Thursday, 15 March 2012

Look out! He's got a gun!

                And then it was spring. Allegedly. The temperature plummeted, the hail tipped down and our constant companion, the wind, howled like a banshee day and night. We’ve pretty much given up on weather forecasts and begun instead to rely on the ferry company websites. You know that if they cancel sailings then it’s going to get nasty. More accurately I should say ‘really’ nasty as those boats go out in some atrocious sea conditions ordinarily. Time to batten down the hatches and bury your head under a pillow ‘til it all blows over.

The locals make the most of the prevailing Southwesterlies
                Andrew and Denise had let us take away their spare aerial and cable so that we could check to see if it was possible to pick up any TV reception. We were not optimistic, so much so that we’ve already told the licensing people that we don’t watch any. A bit of wiring-in by yours truly later, even more reason to be sceptical, we plugged the cable in and turned on the box. White noise. What else did we expect? Gail gave the ‘auto-tune’ button a stab and, lo! and behold, a crisp picture appeared and persisted. Shocked, I lowered the aerial to waist height and the signal broke up a bit, but as soon as I lifted it above my shoulders, it came back and stayed. Blimey! Just in case there was a detector van hiding over the dunes, we unplugged the cable and wound it up ready to give it back. (Our sponsors have since told us to keep it so now we have to consider the prospect of getting a licence. So far we’ve managed without it, but it’s a dilemma we hadn’t anticipated having to face.)

                Gail fitted those door handles that I’d picked up in Kirkwall for her. However, if I’d thought it would keep her happy for a while then I was mistaken. As soon as she’d sat down she was on the Screwfix website for more stuff. It was as if all that I had achieved was to give a little nudge to a runaway train. The order bloomed and my modest part of it was a single box of 200 wood screws. In an attempt to make it at least look as if I intended to do something in near future, I told her I needed a garden fork and the car and bikes could do with a foot-pump. This ensured that I would get a little bit of the joy when box of goodies arrived.

                As soon as the weather permitted, we made a start on chopping up the carpet mountain by the gate. The Stanley knife made short work of turning a large, unmanageable roll into a number of swatches that could be effortlessly crammed into a rubbish sack. Suddenly, Gail jumped at what had sounded like a crack and asked what it was. It was clearly a gunshot and not far off. Our neighbour, Richard, made his way across his field toward the fence with his .22 rifle over his arm. With him was his dog, a black retriever, with a dead rabbit in its mouth. We chatted for a while, not to the dog obviously, but soon he insisted that I take a shot at one of the plethora of bunnies that were scampering about merrily on our side of the boundary. I was only happy to have a go following his reassurance that I would miss. He explained that the telescopic sight was adjusted for him and he hadn’t meant to imply that I’d be a crap shot. In the end it was a case of both being true. At the last second I raised the end of the barrel and fired way too high. Relieved more than anything else, I handed back the gun.

                Richard has recently had a wind-turbine erected on his property. Even on such a calm day it was spinning like a top. We were invited over to have a closer look when we fancied it. The next morning he came around to give us the phone number of the local agent with a view to having one put up on our land too. It would certainly help to placate me and even make me reconsider my low opinion of the maelstra* so prevalent in these parts. I may have mentioned it once or twice in the past. (* Ask Oxford insists that the plural of ‘maelstrom’ is ‘maelstroms’, but I think bunging an ‘s’ on the end of things is a bit boring so I’m having no truck with it. I hope that this is acceptable.)

                Gail made an appointment for Kate from Orkney micro-renewables to drop by the next afternoon. As the house is in Gail’s name, it was down to her to show her around with a view to where a turbine could be placed. We are not in a position to be able to afford a wind-turbine of our own but we hope to hear soon that someone will be interested in siting one here and we can make use of some of the power it would generate. We had our first Scottish Hydro electricity bill arrive in the post and were not too horrified by it but spending less is always a good thing. Well it’s a good thing when we are talking about utilities, let’s put it that way.

With that in mind, we had a salesman from Everest pay us a visit to quote us for new windows. We’d applied for a quote but not heard anything and then got a letter from the guy to say that he could improve on it. He apologised for the breakdown in communication and then admitted on the phone that he doesn’t travel well so an excursion to the island was a big adventure for him. He also hadn’t done his homework on the sailings and planned to visit on a day when there was only one ferry. I suppose it is always possible that he’d planned it that way so he would get an overnight stay at the Kettletoft Hotel. If I was married to a harridan, I’d do the same. It’s lucky for me that I am not so you can put that sharp knife back in the block now, dearest. At least he didn’t have a wasted journey as the quote was less than we’d expected and accounted for so we bit his arm off, metaphorically speaking of course. We’re not THAT hungry.

