Ben Harvey is cast away in the auld country

Aaaaaah…Christmas. Time of too much food, too much booze, and, if you’re as clueless as me when it comes to chemistry, too much throwing-up as you try to settle your poor, bloated tummy with ten rennies washed down with vinegar. Christmas revolves around three things, traditionally – gluttony, watching television and touching base with family.

And it’s the family-thing that’s got me in my current mess.

I write this, dear reader, not ensconced in the comfort & stability of my usual kicking ground (the south of England) but instead from my dad’s house, which is uncomfortable, unstable and perched rather precariously a few feet from the raging, black torrents of the Atlantic Ocean, on an island off of the West Coast of Scotland.

The thing is, you see, I don’t really get to see the dear old buffer that often, and so it tends to be the case that either me or my brother will wander up and keep him company for Christmas. This year it was my turn to make the 650-mile trek, and so although filled with the smug warmth of a duty honourably executed I am also frozen by the local temperature, which would be quite warm, were it not for the wind-chill, which is such that if you look directly into the wind your eyes will ice-over, cracking and shrinking until they become the same size & texture of those little baubles of bubble-gum they used to put at the bottom of screwball ice-cream cones. You know the ones I mean; the most delicious way to choke to death, as a child…

Anyway, I’ve been on the island for all of 20 hours, now, which is actually a little less time than it takes to get here. The most amusing leg of the trip is the National Express link to the ferry port, a strange and humbling experience that always feels like entering some foreign country. In fact, it’s exactly like a foreign country – the toilets are awful, the customs & morals are at odds with your own and everyone’s speaking a language you can’t understand (I counted Spanish, Polish and, most unintelligible of all, Glaswegian).

One thing that did make me giggle, though, was a little transfer stuck to the window that encouraged passengers to SMS their comments about the trip into a shortcode. However, a couple of hours down the road – jinking around a loch – when I was about to punt off a text critiquing the driver’s body-odour, this giggle rapidly dried into a rolling gurgle of shock when the three most horrid, damning & generally disastrous words that the world has ever thrown at me plopped onto my screen. And, oh, they were bad words. More frightening that ‘you’re fired, Harvey”. More anguishing than ‘I’m leaving you”. More generally life-changing than ‘I love you” and more intrinsically mind-shaking than ‘Pregnant. Triplets. Yours.” And those three fell words were:


My heart responded to the facts of the matter quicker than my brain did, by ramping up my BPMs to about 120 and generally laying down a lot of blood-oxygen to see me through this dire, unspeakable trauma. My adrenal glands were next to cotton-on, squirting out liquid-panic from my kidneys in the same sort of quantities, in terms of fluid-ounceage, as your average Slag & Legless happy-hour cocktail-bucket. This flight-or-fight response would normally come in inordinately useful, were it not for the fact that I was currently penned into a coach-seat that Tom Cruise would’ve had trouble squeezing himself into (legend has it that, in order to fit more passengers on busses, National Express tracked down that serial-killer who crammed all of his corpses into suitcases and promptly hired him as vice-president in charge of revenue).

So I’m sat there going just a little nuts. You expect to lose coverage on two occasions, and two occasions only – when you’re underground, or when you’re in a plane. For it to happen unexpectedly is…well. Unexpected. For it to happen when you’re a self-confessed phonaphilliac like me is hideously jarring, doubly so when you’re being boiled alive by the furnace-like heaters in a wheeled sardine-can, and you really, really need to text a mate to get advice on how to deal with the fact that you appear to be sat next to the Crack Fox from the Mighty Boosh.

So that was fun. It only lasted ten minutes or so, and the relief that returned as the signal-bars did was delicious in itself, but now, alas, it’s a permanent state of affairs. Or, rather, near-permanent. The island I’m on, you see, has coverage – like my winter beard – best described as ‘patchy”. And the fishing-village where my dad’s retired up to is in a dip, the same granite cove that protects it from the rage of the sea doing a similarly good job at protecting it from the modern inconvenience of functioning mobiles.

So my poor little phone is just sat here, forlornly, like a puppet with its strings cut. The fact that circumstance & distance has reduced this little jewel of modern technology to nothing more than a paperweight is almost absurd – the reason it’s not totally, utterly, complete absurd is because, in a fiendishly cruel twist of fate, the signal here does, about twice a day, get through. And all of a sudden I can inhale communication & correspondence like a drowning swimmer inhales air; it’s not what you need, and it’s not enough to keep you going, but you’re not exactly going to turn it down, either.

Why the signal is so frustratingly fickle I have no idea. Twice-daily slots of coverage would logically be connected to the tides – do radio-waves bounce off water…? – but the timings keep changing. Perhaps it’s a combination of water and cloud, skipping just enough wattage out to me to function. Maybe it’s nothing to do with the weather, and in fact is more to do with one of the implausibly hairy cattle over here getting frisky with a cell-tower. My attempts to logically deduce the exact reasons for my tenuous links out to the rest of you have been just a little bit hampered by the extra fact that this island is, quite literally, the whisky-producing capital of the world. And since the one thing I like doing more than talking is drinking, I just hope that all you charming & wondrous people have a Christmas even half as merry as mine has been so far.

Happy Christmas, everyone. You’re my bhest friendsh!

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