We’re just three sleeps away now from the Two Fat Laddies road trip to the Isles.
On Wednesday we’ll be setting off ridiculously early to drive from Edinburgh to Lewis, via Skye, to hang out at the Hebridean Celtic Festival and, weather permitting, get some serious cycling in at the same time.
All good to go.
But as Shaun said, when we went to the gym for the first time in far too long the other night – you never really know someone until you go on holiday with them.
And he’s right.
This will be my first ever Hebridean Celtic Festival, and it promises to be a blast. Just check out the video below.
But the trip isn’t just about the festival. At least not for me.
Because this is ‘my manor’ we’re heading to, and because Shaun’s knowledge of Scotland gets hazy anywhere north-west of Perth, I feel a certain responsibility for his enjoyment on this adventure.
I want him to see the place I will always call home in its best light, to meet the people who have been my muckers the longest, and to generally have a whale of a time.
A lot has changed since I left Lewis 20 years ago and my observations are, I confess, based on infrequent visits, and trying to keep up with developments at home through the first paper I worked for, the Stornoway Gazette, bloggers like my journalistic colleague Torcuil Crichton, Iain X Maciver, new websites like Hebrides Today and the paper I always yearned to work for, The West Highland Free Press.
Empty, boarded up shops and down at heel pubs tell their own story, so i’m pretty sure that Shaun will see that Outer Hebrides have gone through, and continue to go through, economic hardships and depopulation as the old economies of Harris Tweed and fishing decline.
Tourism and fish-farming have taken up some of the slack, but the numbers don’t stack up the way they did.
There is hope in the form of alternative energy, and because the Western Isles have an absurd abundance of all the elements – wind, fresh water, tide – the islands have prospects. But the future could do with arriving soon.
In the meantime, existence there is hard. I chose to leave at the age of 18 but others have been forced to leave to chase work. It is not the way it should be.
The rise in technology has, I think, shifted that mental geography. There is a realisation now in these more ‘remote’ areas that you don’t have to be in Westminister or Soho to be plugged in to the zeitgeist (if that is your job). You could just as equally be sitting on a beach with a laptop, or with a smartphone. And if you’re on the beach you’re already one up on the guy who has to drive two hours to get to his work.
That has led to a new industry in my islands, that of the call centre. People seem to like Hebridean accents when they phone. In all honesty I’m not sure that call centre working is any more healthy for the spirit than sitting at a loom for hours on end weaving Harris Tweed, as my family did, but if it’s the same story all over then at least once the day is done, the guy in the call centre in Lewis still gets to breathe fresh air and look at natural beauty when he leaves his work.
Which means a younger generation, and my not so young generation, are saying – what’s the point of moving? Or, if they are in my shoes, considering moving home.
Me? I think about it regularly but I’m a feartie wage slave, and i worry about feeding my family. I don’t know what I would do, what we would live off, If I moved home.
But I am certain the whole ‘rock in the Atlantic’ outlook has changed since I left and I am glad of it.
I sense there is a cultural renaissance happening there too, a renaissance most evident in the continuing success of the Hebridean Celtic Festival but also in a thriving artistic community who realise they really don’t need to hitch their wagon to connect with an audience.
I hope Shaun enjoys it, I hope to show him things like Luskentyre and Seilebost beaches and to enjoy some proper BBQ action there on the beach if the weather allows.
But I also hope to show him some other things, like the Rodel Church,, like the standing stone at Calanais, like St Moluag’s Church where I got married, that will show him there was and remains an ancient and proud culture.