Wednesday, 28 November 2012

As the days are getting shorter


            I hate writing a blog. No, that’s not true at all. What I hate is myself for not writing them more regularly. The problem is that I won’t have any truck with a regimen for anything I do. I like to think that it’s spontaneity, but if I am being honest, it is just chaos. Hence, when I do sit myself down to bash out fifteen hundred words by stabbing the keypad of Gail’s laptop with my two index fingers, I find without fail that I need to review my diary, photograph album and my Facebook posts to remind myself what the hell it is that I’ve been up to since I last posted. Quite often I find out that I have completely forgotten whole adventures and have to remind myself that this isn’t fiction. If it was, the hero would be smart, brave, funny and handsome, unlike me. (And probably a girl! The jury is still out on that one.)

So how far did I get last time?

Did I mention Backaskaill ( http://www.bedandbreakfastsandayorkney.com ) where we went for dinner to celebrate twenty two years of marital bliss? No? Well, we did and it was very good indeed. Not so good for the duck I had, but if it’s any consolation to it, he or she tasted delicious. The very next morning, however, it was back to our friend Andy’s place for me to help him to finish the fence around his polytunnel. (Andy has already posted on the ‘Downsizer’ website that he was actually due to attend a hospital appointment that morning but when he went to put his ferry boarding pass into his wallet, he realized that he had forgotten it, so he handed his boarding pass back and drove home!) This time it was to nail up the black, polyester windbreak fencing to those massive posts. Each of the twenty horizontal strips needed stretching and then fixing into place with large wire staples. I tried really hard not to do too much damage with a hammer and still have all my fingers left at the end of it. When we’d finished, it was time to lop off the tops of the posts with a chainsaw. Like a fool, Andy offered to let me have a go. As someone capable of incredible feats of stupidity, I just laughed at him and I think he understood. Instead, I held the ladder for him as he wielded ‘Excalibur’ over my head, covering me in sawdust, and tried to deflect the chunks of lumber he’d removed. The one that he missed tumbled down the steps and twatted me on the knee. So I limped for a few days, but the sense of manliness more than made up for it.

The only things missing now are searchlights, guard towers and a staff car.
A lot like Grand Theft Auto. Only with much more roadkill.
After a few days, by which time I had fully regained my usual mobility, I got a call from the manager of the bus operator who asked if I was available to take over the driver duties for one day a week in order to give the regular driver, Kelly, a regular day off. After checking my appointments calendar and confirming with my erstwhile social secretary, I said that it would be a pleasure. The gig involves me taking the bus out every Thursday and making two trips to Loth pier to drop off and pick up passengers to compliment the ferry timetable. There is only one road from the pier to the middle of the island, but then it’s a bit of a run-around, picking up and dropping off at homes all over the place. It certainly is an excellent way to learn about the island and the folk on it. There are a few helpful tools to assist me. My site-centred, large scale Ordnance Survey map is pretty good, but it would seem that you are nobody without a copy of ‘Naggles O Piapittem’, a volume of hand-drawn maps of Sanday with every single house, bothy, bog, stream and field named and numbered for easy reference. Unfortunately, as it is currently out of print, copies are available online only for obscene amounts of lucre. I would draw your attention to http://www.amazon.co.uk/Naggles-Piapittem-Place-Sanday-Orkney/dp/0951344331 if you don’t believe me. It looks as if I’ll have to learn the old fashioned way, by getting out there, on four, two or no wheels, and discovering the place in my own inimitable style. The book’s out of date anyway. Our house isn’t on it for a start, but then it would not be too unreasonable to conclude that the shed didn’t qualify as a landmark of any note-worthy consequence. (Cue author being hit over the head with an M. C. Beaton novel borrowed from Orkney Library.)

One of my passengers is the wife of the captain of the golf club. As I dropped Ruth off at the gate, Ean asked me if I was available to help in repairing the fences around the greens on the course at the weekend. No problem, despite my aversion to sharp objects. The course is a farmer’s field, on which he grazes cattle or sheep depending on the time of year. During the summer, when the season is in full swing, there are no livestock grazing on it, so the fences are partially removed. At the end of the year, however, it’s time to put cows back onto the land, so the fences need to go back up and an additional, waist-high course of barbed wire needs to be strung. Some posts required hammering in and some of the existing ones needed support. If the animals don’t push them over, it is guaranteed that the elements will. Then it was a case of fixing the wire with more of those bloody wire staple things. The barbs tore my gardening gloves to ribbons during the afternoon. They were clearly not up to the job, but did enough to spare me from any bloody wounds, which likely would have had me fainting at the sight and further damaging any credibility I think that I may have with the locals. The course barely took a couple of hours to finish. It often takes me about that long just to play a round, in which time a small team of eight guys had completely re-fenced all nine holes.

Ancestry.co.uk was offering a free glimpse of WW1 records so I busied myself inspecting those this month. It was nice that I was able to find that granddad and Uncle Chris both served. The effect it had on them both I can only imagine, but it was interesting to view their records anyway. Imagine my delight to find that both had reprimands for minor offences. Granddad Arthur had turned up for ceremonial parade sporting a youthful beard and got canned for that. I wonder if it was quite as bad as the grief that I get from Gail when I don't bother to shave? I doubt it. My uncle on the other hand had made more of his home leave than was strictly allowed and forfeited some pay accordingly. I should imagine that it brought him no shortage of earache as well. As a pacifist as well as having just read a number of battlefield accounts recently, it’s about as much knowledge as I can comfortably tolerate. I can appreciate the torment, even of those that came home physically unscathed. The fact that we perpetuate, as a species, such horrors continues to appal me.
Don't you just hate nosy neighbours?
It's too dark for shots of the moon or aurora, but we get millions of these things.
It has been a month of firsts in the vista department. I’d never really noticed moon-bows before, but now I have I can saw that they are very beautiful indeed. I’ve seen a lot of moon-rings, the moonlight being refracted by thin, low cloud. The one the other night was unusual because the ring was a long way away from the moon itself. So far, in fact, that it took Gail an age to find it. What I had never witnessed before is the light of the moon-ring so dispersed that all the colours of the rainbow were visible. The red and orange were spectacular enough, but after a while it was clear that the yellow, green and blue were there too. Then, just a day or so later, I was sticking my head out of the door to wish the stars a good night, when I noticed that the clouds to the North were glowing green. The aurora itself was obscured, but it shone around the cloud very brightly. It was a tough decision to make, whether or not to wake Gail up and face the possibility of personal injury if it turned out to be the wrong thing to do, but so excited was she by our first glimpse of the Northern Lights that she ended up walking around the house in her pyjamas for a better view. A week or so later, we were due to attend the Sanday Development Trust annual general meeting and nearly missed it. We arrived in good time but found ourselves, instead, stood in the car park just gawping at an unobscured aurora, our first. We did make it to the meeting eventually, but it was a close call for a moment there.  Solar radiation is not something that you can easily turn your back to when it’s putting on a show for you!  

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