The ferry to Arran leaves Ardrossan five times a day, – with an extra late boat on Fridays during summer sailings. On Sundays, there is no early morning death boat – on weekdays and Saturdays the boat departing at 7am would carry the coffined remains of people who were to be buried on the island.
The boat times have remained the same since my childhood and probably long before thate. The ferries have been replaced by larger vessels over the years. I remember the small, dark wooden decks of the Caledonia and the turning plate at the bow on the car deck.
Before the Zeebrugge ferry disaster in October 1987, the doors from the upper decks to the car decks were left open for the duration of the journey; as children we took delightful advantage of this.
The fun was heightened if we were awoken at five in the morning to catch the death boat. With only a handful of lorries and cars on board we would run about on the green metal floor in this huge arena; occasionally stopping to climb on the pipes and stick our heads out of the portholes until the cold salty spray forced us to retreat – the stronger the wind the more we laughed.
While my nieces cannot partake in this freedom anymore, they can enjoy the other activities which we have shared as a family – cycling to Corrie, playing games on the large square lawn, hill walking, beach-combing.
In contrast to the character of the above boat I remember the first time I saw the present ferry, the Caledonian Isles, sweep up to Adrossan pier. It was late evening in October and I was picking my brother and his fiancée up from the last boat. A huge shiny ferry docked with deck lights ablaze like a superstar facing the paparazzi – she was beautiful.
At lunchtime on Easter Friday, I was waiting to board one of the busiest boats I have encountered in years. Two streams of passengers were stepping on to the gangway under a bright sun and cold wind. Many day trippers had arrived with inappropriate clothing so there was a collection of white legs with goose bumps; there were mothers in pretty clothes and children with small bags on wheels, outdoor types with rucksacks and helmets, men with golf bags and friends, drinkers and sailors, couples and groups all wanting a piece of island life for a day or two.
On my first day, as I awaited my nieces’ return from a cycling trip with their parents, I dug up primula seedlings that had grown on the lawn. My father and brother were gathering leaves at the side of the drive below the vibrant bloom of the cherry blossom by the low gurgle of the burn. The smoke from the garden fire twisted through the sun that made sharp lines between the branches of the damson tree. At mid-afternoon I could hear giggles and see cycling helmets above the heather strewn hedge.
In the warmth of the afternoon we played croquet and frisbee as the willow warblers finished their song with a downward drone. Some members of the family read papers or books on the weathered wood of the garden benches.
In the evening we ate homemade moussaka and salad; jokes and stories led us into the darkness of night. Just as we had done as children, the girls wanted to play dice and card games – we still join in, without the chores of home there is more time for play.
For the first time, neither of my nieces wanted to be read a story, I am redundant, I experience a sense of loss. However, I am pleased that they are book-worms and able to read a proper book. I am sleeping in the same room as the girls. When I come to bed I can hear their light breath below the shadow of the sleeping warrior – Arran’s mountain range.