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Isabel in the Highlands - Chapter 2

by Sazmac 

Posted: 22 July 2007
Word Count: 3380

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Chapter two – the big orange plane

The flight seemed like hours to the three. Matty was immersed in Darling’s Highlands and Islands which he had found on Isabel’s mum’s book case. Every now and then he would look up bewildered and proclaim, ‘the head of Loch Broom is the wettest place in the United Kingdom with an annual average rainfall of 250mm – that’s 2.5 meters!’ Vin pulled his beanie down over his ears and concentrated on steering the motorbike past the gang members whilst pulling a wheelie and avoiding bullets. Isabel turned her ipod up and tried to lose herself. She had her school notebook out and was making an important list of everything she needed to do that week, and everything they needed. There were several pages free at the end after her latest project, so she had turned the book upside down and was working from the other end. All the stuff she needed to teach Vin and Matty, stuff they needed to do, and her school project which needed finishing.

‘Yarrghh – I can hear that rubbish’, said Vin, closely followed by ‘Die, die die you muppet, arrrgghhh no’, truncating his frenzied attempt to wipe out the gang.
‘You made me bomb out of level 8 and I was nearly there, you waster! Any way, get some proper music on not that rubbish – get Megadeath on.’
‘You liked Muse when I played it the other day,’ retorted Isabel.
‘Never – in your dreams’
‘Liar – you did’
‘Liar yourself – like I would ever be into that dross – you are deluded’
‘Deluded yourself
‘Deluded worse’ and with that Vin wrestled her book off her and started beating her over the head with it.
‘You great big hairy useless git – get off’, said Isabel, ‘that’s my project book and you’ve trashed it’
‘Serves you right for being a muppet and listening to that rubbish’ grinned Vin.
‘And doing schooly work. We are on holiday you great big girl.’
Isabel felt the need to defend herself. ‘I wasn’t doing my project, I was making a list of everything we need to do.’
‘A list?’ Vin looked incredulously at her and then laughed. ‘A list! – Matty – she is making a list’
Matty looked relieved that the fight had stopped. He had been dreading a fight all the way, hoping that they would be calm at least for the two hour flight.

To his relief, Isabel turned Muse up to the maximum and pulled her beanie down over her eyes.

Isabel fumed and wondered how many of the ripped pages she could stick back together. She could salvage the bit on organics – some of it was pretty rubbish anyway, but the bit on water saving was done for. She would have to do it again. As her thoughts turned away to water saving, Muse was beginning to annoy her as well, but she wouldn’t admit it, trying to turn it down without Vin seeing. He really was a muppet, who spoiled her best laid plans. At least Matty was predictable. You could never tell what Vin was going to do next.

‘The great northern diver lives on small islands on inland waters near the coast’ piped up Matty, still trying to calm the waters and forget the war that had just finished.
Isabel and Vin raised their eyebrows at each other and sniggered. Matty looked up, blinked and returned to the world of obscure birds with relief. He hated it when they fought, they were so different but so alike. He hoped that they could at least try to behave a bit so that he could relax a bit. He did think Isabel was bonkers with her lists and plans though. His very worst fear above them kicking off was that Isabel would have everything organised all week, with times and plans and stuff. He knew Vin would hate that too. He didn’t know whether Isabel’s Gran and Grandad were like her, or perhaps they had moved up there to escape all that.

The plane suddenly changed note and lurched forwards. Isabel squeaked involuntarily and then tried to cover it up. Vin laughed at her, ‘we’re going down’.

As they banked over they could see the early evening sun reflecting on unfamiliar waters. A silver waterway snaked away inland, into dark hills. Down below them, a white bridge with a large fan of cables crossed the waterway, at the point where it widened out to join the sea.

‘Is that where we will be sailing?’ asked Matty.
‘No, this is the east coast. We have to drive all the way through the mountains to get to the West Coast.’ said Isabel.
‘Of course,’ said Matty, ‘should have known that really. It all looks so watery though. And its difficult to relate to the map in my book. I was thinking about where the tide would go, and how it would work. Except I couldn’t get north worked out. But here we go down now any way. I ‘spect we will see it all soon.’
‘We’ll be there soon,’ echoed Isabel, her head already over the hills and on the coast. ‘An hours drive across and we’ll be in Achnaird.’