Strange, then, that the very next morning we received a quote from Orkney Builders, the guys that Gail got in to replace the door which we are still waiting for, to do the windows for 25% less. Now, contrary to what I asserted barely two paragraphs ago, scrimping on good glazing is not, in my own humble opinion, a smart thing to do so we’re more than happy to stump up the difference. Especially as they guarantee the units for longer than I’ll be alive for and given that while I was writing in my diary, sleet was landing on top of the bookcase I was leaning on, I am more reassured than ever that we made the right choice. I doubt, however, that it will render us immune from their junk mail, but I’m not expecting miracles here, people.

The Screwfix order arrived. As if I wasn’t feeling bad enough that our postman, Tony, has to tromp so far from the comfort and security of his van to drop off our mail, today he was laden down with a large, heavy box and a wrapped garden fork. It was a relief, therefore, to find that I’d actually left the gate open from the night before, (rap on knuckles), so he had driven up to the house to spare my blushes. Once again Gail went into overdrive repairing the internal doors. It’s quite uncanny now how it is possible to gain ingress and egress to and from every room in the house these days. It’s almost civilized. I, on the other hand, had to go and shut the gate. I leave it to you to judge who was the more industrious. I’ll give you a clue, though. It wasn’t me.

On Friday (9th) it brightened up in the morning. It was just one of those days where eleven degrees centigrade in your living room is warm enough, thank you. The news, or the bits we read at least, was full of talk of coronal mass ejections. It looked as if it was going to be a good weekend for aurora. We left for the pool early as the car was running on fumes. It had to happen one day and today was the day that I paid one pound sixty five pence for a litre of go-go juice. That’s even with a five pence subsidy. I’ve no idea who gets the benefit of that because it doesn’t appear to be the consumer. Needless to say I didn’t fill the tank. One mortgage is quite enough in my opinion.

The Northern lights? Well, they were a no-show. We went to bed with the curtains open and I’d even gone to the trouble of washing the crud off the outside of the windows. What I really needed was a mile-long pencil with a rubber on the end to erase the cloud cover with. The Chinese did wonderful things with silver nitrate that we could learn much from.

Friday, 2 March 2012

                We have been assured by many islanders that this has been the wettest and windiest winter that they can remember for many a year. It is, however, of little comfort when you’re lying awake half the night waiting for your home to be whipped off the ground and blown half way to Bergen. To its credit, this pile is made of hardier stuff than me. Mind you, so is the cushioning in the sofa!

                Having had enough of doing very little, I resolved to cycle into Lady village to pick up some shopping that the store didn’t have on the shelves the day before. It was a rare still day in January and a pleasant journey considering it was more exercise than I’d had in a good while. For a flat island, it was a deceptively uphill ride all the way. Even the downhill bits! I filled up a rucksack with goodies and steeled myself for the slog back. Bizarrely, after freewheeling it away from the store, I barely had to do any pedalling at all. It had taken me nearly half an hour to get to the shops and yet only about fifteen minutes to get home again. Solving such a geographical conundrum will take considerably longer.  

                I am determined that I am never going to miss the dustmen again. To elucidate, we cannot put our rubbish bags out the night before due to the extreme likelihood that the feral cats that roam the island will rip them open. This necessitates getting out of bed first thing on a Monday morning and donning all available layers of arctic expedition clothing, including chunking great boots, just to ensure that our domestic waste doesn’t become a health and safety concern and to allow those nice men from Orkney Island Council to dispose of it in a proper fashion. At least I trust they do. One week, after spending so much time getting kitted up, I couldn’t be arsed to get undressed again and back into bed only to have to repeat the process in a few hours, so I chose instead to play Skyrim on the X-box. If it wasn’t for dinner being cooked ten hours later I’d probably still be on it and, indeed, quite possibly dead.

