Author: Mary J. MacLeod

Publisher: Arcade Publishing

ISBN:  978-1-61145-831-2

The Hebrides, which are two groups of islands lying just off the west coast of mainland Scotland, provide the setting for this charming collection of anecdotal experiences of a country nurse during the 1970s. Throughout the book, MacLeod is so intent on preserving the privacy of the islanders that she refers to the “wild, exposed” island which she and her family made their home by the name “Papavray,” so don’t try looking it up on any map—you definitely won’t find it. Despite her use of such a pseudonym, however, her experiences are made not one whit less real to us, her readers, who readily come to feel part of her innermost circle of friends, so welcome and beguiling is her approach.

The delicacy and vibrancy of MacLeod’s text resonates with the warmth and passion of the Hebridean islanders among whom she worked. Anyone who has ever lived close to the sea, and who has savored its salt tang on their lips, cannot help but become enthralled by the sensuous wonders of the landscape that she describes in such vivid and glowing terms. Almost at once, one feels close to her, and becomes intimately concerned with her own concerns, as she cycles her way around the island from one patient to another. Her description of the surrounding environs is close to mythical in the poetic cadence of her speech, fringing in its mysteriousness on much loved passages of Daphne du Maurier: “The sky had cleared and the winding road was bright in the moonlight, while the dark waters of small lochs sparkled among the reeds.”

The appeal of the islands and island life permeates the text, from where MacLeod explains how she, her husband and sundry children decided to abandon the hectic pace in the south of England, together with all its stresses and daily pressures, to become “middle-aged dropouts,” living on Papavray, to where they become so enmeshed with island life that they themselves start to seem an integral part of the rural landscape. Despite having to, at first, conduct negotiations for land ”through a fog of half-understood cultural differences,” they soon warm to the generous hospitality of the island folk, with the latter finding MacLeod’s husband’s electrical skills and her own nursing ones ever more indispensable. Somewhat akin to James Herriot’s experiences in the Yorkshire Dales, the author recounts her experiences with the locals in tones of mixed a/bemusement and respect for their endurance and adaptability to the relatively harsh environment in which they live.

The series of adventures upon which the MacLeod family embarks are recounted lovingly and with consummate ease, much of it being in direct speech, so that one feels as though one were there, experiencing the scenes unfolding before one. The pace of Call the Nurse flows smoothly and eloquently through the pages, with the reader becoming ever more engrossed with the ebb and flow of island life. No matter how jaundiced a view of people you might usually, you will not fail to be drawn into admiring the close-knit functioning of human interrelationships in the relative backwater of Papavray and to come to view others around you in a kinder light, aware, but at least a smidgeon more tolerant, of their foibles and failings—such a humanizing effect does this book have on one. Thoroughly recommended for both old and young, next time you have a break and wish to escape the rat race for just a short while, do try reading Call the Nurse—you won’t be disappointed.


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