Tuesday, 9 October 2012

September in a page

Now the whole world knows. (If they happen to be passing.)

                On an early September walk along the beach, in improved weather, I espied a pile of building rubble and, when I checked it out, found a great big slate roof tile that was practically begging to be ‘recycled’. It took me a while to lug the thing home. It made scrambling up the shingle onto the dunes particularly hazardous. After chipping all the flakey bits off it, Gail painted the house name on it and then coated it with waterproof PVA to seal it. While she was busy with that, I made a staked frame for it to stand on. It was a pile of crap, I admit. It didn’t even stand up to being whacked into the ground with a mallet so I very much doubt that it will survive the Orcadian elements for very long. For the time being, however, it looks pretty neat, even if we do say so ourselves and at least visitors will be spared having to phone up for directions having driven straight past. That is unless it rains, apparently. It doesn’t look as if the PVA is properly waterproof. When we arrived home during a ‘peedie’ storm the other day, it had turned to foam and rendered Gail’s artistic lettering, in careful ‘papyrus’ style font, completely illegible. If it wasn’t for the horsebox, I’d have missed the gate and driven past. Maybe not.  
"To get to the lighthouse, you have to get past us first."
                Gail and I finally went on one of the walks organised and hosted by the islands ranger, Rod. It was to Start Point lighthouse. I’d been there before, on my own, but this time we were going to get inside. We still had to scramble across the rocks to the island and then yomp another half a mile the other side through quite heavy ground. It was knackering just getting there. There was not much left in the tank for climbing all those steps. In addition, the fact that they wound round and around made Gail very queasy. The ladder to the light itself was a journey too far for her. Our guide explained the operation and history of the lighthouse before letting the rest of us climb another short ladder to the balcony. Stonking views were denied only by misty weather, but I took pictures anyway in the hope that something could be discerned from the fuzzy images. The light itself was powered by gas for many years and given the difficulty we’d had getting ourselves here, it was hard to imagine the nightmare of carrying over a hundred cylinders to such a remote place. More about Start Point at http://www.nlb.org.uk/LighthouseLibrary/Lighthouse/Start-Point/

                Gawping out of our windows remains a primary occupation.
I can see you, you little bugger!
Leo waiting for his dinner to arrive.

A racoon bird. Really?
               I took a bike ride up to Scuthvie, where the tarmac ends, in the North-East corner of the island. Eventually, I want to try cycling from one end to the other so I wanted to see just how far it was from my gate. Mapometer says it’s three miles. Adding the twelve to Loth Pier, it’s not a journey I intend to try any time soon! (http://www.mapometer.com/cycling/route_2379071.html). On the way back, I detoured around the North Loch. Hundreds of geese and swans were happily floating around on the water, occasionally taking noisily to the air, circling around and landing again. It’s a full life for a fowl. This ‘road’ led me to the edge of the bay on the opposite side of the island to the Bay of Lopness. It’s called Bay of Sandquoy, but it is part of a larger stretch of coastline called Otters Wick, which is a clue to what beasts frequent the area. And it didn’t disappoint. Just off the rocks, an otter was swimming along, parallel to the shore line, diving and breaching frequently. My first sighting.

                My Makita drill got another outing when a couple more curtain poles needed putting up. Buoyed by the success of those projects, it was time to try getting through two courses of breeze block to get the aerial cable fed in. Even with the bit extension attached, it was necessary to go at it from both sides, creating the problem of making both holes align. It also meant that I couldn’t quit halfway through the gig, despite the temptation. Leaving holes in external walls is not clever, apparently. I also learnt that spade bits are meant for wood. When used on masonry, the point breaks off and the spade blades wear out, leaving the idiot with the trigger bashing his way through concrete with a fast-spinning spoon. I am just amazed that the feeling in my hand eventually came back. Thankfully, persistence is rewarded, even when common sense is completely absent. Now we can watch TV without the window open. It’s like we’ve evolved or something.

