned?  Dee and I had rented Joanna Mackenzie's lovely old Udrigle House, having driven the seven hundred miles north after Christmas. If this was to be the end of life as we know it we might as well be where we had long wanted to be. Two Christmases ago we had stayed here with our dogs, recharging batteries, wondering, as ever, why we needed, really needed to go back to our work and homes in Winchester and the Middle East. At that time I composed this poem for Joanna, whose ancestor William originally built Udrigle House for his new bride, Lilias ... it is reputed to be the oldest intact dwelling house in this part of Scotland



Christmas at House Udrigal

I dreamed a dream most magical
Of times before House Udrigal
Of clansmen, living by the shore
And on the hill, well used to war
Yet speaking, singing poetry.
I dreamed this fierce northern land,
Made beautiful by Nature’s hand
From ice and loch and living rock
Was gifted to its Highland stock
Whose origins are mystery.

Those people lived in hardiness
In turv-ed structures windowless,
Until that chieftain did decide
In honour of his fair haired bride
To build a house for history,
Named ‘Outer gully’ (‘Udrigal’);
Here’s where he dug away the soil,
Well found on rock his place would be
Safe from the storms, the raging sea
Withstand all that adversity.

Great boulders came up from the beach;
He chipped and shaped and fitted each
To those beneath, row upon row
And joined the timbers one by one
Built solid strong in symmetry.
And then upon a lintel stone, to mark
Above the fire, in letters stark
For all who here sometime might pass
That this was “Williams’, Lilias’s”
And shall be through eternity.

Then in my dream I gladly talked
With friendly ghosts of those who’d looked
Across this moody, salty-plane
To distant hills in sun and rain -
A view of such great majesty.
I spoke with lairds and tacksmen and
The crofters who had worked this land
Had built this Highlands House sublime
Sired of the wind, the sea and time
That always shall stay close to me.

Awake! It’s Christmas ninety eight!
We walk the dogs and get back late
Then eat and drink and so at last
We toast our future and our past
For each is vital, equally.
And when we pull the curtains back -
A star-less night of stygian black,
But lights ride bright up in the sky-
And yes, we hear a baby’s cry.
For this is Christmas, magically.

Bryan Islip
December 1998

Anyway it's now the dreaded Millenium Eve. We had been in good company over in Gairloch's Badachro Inn having enjoyed a long walk with the dogs. On the way from Badachro back to Udrigle House, (herself in the driving seat, for I have never left that Badachro Inn in fit condition), I thought we might drop into The Sand Hotel for a livener. Now, this hotel was always 'let out' to parties of friends / relatives rather than to individual chance callers although but there was a bar always open to the public. It transpired that the resident group was a party of genuine, English, dyed in the wool, both sex Yuppies - dealers usually to be found in the money towers and champagne bars of the City of London. Why don't you join us for dinner, they insisted. No, we didn't come up with that sort of clothing, Dee whispered to me - actually quite fiercely. Thank you very much, said I, full of goodwill to all men. We'll see you later.

What a Hogmanay that was. First the banquet, us in our dog walking clothes, the other twenty of so, half our age, in full evening dress! Anyway Dee and I duly applauded their semi-incomprehensible speeches and made sounds of appreciation re the quality of that splendid meal with its good and plentiful red wines, bubbly and vintage port. All free of charge to us! Then the real fun as the Scottish Highlands dancing began. I have not seen energy and activity like it since we were chased, tumbling over a hedge, by an enraged Hampshire bull. I have a vision of shrieking young ladies being hurled by the men without let or mercy from pillar to post - and even vice versa! No place there for shrinking violets although we old folk did manage to stay hors d'combat. I could by then in any case have barely stood, never mind danced any strip the bloody willow. As midnight came and went and everybody had duly kissed everybody and the company had ascertained by mobile that their cyber world was still rotating we all trooped out into the cold cold night. A bonfire was lit which was the cue for a continuation of mad gyrations only this time on frosted and tufted grass instead of parquet flooring. The celebrations were less than dampened when one lady fell down a ditch and did considerable damage to her ankle. At that we stole away into the night. I don't suppose by then we would have been missed.

As you may have picked up in previous episodes I am not a particular fan of  the City of London with its sharpster banks and bankers. However, being kind at heart I forgave them for that one night.



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