Tuesday, 29 September 2009

What we did on our holidays

"Oh hi, Malcolm and Sally. We've booked you into the Love Shack."

"What? Seriously?"

"Yes, that's why we called earlier to check you were a couple. Here's the key."

"That'd be the key with 'room 3' on it."

"Yeah, that's right, room 3's the Love Shack."

"Good grief."

We were enjoying a crafty long weekend away on Skye, celebrating Mrs Pig "Farmer's" birthday. We opted for cheap and cheerful and were just about tolerating the terrible, enforced jollity of hostels.

The Love Shack turned out to be a small, clean room with a double bed, sink and broken window latch. Some of it was painted pink, so I suspect that's where the 'love' bit comes in.

Anyhoo, the irony of two Scottish island-dwelling folk going for a holiday on a Scottish island wasn't lost on me, but we've always liked Skye (indeed, we considered moving there) so who cares?

"Timbres! Timbres! TIMBRES!" shouted the very small French woman at the bewildered fella behind the counter in Portree's Post Office.

"Stamps," said the pig "farmer" helpfully.

"Oh right, thanks," said Post Office Fella. "How many?" he asked very small French woman.


"Eh? No. HOW MANY?"

"Combien?" said the pig "farmer", butting into the Eurovision Shouting Competition with his O-level grade C French.

"France et Belgique."

"HOW MANY?" persisted POF, waving his fingers around in the manner of Ted Rogers.

"Un pour France, et un pour Belgique," said VSFW.

"Two," said the pig "farmer", interested to learn it's not just the British who can't be arsed to learn anyone else's language, even when visiting their country.

At a time when Orkney is getting all set for the winter, there are still a lot of holidaymakers in Skye. The island is very much geared up towards tourism, the main road into Portree lined with a forest of B&B signs, most with a 'no vacancies' added. By all accounts it's been like that all summer.

It's hardly surprising. A certain fame from the Bonnie Prince Charlie thing (and that godawful song) and a relative proximity to major cities (relative to Orkney, that is) make the island a major highlight on the Scottish grand tour.

And there's the landscape. Skye has scenery to spare. The mountains crowd around, pushing everything else towards the sea - spectacular. It's just a shame it rains 361 days every year.

The hostel at Flodigarry was full of wiry, thin men and their ruddy-faced partners, the kind of people who are genuinely interested in what sort anorak you wear. The pig "farmer" was enjoying a hearty breakfast. Easily the fattest bloke in the place, he was becoming uncomfortably aware he was the only one who hadn't been up for hours wrestling a Cuillin into submission.

Not to be outdone, the pig "farmers" pulled on boots and waterproofs and walked the few miles to Duntulm Castle on the northernmost tip of Trotternish peninsular. Perched on a rocky outcrop, the ruins of the McDonald stronghold provide fabulous views over the Minch towards the Western Isles.

On the return walk we stopped to buy eggs, swopping notes with couple who ran the croft, the pig "farmers" casting envious glances towards the polytunnels and strawberry plants.

Next day, the rain eased as the midday train left Kyle of Lochalsh, following the shore of Loch Carron on its way to Dingwall where we would have just enough time for a pint before changing trains for Thurso and the ferry back to Orkney.

Sal's phone rang. The evening sailing across the Pentland Firth was "under review" due to high winds. Winter is on its way.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Football - the next generation

I'm 48. I don't think it's so very old, although my children will have their own opinions.

I am, however, becoming used to the sons of former footballers forging careers of their own - Frank Lampard the obvious example.

What I wasn't ready for was the sight of Motherwell's Tom Hateley receiving the man-of-the-match award at the end of Saturday's 0-0 draw with Rangers.

Tom is son of former Rangers and AC Milan (among others) striker Mark Hateley and the grandson of ex-Liverpool and Coventry forward Tony Hateley - who I recall being one of the prized, rare cards in our playground swop sessions (you could exchange two Jeff Astles and any number of Joe Kirkups for a Tony Hateley).

Suddenly I felt very old indeed.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The revolution can wait. . . until after the post-match interviews

I have a dreadful confession. The pig "farmer" has sold out. My membership of the Tipton Young Communists' Afternoon Tea Dance Club has been withdrawn.

We've got SkyTV.

We've had all kinds of costly trouble with BT, so we flounced off, not being too sure where to flounce.

It was Mrs Pig "Farmer", who has a sensible job and therefore pays the regular household bills, who suggested Murdoch's evil empire, prompted no doubt by the almost daily mailshots which we have taken to using as loft insulation.

"You could have the sports channels," she said, half-seriously and very unwisely.

"What, really?" said the pig "farmer", the idea burrowing its way deep into his brain.

I was surprised how reasonable it all was, how helpful Rupert's stormtroopers were and at how little guilt I felt. Sorry, but there you go. Maybe I'm not so right-on and funky after all.

So it was that I found myself last night attempting to watch four football World Cup qualifiers and a one-day cricket international all at once. I felt like I'd played by the end of it.

Scotland did what they did best - gallant defeat - Northern Ireland's promise fizzled out good and proper, and Wales came a distant second to Vlad's boys, which leaves the rest of us having, for the next nine months, to listen to rednecks telling us how Eng-er-lund are going to win in South Africa.

Bet John Terry's blubbing come quarter-final day.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Next: the pig "farmer" unicycles up a hill backwards

The pig "farmer" tried not to look down and ignored the slight swaying motion of the stack of bales as he eased the top off the large wooden box.

Twenty feet below, the concrete floor of the barn looked hard, very hard, harder than a gang of Millwall fans after a 4-0 defeat.

Then the phone went.

"Hi mum, lovely to hear from you, but can I call back? Bit busy right now trying not to fall to a grisly death."

Ten minutes later I started bagging up the barley.

Philip, a neighbouring farmer, had warned me that, although there was plenty of barley, it was "quite high up".

"I'll come and give you a hand if you're struggling."

But he was in the middle of his tea and my stupid male pride and all that sort of thing. . .

The barley was in a number of wooden chests, stacked on top of each other next to the aforementioned stack of bales. I found a ladder and, grasping my bucket and some feed sacks, started to climb.

Steadying myself at the top, I knelt on the straw and filled the first bag. The next problem presented itself - how to get a 20kg bag of barley off a 20ft stack of straw bales to the ground without spilling the stuff everywhere.

I gradually got into a lying position and, with one hand clinging to the wooden chest, I leaned over the edge and eased the bag down, swinging it onto the top of a couple of old oil drums, keeping a firm grip until I was satisfied it wasn't going to fall over.

I repeated this twice before deciding I'd had enough. My knees groaned as I whiteknucked my way down the ladder, my legs wobbled ever so slightly as I reached terra firma.

I hope those pigs appreciate the lengths I go to to get their tea.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Bingo Bros

It was Mr Hotel Proprietor's birthday. Strong drink had been taken.

"Whatever happened to Bros?" he asked.

"Eh? Whatthechuffineck? I've got some ripped jeans," slurred the pig "farmer", unhelpfully.

"No, it's just that their granny used to go to bingo with my mum and I wondered how they were getting on, that's all."

"Errr. . . not bad, I suspect. They'll be due for a reunion any time now, fingers crossed," I added, rallying bravely.

"Pint?" said Mr HP.

"Smashing, thanks."