Uncle Pip in Wintertime
We were in the islands recently. By we I mean myself, my wife, and her mum. And by the islands I mean the Hebrides of course. Where else would we be a-going?
It seems that my M-i-L is a romantic. Of course you have to be to go to the Hebrides. Unless you are a hiker or a climber, which she isn't. The wind-swept, rocky isles have entered her soul. And while visiting the Western Isles in her Faery dreams, it seems that she has met a relation of mine of whom she was previously unaware. No wonder skeptical Dr. Johnson while visiting Skye could entertain stories of second sight. These islands do something to you. But I'll let her tell the story of the encounter in her own words.
"I had a dream about Kiloran the other night." Has she been reading D. DuMaurier lately? I almost hear the word Manderley on her lips. "I dreamt we were at the Laird's estate and there was snow on the ground. I was unhappy because I had forgotten my camera and here was a chance to take a picture of snow in Scotland, something I had never seen before. We went to the coffee shop and I bought a disposable camera. At that moment a tall man came in and you and he greeted and hugged each other. It was your Uncle Philip and he said that you were looking well and asked if were you still in the RAF . . ."
After this I felt I had to fill her in. I sent her this note:
"Uncle Pip, bless his memory (which isn't what it used to be), was a much-decorated squadron leader himself during the War (You know, the "big" one.) He flew a Hurricane until he was shot down by an Messerschmidt 110 over the Channel. He could have died for the shame of having been downed by one of those unweildy two-engined monstrosities. He always contended that it was a lucky shot by the radio-gunner, who could not possibly have seen him properly because of he sun. Bailed out and was rescued by a yachtsman named Miniver. (A beautiful wife Miniver had, Pip later told me, she ought to have been in the pictures.) Then he had a go with one of those new Spitfires. No Jerry would-be ace ever got behind him in one of those!
"But he did get shot up badly a few times. A bit of a basket case after 1942. He went from one veteran's home to another until he got over the shakes. Wasn't in it at the end. Always felt kind of left out about the victory over Europe. Couldn't have children because of his injuries, so he had a tendency to live through the exploits of his nephews, and, more recently, his great-niece, Rose Elizabeth, the terror of the Gulf skies.
"Although I was in the RAF for a few years, I had a desk job. I did damage estimates and statistical studies. I looked at so many photographs taken from on high that more than a few times I felt dizzy and even airsick. But I never flew an hour. I hadn't the heart to tell Uncle Pip.
"He wanders around Scotland these days hoping to be caught by surprise by sudden military overflights. Happens more than you might think, he tells me. Especially in winter, with fresh snow on the ground. Or else he takes tour boat rides and other cruises, hoping to spot submarines. The only submersible he ever saw was in Loch Ness. But he remains eager to catch a foreign U-boat in the act. He is always writing warning letters to the Department of Defense and the Foreign Office.
"This month, although the weather can be very uncertain in Scotland and storms can brew up in a flash, swamping even small ships, he and his old buddy Freddie "Giggles" Smythe-Jones are rowing a small fishing dory from the north coast of Caithness to Scapa Flow. He figures it's been a while, and the Jerries must be up to something by now. And he has seen so many of their spies posing as tourists this year. 'I'll be in at the finish of the next one,' he tells me. 'And at the beginning as well.'
"For some folks, every year brings fresh hope."