We found that the shelves were getting a little bare the other day, and filling them again was not quite the simple exercise that it used to be. We had to get ourselves organized. The first thing that we have to do is check that the weather is not going to be foul, even before we make sure whether there is available space on the boat. If it's going to be blowing less than 20mph, a short email to those jolly helpful people at Orkney Ferries does the trick. Within twenty minutes, Margaret replies with our confirmation and it’s all systems go. I go out remove any extraneous items from the boot of the Skoda to allow for maximum capacity, check the tyre pressures and remove the gobs of bird-shite from the windscreen. At least I don’t have to check for nests in the engine bay at this time of year. We sort out loads of shopping bags, rucksacks and put the squidgy, liquid blocks for the cool-box into the freezer overnight in the hope that we’ll remember to take them out in the morning. Lists prepared, library books packed, wallets and purses sorted, it’s time to make sure to get a good night’s sleep for an early start.
|"What time d'ya call this?!!"|
I remember when we used to get up at 5:45am every weekday morning. Well, Gail used to wake up at 5:45am. I on the other hand waited until she’d brought me a cup of tea at about half past six before I even lifted my head off the pillow. Then, about five minutes before we were supposed to leave, I’d run around like a headless chicken which often meant that I’d forget something in my haste, my wallet, my keys or more likely my brain. It’s a habit that has lapsed almost completely these days, unless we’re talking about 5:45 pm. We have never, as yet, failed to be up and about by then.
|"And don't come back until you've got me a tuna."|
Smokey instinctively knows when we are about to abandon her for the day. She is usually quite ambivalent about our erratic time-keeping, provided that one of us takes the time to top up her biscuits or slop out a bit more tuna into her bowl at regular intervals. Both of us awake and dressed before 8:00am is all the evidence she needs to justify beginning the psychological warfare, meowing at us each in turn, purring theatrically the moment she is shown attention and generally being in the way in an attempt to stall our departure. To compensate for our feeling of guilt, we shade off the end of the bed for her for when she sleeps and leave the radio on for her when she’s awake. If she had opposable thumbs, heck, I’d put the X-box on for her.
We head off just after 8:30 to arrive at Loth pier by 9:00. You never know when you’ll find yourself behind a herd of cows being moved to fresh pasture along the road. There are so few roads on the island that there is no chance of making a detour so we would have been obliged to wait for them to reach their destination before continuing. Starting a stampede just because you’re running late is not recommended. As it transpires, our route is clear so we arrive in good time, joining the queue of vehicles already waiting at the assembly point. It starts to rain and there’s no sign of a boat. When there is an early morning sailing, a boat will have moored up at the pier overnight. Later sailings have a ten minute turnaround, disgorging its vehicles and passengers arriving from Kirkwall before allowing those of us leaving the island to embark. Our ship is the largest of the fleet, the Varagen, so there’s plenty of room for all. We make for the passenger lounge, sit down and wait for the scenery to move. The journey takes about eighty minutes, plenty of time to make it down to the cafeteria for a bacon roll for me and a tuna mayo one for Gail.
Soon, Kirkwall homes into view. Well, it would have done if the lounge faced forward, but it doesn’t. Having watched the islands of Eday, Stronsay and Shapinsay slide past, the green bits ceased to have blue bits around them. That means that this is Orkney mainland. We’re getting close. We recognise Hatston Pier which means we’ll be on terra firma in minutes. A ship announcement calls us down to the car deck and we get back into the Skoda. On Sanday, vehicles drive on to the stern of the ship so that when we reach Kirkwall we can drive off from the pointy end. First though, and this still never fails to freak me out, the whole prow of the ship swings upward while we’re still moving. It’s just as if the Herald of Free Enterprise capsize had never happened!
There are a few places in Kirkwall that offer free parking. The largest site conveniently lies directly opposite the supermarkets but it is presently closed for a travelling funfair. It was a race therefore to secure one of the limited spaces on the waterfront. We are lucky to find one and head on foot to the town centre, but we are distracted by more boats arriving. One of the ships is my favourite, the Shapinsay ferry, as it is a drop-fronted ro-ro like at the Normandy D-Day landings. OK not quite like June 1944, but the same principal. This landing was interesting as the slipway was currently being used to launch a rib that was stubbornly refusing to detach from its trailer. Fortunately, the ferry crew were aware of it and stopped in plenty of time. The ramp was lowered and those on the deck playfully teased those with the rib that they were holding up their passengers and should pull their fingers out. A good-natured dialogue ensued, avec hand gestures before the rib was launched and the 4x4 drove up the slipway before the ferry’s ramp rode up behind it.
|The Shapinsay landing craft is thwarted by a congested slipway|
It’s a short walk to the middle of town. They have a Boots, a Euronics, an M & Co and a Co-op, but other than the banks and the energy company shop, the rest of the shops are independents. After a visit to the library and a little ‘high street retail therapy’ we stop for lunch at Café Lolz@21. It’s the calm before the storm of rushing around Didldidi and Tesco before filling the car up with unleaded on the way back to the pier. It all goes swimmingly. There was some initial disappointment when Lidl didn’t have any Paprika crisps, but the gods of fortune were smiling on me when the petrol station shop turned out to be a Spar, who make and sell their own brand paprika flavoured tube crisps. That was the ferry snack problem solved. It is a mystery why British crisp brands don’t produce a paprika flavoured version. It’s like being abroad without having to be abroad. It’s exotic. They taste a damn sight better than prawn feckin’ cocktail!
|There's still one to pack on! Skoda is under the truck.|
Our boat for the journey North was the Earl Sigurd. The Earl Sigurd and her sister ship the Earl Thorfinn are both smaller than the Varagen, so it was a challenge to fit all the returning vehicles and a couple of huge trucks full of aggregate onto the car deck. Gail and the other car passengers had to bail out so the cars could fit three abreast. It was a bit like a Krypton Factor puzzle, but the ferry crew were up to it. I made my way out of the lounge and onto the ‘deck’ in order to snap a few pictures of Kirkwall as it receded into the distance. I returned to the lounge and stuck my head into my new library book. The next thing I know, we’re back at Loth. We were behind schedule due to the kerfuffle loading in Kirkwall. It was gone five and the light was fading. I joined the back of the train of cars heading across the island, thinning as those in front of us each reached their destinations before us. To save lugging all our stuff down the driveway, I gave myself special dispensation to park right up at the house. There was no short-cut to putting all the goodies away though.
Then it was tea, coffee and faux Dickmanns. Feet up, catch the last rounds of Pointless and relax. Repeat this process every five weeks. Fin.