The Heritage

The Heritage

Monday 10 August 2020

Another hot day. Trouble sleeping, so listened gripped to a dramatisation of three of New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield’s short stories. She’s the only writer Virginia Woolf praised highly and indeed wished she had written some of these poignant and finely-observed human interactions. At times, I was wincing for these people from her mind. They are super real. Drawn with a delicate and exquisite brush as is the setting they attempt to operate in. Puts me off ever filling covers with words but not for long enough. Obviously.

H is on duty at the Museum today. All masked up and possibly vulnerable. Those who run the Heritage centre (a large army of volunteers) were determined to open and they have done an amazing job of making the place COVID-ready, as well as producing this year’s special exhibition on the Napier Commission of 1884. The exhibition focuses on life on Lismore during the second half of the nineteenth century, an unimaginable time of demeaning poverty and social upheaval.

How an Island Lost its People

Many families left the island either because they were cleared or wanted something better. We know a lot about those who left from their letters, songs etc but less about those who stayed and their hard, unrelenting, powerless daily grind. This year’s exhibition is a tribute to them. Read further here and in greater depth in Robert Hay’s book, How an Island Lost its People: Improvement, Clearance and Resettlement on Lismore, 18301914.

H does all day Monday since he retired. Before that, we shared the job, and before that, I did it. Heritage Centre duty has been ongoing since the cottage was opened in August 2002 and before that the newly-founded Comann Eachdraidh Lios Mòr had an exhibition in the schoolhouse at Achnacroish as they gradually collected the island’s past. A visionary move which has given the island an invaluable historical context.

As that means no great walk together, after three I set off on my bike and meet a man, woman, and dog occupying a great deal of the road. I explain the all-going-to-the-same-side safety rule on single tracked roads. The man says: ‘Who made that rule? Who dreamt that one up? Was it the man up there?’ as he pointed violently upwards. I wanted to say, ‘Bless you my man you are truly entertaining me,’ but said instead I didn’t know any men up there, especially as there were so few planes flying over our island. (There are usually loads). No smiles. He said sadly he hadn’t seen a soul on his visit.

A miracle, as the island is hoaching. Turns out they had walked only as far as Port Ramsay and were not impressed. However, they had met a woman on the ferry and she had been, yes, you’ve guessed it, ‘lovely’. ‘So now you have met both sorts,’ I opined, smiling but not menacingly. ‘No. you are lovely too,’ he was quick, even anxious, to reassure. ‘No, that is not a word for me. Far too dull.’ They laughed nervously, and seeing me laugh, gave it welly. Off they went happy and prepared to obey the country code. They were from Glasgow. ‘Oh, a slave city,’ I had to explain. I had heard Jackie Kay, our Makar (national poet), marvelling at the ignorance in Scotland about where the wealth came from to build these impressive cities. She is a woman of great wit, talent, and beauty and if I were one who worshipped, I may well worship her.

Today’s tip: Stand on one leg frequently. It makes your mind and nervous system go into positive overdrive. It’s nonsense that the older cannot balance. When dressing, use props sparingly when putting on socks, trousers etc. Avoid sitting on the bed! It’s bad for the bed and you.