Sue Arnold: Take the high road for a simple island life

Every year I wonder what I'm still doing in the stews of London when all this could be mine for ever
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The Independent Online

Even worse than flying low-cost airlines is having to put up with other people's horror stories about Ryanair stewardesses ripping out their fingernails or granny's wheelchair being strapped to the fuselage of the easyJet flight to Glasgow with granny still in it.

Don't fly: that's the simple answer. Take trains, buses, ferries, bikes - yes, even your car if you have to - but above all take your time. Forget about long-distance holidays; subscribe to a wonderful new publication called Archipelago that extols in pictures, poetry and prose the much underestimated glories of the 5,500 skerries, skelligs, eyots, ailsas, inches, eileanns or just plain islands separating the Atlantic and the North Sea that we commonly refer to as England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

At the risk of sounding smug, we've been doing it for yonks. Fifteen years ago we built a house on what the Argyll and Bute planning department called "a fly-blown piece of bog'' on an island off the west coast of Scotland with a view of loch, ben and skerry that would touch the heart of Attila, Genghis, Vlad or even Donald Rumsfeld.

Every year I look out at the acres of flag iris and meadowsweet, at the yachts scudding across Loch Linnhe, their sails billowing like ballerinas and, on a clear day, the purple peaks of the Paps of Jura and wonder what on earth I'm doing still living in the stews of London when this, all this, could be mine for ever.

Life on an island is so much calmer, greener, simpler. It almost didn't happen this year. We set off as usual at 5am, car packed to the gunwales with golf clubs, fine wine and audio books and then less than 10 miles along the motorway there's this beeping sound. It's coming from a red warning light on the dashboard with a picture of a wheel next to it telling us that something is wrong with one of the tyres.

In the old days you didn't need a computer chip to tell you your tyre was buggered. You could feel it in the same way that you didn't need a sell-by date to tell you that the milk was off. You could smell it.

So anyway my husband, who knows absolutely nothing about car maintenance and who isn't, but might well have been, christened Jeremiah, glowers, curses, pulls on to the hard shoulder, walks slowly round the car squinting at all four wheels, gets back into the driving seat and says with the irrefutable authority of the highly skilled automotive engineer that they look all right to him. It must be the computer, he says. It probably needs resetting. He presses a few buttons, the beeping stops, the warning light goes off and we're on our way once more to Bonnie Scotland and simple, carefree, computer-free island life.

The whole incident reminded me of that story about the pilot apologising to passengers for the delay in taking off. There was a technical fault in the engine, he said, and they were waiting for a new part. Hours passed. The plane remained on the runway; the passengers grew restive. Intermittently the pilot advised that they were still waiting for the mechanic with the new part. Finally the plane took off. "New part?" a passenger asked the stewardess. "No, new pilot," she replied.

Islands aren't computer free, of course. A few years ago, thanks to some EC educational directive, every island household in Argyll and Bute was entitled to a free computer with so many hours' free IT instruction. Little old ladies in isolated crofts on Colonsay, whose definition of advanced technology until then meant little more than using four rather than two knitting needles to cast off socks, suddenly found themselves in internet chat rooms discussing home-baking and Facebook with little old ladies in isolated crofts in Nova Scotia.

Our island has its own community website and an award-winning heritage centre complete with turf roof where visitors from America and Australia can research their Caledonian ancestors by looking up old parish registers on the computer. They can also find out all about St Moluag, the Irish monk who beat St Columba to Lismore in AD526 and is now its patron saint. Poor St Columba had to make do with Iona instead.

Not being a driver - I have a bicycle with panniers to cycle the three miles to the Lismore shop for basic essentials, bread, bacon, pliers, fishing rods, whisky, newspapers, etc - I wasn't over concerned that the rusting wreck, aka the Peugeot 306, we keep on the island wouldn't start.

It wasn't the battery or the engine or the tyres. It was, guess what, the computer, or rather the immobiliser. Same thing. Who cares? I haven't time to worry about immobilisers. I have more important things to do, such as putting up a new washing line, seeing if the tide's out so that I can prise some mussels from the rocks for supper tonight, or walking over to my neighbour the fisherman to order langoustines for tomorrow's lunch.

Who needs a car? I've got my bike. Maybe I should invite David Cameron, another cycling enthusiast, to stay for the weekend. I'd better try to book the ministerial car that follows it on to the Oban ferry.

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