AS A family, in those days we sometimes did fun stuff. Occasionally, we went on day trips to places like Dunvegan Castle or Armadale Castle. School summer holidays usually meant going further afield to Glasgow and Inverness, the former to see relatives, the latter to engage in a grand shopping spree for clothes. This Autumn, we might get to pick hazelnuts beyond the Faerie Knoll again. And if the weather was really nice, we might go swimming at Aiseag Beach.
My favorite swimming haunt, though, was the deep freshwater pool at Black Park, not an adult in sight. All the kids used to go there in the summer, armed with enormous rubber tubes procured from the guys at the local garage, who were only too willing to get rid of them. We could just as easily have swum in the sea but at least at Black Park you weren’t likely to be stung by a jellyfish.
Then, of course, there was Mrs Weir. Like a whirlwind, she blew in one day with her inflatable indoor swimming pool, to make way for which our classroom was cleared of desks and chairs. I knew I looked ridiculous in my mum’s ill-fitting blue rubber swimming cap but my self-consciousness didn’t last long. I was so at home in the pool, I felt like a mermaid. A water baby.
MY hair still hadn’t grown back. The scabs itched like hell; I couldn’t but claw at them like I had nits. At least I didn’t have to wear those horrible bandages any more.
Until now Daddy used to take my little brother and me to work. The road to the quarry at Kyleakin was a rollercoaster and hanging around the big Howard Doris dumper trucks with their huuuge wheels brought a constant sense of excitement, if not outright danger. We somehow managed not to get killed and Daddy’s work pals didn’t seem to mind our presence.
The short life of Spot, the little mongrel pup we had been given not even months ago only to lose him to the wheels of a neighbour’s car, was fresh in my thoughts. I missed his sharp little fangs nibbling at my fingers, the distinctive puppy smell that lingered in the house for days after he was gone, the curious lining of the inside of his mouth that reminded me of salmon.
The headmaster’s baldy head loomed as I crossed the classroom threshold. Solemn, bespectacled and so much bigger than me, he cut a forbidding figure behind his lectern. It wasn’t just his beady eyes that put the fear of God into me, it was running the gauntlet of being stared at by the Big Ones.