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Johnny's Garden - Manassas

Back in 1972, I and two friends had a lost weekend in the Outer Hebrides, on Harris to be precise. We had to have an excuse to go there from school, so said we were going to study the local fishing industry which we knew was just about defunct, but they said we could go as long as we had a look at the tweed weaving instead. The trio comprised Ricky (who you've met before see July 1st 2108 post), Jeremy and myself and we had a great time. We took one ferry from Kyle of Lochalsh and another from Uig in the North of Skye and disembarked in Tarbert, Harris, camped in what appeared to be the hollow of an ancient erupted volcano on the top of a hill overlooking the town. We pitched our tent and were brewing up when an old guy appeared, gasping for breath. We wondered what he was going to admonish us for, after all we had no permission to camp there, but he greeted us civilly enough, asked us how long we were staying, and then handed us a small urn of milk saying that if it didn't last, we should pop in and see him, he lived just by the church and then he was off as quick as he'd come, back down the slope. For the next three hours we were besieged by old locals (there were only school kids there or old people, 40 plus, nothing in between) bringing offerings, eggs, cheese, bacon, vegetables (even with a sly wink a bottle of something we later discovered was some kind of "hooch") all refusing payment, wishing us well and politely declining the offer of a cuppa, before turning and descending the hill once more.

The next day we spent around half an hour haggling with the guy at the general store, eventually agreeing a price for the hire of three bikes. Off we went, looking to interview a few weavers of tweed (they worked in their homes), and then camp on the far side of the island. We'd only been cycling for a few hours when we realised that the rough island roads were taking their toll of our bikes and were ripping our tyres to shreds and the devil's own storm was approaching from the north. We transferred all the gear onto Ricky's and my bikes and Jeremy went off to see the tweed makers, while we headed west. The storm caught us, by which time the tyres, both inner tubes and outer covers, where ripped to shreds. Drenched and unable to cycle further, we dumped our bikes for collection on our return, and walked another six miles with all our gear, making the far coast as the sky cleared and Jeremy caught up with us full of quirky anecdotes about the local people that we were in no mood to listen to. Not that that stopped him. Then the sun came out, and we stripped off and swam in the impossibly clear water and played like innocents, running up and own the golden beach for hours. We finished up sitting round our pete fire cooking supper and watching the tide go out forever in one of those highland summer evenings where the sun goes down beyond the sea around eleven and comes up at one and it never gets dark.

When we got back to Tarbert the following evening, shamefully pushing our bikes along, ruined tyres and all, the laughing storeowner came out of his house, refused to take any payment from us, either for the hire of the bikes or the ruined tyres on the grounds that it was Sunday and he couldn't accept payment on the Sabbath. When we asked him why he'd haggled so hard if he wasn't going to charge us, he replied "Oh I love a haggle, and I knew the roads would do for you anyway."

That night, back in our mountain bowl, more gifts were bought by the locals, including the loan of a guitar by a guy we'd met earlier. We sat around our fire, Ricky played and we sang mellow, exhausted tunes about the simple things in life including "Johnny's Garden" by Stephen Stills.

".....and I'll do anything I got to do

cut my hair and shine my shoes

and keep on singing the blues

if I can stay here in Johnny's garden"

Lost weekend to be continued tomorrow.

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