Skip to main content

Sunny Banffshire, Sunny Scotland

Today is the 36th day of my social isolation. And the 36th day where the weather is perfect for my planned walk. Indeed after yesterday's two-hour walk, I came back feeling that it may have been wise to have worn a hat to keep the sun off my face.

One member of the household has no such worries. Madelaine likes to go out and get a warm-up in the morning sun. She, being a cat, has an athleticism that I can only envy. She will jump up about four times her height to land silently and precisely inside my study window. Suggest in a way that rejects the possibility of my refusing, that I open the study window.

I do so, and she then sits on top of the electric meter box, attached to the outside wall, blinking slightly in the sun. After a suitable interval, she will stretch, return to the window and demand re-admittance for breakfast.

Social isolation on the part of her human slaves is welcomed by her. No more searching for someone to respond, all but instantly, to her demands. Purrfect.

She is also not too keen on her personal isolation being breached without her having issued an invitation. She prepared to tolerate her older "brother", provided she gets first dibs on sun-spots for sitting.

"Mr Socks" from next door, occasionally tolerated, has been chased out of our garden in recent days with some vigour during our lockdown. And the large dog fox, probably weighing about ten times what she does, who visits from time to time, is similarly seen off in short order. Her waving a fist of sharp, armed claws in his face convinces him to be somewhere else. Rapidly.

She is a small cat with a big personality.

My history with the sun is more mixed. On more than one occasion I have regretted time spent under it. And experienced days of discomfort from sunburn, and the subsequent scattering of my damaged epidermis.

But in 1956, I reached the apogee of my sun-induced discomfort when I had to be taken to hospital with sun-stroke.

Our family holidays, always in Scotland, almost invariably in our highlands, were under canvass for my brother and me; in the caravan for parents and sister. That year at Benderloch, in Argyll just north of Oban. The beach of pure white sand reflected back up those sun rays that had not attacked my skin on the way down. For youngsters like myself an idyllic spot to potter aimlessly around on our holiday.

Maybe not quite aimlessly. Equipped with a bit of garden bamboo, a piece of string and a length of old fence wire, we were ready to feed ourselves. Paddling around in a shallow sea, one could spear flukies and take them back to the caravan to be fried and served up for tea. Magic.

The sunburn, however, intruded. Father decided, no idea why, that we should travel by train from Benderloch to Oban for the necessary consultation at the hospital. The distance of 8 miles would be one we would normally use the car for. And indeed with my having walked 46 miles in the last week, it would be possible to contemplate walking there. But on this occasion, perhaps to distract me from my sunburn/sun-stroke, it was the train.

It wasn't quick. The steam-powered tank engine led train - was it a single carriage? - had two challenges en route. The Connel Bridge had to be crossed. In those days, pre the Ernest Marples-inspired (don't call it Beeching; it was Marples' policy) closure of rural rail lines, the bridge was shared between trains and road vehicles. And a toll charged on cars.

A little signal box at one end controlled the traffic lights and railway signals which permitted or denied access to the bridge—one lane for cars and one for rail. The car lane was the exact width over which our caravan could be towed. A bit of a worry when we drove north over it to Benderloch.

After the train crossed the bridge heading south to Oban, it had to stop in a siding, wait for the points to change and drive back out now heading in the opposite direction for Oban. I think the word sub-optimal was coined for the rail infrastructure between Benderloch and Oban.

For father, a single-handed GP on duty 24/7 and with over 2,000 patients, a vacation was an expensive but necessary period away from the phone and surgery. For many years, the locum doctor hired to fill the holiday gap was a Dr Wilson from Strathfillan. He happened to be David Livingstone's grandson. He was reliable and popular with the patients.

Eventually, his age meant he no longer did "locuming". His first replacement did not work out well. No sooner had we arrived at Achmelvich in Sutherland which was that year's holiday venue, a twelve-hour drive from Fife in those days, than the police arrived to talk to father. The locum had fallen ill. Father had to return home.

We forget what communication was like then. The mobile phones we have had for some thirty years were not even a dream. The campsite did not even have a fixed-line telephone.

Today they are essential in both business and domestic realms. Yesterday saw my participation in a video meeting on the development of a shared rural network for mobile communications. I, and too many of my constituents, live in mobile "not spots". There is a plan, led by the four network providers, working with Ofcom and government to fill in most of the gaps with signals from all four. On a single mast. They may need to be higher than at present. And they will need to have bigger bases to carry the greater weight of four companies' equipment.

For the three rural politicians participating, there were some challenges in relation to varying local authority policies. And from our national planning framework. So we acquired, and willingly accepted, tasks that will lead to improvement for our constituents.

We may be in lockdown, almost prisoners in our own homes with only occasional parole for defined purposes, but we're all, I believe in all political parties, still working hard for our constituents and using technologies undreamt of when I was a sun-burnt child on holiday in rural Scotland.

My next parole beckons. How far will I walk today? Will I take my phone with me?


Popular posts from this blog


When big things go wrong, and one feels powerless to do much about them, small things in one's life can become surrogates for one's anger. And there are quite a few big things around at the moment; COVID-19, No-Deal Brexit; A US Presidential Election where the incumbent leads with racist statements.As the end of the current session rushes towards us, many of my colleagues are concluding that they will not be putting themselves forward at the forthcoming election. A couple of our younger colleagues are placing their families first. But most are looking at being in their eighth decade, as I already am, at the end of the next session.
When the two leading candidates for the US President are both older than I am - seventy-four in five week's time - it may seem surprising that retirement may be beckoning for me and others a lustrum younger than I am. But it illustrates the profound differences between being a back-bencher in our Parliament and the political life of a US Senator …

Train time

After one hundred and seventy-four days, I resumed sitting in our Parliament's debating chamber. It was the first time I have seen how members dialling in by video-link look and sound at the "business end".

I found that I was a bit rusty. My only oral contribution this week was to ask a question. As I approached the end of it, a sound from a mobile phone totally distracted me. Worried that it was my own phone, I paused and for about a second, lost the thread of what I was saying. I wasn't that pleased with my neighbour when they returned to their seat. Their phone, not mine.

It just shows that one can travel backwards in one's abilities. Like an athlete who has had an extended layoff and loses muscle tone, my brain had retreated from its previous peak of perfection.

Next week will be our first proper three day week. I think I will ease myself in by participating in the two Member's debates scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. That will be about eleven hundred…