As they landed, Matty concentrated on his sense of responsibility and getting the other two off the plane. He was worried about the luggage and how they would manage it all. He was thinking that if only they could get a baggage trolley, that would be great. But then he would have to stop Vin and Isabel racing the trolleys. Fortunately, in the scrum to get off the plane, they were too busy to see the possibilities in the trolleys.
‘Mine’ yelled Vin, as he spotted his large camo sack on the carousel.
‘Mine’s winning’, retorted Isabel as her beloved green Arc’Teryx sac came round.

Heaving their enormous rucksacks off the carousel, they headed outside. A large black Merc with blackened out glass was busy pulling up, half mounting the kerb. ‘Don’t spose that’s your gran is it?’ asked Vin hopefully. Matty threw him a sideways look and pulling a particularly gruesome face, ‘as if, muppet.’

A scrawny woman with a nasal American whine pushed through them, nearly knocking Isabel over. She was heading to the Merc, her spiky heels clicking on the pavement.
‘Faber, where is Guy?’ the nasal twang demanded, ‘we are going to be soooo late.’
‘Oi you, you pushed my mate’, shouted Vin, sticking is nose right at her wrinkly painted face.
‘Uh? Oh go lose yourself’ sneered the woman, ‘we need to be outta here to the ranch,’ she snapped, as if that was important to them. She appeared to be addressing the world, or at least anyone who listen.
‘Its not a ranch babe,’ snapped a younger man in a tweed jacket and flat cap, with silvered pilot shades who had appeared out of nowhere. ‘Its an estate Madge darling, now stop twittering and get in the car..’

Isabel had regained her composure, and drew herself up, looking like thunder. She was about to go for the moral high ground when,

‘Isabel….. Isabel….’ A strident voice drifted into her head through the muddle of fury.

‘Grandma?’ she turned and saw a small slight woman with a shock of white wavy hair grinning and waving. Her face was weather beaten into a gnarly mahogany patina with deep wrinkles. She was wearing some strange yellow and purple overalls and blue wellies. Isabel ran at her and gave her a huge hug.

‘Grandma, this is Vin and this is Matty.’
‘Yes darling I remember them and I won’t say you have all grown because that would be too boring. But you are all bigger and, wow, Vin, I don’t remember that hair. Vin grinned and pushed back the white rats tails that had once been vaguely hair like.
Matty stepped forwards and said,
‘Pleased to meet you again Mrs MacDonald and thank you for having us’
‘Ah Matty, always the grown up one – thank you for coming to see me and no more Mrs MacDonald. Mags please and that’ll be an end to it. Right, throw those bags in the back of the pickup, we need to go and get the engine from the boat yard. It’s been fixed and we need to take it back to Achnaird.’
‘When can we go in it?’ said Vin.
‘Just like our Isabel and to the point straight away. So I’ll be to the point. You can go in the boat, under supervision from me, Mack, or Nick, who lives next door if you can persuade him. When you have proved you are competent you can go with strict boundaries. If you go outside, there will be no more boating.’
‘Yes grandma’ said Isabel, with eyes wide open, ‘if we do ropework and hauling tomorrow, and set sails on Tuesday, can we be on our own on Wednesday?’
‘Boss’, said Vin, ‘we are going to an island and going..’
‘to sail very carefully’, said Isabel, very quickly, stopping any wild exclamations from Vin.
‘Where will we be allowed to sail Mags and how long before we can go on our own?’ asked Matty, thinking about the reality of learning with Isabel. ‘Will we be allowed in the sea and how will we know when the tides are right?’
‘All in good time now. No sea yet – only inland so you wont have to worry about tides. And I don’t know when because I don’t know how well you will listen and learn. So there is no plan Isabel my dear. Now lets get these bags in and get off,’ smiled Mags.
Matty was secretly relieved, but half disappointed that there would be no epic battles with Pollack. He needed to think about how he was going to control Vin, and temper Isabel. At least if there were no tides to worry about, he could concentrate on learning the sailing bit.
‘Lets get going,’ said Isabel with a big grin, altercations with the American forgotten. ‘If we squeeze in knots tonight, we can do hoisting and rope work tomorrow, we will be sailing on our own by Wednesday, you see.’
‘Awesome,’ said Vin, thinking once more of rabbits and fires, determined to ignore Isabel’s plans.

