I live on Arran, but the word ‘island’ makes me think of one place in particular: Harris. It’s hard to say why – especially as it is only half of the Outer Hebridean island Harris and Lewis. But I hang its standout island-ness in my mind on this: my first taste of traditional Scottish porridge. It was the early ‘00s and we were staying in a sea-beaten bed and breakfast somewhere on the west coast of Harris, right on the shore, where darkness fell at night like a stage curtain and the local stock-all shop sold a jumble of hams and axes. The B&B was really just a room in an elderly lady’s house; I remember her kind, lilting accent. The breakfast room had faded, ditsy wallpaper and these gaping rectangular windows meshed with salt spray. As I explored the savoury quality of the porridge (back home we served it sweet with gloopy syrup), I remember gazing through the window and thinking – “we are at the ends of the earth”. Through the foggy glass, the same wind that spread the salt across the windows made the washing on the line hang horizontally. Beyond the airborne bedsheets, the garden sloped to a beach with sand whiter than toothpaste. The salty porridge rested on my tongue as I noticed that the sea was the colour of aquamarine, my birthstone, and it dissolved into the sky, thick with mist, and I felt that in some way I dissolved, too. There was just that lingering salty taste and that vastness beyond and around and in the salt-sprayed windows. These days, traditional is the way I serve porridge. The taste of it still takes me back to that place that seemed suspended like driftwood in an endless ocean. An island – a place untouched by time and space.
I wrote this piece in response to a prompt from Hillcrest Creative on Arran. It was originally published as part of a collection on their website, which you can read here.