1 EAGLETON NOTES: If You Lived on Lewis in the '70s

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Tuesday, 15 November 2016

If You Lived on Lewis in the '70s

then you had to remember that everyone knew you and your business. As a friend said when we arrived in the '70s "People here know that you have passed wind before you have eaten the beans." Incomers were relatively unusual. It was a very small world.

How things have changed. Now many people don't even know their neighbours because there is a chance that their neighbour has little or no island connection or history.

When I came to the Island the furniture removal van arrived in Stornoway several months later on a Communion Thursday (and that's another story). On the Friday morning they went into Roddy Smiths (a newsagent and more in Stornoway) and asked where 22a Coll was and were astonished when the people immediately knew for whom they were looking.

One day in the early '90s I had to go to London with a female senior colleague who, at the time, had an aversion to both London and hotels. I thought that I would solve the problem by suggesting that we stayed at a London Club of which I had reciprocal membership. The Club had a 'Ladies Wing' which gave ladies privacy and 'security'. I rang the Club to arrange the accommodation. I gave my name and as I was giving my address as 22a Coll the receptionist said  "on the Isle of Lewis?". Having confirmed that it was indeed that Coll the receptionist then continued to tell me that she was from Barvas on the Island. 

I realised (as if I hadn't realised before) just how small the world was if you came from a Hebridean island. I was rather pleased that I'd not been having an affair and had tried to book a double room!

24 comments:

  1. A friend of mine comes from the Isle of Lewis and I have heard snippets about it over the years so it's lovely to find your blog and hear from someone on the ground!
    As for everyone knowing your business: if they dont know, I'm sure they will make it up :)

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    1. Good to hear from you Kylie. It certainly used to be said that if people didn't know they made it up but nowadays it would seem that few people are really interested anyway.

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  2. The rural communities and small towns that I have lived in have all been very much the same. Sneeze a few times in succession at one end and by the time you get home there will be a rumour about you having bronchitis, the news accurate or not travels very fast.

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    1. Heron that's certainly how it was here.

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  3. Those were pleasant secure days when everybody knew each other. I'm afraid those days are long gone. Now you can get on with your affairs and no worries about the locals knowing.

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  4. These days I sometimes get news of my "neighbours" (friends living in the same town) via "expats" living on the other side of the world (like Australia or Asia) ... Because they're the ones who keep in touch with everyone at home via Facebook and other social media!

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    1. Yes Monica social media has altered the face of the world hasn't it.

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  5. My small native Surrey village was rather like that. Everyone knew who I was and would wish me 'good morning'; I of course didn't know them, and would just smile and wish them the same. The lady at the tiny village telephone exchange knew everyone by name, especially us children. It was all very friendly. Nowadays it's more of a commuter village, and all that camaraderie has gone.

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    1. Cro I expect tat in the more remote areas of the Highlands and the Hebrides and the very much smaller Islands life will have a certain intimacy that it no longer has in places even like my township which is essentially a 'commuter' township for Stornoway.

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  6. When I am staying at O.K.'s, I like the nice, cosy side of village life. But for everyday living, I think I prefer my small town existence, where I have the best of both worlds: Enough anonymity and privacy to live my life exactly as I want to, but knowing my neighbours well enough to be on speaking terms every day and helping each other out if the need arises, without being talked about all the time.

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    1. Meike I have to say that, on the whole, I'm very content with the blend of friendship, neighbourliness and privacy that I have now.

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  7. I bet the female senior colleague was also pleased you were not having an affair with her as it would have been front page news in "The Liverpool Echo" - including lurid pictures of said lady with her mischievous toyboy.

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    1. YP given that I was living in the Outer Hebrides at the time a report in the Liverpool Echo would have been both unlikely and a lot more welcome than one in the Stornoway Gazette.

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  8. We used to,live in a very prosperous town in prime commuter land SE of London. The people really didn't know who lived next door. I hated it.

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    1. Frances before we moved to the Outer Hebrides we lived in a smart Cheshire village which was, in essence, a commuter village and I knew no one there either.

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  9. On our recent trip to Scotland, as we deplaned, my mother ran into a nurse that she'd worked with back in New York! Small world, indeed! I suppose I would like a bit of small-town togetherness if I lived on Lewis, but living in New York I prefer the anonymity and privacy of just waving at neighbors and not knowing/being known much more than that. In a place where the sheep outnumber the people, company is comforting. In a place where people outnumber the blades of grass, privacy is preferable.

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    1. I think that sums it up perfectly Mrs S.

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  10. On our first visit to Barra, a fair few years back now, we decided to walk around the Island. About a quarter of the way around, the first car stopped and enquired if we would like a lift, so we explained that we were walking round and thanked them very much. In the course of the remaining distance, this happened another few times, with increasing amusement from the car drivers...by the time we got back to Castlebay and our B&B, we were greeted with "Did you enjoy your walk around the Island then?" Made us chuckle!

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    1. Yes Robyn that's very much how things still are on Barra. I like that.

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  11. It is rather a shame to lose that sense of closeness. Why do you think it has changed on Lewis? Too many incomers? or a more modern lifestyle?

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    1. Jenny the phrase 'too many' is rather emotive given that I am an incomer (albeit one who has lived the majority of my life here and has therefore been both economically active and had a certain degree of time to adapt) however the demographic has altered considerably in the last 4 or 5 decades and there are certainly a great many more incomers who have come here to retire having sold houses in the expensive South of England market and bought relatively cheap houses here.

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  12. I vaguely know one neighbour but then we've only lived in our commuter township on the Wirral for ten years... But I do know the local shopkeepers and shop assistants and I find that is an excellent compromise. Always someone to chat to if you want it and someone who knows you, cares about serving you, and even anticipates your needs when you go in their shop.

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    1. Yes CJ that is such an important part of life and one that is very common here too. I went into the Bank the other day and the lady who attended to me has been in there since she was a teenager and used to babysit Andrew and Gareth. Fortunately there was no one else waiting!

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