Friday, 13 July 2012

"It's a funny old game."

It wasn’t until we wanted to watch the first semi-final of Euro 2012 that we discovered that the new windows blocked the television reception. I was almost tempted to phone Everest to get them to put the old ones back in. Fortunately the weather was still pleasant, so we set the aerial up outside, gaffer-taped to a microphone stand and stood on an upturned barrel. Typically, the weather deteriorated on Thursday, so we were forced to go into Kettletoft to watch the other semi-final in the pub. I donned my Germany shirt and regretted it as soon as we arrived to find the bar packed with Dutch workmen. We sat in the corner and were soon chatting to a couple holidaying on the island and another couple who have recently taken up residence. Andy (I know! Another one) and Karen run Ferret Education and Welfare (FEW) and invited us around to see their animals, including a skunk. If we don’t see them before, they are holding an open day in mid July that will definitely be on our ‘to do’ list. Alas the game itself went with tradition and my interest in Euro 2012 ebbed.

A serious bout of ‘man-flu’ decimated my weekend. A consequence of not making it to the swimming pool on Friday and Assen never racing the Dutch TT on a Sunday meant that I spent the whole of it not knowing what day it was. I just knew that it ended with a football match, so I looked out for that, if for no other reason than I knew that that would be the night I had to stay up late and put the bin out.

Gail decided that the new week would start with her painting the shower cubicle. It is only fair that if I do the outdoors stuff then she has to do the indoors. I was asked to assist, however, with taking down a rotten, wooden shelf. I was thus engaged, employing nearly all the expletives at my disposal, when the cavalry arrived. Our friend Andy still insisted that he owed us a day from our polytunnel exploits. Today he turned up in his van to see if there was anything we needed done. With his help, indeed it was he that did most of it, we put up a curtain rail in the bedroom and rearranged the kitchen worktops to accommodate the cooker. Then, while extracting the snapped screws of the stubborn shower shelf, we discussed the cubicle itself. It is located in the corner of the room, is partitioned from floor to exceptionally high ceiling on one side and likewise above head height on the final side. This means that there is a large, unventilated space above in which plumes of steam hang around, peeling the paintwork and generally making everything soggy. I was hoping to drill some holes in the partitions but, in the end, we agreed that it should be possible to remove both of them above six and a bit feet. That would cure the damp and improve the light in there, too. It would also save Gail some painting. I just need to develop the hero blobs to have enough courage to take the unwanted sections out. Watch this space.

After Andy had left us, we hung up the new blackout curtains that Gail had ordered over the internet. Smokey took full advantage of the darkness and slept all afternoon. It was amazing. Not only because we weren’t getting meowed at all the time, but knowing that there was a place where night was a genuine possibility in the land of, to all intents and purposes, the midnight sun. After six nights at the mercy of pale skies and a sun that refuses to be a stranger, not for a few more months at least, we were looking forward to a good long sleep. If you don’t hear from me for a while, you’ll know we’ve overdone it.

Photo courtesy
I’d been spending far too much time moping around and feeling sorry for myself with my stubborn flippin’ cold. Consequently there was absolutely shed loads of weeding for me to do. Yeah! Grubby knees and fingernails coming right up. I’ve been remembering to water all the plants in the shed, which is quite good for me as I’m usually an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ kinda idiot. Before I get to go inside, however, have to let the house-martins know that I’m coming so that they can fly off out of a broken window. They circle about outside while I’m busy in there and, after I’ve left, they gradually swoop closer and closer before returning inside to roost. Some of the plants are beginning to outgrow their pots. Some just need thinning out and re-potting. The squashes are starting to flower. I’ve replanted some of the carrots to give them more space and so it’ll be interesting to find out if my interference has been of any benefit or if those I’ve left crammed together in the old bed will do better. Interesting to me at least. 

After swimming and shopping, we sat down and watched Andy Murray get through to the final at Wimbledon. I hate tennis, but British successes in sport are less frequent than Halley’s comet so it’s one of those ‘being there’ (in front of the TV at least) moments. Having seen first and second practice from Silverstone I was surprised to see that they were playing at all. I had already gathered from news and friend’s FB comments that the weather has been quite nasty again in the old place. We had a gorgeous day. Gail snapped over fifty shots with her camera and I had to babysit the cat as she had her wandering boots on in the sunshine. Everything changed at about six o’clock. It had been quite breezy all day, but it was suddenly obvious that some very low cloud was scudding across from East to West. It was like watching time-lapse. Gradually, but consistently, the fog grew thicker and thicker until visibility was down to only a hundred metres. That means that we lost sight of the neighbours. I still don’t understand how it can be so foggy and yet windy at the same time. I should have taken my Geography studies a bit further, I suppose.

