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Snow on Ben More

November 9, 2013

Winter is coming, with slanting sunshine interspersed with squalls of  sleet. It’s cold and exhilarating today and I’m quite happy to be toasty indoors. A day for sitting by the fire with a book: ‘The Innocence of Objects’ by Orhan Pamuk being my choice.




Big Marc from last year has reappeared, which is a pleasure, and he is doing some fencing, Elsa is busy making the hostel beautiful and Dan is on a day off, nursing a migraine, poor man. The hostel is full tonight, which is good going for November! It’s surprisingly busy for this time of year and clearly far more folk are travelling and on the move than in previous years. Tonight: Polish, German, Dutch, English and Scottish -a good mix. The reward for those that make the effort is a very quiet and elemental island. Those who know Iona only in the summer might find the island strangely empty and still. Various businesses close over the winter yet several either stay open for winter travellers or offer a reduced service. The hotels serve food on short hours and the wonderful Iona Craft Shop remains open where Mike serves excellent coffee (a social service if ever there was one!) In spite of this rollicking weather a deep calm pervades the place: a strange mix of ravishing and kinetic landscape and thoughtful interiority.

Remembrance Sunday tomorrow and as Convenor of Iona Community Council I’ll lay the wreath at the War Memorial. A slightly tricky one for me in that I suspect I lack sufficient ‘patria’ to be able to (inside at least) wholeheartedly embrace the ceremony. As with many others, earlier in my life I would have described myself as pacifist and though that conviction has long gone I am left with a subjective hierarchy of wars and the difference between what constitutes the ‘just’ war and sheer folly. On this graph, pretty clearly the First War was folly whilst the Second was defendable and Just. Why, then, can I stand in calm respect to honour the dead of the First War -whilst honouring the dead of our foray’s to the Falklands or Iraq fills me with discomfort and anger? Folly is folly, after all. Perhaps it’s simply that time blunts and even the most politically culpable act will eventually fade to symbol and memory.

I see myself as one of those contradicted yet lucky men: the generation largely defined by the Second World War yet never actually having been called upon to make such decisions or commitment. The War had had a profound effect upon my life even though I was born ten years after it ended. My father was seriously wounded during the latter part of it and my early years in particular largely formed by that fact. Likewise, my grandmother’s first fiancé died on the Somme. My childhood memory of my parents peers were of silent men with bits missing (metaphorically or literally), single middle-aged women,  horribly jovial men (who never saw action) with bullying tales of derring-do, or smugly nuclear couples (War ? What war?).  Not exactly Otto Dix, and I got away lightly, but the damage and consequences of such events are far reaching in every sense.


On a different note Iona Hostel is hosting two weekend workshops in March. This is something I’m keen to promote as it brings people and interest to the hostel at a quiet time of the year, it allows me the pleasure of using the hostel as a creative space and benefits course organisers as I can offer a healthy discount for such courses. So, if you want to run an art / craft course at the hostel between November and mid-March please do get in touch.

The first course is the long weekend 6th – 9th March inclusive and is led by award winning illustrator Jill Calder (From Cellardyke so she must be fine!). Called ‘Inkery on the Island, the course will focus upon ‘creating finished illustrations based upon unexpected forms of text, inks, drawing, paper, looking, thinking and random elements of playfulness…’ Have a look at for more information. £400.  She’s good.

The second course, ‘Driftwood Binding: A Creative Retreat’ is by inspirational book-artist Rachel Hazell, who also ran a course in the hostel last March. The dates for this one are 13th – 16th March inclusive. ‘Exploring Inner and Outer Landscapes: using folding, cutting, painting, mapping and story-telling to create your own personal book-art’. Rachel is a natural-born teacher -take a look at her website: £350.00. And Anja supplies a fresh cake daily!

And lastly, for Snuffy lovers (Snuffophiles?) out there. Adorable as ever, Snuffy is presently asleep by the fire having scoffed all the offcuts of mutton from a soup I made this morning. She’s had a good summer and after a ruthless haircut in July she’s finally (and just in time) grown a good tousle of hair to keep her warm through the winter.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2013 11:42 am

    Gorgeous photos, John!

  2. November 10, 2013 12:15 pm

    I was moved by what you wrote, and hesitated to reply in public, but here goes!

    I’m ten years older than you, having been born three weeks after the “Christian bomb” was dropped on Hiroshima. and five months after my father’s ship was sunk by a U-boat on one of the Russian convoys. He was one of very few survivors, having by good fortune been on deck at the time, and though he never spoke to me of this experience I know it has hung, like the mushroom cloud, over our family and over my whole life. Both my grandfathers fought in the trenches in Normandy in the first world war. Both survived. One lived a long, happy and productive life and the other abandoned his young family and drank himself to death. One aunt’s fiancé died in the Battle of Britain, the other two aunts never married. My brother and I know how lucky we are, and both of us are life-long pacifists. Remembrance Sunday always brings conflicting feelings. I need to mourn the folly and the loss of life but I don’t need men in uniform shouting at other men in uniform to help me mourn. I buy a poppy but I don’t wear it. I don’t pretend to be consistent!

  3. November 10, 2013 9:01 pm

    Hello Ama,

    Thank you for taking the time to write. That’s quite a story of yours. Yes, it’s interesting, I mourn the great waste and loss but I do struggle with loud men in uniforms or dog-collars… And so today I sat impassive through the church service (feeling my usual rising tide of anger) yet the actual ceremony at the memorial was deeply moving. If you know Iona, the War Memorial is just south of the village overlooking the Sound. It’s a lovely spot. About 25 folk were present on this calm, clear-skied day and Neil from Fionnphort played a lament on his pipes. I looked out to sea and thought of my father and the silent passing of time. I don’t know if you know Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon? The Epilude is the description of a remembrance service and one that never fails to bring a lump to my throat. It’s the most poignant piece of writing about this subject that I know.

    I enjoy your website -and Rachel sends her love.


  4. November 14, 2013 12:20 am

    Thank you – I looked it up. That’s an emotional read!

    Love to Rachel, and I hope we’ll come to Iona sometime.

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