Civilisation

Moving away from civilisation.

I knew there was going to be trouble when I saw the convoy turn up. There were diggers, concrete mixers, steel and cables. Yes, it was a new phone mast to improve the reception for idiots who, for some reason, wanted to drive around my village and talk to other idiots on their mobes. I wouldn’t say our village is the prettiest in the country but it is our village and when I saw those guys putting up that mast on the top of Windmill Hill, it was the last straw.

I already had to wear my foil lined hat whenever I left the village to protect my brain from the radiation around but now I would have to sleep in it. No, I was off. I know you already  think I am crazy but consider this; would you sit in the sun all day on a mid summer’s day and let yourself come up in red raw blisters from the ultra violet rays? The sun is 93 million miles away and the mast on Windmill Hill is all of 400 yards distant. I know the power of the radiation is lower but I am sure you have heard of the inverse square law of radiation propagation? My radio in the kitchen can pick up Radio 4 from the transmitter mast that is twenty miles away on the top of the escarpment and I am sure that my brain is more sensitive than that old clunker of a radio.

I sold my cottage and loaded  the few possessions that I thought I would need into my old VW camper van, Daisy, and headed North. It took me three days ‘cos Daisy is getting a bit old just like me so we suit each other. I got some strange looks in my foil hat from the guys in their repmobiles, all illegally talking on their mobes but phone masts tend to live near the motorways so I had to take sensible precautions.

I eventually got over the bridge and parked in the square in Portree. After a walk around and a coffee in Mackay’s café, I found the estate agent and said I wanted to buy a small cottage, preferably with crofting rights, as far from town as possible and with no mobile reception. I put a deposit down straight away on a small croft in the country, half way between Kilmaluag and Rubha Hunish. By my reckoning it is the most Northerly habitation on Skye. Daisy and I set off along the A855 through the magnificent Trotternish scenery. I kept checking my radiation monitor – you would probably call it a mobile phone  – and generally there was no signal – wonderful! I got to the telephone box at Kilmaluag and turned off onto the track that led to my new home and stopped, turned Daisy’s engine off and listened. All I could hear was the whisper of the wind in the heather and the caw of a visiting sea gull – nothing else, peace at last.

I found my new home, looking like part of the landscape with its low granite block walls and thatch and turf roof running down to the low slung eaves. What was the first thing I did? Yes, you guessed, checked for a signal on the mobe and then got out my old battery radio and could get no stations. Safe at last to take off my foil lined hat that had served me so well.

It took me most of that summer to get my plot fenced, a fox proof chicken coop built,  a few pigs organised, two cows bought that had recently calved and so   in full milk. I used a rotovator to prepare my veg plot before taking several trips down to the beach at Port Gobhiag to load Daisy up with seaweed ripped up from the off – shore kelp beds by the autumn Atlantic storms. I spread this over the beds to give it a chance to rot down over the winter, ready for the spring planting. I did bung in few crafty rows of early spuds so that I could have my first harvest ready for Christmas dinner.

So there I was, snug in my new home, no mobe, internet, radio, TV. Just my animals,  the wild life and my shelves of books to keep me company in one of the most beautiful areas on earth. I would give myself a half day off a week and would usually go for a walk along the faint path that led from the end of the track to the cliff path down past the basalt columns to the beach facing out to the Atlantic. Was I happy? You bet!

My communication link with the outside world was the phone box at the end of the track, where it joined the A855 at Kilmaluag. I rang the mobile phone company from there about once a month to check that there was still no coverage and the same day I usually went down to the shop for my supplies that I couldn’t grow, such as flour and cereals. Also had a good gossip of course.

I got through the first winter ok, I had tied the roof down with some steel hawsers on the advice of Alec McCaig in the shop. Good advice it turned out as we had some ferocious gales. I had dug some peat from the bog towards the Point and managed to get enough of it dry to feed my fire through the winter. I love the feel and smell of a turf fire.

The first Spring was spent sowing the vegetables, milking the cows and doing all those other jobs that need doing when you are crofting, fencing, peat digging, looking after the chickens and the pigs although they were fairly self sufficient and rooted through the second vegetable plot for me with great gusto. The chickens made short work of any slugs and snails. All was going well and I had no regrets about leaving ‘civilisation’ and making a new life. I was fit and healthy from the work and the fresh, home produced food. I even got used to the weather, ‘If you can see the hills, it’s going to rain, if you can’t see the hills, it’s raining’  just about sums up the Skye weather apart from not mentioning the wind.

I had few visitors, only the postman who turned up about once a week and my neighbours dropping in on their way past to discuss crops and animals and compare notes on sowing times and the weather.

Then one day a bombshell. I was in the shop chatting to Alec over a cup of tea when he mentioned that the mobile phone company was building a mast on the mountain overlooking  Kilmaluag, towards Duntulm.

