Saturday, August 26, 2006

Dreaming the life

We have got through three packs of butter this week, mostly to help the kilos of tattie pass through. Last night’s last meal of haggis neeps and tatties is still sitting heavy on the stomach. So today began with a proper breakfast of Stornoway black pudding, tattie scones, a haggis burger and a pair of eggs, and then we sat in the car all day like fat bastards and went for a drive down to the bottom of the world for a salty lunch on Whisky Galore island. And on the way back I dragged my embattled family once again to the lobster shop, this time for a tub of the largest scallops I have ever seen and a bagful of langoustine tails.
The end of the holiday looms. Nothing left to do but sleep, pack and get on the boat, slotting in a final breakfast of puddings, eggs and scones somewhere so that I don’t have to face the scary breakfast on-board.
But I could do with a break from the tatties, right enough. Tonight’s scallop and langoustine pie near ended us. I also almost managed to fuck its mornay-like sauce. I had been reducing a couple of glasses of white wine, see, but owing to some child-related interruption I had taken my eye off it and let it almost evaporate. So I tried to compensate by splashing a little more from the bottle into the light brown roux I was mixing. It went to pieces immediately, and remained the same liquid consistency as I added the milk. So I mixed a little with more flour in a cup and also an egg yolk and mixed that back into the pan. It seemed to work, and I set about seasoning it with plenty of freshly grated nutmeg while chomping langoustine tails dipped in a little bowl of mayonnaise rubbed with garlic and spiked with lemon juice. I boiled up the shells for a quick shellfish stock, nipping out for a fat pipe in a ruined and midge infested kirk, and added that to my sauce along with some strong cheddar.
The scallops were the fattest and most tender I have ever seen, the knife cutting effortlessly [for the first time this week] through the creamy solid cylinders to create a layer on the bottom of a heavily buttered dish. The gaps between them I plugged with pink langoustines and the whole lot I coated with my yellowy restored sauce and left to set a little before forking over a layer of mash and topping it all with generous handfuls of more grated cheese. Twenty minutes later and out came a golden slab of scallop and langoustine pie, which I let rest for a good ten minutes before placing on the table with a bowl of spinach and a sense of sadness.
The seafood here is in a different league from the stuff you get everywhere else. I am going to miss it, like I am the rough-grass covered, sheep-shit-scented fields and long deserted white beaches. I will miss the fresh air and the simplicity of doing nothing all day but walk, cook and eat. The food and cooking has been the crowning theme to this the best holiday I’ve ever had. I fucking love this place. I fucking love it.
But I am also aware that I have been living a dream for the last six days, the house being a freebie, nothing to have to do, and a flash rental car with which to forage. We have lived extremely well. But it is a dream, a lifestyle I cannot afford.
I don’t want to leave. I feel as if the stuff in the national newspapers that I look at doesn’t apply to me anymore, and I have no desire to get back to any normality. This is how I want to live: in a house, on its own, in a place where nobody has gardens because they don’t need them. The wind would harden you after a while for sure, but you would learn to lean into it. And you’d be dining more on musky mutton than on scallops & prawns. Your kids would be happy, if moderately mongoloid in their world views.
But then I spotted the caveat, this morning in fact, outside in the hotel at the ferry terminal. It was half past twelve and he was just rocking back and fore outside a door which you would never know was the entrance to a public bar if you hadn’t grown up in a place like this. He looked fierce, scarily out of his head on drink, as if incapable of walking. There was no telling what he was going to do next, although he appeared to be trying to get back in. There was no ceremony, nobody else around. There was probably only another one or two on the inside. It was broad daylight on a drizzly Saturday midday. He was in his early 40s by the looks of him, taking into account the five to eight years’ pickling, and was wearing one of those padded checked work-shirts, a pair of dirty blue jeans and some non-descript off-white trainers. Weekend wear. This wasn’t some vagrant or hopeless case. He was a probably just a local family man, a builder and part-time crofter perhaps. He would have got himself home in the end, as he does every Saturday. And he might be happy. A warm goodbye to these isles.

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