Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Iain Shoudie. Dalmore's Doctor Dolitlle.

I would be sitting on the "being" (pron. baen-ke)in my uncles'house "suas a'leathad",as folks referred to Taigh Shoudie (Gael. up the slope). The "being" could be found in all black houses of this vintage. It was a long sturdy wooden bench that ran down half the length of the living room wall. It was where visitors on ceilidh would find a seat(6-8 persons).It was also where you would find two adults,toe-to-toe,enjoying a well earned "forty winks". Sitting on the end of the being nearest the door,the picture in front of me was one of warmth,mutual trust and happiness.You don't see a picture like this very often.On either side of the peat fire sat my uncles,one reading a book by the Tilley lamp,the other humming a pipe tune,his fingers playing an imaginary chanter. Lying or sitting in front of the fire,you would often see the three house cats, and Julia the "sheepdog". You might think that Julia was a strange name for a "Gaelic speaking" dog,and you would be right. To call Julia a sheepdog was truly a misnomer - she looked the part,but showed little aptitude in doing what was laid down in her genes. To be fair to Julia,a working dog usually has a name of one syllable( Sweep,Ben,Toss). Julia,with three syllables,would have been handicapped from the outset,other things being equal. Anyhow, Julia looked on herself as "cu`daonna"(a human dog). Sitting beside her pal Iain, was Kenny(Coinneach)Iceland,who would appear if the weather was rough or the rabbits scarce. He was a big grey tabby cat,whose boxer's nose and "moth-eaten" ears were testament to his past scrapes in the rabbit warrens.Iain would give him warm milk and bits of fish and would seat him in front of the fire,beside his leg. Iain would call his name "A' Choinneach!" and Kenny would respond with prolonged purring that simply said "Thanks". After a day or two,Kenny would leave and might not return again for some weeks. We called him Kenny Iceland,"the cat who came in from the cold" A good cat was Kenny! The second cat was Rupert(but always called Rupie),a thin black female with a splash of white on her nose,and four matching white "spogs"(Gael. paws). I like that word "spog" - more evocative than "paw". Stroking Rupie's back caused her to arch it in a high and unbelievable curve. She longed to talk and Iain knew what she was saying. The stories that Rupie and Iain shared - incredible! For those thinking that Rupert is not a familiar name in Gaeldom,I should point out that Iain Shoudie was wont to giving his animals strange and exotic names. The name "Rupert" came straight from the pages of the "Daily Express" newspaper,in which there was, at that time, a cartoon strip of "Rupert the Bear". The Boss,the "Springsteen"in this taigh dubh was a wee thin jet black feline called variously So-sally,Soho and Killy-soho. I have no idea in this case how she came by these names,or what inspired them. The other two cats and Julia had no problem with Soho as numero uno.She had been mother to many kittens in her time and was fiercely protective of them. She was unbelievably territorial,not merely in and around the house,but across the whole croft,and I do believe across the whole of this side of the village. If a dog,minding its own business,happened to walk past the gate at the bottom of the croft,Killy-Soho would take off,tail poker stiff in the air,and land on the poor dog, screaming and clawing like the legendary Kilkenny cat. This proved embarrassing if another villager,who was minded to gather in some sheep,saw his trophy dog disappear out the road at a rate of knots.
Iain Shoudie really did speak to the animals,and they to him. Iain loved to play around with words and names eg. water waffer or Bar Mars,and he had plenty of time to devote to his unique lexicon. He'd be looking into the flickering blue flame of the peat fire, smoking a roll-up,and mulling over a word or name. He would try all sorts of "variations on the same theme". To illustrate this,Julia the dog was rarely,if ever called by that name. She was always called "Stowlia"(pron. Stow(as in "vow")-li-a). Other variations,but on a different theme,were "Dullita" or "Gullita",but Stowlia was not so keen on these names,which sounded as if they had the ring of Johnnie Walker about them. I've seen Iain sitting on a bench outside,beside the pails of spring water,and calling "caora-caora" to a ewe and its lamb,beckoning them over to him(caora-caora means "sheep-sheep"). Granted,this was a bottle fed lamb of a previous year,and he was offering the ewe a piece of bread.The sheep would come right up to Iain accept the bread,give a little bleat,as if to say "It's OK,kid,this is an old friend of your mum".
Yes,Iain Shoudie was a bit of a Dolittle,with more than a touch of Peter Pan. Actually "Dolittle",when I think of it,was a very apt name for my uncle Iain Shoudie,but he was a tonic for many,and we would not have had him any other way.

1 comment:

thecroft said...

As a boy I imitated my Uncle's call to the sheep when we were out on the moor. "Troit caora-caora-caoro-caora" Very soothing and the sheep always came over. I still do it now but hadn't realised what it meant in Gaelic until today.