Snapshot image from video footage. Want one!
After watching final practice from Silverstone, we headed out to Lady to visit the ferrets at the open day. Those creatures are so cute. We were given a little talk about ferret history and ferret care. We got to watch ferret races but most of all we got to watch a ‘gang’ of ferrets frolicking about. We even got to stroke a skunk and even though it sounds more like it’s a euphemism for something else, we actually did the literal thing. It got me thinking about how there are no predators, other than the feral cat population and some guys with guns, to keep the rabbit population under control. Perhaps ferrets are the answer. Well, ferrets, a big sack and a rock. And maybe someone else can handle the sack and the rock bits. Knowing us, we’d be weaning our ferrets onto a vegetarian diet.
Marsh orchid having a jolly time on my 'lawn'.
                The grow box that I’d planted months ago suddenly leapt into life. I’m assuming that it hadn’t really and it was just that I hadn’t checked in on it for a while. I had no idea what the plants were, but it certainly looked like some of them would benefit from a little more space and something to climb up against. A bit more digging and weeding later, what I am reliably informed are broad beans were happily trained to something sturdy and the little shoots that I’d left behind have been able to collectively loosen their belts. But the activity had upset the locals and I was chased indoors by a swarm of angry, hungry flies. It will be a while before I am confident enough that it is safe to get the washing in but as it’ll be light until about 11, I’m sure the little bastards will be asleep by then. The clothes line is out the back of the house and we tend to spend most of our time there looking around at the wild flowers that are flourishing. There is a huge abundance of marsh orchids. There are so many that it would lead one to assume that our back garden is in fact a marsh. Actually, that sounds entirely accurate and explains a lot.    

Friday, 6 July 2012

The longest day and other stuff

My problem is that I’m more of a spectator than a doer. It means that, while I know too damn well that there are loads of things around here that need doing, I am all too easily distracted by things like music, books and TV. It is not to be unexpected either for me to be so captivated by my new surroundings that it completely slips my mind that I’m supposed to get my fingers stuck into them for my subsistence. Then, of course, stick a Grand Prix or a football competition on and I’m lost. I commonly suspect that I am fit for nothing and there is plenty of evidence to show this to be the case.

It is therefore, quite obvious when the distractions run out. The twentieth was the first day in a fortnight when there was no football on the television. While initially distraught, having already finished reading my library books and not allowing myself another i-tunes download for another few days, I had to search for a release for my modest amount of pent up frustration. Satisfaction arrived in the shape of an eight pound lump hammer and a rusty cement mixer. 

Pleased to still have toes after this episode.
The dolly that it was attached to fell away as I but the drum itself and the motor were more substantial bits of kit. If I was to use it as a flower pot in future, then the motor had to come off and some drain holes made. I naively assumed that the metal would be rusty enough to be holed by a nail, but after bending the nail and twatting my thumb instead, I realised that the thing was still pretty solid. I turned my attention instead to the motor attached to the base of the drum. Fortunately, a few well aimed tonks, not to mention the myriad of poorly aimed ones, broke the motor off and left a nice big hole in the base. I love it when a plan comes together. I had already started digging a hole for a firepit, a while ago now, before realising that it wasn’t the best place for it, so now I’ve sunk the bottom half of the cement mixer in it instead. Content and a little tired, I went indoors to find a more relaxing distraction.

Mark Twain referred to golf as a good walk ruined. While it is not to everybody’s cup of tee, it is exercise and some fresh air. As a ‘gentleman’ of mature age, it is now one of the few sports that I can participate in without serious threat of serious physical harm. (For me, sport and psychological harm are synonymous.)  As a regular player in the Tuesday handicap competition, where I proudly prop up the league, I like to think that my game is coming on a little. At least I’ve found one club in the bag that I can get a reasonable return with and anyone with a passing knowledge of the film ‘Tin Cup’ will guess accurately that I have adopted the ‘single club’ method of getting around. I also find it useful to only hit a ball a hundred yards or so at a time as I can often see where lands.  It must be remembered that Sanday Golf Club bears no relation to the neatly manicured fairways of Augusta or The Belfry. Often, it is only by observing the direction from which the wildlife is fleeing that you get an idea of where your ball has ended up. Even then, if it has rolled into a rabbit warren or under a ‘coo-scone’, you could stand within five feet of it and still not find it.

