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And so to Christmas

Morning over Ailsa

A pre-Christmas dawn arrives gently to reveal Ailsa Craig sitting out there like the milestone it is, pointing the way so that our family can find their way to our house. When Christmas morning arrives, all our three sons are with us for the grand present opening and our living room floor gradually disappears beneath layers of discarded wrapping paper. Our lives follow convention (to this extent at least) and the sun makes an appearance too, low on the horizon but beaming right through the house.Naomi's jumper

For many weeks now Kate has been counting rows and clicking her knitting needles, working away to create a masterpiece in twisted wool for Ben’s girlfriend, Naomi. It fits her form perfectly and is received with so much delight that she would have worn it right through Christmas lunch had our house not been so warm. Our cast iron stove is lit every day to provide heat for the whole house and we are now burning our way through the log pile we stacked up under cover outside the back door twelve months ago. The ruddy glow inside helps us forget the cold and wet outside, the short days and the winter winds.

On Boxing Day our motor caravan, Ducky, comes into its own as a people transporter so we can visit the ancient capital of Dunadd, once the centre of power and commerce for this whole area, located today in the middle of a wilderness. It is a cold day, the wind cuts through us as we climb the twisting path to the top of the dun, but the reward is just to stand there and imagine the world as it was some 3000 years before, to put back the people, the houses, the trees too and the boats that brought in goods from across the known world and to let our minds try to make sense of the landscape spread out beneath us. View from Dunadd with lichen treeThere are marks and shapes down there that could tell us the story of the people who once lived here, if only we could read them, but in reality the impressions they left on the place have faded away to almost nothing. Maybe the most we have left from that time is in the blood of those living today who are descended from them, and no one can know whether they have this in them or not.

Cold as it is, our van’s new gas heater enables us to huddle inside and lunch in comfort beneath the dun. Without this we would have been driven away too soon and we would not have been able to offer tea and warmth to a gentleman called Bill who is visiting the dun on his own and looks like he needs company. He is full of tales of a long life working as a nurse in the military and tells us how he is drawn towards Seil Island, which lies beside the Firth of Lorn, and is a place where his late wife’s family came from. The conversation moves on and it isn’t long before between us we have put the world to rights, solving the energy crisis, voted on Scotland’s independence and misted up the van windows with good craic.

Before returning home, and just before the forecast rain arrives, we visit a few of the places along the Crinan canal where Cirrus spent so much time a few years ago. Bellanoch is unchanged, it was a quiet, damp place then and still remains so. The village of Crinan itself is as attractive to our eyes as it always has been so we drop in on friends Roger and Veronica who helped us through the summer and autumn of 2009 and whose simple philosophy for life we admire greatly. We gaze in admiration at their home beside the sea from which they can look out across the Sound of Jura and watch the sun as it sets, light their wood-burning stove and sit cosily as the weather blows by.

Off we set towards home and the heavens open on us just as we reach Tarbert, the single-track road along the coast of Kintyre becoming a challenge to navigate in the windswept darkness. Somehow we manage to miss the worst of the potholes and keep the wheels on the narrow strip of tarmac that leads us home to Carradale. Ben & Naomi on the shoreOur day out has taken us into the world as it was a few thousand years ago and then seamlessly back again to the present day.

Ben and Naomi stay with us here in Carradale for a few days more then load up their tiny car with all the musical instruments they brought with them, guitar, violin, mandolins, concertinas and of course Naomi’s harp. Incredibly the musicians’ car takes everything and we wave them farewell on another damp windy day. This Christmas has enabled us to renew our bonds with our scattered family and push aside the world outside, at least temporarily.

A week or so before Christmas my mother, despite having only just recovered from a mild chest infection, left Scotland and set off south on a long-planned voyage on a cruise liner heading for the sunshine-blessed Canary Islands. Saga SapphireThis might have seemed like a a good idea at the time of booking, to leave higher latitudes during that period when at midday the sun only rises high enough to skim the roof of the house across the street and when its rays make zero contribution to domestic heating bills, but sadly for her the holiday was to be cut short by yet more illness. Not long after the ship had left British waters and had endured the crossing of the notorious Bay of Biscay she was taken ill again. With only limited medical facilities on board the ship she soon found herself lying in a hospital in Casablanca, Morocco, probably the last place on earth she would have chosen to spend Christmas.

Back here in Scotland this news comes filtering through by phone so that throughout the holiday period we find ourselves waiting expectantly for calls from abroad with information on her condition, on how long she is likely to be incarcerated there and on whether her insurers can make arrangement to bring her home. From her perspective this whole episode must seem like the traveller’s worst nightmare; stranded in a foreign land where the languages spoken are not your own, the customs strange and disconcerting, discovering that your ship has left port without you; a far cry from the comforts of the luxury cruise she signed up for. Fortunately the excellent health insurance cover she took out before leaving and the helpfulness of the cruise company do succeed in bringing her back to Scotland, albeit on a rather roundabout route, and we now await news on her condition from the Glasgow hospital she now graces with her custom. 2013 is continuing, so it seems, to have a hospital-based theme to it.

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