The house in my title turned out to be in Dornoch, which is only a hundred odd miles from Skye after all. Yes, I’ve been scouring the self catering companies for holiday accommodation and am again astounded by their mendacity. Lies about location are common, with well-known villages and towns substituted for ones more remote or poorly regarded. Location maps of surpassing vagueness are provided with a blob plonked in the midst of nothingness to mark the cottage in question. This tactic has been well used by Ryanair over the years as anyone who has arrived at VENICE (Treviso) or PARIS (Beauvais) can witness.
Another deceptive device is the photograph. A shot taken with the house in foreground shows the blue sea immediately behind it. Only local knowledge tells you that between the house and the sea lies the local sewage facility. An attractive frontage fills the photo. Only sad experience tells you that this blocks out the six very adjacent identical bungalows and the holiday park next door. The photo gives you an eyeful of fresh decor and unspoilt furniture. Only cynicism born of an overdose of this stuff tells you that probably the photo is as old as the last renovation in 1998.
The descriptions of houses are also instructive: “ingenious use of space” means a cat cannot be swung in the kitchen; while “a real home from home” means that the owners have left their kid’s toys and granny’s old sofa in situ.
In despair, I look for an advert which will give me the sort of information I actually need, without distortion or spin. just the facts, please. The daft thing is, that most of the houses are in fact very pleasant, but the culture of concealment and spin means that I cannot rely on anything I am told about them. “The facts are friendly!, I want to shout, “just give me the facts!”
Perhaps even politics, whose practitioners are famous for their economies with truth, would benefit from a return to facts. Imagine if a Tory minister were to say,”Don’t be stupid, you’re not poor because of Polish plumbers, you’re poor because that’s what capitalism does. It takes jobs away from dearer labour and gives them to cheaper, stands to reason. so shut up or emigrate to Bangladesh, loser.” He might win votes for saying something that sounded like truth. Or if all left wing politicians were to say,”sorry, we can’t really do anything about poverty or public services because that would mean PUTTING UP TAXES, which is utterly unthinkable, even by Jeremy Corbyn.” Any utterance however offensive, that refers to facts rather than fairy tales, would help politicians as well as citizens because it would help the latter to understand the issues with which the former have to deal.
The same goes for religion. My church says that of course many churches are in terminal decline, when what it really means is that perfectly decent groups of believers can no longer afford vast stone buildings and a lot of seriously expensive clergy. It would help puzzled believers if the church were to declare publicly that the Bible was written by fallible human beings and that CCTV at Jesus’ tomb ( if he had one) would not have recorded any unusual activity 2 days after his death. The facts are friendly; God is in the facts.
That may sound a bit negative but if God is not in the facts then he/ she is no better than a story about a Skye cottage in Dornoch or the other more harmful one that says if England got rid of its East European immigrants it would suddenly revert to being merry olde England with rings on its fingers and bells on its toes. If God is not in the facts than God is merely part of a nice story that allows me to feel superior to unbelievers, gays and women who’ve had abortions. If God is not in the facts, believers have to ignore people who trust facts, like those who are desperately trying to pesuade reluctant citizens to look at the alarming facts of climate change.
I am not arguing against imagination, which often creates the hypotheses that can help to establish facts, and which takes sets of facts and tells the story of their meaning. Imagination is a partner of factual investigation, not its enemy. But I am arguing against deception, evasion, distortion and mystification, that block our access to the truth, of holiday cottages or of God.