Iain Maciver: ‘Tis the season for islanders to make their annual unmentionables trip

Late autumn in the Hebrides is a special time of year. Islanders start thinking about tasks ahead as the sun sets slowly in the west.

They ponder: “Where am I going to buy new clothes this year?” as they rub their chins. Thus, it was recently time for this family to head east for the annual sojourn for The Buying of the Pants and Other Unmentionables.

We left for the Lothians and M&S. Other pants shops are available, but that’s where I always seem to find what I’m looking for. Pants, jumpers, shirts, handkerchiefs – those sorts of things. I’d always wanted thick corduroy trousers, too. Very dapper, you’re probably saying? No? Now I’m hurt.

Later, it was time to relax after drawing the annual haul of drawers back to the hotel. One night, we went to see the comic Milton Jones. Remember him from the TV programme Mock the Week, which the Beeb scrapped some time ago? He was the one with the most deadpan face imaginable, with permanently tousled hair.

Being a master of one-liners and having a gag for any situation, I was a tad worried because we were in front-row seats, which could lead to us being picked on. So, I sat with my arms crossed, frowning.

Fortunately, Jones spotted several other couples and asked how they met. I really didn’t want to be telling him that one night when I was a radio DJ, a fresh-faced Mrs X came in and asked if I’d play her band’s new cassette. I almost said no.

Instead, bright young things explained how they met on apps like Tinder. Milton Jones was unfazed. Quick as a flash, Jones said: “I met my wife on the net. Both of us were rubbish trapeze artists.”

Pint of beer on a bar.
Keep a watchful eye out for trams on your way for pints in Edinburgh. Image: Stuart Monk/Shutterstock

Miss X treated us to fine scoffs in some of the capital’s finest eateries. I licked a dish in Dishoom, a fantastic multistorey curry house in St Andrew Square. Authentic Asian cuisine, also enjoyed by many Asians, was dished up with polite and efficient service. I went expecting to broaden my horizons, but instead I broadened my waistline – and I didn’t have to pay.

Pubbing in the capital is also different from going for a pint in Stornoway. Every bar is like a licensed greengrocer. They were touting gin and Seville oranges, vodka and raspberries, and foreign lager with strawberries and lime.

On the pub crawl, we had to be careful crossing the street. Look left and right, then cross Princes Street just halfway. Stop. There are so many quiet electric cars gliding along, and there are also quiet trams that sound their blaring horn if you get too close. You can probably hear that honk at Portobello Beach.

The speed at which technology is developing is amazing. Many vehicles, including buses, trams, and cars, too, will be driverless soon. Back in the theatre, the irrepressible Milton Jones had been much more positive. “I really like driverless cars,” he declared. “Indeed, I saw a whole car park full of them today.”

What’s worse, a pilotless plane or a dry flight?

As for the many claims that passenger planes will soon be pilotless and remotely operated, I am not too crazy about that. On Loganair, some worrying changes have already begun.

There was a very nervous Lewisman waiting for the flight to be called at Edinburgh Airport as we were making our way back. “I’m always like this before flying,” he stuttered to me. “However, having a good dram on board will calm me down.”

Although I knew that the in-flight drams were no more, I didn’t want to frighten the fellow any more than was necessary. Loganair only offers a single tiny plastic cup of water to you now.

Loganair flight landing at Dundee Airport.
In-flight drams are no more on Loganair journeys. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DCT Media

After we took off, I heard the same guy shout that iconic phrase from the movie Whisky Galore. “No more… whisky?” I was laughing so much that I spilled my water, and my new thick corduroys took a week to dry.

It looked as if it would take a week for a Stornoway van driver to find a house in a small village in Harris recently. There weren’t many houses there, so he thought it’d be easy. Seeing an older crofting-type fellow leaning on a gate, he wound down his window and said: “I’m looking for number 18.”

The kindly crofter said: “Ah, bhalaich, this place doesn’t have a number 18. This is just a wee village of six or seven crofts. But I believe you’re looking for them next door.”

The van driver was very puzzled by this. “Next door? How? You told me there was no number 18 here.” The wise fellow answered: “Yes, that’s true. But you know how people – especially those from up in Lewis – don’t always write things down right. Next door is number 1B.”

Iain Maciver is a former broadcaster and news reporter from the Outer Hebrides

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