In every paradise there is a serpent...

“You write an occasionally interesting blog,” said Hector Mackenzie, hard-working and thrifty editor of this fine publication. “Why don’t you do something for the Ross-shire Journal? Don’t expect to be paid, though.”

The offer was tempting although the timing poor. So far in 2008 I’ve celebrated my fiftieth birthday, got married, sold a house and quit a job – after that lot, what’s left to chronicle that won’t be an anti-climax? Hector insisted. Blame him, not me.

So, the story so far… Two months ago I threw caution to the winds and married the slim, intelligent, raven-haired beauty I’d met a year earlier while dabbling in the murky world of internet dating. Our first encounter, following a week of email correspondence, took place in the romantic setting of Borders bookshop in Inverness. Three weeks later we were engaged.

The name of this goddess, however, must remain a secret because of the anonymity required by her profession. We shall call her Matchgirl.

By the end of the year I’d abandoned my home in Maryburgh and taken up residence in The Rural Retreat, her secluded Black Isle cottage, which she shared with Bess, Ross-shire’s most ruthless and raucous rodent assassin. My invasion of feline territory was received with initial distrust but, having bought the moggy’s affection with liberal helpings of Whiskas and Tesco Finest cat food, we now get along famously – so much so that Matchgirl’s lap is usually spurned in favour of mine. Cats don’t know the meaning of loyalty.

In June this year, when I decided I could live comfortably in The Rural Retreat despite an upper storey ceiling incompatible with someone of my extended height, the house in Maryburgh was placed on the market. Days later the first rumbles of economic thunder heralded the storm that became the credit crunch. Timing was never my strong point.

I was lucky. After a period of nail-biting tension the house changed hands at the end of October. What’s more, ten years of property price boom left me with a tidy profit and the wherewithal to down-size my working week from five to three days. This desirable state of affairs will begin next month when my new-found spare time will be devoted to writing fiction, cajoling stony-hearted publishers to take an interest in the end product, and gigging with Shaker, the pub rock band in which I play bass guitar. Matchgirl will benefit from a home-cooked meal every evening when she returns from her mysterious labours. No change there, then.

Life is good. But in every paradise there is a serpent. Ours is Mr Moneybags, the local landowner, who wishes to build on the field adjoining The Rural Retreat. Opposition has been marshalled in the shape of WHaMM (We Hate Mr Moneybags) which has deluged Highland Council’s planning department with letters of opposition. Drama is sure to follow.

Also on the horizon is something closer to farce. This will be staged next month when, following a foolhardy challenge of mine, the Ross-shire Journal’s esteemed editor and I will cross the Kessock Bridge to take part in the 5k Highland Santa Run. This features several hundred Father Christmas look-alikes pounding the streets of Inverness cheered on by spectators with nothing better to do. We’ll be the two at the back, for neither of us is noted for athletic prowess.

There’s more. Planning for the belated honeymoon – a safari through the wilds of Namibia – will soon begin in earnest, as will the shopping spree in which Matchgirl assembles her wardrobe for the African odyssey.

Perhaps there will be a few things to write about after all.

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