I am a glutton for punishment. Even in ideal weather, nine holes at Sanday is a challenge enough. It has been a notion of mine, ever since we arrived on the island, to test the legend that it is possible to play a round at midnight during the shortest night. A few people celebrate the solstice. As an astronomical inevitability, I try not to get too excited about it, but it deserves to be acknowledged and observed. I chose to acknowledge and observe it by leaving the house at half past eleven and trudging up the road to the clubhouse. There was no moon in a predominantly clear sky. The Northern horizon was aflame. The road was empty and I cursed myself for not riding my bike instead of taking ‘Shanks’s pony’. I grabbed my clubs and headed for the first tee. I could easily read the scorecard but I must confess that the uneven ground was full of dark shadows. I teed up a bright orange ball and addressed it armed with a three wood. I didn’t see the ball leave but I knew that I hadn’t middled it. I next set up a white ball and dug out my ‘old faithful’ seven iron. A clean strike this time, but I couldn’t make out its flight. All I could do was grab the clubs and set off toward the pin. If I didn’t fall over the ball within a hundred and twenty paces then it would be lost. After about five minutes of searching, I gave them both up and resigned to just have a go at the short, par three third. What could go wrong on such a short hole? I hit two balls toward the green and set off in pursuit. I had no luck in finding them until I saw that one had found the green. It certainly wasn’t the first place I’d thought to look. Just a few weeks earlier, not a single member of the club had managed the feat during a ‘nearest the pin’ competition.  It was satisfying therefore to be able to two-putt for a par in the middle of the night. I even found my other ball on my way back and took a more familiar eight strokes in getting that one to the flag. I can now boast that I have tried it and found out that midnight golf is a really stupid idea. I got home at a quarter past one and turned in.

It was nice to get back into the routine of a Friday swim at the pool. I’ve been regularly attempting to swim a mile each time but trying to count up to one hundred and eight, for some reason, I find incredibly difficult. Although the upside of my amnesia is that it allows me to go and play instead of pounding relentlessly up and down. I often berate myself for not making more use of the beach just across the road, but even though it’s free and pretty much endless, it is undoubtedly those few extra degrees centigrade that make a whole world of difference and worth the expense. When we arrived home from the pool and the shop, we found that part of the cabling trench had been dug from the turbine site toward the house. Neither of us recalled seeing it there when we’d left just a couple of hours earlier, nor were we expecting any more work on it for about a month. Not that we are complaining. It’s not as if we were at risk of falling in. We just hoped that they hadn’t scarpered because they’d hit a pipe or a cable. Fortunately, we checked and were still connected to the services we had that morning.

This is how the old windows looked. Nasty!
The following week started with a call from Everest. They were finishing up a job in Orkney a day early and could they make a start on ours? That prompted a flurry of activity. All the houseplants were vacated to the shed that I’d partly ‘mucked out’. We also took down the curtains and ugly plastic curtain tracks, moved some bookcases around and generally improved accessibility around the place. (Our properties tend to become one continuous series of tripping hazards!) The boys arrived punctually and began working their way around, removing the metal-framed, nadger’s thick windows and fitting huge-paned, double-glazed sealed unit jobs in their place. The transformation is nothing short of spectacular. I often criticise Gail for wanting to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but in this case it must be conceded that the views are wonderful, the exclusion of the elements is very pleasant, it’s lighter and they can actually be interacted with. Previously, any attempt to open or close the windows would have involved the removal or application of considerable amount of sealant. The fitters overnighted at the private residence of an islander who previously had run her house as a B&B and was persuaded to take visitors due to a shortage of accommodation on the island as there are presently lots of workmen in Sanday doing all sorts of major infrastructure works. 

These are the new ones. Nice!
They arrived just after half past seven the next morning to do the last three windows. They were booked onto the 18:30 ferry to Kirkwall so that had to finish up that day. I helped them a little by retaining nearly all the windows they had taken out and most of the timber. I am fairly certain that I would have been escorted off the island if I’d let that much salvageable material get chucked into a skip. As it was they were done by lunchtime, so we gave them directions to the Kettletoft Hotel and gave them some money for drinks until they needed to head off for their boat. We on the other hand just walked around the house saying “Wow!” a lot.