As the small plane circles the Isle of Islay, everyone begins to crane at the windows to catch a glimpse of the dark blue sea and the open expanse of moors spreading in every direction. I find myself doing the same. As I descend from the plane and take a deep breath of the clean, cold salty air, I realize that it’s been years since I’ve last been here. I’ve forgotten just how beautiful it is. The stillness in the land that makes me profoundly grateful to be alive.
Our first dinner, eating the most amazingly succulent, fresh wild Scottish lobsters you have ever tasted, was a celebration. Unexpectedly, and happily, Laura’s father Captain Tom had just sold the house that day. The downside was that the closing was in a month’s time. With over 70 rooms and 24 bedrooms, they now have an enormous amount of furniture and personal affects that need to be sold, given away or sent to children.
Now I know why I’m here. I know how to move house. And with this crazy castle karma I have, I’m not afraid of big houses. So I offer to Laura to create an inventory. 70 rooms in three days. I create three enormous excel spreadsheets, dividing the house into floors, rooms, and then listing each piece of furniture with a short description and a photograph. Day after day, room by room, I sit at the computer while Laura takes photographs and calls out descriptions of the furniture, paintings, soft furnishing. We even have an excel category called ‘ugly enough to burn’.
I wasn’t sure why I had suddenly agreed to visit Laura on the spur of the moment. I’ve just been away for over 10 weeks and had a lot of work to do in London. But there, sitting with my dear friend, helping her inventorize a house that she had generously lent me over fifteen years ago, I realize I’m doing what I call ‘give back’ time. And that makes me very happy.