‘Why on earth would they want to do that?’ I asked, descending into black despair

‘Apparently they have been getting a call every month about the lack of signal here so they thought they had better do something before they get any more complaints’

Oh well, back to wearing my foil hat.

© Richard Kefford                                                                                                        Eorðdraca

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Writing what you know

It may be a truism, but writing what you know can help start a creative process ; whether you’re a new writer, or whether you’ve been doing it for donkey’s years, sometimes the words won’t come and the page remains empty… so look around, think back, remember… write what you know.

We have already shared some stories from Andrew Simpson, the well-regarded Manchester writer and historian about the house where he lives. Another of our writers, Lois Elsden also lived there for a while. It is a magical house, a special house, and here Lois gives a glimpse into her time there, and you may recognise ‘Hugh’ who she wrote about recently:

I posted this originally as ‘A house with a heart…’ Some places are just special, and not that I believe in the supernatural, but sometimes some places do have a distinct atmosphere, which can be menacing and spooky, or can be sad and unloved, or can be warm and happy! Such a house is on Beech Road, and my connection with it goes back a very long time!

I ended up at Manchester Polytechnic purely by accident; it used to be that if you wanted to study English at University you had to have Latin and for various reasons I didn’t… but that’s another story. There were 13 universities I could apply for… none of them were interested in me and like a lot of students I went through what is known as ‘clearing,’ and so ended up at the College of Commerce, otherwise known as Colcom, within Manchester Polytechnic.

Here I am aged 18, ready for a whole new adventure!

I met the best friends in the world and before long there was a group of five of us who were very close;  In 1974 or maybe it was 1975, one of our group, decided that rather than living in bedsits and flats, he would buy a house, and he found the details of a large, three bedroomed  property on Beech Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy.

1975

At that time I was working at Manchester Airport, the others were teachers and as I worked shifts I was free to pick up the keys and do an initial inspection of the house. It had been owned by an old lady who had died, so when I turned the key and stepped into the house, it had been empty for some time although it still had some of her furniture.

If you are interested in knowing the history of the house, Andrew Simpson has written a series of excellent articles chronicling the story of this wonderful place.

http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/

It was a sunny day as I entered the spacious hallway with a generous staircase leading up on the left; there were curtains and nets at the windows but even so, the rooms were full of dusky light, the house warm and welcoming. I wandered round from room to room; it was peaceful and magic. From the large front room there is a view straight across the small front garden, across the red brick wall, across Beech Road to the park. The front room was full of oversized furniture, slumbering dimly, covered in dust. The fireplace had a huge mahogany surround, with mirrors inset in true Edwardian early Georgian style. There was a mahogany picture rail with a few obscure pictures suspended by picture hooks and wires.

Behind the front room was a dining room looking out over a small sheltered garden which backed on to a little alley which ran between Beaumont and Provis Road. There was a very small kitchen at the back, and between the kitchen door and the door to the cellars was the back door leading out of the side of the house. Cautiously I went down into the cellars, they were large, extensive and dry, no smell of damp or rot, just perfect for storage. There was a coal hole and there was the remains of a pile of coal, dusty and smelling of bacon. There was also a boiler down here… but above all there was space!

Upstairs there was a small unusual shaped landing with two large bedrooms, one small one and a bathroom. The windows were large and the rooms full of sunshine. This house was perfect.

It was bought  and we moved in, the three of us. Over the years other people lived with us for periods of time, and we had many happy times here, unforgettable!

Christmas with friends, 1977

We started having Christmas celebration before Christmas with friends as we tended to go away from Manchester back to our own families. Note the 1970’s Habitat lampshade!

Christmas cracker!

We had many visitors over the years we were there, we loved cooking and entertaining!

Entertaining French friends… cooking for French people… ooo-er!
Happy days! A favourite picture

… and then our friend got bored… so after building his own telescope, grinding and polishing the lens himself, he built a boat – in the dining room!

He shaped the timbers for the boat by nailing them into the floor and then filling the room with steam… I think he constructed a little tent over the whole thing. If you look at the floor today you will still see the outline of the boat in nail-holes in the floorboards!

The boat in the garden

Once the structure was moved into the small back garden, it was then built upside down. It was covered with fibre glass – if you dig in the garden you can still come across traces of it thirty-five years on! It was quite heavy by the time the hull was finished and needing turning over, so we recruited as many friends as could, including Andrew Simpson, Whispering Dave, and other  friends, all with strong muscles! A key member of the team was an elderly gent who though many, many years older than us was a very good friend.

Celebrating the turning over of the boat!
The boat ready to be towed to Porthmadog, North Wales.

These photos have faded, and even if like them the memories are a little blurry, I still remember those very happy times and those people with love.

Postscript:  the house was sold , and, after a couple of years with a different owner, Andrew bought it and lives there still!  Whenever i visit him , the house, as ever welcomed me as warmly as ever.

Old friends, best friends