The School Car…

This is from many years ago….

It’s only 500 meters to the end of the drive. The spot under the hill where the school car meets us. This morning it might as well be 500 miles for all the enthusiasm a 5 year old shows for the few minutes walk. In 6 short months he has learned about the weather, about how here it is so fickle, so intense. About how your fingers can be frozen within seconds of leaving the door, about how the salt wind can whip the moisture from your lips before you have taken ten steps, causing them to crack at the slightest smile.

We shrug ourselves into fleeces, down jackets, waterproofs, hats with ear flaps, neoprene lined rubber boots, anything to prevent egress to the wind. Today it’s a southerly. It’s not that cold, probably 6 degrees but it blows up the loch, a good five miles from the open sea but pushing waves before it, not high but full of power. The wind rips the tops off the waves in streamers of pure white, stark against the dark waters.

At the top of the steps it hits us, almost knocking the boy from his feet. The second sensation is, strangely, taste. The salt and iodine tang fill your mouth as soon as you open it to speak. The dog is unconcerned, he’s lower to the ground and has twice as many legs.

We hold hands and grit our teeth, our conversation torn from our lips and tossed over our shoulders the moment a word forms. The journey takes twice as long as on a still day. The end of the drive is unsheltered from a southerly, so we merely submit and turn our backs to the wind. We wait. The school car pulls up, the cheery face of the mum driver emerges. “A bit draughty this morning” we yell at each other. A frantic collie barks from the rear of the car, it’s the same every morning, you’d think he would get bored with it. The boy is soon ensconced with the other children in the warm interior of the car, already lost to me, absorbed into the cocoon small boys draw round themselves when two or more are gathered, entering into a private world with a private language and secret signs.

I cannot help but smile as I yell ‘bye love’ and get the merest reaction, a slight flicker of the hand. I need not worry, these people, hewn from the rock of the island and shaped by the wind and the sea, truly care. Any child in the community is their child. I watch the car until it goes over the hill and I turn towards the house.

The dog takes himself off on private dog business amongst the rushes. I wait. A pair of hoodie crows turn the seaweed on the strand line, hoping for a marooned crab or a mussel tossed loose from it mooring by the gale. A black backed gull, massive in the half light slips effortlessly into the wind. The dog emerges, satisfied. Ahead, a pure white eiderdown of cloud slips over the summit of Beinn Dearg Mhor, the rounded peak hidden under the dense layer. A blue pick-up rumbles towards us from our little harbour. We get a cheery wave from the ruddy faced scallop diver in the cab. At the top of the steps a robin waits to greet us. How does he manage to perch on the gatepost in this wind? He hasn’t had a warm sitting room in which to spend the previous evening, a cosy bed to see him through the long northern night. All he has are the broom bushes, the buffeting wind and the fear of a nocturnal visit from the stoat which lives in our roof. But here he is, bright and perky in the strengthening light. I’ll put some food out for him shortly and hope he spots it before those hoodies.

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