Thursday, 24 May 2012

"Better a moose in the pot than nee maet ava".

                It’s May and it’s still cold. The light streaming through the bedroom window at four o’clock in the morning suggests that it’s going to be up for plenty long enough to take the chill off, but it’s a tease. I go out into the garden and open up another couple of raised beds but I’m afraid to plant anything for fear that a late frost will kill it off. Instead, I come indoors and open a propagator kit we bought in Kirkwall. Starting off with courgette and sweet pepper, it’s well watered and put in a South facing window. In some pots covered with plastic bottles we sow a couple with chili peppers and two more with winter squash. Time will tell how successful we will be. I’d hate to have to be eating compost and flower pot stew in a few months.

                The Sanday Soulka events kicked off on May 4th. I returned to Hjelsa Fjold, the unhappy venue for my job interview, for a seminar on the Orcadian dialect. A handful of children from the school also attended this fascinating and interesting lecture. Some of it dealt with statistical analysis of dialect usage but we also got to play a game where we tried to guess what some of the more obscure Orcadian words meant. Even the natives had no idea. The best bit was the introduction to Orcadian tales that not only served as a learning aid but also described what life is like on the island, if you can understand it. There is a good one on the orkneyjar website and I’ve since borrowed a book called ‘Benjie’s Bodle and other Orkney dialect tales’ from the library in Kirkwall. (Kirkwall, we learned, should be Kirkwaa having been derived from the Norse ‘Kirkjuvagr’ but the English have a penchant for sticking ‘ll’ at the end of place-names they can’t understand apparently.) The example on the website and read aloud to us went:

 “Hid wis a time whin some folk couldno deu without haein some dry tang tae burn tae keep thir fires gaan.
Weel hid wis puir times right enouch, whin wae hear thir sayings that hid wis "better a moose in the pot than nee maet ava".
Weel, of coarse, the pot on the fire hid tae be keepit gaan teu, as weel ais whit wis under hid, for aa the grain o' money they hid wis keepit for mair needfu things for thir livin and tae keep the hoose gaan.
Weel, the Guidman and Guidwife, wha lived in the peedie hoose o' Linn, wir a pair o' island wirthies if ever thir wis, livin a kindo near-be-gaan wey o' life, wae no miny comfirts tae enjoy bit a guid gaan fire o' wid and tang and dried coo-scones tae warm thir feet as weel ais thir herts whin night time cam.”
Other than the meat in the pot and a fire for burning seaweed and dried cow-pats, that’s pretty much how we’re living up here. OK, so we probably don’t qualify as ‘goodman’ and ‘goodwife’ either. (The whole tale can be read on if you’re feeling brave.)

The next day we attended the opening of the historic crofter’s home at Lady village. It was very well supported, probably as many of those in attendance had had a hand in the reconstruction of this turn of the last century family home. I have to say it was very ‘des-res’ and I wanted to move in. The smell of the open fire and the fresh, local cheese on home-made bere-loaf were as intoxicating as the wine. You’ll be disappointed, no doubt, to hear that I wasn’t in any of the photographs of the event (as I was the one holding the ladder steady for Rod the ranger as he took them).

Panic at the crofter's house when half the island turns up for tea.
                That night we endured another series of power cuts. Not funny when we are so reliant upon electricity to keep us from freezing. A call to our supplier informed us that engineers were on site to remove a crow’s nest from a pylon. A few more outages later, they called to let us know that they had removed the nest, even though it had been partly made with barbed wire! However, it had not resolved the problem and they were now trying to locate another nest further along the line. We had juice within the hour. They even called again the following morning to ensure that everything was back to normal.

That the avian population had mastered the use of barbed wire was, if not a surprise, confirmation of suspicions I’d had since our arrival. The fear I have of the indigenous wildlife was now fully justified. To my shame, I’ve found that, yes, I truly am petrified of most of it. For example, considering it’s been such a horrible winter, there are significant numbers of bees buzzing around and they all seem intent on chasing me around the island. I’ve never been stung and I don’t want to be now. I know they don’t want to sting me either but they sure as hell make it clear that they could if they had to. I don’t need that. I know wasps are fair game, but tell people that you twatted a bumble bee with a seven-iron and they look at you like you’re Charles Manson or something. I’m sick to my stomach for doing it but the lil’ feckers just refuse to listen to reason. Maybe I’ll look for a beekeeper's suit on ebay and wear it whenever I go outside. How dashing and stylish I’ll look. I just hope that nobody will think I’ve joined the Klan!

Our first ‘harvested’ meal came when Gail made a gorgeous rhubarb crumble. Needless to say the flour, sugar and other ingredients came from the shops, but it’s a start. I honestly thought we’d be eating the grass before we managed to produce anything ourselves, but finding those two plants in the garden were a real bonus. And in fine tradition, we enjoyed the first half of the crumble so much that we had seconds almost immediately afterwards and made ourselves sick! You really can have too much of a good thing.

The rest of the opening week of May was filled with making plans for my journey South for Mum’s birthday. Additionally, our troublesome tenants complained that they were unable to change some light-bulbs, so I would have to pop ‘home’ to do that for them. I’d also have to get the car MOT’d, get the lock on the garage door changed and then fill the back of the car with as much stuff as I could to bring back. I’d also try to cram in a visit to Sainsbury to get some items we can’t get here or at least pick them up for considerably less loot. Before I could set out however, I needed to book four ferry trips and three night’s accommodation online. I should also have plotted a route using AA routemaster, but having made the journey once, I naturally assumed that I was now a navigational diva. Finally, I wasn’t permitted to leave Gail on her own for six days until we had stocked the larder and paid for a TV licence. God forbid that she should have had to leave the house for any reason at all!

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