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Gugas

Leaving the Vale of Leven before the kids are even up, and just as the Magpies were stirring in the monkey puzzle tree, I soon tune out of my normal life and slip into the world of business. It’s a funny world; business, that is. It’s a place where people do the most unexpected and illogical things. Some hide, some are driven to do great things, some knowingly commit hara-kiri and some spin too many plates for their own good. I fall into the last demographic mentioned, but I’m quite comfortable there. Always have been. Along the sunny Stirling straits and up towards Perth, I speed along munching blueberries in a token gesture of piety. The skies, as if angry at my pathetic attempt at healthy living and true impiousness, frown dark clouds and lash me with hard rain. I talk to various colleagues for a hundred miles or so and then pull off the main drag to visit Harbro at Inverness. I’ve known Bob and John in there for yonks. A funny word, ‘yonks’. I think it derives from the phrase – Donkey’s years. We chat about Javea and the general good state of play between us and them. Bob’s going to Gibraltar for his son’s wedding.

I soon eat up the remaining fifty miles to the west coast and pop into the Ullapool Bookshop. The man there is so helpful and takes six of the books in anticipation of sales to come after my workshop at the Library. I then get lost in Ullapool looking for the other bookshop but receive a lack-lustre response and wander off somewhat dejected. Some people just see the glass half empty. At the Library, however, the welcome is fantastic. The kids filter in and we get to work. They draw monsters, shout out great questions and hopefully learn a thing or two. I always try to throw a bit of maths, zoology and grammar in the mix before moving onto my bit on asthma. My bit on asthma is getting some attention these days and I like to think that I leave enough of a message behind to make some difference for the greater good. Oops, getting all pious again. I did think of being a priest at one time. I should really say that Father, my mentor and godfather suggested it. But those who really know me all know that it would have ended in tears. I have a long chat with my Publisher and discuss Publishing Scotland opportunities and some money matters. And money does matter. A bit.

I’m now on the ferry heading across the Minch into, as the captain calls it, a fresh northerly, what ever that is. It is, of course, at this point that I realise that I’ve left my bloomin’ sea-sick tablets down in the now-locked car deck. Well that’s just great. I eat a Tunnocks tea cake and a Tunnocks caramel wafer in an attempt to settle my stomach. I then remember my friend Greg’s advice about eating ginger. I scour the café and shop but find nothing even remotely gingery and so sit and wait for the inevitable churning of the tummy to begin. I have an idea for a really high mark-up chocolate ginger sweetie-type stomach soother. Perhaps a special Cal-Mac presentation. £10 a pop for all boat boakers (to boak is a Glaswegian term = to be sick). I’d buy it right now. So would all collectors of rare sweets. Must call Tunnocks with the idea later. Anyway, I can’t wait to get into my overpriced room in Stornoway. I have, of course, been banned from said hotel in a previous incarnation. I’m talking 20 years ago, so I should be okay. I mean, I’ve put on about 4 stone to disguise myself in the meantime. Unless… Unless they have my name filed away somewhere under – charge double if he ever darkens our door again. That’ll be it.

I look to my left, at the jagged rocks that jut out of the waves like sea monster’s humps. They remind me of Jason and the Argonauts. The film, I mean. The bit where the rocks move in on the boat and crush it to bits. Oh no! I’m temporarily mesmerized by a Fulmar that tickles the waves with its primaries, without once taking a single beat of its rigid wings, and then I feel it… The boat has drifted into that northerly the captain mentioned and I instantly begin to feel rubbish. Worse still, a Dutchman sitting next to me has brought some foul-smelling soup thing within range and it adds to my misery. It’s funny when you feel sick. You start counting the minutes left on the voyage and try to work out how long you might last. Three gannets flap by the window and I begin to get annoyed. They actually looked as if they were enjoying themselves. Flapping about in a whimsical, carefree manner like they were having some kind of party. They should be banned. Of course, they eat gannets in Lewis, you know. Yeah. I’m not kidding. I know people who have eaten gannet chicks, or Gugas, as they are called. Totally disgusting and morally reprehensible,  but they are still allowed to harvest 2000 per year from the cliffs of Sulasgeir. They use long poles to catch them and then, after killing them, they singe off the feathers in peat fires. They then  salt and pickle them. Unsurprisingly, they taste, quite unbearably, of fish. Mignin’ might be closer to the mark. But hey, this is a very old tradition for the men of Ness. Not my cup-of-tea but… I should meet some Guga Hunters tomorrow when I go to the Port Ness for one of my Library talks.

Back to reality… The hull of the giant ferry is slapping onto the waves like some deranged sea monster doing a series of belly flaps, so I wander off to the bar. I’ve had a brain-wave. Ginger Ale must contain an element of ginger, I decide. So I grab a bottle and sip away until, miraculously; I drift off into a deep sleep. I wake up an hour later having missed the worst of the storm and say my own wee prayer of thanks to the great Schweppes. I can snore for Scotland, so I must have provided some decent entertainment for my fellow passengers.

I bump off the ferry around 8pm and get lost again in the 50 yards between ferry and hotel, taking two wrong turnings before finally arriving at the place. I have to eat my words a bit over the price of the hotel. It’s actually pretty nice and the staff members are extremely helpful. I dump my stuff and then head on down to the main drag. Yup, it’s quiet in Stornoway on a Monday night and I soon veer off in the direction of some very pleasant eastern smells. An Indian restaurant reveals itself and I follow a Brad Pitt look-alike inside. Brad sits in the corner with his girlfriend while I open my notebook and begin to scribble more of James Peck and the Book of Souls. The food is exceptional and the man-in-charge, a charming bloke who reminds me of Graeme from Chimes, our local Chinese, is good crack. He is interested in everyone that eats in his restaurant and strives to make pleasant conversation. I’ve called home to find out that Ryan has an unconditional acceptance for the course he wanted in September and that Joe is safe and well. As for mum and the girls… Well they are off in Ibiza far, far away. I’m missing them all already. I do some work on the laptop, resizing images for the W H Smith marketing dept before nodding off.

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