Monday, 27 February 2012

"Cheers! Miss Sophie"

What can be more homely than cuddling up during those long winter nights in front of the fire? Alas! What constitutes an open fire at the Tractor Shed is the sputtering flame of a lone tea-light. Fortunately, the TV emits more heat and that alone should be reason enough to leave it on most of the time. We have quite a lot of DVDs to get through too, purely in the interests of survival you understand. There's still no cooker to warm us either, but Gail has begun to excel with the microwave and has knocked up some proper dinners, with veg and everything. The complicated bit is keeping the cooked parts warm while the next is being irradiated.

                And, bless her thermal socks, she found the pages to my Filofax diary on Boxing Day, on the very day they started. We still hadn’t hooked up the washing machine or sussed the vagaries of the shower, but we had music at last when my i-pod turned out to have been in the car all along.

                Within days we even had a phone. We got up early on the understanding that the man from BT would be dropping by but, instead, the Home-hub and connections turned up in the post and the engineer only came out as far as the exchange to connect us. Gail opportunistically took a stroll outside and managed to get reception on (one of) her mobile(s) and picked up missed call messages. She went inside and lifted the receiver on the landline to find that we had a dialling tone. The engineer then kindly phoned us to say that we were connected and to confirm our number to us. He had actually come over to the island and done it the day before. Gail unpacked and set up the internet connection. I am far too much of a Luddite to be trusted with such things. Relieved that we were no longer entirely cut off from civilisation, we went for a swim.

                Adjacent to the school at Lady, is a community complex that that includes a 15m, indoor swimming pool. It’s great and it’s only a quid. I’d have paid that just for the shower as I must confess that I was beginning to get a little ripe. After a week of shivering, cocooned under layers of clothing it was a blissful experience. The pool was quite crowded as it was a public session avec toys. We’ve since found a timetable and discovered that the adult sessions are less well attended. In fact, during some of our more recent visits we’ve, to all intense porpoises, had the place to ourselves.

Sunrise at Lopness Bay

                We were invited to a neighbour’s house for a little soiree on the penultimate day of the year. We’d been told not to bring anything as there would be plenty to eat and drink. Irene wasn’t joking. Even with half the islands inhabitants crammed into her wonderfully converted school-house not a single one went hungry. Nor thirsty. In Gail’s defence, Irene’s daughter was practically pouring gin down her neck. We tried our best not to humiliate ourselves in front of the other attendees and gathered as much information on island survival as we could. The walk home in the early hours was in terrible weather and pitch black. The focus required to get back disguised just how inebriated my good lady had got. Once indoors it became quite obvious.

                I'd been babysitting a rather expensive firework for the past couple of years and I always told myself that it would be set off when I had the space. On the last night of 2011, I dutifully cleared a spot away from anything combustible and planned an escape route from the pyrotechnics. After watching ‘Dinner for one’, the same procedure as every year, I put my Sylvester hat on and lit the wick. What I wasn’t prepared for was the strength of the wind that continually blew the end of the wick clean off so, with 2012 already many minutes old, I was forced back inside in order to grab the matches. Half a Norwegian pine forest later and now much closer to one than twelve, the fuse finally leapt into life. Stumbling away through the mud, overwhelmed with shock and fear in equal proportion, I made minimum safe distance just in time to witness the conflagration. The rescue services weren’t scrambled and we both thought it was quite pretty so, all in all, a successful gig. After a much later than usual champagne toast, our New Year rituals were complete.

                The day after Gail’s birthday, (there were no direct sailings on the Fourth so all I could offer her was lunch at The Belsair), we made our first trip back to Orkney mainland. We had to take the car as she specifically wanted to visit a shop in Stromness. Sixty pounds, two hours and many miles over sea and land later, we found that the shop closed on Thursday. In fact, most of the town was shut without any explanation. We drove back to Kirkwall and enjoyed a splendid lunch at ‘The Shore’ before exploring the virtues of the Tesco and Co-operative (not very super)markets. We also tried to open a bank account as neither of our current banks have branches this side of the Great Glen, it would seem. Oddly, in a progressively paperless society, they were demanding paper bills as proof of domicile. We took the forms away to think about it.

                The next day I had to risk the mayhem that is the outbuildings in order to rescue our bikes. Inside, the ground is wet and muddy and, more than likely, quite shitty so they needed saving from what is effectively the outdoors as they would have quickly turned to rust and disintegrated. The boats lying beside them are built to be afloat, which they very nearly are despite being supposedly under cover. I’m sure that they will be quite comfortable there for the time being.

I remember how really annoyed I used to get when traffic, usually buses, would stop in the middle of the road so that the driver could have a chat, usually to his mate driving a bus in the opposite direction. How times have changed. Now, when we're out in the car and see our postman’s van on the road heading toward us, I wave him down and we both stop in the road while he hands us our mail through the window. This saves him from the long trudge from our gate to our front door. I've apologized for not installing a letterbox by the gate and suggested, as a compromise, that he just leave any deliveries in the car, especially when our path gets too waterlogged. We’ve also been a hazard to other road-users by stopping beside the ‘airport’ to witness the arrival of the afternoon flight from Kirkwall. We pulled the car over beside the end of the runway and watched the Loganair Britten Norman Islander on approach. It flew around and came in to land right over our heads. Had it been any lower and I would have been scrubbing tyre marks off the roof of the Skoda. It may be an extravagance, but a trip in one of those tiny, 8 seater planes is a must. In summer they do special flights around some of the islands, including the shortest, scheduled flight in the world, the thirty odd second hop from Westray to Papa Westray. (See

To date, the healthiest meal we’ve had was when we broke out the 'Raclette'. If you’ve never tried it, I would recommend it wholeheartedly. After weeks of ready-meals it was bliss to have so much fresh vegetable and seafood. The thing also warms the house up a bit and as the granite hot-plate is too heavy for Gail to lift I can truly say that I helped with the cooking and the washing up. 

                After a couple of days of quite horrendous weather, we’d got (even more) into the habit of stirring late. One such morning(ish), I woke to what sounded like someone at the door, quite a skill when the whole house is creaking and banging all the time. I got up anyway and explored. Looking up toward the road I saw that our gate was open. My neighbour, Richard, had told me off for not closing it once before, as it isn’t good for it, so I knew I hadn’t left it like that overnight. Just as I was about to shut it a tractor trundled up and turned in. Richard had said that he would let the local ‘rag ‘n’ bone man’ know we had some white goods for collection but neglected to tell me that he planned to take them away for us in the first instance. We manhandled the old fridges onto the digger scoop attachment on the front of his tractor, I thanked him very much for his kindness, closed the gate behind him and waved as he sped off, the dodgy cargo threatening to spill out all over the place. That just leaves us now with a scrap carpet mountain eyesore to deal with. We’ve been advised that the hessian backed stuff can be laid down in the garden for car parking however the foam backed is just rubbish and has to go! Somewhere. Perhaps into another hole in the garden. So do I dig a fresh grave for it or not?

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