Friday 15 December 2017

Just One Hundred Years Ago

Skye is littered with the ruins of numerous small stone-built dwellings - most were occupied until the mid-to-late 19th century, and many of the descendants of the people who lived in those dwellings will be living amongst us today. We have become so used to our modern heating systems and plumbing, but when an icy wind is blowing or the rain is racing horizontally across the moor, I have tried to imagine what it must have been like to have lived, eaten and slept in such buildings - especially in the depths of mid-winter.

In December 2015, I wrote a short piece in memory of my father - it would then have been his 100th birthday.  The piece has never been published anywhere, so I will copy it here, where it will serve as a reminder of how fortunate we are to be living in the comforts of 2017 – be it in rural England or the Scottish Highlands!

Just One Hundred Years Ago...

... a tiny two-bedroom cottage stood alone alongside a muddy track amid the fields of rural Buckinghamshire. The cottage had no running water, no electricity, an outdoor shed with earth closet, and an open fire for heating and cooking. The cottage was home to a farm labourer, David, his wife Lucy, and their two sons, Fred, age 4, and Dave, age 2.

David, Lucy and Davy, the dog. About 1930
The farm labourer’s wife was heavily pregnant, and in that cottage, on 14th December 1915 – in the bleak mid-winter – the cottage became home to their third son.

It is almost impossible to imagine the conditions at the time, or the hardship experienced by mother and newborn. It is likely a neighbour helped with the birth – professional medical assistance was unlikely.

The newborn baby was later christened Arthur Thomas, but he was always known as Tom. Tom grew up with his brothers to learn the ways of the countryside, and attended the local village elementary school where he was an excellent pupil. At age 12, he was awarded a scholarship to attend Grammar School in nearby Aylesbury.

On leaving school, Tom gained employment with the Met Office, initially working in London. While living in London, in 1936, Tom met an Islington seamstress named Doris, and on 11th December 1938, they were married.

Tom and Doris, 1943
Tom stayed with the Met Office throughout his working life, and during the War, joined the RAF where he continued to work as a Met Officer. For a time he was attached to Bomber Command where he was responsible for providing essential weather forecasts for air raids over Germany.

On 6th June 1945 – the first anniversary of D-Day - my sister Sue was born, and on 18th March 1951, I joined the Dorrell family.

Tom - my much loved and still-missed Dad -  died 11th February 1997, aged 82.

Friday 8 December 2017

Deep, Dark, December

There is magic in all of the seasons on Skye. The magic is easy to spot in spring, when the countryside bursts into life with a thousand wild flowers in every direction. Or in summer, when the sun glistens in ever-changing patterns on the sea, and the evenings are as bright as the daytime. Or in autumn, when the hills and moorland are painted in every imaginable shade of yellow, brown, green and gold.

So, what of winter, when all about is wet, cold and lifeless?

Damp, Dismal, Dreary, Dull, Drizzly, Drab, Dripping.... there are plenty of words beginning with 'D' that can describe a Skye December. A few might add 'Depressing' or 'Dispiriting' - though not me. The raw winter wind is as clean and fresh as the wind can ever be. Frequent flurries of sleet and snow race by, rattling their icy fingertips on the windows as they pass. The lifeless grasses on the moor shiver in silence as daylight fades and the looming moon peers through gaps in the clouds.

But we are cosy inside. Stove glowing. Books to read, Christmas cards to write.

Me in December...???  Dreamy, Drowsy, Dependable, Defended, Durable.

Roskhill today - Sun, Snow and...
... Sunset