They threw all their bags into the back of the pick up and Mags pulled a tarp over the back. They leapt in the cab, Isabel in the front and the boys in the back. They pulled out of the car park and set off through the traffic. As they crawled out on the ring road, they hit some traffic, but soon pulled off into an industrial estate. Mags pulled into a shed, hopped out and disappeared into an office. Shortly, two oily men came out and loaded up the engine. Matty wondered how they would ever lift it themselves.

With it loaded up, they set back off out to the ring road and were soon crossing the white bridge they had seen from the plane.
‘The roads up here are normal,’ said Vin, ‘I expected tracks.’
‘We have the tv and telephones too’ said Mags with a smile.

As they drove across the tops, the road did get smaller, but they still made good progress. The hills started to tower above them, rising from wide rock strewn valleys. Mags told them all to look out for deer as the sun was lowering to the north west. They pinned their eyes to the windows.

‘What’s highlands against pylons?’ asked Matty after passing the third sign, roughly painted at the side of the road.
‘We are all fighting plans to run a massive pylon line from near the house down through the valleys to England’ said Mags with a sigh, ‘it’s a harebrained scheme that wants to put thousands of windmills on the isle of Lewis, and ship the power down massive pylon lines to the south’
‘But wouldn’t that be renewables and be a good thing?’ asked Matty.
‘Yes, in theory, but not destroying a wilderness on the way,’ retorted Mags with a slight edge in her voice.’ I’m sorry darlings but we are a bit NIMBY and it’s been vexing Isabel’s Grandad, Mack. He seems to have got well sucked into it and is spending hours and hours campaigning and writing. It’s taking a big toll on him’ and she sighed a little and then set her lips into a little tight wrinkle. Isabel recognised that this was her cross mode.
‘mm,’ Isabel mused. ‘I need to talk to Grandpa. He can help me with my project. Its about drought and climate change and stuff like that. Grandpa’s into all that isn’t he?’
‘yes Isabel, but not too much,’ replied Mags. ‘He really needs distracting from it, rather than ranting on about it all the time.’
Isabel thought privately that he would be a really good source to tap for her project. She couldn’t waste that kind of opportunity. She knew her Grandpa did tend to drone on when you asked him something, but she could really get some good stuff out of him.

At that moment, Mags slammed on the brakes and swerved violently.
‘Idiots, ….’ She shouted angrily, waving her fingers in a way that she shouldn’t have at a black Merc that had overtaken them and pulled in sharply, cutting them up.
‘Some people have no manners and driving that fast at this time, there could be deer – in fact there will be deer. They are obviously not used to up here’ Mags said, calming down a little.
‘That was the muppet who pushed us out of the way at the airport,’ piped up Matty.
‘That did what and who?’ said Mags incredulously.
‘The miserable American woman and her dodgy dude – They nearly pushed Isabel over in the airport. I bet they are going to sail off the coast, import a load of drugs, and then sell them to their gruesome friends,’ Vin said by way of explanation.
‘They just were very pushy and rude,’ said Matty, ‘and probably just needed to be somewhere. Though, I wonder why they needed to be anywhere in such a hurry up here?’
‘I think you’re right Vin’ said Isabel, her eyes lighting up. ‘They are going to charter a yacht and sail out to a deserted cove and rendezvous with dodgy dealers.’
‘Or they are evil landowners, with land to sell to the pylon barons,’ said Matty. ‘But that wouldn’t explain why they had to be in such a hurry would it?’
‘They are racing to intercept a gang of eco-warriors who are going to blow up the first pylon,’ said Vin, getting animated, ‘and we are going to stop them!’
‘Nar Vin. Drug dealers, they have to be on the tide,’ said Isabel with conviction.
‘Oy yoy you lot’ said Mags. ‘That sort of stuff doesn’t happen up here. We have enough excitement when Dr McIntosh gets caught for speeding twice in a week. We don’t do big crime. That’s why me and Mack moved up here. A little bit of peace and quiet! They are probably late for dinner or something. Or sometimes people just forget to slow down when they get up here’.
‘But they were still pretty rude,’ said Matty, still wondering why they were in such a nark. He couldn’t see why anyone up here would want to be rude. People always surprised him.

