I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days, that all these memories come flooding back to me.
Yes, that's what I thought when I first heard it mentioned when I answered the phone. You see, I had just left the removal firm that I had been working for and started my own business, using my van and called the business Van-Shift-It. It was just a side-line, really, to get more use out of the van that I had bought earlier to be able to run my second-hand furniture business. The shop was doing quite well really, but not well enough to support the constant costs of keeping a van of that size idle for long. Besides I was going through a financial nightmare. I was, at that time, renovating the building that my shop was in, as well as keeping the other house going until we were ready to move on completion of the renovation. Not the best of circumstances to be in really, when you have a young family to support as well.
I was up in the shed working on a piece of furniture at the time, when my daughter shouted up that there was a call for me. A bit annoying really as my hands were all messy and I was still tired after the late night before working on the house, but still it could be business.
Achiltibue you say, hang on I will phone you right back. It was the removal company asking me if I would take a load up there for them, as all their Lorries were away.
A long look at the map showed me that it was a small village way up on the West coast of Scotland which worked out to be over a hundred miles away. So I made out a price and called them back. They accepted my quote and wanted me to go the next day, which I thought was strange as they never haggled over the quote at all. The only reason this surprised me was because when I was employed by them I had constant battles to be paid my overnight expenses by them. Looking back on that now, I realise that it was just a passtime for the manager to have someone who would stand up to his tactics.
So very early next morning, on a crisp spring day, I arrived at their depot to pick up the load of two very large boxes! So large that, in fact, I had to ask them if there would be anyone at the other end to give me a hand to unload them, to which the answer was, yes of course. I had made a plan of the route out the night before and stuck it on my windscreen and I was away. There was a certain satisfaction that came over me as I drove along; the fact that I was now self-employed and being given work from the very firm that I had been employed by only some weeks earlier so I was feeling rather pleased with myself. The heavy load kept the van stable as the side winds hit on the open stretches of moorland as I headed west along a road that I had driven before when I was an employee.
A quick stop for a call of nature, away out in the wilds, and even time for a cup of tea and a smoke, after all I had made good time so far. It was then that I actually took the time to notice the wonderful countryside all around me. Funny, I thought. People come from all over the world to see this and here I am surrounded by it during a normal working day. I was lucky and did not realise it until then. As the road went on I noticed that I was on a brand new stretch of it that had a large sign saying that the EEC had donated the money to upgrade it, but it was not going to stay like that for long. As I came over the brow of yet another hill, I noticed the road conditions deteriorate suddenly, back to old twisty bumpy single track, with the passing places. If I thought that was bad little did I know what was yet to come. Like I said earlier, I had never been to this place before. The road conditions began to get worse the further on I drove. In fact I ended up driving on a wagon-type road where the grass grew in the middle and the bumps just simply grew larger. This was not at all good for the suspension of my van, let alone the fact that it was carrying a full load.
It was then I began to realise why the removal firm had, indeed, given me this contract and I could just imagine the smug look on the managers face if I went back and told him so. Looks like he got the last laugh on me, I thought at the time. Then, as I came over the crest of another hill, there it was. Not a village as I had imagined, more a scattering of buildings over a vast area. My imagination was running wild as I drove closer to this hamlet. Exactly where was this address? Not one of those houses away up on that other hill I thought, please not. I noticed a shabby-looking building that had a Post Office sign hanging over its door. The sign itself looked just as battered as the coastline in that area, as indeed did all the buildings. As I got out holding the piece of paper with the address on it, I stretched my aching back after such a long bumpy journey and made my way into the darkened interior of the Post Office.
There were a few people inside, much to my surprise, as I had not seen a soul over the past hour of my journey. They all turned around to see who was standing in the doorway sunlight.
'Can I help you?' asked the frail old lady behind the counter who looked like she should have retired years ago. 'Oh don't worry about them.' she said 'They can wait. After all they are not going anywhere.'
I walked over to the counter, squeezed past all the other customers and handed her the paper with the address. After a quick glance at it she handed it over to the person standing next to me.
'This is your address is it not Angus?'
'Aye!' he said. 'They have come at last.'
Then a sudden burst of excitement came over everyone in the room as they all pushed passed me and went outside to my van. I need not have worried about getting help to unload at all it seems, as the whole village was there to help. It turned out that my load was, in fact, two large outboard motors for the motor boat which was used to carry the mail to the outer islands.
So that was Achiltibuie, then, I thought as I headed home. The job was a lot easier than I thought. It looks like I got the better of the manager after all. Well, maybe not at that point, but I did a few weeks later. He phoned me up again with another urgent load that just had to be delivered and, funny enough, it was to the same place. He was not laughing for long when I told him it would cost a bit more than the first time due to wear and tear of my van. I knew for a fact that no one else would take on the job and he laughed as he said;
'OK, I will see you tomorrow when you come to pick up the load.'
So there were some advantages to being self employed after all!