“I’m confident you’ll be getting in touch soon, ma’m,” I said softly, because I was aware I had really socked it to this resident of London and I knew she was suffering from informational overload. “If you or Mr Relph or Miss Danischewsky wish to contact me, just leave a note addressed to ‘The Hebridean Hitchcock’, care of the Public Bar, the Castlebay Hotel. Everyone will know who it’s meant for. I’m well known as a rabid film buff in these parts.”
The casting director’s response noises to my valediction were more bovine than human.
Those readers still awake at this point will appreciate that my fatal flaw as a twenty-year-old was a tendency to earthquake every dialogue I was ever involved in. Where Roddy, and indeed the merchant seamen, were content to take a part in Rockets Galore for a modest cheque, I wanted to take over the entire film. Roddy kept talking about the smallest things, I kept countering with the largest: How can you be satisfied with simple pleasures like getting a degree, getting a teaching job and sipping coffee in the morning, Roddy? Don’t you want big things – TV and film contracts, travel to exotic spots, writing a bestseller? Roddy and most of my friends are into small reliable pleasures. I jump ahead into big and speculative things.
Let us draw the curtain of charity over the rest of my week’s vacation in Barra. I waited and waited but the Hebridean Hitchcock’s in-box remained empty. Funds ran out. I finally had to gargle my pride and borrow a considerable sum from Ruairidh to enable me to return to Glasgow.
After witnessing the arrival of the leading man, Donald Sinden, at the little airport, I justified my detachment from the entire project in a typically misguided way. You see, I was under the misapprehension that Donald was a native of Barra and the ‘Sinden’ element in his name was just another example of the weird way the natives of that island parsed their patronymics. In Barra (and in Lewis) patronymics like Peadair mac ‘Eem’, Ailig ‘Fat’, Mac a’ ‘Non’ abound, and when the locals told me that Dòmhnall ‘Sinden’ was flying up from Glasgow that afternoon I thought that he was just another seaman who was going to spend his shore leave from Denholm’s Shipping indulging in a lucrative sideline. This was a talent I just had to see.
In the event I concluded there was something distinctly off about this guy. For one thing he was wearing a light grey Prince of Wales check lightweight suit with sunglasses. A dead giveaway was the fact that the shades were perched on the top of his head.
Tiormaich m’ fhallus, Dry my perspiration!
No one from Barra wears sunglasses perched two inches back from his hairline. Come to think of it, no one from Barra wears sunglasses. Then I see what he really is. He has £450 Bally slip-ons on his feet – without socks! This guy descending the steps from the plane to the sands of the Tràigh Mhòr is from England. He’s a Schneider. I almost want to shout it out.
That’s it. They’ll have to try this little venture without me.
And that’s what they did.
My eventual departure from the island was a confused affair. I’m lying in a groggy state in a wee white bed in a bedroom of the Craigard Hotel. Mary Ann Maclean and her husband Neil are standing next to the bed. She’s advising me in fierce whispers that it’s time to go. Neil is half-singing, half reciting a Gaelic song:
‘Cha tèid mis’ a chaoidh rim dheòin, I’ll never ever go willingly . . .’
And like the subject of the song who eventually went to the young son of the Red Earl, I went, too. Needless to say, after all the drams and pints I had drunk, my mind was a swamp of regret. It would not be the last time I took my leave of a place in a confused condition.