In the Year of our Lord Nineteen-Hundred and Eighty-Nine, being as I was, and wished to remain, sound of mind and body,
I had cause to take Mrs. Woodley on a motoring holiday in the Western Isles to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary (which
had passed unremarked by me the previous year). Embarking at Kennacraig we meandered our way by ferry and road through the
Hebridean Islands getting further and further distant from civilization (or what passes for such in Falkirk) and in the process
becoming more and more elated as the wild windswept beaches and bejewelled ocean bays wove their magic and uplifted out spirits.
Intoxicated by the brine-tanged breeze and grass-sprung turf we even felt giddily moved to celebrate out union through open-air
congress and the resulting night in the cells and ten pound fine from the Barra Magistrates did little to dampen our mood.
One evening whilst driving along the coast of one of the most remote islands we stopped the car and strolled out across
rolling links-land towards the setting sun. A few dry stone walls painted the greensward with lines of grey and the odd sheep
punctuated the canvas. Striding out briskly, a soft and slippery feeling underfoot indicated to me that a sheep had passed
this way before. I continued more slowly trying to dislodge the offending matter by scraping the sole of my shoe (a brown
suede brogue) across the grass as I walked. Eventually I arrived at a derelict cottage, half tumbled down, and I steadied
myself against its wall and raised my foot to study the base of my sole. With a start I heard a voice:
"Och .... that's typical of people .... I've oft noticed they'd rather spend time looking at sheep's dottle than viewing
the glory of God !"
I turned; a man was standing with his back to the wall gazing out to sea. With a wry smile he gestured to the apricot-hued
skies with a battered old pipe. His face was pale and weather-beaten seeming to be made of the very stone of the wall itself.
"Ay, but many folk would also prefer to look at THAT, and I'd not disagree !" he continued, motioning towards the ample
rump of Mrs. Woodley receding into the spume-flecked sea mist ahead of us. "Pray allow me to introduce myself", he said, displaying
a strange old-world courtesy in his address which struck me as being centuries old. "Tam is my name".
We chatted on, joined by a returning Mrs. Woodley, and I noticed that Tam's speech was studded with seemingly simple aphorisms
which belied a deeper spiritual meaning - just a few of which I can even now recall:
"Most people would rather see someone else failing to answer a difficult question than trying to answer it themselves"
"There is nothing that does not benefit from repetition, except the very bad or the very good"
"There is nothing so fascinating as the spectacle of extraordinary people doing ordinary things"
"An old story told in a new way is better by tenfold than a new story told in an old way"
"The tastes of bairns under seven years are much akin to those of folk over seventy years"
Eventually dusk had fallen and I felt it prudent to return to our car and continue our journey along the winding single-track
road to the nearest village. As we departed I could still see Old Tam standing staring out to sea.
We felt truly privileged to have been able to speak to someone so wholly connected to and such an integral part of the
landscape; rooted to a place through which we were mere migratory visitors. His words of wisdom, borne out of his exclusively
local experience but applying universally, resonated with us as we continued on our way.
Eventually we reached the small inn where we were to stay the night and went down for a brief nip of whisky. In talking
to the cheery old soul behind the bar I mentioned our recent encounter. "How long has Old Tam lived here ?", I asked. The
barman scratched a thoughtful chin and looked puzzled. "Old Tam ?" he said uncertainly, "Oh, I should say at least 70 ....
maybe 80 ....... days. He was the Programme Director of London Weekend Television. Never set foot outside London in his whole
life, then they gave him a golden handshake and he bought out a few crofters up here for half a million. We don't hear much
from him - except when his helicopter arrives - he spends most of the year in Las Vegas". Adding for good measure "Stupid
old sod: talks like a tit - it comes from having watched too many of his own programmes I suppose".
I thought back to the things Old Tam had said. Chastened, I swiftly repaired to bed with a good book ("Travels in the Interior
of Africa" by Mungo Park).