Wednesday, 4 June 2008


I'd be lying if I said we were looking forward to Island with unbounded pleasure. On the one hand, we were delighted to be seeing Sister, Islander and sons. On the other, I'd promised a restaurant night and with May being as utterly insane as it is, I simply didn't see where the time was coming from to organise, shop and buy for it. Luckily, Sister was wise to this and recommended we drop the idea. Instead we came to a compromise - I did a semi-restaurant night involving a choice of 3 starters but no choice of main course or pudding.

We went to Oban on Thursday night and stayed at the Caledonian Hotel. On the way, Fisher started complaining about nasty tummy pain. She often suffers from digestive issues, so I didn't pay it much mind. Alas, by nightfall she was throwing up and running to and from the loo with serious unpleasantness. This girl is never ill. I was deeply concerned, and if she'd decided what she wanted to do was get back in the car and go home, that's what we would have done. She didn't, and after a terrible night's sleep she was ready to get on the ferry - albeit slowly, with much pain. She slept almost all the 3 hour trip, and I kept the boys away from her. Gemmill is a proper little bastard now, with serious disobedience issues, temper tantrums and a bit of a mean streak. I'm hoping it's just being 4 - but there were some things he did that I thought were ominous, like being told to give his brother half the slice of bread he was eating and stuffing it all in his face. Also, he's started to laugh when people suffer a bit of misfortune, like when I got hit in the head going over a bumpy bit of road - but if someone laughs at his misfortune, then he goes utterly crazy - even if that person isn't even laughing at him. I'm sure these are just exploratory personalities, but it worries me that he seems to suffer deeply from a lack of empathy. Come to think of it, his father has been known to say some things that show an inability to judge a situtation - like telling a tablefull of people I don't know very well that the pudding I made only turned out the way it did because I screwed up. Not a big deal, but he didn't think I might want to keep that under wraps, and that it might be a little embarrassing.

Anyway - while Gemmill is suffering from the nasty 4s, he's also showing some great characteristics. He's really interested in creepy-crawlies, dinosaurs, volcanoes, earthquakes - all sorts of things - and I truly love sitting with him and talking about the natural world. He's not fussed by mammals. Anything furry is uninteresting. Anything scaly, weird looking, or slimy is utterly fascinating. He tests my limited scientific knowledge, but I love going through his nature book with him, learning as I go along and trying to break it down so he understands. I also find that looking at the insect world through a child's eyes starts to break down some of my learned revulsions.

Gemmill is also very eloquent for a 4 year old, meaning you can have wonderful chats with him. He's enthusiastic about walks and outdoorsy stuff. I remember when I was little my father used to call out if I wanted to go and walk the dogs - and I was deeply uninspired. I'd much rather have been in my room with a book. Gemmill loves books and stories, but when I asked if he wanted to walk the dogs to the White House beach, he was immediately willing. We had a lovely wander, he built a sand face, and I set him to hunting out different types of stone to keep him happy - something he entered into with a will. He's still easy to entertain, and underneath some of his more visible unpleasantnesses I'm convinced there's an amiable, fun child.

On the other hand, Fisher's godson Wrecker is an absolute dream child. No signs of the terrible twos exist in this child, who greets the world with a sunny smile and a great deal of lovable mischief. Islander preaches caution in that because he's adorable he can get away with murder - and I'm sure this is the case. On the other hand, during our trip I saw none of the more sinister behaviour Gemmill portrayed - and only the occasional bit of naughtiness. His temper is far more even than Gemmill's, which makes things easier. We'll have to wait and see how the years treat them both - but, I hasten to add, they're both great children and I love their company.

Our first afternoon saw Fisher sleep off most of her tummy trouble, while I entertained the boys. Friday was the evening of the dinner party, which was good fun. Sister's friends are all excellent company, and the food seemed to go down well. Starters were: quails eggs with salty-celery (a home made alternative to celery salt) and salad, Arbroath smokie salad with caper and lime mayonnaise, or skewers of king prawns cooked in butter, Indian spices and rose petals - which, I have to say, turned out very well. The main course was venison and duck 'crueset' (stew cooked in a le crueset casserole dish). I used juniper berries, red wine, wild boar salami and redcurrant jelly to flavour it. Pancetta and leek mashed potato accompanied, thanks to Fisher, as well as pan fried asparagus. We were also supposed to have mini courgettes smeared with mustard, but we shall not speak of the horror they turned into. The mustard seeds all burned under the grill, turning them into a bitter mess.

