Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Putting down roots

          The Monday morning, after an uncomfortable weekend without our furniture, finally arrived. We stirred as early as we could. Not because we wanted to, but because we couldn’t stand to spend another moment in those poxy little sleeping bags, two inches off the bare concrete floor. We knew that the first ferry from Kirkwall arrived just after nine, so I was standing at the gate by half past. I soon got bored. I climbed up the dunes to get a better view of the road. Oh! Look, you can see the sea on the other side of the island as well. Oh! You can see Start Point lighthouse AND the North Ronaldsay lighthouse, too. Now that’s plain greedy. I went back inside for fear of catching my death.
          An hour or more later, they completed the thirty minute drive from the pier. A huge blue pantechnicon arrived at our gate. This is when our problems started. They drove their huge leviathan up onto the dunes in order to get a good angle to reverse through our narrow gate. It didn’t work. They navigated close to the sight-splay fence in order to get through. It tore off a mud-flap and the wheel-arch trim from their monster truck before they decided that it didn’t work. Fortunately, they had brought a man with a van along with them, having bumped into him at the ferry and realising that there was every chance that he might be required. So the last one hundred metres of the gig was completed by relay, a twenty by one hundred metre relay. Needless to say that it wasn’t long before our driveway somewhat resembled Passchendaele and, furthermore, it was only a matter of time before said van, a two-wheel drive Transit, got stuck in it. Reinforcements were called for and after an hiatus of at least thirty minutes, another guy with a four-wheel drive SUV turned up to tow the stricken mule out. Hurrah! After that, they would stop the van in a slightly different place each time, so while it ‘nearly’ got stuck again, it was nothing that a couple of scrap bits of carpet couldn’t fix. There was, however, no alternative to the pathway to our only door.  In the circumstances, I suppose that it was inevitable that something would get dropped. Fortunately it was only one corner of the sofa and the mud came off pretty easily when it dried out, about two weeks later!
          Then we were alone. Whereas before we had only two salvaged dressers from the previous owner, now every room had loads of boxes in it. It looked like we were going to have a Christmas after all.
          Do people properly label boxes when they move, or is it just us who don’t bother? We had no idea where anything was. The bed was pretty obvious, but if it didn’t get transported in one, big, self-contained unit, it was on the exhaustive list of the missing. We’d find the Bose, but not the remote control for the Bose, making the Bose wholly redundant and the finding of the Bose in the first place utterly pointless. The x-box was put in its own ‘precious’ box, but not with the controllers. No, they were with the Playstation in a separate crate but wait, where were the battery packs? I could go on and on, but having lived it I can say that, even upon reflection, the story is not an amusing tale.
          The most important news was that our nights of sleeping on the floor were over. Even if we’d found Skyrim, i-pod and the allen-keys all in the first five minutes, it could not have made me any happier.
          Our neighbours to the South, Richard and his wife Alison, turned up the following day. Gail and Alison stayed indoors to chat while Richard and I walked ‘the estate’. I had been confused by the two septic tanks and soak-aways on the property. The one to the front, he assured me, was no longer in use, so anything I wanted rid of should be chucked in there and then it should be filled in. Images of fly-tippers and ticking time-bombs swirled around my head for a while, but it would seem to make sense to eradicate this ugly scar so fair enough, I will consider the least unsavoury elements of his advice. The second septic tank is a canyon of a hole, crudely and wholly unsuccessfully covered by half a dozen old doors which were now sagging and unfit for purpose. (Both are reasons why Smokey is not allowed out yet). Richard explained that he would be happy to help me make up some reinforced concrete slabs to cover the latter one over with. He stamped on the ground and confirmed that the soak-away seemed to be doing a good job as the land was firm around it. Where is the soakaway then? I asked him. Right beside the huge, rainwater filled crevasse is a slightly raised area of grass which I hadn’t really noticed until now. Richard smiled at me and started to bounce up and down on it. It turns out that when a previous owner had built the tank, he’d buried his old caravan right next to it and filled with loads of rubbish he didn’t want to act as a soak-away and it was the roof of said caravan that Richard was bouncing on. Future generations are not going to find Skara brea type archaeology on this particular spot. The thought of what may lie beneath my feet does not intrigue me so much as it horrifies me. Richard showed me also the hole that had been dug in the corner of the plot for the sand needed for the mortar to build the outbuildings, mainly constructed from large cobbles ‘harvested’ from the beach, where I assume they had been placed as part of the sea defences! The hole is now a lake as a result of all the rain we’ve had. I will have to ask the neighbours if they feel that it might threaten to undermine their house and fill it in if it would make them feel more confident that it wasn’t about to disappear to where only Doug McClure would have been able to find it.
          We also have a problem with a large population of rabbits. I must admit that the heavy rain might have helped us out there by flooding the warrens. Otherwise, I was offered a .22 rifle, but I’d have to make a massive (un)ethical step if I plan to limit the numbers personally. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of being driven anywhere by me, particularly after dark, knows that I brake for any furry beastie on the road. (It’s what seatbelts are for, people!) No, I really don’t think I can shoot a bunny and I’m fairly certain that it’s not a path I want to go down. I’ll start and not know where to stop. A life is a life in my opinion, so one minute it’ll be Thumper and then, before you know it, it’ll be a president. Let’s not go there, eh?
          I plumbed in the washing machine next. Just as well really. When you layer up as much as we have to you tend to get through your wardrobe pretty darn quickly. I hung the first wash out on the line. I checked on it an hour or so later and found half of it on the ground. Some of it I couldn’t find at all. I’ve been checking ebay auctions in Norway for my Roger Ramjet boxer shorts ever since!
          We made a return trip to Kirkwall to order an induction cooker. Gail got into the ‘downsizer’ frame of mind and ordered the more expensive of the two options just because it played ‘Girl from Ipanema’ as it rotisseried or some such tosh, I don’t know. We trawled around for an emergency Calor Gas camping stove just in case of a power cut but without success. There were lots of Yankee candles and even more single malts in a shop that also doubled as the local equivalent of Mothercare. Then we took a stroll around the graveyard of St. Magnus Cathedral and were accosted by what I thought was a drunk, but who kindly, and lucidly, gave us a very interesting lecture on Dr. John Rae the (not) famous (enough) explorer, an Orcadian, who happened to be buried there. I must stop stereotyping people on account of their accent, especially the indigenous population.
          After several days of microwave meals, we returned to Elizabeth and John at The Belsair in Kettletoft and were, for a pleasant change, not their only patrons. Our neighbour, Irene, her daughter, Claire, who is married to the postman, Tony, their daughter Rosa and Tony’s mum were there too. In fact, the front room of the place was full. Even when Irene, Claire and Rosa left, another family who were visiting the island for a day to look for property arrived. The weather outside was turning angry again, (it obviously hadn’t been for about an hour!), so we wished them a safe crossing for what I’m sure was going to be a bumpy journey back to the Mainland.
          I’d survived a week. At times I really didn’t think that I would. John had told me about ‘eighteen monthers’, people who come for the summer, endure a winter, enjoy a second summer and then remember how much of a bitch last winter was and decide to naff off home. I have a long way to go even to qualify to be one of those but at least arriving during the winter I hope shows an intention to stick around for a good while yet.

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