This being Hogmanay, I had to bring you either whisky or coal. Whisky won. I have a great fondness for the stuff, and its infinite variety. The first novel I tried to write was set in the whisky industry and I set about the research very assiduously. The research was fun, the novel bit the dust. I don’t actually drink very much these days, but tonight, for the bells, I will certainly raise a glass. My taste is for Talisker, the Isle of Skye malt – partly for its peaty-seaspray tang, and partly in nostalgia for the cycling holiday my friend Grace and I undertook when we were but slips o’ lasses. Well, not literally, but we were 18 and full of life so you get the picture. We got the train to Mallaig with the bikes; ferry to Broadford; cycled up through Skye to Uig; ferry to Lochmaddy in North Uist; cycled down through North and South Uist to Lochboisdale; got storm-bound for an extra night; met a couple of local lads so the time passed quickly enough; got the ferry back to Oban the next day, and then the train home, all the way to Ayr. What an adventure. Don’t do it! ie don’t try and cycle through Skye unless you’re a whole lot fitter than we were. We spent a lot of time pushing the bikes uphill, through the wind and rain … ah, Scottish weather, you’ve got to love it. (Uist on the other hand was perfect for cycling softies – flat and smooth, and the weather was ‘chust sublime’ as Para Handy would say).
Recently I was invited to an event in the Scottish Parliament, launching the campaign ‘To Absent Friends’. The aim of the campaign is to make Scotland a place where we’re all better able to talk about death, remember our loved ones who have passed on, and be kind to ourselves and each other when we’re grieving. The poet Ron Butlin read out his poem, ‘A Recipe for Whisky’, which draws a peaty parallel between the rich and varied adventures of a standard life, and the mysterious layering of the flavours of the whisky as it matures in the cask. I don’t want to infringe copyright law so I’m just going to give a few lines, but I urge you to follow the link to his piece on the Scottish Poetry Library website, and read the whole 15 lines. And let me wish you comfort and joy for 2015.
Let's taste, let's savour and enjoy. Let's share once more. Another glass for absent friends. Pour until the bottle's done. Here's life! Here's courage to go on!