The morning we arrived back in Sallachy we’d got up and gone to work with Irene, we’d finally get our tour of Eilean Dornie Castle I’d told everybody, my Aunty Irene is the caretaker of the Castle, she looked great stood there in the kitchen in her tartan uniform, keys jangling, very cool. I think for a second she though we were mocking her, she looked great
She bundled us into the car I had a feeling Irene didn’t have many deadlines but the ones she did she kept, even if it meant arriving a split second before the deadline. If there had been dust instead of the puddles there would have been clouds. Instead we arrived in a slosh in a puddle. Cars and coaches were already filling up the car park people poking their heads around hissing doors as we strode past over the foot bridge towards and into the castle, it was great, we got a bit of special treatment, saw parts of the castle people don’t normally get to see, was such a treat, I’d honestly been waiting years.
Jeff arrived at midday at the point where we were in the castle kitchen with all the wax food and the frozen wax people, it was perhaps the perfect time to give the two of us a lift back to Sallachy. I’m afraid I was itchy with anxiety and though I tried to hide it I don’t think I did a very good job, I just couldn’t restrain myself, I was pulling to get down to that beach. Jeff just sensed it possibly because I was pacing around up and down the living room, he just gave up on his idea of a quiet cup of tea and was kind enough drive us down to the main road and drop us by the side of the loch.
It was as we’d been told to expect, a very low tide, we were able to see the whole beach clearly. We strode down and out and went at it, I was by now a meticulous serious beachcomber, detector man, it was excellent, picking up metal beer caps various twisted metal shards 6 inches under the sand, we perhaps threw away many a precious coin that didn’t look like keys. I walked slowly in the steps I remembered, and if it beeped we jumped, I raked the weeds away and Orsi dug, it was such a good machine. I’d already combed the shore up on the salt grass the week before, we worked so hard but as the tide began to come in again my heart sank, We found Nothing. It was a mystery.
“Still” I said eternally optimistic “We still have one last day tomorrow”
Orsi rolled her eyes at me. “Never give up” i said!
We had a great evening that night though, just chatting. Irene had such good insights and recollections about my Mum, Dad and family. Jeff made a fire out the back, we’d sat out in the drizzle and the flickering shadows talking for some time. Irene and I then sat up late that night sipping red wine. There’d been talk about the ancestors, but for me this was the ancestors and they were all there; that is how it is isn’t it, when we gather and when we talk of them they are there, around the fire, around a bottle of red wine, it was a really precious time.
Next morning a series of calamities that had been waiting in the wings to enter and unfold on the scene now tumbled into the spotlight it was like a boxer taking a series of unexpected blows and with each, anxiety was ratcheted even higher.
The VW garage in Inverness called with news; but it wasn’t good, the key had mistakenly been sent abroad, we would later find out to ‘Portugal’. Let me explain some things I discovered during that time. A VW Crafter doesn’t have an emergency key, its also not possible for the AA to cut a new key, they have to be requested from and cut by the manufacture in Germany on account of the VW Crafter engine being based on a Mercedes.
Once this is done and they are sent but it’s then impossible to track the package sent from wherever to wherever by whoever cuts or requests the new key, which is astonishing in this day and age. Consequently it got send to Portugal without anybody at that moment knowing where it was
So we could either wait for it to turn up, but nobody could say when that would be, by then it had been exactly 10 days; or we could order another key which could be between 5 to 10 working days “but who knows” they said “exactly when it would arrive” The estimated arrival was Wednesday 13th December the exact day we were due to start at the Chalet Chamois D’or in Morzine France.
To say we were deflated is an understatement, but I rallied. I was going to find the keys I’d dropped. I walked down mountain road to Loch Long and the seaweed-strewn beach again. I went to switch on the Metal detector to find if playing up, but there seemed to be something wrong, I’d bought new batteries as a courtesy anyway, so I was puzzled, we took them out, tapped them, put them back in and out several times, we shook detector even tried is upside down. We were starting to get worried when suddenly it worked, it was a huge relief
Then down and along that beach again, sweeping slowly left to right, it was so tedious, mind numbing, there was an anxiety ridden desperation to it now, but I scoured that beach .. Nothing. The tide began to come in again.
Orsi who’d been watching me marched up to me and said “Stop!!”
