Celtic Illumination, part 309, Three legged cats and long-tailed fellows.
It wasn’t the worst early morning start I’ve ever had, we were warm and dry and were not getting shot at, so pretty good all round. I suppose I just felt a little disorientated. We completely emptied the cars, as, thanks to the day light, we could now see what we were doing. Tony was dispatched to find some hot tea and coffee for us. If he managed to find some bacon rolls I assured him that he would go up in my estimation for ever. I gave the house and outbuildings the once over to familiarise myself with my surroundings. I liked what I saw. A solid, three bedroomed, farm house, with seven acres of land, almost in a perfect square around the house and outbuildings, with an infinite amount of uses.
Tony excelled himself and brought back tea, coffee, hot chocolate, bacon rolls and sausage rolls, and all hot too. There’s nothing like a huge dose of comfort food to cheer you up. Tony then took Tim and his friend off to the airport, so that they could fly back to England. Mary and the cat and myself waited at the house for the removal men to arrive, which they did, as expected, thirty five minutes after the boat docked. This was long before the days of mobile telephones so Tony had been instructed to use the public telephones at the airport to try and arrange for the electricity to be switched on. He made it back to the farmhouse as the removal men had almost finished unpacking their van. I had been joking around with the three removal guys and getting stuck in shifting boxes.
The removal men had met the three of us in Shotley, and now seeing us all again on the Isle of Man wondered out loud at the relationship between the three of us. They thought that I was the man of the house, Mary my wife and Tony; well they didn’t know what to make of Tony. It was as Tony was giving them each a little gratuity for their hard work that they asked about me. Tony explained that I was a writer friend who stayed with them. None of us then expected to see three grown men each holding out a piece of paper asking for my autograph, which, to my embarrassment, they reluctantly got, they also got Tony’s signature for the job they had completed. The electricity, we were informed, would not be switched on until the following day so we forced ourselves to find the nearest pub and settled in for some nosh and beer. I knew that I had been to the Isle of Man many times as a youngster but had no real memory of the place. I liked what I saw, lots of green open space and huge mature trees.
It took a day or two before we were able to function as a proper household and settle in to a routine. I was getting up at seven o clock in the morning, coming downstairs and, sitting at the dining room table, would write my daily quota of words. I would normally have produced my seven hundred and fifty words when I would hear Mary and Tony stir upstairs. They knew I was working so Mary would come down and prepare a cooked breakfast, while I would edit my work. With breakfast ready I would put my work away and we would all tuck in to a hearty meal, after which I would step outside and find something to do. I don’t think the house had been unoccupied for too long but certain areas like the fruit garden were overgrown and needed some hacking and light deforestation to clear it up.
There were stone walls to patch up, the sewage system needed an overhaul, the roof on the barn needed attention, there was an awful lot of rubbish and old timber lying about, there were trees to be cut back, so there was a range of jobs that needed seeing to. Nothing life threatening, but enough to keep me outside and busy. I loved it. The kitchen sink was blocked so I remember setting about finding where the soak away was. It was closer to the house than we anticipated, so we cleared the cover and opened it, to find it well and truly clogged. Using a bucket and a length of rope I began to empty it and began to wonder along with Tony if we should build a new one, as the existing one didn’t look that healthy. Tony decided that we should build a new one and went off to order the equipment we would need. Mary went along so that she could collect some provisions.
I’ll never forget that by the time they returned I had emptied the soak away. I don’t know why, but the sludge that I had been clearing out was pink. It was quite clear that the pipe from the house was well and truly bunged up so I was wondering how I should go about unclogging it, when they pulled into the farm yard. I’m not sure if the vibration of the car, plus the fact that I had emptied the soak away, contributed to what happened next, but it may have. The blockage in the pipe decided to clear itself and it came out like a huge tube of toothpaste being squeezed. I remember staring at it in amazement until the most horrendous smell I had ever encountered attacked my olfactory senses, like a butcher with a boning knife.
