Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Older but none the wiser for it

                I still have not worked out when the post gets collected around here. On the assumption that the boxes get emptied first thing in the morning, (‘first thing’ up here kicks off around fiveish), and given that there are no assurances that the weather won’t find its way into said boxes despite the clever addition of a door over the slot, I found myself walking down the unlit B9069 to post my sister’s birthday card at midnight earlier this month. It was a pleasant night and I didn’t really need the torch that Gail wouldn’t let me leave the house without. It was, however, quite scary, especially when, I swear, a dementor rose from the dunes beside the road and effortlessly rose into the air without making a sound. Uncertain of my capacity to cast a patronus charm, I quickened my step and hoped it wouldn’t spot me. When I next checked over my shoulder it was a relief to find that I was alone. Of course Gail just laughed at me when I got home, but I know exactly what it was that trepidation and a lack of sleep made me see.  

                There continue to be surprises around the garden. In a fenced off segment, partially covered by netting that otherwise poses as another dumping ground, I found a rhubarb plant. Further investigation revealed two more. I must confess that they were hard to distinguish from the Rumex Obtusifolius, or ‘dock leaves’, that were also prevalent. Well it is early in the season. As the area is probably the most rabbit-proof part of the garden, I’ve decided to clear it up a bit with a view to making it more productive. At present it is home to a bucket from a JCB, a concrete mixer and a selection of caravan windows in addition to other junk. We’ve since also found wild rhubarb growing on the side of the road to Kettletoft.

                On Easter Monday we were invited over to Andy and Denise’s house for dinner. We all enjoyed a wonderful vegetable balti. Denise is still based in the midlands for the time being and so was in ‘holiday’ mode. Andy on the other hand was in full-on downsizer mode and pretty much never stops moving. He had managed to provide an island sourced meal for his charming lady wife for each day of her visit, from their own chicken one day to razor clams harvested off the beach the next. Suddenly he asks if I wanted to go fishing. I admitted that it’d been a while. About thirty years. When I asked him what time he intended to start he suggested five in the morning. Denise did not look impressed so Andy raised the stakes and suggested that we head off right there and then and nipped to the shed to get his rods and tackle. I said he was keen. We dug up some worms from his garden and then we were gone. When we got the Bea Loch the signs were promising. There were ripples on the surface and some bubbles coming to the surface suggesting that the fish were feeding. Within half an hour though the wind had died and the lake was still. Two hours later all we had to show for our efforts were fewer worms. Andy had landed two small eels but even though they are a favourite delicacy of mine they were a little immature so got put back. As we were packing up, two fish breached the surface to wish us adieu. The bastards.
                The guttering that I took down in February was finally replaced by yours truly. There was significantly less swearing I am happy to report. I am even happier to report that it’s still up there. The strain it had had on me only became apparent later that day when it took me over eighty strokes to complete a nine hole round of golf. The owner of the field may well contemplate turning it to arable use as I’d done the ploughing for him! I generally berate myself for having ‘lazy days’ but I gave myself a break the following morning after all that. The one thing I did manage to have the strength to do was phone up for an application form for a job. It’s not really what I had planned for my immediate future but as it is in the service of the island community I felt compelled to at least put my name forward.

                As a peasant farmer, I thought that it was about time that I began growing things. After making another raised bed, I sewed some carrot seeds in it. That’s the last we’ll see of them, I am certain of it. Having placed my trust in Mother Nature, I thought I’d have a go at something that I could do myself and that would yield an immediate result. Having had some waste paper mulching away in a bucket for about a week, I made my first ever paper briquette. It’s not art and we don’t even have a fire place but it filled me with as much pride as I think any parent would have felt at the birth of their first child. More, even.

                For my birthday, Gail took me to a football match. It was a cup game, no less. Sanday were playing South Ronaldsay at home in the opening round of the Orcadian Parish Cup. A chilly, blustery day with occasional hail showers kept most of the supporters in their cars, parked beside the touchline. Despite being second best in the opening half, a superb 30 yard direct free-kick flew straight into the back of the net to put the home team ahead. Car horns sounded jubilantly. Sanday continued to counter-attack well and could easily have been three up at half time. A sluggish opening to the second half proved costly though and the visitors were soon level. Passions rose and some of the tackling grew a little agricultural. There seemed to be little between the teams until Sanday won a corner in the last five minutes. The ball was lofted into the six yard box, disappeared from view as a scramble ensued and it was only the shouts and raised arms that gave us the clue that the ball had ended up in the net. Again the car horns sounded triumphantly and once more when the final whistle was blown. Result! 