I recall just looking blankly at her then carrying on, then the detector stopped working and nothing I did got it started again. I just stood there in my wellies, “Never give in” rattled around my head like a metallic gun shot in a deep deep canyon. I was absolutely mortified. I began raking at the seaweed
Orsi came back almost shouting “It’s shameful you a hypnotherapist, a healer acting in this way, stop it, give it up!!”
It stopped me in my tracks, I was absolutely deeply profoundly disappointed, I cannot exactly put it into words but something broke. I attempted to walk on a little, but the light had gone, the tide was coming in fast now, I just stopped walking. After a few long moments staring ahead I said almost in whisper“Lets go back to the Irene’s”
We walked back along the beach side road, we didn’t speak, I felt rough and ugly and dark and stupid and pathetic. It was an awful half hour.
We were well and truly stumped. Normally I have gotten away with this kind of crushing disappointments but Orsi was there Irene was there Jeff was there and I was visible, it was awful, I am sure they are kinder than I, but I felt the failure, it was after all my fault. Terrible, there was also the real the possibility that I’d broken the metal detector somehow, it was malfunctioning and it would be another expense, it was crushing. I kept it in as best I could.
I had thought for a while we’d be looked after, perhaps we we’re, but who did I think I was that the world gives a damn about any thing I’ve done, I was really confused. Late that night I lay awake in bed that night, thinking back over my past, trying to recall if anything like this had happened to me before, things started to come back as a trickle at first, then a damn burst and memories flooded back.
I recalled the my first journey across the USA, buying the VW bug there, it blowing up on the freeway in southern California on the first day out, my fault, I’d trusted, but hadn’t given in, I got it fixed $600, then a few days later the engine actually blowing apart just outside Fresno, getting towed again. Not giving in. A whole new engine $1500. Then a few weeks later pulling off the 84 freeway in Oregon near Pendleton and the Umatilla reservation, turning and getting hit left side on by a pick up truck, the VW bug was written off new engine and everything, shattering, but not giving in. Carrying all my bags to a place called Pilot Rock where I met the Cheyenne women from the very family I was on my way to meet in Montana who just happened to be on a road trip to Seattle. They turned out to be vicious, bitchy and awful and eventually dumped me in a deserted railroad station in Pasco Washington state. I didn’t give up, I made it to a coach station in Spokane and from there things changed. All that stuff about not giving in may sound heroic but all those situations were I thought brought about by my own doing and I was to blame now
We knew the keys were not going to arrive next day so first thing Irene and Jeff gave us a lift up to the Kyle of Lochalsh which was cutting cold, windswept, salty and drenched. We walked over the Skye bridge then sat in an over priced coffee bar on the harbour called “Hectors Bothy” the staff were sweet but food was shall we say unimaginative.
The weather forecast had said next day it was going to drop to minis 2 and minus 4 in the evening, snow was also predicted; if so we’d be in real trouble. I realized I had to do something and quick, I snapped out of it. Called VW customer service, losing the replacement key was their fault, if we didn’t get to Morzine on the 13th we could loose our jobs, cogs began to turn slowly now.
Called the AA expecting to get that tow but received another stunning blow, our cover didn’t cover lost keys. If we’d broken down they would have towed us, technically we hadn’t broken down so it was our responsibility. I called back again, different person same response, it was annoying they hadn’t told us the week before as I could have prepared. I called around local garages and arranged a pick up for next day it would be £340.00 It was a sharp slap but it really focused me now
I called the VW garage in Inverness again, earlier I’d suggested I get a tow and park Pearl there and await the key to save us time, they’d refused, but they’d come to know me and I knew all their names by then, Shona, Craig and Mark I had never once lost my composure, they were sweet, but this time I wasn’t taking no for an answer
It was agreed we’d bring the van in and park her in Inverness next day, as highlanders they knew I wasn’t exaggerating when I’d mentioned the weather, they had their eye on it too. So that done and a fresh key ordered I set to work on VW themselves, they had messed up, it had been two weeks sat waiting, another two weeks was just not on.
In between all this we tried to keep as busy as we could, Orsi cooked, I’d painted the utility room and filled in a few pot holes in the road up to Irene’s house, the second week though we didn’t play guitar, inside I think we were all a little too anxious.
