lord george robertson of port ellen commenced his political career as labour member of parliament for hamilton (which subsequently became hamilton south in 1997) from 1978, when i was still at art college, until 1999. he was shadow secretary of state for scotland from '93 to '97 before becoming labour's secretary of defence under tony blair's government from '97 until '99. his profile increased considerably in 1999 when he became secretary general of nato until 2003. he was also granted a life peerage as baron robertson of port ellen.
george was brought up in the village of port ellen, islay, where his father was the local policeman, and he lived in the now defunct police station; apparently the cells are currently unfit for purpose, whatever that means, and there has even been talk of demolishing the building. george owns a house on the road behind bowmore's round church, and is often over on the island for holidays. ten years ago, ardbeg distillery had him fill a cask of whisky which dutifully sat in one of their warehouses waiting for the appropriate year when it could be poured into bottles. that year is now; the cask realised 202 bottles of ten year old ardbeg single malt. these will now be sold in presentation cases, appropriately labelled, at a cost of £220 each. before you figure that this is one of those cashing in moments, then you're absolutely correct, except that all the cash realised is being donated to erskine, a scottish charity caring for ex-servicemen and women. damn decent if you ask me.
why am i telling you this?
not that one wishes to name-drop, but george is a friend; we don't pop down the village of a thursday evening and share a pizza supper, but we have shared a table on the ferry, and had numerous conversations regarding digital photography. additionally, when still secretary general of nato, he once phoned me on a tuesday morning for a chat about nothing in particular, then signed off on the basis that whatever vehicle he was in was 'just approaching the yugoslavian border'. thus, when the editor of our local newspaper was unable to attend the presentation of the first bottle to george robertson, i was despatched to cover the event. and in the manner of mrs washingmachinepost about to go out for the evening, what on earth should i wear?
ardbeg distillery is about 23km from bowmore, so there's plenty of distance to get swot and hetty en route, particularly as the weather is currently warm, but threatening to deluge every now and again. smart but casual seemed to be a reasonable choice, or more realistically, compromise. just what derny clothing was invented for (i presume).
thus having almost sailed along the road to ardbeg, with a tailwind that would obviously be a toad of a headwind on the way home, i found myself standing in a darkened warehouse wearing a brown, short sleeved derny shirt, derny city shorts and socks, and my ardbeg cycle cap to show the sponsor that i really cared. with the exception of mark, the photographer, all were in suit, shirt and tie: glad i wasn't in lycra. it's not only a practical mode of dress for pedalling in heated circumstances, but scrubs up well for anything short of a royal investiture.
the shirt is neatly tailored rather than simply hung from the shoulder, the left of which is seemless, meaning an irritation free ride with a filled musette to carry a pair of converse all-stars and normal glasses. there's a zipped pocket on the front left, and another at the rear, bottom right, ideal for carrying money, cards, or an ipod or digital camera. the bottom three buttons are clearly displayed, while those further up are cunningly concealed, and though i dislike the the principle, it's an easy task to unfasten the concealed buttons. however, it's over-riding boon is that of being stretchy; not because of having to conceal an oversized cyclist within, but we tend to move in mysterious ways when on a bicycle, and the derny shirt restricteth not. while my travels were conducted entirely in daylight, there is a thoughtful loop at the back on which a flashing ight can be clipped.
the presentation went well; george was in affable frame of mind, and as befits a man with many years in public office, had a stream of anecdotes with which to regale all those present. the representatives from the erskine charity were suitably impressed and grateful for the amount of money they are likely to receive in a very short space of time, and even handed jackie (visitor centre manager) and i an erskine purple wristband each, which contrasts nicely with my yellow livestrong version.
one thing i did learn, which presents even more support for ralph steadman's conjecture that islay ought to pull up the drawbridge and declare itself an independent state: the number of casks currently sitting in just this distillery's bonded warehouses will realise £97 million for the uk treasury. multiply that by about eight, and it gives you an idea of how much this little island is contributing to narrowing that national debt. you'd figure we could get a decent road surface out of that lot.
i was darned right about that headwind on the return trip, though luck was very definitely with me. having missed a heavy shower while standing in ardbeg's warehouse, and narrowly missing a similarly sized downpour on the way home. aside from the occasional damp patch on the shirt, engendered by a not as breathable as i thought, jacket, i think i scrubbed up rather well. if derny clothing can present designer scruff such as i, at such formal informal occasions, i believe the phrase job done may be deemed appropriate.
the derny city shirt is available in petrol, brown, or grey in sizes small to xl and at a cost of 94 euros ($128)
posted monday 5 july 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................