Windows too

Our lives in Carradale have been brightened by changes to our house, alterations we never expected to have done so quickly. This is largely due to us being used to a world where engaging tradesmen is a slow process, where even getting someone to come round and estimate can be tiresome and from there onwards you are forever waiting for the call that tells you they are about to start. In our part of Scotland we are discovering that things happen rather differently. Roof windows at 19BWithout fail, all our tradesmen have been enthusiastic workers who turn up on time then just get on with the job, barely even stopping for a cup of tea. Sometimes the only indication that they have arrived has been the thump of their ladder on the roof while we are still struggling to wake up. It seems the only impediment to their work is the weather but this has to be pretty grim by most people’s standards before they stop working and take shelter.

Windows now fitted into our sloping roof at the back of the house transform the landing at the top of our stairs and the new window in our ‘Tiny Room’, our spare bedroom or workroom, creates a bright room where before there was darkness as well as giving us a fresh view out from the back of the house. Alex, Willie and Jim all worked impressively hard in atrocious conditions, a cold wind blasting in from the west bringing with it showers liberally sprinkled with hailstones – and this was the better of the two days! It has to be admitted that before everything could be made watertight there was some slight ingress of water but this is not a big issue – we sailors are used to this. The new room is Kate’s room, a place where she is safe in the knowledge that she can spread out her ‘personal things’ there without fear of interference from any of my ‘man-related’ things. My collection of these, drill, angle-grinder, bits of pipe, etc., are currently migrating towards the garden shed.

Just for the moment though we have to park our re-organisational skills as we are prompted by our diary to embark on a long journey south in our own car, its first venture outside Scotland and indeed its very first contact with a motorway.Beechy yurt Although Kate and I share the driving, a distance like this is something of a challenge for our small car. However, we decide that using it will enable us to make visits to our scattered family without having to put too much thought into the planning so ‘Daffy’ is duly loaded up and off we go.

After an overnight stop in Leicester we are soon deep in the Hampshire countryside looking for a yurt [a portable, bent wood-framed dwelling structure] in which we spend three nights celebrating the birthday and retirement of our friend Gerry. Our yurt was called ‘Beechy’ and was one of six similar ones nestling in the Meon Valley that twenty-four of us honoured friends occupied for the weekend. This was a new experience for all of us but we were pleasantly surprised by the cosy interior and once the wood-burning stove was alight it was amazingly warm. The whole weekend was superbly organised by Gerry’s husband Rich in his own inimitable style, convivially relaxing, a great time spent in the company of many new friends, a few old ones and a dog called Sam.Yurting groupEveryone, except Sam, contributed to the catering arrangements which meant that we fed and watered ourselves well, perhaps a little too well, and the weather was kind to us too, a blast of warm continental air arriving just as we did and not a drop of rain falling on us.

The same could not be said of our return journey to Scotland, however, during which at times we found ourselves navigating almost blind along heavily trafficked roads hidden under dense clouds of spray. The previous day whilst stuck for hours in almost stationary traffic on the M25 it struck me that motorways share many of the characteristics of a prison; from the moment you turn onto the approach slip road you are completely trapped, unable to leave until the next exit comes along, until you have done your time. Any free will you think you might have is completely subrogated for the duration of your sentence. The only tolerated behaviour is driving in one direction at a similar speed to everyone else, stopping is not allowed, no matter what happens, and if like me and thousands of others you have been given a long sentence then you just have to serve your time, sitting behind the steering wheel shuffling forwards an inch at a time wishing you were somewhere else. Under these conditions it is small wonder that our baser urges emerge for none of us have committed any crime to put us in this place. Yet bizarrely we voluntarily incarcerate ourselves time and again without a second thought. The motorway experience has become an accepted feature of modern life, to be suffered in silence without complaint.

Our release from this prison finally comes as we cross the Erskine Bridge just west of Glasgow and turn along the shores of Loch Lomond. Suddenly we are surrounded by hills all tinted shades of brown and gold, until the rain starts again and the landscape disappears into the haze and is lost to us. 1,460 miles of driving since we left home and there is little that beats switching off the ignition outside our own front door.

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