We’d said goodbye to Irene and Jeff, twice now, expecting to be leaving we just couldn’t do that again, though never once did we feel a second of irritation from her, they’d been remarkable. That morning they’d gone to work, I’d called VW they again said they’d call us back, I waited, they didn’t. I called them back, for the 6th time. I’d been pretty good, I really had learnt from my time at the Network in London not to blow my stack, but when it came to it I hammered home when Madyar the manager in charge of our case said
“Oh I Understand your position”
I finally snapped and hissed “No you really don’t understand our position and you’d better do something about it right now; today!!
Lets just say swords clashed and sparks spiraled though the air, the delay was their fault, Portugal, another two weeks? No!!
Meanwhile the garage turned up ‘Morar’ from Kyle, Erwin the mechanic would turn out to be great, but his huge truck couldn’t get up the hill to us. We tried to roll Pearl backwards down to where he was, but the steering locked as soon as she moved. We then tried to chip the steering lock off with a nail punch, but it wouldn’t budge. He had to go back to the garage to get a smaller truck so he could get up to us and under the trees that hid the house in the drive. It was maddening to say the least.
I called VW garage in inverness told them we’d be late, all we could do was sit and wait wondering if they would come back at all that day, we dreaded that Irene would come home again to find us still there, another night and another good bye would’ve been just too much.
We sat with our heads in our hands, peered up at one another, smiled faintly, spoke comforting words with knots in our stomachs. Then after just over 4 hours we heard an engine. It was Edwin with the other tow truck he drove right in and right up to Pearl. He and a colleague got out and began banging away at the steering lock, half an hour later the banging stopped and they began putting tools away. I went out,
“Did you get it off I said?
Edwin had just said upbeat but deadpan “Yeah”
It was still not possible to get Pearl up on the truck because of the trees, she would have to be rolled out and I was determined it would be me that rolled her backwards down the mountainside. So I jumped in the cab, it felt strange to be back in the driving seat again, I put her out of gear, foot on the brake hand break off, and began rolling her gently, slowly slowly very slowly out of the driveway around the corner to the left, then slowly to next turn one slip and we’d be in the muddy ditch. Slowly around the next corner rolling down, straightening her up, left left right straighten up, then finally a huge pot hole and we were on the country road
“Yes!!” It was an overwhelming relief.
Suddenly we had some control back, we were on the move, Pearl was winched up, we now had choices, everyone breathed out.
We climbed into the cab and chatted easily with Edwin as we shot along past the castle, at one point he chuckled
“You seem relived” he said
“Did we seem that anxious?” I asked
“Oh when I saw you first time, you sure did, better now though eh” he said “You can enjoy your holiday now”
He gave us some good sound ideas and options as to how we could move ahead, secure everything and get to Morzine on time either by road or to fly. If we’d have called the garage first things would have been very different, you live and learn. Edwin had something else, a great guy, perfect for the job he was doing. Quiet and clever and by the time we got to inverness we had plan if things got too close.
My patience with the VW garage paid off, they found us a space in a locked parking lot with CCTV, came out to greet us, even ordered a car to take us up to the hostel, it seemed like the whole garage had their fingers crossed that the key would arrive before the next Saturday.
It felt so good to be in inverness that evening in a pub, music playing, both of us texting and communicating with our friends who had been following events. It was so good to be on our own steam again
We’d found a lovely room in the excellent “Baz Packers Hostel” on Culduthel Road looking down over the swollen fast flowing river Ness. We walked easily through inverness over the next few days just enjoying the place and waiting on any news. We’d been in touch with our friend Robert down in Irvine who’d said we should have called him as he was a VW specialist. He could have perhaps helped. He’d even offered to drive up and pick up Pearl if we needed to fly out.
On the third afternoon the garage called, the second key we’d ordered had arrived. We were stunned. They had also done a diagnostic and it seemed that the front brakes were down to metal, which jarred me as I’d had them done in Teignmouth only a few months ago. We’d planned to drive the length of the UK through France and up into the alps, was all of this a blessing after all? There were a few other jobs to be done, I’d agreed to the work and paid up at the time we were just so relived that things were moving but in retrospect they nailed us another £380
We now had only four days to get to Morzine which was doable but would be grueling. There were also diesel, ferry and toll roads to consider and our finances had been really dented. We looked at flights to Geneva. There was one next day 6am from Edinburgh £140 for both of us and bags from there we could get a transit to Morzine and the Chalet. It was a no brainer. I called Robert in Irvine, explained and would it be ok to leave Pearl in his yard in Irvine until the spring 2018. He never even skipped a beat.
