22nd February

A Hebridean Song of Exile

We did not think we would miss the unlocked doors, the neighbours who knew the details of your day before you did. Nor did we expect to lament the streaming kitchen, the wet clothes always hanging about our ears, the rank smell of boiled mutton.

When we boarded the ferry it was without regret for Sundays, for the endless sermons of hatred and the thunderous God of our forebears. Sweet was the music in our headphones, and glorious our schism from that dour old bastard in the dog collar.

Cutting the peats till your hands were raw with blisters, your back was broken in five places, the sweat ran off you like mud and the cleg bites were like a range of low hills on your arms – this was not labour we were sad to relinquish.

Winter days without light, horizontal rain, an absence of shopping malls, cinemas and phone signals, hardly a stretch of road straight, long and wide enough to get into fourth gear, the slowness and predictability of island life – gladly we exchanged these for adventure.

And I am not saying I would want to go back, but six years in this shite- hole is enough to make the most cynical of men reach for the pen of sentimentality, the guitar of nostalgia and the bottle of fond memories.

What beauty is there in concrete? What peace sounds out in sirens? What sanity in the ubiquity of handguns and assault rifles? What humanity in unaffordable health insurance? We have arrived in the Promised Land, but a hundred years too late.

An eight-lane motorway is all very fine, nor can it be denied that sky- scrapers have a certain grandeur, but I am three months without work and there is nothing left in the bank. And back there you never came home to find that the place had been turned over.

I am spared the constant tears of Morag but only because she has taken up with someone else and moved out. It is not for me to blame her. I leave the radio on all night now, to drown the neighbours’ shouts with country music. Those singers know me better than I know myself.

Reader: Jimmy Hutchison
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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