Although I’ve been writing steadily in 2024 and have published in a few magazines including UR, I haven’t posted anything here for a while.

I’ve just been to the dentist for half an hour’s worth of crown preparation work, and I came close to posting an angry political rant as revenge on the world – but thought better of it. I’ve left the rant simmering in the “drafts” folder until I calm down, and to give John Swinney time to sort out the mess the Greens have made of our carbon reduction targets. Clownshow.

Meantime, a little anecdote from a few years ago, which is of course based on a true story.

Mr Wolf inherited the refurbishment and extension to Deer Island’s only hotel from a practice down south who won it in competition – then realised they would lose enormous amounts of money flying up to Scotland and taking two ferries each time they needed to visit site.

At first, they wanted Mr Wolf to take over the project in its entirety and carry his own P.I. cover; I believe that type of arrangement is known in the trade as a “poisoned chalice”. After lengthy horse-trading, they agreed that he could work freelance and would be covered by their insurance. Mr Wolf relied on his ten year old car to take him to the thirty year old ferry which crossed the Sound to visit the two hundred year old building.

He quickly discovered that things are different on Deer Island. The builders order everything online and collect it from the merchants in the Port; it has to come across on the big boat. The big boat only sails twice a week; the rest of the time, Deer Island is only connected to Scotland by a car ferry. Post persons on the island have little electric vans which never last the route, so they have to return to base where they swap to the diesel. Tourists are welcomed ambivalently; except when they’re not. Day trippers, as above.

On his first overnight visit to Deer Island, Mr Wolf discovered that the takeaway had a monopoly and kept short hours; you had to time your hunger carefully. Mr Wolf joined the queue and discovered that the woman behind the counter was appallingly rude. She was a human version of Shrek: surly, cynical, venomously cranky – and with a strong Scots accent. Innocent questions were met with sarcasm mixed with disdain: ordering a fish supper was a bit like visiting the zoo to watch the orang-utans misbehave.

When the customer in front politely requested something advertised on the board outside, her response consisted of one word: "No". This was repeated, accompanied by a deadpan expression, when he asked a follow-up question. Then he got a very sharp retort, along the lines that this isn't an establishment which sells anything “ready to eat” – despite the signboard outside to the contrary which advertised Fish & Chips.

When he dared to ask a fish-related question, he was met an even frostier reception. What about the crab turnovers which are advertised on the sign outside? "No, you can’t have any – I've not made them yet". Once he decided to order some fish suppers – seemingly the only food available from the rapidly diminishing options, she harassed him with, "So how many DO you want, I need numbers, NUMBERS…"

The customer eventually left, four fish suppers heavier and thirty pounds lighter. After he reached the counter, Mr Wolf asked if he could have an extra portion of chips? The proprietor told him curtly that she supported the local fishermen, not the local potato farmers.

During the wait for his supper to be cooked, Mr Wolf heard the two guys in the kitchen arguing with each other, "I kennt this wasnae haddock, why did you say it was haddock, I kennt you made a BIG mistake". Then one decided the chips were done, the other thought not, so he poked his fingers amongst the chips and squashed a few of them. “See, I telt you,” before dropping them into a polystyrene carton.

Mr Wolf offered Amex. The proprietor shook her head. MasterCard? Nope. What about Visa? She gave him a withering look. A £10 noted was accepted, ungraciously, but change wasn’t forthcoming until he asked for it. When the fish supper was being wrapped, he picked up the 70p Tesco ketchup bottle from the countertop, and discovered that it was temperamental with its squirts. It dribbled into the Formica. Mr Wolf set it down again and the proprietor scowled at him.

Finally leaving the chip shop half an hour after he joined the queue, Mr Wolf spotted a rat running along the side of the building, unperturbed, with a giant chip between its jaws. Mr Wolf headed in the opposite direction, to sit on a bench in front of the hotel, just downwind of the island’s distillery, then breathed in deeply. Next time, he’d have his tea in the hotel bar.

I hope that image cheered you up; meantime the dentist’s freeze in my upper jaw has almost worn off, so I’m away for something to eat. More from Deer Island in due course, as Mr Wolf discovers how difficult it can be to build things in rural Scotland.

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