“Sure, no problem” he’d said. It was an amazing gesture
The trouble was he was leaving for a ski holiday that next day and wouldn’t be back for a week, so it was arranged to drive Pearl to his house park her up in the driveway and drop the keys through his front door.
Next Morning day we dragged our bags across town through snow covered streets of Inverness to the VW garage. Packed what we’d need for a winter in the Alps in their forecourt and paid up and set off for Irvine. It was a five hour drive through the snow finally pulling in on Roberts driveway at 5pm. We immediately called a cab to take us to the railway station. It was such a strange moment to drop that key though that letterbox we’d only had it 5 hours, it was like dropping it into an abyss
“Are you sure this is the right house?” I’d said to Orsi
I waited till the cab actually pulled up then I let it drop. I heard it clang on the floor inside the house. It was a strange feeling. There would be no spring journey through Europe. It was very disappointing but at the same time a weight lifted.
We got the train to Glasgow central, dragged the bags through the bustling city center to Queen Street station then from there the train to Edinburgh. We looked forward to a breather once we got there and it looked so beautiful as we pulled into the city.
The Baxter Hostel was just around the corner, we lugged the bags up 5 flights of spiral stairs that seemed like some long forgotten grotty back alley and up to the reception to find out that they hadn’t reserved our room and the place was full. 8.30pm Saturday night Edinburgh; everywhere was full. I went into overdrive called around, finally findimng a place in Leith, so dragged the bags back all the way down the stairs, tearing my ski jacket in the process. Found the bus stop. Got on and finally arrived at the ‘Edinburgh House’ on Pilrig street. The flight was at 6am next morning so we’d need to be up at 3.30am. I’d considered sleeping in a chair at the airport to save the £50.
But we dropped bags in the room and went straight out, had a nice meal in a Lebanese restaurant on Leith walk. Back at the hostel later, I couldn’t sleep and lay awake till the alarm went off. The cab came bang on time and we arrived at the airport, slid through customs and into departures without a hitch nobody said a thing about my guitar. Then the plane, I sat down and said
“Done it Orsi, we’ve made it”
I’d been reading a book on the 1745 Jacobite uprising and think I’d just fallen fast asleep. I recall there was a lot of rocking and roller coasting motion of the plane. Then just as we were approaching Geneva a voice came on over the intercom
“Hello this is the Captain speaking”
It turned out there was a severe snowstorm in Geneva and we would have to divert to Zurich and await developments. Orsi started laughing I just looked over my book at her and said nothing. We eventually ended up 5 hours later in Geneva which meant we’d missed our transfer. But we were fairly familiar with the airport and looked around for a man with a Mexican straw hat on from the transfer company Skiidy Gonzales eventually finding him outside, he’d been delayed by the snow too and so had everybody else. We got into the packed transfere bus and rising slowly into the mountains and into the snow, approached the pretty Ski town of Morzine which was all so familiar to us. It looked beautiful with at least 3 feet of fluffy white snow laid across everything. In the snow the place is a wonderland
We were the last drop, we stepped out at the Golden Goat relived but a little apprehensively, approached the door,
“Please don’t let them have changed the door code” I whispered
There was nobody in you see, we were to open it up. Orsi turned the 4 dials and the key box fell open.
It took me days for me to be able to sleep properly my nerves were completely jangled holding all that in all this time, then finally able to breath out, I could feel my body subtly shaking
At the end of it all, we came to realize just how lucky we were, it had seemed that circumstance each day had brought another defeat, we were unable to move, we have no choices, it had been awful. But Aunty Irene and Robert in Irvine had been amazing, Jeff kind and patient, the people up in Skye in the Hostels lovely, all the locals in Sallachy who had wandered along the shore line as we’d searched calling to us wishing us on, Edwin the mechanic had lifted us metaphorically and actually
We had about 10 days to get the chalet ready, We’d closed it down last year so it was ordered and pretty clean, we had time to breath and we were so ready to work, we couldn’t wait for the first guests to arrive.