Sunday, 27 January 2013

Let it snow (but not too much)

Another late posting. As Douglas Adams is quoted as saying: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” I may be rubbish, but at least I am in good company.

Hands off of our equines, Silvercrest!
As someone on a limited budget, I take full note of the cautionary tale of the contents of some ‘value’ burgers that made the news the other week. I would have thought that the retailers would be pleased that their patties had so much meat in them when you’d think that they’d be mostly rusk, testicles and whatnot. So despite what were probably the most healthy and appetizing morsels ever to be dressed in that packaging, tons of perfectly edible food was withdrawn from sale and tossed away. Burgers were thankfully not on the shopping list when we hit Lidl and Tesco in Kirkwall for a few essentials. Just in case anyone is under the impression that it’s all knitting patterns and farming weekly up here, we also dropped in on the library and I’m currently reading ‘The sound of things falling’ by Juan Gabriel Vasquez. Well, there’s no ‘Dandy’ these days!

My limited means also prevented me from buying this year’s diary pages for my old Filofax while we were in town. Yes there was a shop that stocked them. This necessitated finding a free one online to download. I gave up in the end on account of me being a technophobic Luddite, however Gail found a pretty Chrysanth one. It’s sitting there on the laptop desktop, bright as a button, but I just can’t bring myself to open it up and write an entry in it. Meanwhile, my trusty Filofax is glaring at me from the shelf like I’ve betrayed it. Which, basically, is exactly what I’ve done.

Spotted during our archaeological field-walk. Whatever it is.
Sanday is absolutely peppered with archaeology. Some of it is big and bold like the Quoyness chambered cairn, but some of it is small and threatened by being erased from history by wind, tide, flora and fauna. The SCAPE trust aims to identify archaeological sites at risk from erosion and have a project to update its records by having field-walkers complete status report forms and lodge their findings and photographs online. It is also possible to register new sites that hadn’t been identified before. On Sunday, an islander who just so happens to be a field manager lead a small group of amateurs to explore half a dozen sites near Stove. We found two burial mounds, one with a navigation beacon built on it and the other robbed out, some kelp beds and plenty of other evidence of ancient occupation. Some of it is quite tenuous, like changes in soil colour and stones lying at jaunty, unnatural angles. It was cold and the terrain was hellish so I’m amazed that with all my gawping around at the scenery/evidence that I didn’t fall flat on my face in the mud.

I learned from Facebook pretty early on that much of the country had got quite a bit of snow over the following days. Everywhere, that is, but Peterborough, apparently. As is often the way, it caused quite a bit of disruption, closing airports and stuff, the infrastructure unprepared even though it happens every year. It always seems to be either too dry in summer, to wet in spring and autumn and shock horror it gets cold in winter. The Northern isles were not so affected. Up to that point, our little pond had only frozen over twice. Slowly, however, the snow marched relentlessly in our general direction and soon it was predicted to arrive.

Tuesday dawned chilly and calm. We planned a little drive to Kettletoft Post Office, then to Heilsa Fjold to avail ourselves of their wi-fi, a brief visit to Lady roadside shop for a few groceries before finally heading home. We trudged up the garden to the car and noticed the gritter/plough go past. We thought it rather superfluous as the road outside the gate was clear, without even a frost on it. I had no reservations about venturing out. A couple of miles up the road though, where we were away from the sea, around the Plain of Fidge, conditions changed. There was plenty of white stuff here and the bends were suspiciously treacherous. Lady was covered in snow and despite the plough, it sat on the road itself, an inch or two thick. Also, where most of the traffic had turned right at the war memorial, a high bank of snow lay across the route directly ahead. I often boast that my Skoda benefits from a rally heritage, and I was grateful that it did when it crashed through the pile and on over the less used way. 
Told you. Thanks Google Images.
This was interesting. As we got to the old harbour it thinned again but got even worse heading back into the middle of the island. Hot soup was the order of the day and I was keen to ask Kelly, the bus driver, how she had fared that morning as her Tuesday shopping route pulled in for a bite of lunch. Her neck of the ‘woods’ had been worst affected but by far her scariest moment had been ascending a steep road called ‘the branch’ almost sideways. The cars behind her had waited around the corner at the bottom just in case gravity had won and brought the transit sliding back down to meet them. It is a precipitous bit of tarmac that scares me on a good day, so I filed her account of the ordeal in the old grey cells for when I was to take the bus in a few days. When the current version of i-tunes had finished installing on the laptop, we left for home and found it as clear as it had been when we’d left. I don’t see what all the fuss is all about to be honest.

I was promised that it would all have thawed by Thursday. I went to bed on Wednesday night, with a hot water bottle admittedly, in good faith but just as I was wishing the sky a good night, I noticed that it was very bright outside. It had arrived and there was plenty of it. I hardly slept. A late booking already made my trip to the pier a hurried one and now that conditions had turned pants, I doubted it was even possible. The first pick-up of the morning was one of the bosses. He’d know if we were going to make it or not. When he had finished being amused by my reluctance to run over any bunnies he assured me that we’d make it in good time. I tore the length and breadth of the island and collected my last fare in Kettletoft just as the ferry was due to arrive. The trouble was that it was arriving at Loth, eight convoluted and treacherous miles away. There was no way we were going to make it before it had turned around. “They won’t leave without us.” Gareth insisted.
The boat that Andy nearly missed.

He was right. The last few trucks were being loaded as I swept down the last hill, swung through the car-park and hurtled toward the dock. “They don’t grit the pier!” my passengers exclaimed, just in time. In stark contrast to the preceding miles, I cautiously made my way to the bus stop at the pier’s end. Gareth had kindly managed the ticket machine for me so I could leap out, unload their luggage and wish a bon voyage to my customers. At 07:58, the 07:45 sailing departed for Kirkwall, a mere five minutes after I’d turned up at the scene. After such a stressful ordeal, and I do not presume to have been the only one on the bus who felt that way, I sat counting my lucky stars before a leisurely drive home, stopping often take pictures. My favourite, though, I didn’t stop for. I just aimed Gail’s Bloggie camera at the windscreen as I barrelled along ‘Fidge’.

A wise man tells me that this photo has 'album cover' written all over it.
In order to drive away the Winter chill and rather inspired by Italy Unpacked on BBC2, we checked out Rightmove overseas to check out property in warmer climes. All at once, our stiff joints and frostbitten appendages were forgotten as we recalled our holiday in Belaggio beside Lake Como. I have to face the truth that I am not man enough for the Northern Islands. I thought that I was bullet-proof, but I need to acknowledge that I am nothing more than a soft Sassenach. Without investment that we don’t have, the house will always be a hovel. Without a polytunnel, we will never be able to produce enough greens and our reluctance to keep livestock or even fish means that we’ve hamstrung ourselves with our own ideology. We are never going to be able to live ‘the good life’ with our delicate sensibilities, not to mention our darn-right laziness. Sorry. It got a bit melancholy just then. I’ll be alright again in a few months. If you thought that was miserable, you should have seen how forlorn I was last winter. In comparison, that was me being cheerful!

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