Rama and I were back in Sutherland in early July but the weather was far from favourable. That didn’t stop us getting out, though it was mainly in the afternoons and evenings as his well-intentioned ambition to use the holiday to “re-set” his body clock didn’t quite come off I felt.
We made it on to several beaches, with very few other folk around even on a glorious one not far off the now-notorious NC 500. That was the day we went west and had booked in again for an evening meal at the Kylesku Hotel; that was also the day I managed to leave my bag behind at the house. I realised this after an hour and a half when we stopped briefly in Scourie and I opened one of the back doors to get my bag out. No bag was there and I just could not remember where I’d left it. I spent the rest of the day hoping and praying that it would be in the house when we got back and that I hadn’t set it down outside and then driven off. Rama said he had something called Apple Pay on his phone and that “most places” accepted it; this was some comfort against the prospect of a long drive home with beans on toast at the end of it.
We had a flask of tea at a viewpoint north of Scourie, with a view of maybe 50 yards before you could discern only vague outlines through the mist. Rama stuck his phone out the window and filmed a panorama of greyness with a soundtrack of howling wind to send to his pals. However, as is often the way in the west of Scotland, the weather soon started to change and the further north we went, the better it got. We walked on our beach in dry and clear weather and the drive back to Kylesku was bright and lovely.
We asked the waitress about Apple Pay as soon as we got to the hotel; she didn’t know if they accepted it and disappeared to ask the manager as we hovered anxiously on the threshold of the dining room. They did, and we were soon at a window table. I forgot to specify no ice in my drink but the waiter whisked the glass away unasked when he heard me groan aloud about it, bringing me a fresh and empty one. Rama had a goat’s cheese salad, a lentil and vegetable curry, then a warm chocolate brownie; I chose mackerel pate, then fish and chips, followed up with a cup of tea. When the time came to pay, there were a few stressful seconds to wait as Rama’s phone hovered over their machine but then it pinged and printed so with full bellies, and in Rama’s case a lightened bank account, we could enjoy the run back to our house. This year, all the deer we saw were well away from the road.
Poor Rama is as upset about Kieran Tierney leaving for Arsenal as I am: he’ll never learn his Scottish wildflower names now. It’s doubly sad, as with Ross County back in the premier league, Celtic’ll be going up and down to Dingwall at least a couple of times this season so their players – minus K T – could be looking out at our Highland flora in all its glory. I wonder realistically though whether any of them ever raise their heids from their phone screens during the journey.
After the almost total failure of Rama’s lessons last summer on the names of plants and flowers, this time I concentrated on teaching him pines and birches, nettles and dockens. His failure rate was much lower but he could surely distinguish a plant from a tree and then he had a 50:50 chance of being correct. I might need to re-think my strategy.
We had many a conversation about his love for and overuse of the word “vibe” and as for his snapchatting habit or whatever it’s called – I had to bite my tongue on many an occasion. Subsequently however, I’ve heard many others using “vibe” as part of their natural speech, including Tam Cowan on Off the Ball, so maybe I was a bit unfair on the poor lad and too quick to accuse him of being Americanised.
On our first full day, we headed for a bit of forest bathing in Achany and to the newish Mac & Wild place at the Shin Falls, or the Falls of Shin as they insist on calling it. There are wild flower arrangements on the tables which is a lovely touch though they were needing refreshed on that day. The lovely waiting staff overlooked our inability to read the large notice: “Please order here”; one came directly to our table to find out what we wanted. Their service was then fast and efficient. I find the menu here a bit meaty, a bit blokey, but had one of their smoked salmon rolls while the vegetarian Rama had a vegan wild bowl and a side order of macaroni cheese. I also ordered a “leafy salad” – which was £3 and served in a toatie metal ramekin. Their coffees were excellent however and we got a slab of vegan chocolate cake to eat as we walked in the wood and then along by the river.
On our trips to Dornoch, we ate well at Grace of Dornoch in the back street and in the Carnegie Courthouse which impressed Rama on his first visit there. What a laugh we had in the ironmongers! Rama wanted a football to kick about and I’d assured him we’d get one in there. However after a bit of a wander there were none to be seen so I asked this laddie if they sold footballs; he led me, a bit mystified, to their dishes and kitchen ware bit, pointing at something on the shelf. I said again we were wanting a football and he said something about sometimes having a metal one. Finally, the penny dropped as I understood he thought I was wanting a fruit bowl. When we managed to communicate properly, it turned out they were sold out of footballs – but we got one in the bookshop and it had seams so all was well.
Back in Glasgow, we went to Kitchenetta in Hyndland Road which was Rama’s suggestion. It’s quite small and the seating is all high stools at bench-type tables. Though if you’re an older person like me, don’t let this put you off as their food is very good: I had two hefty portions of salads – one was tomato based and the other cauliflower – while Rama had a sandwich and a chocolate brownie. We sat at the window and had a good view of a marauding seagull helping itself to leftovers from one of the tables outside. I went out to bring in the plate and suggested to the waiter it got at least a couple of goes through the dishwasher.
It was here that I came across Rapscallion soda, locally made with “raw ingredients” and “real flavour”. Rama picked the lemon one out of the fridge and then I copied him with the ginger one. It’s real ginger ginger but the cans are toatie: 250ml. I like their quote from Alfred Newman on the label: “We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavours and furniture polish is made with real lemons.” Underneath they add: “Well Alfred … Not now pal! Not now.”
As Rama listed other places we could go in the future, this got me wondering whether Hyndland Road is the new Byres Road. There, poor old Turadh and Nardini’s are both out the game but I’m pleased to say that Matilda’s – under new management – is still going strong. They’ve got a notice up about their plans to refurbish the toilet and I was regretting not having a pen with me to urge them to put a new bin and a bigger one near the top of their to-do list. Next time!