Saturday, 23 June 2012

June comes to 'Dune' country

Not Frank Herbert's 'Dune', obviously!

We had some letters to post and a menial task, that would have taken just a couple of minutes barely six months ago, somehow turned into an all-dayer. Gail was still experimenting with her new camera and wanted to visit Kettletoft at low tide to snap the seals that are invariably hanging around there. On our way, we stopped just past Lady village at a derelict church to take some pictures there before continuing. We walked along the short pier at Kettletoft, posted our letters and that could have been an end to it. But it was not. Our attention was drawn to a sign for a walk to Bea Loch and decided to follow it. Past lovely beaches, clumps of wild flowers and seagulls nesting in the rocks we headed for a second derelict church. From there the path continued its circuitous route back toward, I hesitate to call it, ‘town’ past fields in which a handful of horses and ponies roamed. It was all very nice and postcardy. We had a tasty dinner at the Kettletoft Hotel before setting off for home. 

I was happy to find that someone on the island had worse windows than us.
On the way, we remembered that we were out of eggs so resolved to stop at a friend’s house to buy a dozen from him. When we’d driven past his house, a good few hours earlier, our friend Andy was mowing his lawn and we were surprised to find that he had still not finished it. Surprised until we saw how small the mower he was using actually was. It was very similar to those baby-walking trolleys with coloured balls bouncing around inside a small, Perspex dome. He reminded us that it was bought to keep his postage-stamp, suburban garden in Brum under control, not the near acre of steppe that he now had to contend with. Its replacement was imminent. Andy invited us in for tea and coffee and we chatted for a while before he showed off the array of plants abounding in his polytunnel. It was like an Eden in there. He picked some radishes and greens to take home with us and fed us peas fresh out of the pod, a plethora of salad leaves and a couple of strawberries. I was offered a pepper but refused, however Gail gladly accepted one. Glad until she was very much in need of a glass of milk to quell the pain. While Gail was sorting herself out in the kitchen, we made our way around his fruit-house. In between the trees he was growing clumps of herbs which we tried in turn. When the extent of your culinary experience is trying to harness any flavour at all from eight year old, dried herbs you don’t appreciate the taste of the fresh stuff. It’s a shock to the system I can tell you.

I’ve grown quite attached to the B98, the wreck of which lies just over the dunes from the house. It’s an old ship and it’s not as if it was ever a particularly pretty one either, but it has a history. It saw action in the Baltic against the Russians before WW1, where it served at Jutland. During the Armistice discussions, while the German Grand Fleet were interred at Scapa Flow, it was one of the supply ships between there and Wilhelmshaven. It had just left before the scuttling, leading to speculation that it had delivered the order to do so, and was seized before it reached home waters. While being towed away to be scrapped, it broke free and was washed ashore on Sanday. Needless to say the natives helped themselves to this fortunate bounty. Now, apart from the remains left on the beach, its guns are on display at the museum in Lyness. Internet research led me to the site of a model maker that produces a 1-700 scale kit so I ordered one. (Gail has pointed out to me that considering our experience with scaling, it is embarrassing that it never occurred to me that the kit would only measure fourteen centimetres in length.) A cycle trip, including two ferry crossings, to Hoy is planned for later this summer.

I did say that she wasn't much of a looker.
On the Fourth, we attended Sanday's Jubilee beacon lighting ceremony. The island is predominantly long and flat, but it does have a few hills, mainly on the West side. The site at Fea Brae afforded some fantastic and unexpected views. It was also clear that some wet weather was closing in and from our vantage we noticed that the beacons at North Ronaldsay and Eday were, quite shrewdly, lit early. Following a sausage and mash supper, a veggie one for Gail and a small cheesecake each, a local councillor gave a short speech, though not short enough. Then the beacon was lit at the appointed time, helped with the liberal application of a blowtorch. Even a miserable republican like my missus was impressed by the spectacle.

The next day was the islands Fun Day, held at the Community Centre. We watched as the islanders of all ages participated in egg ’n’ spoon, three-legged, wheelbarrow and sack races. I entered an over 45s sprint race in order to get a sticker and then, in the best interest of diplomacy, lost out to three, much older, local gentlemen. Other sports were taking place in the middle of the day but the girls wanted to get changed for the sit-down do later. The evening comprised a tea followed by a disco interspersed with traditional dancing. I was horrified to be hauled to my feet to participate in a Bernard’s Waltz. Through no fault of my suffering partner, it was an ordeal that I am in no hurry to endure again.

Orkney Micro-renewables turned up to lay the foundations for the wind-turbine. It started off with three guys in a van, but soon we had a massive aggregates truck, a trailer, a tractor, a JCB digger and some kind of scoop loader all carrying out manoeuvres around the garden, a proper 'heavy plant' choreography. I’ve no idea how they all squeezed through the gate. It all looked a very ‘International Rescue’, albeit perhaps a third-world version of it. They dug a massive hole in the sand and poured concrete into it. I now have a little mountain of sand to use and move around to my heart’s content, or I might just stick a flag on top of it where it is. The concrete needs to set for about four weeks before they erect the turbine and lay the cabling into the house to connect to the grid. Then we get to use the juice it produces when we need it. The rest of it gets fed into the grid and the company gets to make good on its investment. By the time they come back to do that, hopefully Everest will have been in to fit our new windows. We can’t be one hundred per-cent sure that they will as the fitters telephoned us recently to ask if we could suggest where they might stay on the island. They had only just been told that not all of their gigs were on mainland Orkney so if they can’t find anywhere to stay then I assume that there will be a delay. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed.

The big boys, with all their toys, turn up to play
Our latest excitement was a shopping expedition to Kirkwall. We paid half of the fare for our friend’s van so that we could go bonkers and fill it up with more stuff than we would ever have been able to carry ourselves. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have our ‘bulk-buying’ heads on so while we did pick up some bits of hardware we needed, we only got a few weeks-worth of essentials from Tesco and Didldidi (more commonly known as Lidl). Next time we’ll be a little wiser to the opportunity and stock up properly. We did buy a whole book of 50 passenger tickets from Orkney Ferries to cover us for the year. It works out at about half price, provided we use them all up. Given my penchant for boats, I really don’t see that that is going to be a problem. Getting Gail to cross on a stormy November day might prove to be much more of a challenge! 

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