As Mary and Tony smiled and waved at me from the car I could do nothing else but learn forward and violently vomit into the soak away. Mary of course now wants to call an ambulance, while Tony and I are assuring her that nothing is wrong, and; the sink was unblocked, despite my involuntary contribution. At least we had another two enjoyable days out in the open, digging a six foot pit, that we lined with bricks, joined an extension pipe to the old one and stood and admired our new soak away, that we both, expertly, agreed would last for one hundred years, at least. The nice thing, or should I say one of the nice things, about being with Tony was that money was no problem. If we needed axes, or shovels, or even wellington boots he would drive off to the store and buy them. I know, spoiled or what, it was a step or two away from the world of bodge tape and parachute cord but, just as enjoyable.
In one of the outhouses I found an old ornate, wooden, rostrum, the sort you would see in a church, for resting the bible on. We hadn’t a clue where it had come from but I was determined to place it so that I could read my work out loud to the cows in the field next door. Now stop it, I never did, but I have to admit I was tempted. I’m sure they would have been mooved. Sorry about that, I couldn’t resist. I did notice that there seemed to be quite a large population of rats on the farm so would often have Tony’s air rifle with me when outside. Any movement that caught my eye would normally result in a dead rat, or at least a rat with a very bad limp. It was one morning when I was on the garage roof, as you do, I noticed Mary come out and scatter the breakfast remnants all over the garden. I asked her if she was aware that they had an abundance of rats, to which she replied that yes, she knew she had rats, why do you think she was feeding them?
And rats were one of the things that niggled me about the Isle of Man. We had tried one or two local pubs, looking for one where we felt comfortable, and of course meeting the locals. I didn’t like the way that the locals would always remind Tony and Mary that they were not locals; they were ‘Blowovers.’ Perhaps after ten or so years they may be considered to be almost local, it was as if you had to have been born on the island to be considered local. For a small island people, who insisted that they were friendly in the extreme, I found this very unfriendly to say the least. It was unacceptable to me that new arrivals should be constantly reminded that they were ‘outsiders.’ Another practise they had, which I found unacceptable, was that homosexuality was illegal on the Isle of Man, in fact they considered it to be a criminal act. I found the idea that to love another person would label you as a criminal, laughable, as did most of the educated and progressive world.
But the one that got me was their attitude to rats. In the old days, and I mean when the world really still was in black and white, and the main industry on the Isle of Man was the fishing industry, sailors, as they still are in many places, were very superstitious. Certain words, or behaviours, whilst on board ship were forbidden. Words, for example, like rabbit, or whistling, were considered taboo as was the word ‘rat.’ Of course a rat on a ship is a very real problem so rather than go through a version of charades every time you wanted to report a rat infestation to the captain, they, the sailors, came up with another name for the rat which was the ‘Long-tailed fellow.’ Local land based people now refused to say the word ‘rat’ and insisted that the term ‘Long tail,’ was used, which annoyed me for this was not a real superstition, more an affectation and there wasn’t a bloody sailing ship to be seen never mind a sailor. Should anyone mention the word ‘rat,’ the locals would all spit on the floor, and some would stamp their feet, to negate the bad luck the speaker would have visited on them.
Needless to say these little niggles began to eat away at me, so that after a good mornings writing, and a decent days work on the farm, we would wash and scrub ourselves into a presentable state, then fire ourselves off to a local pub, The Sulby Glen Hotel, for a bit of a feed and half a dozen well-earned beers. There was always a handful of locals dotted around the bar and all would welcome you and engage into conversation, although there was always that air of, ‘We are locals and you are not,’ about the place. It didn’t worry Tony and Mary, but it sure as Hell annoyed the crap out of me. We came in one evening and as all there welcomed us, one local asked, “And what have you been up to today?” “Well,” I said, exhaling heavily and putting on my best effeminate impression, with my right hand on my right hip and my left hand up to my left ear I said. “Do you know how many fingernails I broke this morning when I was out in the garden shooting rats?” As all there began spitting and stamping I knew I had made my point and after ordering a round of drinks, from the bemused barman, I suggested that he might need a mop and a bucket as the convulsing locals seemed to be making a bit of a mess on his floor.