Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Time to Reflect - a (pre)cautionary tale

He nearly walked straight past it. The stallholder was already wrapping her smaller items in newspaper and packing them into the collection of gaudily assorted plastic crates and the car-boot sale was due to end in half-an-hour. He stopped to tie his shoelace for the umpteenth time. It is a little known fact that some laces are particularly unsuited to left-handers and, for some no-doubt highly complex reason involving the way the lace is woven and the physics of knotting, they steadfastly refuse to remain fixed fast. It was whilst he knelt (bending down to touch his toes was beyond the reach of his middle-aged back) that he saw it. The mirror itself was perhaps no larger than a normal photographic print but the deep, dark elaborate frame was huge. The wood was crisply carved into a rain-forest of leaves and flowers and fruits that was so overwhelming in its design and execution that the small pool of tarnished mirror appeared almost incidental. He finished tying the lace (it was always the left shoe that came undone) and lifted the mirror onto the now nearly cleared table. The spotting on the mirror was caused by the silvering on its rear surface having deteriorated over time but it added to the charm of the piece and the small size of the mirror rendered its reflecting properties somewhat secondary to the decorative function that the frame performed in heady, intoxicating abundance. As it happens, this style was something that usually wouldn't appeal at all to his taste which was more often attuned towards the Bauhaus, Mackintosh and the generally unflowered form. Nevertheless he found himself enquiring as to the price and the stallholder, one crate short of a cleared trestle, requested twenty English pounds. Normally he would have haggled but instead he handed her the twenty pound note with the words 'Clydesdale Bank' printed proudly across its surfaces, picked up the naked frame and returned to his car.

Car, mirror and man survived the journey home, despite him swearing loudly about 'English pounds' and reminding himself to replenish the stock of Scottish banknotes that he kept especially to antagonise shopkeepers in England who used the phrase. He took the mirror into the house and placed it on a coffee table. The table was one he'd had made by a female friend who was an extremely talented welder and it replicated in metal one of Mackintosh's designs. They had designed it to be a prototype but the complexity of the construction taught them not to take the project any further. The whole room was decorated in similar vein and the effect was all the more surprising for visitors who stepped through the door of a seemingly regular Victorian brick and slate terrace and into a world of very un-English design. He hadn't been too sure until a call from one of the glossy fashion mags offered him a ridiculous amount of money for doing a 'feature' on the 'property' convinced him that it was all in incredibly bad taste or really rather successful. He gave half the money to his kids and the other half to a candidate in the forthcoming local election. The candidate came last but not without being able to ensure that the neighbourhood was bombarded with literature supporting his cause.

This was the house that the mirror and frame found itself inhabiting and it also soon found itself being carefully dusted with a selection of soft paintbrushes. The man was delighted as the layers of dust were removed and the intricacy of the carving became steadily clearer. It was, quite simply, exquisite. The accuracy of the work resembled that of a diamond cutter and what made it so amazing were the plethora of piercings, many of which had been blocked by grime, that gave the frame almost as much surface on the 'inside' as it presented to the world. The back revealed no clues as to age but equally there were no signs of it ever having been removed. The mirror itself, that tiny, almost insignificant rectangle of glass, must be original. A fact that the discolouration amplified in abundance.

There were two metal loops and a piece of elderly, tired cord from which to hang the object but he decided to install some fresh cord rather than risking the glass to the frail health of the existing stuff. This task accomplished, he took the photograph that hung above the fireplace (one of his own images that had won a National competition) from its hook and replaced it with the mirror.

He stood back to better survey the effect and was extremely delighted. The frame was a wall sculpture, a piece of architectural art and the 'floral' nature disappeared in a tangle of shapes and shadows, forms and figures that defied description. He almost forgot that it was a mirror. However, as he stepped forward and focussed upon the distressed reflection something very strange happened. He saw his room, the door to the left, the large bay window to the right but the walls were papered in some hideous patterned paper, the floor covered by a large and vibrantly coloured rug, the furniture all dark brown and puffed and very, very large. He blinked. The hideous picture was still there, but now there was a man standing at the window and a woman sat sewing in the adjacent seat. He turned from the mirror and the room returned to normal. He turned back and the couple and their furnishings sat within the forest frame. Entranced, he watched as the couple conversed but suddenly the image began to fade and the pockmarks, whose disappearance he had neglected to notice, returned to disfigure the mirror. He sat. He had to sit for he had nearly collapsed in shock. Either he was ill, going mad (possibly both) or the mirror was, well, magical. He sat. And thought. He decided that he would not look at the mirror but would take it into the dining room, hang it there and see what happened. This he did but when he looked into the mirror he saw a range with pots on it, more hideous décor and all the trappings of the kitchen that it once had been. There were no people this time but he was sure he smelt something cooking. He looked away from the mirror and examined the frame intently. The strange foliage writhed this way and that, flowers and fruits displayed in their profusion and then he noticed it. A very small flower in the bottom right hand corner, tucked away towards the rear of the frame but with twelve petals and upon each petal five striations and, surrounding this flower, an almost circular leaf that had a curious notch like a tiny caterpillar bite. He reached forward to the flower, took it gently between his forefinger and thumb and applied some gentle force. The flower rotated. It notched its way around, each time stopping as a new striation aligned with the caterpillar's blemish and as it did so the image in the mirror changed. He was rotating the dial clockwise and as he did so the mirror's reflection revealed a new novelty until, after half a full turn, the room was lit by gas light, the crockery on the dresser was of finer quality, the range had shrunk in size and the ceiling gained in stains. It was still the past, but a more recent past, a more modern past, a newer past. The mirror had taken him forward in time, no, the mirror's image had moved forward in time. He renewed his grip on the flower-dial and rotated it against the clock, against the flow of time and watched as, turn by turn, the mirror took him back until bare, unplastered walls and a roofless void appeared; still further and the walls melted into sky and trees and grass; further and the ground buckled and heaved and water came and went, creatures swam past, primeval forests sped into view before, as his fingers felt the flower stiffen, the rocks themselves melted and he felt himself sinking into the molten warmth.

The fire-fighter said he was lucky. It was only because of the stranger in the window ('Dressed rather weird like') that the lady over the road had dialled 999 and, when the police broke in, they had nearly choked on the fumes from the leaking boiler. The intruder was nowhere to be found but the man had been discovered lying on the dining room floor amongst the fragments of glass and wood from the smashed mirror. Oh, and there was a funny smell, an odd mixture of boiled rabbit and sulphur but they couldn't find where it had come from...

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