Monday, 21 November 2016

White Winter Hymnal

The other day my friend Paul Pike was good enough to forward this item on to me: Of course, I agree wholeheartedly with the consensus expressed. Indeed, upon learning of it my first reaction was one of giddy over-exuberance. That, coupled with an urge to share the news as if it were that of a bouncing new-born and I the proud father. And then I calmed down. On reflection, I suspect it was the word 'desirable' that dampened my fireworks since I really don't care for its use in this context. It seems to me too twee and smug; stockbroker-belt tidy and bringing to mind cream teas and the sound of leather upon willow. Whereas in my mind Skye is wild and not for taming. It has its own particular beauty for sure, one that gets into your bones and seeps down to your soul. But it can as well be a roaring, howling beast, forever unsettled and unpredictable. It is sensuous and evocative, raw and thrilling much more than it is plain old desirable.

Or perhaps I am being an inverted snob and terrible ponce, and certainly not for the first time. At all events, winter's shroud has fallen across the island in recent days and accentuated its most primal features. The peaks and crevices of the two Cuillin ranges and the Trotternish Ridge are laden with snow; the north wind bites and freezes as it swoops down from the mountains or in from the sea; mornings arrive glistening, evenings fall at a beat to a fathomless black and with cloudless skies so devoid of light pollution one is able to behold the iridescent splendour of the Milky Way.

In total, it is very often right now just as wondrous as I could ever imagine a place to be. Hunkered down in our warm little house on frigid nights, which is to say every one during this past week, the effect is like being wrapped up in a cocoon and made safe from the world outside. Often times that too applies in a more general sense to living on the island: there is here a tangible feeling of being distant and at a remove from events elsewhere. No bad thing this past fortnight at least, when in our glorious isolation even Donald Trump's election to the US Presidency has been made to seem out of reach of whatever demons might soon be summoned forth.

For us these last three months have been a steady, but continual learning process. The warmth of our welcome has been enriched by the steady diet of tips and recommendations we continue to be fed. Among the knowledge we have latterly been gifted is the location of a shop from which to buy fish straight off the boats that chug out from Portree harbour each weekday dawn; directions to a secreted path that winds up from the town, through pine forest and onto a plateau from which to view the island's three mountain ranges, and panoramas of ocean, loch and ochre-coloured moorland; and the details of doctors and dentists, and teachers at everything from acoustic guitar and yoga to karate.

From a personal perspective, I have also begun to acquire a belated education in live broadcast radio. In the first instance and just the other week, I received instruction on how to operate the 'board' from a gentleman who necessarily had the patience and forbearance of a saint. Now, I have done radio before. Indeed, for several years I presented a weekly show on Q magazine's sister radio station. This was the Q Show [and how we laboured over that title...], and through the course of it I must have racked up hundreds of hours on air.

During all that time, though, no-one was ever foolish enough to let me loose on things that required any kind of technical aptitude. Rather, I would simply roll up at our poky but well-appointed London studio each Wednesday afternoon and waffle away for a couple of hours, while a very nice man named Andy Westcott did all the hard work for me. Andy was the show's producer and he it was who operated the galaxy of knobs and buttons that make up the regulation sound board and which were as mysterious to me as the finer points of astrophysics.

The two of us hosted an assortment of guests on the show, all of whom had the dubious pleasure of being interviewed by me and also reviewing a batch of new singles' releases. It was a simple format, and a 'borrowed' one too, but I left it with a richness of memories. Among the younger, wide-eyed visitors to Andy's and my domain were Florence Welch and Mumford & Sons, just in advance of either of them becoming the strutting, planet-gobbling pop stars they are today. Of our more seasoned celebrities, Belinda Carlisle appeared to enjoy the experience as much as root canal work. Manfully as I tried to coax a smile from the one-time Go-Go's girl, she sat tight-lipped and stony-faced, regarding me as if I were something she had found on the bottom of her shoe. I couldn't think why.

