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the past 50 years. This, coupled with a profoundly ingrained desire to share this know-
ledge with you, does, of course, make him a deeply annoying person to watch a film with
if you haven't already seen it and he has, but it's a small price to pay.
Well, that and the fact that when he starts quoting Shakespeare and you think, Ha, I
know this bit! and join in, you inevitably find that the segment you know only extends
to cover the next couple of lines, whereas the verses John's regaling you with seemingly
stretch on, through and indeed occasionally beyond the next Act. Never mind, the guy's a
joy to be with and he did arguably save my life once, on a hotel balcony in Brighton very
early one morning back in the late eighties, so I shouldn't criticise just because he knows
stuff I don't (we'll come to the dangerous details of the balcony scene and Toby's 'Just a
Few Drinks for Friends' Party later).
Harriet, Toby's wife, is equally wonderful and even more ruddy-cheeked than her hus-
band, with a great, pealingly infectious laugh and a neat ability to control a fully loaded
quad bike while remaining undistracted by a small platoon of accompanying dogs and
children. She drives a mean chariot too (they have a chariot made from plywood, an old
car axle and what looks like bent scaffolding poles which gets lashed onto the Clydesdale
and pulled round the fields with Harriet and a bunch of bouncing, whooping, yelling chil-
dren aboard. No idea why). Harriet is usually to be found tramping across the farmyard
with a bucket of something noisome or just plain smelly swinging from each arm.
The Roxburghs and their farm present an image which, for all its eccentricities, en-
capsulates fairly representatively what British farming at a certain scale - i.e. not gigantic
- has become. Heads are kept above water by extreme, almost tortuous diversification,
so that as well as the animal husbandry side (involving both sheep and cattle, and both
enterprises perpetually and grotesquely complicated by a brain-boggling array of EU and
DEFRA rules and regulations for which the adjective 'Byzantine' seems woefully inad-
equate, hinting as it does, relatively speaking, at a regulatory scheme of sweet reason and
minimalist elegance compared to the carbuncular reality), money is made from the holi-
day flats converted from stables attached to the main farm building, from a pony-trekking
business and livery sideline, from a waste-paper-shredding scheme and from Toby's one-
week-a-month job as editor of the Ileach , Islay's very own newspaper. NB: regardless of
how Islay itself is pronounced, Ileach, which means somebody from Islay, is pronounced
'Eelich'. Sorry about this continual pronuncial complexity, but as my computer occasion-
ally informs me in its Stephen Hawking voice, It's not my fault.
When we arrive at the farm, Belinda, Toby and Harriet's daughter, has not long re-
turned from maternity hospital in Glasgow. Living on an island like Islay for any sub-
stantial amount of time will, unless you keep in very rude health indeed, eventually con-
vince you that helicopter air ambulances are very noisy and not that glamorous after all.
Belinda has returned with her tiny, beautiful brand new baby daughter called Beth, sister
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