Susan Morrison: Stuck on the horns of plenty in the Highlands and islands

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TIREE. I was never sure where it was, despite the fact I’d been singing about it every year at Hogmanay since I was about nine – apparently I was always dreaming of the Black Island as the steamer leaves Oban and passes Tiree. Anyway, I know where it is now. I’ve just been.

Us city rats have the view that remote rural living is a sort of open air prison. The luxuries of life such as a cinemas, shopping malls and mobile phone signals are cruely denied and people such as the island dwellers of Tiree languish on the beaches watching the CalMac ferry cruise past, dreaming of a life in the hustle and bustle of a great conurbation, or 
Livingston, perhaps.

Surely, I thought, we who bring entertainment to the isles – I’m 
dragging two other comedians around the edges of Scotland – will be rapturously greeted. Surely the MV Clansman will be greeted at the beach by natives weeping with gratitude, and young men with oiled torsos on hand to carry us shoulder high through the surf. Surely I specifically requested the semi-naked young men?

Tosh and bunkum. These people know how to have a good time. Where else do you get to drive an un-MOT-ed 15-year-old car with dodgy brakes at high speed in the dark with only one headlight working? Seat belts? Yes, the car has them.

Indeed, where else can you drive at high speed? Certainly not in Edinburgh, although I think the roads in Tiree are in better nick than anything we can boast of in the Capital.

There are hazards, of course. Cows not ony have right of way, they seem pretty bloody minded in enforcing that right. Big, shaggy Highland coos look cute on the wrapper of jaw wrecking toffee sweeties, but take it from me, you find yourself staring at the business end of a seriously disgruntled bovine with horns big enough to kebab a Volkswagon Polo, you will back down.

Forget calm waters, here’s a calming tea

SOME things do not change. Hot beverages are not served until the pier is well behind us. The coffee is still something strange which has possibly been strained through the bilge, but amazingly, teas of a more exotic nature are now available, including green, mint and something called “calming”, which, given the seas the MV Clansman batters through, is probably a good thing.

They have announcements, too, like airline pilots. They tell you what to do if the ship is sinking. The first thing they say is that you “should” remain calm. I like that. It’s just a guideline. Calm is good, but freak out if you feel the need, basically.

Most-wanted in CalMac’s rogues gallery

THINGS have changed, though. For one thing, they insist on looking at your tickets. For years my brother and I were carefully coached by my father to run deftly between the legs of the disembarking passengers shouting “ma dads got the ticket” while waving in a vaguely seaward direction.

My dad did, indeed, have the ticket. He’d bought it in 1963. We stopped using it the same year Neil

Armstrong landed on the moon.

I’m not sure that CalMac hold a grudge, but I couldn’t help but notice that my ticket and boarding pass were checked twice. Perhaps there’s a rogues gallery somewhere with a photo of my six-year-old self highlighted.

Ferry good way to pass the time

IT costs a fortune to live on the islands, and I suspect you must be half daft to want to live there, but if you do, on you go and with my blessing. Hell, as a taxpayer, I’ll even subsidise the cost of the ferry. What’s that? Oh, I do? Excellent. Oh, right, I see – naturally, it’s being withdrawn.

Here’s an idea. Let’s keep the subsidy, but every UK taxpayer gets a free hurl on a ferry once a year. That might be an unfortunate choice of words.

We could get all get shot on the ferry, and keep the crews working, the ferries in service, the fares down for the population and spend money in places like Mull and Coll, and other bits of Scotland with names composed of mashed consonants and vowels.

Actually, I’m not utterly sure, but I suspect they make some of these places up.

I come from a CalMac family. Why, we used the Dunoon-Gourock ferry so often I thought I could join the Seaman’s Union.

We had no truck with the upstart Western Ferries, remaining resolute in our loyalty to MV Juno and Jupiter, two banging wee boats that battered back and forward on the Clyde.

They were high speed and super manoeuvrable in their day, taking off like frigates from Gourock pier and swinging round on tuppence at Dunoon when they deployed the bow thrusters. They were cheeky little movers, those ferries.

Legend has it that the skipper of one of the CalMac sisters once handbrake-turned her in mid Clyde as he passed the clunking Western Ferries boat just to prove he could still get to Dunoon faster than him – in reverse.