I thought I had at least tempted a chortle out of the actor Rhys Ifans. He had turned up somewhat over-refreshed and apparently unable to form a coherent sentence. "That's easy for you to say," I informed him when his first utterance proved to be unintelligible gibberish. He made a sound like an engine back-firing and which I took for laughter. Until, that is, he pressed his lips to my ear and whispered very clearly, and with an overpowering stench of booze and no little menace: "You're a cheeky c**t, aren't you?" And then he kicked me hard on the shin.

Bald-bonced dance boffin Moby on the other hand greeted me as if I were an old friend, throwing his arms around me and pondering aloud when and where it was we had last met. The two of us had in fact never before been in the same room together, much less exchanged even a passing word though I didn't have the heart to tell him. Then there was erstwhile Housemartin and Beautiful South-er Paul Heaton, who really was lovely but also bonkers. At one point, I asked him if he had any hobbies. It sounded a harmless enough inquiry, but unleashed the hounds. "Oh yes," said Heaton, eyes ablaze and he began to reel off a list of all the things that he collected. Among them were football shirts, beer mats, crisp packets, road atlases, ring-pulls from cans of pop, and last but judging by Heaton's exultant expression not least, single items of litter that he retrieved from the roadside when walking his son to school each morning. I backed as far away from him as was possible in a space with the dimensions of a shoebox.

Perhaps my favourite guest of all was Tom Jones. We heard him coming long before we saw him, as his voice resounded down the corridors of our floor like rolling thunder. "Hello my lovely!" his baritone boomed on numerous occasions and as we were to learn later at every female who happened across his path. The Human Crotch subsequently swept into the studio in a dazzle of brilliant white teeth and expensive cologne, trailed by an attentive man-servant who carried with him several bottles of beer. Tom instantaneously proceeded to regale us with tales of his running around Las Vegas with Elvis and Frank Sinatra, old school charm personified. When it came time to play the first record, he reached out for a beer. "Tsk," admonished his minder, nodding at the digital clock on the wall which read 5.47pm. Tom withdrew his hand like a chastened child. Twice more this routine was repeated and then the electric-red numbers turned to 6pm. "Ah, the sun is over the yardarm," Tom delightedly informed his Jeeves, cracking open a bottle and supping from it with evident relish.

Thanks to Cuillin FM's equivalent of Yoda, I am no longer so ignorant of the nuts and bolts of the radio operation and have been enabled to fly solo. To date I have done so four times and with only the occasional mishap. Notably, once when pushing up my 'on air' microphone fader at the very same moment as I choked on a rogue sliver of Brazil Nut. Two sheep and an agoraphobic are still wondering at how Kate Bush's Cloudbusting was interrupted by the resulting violent barking noise.

Sadly, I have had no reason as yet to test out a further nugget of wisdom passed on to me by another of the station's elder statesmen and who is the live on-air commentator on local shinty matches. The other day, this gracious soul informed me that, whenever doing an outside broadcast the best method of protecting a microphone from unwanted noise pollution is to roll over it a condom. "Aye, but the only trouble is that they're delicate wee things and split," he noted sagely. "Every Friday morning now I buy five packets of condoms from the chemist's. Course, I haven't told the old girl in there yet what I'm using them for," he added, beaming, "and she looks at me like I'm superhuman. And you know, word gets around quickly in a place such as this..."

As a family, we arrived at a landmark of our own at the start of this month. It was then that final plans for our house were submitted to the Highland Council for planning permission. At a stroke, time was made to seem elastic. The 12 weeks it will take for the council to rule will doubtless seem like an age, and yet we can look over the horizon of 2016 and into next year and regard the outline of our approaching future life. That this now has tangible form and a sensation of permanence is a thrilling thing indeed and all the more reason to bunker down and shut out whatever evils lurk beyond our borders. Or at least to not be quite so slapdash when it comes to digesting nuts...

[You can hear my Friday Night Chronicles radio show from 8pm-9pm each Friday at:].  

This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:

Chris Stapleton - Parachute.

Stapleton's Traveller album comes on like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger chewing the fat with Kris Kristofferson. Really, what's not to like?...

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