Night falls on Ardnamurchan, The Twilight of a Crofting Family by Alasdair Maclean describes a way of life that has died out completely in my lifetime on the West coast of Scotland, in a place very close to where we often go on holiday. I'd never heard of Alasdair Maclean (no, not the thriller writer) before I picked it up in the Oxfam shop, but, within moments of starting to read this lovely book, it was clear that he is a poet.
I want to share this sketch of his father: it seems to me the essence of love.
Normally timid and unassertive outside the house (unless roused), he was very much the master within. I remember him, during my childhood, as being someone whom one approached on tiptoe. He was thin-skinned in the extreme, lightning-quick to feel hurt and to take offence and much given to monumental huffs. These almost always lasted a day or two and sometimes a good bit longer than that. Though he often, and violently, lost his temper and at least once, to my knowledge, fetched my mother a good thump (to be fair, it was a quarrel and she had thrown a shoe at him first; the only such physical occasion that I recall), he never raised his hand to the children. His outbursts of temper, unlike his huffs, were soon over and he was quick to seek reconciliation. I suspect his anger may have frightened him a little. I know that it frightened me a lot. Indeed such a marked effect did it have on me that I have retained a great fear of angry people to this day. I am sure, however, that he was all too aware of his faults, even if, like most of us, unable to do much about them.
I have often wondered since, quite unresentfully, what the effect is of such a moody and unpredictable father on a sensitive young child (for I must suppose myself to have been one). I should imagine the consequences to be incalculable. Still I would not change my upbringing. For I think, too, that a happy, well-adjusted father would have his own effect, equal if different, and who could be sure of his proving to be in every way a greater good?
The top photograph looks over the Sound of Mull towards Ardnamurchan, with Sanna hidden in the mists on the point.
The lower photograph is of Corran Narrows looking towards Loch Linnhe. Here, you catch the ferry for Ardgour, Sunart and Ardnamurchan: Once across one was in the echt Highlands. The road turns west ... or the best part of it does; if not yet within sight of the Hebrides, the heart of Gaeldom on earth, one is at least within reach of their spell. To go on is to be protected and fed; if one is lucky enough and receptive enough, touched with goodness.
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