GENTLE ON MY MIND
Ever since I became bionic there’s been a constant need to stare at my feet as I walk; I’ve tripped over invisible cigarette packets, skited inexorably down the shiny paving stones of Alloa High Street praying for a wall to bring me to a halt, done an involuntary dressage more than once in the Thistle Centre of Stirling, got four faults and no Victor Ludorum, when my leg fell off on the stairs in Alloa Sheriff Court and knotted myself when my thigh sleeve wrinkled and talked to me, loudly, in company, in short, sharp gasps. Try explaining that one diplomatically. Of course there’s been as many high points as low – I’ve marvelled at minnows in French waters lapping around my painted plastic toes, counted my blessings which number far more than the five feet I currently have, and I’m officially endowed with double spider senses as I’m into leg number 17. I take photos of my two feet on beaches all over Scotland, because I can. I sport a nice little high heel often and I know I’m Rocky running up those steps in Philadelphia when I manage to walk out my front door dressed to kill, wrinkles, bingo wings and all.
There was a year when I wasn’t allowed to drive and my licence became restricted to automatic only; a pure scunner because I loved my manual convertible and knowing I’d never drive it again drove me temporarily insane. But I got a licence and a car which wasn’t a boring safe old Saab with multiple airbags and I knew then, if not before, how lucky I am.
When I was a regular attender at Westmarc clinic in Glasgow, where I learned to walk with one leg, and a balloon on a frame where my other leg used to be, I was 50 years old and the men who were patients in the Thursday rehab clinic used to call me ‘the bairn’ – where else but Scotland would a middle aged woman be referred to as a child? Those men made my day, often. We’d a seminar there one morning, from an advisor with DWP or the Council or something. It was about how to get a blue parking badge, a driving licence, an adapted car and the like. I nearly died laughing. One fellow, a double amputee in his 60s, was blazing mad that in Asda in Cumbernauld when he took his wife for the messages there were boy racers parked in all the disabled bays – so he challenged them all to a square go. That’s Scotland for you. Another chap, also a double amputee who was at least 80, was in carniptions describing how DVLA gave him back a licence to drive an adapted car and were responsible for him almost running over his sister-in-law; they let him drive a hand-controlled vehicle as he had lost both legs, but didn’t check his eyesight, so he hadn’t volunteered that he was almost as blind as a bat. Again, there’s a typical Scot for you. And I’ve a female friend who is an amputee and couldn’t keep her limb on as she was unwell, so she went for her messages with her wee leg on a scooter; I take my hat off to her, another Scot.
Also at the Thursday clinic I met my Scottish-Asian amputee friend; his wife made pakora and onion bhajees for us; I took in home made scones and my friend’s wife and I tried our best, in laughter and broken English, to swop recipes. Scotland again, eh?
My most favourite Thursday friend though used to give me challenges – he’d say, well, Eva, before you leave here today, I don’t expect you can manage these three wee steps? Naturally I had to. Then it would be the next three steps. And I did them. I am pretty sure that without Donald and his subtle kick up the backside I’d have slid backwards often. I remember he closed his eyes biting into one of my scones; I panicked thinking something was up, but when he opened his eyes again they were moist, and he spoke of not having tasted home made scone since his Mum had died. I don’t know if that was true, but it was a most memorable event and made me feel good, that of course being Donald’s principal aim.
So I finished at Westmarc, a fully fledged limb wearing amputee and life went back to the new normal; it’s not been so much BC and AD as BA and AA; timescales become about what happened with two human feet or what occurred when one was plastic. All of a sudden, with less mobility than before, life changed forever. It’s like being hobbled, of necessity you slow down, when you decelerate or become static, of course you begin to look around – there’s time to notice people, places, events, which otherwise would remain unseen, unknown, unrecognised.
And I’m going to tell you this secret – the slower you get, the more you realise what a most awesome place Scotland is. To climb a little stone dyke at Arisaig and look down upon a beach of silver sand, the tide coming in from both sides and in the distance a sunset of orange tinged with distant blue isles brings a lump to the throat. Watching your son and his pal dig and hide in holes in that same sand creates memories which are timeless and worth their weight in gold. So does hearing a wee girl with glitter on her face shriek that she’s caught a lobster when it’s really a tiny wee prawn. Driving into Fraserburgh and Peterhead, seeing dozens of huge fishing and oil supply and rescue vessels reminds you that Scotland is thriving and indeed open for business. Parking up at Port Erroll, looking out over the sands again, chatting with tourists from Belgium, France and Germany, when they tell you how they can’t understand or thole the notion of Brexit, that’s food for thought. A fish supper from Portsoy is a belter; contrary to trendy folklore, and tweets, so is your classic original Deep Fried Mars Bar from The Carron in Stonehaven – go there and buy one, or ten, you know you want to, and trust me (am a lawyer as you know) you won’t regret it. And you really have to get to Cullen for your first ever Cullen Skink – words fail me, it’s the food of the gods.
Dodging along the Moray Firth is braw, there’s Portknockie, Banff and Buchan, Buckie, who could forget Burghead, the clavie, Lossiemouth, Elgin, Nairn, Ardersier, Inversneckie, that place where the men still go disco dancing in shell suits and rigger boots.
You can charge over to Oban for seafood al fresco – who’d ever have contemplated that for a sight? Drive over the Atlantic Bridge and go stone skiffing at Ellenabeich; consider Corryvreckan and come home over the bridge my Dad built at Ballachulish, cry and feel spooky at Glencoe, get a new pair of best bits in Fort William and wellies at the Green Wellie, gold in them thar hills nearby too.
Meander south and clear your throat at Crianlarich, feel slightly posh at Lochearnhead and St Fillans, tip a wink at me as you wheech through Comrie and that mirror on the bend, and in Crieff the holiday town, gateway to the highlands remember the gurkhas who used to perform at the Highland Games, and why they were there at all.
All the whiles, think of what creates a country, a nation? It can’t be the landscape alone for there are other countries in this world which are practically devoid of beauty but where their folk speak as one – sadly, deserts and war zones spring to mind. Others have great riches we don’t have, South African diamonds for example, where history bears little scrutiny. I can’t pretend that Scots are truly the most gorgeous and photogenic of races – think Parisian streets and people-watching on the pavements of Valletta in Malta and compare those sights to Glasgow and Aiburdeen and you’ll not be noticing too many Brad Pitts on the teuchter side of the street.
However, think how your heart rises as if to burst when you hear at a wedding, a funeral, or any celebration, the screeching skirl of the pipes. Amazing Grace. Highland Cathedral. Andy Renwick’s Ferret. Scotland The Brave. Mhairi’s Wedding. And that sight as you drive north out of reach of 1066 and 1966, away from Bobby Moore’s grasp, and Gary Lineker’s crisps, Piers Morgan’s manky teeth, and that besom from Essex, the greatest image you’ll take to your grave, and it’s emblazoned on the pearly gates of heaven, Saint Peter’s vest, on Hell’s drawbridge and Satan’s leather waistcoat – welcome to Scotland, home of the free!!!
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