‘Right you lot, forget the rude Merc folks, we need to stop in Ullapool for provisions – all out and help me load up in the shop,’ Mags said, deflecting the subject away and pulling into the small supermarket.

‘Its very small,’ observed Matty with a worried tone, ‘will they have all the normal stuff?’
‘We need plenty of crisps, and plenty of coke,’ said Vin helpfully, ‘and chocolate. We will need a lot of chocolate for our expeditions.
‘I have a list’, said Isabel helpfully.
‘Well done love’ said Mags, and the two of them started deep into list conversation. Vin and Matty quickly disappeared, collecting things on their mental lists, such as cholocate, crisps and coke. Isabel set off, looking for important expedition food such as crunchy bars and eggs.

They swiftly started throwing the collections into Mags’ trolley. She didn’t seem to notice as though she were thinking about something else entirely. Vin sensed this and quietly put more chocolate into the trolley.

Then Mags suddenly came out of her thoughts and started despatching them with more purpose.
‘Beans Isabel – four tins. Potatoes Vin – biggest bag you can find. Bread Matty – at least six as we wont be in for a while’.

The shopping swung into a major logistical exercise with stuff piling right up and spilling over the top. It took them a long time to shove it all into the crumpled pile of bags that Mags produced from her rucksack. Heaving it all into the back of the truck was a big effort, but they soon reduced it to a chain with Matty in the back, sorting. The stuff filled the entire back of the pickup, packing in around the strapped down engine. At last, Matty could jump down, and Mags pulled the tarp back over the provisions.

They chugged their way more slowly now and on the final stage of the journey. They climbed up out of Ullapool and crossed a series of large valleys. The three’s eyes were like owls, blinking and staring in the evening sun at the spectacle unfolding before them. Huge craggy cliffs were black against the golden light. After about ten minutes they turned off the main road and set off down a tiny twisty road that wiggled around rocky lumps with purple heather. It was only wide enough for one car, but had wider passing places where the cars coming the other way could sit and wait to pass. Sometimes Mags had to back the big pickup up to a just missed spot, when a car came round a corner unexpectedly. She waved and smiled at everyone, keeping up a constant stream of banter about who they all were.

Finally, ‘nearly there’ she said at last, the truck creaking up a big hill. Just after the top she turned off down a little side road that said. ‘Private, NO ENTRY’.
‘Ooh’ said Matty, ‘A private road. I don’t think I’ve been along a private road before.’

They twisted and bumped along the little road, bouncing through the rocks and heather. Suddenly they came over a small rise and the ground dropped away steeply below them. A small white house sat in the middle of a small bowl in the rocks and heather. The sea shimmered below it, stretching out as far as the eye could see to where a series of Islands appeared to float on the horizon. A large mountain framed the view the rights with a steep forbidding wall of rock. A round rocky lump rose to the left and stretched out to see. A pebbly beached curved out to a point about half a mile away.

‘Wow,’ gulped Vin, ‘the sea is just there.’
Isabel smiled as the familiar curve of the beach settled on her eyes. Here, nothing mattered except for being here, the sea, the mountains, the beach. It was though her whole body detached itself from some invisible strings that had been holding her up. Matty said nothing as they headed down the short steep track, and turned on a hairpin back towards the house. His eyes were fixated on the boats, trailers, rope, buoys, and large pile of wood, all littered around the back of the house.

The door was open and a grey haired, bearded man in wellies and an old purple fleece appeared.

‘Grandpa’, yelled Isabel and jumped down from the truck, running towards him.
‘Hey Isabel, been too long my girl’, said Mack clearing his throat slightly. ‘and this is Matty and Vin I take it, not that you’ve grown or anything – ha ha.’
‘Hi Mack,’ said the two in unison.
‘Can we go in the boat now?’ said Vin hopefully.
‘Tea first, then we can go down’, said Mack.

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