When I got off the ferry I thought there had been some mistake. The road simply ran into the sea and all I could see were some houses in the distance. “This can’t be the place,” Lochmaddy, I was expecting some island idyll, “There’s nothing here!” Then I realised I’d made a terrible mistake.
For those of you who don’t know, Lochmaddy is a little known outpost of the empire on the Island of Uist. I’d never been there before and was expecting a relaxing time in the comfort of a small Highland village.
I’d booked in at the local hotel and entered it expecting a Highland welcome and that is exactly what I got. The place seemed deserted at first only as few long dead stags greeted me, their glass eyes following me through the corridors as if remembering a summer long ago when they’d poked their heads up once too often from the heather.
Eventually I found a woman in a deserted bar at the back of the hotel. You know the kind of place, dimly lit with three Elvis records on the duke box and cheese roll made during the time of the Pharaohs sitting in a glass case. In the corner, a drunk lay, fast asleep, the rope in his hand leading down to the skeleton of a dog.
My heart and the woman’s face fell at exactly the same moment. “Yes?” She demanded. “I’ve booked a room,” I managed to blurt out. This news disturbed the woman even more, “Name?” she barked. I mumbled something and she ran her finger down the tattered pages of an old book, I felt like saying, “Just look under English bastard,” but she found it anyway and looked up disappointed. “The room’s not ready,” she announced. Now, I’d come on the boat, the only boat, so that’s when I’d arrive wouldn’t I unless I fell from heaven, which is unlikely?
Eventually I dumped my bags and plodded off in search of food. I saw a small shop in the distance, just past the only three houses there were in the place. All the two women who ran the place had on sale to eat was one pork pie. I bought that and, while one woman wrapped it up the other picked up the phone. “Hello,” she says, “We’ve sold the pie…Yes, that’s the second this year. Things are going mad here. Better send another.”
I then did the unforgivable English thing. “Excuse me,” I said, hopeful that there was more to Lochmaddy than I’d seen, “Can you tell me where the centre of the village is?” She looked at me for a long time, unable to decide if hatred or pity was the appropriate emotion. “Well,” she sighed, “There’s this shop and the hotel by the pier. I suppose the centre of the village must be somewhere in the middle.”
It was a long night.
It’s been raining for weeks, I can’t get out on the hill, Murray lost the tennis, I’ve got flu and a bad back but at least I’m not in Lochmaddy.