‘Oban the Per­fect Des­ti­na­tion’

The Oban Times - - LEISURE -

‘Oban the Per­fect Des­ti­na­tion’ is the ti­tle of Stron­tian writer Sylvia Hehir’s short story which beat more than 60 oth­ers to win at Tar­bert Book Fes­ti­val.

Be­fore col­lect­ing her prize of a res­i­den­tial week at Scot­land’s cre­ative writ­ing cen­tre, Mo­ni­ack Mhor, Ms Hehir had the daunt­ing task of read­ing her story to an au­di­ence which in­cluded BBC travel pre­sen­ter Paul Mur­ton.

Ms Hehir’s ‘Sea Change’ was also short-listed for this year’s Cale­do­nia Novel Award.

The pre­sen­ta­tion at Loch Fyne Gallery with master of cer­e­monies Anne Hamil­ton, from Loth­ian Life, saw an in­ter­na­tional as­sem­bly of writ­ers make the fifth fes­ti­val’s short­list of six.

Si­mon Cow­droy from Mel­bourne Aus­tralia, started the read­ings with his thrilling ‘Click,’ fol­lowed by Dol­lar’s Kate Donne with ‘Frae a Haggis’. Lin­lith­gow’s Mary Eas­son’s ‘Who Do We Think We Are,’ was fol­lowed by Ms Hehir and her full story is re­produced be­low. Mike Hunter, from Nova Sco­tia was un­able to at­tend and his ‘Bar­bie and Me’ was read out from a Kin­dle. Mid-Ar­gyll au­thor Sue Stubbs from Kilmichael Glas­sary fin­ished with her tale: ‘The Mad Crone of Com­ri­ach.’

‘Oban the Per­fect Des­ti­na­tion’ by Sylvia Hehir:

‘Dun­can an­gled mother’s chair at the din­ing table. She liked to be able to see the bird table through the bay win­dow, al­though this blus­tery morn­ing the only vis­i­tors were the res­i­dent black­birds and the ubiq­ui­tous chaffinches.

‘In the kitchen, Dun­can filled the ket­tle be­fore turn­ing on the gas, strik­ing a match and plac­ing the ket­tle amongst the blue flick­er­ing flames. ‘Cof­fee or tea for the flask,’ he called, but any an­swer was drowned out by the spit­ting of the ba­con in the fry­ing pan. It was an un­nec­es­sary ques­tion any­way. When had mother wanted any­thing other than tea? Still the day might come, he con­sid­ered, when he would have a say.

‘He turned round sud­denly; a shadow had passed be­hind him. And was that the smell of mother’s Gar­de­nia per­fume? He chastised him­self, know­ing full well that mother couldn’t get out of her chair by her­self.

‘He watched a jay fly past the kitchen win­dow and counted out loud, but there was just the one. He dis­liked their un­nec­es­sary noise and their tawdry colours were de­cid­edly out of place around here. Still, they were prefer­able to those mag­pies. He won­dered if there was a su­per­sti­tion at­tached to the num­ber of jays seen. He hoped it wasn’t the same as for mag­pies. One was not a good num­ber to see, not today of all days. But as he re­cited the rhyme in his head, no other num­ber seemed ap­pro­pri­ate ei­ther. He was thank­ful, at least, that he’d not seen two.

‘They had de­cided on Oban for today. They’d tried Mal­laig first – the fish and chips there were the finest in all of Scot­land, mother had al­ways com­mented when they’d been there for fam­ily hol­i­days – but the wind had been far too strong. And at Kil­choan – an­other favourite hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion – the waves had been thrash­ing the rocks. So, Oban it would be.

‘Af­ter clear­ing away the break­fast things, Dun­can se­lected ap- pro­pri­ate out­er­wear. Push­ing aside his anorak, he opted for his fa­ther’s old over­coat, hop­ing the weather wouldn’t get too warm as the day drew on. Then gath­er­ing up his back­pack, they set out for their bus. He’d been right. Oban was the per­fect place. A gen­tle ruf­fling on­shore breeze caused him to push his hat on more se­curely as he set­tled mother into a se­cluded spot be­hind the seafront wall. Un­used to such an ac­tion at his age, he spread out the over­coat and sat down be­side her on the rounded peb­bles.

‘The lid was a bit stiff, the thread stick­ing as he un­screwed it. But in a few turns the contents of the or­nate jar could be seen. He up­turned the jar gen­tly and tipped mother out onto peb­bles at his side, let­ting her min­gle with the sand and the tiny empty crab shells. A seag­ull squawked at him. That was all right too – you ex­pect seag­ulls at Oban.

‘He took out the flask from the back­pack and poured out the weak tea.

‘He could have cof­fee an­other time.’

From left: Mo­ni­ack Mhor’s Rich­mond Cle­ments with short story short-listed writ­ers: Si­mon Cow­droy from Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, Sue Stubbs, Mary Eas­son, win­ner Sylvia Hehir, and Kate Donne. Miss­ing is Nova Sco­tia au­thor Mike Hunter.

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