As the turbo-prop plane left the runway at Glasgow airport, headed to Tiree, the most westerly situated island of the Scottish inner Hebrides, I gripped my seat with two white knuckles, gazing with some amazement, down at the green fields below. We lumbered slowly, though very surely, into a surprisingly clear blue Scottish sky, but nonetheless, I was terrified. This, was my very first flight, and I was 7 years old. My parents had decided that a week on a farm, a ‘croft’ to use its correct terminology, would do us all the world of good, and quite frankly, who was I to argue? To me, at that age, planes were something that I’d only seen in WW2 movies. This however was a very different experience. There were only 12 seats, and along with the other family joining us for this adventure, every seat was taken. I distinctly remember the drone of the two propeller engines, as we sped, and I use that word literally, across the Scottish countryside at no more than 200 MPH and at an altitude of less that 12,000 feet. There were no oxygen masks that I can remember, no safety briefing and only one stewardess, who never even served us a drink.
Scotland isn’t very large, and to make such a journey, even back in 1967, took only about 40 minutes from gate to gate. When we landed, my recollection is that there was nothing. No other planes, no people, no buildings, just a bleak rain-soaked and wind battered landscape, with sheep dotted every direction the eye could see. Our lovely blue sunny skies had turned grey overcast and wet, but we were all half expecting such torment, weeks before we’d even started to prepare for this journey. You see, the west of Scotland takes the brunt of all-weather coming off the Atlantic Ocean, the majority of which is, torrential rain. And so, here in Tiree, being the most westerly point of all the inner islands, the chances of any sunshine was limited to just a few days in every year. I had my ‘wellies’ on, as did my sisters, and an ‘anorak’ (please feel free to google both articles of clothing), which were much-needed accompaniments growing up in such climactic bliss. After descending the stairs from the plane onto the runway, the same man who’d brought those steps to our plane, went behind the plane and emptied our luggage from the hold, before wheeling it into a ‘barn’ like building where it could be reclaimed. All of this took about 4 minutes. And then, that very same man went back onto the runway to usher a new set of passengers who were bound for Glasgow, onto the plane we had just exited. He was it. This was Tiree and this man was check in, baggage claim and probably air traffic control too! Welcome to the Hebrides!
Within half an hour I was lying on my bed for the week. We had driven the short distance to our bed and breakfast, and often dinner, residence and we were all getting nicely settled in when my bedroom door opened and my dad asked quite randomly, ‘does anyone want to see the cows being milked?’
Well this was a working farm, so without giving it too much thought, my sister and I along with the 2 kids from the friends we were sharing this holiday experience with, jumped into our wellies once again, and trotted out merrily to watch milking time. We had to tread through mounds of cow dung and sheep shit, before arriving at the barn where 6 cows awaited relief, all mooooooooooing in anticipation. I had never seen a cow being miked, and neither had any of the other kids, however, I was sure that we would see them using a machine, just like the one’s I’d seen on the TV show that every kid watched at that time, Blue Peter. Blue Peter was the ‘in’ show for children my age, and perhaps a few years older, and they made it their mission to explore the world on behalf of every child who seemed stuck in the urban squaller that past generations had created for them. They captivated their audience with a weekly half hour show, educating kids on matters unimportant and often impractical though very entertaining. And so, it was with the thought of a metal tube attached to an udder that my journey into milking a cow was going to be completely shattered as I walked lazily into a barn I had never wanted to enter.
The metal bucket was large, and the farmer even larger. But then of course, when you are 7 years old, everything seems massive. He came in dressed in his one piece ‘boiler suit’ or ‘skivvys’ as we used to call them, with a flat cap, not tartan, but grey and wooly, unshaven, as I recall although time may have played tricks on my recollections. He took the bucket, and as we stood and watched, like spectators at a football game just waiting for something to happen, he grabbed a wooden stool, sat down, placing the bucket under the cows udders, and began to squeeze. This, I thought, wasn’t the way it was supposed to be, because Blue Peter had told me so! The smell in the barn was vile, especially for a city dweller who’d never been outside his own street, but my father kept reassuring all of us, that this stench would clear our lungs and indeed was good for us! What a load of bolloks! Nice one dad!
And so, milking progressed, and as the cow became more and more restless, the whole purpose of our being there became more and more boring. I mean how can watching a man, a stranger to boot, squeezing the nipples of a cow, be anything other than boring when you’re 7 years old? Nothing beat Action Man, your version of GI Joe, in those days, and milking a cow on a farm, well, lets just say, never a thought had been given.
With all that said, and with interest failing, one of THE most profound things ever to happen to me in my entire life took place, without warning and without reason. As I had told you, the bucket was strategically placed under the cows udders in order to catch all the milk. We were on a promise. The farmer had assured us that there was nothing better than warm cows milk, and as soon as he was done he would allow us all to drink this fresh, delicious, elixir, in order that when we returned to the big city, we could tell all of our pals that we were privileged enough to experience milk in the raw and not out of a bottle. In those days, the British government has issued a decree that every kid in every school class got a free bottle of milk every day, paid for by the tax payers! There was no way our teeth were going to remain amongst the worst on the planet, or our bones. Problem was, the belief that milk cured these issues completely, was exaggerated and unfortunately incorrect. It was our dentists and doctors who were the issue and not the cows! I am a walking example of British tooth decay created by poor dentistry!
Anyway, our excitement brewing, our anticipation at a peak, when suddenly and out of the blue, the fucking cow manages to piss into the bucket that was half filled with milk! Yeugh!!!!!!! Holy cow! (Funny, but true, I remember my friend Raymond saying those exact words, there and then!) The farmer took no notice and continued milking. Surely not, I hear you say, but alas, it was true and when done, he got up, took the bucket and placed it in line with all the other full buckets he’d managed to coax from the cows that had gone before this peeing culprit.
My face turned white, my stomach went sour and bile appeared from nowhere, on to the straw floor, making the stench from the cow dung and puke, probably the worst smell I’d ever experienced up until that point in my short life. My dad was embarrassed, my sisters and friends saw what had happened, not only to the milk, but to my well being, and joined in the chorus with a bile and puke rendition that would rival any Gun’s and Roses concert where the audience were spilling their guts from too much booze, drugs and curry consumption. We were a mess, a disaster, and headed back to the farmhouse for an early bath and a good telling off.
That evening, when dinner was served, and milk placed on the table, I puked, as if on cue, once again. Since that night, that awful day, I have never drunk a single drop of milk, either from a carton or bottle and to this day, remain closeted behind a fear that not only am I drinking cow piss, but that if any milk is placed next to me in a glass, I will once again, render my guts on the kitchen floor. At school I suffered for years, only because everyone drank their milk and I didn’t. I got into all sorts of bother from both school teachers and bullies alike. Each one, in their own way, confirming my weirdness by an inability not to inhale this magic white natural liquid. Thank goodness, eventually the government saw common sense and ceased the delivery of milk to all schools due to lack of funding. Yaba daba doo! I was home free at last, but by this time I was 12!
And so, Tiree will remain in folklore as the place where milk ceased to take any part in my diet. Am I any the worse off for my abstention? No. So all you doctors, nutritionists, and dentists, who claim to know better, who claim that milk does a body good, who claim that we need the calcium intake through milk, and who have slammed my inability to inhale that horrible liquid, I say, FUCK Moo! Sorry, You!