Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Good Morning Ulster

On Monday we travelled to Argyll, to the wild and legend-charged Glen of Kilmartin, where stone circles, cairns and the burial sites of the ancients litter the floor of a wide and fertile glacial valley, and the air has a strange and magnetic potency.
We were there for the funeral of a much-loved friend. Everything about it - the service, the interment, the gathering afterwards - was celebratory and sad in equal measure: if I say that for the service, Sylvie's husband Peter, characteristically dressed in salmon pink blazer and kaleidoscopic tie, played guitar and sang the hymn he had sung to Sylvie on the night before she died, and that the evening ended with fireworks and cheering, you will begin to see what I mean. I have never been so in awe of the steadfastness and serenity of the human spirit, and the power of faith as manifested in one man and his family and friends - and of course Sylvie herself, who in Peter's words had "gone away on ahead of us".

I hope Sylvie would enjoy this little footnote: On the morning of the funeral, I was walking Eddie along a stretch of foreshore on Loch Fyne, a rare pocket of mobile phone coverage in a landscape too craggy and remote to expect more, when I had a call from Hannah Copeland of Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme, asking whether I would take part the following day in a live discussion about the potential - and potential pitfalls - of Twittering by politicians in the context of a general election. My credentials were my nomination and short listing in the Author Blog Awards 2010 and my new, and pretty much undeserved status as a prolific blogger and social networker.

Well, publicity-hungry like all authors, I said I'd be delighted, my only worry being that the phone signal was so patchy. We needed a landline, and the upshot was that the owners of the bar in the Kilmartin Hotel generously offered the use of the phone in the bar from 9 to 10am the following morning. They would make sure it was open and that I was undisturbed.

I was grateful, and at 9.15am on Tuesday found myself sitting in semi-darkness in the corner of the bar, surrounded by tables with upturned chairs on top. A slight smell of beer hung in the air and the only sound was a distant hum from the kitchens at the back of the building.

Now, Kilmartin Hotel boasts a collection of over 40 malt whiskies, and I tend to get quite nervous before going on the radio. There was no-one around. The cordless phone was on a cradle behind the bar. Bottles were arranged along a shelf on the back wall. But I thought of the American writer - was it Steinbeck? - who said that he tended to be most productive in the evening because it didn't feel right to drink in the morning, and reached for a hose with a mixer on the end which offered a choice of Coke, lemonade, tonic water or just water - and chose the water, filling a pint glass and returning to my darkened corner to wait.

Ironically, the first thing we discussed was drunk twittering, which for a politician during an election campaign would be like drunk driving, but with the actual damage coming hours, days or even weeks after the event.

Anyway, I felt sure that Sylvie would be smiling.
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