There were potato beds to be dug and gutters to be emptied but I temporarily abandoned such earthy things and decided to head south for the weekend to visit my Dad who lives on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire. Such trips offer a rare opportunity to revisit the roots and shoots of my childhood – I am originally a Hampshire ‘Hog’ (a ‘Hog’ being ancient slang for an inhabitant of the county and on a par with a Dorset ‘Doorknob’, a Somerset ‘Acker’ and a Wiltshire ‘Moonraker’) At Inverness airport I grabbed a bite to eat - a bacon and egg triple sandwich - before heading for the departure lounge.
Passing through security I became acutely aware that a third of my tasty sandwich (two thirds had been eaten) rested at the bottom of my hand luggage for consumption later. Can you take a half-eaten sandwich through security, I wondered, and would security be drawn to my bag like a trout to a fly? I don’t normally make a habit of smuggling, although I once concealed a tub of olives inside my jacket pocket at the cinema in Inverness . It bulged suspiciously as I requested tickets for D’Artagnan. There was a pause from the ticket seller (had he spotted the bulge?) before he pointed out that the film was actually called “The Three Musketeers” and D’Artagnan was the central character. Easy mistake to make, particularly when you are preoccupied with olives.
The x-ray machine at the airport displayed my sandwich (I saw it on screen) but nobody seemed too bothered. Pleasant smiles and nods all round. Sandwiches are not a security risk.
I ate the remainder on the plane somewhere over Manchester and hidden behind a copy of the Times in case the cabin crew threw me off for not buying one of their in-flight delicacies. Over coffee – and seconds after an abortive attempt by an air hostess to sell me scratch cards - I remembered that I had left the car unlocked in the car park; consequently there was a possibility that the contents of the boot (chains saw, hedge cutters, etc.) might disappear over the weekend. Aaagh! (In fact they didn’t – that’s the Highlands for you).
Landing at Bristol Airport I collected a hire car and proceeded south east through ‘Acker’, ‘Doorknob’ and ‘Moonraker’ country en route to Hampshire. I had a lovely few days. Stew and mashed potato on my arrival, pleasant company (my father), and surprisingly the temperature was colder than the north of Scotland. We had an excellent pub lunch on Saturday at the Royal Oak, North Gorley, a 17th century Inn with oak beams, open fireplaces, stockbrokers at the bar, spaniels under the table, that sort of thing, and there was even a duck pond opposite. Highly recommended.
Some aspects of Hampshire life have changed since my youth (the population has grown, the roads are busy) whilst others have remained the same – donkeys and ponies still amble the New Forest highways and byways, free-range hogs (of the four legged kind) graze the forest floor for acorns during the pannage season, thatched cottages still abound and traditional oak-beamed pubs serve real ale with names such as ‘Fall Over’, ‘Boondoggle’ and ‘Ankle Biter’.
Such sojourns south serve to remind me why we moved to Ross-shire in the first place. Despite all the advantages Hampshire has to offer – and it has a lot - life in Ross-shire is more personal and unique, the landscape and its inhabitants co-exist in harmony (despite wind farms and oil riggs) and the pace of life is less frantic. In some ways the Ross-shire of today is not unlike the Hampshire of my yesterday.
On that nostalgic note there are potato beds to be dug and gutters to be emptied.