22/09/2015 by paulinebsc
The first time I left Seil was in 1770 shortly after my 10th birthday party. My mother had, after a furious argument, persuaded my da’ to allow me to go with her to the mainland to meet her mother. My da’ was an islander born and bred. My mam’s mam was a royalist. At that age I had no idea what sort of devil a ‘royalist’ was, but when I asked my older brother he used a lot of words I didn’t understand, and a lot more that I wasn’t supposed to understand, but did. My mam would have beaten me raw if she heard me use any of them. Clearly whatever a ‘royalist’ was, I didn’t want to meet one, let alone be related to one so it was with dragging feet that I followed mam to the Tigh an Truish, the house of trousers.
I had never worn trousers before, like every man on the island I always wore a kilt. According to da’ we weren’t allowed to wear a kilt on the mainland, or we would spend six months in prison, and if caught again transported.
‘Why do they want us to wear trews?’ I asked Diarmad as he tried to find a pair of trews small enough to fit me.
‘’Cause they think only Jacobites wear the kilt’ he explained.
‘What’s a Jakobait?’ I asked, with innocent curiosity.
‘We are. Yre da’, you and me, everybody on the island, though we’re not sure about yre mam. We’re all Jacobites and against the English forever. King Charles should be on the throne, not that Orange George.’
Now I was even more confused. Who was George and why was he orange? Not for the first time I wondered if there were any sensible grown-ups.
‘Those English think they can keep us down by making us wear trousers, as if that will change our minds.’ Diarmad continued as he handed me a pair of trews.
They were thick and itchy and rubbed parts that I didn’t want rubbed until I was a little older. Diarmad put my kilt into a drawer and my mam led me out to the patch of greenery where we had to wait for the ferry across the Atlantic Ocean (at least that’s what my da’ had told me) at Clachan. It may technically be crossing the Atlantic, but it was, to be honest, a small strait between the island and the mainland. From where I stood it looked narrow enough to be jumped. As I stood there, shivering in the brisk wind I found an advantage to wearing trews. My legs were fairly warm, especially since I still wore my thick knitted socks. Mam gave a loud whistle, and I could see a man wearing trews come out of a small hut on the beach on the other side of the strand and head for the tiny boat moored there. He waved and mam waved back, signalling that she was waiting for him. Within minutes the tiny boat was heading our way. I am not going to talk about the short trip – except to say it was long enough for me to find out that I am not a good sailor.
My gran lived in a place called Kilninver which seemed a long way from the crossing, particularly as by now the trews were chafing me like the devil was in them. Her cottage was no bigger than ours at home, and not as well looked after.
‘Come here, bairn, let’s have a look at you.’
She was not what I had been expecting. In fact she looked like my mother, with a lot more wrinkes. No gnashing teeth, no breathing fire, I looked for any sign her being a dreaded royalist, but found none. What I saw was a tiny scrap of a woman, shorter than I was, with a beaming smile.
‘Ye’ll do! Now come and have something warm after your long trip.’ She spoke funny, but I could understand her words if I concentrated on her lips. I was soon sitting on her kitchen floor (there were only two chairs) and tucking into a batch of warm oatcakes while the two women talked above me.
We stayed three nights, and Mam helped her mother repair the parts of the house which were out of Gran’s reach. Once I had overcome my shyness at her hugging me whenever she got a chance I enjoyed the visit. I forgave her for being a royalist and enjoyed her company as she took time to teach me to plait reeds, and to mam’s horror, to hold a piece of grass so that it made a loud noise if you blew through it. I was sorry when we had to head for home, but came away with the pockets in my trews full of oatmeal biscuits, which I munched on happily as we walked back to the ferry.
‘Well, what did you think of your gran?’ mam asked as we trudged along.
‘I liked her, she looked like you. Is she really a royalist?’
‘’fraid so, darlin’. Your da’ wasn’t happy about this visit, but I wanted her to see her grandson before you’re grown up and prejudiced too.’
I kept munching, wondering what ‘pred-joo-dissed’ meant, it was plainly something bad. I decided right there that I was never going to be prejudiced when I grew up, if I could find out what it meant without upsetting anybody. It was so difficult to get answers from grown-ups, particularly in my da’s extended family. I decided that could wait. I bent down to pick up a blade of grass.
‘Oh no you don’t!’ mam snatched it away, but she was laughing, I guessed she was fed up with me making the noise ever since Gran showed me how to do it. I laughed back. There was plenty of grass here, and at home on Seil Island, and she knew it.
As I belted on my kilt back on Seil, it felt right, and I wondered why the ‘English and Lowlanders’ were so against being comfortable. I’ve said it before – grown-ups are a strange lot.
The inspiration for this story is a comment about the ‘House of Trousers’ during a recent coach trip through the highlands which had a really informative, and even more entertaining commentary. There may be more ‘highland’ based stories originating from this trip in the future. Thanks Kenny.
The tour details are at: http://www.highlandexperience.com/