Susan Morrison: Warm welcome . . apart from the upward sleet

You know, Stornoway is not a pretty place. It’s a grand wee rough tough town, not a Brigadoon chocolate boxy place with special vantage points marked on the pavement for tourists to get their entire family into shot to obscure the vantage point in the first place.

Friday, 16th March 2012, 11:24 am

No, Stornoway is a town with a job to do.

Admittedly I wasn’t seeing Stornoway at its best. Sleety rain flying upwards was a first, and a wind so savage that I realised why the island folks are just that wee bit bigger than lowlanders. We just get chucked about like used chip wrappers on Lothian Road.

It’s entirely possible that on a summer’s day, Stornoway looks like a Bounty advert, all silver sands and azure seas. Doesn’t really matter. The people are wonderful with a warmth that makes up for the climate any time.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

We flew up from Edinburgh. It’s not really a plane that goes up to the islands. Its basically a bread van with wings. You get to walk out to it, with the feeling you should have been at a briefing about ack-ack fire and warnings about keeping a sharp eye out for bandits in ME-109s jumping you over the channel.

It’s a different sort of customer care on a tiny plane battering north. Kirsty efficiently wheeled out the trolley, which looks suspiciously like one of those hostess trolley things my mum coveted back in the 70s.

There was tea and two types of water, sparkling or plain. I asked for coffee. Certainly, came the breezy answer, I’ll just away up and make you and the captain one. I was this close to asking if I could get a shot of the controls. Bet they’d let me. . .

Comforting words from the captain “The conditions are a little challenging this morning” as we thundered into land. Actually we seemed to be landing sideways. I couldn’t stop humming the Dambusters theme.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an airport that’s actually smaller than the plane. You feel as if you could lift it up, give it a dust and then put it back down.

They had Live Aid before Geldof was even born

WE WERE in Stornoway to make a radio documentary about the catastrophic sinking of the SS Norge in 1904. She smacked into Rockall carrying about 800 souls, mainly Scandinavians and Jewish people fleeing persecution in Russia.

Norge only carried enough lifeboats for 200 – sound familiar? Worse, she had no radio so, when she went down, no-one knew about the eight lifeboats out there until a fisherman raised the alarm and Stornoway went into full-on rescue mode. At the local library we saw moving newspaper accounts of the way the people of Lewis mobilised fast to help these strangers they’d pulled from the sea. The very day the first boat came ashore they arranged a concert featuring the Gaelic choir, a sort of 1904 Live Aid, but without Geldof swearing, which can only be a good thing.You’ll be taking the 6.30 flight back, they said. Yup, we answered. Well, they said, you’d best get to the airport early, then. Once everyone is there, they just go.

And they did.

Over-enthusiastic security personnel prompt a little sole searching

Aha! There might be a laid-back attitude to split-second living and the tyranny of the timetable, but the cult of security has spread its tentacles to Stornoway. All six of us had to empty pockets, take jackets off, explain who had packed our bags, assure security that they had never been out of our sight for a minute, and, of course, remove shoes.

Now, that included a lady of a certain age and the sort of bearing that indicates Grand Dame of the Church of Scotland. There were few grounds for suspecting her to be toting a terrorist tootsie bomb. She pointed that out to Murdo in no uncertain terms.

Well, said Murdo *, that’s all very well, Agnes, but I don’t know where you’ve been all week. You could have come under the sway of a terrorist.

Murdo, I suspect, is an avid watcher of Homeland, the current telly hit about an American soldier who may or may not have been swayed by sinister swarthy people to trigger a bomb. Murdo, has taken the lessons to heart. No-one is above suspicion. Not even Agnes. Shoes off.

Don’t be ridiculous, said Agnes. Terrorist indeed. I’ve only been to my chiropodist. Well, said Murdo, is he a Muslim fundamentalist? No, snapped Agnes. He’s a MacRae. Wee Free.

*names have been changed. I’m scared of Agnes. Too much like my granny . . .

Odd one out

By the way, they knew we were all assembled at the airport by the headcount of Morrisons. There were four of us with the same surname, but I was the only one they didn’t recognise, so they figured I was the one from Edinburgh.