Every time I go back to Lewis I am simultaneously happy and worried. The bond we form to the place into which we were born is enduring. The intensity of childhood experience and the memories we form in those early years are especially strong. As I get older, I worry that someday I will get off the ferry and feel like a tourist in an unfamiliar place. Happily that day has not yet come. I still have a better mental map of Lewis and Harris than the area where I now live. Every road and corner, the town, the castle grounds, the beaches are all still connected to those strong childhood memories. I recall who had chickens on the steep hill behind the main street in Tarbert, who I played with on what beaches, what it felt like to bush walk through the rhododendrons in the castle grounds, balancing on the sewage pipe to get across the river at Bayhead and on and on. A storm of memories around every corner.
Some things do throw my sense of place off balance though. The Scalpay bridge does this. Probably due the huge scale of the bridge coming up against those strong memories of going over to Scalpay before the bridge existed. It feels like the present and the past refusing to co-exist in my conscious mind. I wonder why this might be. I like change and I don’t like pointless nostalgia. I get that from my father who was always looking for the next thing to do in business and even in retirement at the age of 83 he’s still ripping out flower beds and starting from scratch. His philosophy was simple: If change gives people work and jobs then it’s a good thing.
So why does the my mind refuse to be impressed by the Scalpay bridge? I think it’s because I have a memory of Scalpay to which I attach entirely unreasonable importance. I used to spend the summer holidays helping Iain, the carpet fitter who worked for my dad, lay carpets all over the island. One job, on Scalpay, was on a particularly gorgeous summer day. I was sitting with Iain on the back of the Luton van listening to the Beatles on a portable cassette player eating a sandwich, looking out over this peaceful landscape while Iain puffed away on his roll-up. It sits in my memory as a moment of total peace and happiness. I wonder if the bridge is a reminder that that moment is gone forever, never to be experienced again. As a good friend once said to me: “Shut up, you hippy”.