                 Gail has requested my signature dish, haricot and olive bake, a couple of times now. I’ve also made bread dough for some homemade pizzas. I’ve even knocked up a very passable carrot cake, with carrots from our own garden. Also, Gail trusts me to do veggie ‘fry-ups’. Apart from that, other than breakfast porridge every morning, meals are primarily Gail’s responsibility. She’s an absolute diva at opening cardboard boxes and putting containers in the oven. To her credit, she makes a damn good biscuit. If this paragraph makes it through her ‘edit & proof-read’ I will be very much surprised.

                The islanders running the Sanday bus got in touch with me and invited me for a ‘ride-along’. This meant an early start if we were to pick up ‘Northenders’ on the way across the island to Loth Pier for the first ferry of the day. It made a pleasant change to be the passenger for once and I’m afraid that I wasn’t much help, nor a very avid trainee, as all I did was rubberneck at all the amazing scenery. I get away with a little bit of that in the Skoda, but I usually get shouted at or smacked very promptly. With the higher elevation of the minibus, it was even more spectacular. I made a second trip two days later for the evening run and made sure that I was more attentive. It must have worked as I was asked to do the following evenings run solo. I brought the bus home and parked it by the gate. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement. Unsure as to whether the accents, rabbits in the road, single-track carriageways, the ticket machine or the vans temperamental clutch would prove my nemesis, I played every disastrous scenario, including driving the bus off the end of the pier, in my head a million times. The gig itself was an uneventful success. The only exception was the local owner of the self-catering cottage at Park (near Start) telling me off for not stopping right outside the door. When I told him that I had been warned not to do any off-roading and that it was my first day, he was most understanding. I’d carried six passengers, seven if you include the kitten, and taken nine pounds in fares. It then struck me that that was my first work in twenty months. Well worth the wait!

Thank you to the copyright holder, whoever you are.
                At the pool, we finally met the lady in charge and put our names down for lifeguard training and duty. You do sod all for a year and a half and suddenly you get two jobs at once. The lifeguarding however is purely voluntary. Actually, I’ve just remembered that we’ve lined up another one as well. An archaeologist on the island is working for Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion (SCAPE) to identify ‘at risk’ sites on Sanday. We’ve contacted her to express our interest in the project. She’s keen to find volunteers who are willing to photograph the current condition of the sites in the hope of obtaining funding for excavations and then to help with the digging. We’ve watched all the episodes of Time Team so it’s about time that we got our knees dirty. 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Oh well. That's Summer over then

                    I suspect that, after only about ten weeks of relative calm, winter is already returning to Sanday.  One of the most obvious signals of a chilly night is the sight of steam rising from the small loch beyond the bottom of the garden and the geese there arguing with their mates about when will be the best time to head off. It’s that time of year when the locals start walking around their property to look out for anything that they’ll need to have nailed down before the winds come. Whereas I, on the other hand, tend to harbour the opinion that if it managed to survive last winter then it’ll continue to be fine. I never was very bright. If I’m able to pick up some corrugated plastic sheeting, I might repair the shed roofs, although I don’t suppose the local avians will be too happy about it. Furthermore, the thought occurs that if, then, it were to get blow off, there will be no way to deny that it was MY fault and that if I’d just left it the hell alone it would likely have been alright. Prevention cannot always be guaranteed to be better than the cure, especially if I have anything to do with it. Presently, I’ve resolved to let all hell break loose and then any effort I make is assured to be an improvement on whatever carnage the storms may leave in their wake. I’m quietly confident that I can manage to pull that off.
It's a lake and it's steaming. That's just wrong.
                Although the turbine is still offline, there continue to be matters arising. The guy who is paying for it, and for a couple of others at sites on the island, dropped by to get the necessary leases signed. Jonathan and his dad were a great laugh, so we certainly don’t anticipate any problems in the future. They’d driven up from Leicester in Jonathan’s smart BMW and he was in no mood to rally it across our wild ‘garden’. They’d explored the island and very much liked what they saw. Sure, they’d come on a nice day but senior was seriously threatening to mislay his return ticket. Within days of their visit, Scottish Hydro had changed the old token meter for a flash new one and ever since then we’ve been straining at the bit to get it turned back on. To their credit, they sent an engineer straight out to us late on Sunday night. Rick, for ‘twas his name, was staying on the island overnight to work a full day on Monday and came out to us before he had even been to his B&B. Our hero. When he switched it on, however, it was clear that something was wrong. It was making far too much noise and when we went to investigate, the whole foundation was shaking. He shut it down quickly and admitted that there was nothing he could do today, in the dark. It was pitch black out. Nothing will get done now until the 18th when they’ll likely have to bring the head down and see what the blue blazes is going on.