                One benefit of nearly freezing my elbows off up here is that it has proved my longstanding belief that the cold is an aid to slimming. Within a month, both Gail and I had each lost a stone in weight and the trend is continuing. In saying that, it must be said that progress has slowed a little. Partly this is down to there being considerably less of us to begin with, but the discovery of the menu for one of the islands fast food outlets must also be considered a mitigating factor. Fortunately Ayres Rock only cook up fish and chips on Saturday otherwise I’d have to stay off the beach for fear of being mistaken for a stricken marine mammal and pushed into the sea. To further save us from ourselves, the new cooker arrived.

                The funny thing about having a brand new cooker is the singular joy of not being able to cook anything with it. They don’t tell you in the showroom that none of the important and quite essential wiring is excluded from the deal, leaving you with an expensive and cumbersome ornament in your kitchen and yet more microwave dinners to be had. This is where it is invaluable to have the contact details for someone who is not a sea voyage away who can do the wiring for you.

                At the turn of the new month, we arrived at the swimming pool for our regular appointment with the water, only to find that we'd missed our session as the powers that be had changed the timetable. We were planning to pick up the February edition of the local publication: The Sanday Sound, on the way past the Lady shop on the way home. It’s a vital periodical for determining what’s happening on the island like the swimming pool timetable being revised. We won’t be making that particular mistake in future. It’s certainly an interesting read. From the most basic aide memoire, a handy calendar of the month’s happenings, to news updates from the school and the Ranger. Of course it has advertisements in it too, from a private sale of a washing machine (with some programmes in working order) to local businesses. The highlight was a flier from a B&B holding a Valentine’s night restaurant event. The menu looked very appetising and we were sold.

We’d driven past Backaskaill every time we’d been to the ferry stop at Loth Pier. However, as it is hidden from the main road, we still had no idea where it was. It is not well signposted, so it was as well that one of the last things I’d bought before we set off was a site-centred OS map of the island to help out with these little ‘butt end of the universe’ problems. The gap in the fence was exactly where it was supposed to be and we plunged down the hill, fortunately not in a ‘The Italian Job’ kinda way but definitely in a steep, dark, rocky track way. After wishing for a good few minutes that I was driving a Chieftain Tank, the track led to a picture postcard farmhouse and the lights were on. We were met at the door by our hosts, Jane and Geoff. It may well be that I am getting tediously repetitive by now, but they too are fantastic people. Sorry to disappoint, but they are. So much so that we arrived just after six o’clock, almost an hour before any of the other guests arrived and we were still the last to make ourselves scarce over three hours later and they made no motion toward the telephone to call in the bailiffs. What is more, the food was gorgeous.

Gail is a member of an internet site called ‘Downsizer’. It was instrumental in her finding the house so as far as I’m concerned it has a lot to answer for. She corresponds on there with a couple who moved to the island shortly after we did and we took the opportunity to meet up with them at The Belsair. After a drink, we went back to their house a mile or so out of Kettletoft. We’d actually driven by their door many times already. Denise and Andrew already have chickens and have all the bits for a large polytunnel piled in their garden. I’ve offered to help when it comes to erecting it and, foolishly and rather cheaply, Andrew has offered to give as much time to us in return.

The wind picked up again and the guttering started to bang on the side of the house. Most of the brackets had broken so that a long section of it was sagging loosely. There was no option but to take it down for the time being. I must confess that there was a profusion of adult content throughout the course of the endeavour. The next problem is finding the replacement parts. Then the fun will start in earnest. Me, a ladder, a screwdriver, a bracket and some screws. There cannot be a more potent cocktail for disaster anywhere in the whole of Christendom.

A solo trip to Kirkwall ensued. My feet were still blistered from my walk to the lighthouse an aeon before. I was never going to make a whole day on my feet without some serious bandaging. A humiliating visit to Jewsons was necessary but proved rather fruitless. I managed to get a sack full of brackets and Gail wanted me to pick up some door handles, but I hadn’t given much thought to what was going to be holding the brackets in place when I finally get around to fitting them. My DIY handbook doesn’t mention magic as a viable solution so a little more thought will be required. I retired to CafĂ© Lolz and had Earl Grey tea, some pea and ham soup followed by a warm chicken and cashew nut salad. Now I felt guilty as well as stupid, but well fed. My last appointment was Tesco where I sought to appease Gail with coffee, Marmite and Nutella. It worked. She was also delighted with the pancakes and fresh lemons. That girl is putty in my hands. Oh! Look. a flying pig.

A Sanday sunset (sans flying pig)