Thursday, August 24, 2006

Still here

In fact, I feel more alive than I have done for as long as I can remember. It’s a combination of the air the sea the food the peace. We are all sleeping like logs, the children’s faces rosy pink and their eyes bright and alert. It is an exceptional quality of life up here if you do it right. I left the house yesterday morning and yomped over the hill to miles of white beach that felt as if I had just discovered them. The wind was fresh and I gulped it down in huge lungfulls as I strode down to the white sand, the taste of wild smoked salmon keen on my breath. I arrived at the shore in solitude and took off all my clothes, feeling the salty wind against my white goosebumped flesh. I went in up to my balls, which disappeared almost immediately, and then plunged in until it took my breath away. It was fucking fantastic, walking out of the sea after a roll around feeling as if every cell in my body had been replenished.

It set me up for the day’s drive to the next island south for some sight seeing, the high point being a detour to a seafood shop tucked away on the tip of a remote eastward peninsula. It was a wholesaler with a small retail outlet at the side, but no one was manning it when we arrived so I sneaked in to find an army of Poles sifting through the meat of hundreds and hundreds of big brown crabs. The smell filled the building, my shoes cracking and slipping over langoustine shells and lobster tentacles. It was all screamingly fresh and dirt-cheap, and we left with a large lobster and pot of crabmeat, some smoked haddock and a fillet of lemon sole for the kids.

I had wanted to buy live, but as soon as I bit into the fat red and white tail I realized that this was as fresh as it gets. I halved it and served it with hot garlic butter; a boule of crabmeat perched roughly on top a concasse of finely chopped cherry tomatoes bound with oil, lemon and seasoned generously; and a sweet pile of garden lettuce coated in a tart lemon dressing. Brown bread smeared with soft salty butter to bulk it out and I sat there until every last cubic millimetre of flesh was picked and sucked from the alien carcase. This was untouchable, and the perfect accompaniment to my icy morning swim and bracing lunchtime beach walk. I went to bed a happy, happy man, tired and topped up with a simple course of cheese and small, dark, moist Hebridean oatcakes.

Today began with a breakfast of smoked haddock poached in milk and butter with a couple of crushed leftover tatties. It set us up good for the day’s walk, which saw us roam mile upon mile of unspoiled, deserted white beach, stopping under the shelter of the dunes to assemble some crab sandwiches and “donner” salad bags -- a good handful of washed&dried leaves in a food bag, shaken about when ready with a sharp, salty lemon dressing and eaten by gripping the base of the bag, rolling down the sides and chomping through the firm green leaves as if they were a greasy big kebab. I was sat there in my version of heaven, my bare sandy feet drying off in the wind and my skin burning from another three-minute romp in the Atlantic.

By the end of the day we were in need of something hearty for tea, and something early. So as soon as I had taken my boots off I was stuffing a half shoulder of best Hebridean lamb with garlic and salt to give it a good slow roast. Keeping things as simple as possible I also roasted a tray of the last of the tatties, thinly sliced, and the sweetest courgettets I’ve ever tasted, with plenty of good olive oil and salt. Some green cabbage and a handful of broad beans also had to be used up, and I brought everything together with a quick gravy by deglazing the roasting tray with red wine, adding a tiny little amount of flour and loosening it up with water from the veg. Eating sheep felt right. I love this place. I don’t remember feeling this content. I am savouring every last fucking moment.

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