The view across Cata Sands at low tide.
            Back home, restless and prompted by a request on Facebook, (I’ll get you back one day, Alison!) I went cycling around the island for some nice spring photographs. Gail thought that I was just going up the road, but as it turned out I was gone for more than two hours. I rode on the beach at Cata Sand but the tide was coming in so I didn’t hang around. It looks like a miniature Morecombe Bay and that area has a well-deserved fearsome reputation.

Thinking of riding on the beach? It's hard work.

                The shitty weather returned with a vengeance and decided, as is its wont, to try something new on us. A depression over the rest of the country means Easterly winds for us so everything gets chucked at our front door and bedroom window. The puddles on the windowsill are easily mopped up with tea-towels, but the torrents coming in under the door were altogether more of a problem. An indoor swimming pool was already forming in the hallway and the drafts whistling through it were a cacophony. With liberal use of wedges and folded up scraps of cardboard, the door was made tight, even if it meant that it could no longer function as a door. Egress and ingress were, at the time, strictly secondary and tertiary considerations.

A day late, we managed to get out and do a bit of shopping only to find that there was a traffic jam in Lady Village. We must have been stuck in it for at least fifteen seconds before the horse and two dogs made their way off the road and three vehicles caught up in it could all continue their journeys. I can’t wait for next month’s Sanday Sound to see if it makes the front page. While we were out we picked up some surplus bean plants which I planted in the first raised bed I’d dug and covered with a fenced frame for them to clamber up, in the unlikely event that they don’t die in the next few days. A portentous electrical storm kicked off that evening. We had suffered five or six power outages in the course of about half an hour. I went to the window to look out across the fields to see if our neighbours had any lights on when, without so much as a “by your leave”, a blinding flash of lightning followed immediately by a deafening crack of thunder, which itself was merely the prelude to a full minute of rumbling that shook the whole island, burst from the heavens. Now I do love a good thunder storm and this one was a peach but, upon reflection and with the benefit of hindsight, it probably was not the ideal time to have been standing in a metal roofed house beside a metal frame window. Faraday cage or not, it could easily have been a ‘brown-trouser’ moment.

            The next day was fairly still so I dug two more raised beds. Then, and only then, it occurred to me that I had nothing to plant in them. I never claimed that I was smart. I managed to salvage a couple of shallow trays, filled them with egg boxes, filled the egg boxes with compost and sewed one tray with cabbage and the other with leeks. I watered the trays generously and placed them in the window of the South-facing, goat room. (The room faces South, not the goat. Not that we have a goat). I’m hoping that, within months, the plants would have filled the egg boxes. I love omelettes. But knowing my luck I’ll just get cabbages and leeks.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

"A good walk, ruined."

                There comes a point when you realise that the unsightly flab that you were more than happy to see the back of was in fact the one thing that was keeping you warm. Now that I have only the one chin and my 38” jeans refuse to defy the laws of gravity, I have begun to notice that despite having seen off the winter months, I am actually colder than ever. I appreciate that some of it may be down to my unrealistic expectations of the relevance of the coming of Spring to the high latitudes, not to mention that we have run out of tea-lights, but I swear that if it wasn’t for the abject poverty I think I’d be stuffing my face right about now to put it all back on again.
                Not being particularly enthusiastic about participating in the regular traditional dancing, bingo or knitting evenings held on the island, my one chance to get out and meet some of the locals presented itself early in March when the golf club held its annual general meeting. I can only bow to their wisdom in choosing to hold it in the pub. The turnout was rather thin, given that only the members of the committee itself were in attendance. Until we turned up that is. Between them they monopolised the trophies that were presented. It is my hope for the forthcoming season that, by a combination of dogged determination and a persistence bordering on the pathological, I will be able to prevent such a ‘love-in’ reoccurring. During the meeting it was decided to retain the existing membership and green fees, meaning that I can play all the golf I want, which isn’t that much really, and help myself to spare clubs and sundry equipment for a paltry £12.50, plus a fiver deposit for a key to the clubhouse. Bargain. Meeting over, we availed ourselves of the establishments liquid hospitality.

                We had a visitor the following day. Andy, the kind gentleman who gave us the aerial, popped by the shed to let us have a couple of large trout steaks that he had caught in Bea Loch that very morning. I guess food doesn’t come much fresher than that. I don’t really know if pan frying them was the best way to compliment them, but they were gorgeous none the less in spite of my culinary naivety. When we’d visited him at his home earlier, it was apparent that he’d been having a few problems with the polytunnel he’d bought. Apparently, the frame was an eighty foot leviathan but he had been supplied with the plastic sheeting to fit the next size down. Fortunately, after the requisite phone call advising them of their faux pas, they dispatched the correct size sheeting. Now it’s just a case of waiting for a calm day to redress the framework.

