Getting to know you

As incoming 'Sassenachs' desiring assimilation into the Aultbea community the best things we could have done were done by force of accident. To earn a few pennies, therefore have butter and even a little jam on our daily bread Dee got a job as a cleaner at Aultbea's Isle View Care Home. As all the other lady employees were 'locals' and Dee was a natural maker of friends we were soon in the swing of things. Her work wasn't easy of course. One of the Care Home's residents was a Gaelic speaking old lady who didn't like the English - even to the extent of locking my wife in the broom cupboard - but who ended up by being tolerant, even friendly, even to me! That lady was the one who as a nineteen year old student had travelled down to London one cold December day in the '50's in an unheated Morris Minor along with three male undergraduates, their objective being to 'steal' the Stone of Scone from under the throne in Westminster Abbey and transport it back to its rightful home in Perth, Scotland. (Scottish kings from time immemorial had been crowned on the Stone of Scone, as had UK kings and queens since the Union in seventeen something.) Amazingly their plan actually worked. (Was it customary to leave Westminster Abbey's massive front doors unlocked?) In due course the forces of Law caught up with the miscreants and the 'Stone' was returned to London. Nonetheless Dee's new friend confided in her that the stone taken back by the authorities was not the real one. The real Stone of Scone was / is still, she said, hidden away somewhere in Scotland..

Dee didn't have to be a cleaner for all that long - maybe our first couple of years in the Highlands, after which I was able to earn a bit from my paintings - but we had many memorable - even enjoyable experiences in and around The Isle View. For instance whenever a resident achieved the ripe old age of one hundred years (not all that uncommon) there would be a gathering of staff and residents and friends in the main hall. The Lord Lieutenant of the County or his / her deputy would come across the hills to the Home bearing Her Majesty the Queen's legendary letter of congratulation for formal presentation to the new centenarian. Well, on this occasion Her Worship the Lord Lieutenant made her speech on behalf of H.M., stepped forward to the recipient's wheelchair and held out the letter, upon which the old lady refused it with the immortal comment; "I never did like that woman". Embarrassed silence all around followed by some rather forced light laughter.

The second best thing we did (again by accident) was to move into Peace Cottage, situated between two working crofts owned and run by the Beaton brothers. Peace Cottage was our rented home for the first four years of our Highlands sojourn. Harold and Ian and Ian's wife Fiona proved to be the best of friends - i.e. the kind of friends who are there when you need them and leave you to your own devices at other times. For instance we had discovered on moving in that our expensive three piece Tetra suite would not fit through the narrow passageway from front door to living room, therefore we had to stow it in a leaky old open fronted cowshed.out back. A few days later I explained the situation to Harold Beaton who at once went off to fetch his tools then returned with his customary economy of words in order to remove the entire dining room window, frame and all! The next thing I knew, our suite was safely in the living room and the window was back in place, good as new. Ian and Fiona (who worked and still does work at the Isle View Care Home) have a daughter called Rebecca - Bex for short. Bex took a real shine to Dee, and vice versa, especially after the twelve years old fell off her bike outside in our shared driveway. Dee rushed out to administer first aid and soothing words. The next day a large bar of chocolate appeared through our letter box.

In, I think, 2004 Dee's / our son Rudi and partner Nina decided to get married. They chose to have the ceremony carried out up here in the Aultbea Hotel. A great many lads and lassies from the Fareham / Portsmouth area seven hundred miles south came up with them and occupied most of the available B&B accomodation. All our new friends, both local and incomer, were invited to the wedding. This mixture of near and far worked amazingly well. An extremely good time was had by all. Only a very few minor hitches such as Dee forgetting to bring the actual documentation to the hotel, in which waited the congregation plus a reverend who had clearly been at the celebrations a little early. I was despatched home for the papers. In something of a world record hurry, on my return I backed into the hotel wall, much to the surprise of the congregation assembled inside.


That very first February I took out my pastels and 'painted' this winter snowscene. I called it Across Isle Ewe, for it is the view from Peace Cottage. The croft house in the middle distance is now the very successful Aultbea Smokehouse. I sold the original to a couple with a second home in Gairloch, people who became good friends. But before that I had created a series of twelve Highlands Wildlife pictures using a method involving literally hundreds, even thousands of digitally coloured, custom, Word Draw shapes. The following Springtime, for the first time I 'exhibited' at a crafts market my artworks as greetings cards . That was in Ullapool where I managed to take eight pounds and fifty pence. Not long afterwards I did a sales tour of the local shops, not easy because, although I had spent a lifetime as a professional marketeer/salesman, I found it difficult selling my own creative works. Bragging does not come easily, perhaps because it was always high on the list of 'things not to be' at Abingdon School. All that notwithstanding, with what quiet pride did I get home and drop more than four hundred pounds in paper money on the dining room table in front of an astonished, not to say delighted Delia. Our income tap was once again turned on, albeit with but a trickle, but I had big ideas - of course I did - and what a place in which to have them!

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