George, a former British defense minister, received a life peerage when he took the NATO job, and he honored Islay and Port Ellen in choosing his title. "We were born over the police station in Port Ellen," Nigel said as we played the fourteenth hole. "Our father was the constable."
"He passed a story down to us," Nigel went on, "a story that occurred on a stormy night in 1948. A stranger, a very gaunt man with a mustache, knocked on the door of the police station. He said he had just arrived by boat from Jura, an even more isolated island next to Islay. He was en route to London and couldn't find a place to stay.
"So my father let him sleep in a vacant cell in the jail. The next day, my mother fed him porridge and gave him a cup of tea, and he caught the ferry to the mainland. But before he left, my father asked him to sign a ledger stating that he'd been there. He signed it 'Eric Blair.' You probably know him by another name."
I gave Nigel a blank look.
"It was George Orwell," Nigel said. "Eric Blair was his real name. He had just finished writing 1984 on Jura and was taking the manuscript to London."
It was hard to imagine Orwell committing his urban nightmare to paper in this beautiful countryside. But it was not hard to imagine the tradition of hospitality and kindness to strangers that had led to his hot breakfast. My Islay experience was full of hospitable people and of kindnesses done to me, a stranger.
I began to feel as if I had been taken into a clan by the second day of Cross Week, the day of the annual match between visitors and locals. It's a four-ball competition, better-net ball, with each match counting a point. My partner was a dentist from southern England named John Gordon, a four-time winner of the Cross. The local half of our foursome was led by another former Cross winner, Simon Crawford, an Islay native who is now assistant head greenskeeper at Gleneagles PGA Centenary course. Simon's partner never showed, so we recruited John's son Neil, who was a few days shy of his thirteenth birthday, to play for the locals. Neil got a stroke a hole and the rest of us played off scratch.