I wasn't too pleased with the stew. It tasted good, but I cooked it on too high a heat (Sister's oven is gas and I'm unfamiliar with gas marks) so some of it dried out a little. It wasn't very thick, which was fine, but did look messy on a plate. Still, everyone finished every scrap, so it can't have gone down too badly.

Pudding was lime and basil sorbet (an old favourite) and grapefruit & champagne granita. I didn't cook off the alcohol, so it was quite an alkie's dream. I'm not sure it was to everyone's taste, but the cheese plate from Mellis certainly went down well. Also slipping far too easily down the hatch was Pimms, red wine, and a 55% Laphroaig after dinner - without water - that was just a big fat mistake. I was hammered, and to clear my head I did most of the washing and tidying of the kitchen while everyone else hit the hay. When I collapsed into bed I felt so dreadful I couldn't sleep ... and then the duck hit my system, with the whisky, and I had to make a lurching run to the loo. In an example of sod's mighty law, Islander also woke and needed the loo with, I believe, similar urgency. Actually, Sister told us the next day that he got up, wandered around the room for a bit, and then informed her that he was going to get the burgers and sausages. He then woke up enough to realise he needed the loo, badly, found me inside (not literally - the door was locked) and had to thunder off downstairs.

After my visit (I'm not sure I can believe I'm actually blogging this, but hey ho) I managed to fall asleep while reading Edward Trencom's Nose (good - I recommend it - particularly to Phid). Next morning I felt pretty delicate, and thanked the lord when I was allowed a luxurious lie in while Fisher took the boys up to Ballyhaugh, where Sister and Islander were preparing for the evening's barbecue in honour of Project Trust's 40 year anniversary. I was therefore allowed to sit on the patio, sunning myself in the stunning, Mediterranean weather, reading and banishing my delicacy.

Alas, it turned out that Fisher was suffering from the evening's largesse. She'd hit the food too soon after her illness, causing a severe relapse, and she had to sleep away the afternoon and miss the barbecue. I went, and it was fine. I think it's difficult to go to a party where you don't know many people, and those you do know are a little busy with other pals and children. I'm sure Blarney & Spartan would have found many people to chat to with gusto, but I'm crap at that. I did my best, and had a pleasant natter with one of Island's resisdent artists, whom I'd met before and with whom I'd hit it off, and with a couple of other people, too. I gave the dogs a wander, checked on Fisher back at home, and ate too much barbecue. I watched Gemmill and Wrecker strutt their stuff on the dancefloor, which was very amusing. An incident of particular note was when Wrecker started dancing with a babe some 10 years his senior. Gemmill came roaring up, yanked his hands out of the babe's hands, and tried to dance with him himself. Wrecker was having none of it, refused to let Gemmill be his partner, and tried to get back to the babe ... but it was too late.

I really hope this isn't going to become a theme ...

At around 8, I decided to walk home with the dogs, leaving Sister the car. It was a lovely, sunny evening, and I felt the benefits of the mile or so wander immediately. Back at home, Fisher was feeling slightly better, to my relief, and I was able to enjoy an hour or so's quite reading before the descent of the family once more.

Sunday morning was the best of the bunch. We took ourselves down to Cliad beach where Sister and Islander have a little motor boat. The sun baked us as we rode the waves, fishing rods at the ready, and at the first drop of my line I caught a saithe - the biggest fish I've ever caught. 5 mackrel followed later, but the real joy was just being out there on a calm sea, feeling warm sun tanning my vitamin D starved skin, and waiting patiently for a bite.

It was sad to have to leave on the afternoon ferry. I badly wanted to stay another day, but we had to return for Fisher's work and, frankly, my own. Which I haven't done, and which I should get to.

See you later.