I wrestle open an extremely heavy fire door and, breathless, enter the Observation Lounge. This comprises ten or maybe a dozen rows of reclining lather chairs, around five deep. Almost every seat is taken. What are all these people doing crowded in the Observation Lounge rather than being dispersed between the Cafeteria, the Shop, or the Lounge Bar? Has my Creator created this gauntlet specifically to make Norman Hector MacKinnon Maclean suffer? Why are there so many ET eyes swivelling in my direction? I shuffle my way forward, holding the flap of my tatty dressing gown shut and sliding my torn green paper slippers so as not to reveal too much pallid flesh. There are many holidaymakers in the audience, but there are also many young men from Barra or South Uist, identifiable by the green and white-hooped football tops that indicate that they are supporters of Glasgow Celtic. They all wear trainers. It seems to me that all males under the age of forty on the islands have no idea what shoe polish is. “Sin thu, Thormoid, Yeah, Norman,” says one of the hoops supporters, a can of lager in his fist. “An ann a’ gabhail na grèine a-rithis a bha thu, Have you been out sunbathing again?” All his pals begin laughing at the finesse of their leader’s sarcasm. I am humiliated and ashamed. Don’t lock eyes with any of them. Act as if they do not exist. Still clutching the flaps of the dressing gown at the waist I shuffle forward until I come to the last row. At the far end two middle-aged men, shaven headed and wearing camouflage trousers and windbreakers sit companionably, the fingers of right and left hands interlocking in mutual comfort and support. There are three vacant chairs to my immediate left. I slump gratefully into the middle high-backed chair, which has a view, not of the Minch, but of a blank bulkhead of perforated aluminium. I try to arrange my bare legs in such a way that only my ill-defined pale calves are on view. The hem of the sodden gown is irredeemably far up above my knee. Since, at the age of seventy-two, my lower limbs, from knee to ankle, have roughly the same diameter, I am painfully conscious that this is not a good look.
Hey! Who is this beautiful female creature standing above me in the aisle? She has quite a head of raven black hair, trimmed to just above her caramel brown shoulders. She has a lean face with glistening cliff-top cheekbones, a broad nub of a nose, and upper and lower lips adorned by smooth, dark lipstick. She wears a smooth teal silk peasant blouse over a very short mustard coloured skirt. Revealed are the naked brown curves of thighs and calves supported by ankle strapped shoes that are little more than insoles on pencils. It strikes me that, as the old Gaelic expression has it, ‘eadar Hiort is Peairt, between St Kilda and Perth’, this model-on-a-runway woman and old Norman Hector are the only human beings, among all the other earth people, who are either sexy enough or stupid enough to be gadding about bare legged. Funny how with us there is no contest. The woman is the sexy one. She is in her late twenties or early thirties and smiles down at me in a cool way. Her glistening white teeth are in contrast to her tawny cheeks. There is a decided Asian cast to her mischievous eyes . . .sizzling . . . aflame . . . with some kind of inner fire. There isn’t a male in the Observation Lounge who can tear his eyes away from this exotic creature, except perhaps for the two guys at the far end of the row who may well be playing for the other team.