                The island development trust advertised a vacancy for a bus driving job, only the second post to arise to my knowledge, so I applied for this one too. The interview went pretty well but the post went to the current relief driver. But at least I’ve shown willing and the operators appear keen to get me on board in future, to get involved by taking minutes at their meetings and training for any driver positions that may come up later when they implement a planned expansion of the service. I think I may have a foot in the door at least. First aid training is high on the agenda and what with us looking to start lifeguard training at the pool, it all seems to be coming together quite nicely.

                Conversely, I’m not doing very well at becoming a more determined vegetarian, as I had planned. It doesn’t help when Gail herself suggested trading vices, her penchant for coffee treats for my legendary, and dare I say hereditary fondness for ‘dead animal’ ones. Her need for cappuccino meant that I was able to celebrate international bacon day on the first of September in style. On shopping expeditions previously, I have been not only permitted but openly encouraged to reacquaint myself with tinned corned beef and spam, black pudding, beef burgers and a range of tasty sausages and hams. At least I haven’t made another order from the German deli in London, but I must confess that cost is the primary de-motivator on that front. I’m far from happy with my weakness for it all. My waistband isn’t happy either. But I can hardly tell the missus that she can’t enjoy her beans so, I’m afraid to say, cute little critters will continue to come a cropper.

                Nothing seems to be able to curtail Gail’s enthusiasm for life on Sanday. I dragged her out on another walk with me but after only five minutes heading along the windswept beach we got absolutely drenched so headed back home, laughing our socks off. The very next day we had to return some books to the mobile library parked outside the school. It was still more than a tad breezy and the truck was being pitched around quite severely. Gail was getting seasick and within minutes went the same colour she had gone when we crossed the Pentland Firth in December. There is a distinct lack of sick-bags aboard the library, so she picked out a couple of tomes in double-quick time and hastened back to the relative security of the car. Now things are beginning to look up for her. She has joined the choir. They are meeting up regularly down the pub and getting some voice coaching. As her chauffeur, I am left at the bar nursing a couple of bottles of J2O during the proceedings. I kicked myself for forgetting to take my i-pod along, but I must admit that it was not that much of an unpleasant experience while I read. She very much enjoyed herself, too. There certainly was a lot of rather unmusical cackling going on.

Andy has to hide his wallet when Gail sees something that looks like fun!

                Earlier in the year, I disturbed a feral cat that had been sheltering in one of the stables. He’s a cute Siamese that doesn’t wear a collar. Gail cannot believe that he is fully feral, but when he next appeared he had an abscess on his leg that did not look as if it was being treated. He still has the flappy bit of skin on his leg, but he otherwise looks very healthy these days and is still gorgeous. Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to feed him as he has started to drop by fairly regularly these days. There was quite nervous moment when I opened the front door to let Smokey get some fresh air and the pair came almost nose-to-nose in the hallway. To their credits, neither chose to engage in fisticuffs. Smokey was too shocked to do anything other than stare for a few moments before starting to hiss. The Siamese growled in an almost canine manner. I’d heard that the breed were quite gobbie, but not actually witnessed it for myself. Smokey was kept indoors and our visitor was evicted as gently as possible, with a bribe. There are also a couple of predominantly black cats wandering around. I’ve caught them both sheltering in the stables at times recently, but they are very shy and run away quickly when they see us. Their hunting prowess beyond reproach, as the number of fresh rabbit carcasses testify. One of our neighbours is associated with Cats Protection in Kirkwall, so it may be that we'll soon need to get them captured and neutered before we're falling over even more fluffy bundles.