There are many beautiful islands around the world, of all shapes and sizes. Indeed, our little planet is but a pretty island bopping in the vast sea of the universe, but it is commonly agreed by many that Flooney is the most beautiful of them all. Situated near the southern end of the island chain that is the Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, Flooney is the jewel amongst jewels of a priceless pendant clinging bravely to the bosom of a very large woman. To the north the islands stretch from Eriskay to Lewis, and to the south from Vatersay to Berneray.
Flooney is a story of contrasts, equally rugged and windswept as it is soft and bountiful. Its hills and glens are carved out of a geologist’s dream and blanketed with a florist’s most colourful fantasy. From the island’s highest point you can see nothing but life-giving ocean in every direction, and along its beautiful wide open beaches you will feel the warmth of the sand on a sunny afternoon. If you want evidence of the island’s wonderfullness just look to the sky. An innumerable number of bird species call Flooney home. All you have to do is peek along a cliff wall or gently pull back a branch and you will find some of nature’s most beautiful winged creations chirping away or just eyeing you curiously.
Unspoilt, beautiful, perfect.
But this story isn’t about singing birds, pretty flowers or majestic mountains. It is about big business, the machinations of government, one man and his rake, and what happened one lovely, horrible, summer.
As for true?
To some, it might seem improbable, illogical, impossible. If you happen to question the authorities their official stance will be what it always has been: that such a thing could never happen, and they will gladly remind you of their version of the events. But it ought to be remembered that it is accepted government practise the world over to use trickery and deceit and good ol’ fashioned spin to distract, twist, and befuddle. They were mostly successful, and instead of this version of the events being recognised as truth it was instead catalogued as the stuff of fantasy and tall tales. The thing is the authorities couldn’t contain the story completely and so they pulled from their bag of tricks some of the most tried and tested reality distortion techniques, truth-twisting mechanisms, and mind-mixing devices. They played down, hid, and fogged things up where necessary, and sliced, spliced, and diced at will.
Governments are good at this sort of thing. And don’t be confused here as to what type of government is good at this sort of thing. This is the one area politicians and bureaucrats the world over agree on: whether they are left, right, up or down, democratic, autocratic, plutocratic, whatever – they are all in cahoots.
That lovely, horrible, summer.
That nefarious government decree.
His name was Willie MacKinnon, and though he didn’t wear a crown his daughters thought he was a king, and to his wife he would always be the knight who had swept her off her feet. Willie was from a line of shell fishermen, or cockle rakers to be more precise, stretching back to his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Archie MacKinnon. Prior to Archie taking up the rake the MacKinnons had been pirates. But a chance discovery along the shores of their fair isle saw Archie’s fortunes change and his sword hung up for good, on a peg in the shed. He had thought it fortuitous at the time as the ever-growing sophistication of weaponry was making pirating an increasingly dangerous profession and was falling out of fashion. Others also took up the rake, but not as many as had initially planned or ever would. Willie had a rake in his hands before he could walk and by the time he was three had filled his first bucket. By the age of seven he’d raked the whole beach, and on his fourteenth birthday Willie quietly promised himself that he would follow in his father’s footsteps for the rest of his life, as had his father and his father and his father and so on and so on before.
And, contrary to what some might think, it was not because cockle raking had become a lucrative MacKinnon family business with equity and private holdings and big bank accounts all passed down from generation to generation. The thing is, in the world of cockle raking, there isn’t much in terms of capital assets. There’s certainly no prized contact list, nor is there any need for complicated debt instruments, credit default swaps, lucrative public offerings, off-shore banking or other such things.
Willie decided to follow in all those footsteps for one reason.
You see, he came to believe that what appeared to be horrible and backbreaking and tediously boring work to some, was actually the greatest job in the world. Whether he was being thrashed by the wet and wild Atlantic winds, or roasted under the midsummer’s sun, Willie understood that there was nothing quite like following the rhythm of the ocean when providing for his family. Every day he followed the tide out as that great blanket of water was gently pulled back to reveal all, and it was like Mother Nature would whisper to him, ‘Okay, son, come along and rake up a few of my little gems.’ Then hours later the tide would come in and inch by inch nudge him away, and Mother Nature would again whisper, ‘Okay, son, that’s enough for now. You can go home and come back again later.’ Willie MacKinnon was no philosopher, but he knew in his own humble way that there was something special about toiling alongside the tides.
Be warned and don’t be fooled. In the following pages you will read of tragedy and triumph, love and hate, despair and discontent, the death of hope and the hope of new life. There’s a sea monster that really does exist and the sort of curiosities that go along with island life. But before we continue let us just revisit this last sentence, in the off chance some readers might be thinking, ‘Sea monsters? That’s just ridiculous. There’s no such thing as sea monsters! This is obviously a tall tale!’ Let us be reminded that in spite of what some might think, sea monsters really do exist, and believe it or not, you don’t have to look very far to find one. Ask any of the locals on Flooney about sea monsters – they will tell you.