Monday, 1 April 2013

Here comes the summer. Allegedly.

                Mid-March saw the first gathering of the old Sanday Fiddle Club, now with the more inclusive nomenclature of Sanday Sounds, with an agenda to encourage more musicians to attend. Not that I consider myself to have any ability at all, but Kelly was taking her axe and asked me to back her up, so I did despite my reservations.  I had planned to tag along with my acoustic bass but with the nasty weather I thought it best to go with the full electric Squier precision as I had a bag for it. It turned out that the decision had another and unforeseen benefit. The trouble with acoustic instruments is they are designed to boost the sound, which in this case, with a room packed with extremely competent violinists, a cellist, two flutists, a folk guitarist and Tony on the electric piano, would have been a complete disaster. Quite innocently I was in a position to be able to turn the amplifier down to 1 so that no-one could hear how bad I was playing. I think I got away with it. It didn’t help that I couldn’t understand the sheet music. Everybody else seemed to be doing all right with it so I can only assume that I was the only one in the room who just so happened to have a copy in a foreign language. Still, now I’m home and with the closest neighbours being at least half a kilometre away, I can practice a little bit before the next examination of my amateurism. I did also join in on the alto bits of the choral part of the evening, even though I had promised myself, Gail and the others that I wouldn’t, which actually turned out to be pretty cool.

You never know what you'll bump into swimming in the bay.
                A disaster, of sorts, is looming on the exercise front in the coming days. I have mentioned before that the weather has been ‘adverse’, being either: wet, cold or windy or indeed combinations of the aforementioned. The sea temperature has even the local fishermen concerned, so the likelihood of getting me to take a dip in the briny is most definitely a non-starter. The only opportunity we have to swim is at the pool and a growing number of islanders have been joining us of late. But during the Easter holidays, the pool is closing while the school has a new ground source heating system installed. Three Fridays in a row with no dip in the pool. Even worse than that, I’ll have to use our own shower for ablutions. Damn and blast.

Despite the chill, I’ve started some plantings indoors. Last year’s chili plants have almost all died, primarily due to the cold in the house. Now only one pot remains. I’ve planted a propagator tray of leeks, some dwarf French beans and a couple of pots with Brussels sprouts. All are showing encouraging signs, but I am running out of windowsill and plenty of the packets of seeds remain unopened.  I’ll have to think about kicking off the potatoes soon, but with no break in the frosty mornings until well in to April, I don’t want to expose them to the elements until I can be fairly certain that they’ll have a chance out in the field.

Wednesday was an absolutely stonking day weather wise. Uncharacteristically, I’d risen with the larks and gone out to do some digging. There was a ground frost but there was wall-to-wall blue sky and the sun was doing its utmost to lift the chill. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to get over losing all feeling in my fingers and I worked through my discomfort. When Gail eventually woke up, around lunchtime, she made cups of tea and coffee and we sat outside to drink them, Gail on a camping chair and me on my favourite pallet. Protected from what little there was of a Northerly breeze, actually a pleasant change from the Southerlies that we’d had earlier in the week, thank you, it got really balmy. We sat there, working on our tans, for at least an hour. Even Smokey joined us, often having to scamper behind Gail’s chair for some shade when she got overheated in her black fur coat. When we went back inside to wash the cups, we glanced over at the laptop which has a window for the temperature in Kirkwall and it read 4 degrees. I went back to work in the garden and when a few clouds developed in the afternoon, you could feel the drop in temperature immediately they obscured the sun. And as it got lower in the Western sky it certainly didn’t quite pack the punch it had earlier and I ran inside to dip my hands into some hot water until the feeling came back.
The Long man of Lopness. 

That evening there was a meeting of the local RNLI fundraising committee and the island’s resident ranger, Rod and his wife Sylvia, were giving a presentation about their recent Pacific adventure tour. Rod started the evening with a cautionary tale about the dangers of accepting an invitation to see someone else’s holiday slides and I was reminded of Rimmer in Red Dwarf and his collection of photographs of twentieth century telegraph poles or of his account of his ten day hike through the diesel decks to see the ship’s combustion engines. It turned out to be nowhere near as synapse-melting as all that. They spoke about the four days that they spent on Easter Island and their descriptions and pictures of the colossal statues, or moai, were genuinely fascinating. As someone who is usually uninterested with human cultures, one way or another it all just descends into politics, to see what the Rapa Nui achieved on their island without the huge whips of the Egyptians is rather amazing. As usual, part of their history involves being ‘discovered’ by different European superpowers of the time and the requisite murder, exploitation and the inevitable exposure to diseases that followed.

At the end of the evening, we drove home in a devilish sleet/hail storm that belied just how much of a wonderfully sunny day it had been just hours earlier.

The weekend started calm and clear. It was still chilly, but glorious. The wind turbine was still and, as per usual, I start whinging about having to pay for electricity. It helped that it was the Easter weekend as it was easier to make up an excuse to have lunch down the pub in Kettletoft. We could also attribute our decadence to fact-finding in lieu of receiving visitors later in the Summer. The Orkney burger there was gorgeous, the chips divine, but there were shortages which meant that Gail could not enjoy the vegetarian burger. Not that she was at all disappointed with her brie and cranberry toastie. We felt obliged, in the interest of thoroughness, to try the desserts as well. Gail wolfed her chocolate fudge cake down before I’d even picked up my spoon to effect an only slightly more pedestrian demolition of my bread and butter pudding. When we weren’t stuffing our faces, we spent our time observing a pair of young seals in the harbour directly outside the window.

Here's one of Kettletoft pier that Gail took earlier.
When we left the pub, we strolled to the end of the pier, trying not to disturb a couple of seagulls and a gannet perched on it. The water below was crystal clear. As we walked back along the pier, one of the seals swam over to investigate. His head appeared in the water barely five yards away. It was fantastic to be able to see its tail flicking from side to side beneath it and when it swam away we were able to see how it glided beneath the surface. It skulked off into the little, narrow harbour, going right up to the edge of the slipway and then part way back to the stern of a fishing boat. We could clearly hear its exhalation and spot the ripples where it broke the surface. I rushed to the edge of the narrow entrance in the hope of seeing it make its way back out into open water, but it was so quick that I only saw when it was already twenty yards out. It must have known what I was up to and cruised past very close to the wall that I was standing on, where the shadows obscured the view. I couldn’t help wishing that I had a tin of pilchards in my pocket. Hand feeding the little critter would certainly have topped off the experience and even if I’d have lost a couple of fingers in doing it then it would still have been worth it. Frustratingly, we’ve fallen out of the habit of taking a camera with us. We are no longer the tourists that we used to be.

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