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Notes from the Isles

An Island Journal by Kate Francis

As always in our cyclic climate, the "proper" winter that hit us this year took everyone completely by surprise. Salt, grit and sand ran out, roads were blocked, people sat in their cars overnight in traffic queues, schools closed, people died of hypothermia. Pipes burst, roofs collapsed under the weight of snow, animals perished. In my memory there have been at least four of these "proper" winters so you'd think we should all know better.

We were no worse hit than anyone else and in common with many others; our house up its steep farm track was cut off from traffic without four-wheel drives, which included us. With a bit of foresight and a deep-freeze, one can survive for a long time without transport, and for the first three weeks or so it was a challenge to be pioneering. After that it began to get boring, especially having to carry shopping bags for a considerable distance from where we were sheltering our car. Walking uphill across sheet ice was hair-raising and our poor little border terrier, Souter Johnie, slithered and slipped and fell -- and didn't enjoy himself at all.

We attended a funeral during this time, not a sad one because the dead man had been well into his 90s. I surveyed the considerable number of people standing round the grave, ankle-deep in frozen snow, and wished I could have taken a surreptitious photograph. Wonderful old men in their ancient Highland clothes, stooped over their walking sticks, holding down their kilts against the icy wind with one hand and holding up their stalwart, frail wives with the other. The committal seemed to go on and on and, my attention straying, I noticed that not a few of the company had limbs in plaster of Paris, or slings, or both, or leant painfully on crutches. It occurred to me that it would be a miracle if there were not a few more accidents before we all got home.

The full text of this column is available in the Summer 2010 issue of Scottish Life.

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