Thursday, 17 January 2013

Thursday, January 17, 2013 -


by Flora Sharp
Published: Jan 17, 2013
Words: 17,558
Category: general
Orientation: M/F
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Big Mary

The Anderson family were not popular in the tiny West Highland village. There was a large element of jealousy in the villagers' dislike, because the family were the owners of, or had the extended lease on, no less than five properties in the neighbourhood. As crofters on both sides of the family they had also inherited grazing rights on a major acreage of the best sandy shoreline 'machair' as well as expanses of the good hill pastures.

Strangely, though, despite this apparently ideal state of affairs, none of their three children had chosen to remain and work the crofts or benefit from the business and tourist potential of all the properties. As a family they rarely mixed with the locals, the father's job as a travelling salesman taking him away for much of the time and the household being effectively ruled by the fearsome mother, known with good reason as Big Mary, with a rod of iron.

It was said that the children - who as they grew up were allowed no friends - had to work constantly on the croft, were very unhappy and all terrified of their mother, leaving the area just as soon as they were finished with their schooling. By the time Charlie Anderson retired, the miserable couple, now without their 'slave' labour, found their land deteriorating, their stock sickening and their many properties requiring maintenance from professional tradesmen - whom they were too mean to pay at the going rate.

To make ends meet and to pay for essentials such as animal feed and fencing materials, they began to require to rent out various bits of property. Unfortunately, as they had failed to maintain their other houses to a standard acceptable to the Tourist Board, they were forced to rely on local tenants, most of whom were employed, if they were employed at all, in very low paid labouring, farming or tourist-related jobs and could certainly not afford to pay much in the way of rent. From the late 1970s through the '80s the going rate for renting a cottage comprising two or three rooms and a kitchen was rarely more than £10 per week, depending on the other facilities, condition and accessibility of the property.


Morag was a student when she first came to the village to a summer job at the nearby country house hotel, doing a bit of everything - reception, bar work, waitressing, housekeeping. Initially she lived in one of the hotel's own bunk rooms, for which £3.50 or 50p per day was deducted from her wages each week. This also covered her meagre but adequate meals. An outgoing and attractive 20 year-old, she loved the variety of the job and entered into local life with a vengeance, including a turbulent but exciting relationship with Donald MacLeod, the tearaway son of a local farmer.

Inevitably when autumn and the start of term approached, like many a misguided student before her, she decided that the village was where she wanted to spend the rest of her life!