I Feel The Island Breathing…


Version 2

I feel the island breathing… Bobby Watt

Our lives are constantly evolving; friends come and go, we may live in many cities in our lifetime, career paths change, parents die, jobs end, children grow up and move away, illnesses rob you of health and strength, a husband – the man you thought was your soulmate – discards you.

But today, driving off the ferry onto the Isle of Arran, I felt my soul gladden and ease. Arran has been the one, dependable, constant in my life since I was seven years-old. As my daughter and I walked along the shore this evening, we discussed how, barring a few exceptions,  I have memories from this island for every single year of my life.

My mum and I were never supposed to come to Arran at all, but that summer of 1962, I had my tonsils out.  Even after a family holiday in Rothesay, I was still looking a bit ‘peely-wally’ – as they say in Scotland – and my mum decided to give me an extra week by the seaside before I went back to school.  We stayed in a B&B in Lamlash, and I can still remember the branches from the bush outside our window tapping on the glass at night.  It felt so comforting to have my mum to cuddle up to.

A few years later, Mum rented a house for a month, and from then on, that was our family holiday – two weeks with my mum and various friends and family, then Dad would come down for the last two weeks of July. He golfed most mornings – even when it rained – but then we’d all do something in the afternoon.  One of those ‘somethings’ was him taking me out fishing in a rowing boat where all we caught were the ‘stingers’ from big brown jellyfish.  Ugh. The thought of it still makes me shudder.

So many memories.

Bursting out the door in the morning, my holiday friends and I free to roam wherever we wanted and only coming home when we were hungry. Having a fish supper, still in its newspaper wrapping, bought from the van on the front, for dinner. Playing on the beach for hours and hours and hours, and not being allowed to wear trousers but only shorts and flip-flops for the whole month – no matter the weather – because there wasn’t a washing machine in the house and Mum didn’t want to spend her days doing unnecessary laundry.  If my legs got wet, I simply dried them off with a towel! Driving up into the hills to watch the deer gather at dusk.  The Christian Children’s Seaside Mission on the beach every weekday – a service and singing in the morning, games in the afternoon, and sausage sizzles in the evening. It was idyllic.

And then, after Mum and Dad decided to buy a holiday house on the island, we’d visit for weekends throughout the year as well as the summer months.  Monday morning found us up before dawn, having breakfast on the ferry, and Dad dropping me off at school before he went in to work.

I climbed the island’s highest mountain, Goatfell, with a schoolfriend and her family when I was 15, and cycled round the island with other friends when I was 19. We were so exhausted when we arrived at the Lochranza Youth Hostel that we were in bed and asleep at 7pm.

A few years later I brought my soon to be husband to visit, and my mum was shocked when he bought me a floaty boho top – her father would never have approved.

More years – more memories, both happy and sad.

My dad’s funeral.

Visiting Mum when I was heavily pregnant with my son, then introducing both him and my daughter to the island. Listening to my mum laugh with joy as my nephew twirled my daughter around in that huge garden which overlooked the bay.  Taking the kids to the beach, then visiting the island with my daughter and her friend when they were about 10 – at the height of the Spice Girls mania – and the pair of them dancing down the main street singing ‘Stop right there, thank you very much…” at 6am when we were all jet-lagged out of our minds.

My mum’s funeral.

My daughter and I spending 5 months in mum’s house.  My daughter went to High School and I worked in the island hospital where the nursing care the patients receive has to be the best in the world. The bonfire on the beach at Guy Fawkes and seeing the pinpricks of coloured lights from rockets being shot into the sky miles away on the mainland.

Visiting my daughter, who was spending a year working on the island, and the pair of us deciding to buy a time-share here  Her meeting her husband a few years later when she worked for a summer at one of the island’s hotels.  Our whole family – including my husband, our son, his wife and their six-month-old daughter – spending a week, all together, before our daughter’s wedding.

Bringing friends who’d never been to Scotland to the time share, and watching them fall in love with the island too.  Another friend and I making a wish about a special project at the ancient standing stones… and it coming true!  Spending time with my husband, sitting on the balcony, sipping a glass of wine while he smoked on a cigar, just relaxing and chatting while we stared out at the most amazing view.

Being in Edinburgh with a friend four years ago, planning to meet my husband at the airport a few days later so we could travel to Arran together, then getting a call from Canada to say he was too sick to travel. I should go to Arran on my own, he insisted.  But of course I went back to Canada. I loved him. I couldn’t leave him if he was sick.  But, as I discovered, the only kind of ‘sick’ he was, was sick of me. He’d wanted to spend time with his ‘office wife’.  He’d had no intention of coming on holiday with me. He was already in love with ‘her’ – although I didn’t know that at the time.  Two weeks later she gave him an ultimatum and he left me.

Coming back to the island that first year after he left, when things were still raw and memories all too fresh, was hard.  What if he had come over the year before?  Might we still be married? All the horrors, all the pain, a nervous breakdown and thoughts of suicide would never have happened.  But they had, so I went out alone for walks in the evening and sobbed.

Returning the following year with a friend, seeing the island again through fresh eyes while recalling all my experiences over the decades, helped me heal and create more new, happy memories.

I’m back once more, this time with my daughter, her husband and their two children. That’s four generations of my family that now love this place.  And I will be back, yet again, in less than a month, sharing my love of the island with another friend who has never been to Scotland before.

I hope to be coming to Arran for many more years.

While I was still married, I asked my husband what he wanted me to do with his ashes, should he die first.  His response was that he wanted to be wherever I was, which meant our ashes being mixed and scattered on the Brodick beach in Arran.

Now, when the time comes, I will be on my own.  But I won’t be alone. Half my ashes will be spread on my parents’ graves and the other half on the beach.  I’ll be in my magic place.  The home of my memories and my soul. The place that has been a constant love throughout my life.

And I know my kids and grandkids will continue to visit the island when they can.

How lucky I am.

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