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first 'Travellers Tale' is byJohn McMillan.
Where Time Stands Still
What is that attracts you to travel to a particular place? Prior to retirement most of my travelling was work-related, but now I enjoy indulging myself in going to places and doing the kind of things I never managed to do while I was tied down by professional and domestic responsibilities. It is great to have the time to do things now.
Time. That strange concept which so often constrains our actions - but it need not always be so. My favourite form of travel is sailing. I have sailed among the myriad of islands along Canada's entire Pacific Coast, among the islands of the Great Barrier Reef, along the coasts of both halves of New Zealand but the island which best conjures up images of timelessness is the island of Barra lying at the bottom of that long chain of islands off Scotland's west coast known as the Western Isles or Outer Hebrides.
I finally visited Barra a couple of years ago fulfilling a desire born 50 years ago when I first watched the film Whisky Galore, a classic of British comedy cinema which was made on the island in 1948. No film has enchanted me quite like it and I resolved then to visit the island one day. I also read the book by Compton MacKenzie upon the film was based. It was inspired by the grounding of a freighter, the SS Politician, one foggy night in 1941 on a rock in the Sound of Eriskay, just a few miles north of Barra.
Mackenzie, who lived on the island at the time, was inspired by the antics of the islanders who were inspired by the fact that, aboard the vessel bound for the USA, there were 264,000 bottles of whisky! Naturally, they were concerned about the safety of the cargo. The crew too of course, but once they were despatched back to Liverpool there was the serious work of removing as much of the whisky that Providence had brought to their door before the Atlantic storms swallowed it all up - and what a waste that would have been.
As always, there had to be some busybody who was ready to play the killjoy and the local HM Customs Officer stirred up all sorts of trouble and even had people put in jail for helping prevent the pollution of the sea with all that alcohol. However, he underestimated the ingenuity of the islanders who devised all sorts of ploys to remove the bottles and hide them from official eyes for many years afterwards.
It all made
a good story and a fabulously funny film and at last I moored
my yacht in Castlebay harbour and looked ashore at almost exactly
the same scene I had viewed on screen half a century previously.
The same church tower chimed out six o'clock in the same sonorous
tone as it had done in
I had as my crew a young New Zealander, a backpacker who had jumped at the chance to see places few UK citizens have even seen and, after a long day's sailing, I had decided that we should go ashore and dine out to celebrate our arrival. For starters we had locally harvested cockles. Being a sea-food addict, the Kiwi asked if I knew where they were to be found and she would cook some next day. No problem. The following day, having hired a car to explore the island, we found ourselves in bare feet walking over the huge expanse of cockle strand which also happens to serve as Barra's airport.
This is something
else about the island which is unique. It has the only airfield
in the world which is submerged under the sea twice every day.
Flight times are determined by the moon and have to be scheduled
according to the times of the tide. There is no concrete runway
or apron. Just
tools we found scraping with our bare hands rather uncomfortable
as the sand was sharp. Further out, I noticed four elderly gents
working away with some sort of tool and decided to head out to
see if they would lend it to us for a few minutes. The tool was
simply a garden rake and Jamie, a native of the island, was very
happy to have a break from his work to let us find our dinner.
His companions were two Americans and an Englishman, none of whom
was particularly keen to do the work though they
visitors were immediately charmed by my antipodean crew while
Jamie and I yarned as I scratched for food. We got on so well
that we were invited to join them for drinks that evening, an
event which became one of the most memorable of my life. I laughed
so much I burst open the stitches
In the course
of the evening I had asked Jamie about the SS Politician and the
making of the film Whisky Galore. The Gaels have a way of telling
stories, rarely maliciously but with some highly eloquent euphemisms.
Yes, there were still some of the islanders alive who had been
extras in the film. He showed me a white cottage by the shore
a couple of hundred yards away. The old lady who lived there was
one of the stars in the film. You never see her face but in a
wedding scene when the traditional dancing was
of the film had employed a local worthy, nicknamed The Coddy,
to act as his chauffeur as he was the owner of the only car on
the island. He was told to report to the hotel at 8am to take
the director to the location for the day's shooting. But the Coddy
had his cows to milk and his lobster pots to check, as he did
every morning, and when he arrived over two hours late he was
met with a tirade from a fuming director about punctuality and
time wasting. The Coddy listened patiently and then murmured slowly,