These last pages

2015 began for me as a classic Highlands Hogmanay. At nine in the evening of December 31 I found myself seated in a very subdued village hall with just a few mostly elderly couples and a rather good, local, two piece band doing mostly Scottish country music. An hour later the place was packed with people of all ages, the majority of whom had come straight from the Aultbea Hotel so were already well in the mood, and the music had ratchetted up into all kinds of dance rock and ever more violent strip the willows, jolly white sergeants, etc. Cancer or no, (and I had not made any secret of my diagnosis), I was dragged on to the dance floor and for a while was able to imagine myself of a completely different age and stage. The beer and whisky helped. By two in the morning I had had my fill of the glorious home-made food on offer and felt it unsafe to partake of any more alcohol so I went off home feeling great as the party was swinging ever onwards. Young ladies were being thrown around like rag dolls, screaming with laughter even though sometimes falling and sliding on the drink spilled floor as if on ice!

It seemed that the hormone treatment had worked - or was working - very well indeed. It had become clear that my condition was a source not just of interest but of genuine local concern. The questions from friends in the post office or village store by now were morphing from a truly interested, 'how are you?', into the customary 'how are you?' of mere politeness. After all there are only so many times one can answer, 'Oh, fine, and how are you?' To keep the pennies rolling in this year I have been able, thus far, to maintain the stocks of my cards, prints, books etc and as winter ended and springtime began I did my customary rounds of the shops with good sales results. But as for painting; time after time I have stood in front of my empty easel, my stacks of canvasses and my row upon row of oil paints planning the painting that I now know I shall never create. Why not? I had and have no idea. I was physically fit enough and the painting I wanted to create (of Delia) was clear in my head, but it was and is as if Bryan Islip, the painter, was a different, now lost person. Writing these memoirs has become my principal interest along with the novel I began four years ago and have now re-written - and intend continuing on to its conclusion / publication.

Those who may have tried unsuccessfully to call me will know that I do still get out and about a lot. Mobile reception is so variable around here that the carrying of these devices is of doubtful value. I am invariably to be found on Sunday mornings with Mike and Heather at Connie and Mike's Bridge Cafe in nearby Poolewe. My products are still on display and sold by the lovely Alison at her Tuesday Poolewe Market, where I will almost always go for a chat with friends and a bacon roll or a bowl of home-made soup. On Wednesdays I am to be found at the Morefields Motel in Ullapool at lunch with my friends Ian and Tony and the other eight or ten Rotarians. Did I mention that last back end I was invited to join Ullapool Rotary? Perhaps not. I should have, for it has been a source of great pleasure for me and I hope of some benefit to others less fortunate as are helped by the worthy Rotary Club of Ullapool.

Rarely a week goes by without an invitation to lunch, or dinner or drinks - either that or my invitation to others in return. In the evenings I will generally be sitting in the new sunhouse watching the glorious sunsets over Loch Ewe and distant mountains and/or watching the TV - mostly programs I have recorded; almost invariably my favourite sports or (non-soap) drama, or a certain few virtual reality programs. I will be in bed by eleven, reading a book - possibly or the Arden edition of a Shakespeare play - or watching on my Kindle one or other of the Fawlty Towers episodes. For me these are an ever constant joy.

In June Mike and Gerry Hickey (my friends and landlords) and three of their more well-heeled friends did their customary car tour of Scotland. I always look forward to these very occasional visits. They are a window on a different world. I asked Mike what motor cars I might expect this time. (They put all five on a car transporter and have them driven up, having themselves flown Gatwick - Edinburgh.) His answer: my Lambourgini, an Aston, a Porche and two Ferraris! That Saturday the cavalcade arrived in a gutteral roar of high powered engines. After a brief look at the sunhouse extension we all repaired for lunch to the Aultbea Hotel. Mike invited me to get a lift; jump into my Lambourgini, Bryan. Unfortunately either the car was too low to the ground or my back had become too inflexible to get in it! I had to make do with a Ferrari for a lift. That was OK because, low to the ground as it also was, it had gull wing doors. Its driver asked me if I have a problem with speed. Good lord no, said I, I'm none of the fastest drivers around here. The next thing I all but blacked out under the G Force of a foot down Ferrari! After lunch they all roared off around Scotland's northcoast then down to Edinburgh and back to work in Kent on Monday.

Mike had e-mailed me early in the year, inviting me to have a google on the twelfth century 'Ralthaldron Castle' near Dublin in Ireland. He had seen it come up for sale whilst on holiday in Australia and, after due diligence from afar, had bought it on line. He had said he would show me around it if I was OK to fly. You might expect that amidst a life as crowded as his, such a passing comment might be forgotten. Not a bit of it. Like most highly successful business men he has a marvellous mind for detail and would never renege on even a half promise. Soon I got the call; I am having my fiftyeth birthday party in the castle, 22nd August. Want to come? No sooner had I accepted, which was pretty well straight away, than came the rider: It's fancy dress obligatory; Game of Thrones or Medieval!  It was one of the very best birthday parties I can remember. I was met at Dublin Airport by Serena, Mike's personal assistant, and generally well looked after by her all weekend.


I am King Arthur here but have no idea of the name of this lady - nor or any of the other lovely ladies (except of course my escort, Serena) with whom I danced and chatted that night. (The lady pictured would be Gueneviere I guess) Another two a.m. effort with one hundred and fifty guests, most of whom had clearly not bothered with the fancy dress shops, preferring theatrical costumiers!. Marvellous food and drink, beautiful old castle, three different bands culminating in a hard rock brass ensemble loud enough to shake the place to its ancient foundations! I have to say I surprised myself with my energy levels. At one in the morning Mike walked up as I was in full swing with his mother and uttered the memorable Bryan, I thought you were dying! 

The next day, on the Sunday, I was looked after by Mike and Gerry's uncle Tom. We visited yet another old castle where a brass band was in full swing.  On the way out to his farm he asked me, would you like to visit a typical Irish pub? Would I? Well why not? I think I was becoming addicted to the Guinness! Sitting inside were Mike and Gerry and another uncle and their father Mike. They said it was a co-incidence but that I doubt.

The day after I got home I guess it all caught up with me, for I felt pretty rotten. A reminder that my friend the cancer was still somewhere in there, eating me away. But I wouldn't have changed anything. For a man so unlucky I really am the luckiest, if you see what I mean!.

1 comment:

  1. I love the photo. You make a perfect King Arthur. You've certainly had an interesting year.

    I sympathise with the art. 2011-12 I was ill and ended up with nerve damage in my hands and feet. That was the result of side-effects to medication. Sometimes the cure does more annoying damage than the disease!

    Anyway... I used to be an artist. I haven't kept up much, but a year ago I got out some paper and... I can't hold a pencil or a brush. My hands won't allow it - just cramp up. And they shake.

    I've always done loads of art/craft things as well, embroidery, sewing, etc. Holding a needle??? ha! Not going to happen! But at least I have a genuine excuse for avoiding darning clothes. ;)

    And an excuse for atrocious typing. I hit all the keys without feeling them a lot of the time. Be grateful I go back and edit before I hit PUBLISH.

    One of my highlights of the years in Scotland has been adding you and Dee to my list of people I know and write to/read.

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