The above image shows, on the left hand side, the cover of Adam Nicholson’s extraordinary book “Sea Room” – which represented part of my holiday reading while staying at the Old Schoolhouse, Drimnin. The image on the right is a photograph (not a particularly good one and taken on what was our only cloudy day!) from our holiday bedroom… overlooking the Sound of Mull.It proved to be the perfect “holiday read”.
The book is the “story of one man, three islands and half a million puffins”. Adam Nicholson’s father had bought the Shiants (three small, inhospitable islands set five dangerous sea miles off Lewis in Scotland) over 70 years ago for £1,400. Adam Nicholson was given the islands by his father, Nigel, when he was 21 and subsequently passed them on to his son Tom when he turned 21 in 2005 (the book was written in 2002). It’s a beautiful, passionate book (“a love letter no one else could hope to write so well” according to a review in the Sunday Telegraph) and I loved it.
But the book cover and the view from our holiday bedroom window was just the first of a series of small coincidences…
2. Initially, I hadn’t made the connection between Adam and his grandfather Harold Nicholson. I had read “The Harold Nicholson Diaries 1907-1963” (edited by Nigel Nicholson) in November 2011 – about his times as a diplomat and conservative MP. As I noted in my blog at the time: “despite his privileged background… and his smugness and snobbery (at times)”, I found the diaries gave a fascinating portrayal of British politics in the first half of the 20th century. Harold’s wife was poet/author/gardener, Vita Sackville-West. Adam Nicholson is married to Sarah Raven – gardener, writer, television presenter (you probably know all this… certainly, Moira did!).
3. A good friend, Bob, lent me Nicholson’s book after a conversation (over red wine, I suspect) when I told him our (then) imminent holiday in the western isles. He decided that the book would make appropriate holiday reading… and how right he was!
4. I think this was the fourth time we’d spent a holiday at Drimnin over the past 15 years but, in fact, we first had a holiday in this area 23 years ago (Easter 1990, blimey!) when we stayed in the Garden Flat at the impressive Ardtornish House, Lochaline (Jon Snow was a holiday neighbour and he and I spent many a happy hour chopping firewood together… well, a few minutes anyway!). The opportunity to stay at Ardtornish largely came about due to my architectural partner, Matthew, who had studied with the man who later became “factor” of the Ardtornish Estate. His name was Andrew Raven (he sadly died of cancer in 2005, aged 46).
5. And, wait for it… Sarah Raven was Andrew Raven’s sister.
Well, I think they're slightly spooky connections/coincidences, anyway!