Friday, 19 July 2013
I had a very unusual and interesting morning today. Just as I was drawing close to Delights (a speciality foods shop with a couple of tables for customers to have coffee and cakes) in Stornoway's North Beach Street a car parked in front of the shop signalled to pull out. I stopped to let the driver do so and then reversed into the space. I then went in and, much to my surprise and pleasure there was a table free. I could have a coffee - their coffee is superb. I sat down and as I was drinking my coffee and writing a billet doux to a friend I realised that the person at the counter ordering a coffee was someone I had known for nigh on 40 years but not seen in the flesh for many years. Hugs all round and thus started a coffee binge and a couple of hours catching up. Interestingly though, because she is so well known as a Gaelic media presenter amongst other things, a number of people who came in for coffee take-aways also ended up spending time at the table. Therein lies the point of the title to this post.
To go back a step. When I came to the Island in the mid 70s I was puzzled by the first question everyone (who was local) asked anyone they met. That question was "How old are you?" The reason for the question was to establish you in the appropriate year at school so that you could be identified by reference to the questioner's siblings or cousins or some other relative. In that way could you be defined. The fact that I could not be defined in that way because I had not been brought up on the Island didn't stop the question being asked.
Because of the position I held when I came to the Island and, when I retired from public life, the business I had, I knew a lot of people: many or perhaps most were my age or older. Some were incomers who have long since left the Island. Some were locals who have passed on or, like me, retired from the public glare. They were however the people whose contemporaries I was: they were the people who defined me in public life. They are no more ergo I am no more.
Thus it was today that when my friend introduced me to each person in turn we had to find a point of reference. Interestingly as each relationship was explored and discussed it turned out that I knew their fathers. Scotland is a small place and Lewis is an very small place. The good Scots saying was used a lot: I kent his faither.
This contrasts with the opposite end of the spectrum to which I have recently been accustomed: being known by the moniker of Gaz's father. It has happened on a significant number of occasions recently. Gaz, of course, was brought up from the age of one on the Island: he is an Islander through and through.
Thus are we all in one way or another defined by reference to someone or something else.