My journey South began, like many do I suppose, early in the morning. The first ferry of the day left Loth Pier just after seven and that’s the other side of the island to us. It was difficult to come to terms also with the fact that I was going on my own. Gail has been my ‘sensible grown-up’ for so long now that I have become lazy and reliant. It is very seldom these days that I intentionally leave home without beaver.
|'Beaver' is my keyring. What were you thinking?|
The sleepy little island became more congested as cars and vans converged at the pier like flies ‘round a coo-scone. The boat had ‘overnighted’ at Loth and made ready for sail while we waited. The cars were loaded first, then lorries, mostly empty but not any less imposing for that, followed by some stragglers who turned up, barrelling down the hill to catch their ride after the scheduled time of departure. I had already made my way to the lounge and watched the Krypton Factor organisation of the car deck beneath me. Soon we were on our way and I contemplated how welcome a hot bacon roll would be for me about now.
An hour and a half later I was in Kirkwall, but only for as long as it took to get out again and on my way to Stromness for my next aquatic appointment with the MV Hamnavoe. This is a much bigger ship and though I expect it gets pretty full in Summer, it’s cavernous car deck looks ominously hollow with only two long lines of cars in it. I sat down in the lounge for another ninety minute crossing. It hadn’t really crossed my mind that it was a calm crossing and that the ship would not go the same way round as it had when Gail and I had arrived in December. Then, in pretty nasty weather in the Pentland Firth, we’d made straight for the sheltered water of Scapa Flow. With this in mind, I picked up a copy of ‘The Grand Scuttle’ by Dan Van Der Vat and started to read. After a while, I look up and see ‘the old man of Hoy’ out of the window, so I dump everything on my seat, i-pod included, and headed out onto the optimistically named ‘sun deck’. A spectacular view and one that I have to confess I would not have enjoyed more from closer range in a kayak.
I arrived in Scrabster at lunchtime and filled up the Skoda with petrol. An expensive exercise but not as much as it would have cost me on Sanday. I saved myself about seventeen pence a litre, though still paid nearly ten pence more than the national average. When you take into consideration the proximity of the oil terminal on the island of Flotta less than thirty miles away, it’s pretty criminal really. Gail, who has about the same level of confidence in me as I have myself, made me promise to phone her at regular intervals to check my progress. It would have surprised neither of us, I think, if I’d got back into bed earlier that morning with some excuse or another. But here I was, back on the actual mainland, sans ‘sensible grown-up’, on time with all my papers intact and all prepared for anything the A9 could throw at me. I had no idea at that time that I had stowaways and how close to disaster I was to come.
The roads were still fairly empty. I was doing my most restrained, economical driving speed, in other words ‘painfully slow’, but still only a handful of cars overtook me. I was shovelling wine gums down my neck like nobody’s business and trying not to spit them out singing along to the CD’s I’d brought with me. Without a navigator, I saw a little more of Cumbernauld than I’d intended, but, with the aid of a decent sense of direction and good fortune, arrived at the Travelodge from the opposite side. The sweets had given me a god-awful, splitting, sugar-rush headache and the noisy navvies down the hall did nothing for my health. I had an awful night sleep and was not looking forward to another four hundred and fifty miles.
It pissed down just about the whole way. I must confess that I actually prefer it that way and also, given revelation that would occur the following day, it was very fortuitous. Despite the weather and the additional mileage caused by taking the M5 route around Birmingham, I made Emsworth without a hitch and in fantastic health, especially considering my state in the morning. Invigorated, I took a stroll around the millpond and waved to my kind hosts on the A259 roundabout as they made their way home. Dave and Ania made me very welcome, fed me like a king and gave me a bed. It was my own bed, actually, but they had brought it in from the container and assembled it for me. They made no assurances that it would last for the two nights of my stay however. I had more faith in them and Ikea than they had in themselves.
I knew I was going to hate Friday. I dropped the Skoda off in Fareham for its MOT and walked to ‘the old house’ (that I am not allowed to call home any more). I called a locksmith to change the lock on the garage and sat down to read my book while I waited. When I get a dog, I’m going to name him 'Reuter’. My hero, Paul, arrived and affected his work without complaint, even though it was a fiddly bastard, compounded by the door counterweight being broken. We took it in turns to hold it open while the other operated in semi-darkness with a little spanner. He confessed that he was afraid of spiders and we concurred that he was probably in the wrong line of work.
Then it was a walk back into Fareham to buy lightbulbs for the tenants. Don’t ask as I most definitely don’t want to talk about it. That was followed, after a happy meeting with a friend, Sam, in West Street, by the walk back again for my appointment to fit them. Crawling around the loft space, I was thankful again for all the weight I had lost. I replaced the bulbs in one fitting but would have to return on Saturday for the other. Following that, I found that I couldn’t shut the garage door, so begged Paul to come back and help me, which he did at no extra cost. (Always use a checkatrade artisan!) Fixed, I continued to wear out the pavement to West Street to collect the car.
“How often do you check the oil?” the guys at Fastway asked. I admitted to being too scared to even pop the hood and that reply came as no news to them. They showed me the starling’s nest they had removed and the dead chicks that had been in it. If the catalytic converter hadn’t been soaked on the journey I’d have become nothing more than a scorch-mark on the tarmac. They reassured me that they’d seen worse, but it was little comfort.
|This was the second nest the starlings had built under the bonnet, this one within four days of my return. The original, which I had driven for over seven hundred miles, must have, I can only imagine, been much more extensive.|
I drove back to the garage to fill it with as much stuff as I could, whizzed around Sainsbury’s for grocery essentials and more go-go juice and then back to Emsworth. The next morning I had to leave, without taking my leave, to find more bulbs and to fit them and make it up to my first home, in Uxbridge, in time for Mum’s birthday. I left Dave and Ania a note and apologised by phone later.
I love my family very much, but I never tell them. They never criticise even though I know I’m an idiot. I am thankful, always, for them. Margaret made me check the car before she’d let me leave and there we found that Fastway had only removed the most dangerous part of the bird’s nest and left an awful lot of it behind. Bob helped me pick and hoover the rest of it out as best we could. Over an hour after my intended departure time, I headed for the M40 and the first leg of my three day journey back North and an overnight stop at Lancaster services on the M6.
I found myself torn again, by wanting to be in three places at the same time and wishing that the world was a much smaller place. Adventures are all very well and good but there is no place like homes.