                As if on cue, summer paid us all an unseasonal visit. Even Gail dared the outdoors. We lugged one of the spare baths lying forlorn by the stables, (every horse should have access to an en suite!), and packed it in a bed of hay. Once we can rely on regular double digit daytime temperatures, we aim to fill it with compost and Gail hopes to sew her mushroom spores. Then I didn’t know whether to turn my attention to starting to dig the foundation for a small fire pit or preparing some small beds for planting, so I did both. For some reason we are blessed with an abundance of fish crates so I have decided to use them to create raised beds that I can cover with netting. There is quite a bit of animal manure that some worms have very much taken a liking to available so I’m able to work it into the sandy soil. Hopefully it’ll do the trick. It was nice to have a good excuse to get all muddy again now that my goalkeeping days are behind me.

                The good weather stretched into the following day too, but before I could get going again Andy requested my assistance on the polytunnel front. My garden wasn’t going anywhere so I got on my bike and pedalled to his place. The ‘short’ cover that he had somehow managed to fit himself was still in place and the new cover was inside warming up. We soon had the old one off and folded away and threw the new cover over the frame. It was then necessary to let it sit there to stretch a little more, so we went inside for a cup of tea and, in his case, a roll-up. I was exceedingly well behaved and did not demolish the pack of bourbons he’d opened. It took a great deal of willpower but I can confidently assert that Simba, his dog, ate more than me. After a while we returned to the job at hand, earlier than recommended but concerned that the wind was picking up a bit. Large swathes of plastic make rather splendid kites whereas we were of the steadfast opinion that we would much rather it not do that but remain in a permanent, fixed position on the ground. After battening down the sides, the complicated bit was the pleating on the ends. Here Gail’s dressmaking skills would have been an invaluable asset, however we made a quite decent hash of it despite the significant shortage of X chromosones. Another cup of tea and biscuit later, we returned to do the last bit of stretching and fixing into position. With one of us standing on the batten, the other tightened the nuts to the bolts locking the cover in position. The cover had expanded so much that the battens often went below ground level so a bit of rudimentary landscaping had to be carried out to get ratchet down that far. It had also got stifling inside so we only managed a few at a time before having to leg it outside for some fresh air. Then it was a case of walking around it, quite a trek on its own I can assure you, and drumming your fingers on it. The result was a lovely and reassuring timpanic sound.  Job done.

                The weather reverted to type the following day when the surveyor from Everest came around to measure up. He said he didn’t need my assistance so I left him to it. He came back indoors to a hot cup of tea and he and Gail discussed some options, “which way do you want the windows to open?” and “how high up do you want the cross beam?”, that sort of thing. When it was all done, we recommended the Orkney beer at the Belsair while he waited for his return ferry to arrive. Everest later telephoned to explain that their computers had gone a bit wonky so they couldn’t give us a schedule for completion yet. They have since been in contact again to say the units will be delivered to Inverness early in June. As we’re not in Inverness, it’s a bit of a lottery as to when they’ll actually get them out to us, but given that they won’t get the rest of their money until they do then I can’t see them hanging around for too long. Famous last words.

                Gail wasn’t up to swimming at the end of the week so I went on my own. I was quite chuffed with 96 lengths of the 15m pool until I was reminded that a mile was 108 lengths. I am determined that that day will soon come. My next ‘sporting’ endeavour was the opening round of the Sanday Golf Club ‘Tuesday’ series. The course is just under a couple of miles away so Gail gave me half an hour to walk there. The club captain, Ean, and another islander named Brendan were the only brave souls to show up. I had intended to caddy for them but when Brendan confessed that he was resigned to Ean trouncing him I made up my mind not to let him suffer alone. The 9 hole course zig-zagged its way through a cow field with cows still very much in residence. Many of the cows had calves and Ean warned us that if a ball landed close to them to count it as lost otherwise we would get charged at by the protective mums. As well as the livestock, there were large pools of mud and the obligatory mounds of cow poop. The rules annexed hereto state that a ball can be replaced to an improved lie after each stroke, provided you can find the damn thing after it has plugged itself so deep that even Doug McClure would need a sand wedge fashioned from a Tyrannosaurus Rex thigh bone to get it out. 
Of course my score isn't on there! The boxes ain't big enough.

Having nearly lost a Merrell in the mud and spent over twenty minutes sheltering on the beach from a nasty shower of hail, we called a halt to proceedings after the sixth. I don’t know if the result will count for anything and I must confess that I am not particularly bothered, happy enough just to have got out of there in one piece. I mean: how many courses can there be in the world where getting onto the greens involves scaling three strands of barbed-wire fencing? If I’m not singing Castrati by September I will be very much surprised!