Sometimes I take one of my clients for a drive. We pick North or South and go where the mood takes us. I have a lady who loves this and as she is 98 her memories travel back in to history.
We passed quite a long ruined croft house on the East side headed for Aywick and we paused by it.” I remember” , she said “When I was a bairn and used to stay here with my Auntie. I slept in a box bed at the end there”, pointing. A box bed was a recess in the thick stone wall with a curtain to draw across or in this case she said, wooden doors. “Was it cold?” I asked. “No” the reply, “it was cosy, the peat fire stayed in all the time so the house was snug, I could peep out before I went to sleep.”
Looking at the ancient ruin I could see past the wind whistling through the fallen rocks and see her as a child again.
Another time (or ‘annider’), we went to Seafield not far from Mid Yell. We can see it across the Voe from the Nurse’s House. A tiny settlement, long abandoned and derelict, almost in the sea which laps round the remainder of a small pier. Back in the day it was a bustle with boats unloading, the doctor’s house and a strange terrace of flat roofed dwellings, barely standing now.
It has such an atmosphere. If you half close your eyes you can imagine a busy, friendly scene. My travel companion had worked in the Doctor’s House as a very young woman and she sat in the car with me as we shared a flask of tea and some biscuits ( our picnic).
“My Aunty Maggie used to live in that one” pointing at a doorway in the middle of the terrace. “If she was there now, she would say “Come in and drink a cup of tea and she’d take a tray of hot bannocks out of the oven for us.”
Further along past the pier was a largish plain building, derelict of course. This she said had been the Village Hall . She was very still and looked far in to the distance in her mind and said ” I mind the night that a boat went down in the Voe. It was a dark rough night and the lads were coming back from the bigger ship moored in the sea to shelter from the storm. They were local lads who had rowed over to meet up with some of crew for a drink and a yarn.
I had a call to go out and help and I saw them carry the bodies they had recovered, one by one and laying them down on the Hall floor, side by side. All those fine young men.”
And then she added, quite simply, ” I still mind the silence”.
My goodness, how she painted those long gone days by simply recounting it all with no added drama, no fuss, it was life and accepted as such.
I feel so lucky and privileged to experience real history by those who were there.