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 Café 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)

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