Sunday, 9 June 2013

Home and away

Who would have thought that turning fifty years of age could have such a profound and instantaneous effect? My IQ dropped overnight, I’m sure of it. I had a nightmare driving the bus. It all went swimmingly in the morning. Even when one of my passengers had to cancel when I was less than half a mile from her door, it wasn’t a problem. I dealt with my change of plan with youthful spontaneity, calculated the effect of it on my proposed scheduling and skipped straight to my next pick up. It all went a bit pants in the afternoon.

Mr Gumby. (Be thankful that it's not my Mr April!!!)
With fuel supply being a major problem on the island, the route that you intend to take should always be planned accordingly. Unless, that is, you find yourself in the position that your passengers are directors of the company. When it is they who decide who gets dropped off first, I become a passenger in my own adventure. One of them lives in Burness, at the top end of the island, near where Kelly lives and where, common sense suggests, it would be sensible to end the route in order to let the good lady have her bus back at the end of the day. Instead, contrary to my intention, we headed immediately to ‘the sunshine state’, where I dropped him off, helping him to unload his shopping and then departed to my next destination. I was a few miles down the road before it occurred to me that, in my fluster, I’d forgotten to scan his concession card. Another director lives at Lettan, at the North end of the island, up in my neck of the hypothetical woods. I remembered to scan her card properly, even if the lady hadn’t already witnessed my earlier faux pas and taken a lead in the process. So then I had to drive all the way back to Burness, waving forlornly at my own property on the way past, to the first director’s house to ask if I could swipe his card, before dropping the bus off. That was when I realised that I had forgotten to bring my car keys with me. Kelly had to drive me back home to the North end and take me back a third time to Burness to get ‘Hippocrates’, my poor, little, blue Skoda. Kelly’s husband, Mike, dropped his broad Orcadian accent to give me a very convincing Cockney “You muppet!” Kelly, meanwhile, welcomed me to ‘C.R.A.F.T.’: Can’t Remember A Flippin’ Thing. That is my life from now on.

My enthusiasm for expanding my knowledge of a war that is nearly a hundred years old, but one
"He's just some guy, y'know."
which continues to steer my politics and ideology, shows no sign of abating. The latest step in the adventure has led me to Ernst Toller, courtesy of Richard Dove’s book entitled “He was a German”. It has made me more determined than ever not to allow my personal beliefs to be affected by politics. Here, however, was a man of such charisma that others looked to him to lead them in a Socialist revolution in the face of a rising tide of Fascism. This forced him to compromise his pacifist beliefs in order to protect those with whom he sympathized. I have no truck with the concept of ‘democratic pacifism’ as, to me, the two are mutually exclusive. Pacifism is an individual value, whereas my faith in collective humanity is somewhat tenuous. I can understand that many people need to feel included, whether it is by a bond of colour, creed or the misguided belief that they share the same specific ideology. However, no two people are exactly alike and their aspirational goalposts are continually going to change. Therefore, it is anathema to me that any social group can succeed in the long term. Indeed there are all too many examples in democracy where the careful manipulation of a common anxiety can allow some pretty unsavoury characters to gain short-term popular support and go on to pervert history. This is why I maintain that I am an anarchist, although it is a term with negative connotations. But I am convinced that, deep down, most people are, as they cherry-pick the individual values of each manifesto which appeals to them, ignoring or protesting against those that do not.

Have I already stated my case for a new camera?
My trip down Sooth for mum’s birthday was an adventure. Not one that I’m planning to suffer again in the near future but an education none the less for that. It started as a passenger on the Sanday Bus. With both Kelly and me being otherwise engaged, a director of the Community Interest Company had to cover for us. There’s nothing quite like being driven around by the boss. The employee discount is a hoot, too. The journey began at about 5:45pm on Friday evening, and by ten past six, my first boat left Loth pier for Kirkwall. By 7:30 I was strolling down Kirkwall pier, wondering what to do with myself for the next four hours before my second crossing of the waves departed from a couple of miles down the road at Hatston. Being miserly, or ‘poor’ as I prefer to call it, and socially awkward, or ‘freak’ as I prefer to call it, frequenting one of the pubs or eateries in the neighbourhood as any normal person would is out of the question. Instead, a meander through the aisles of Tesco beckoned, followed by a picnic of roasted pepper humus on hand-ripped baguette washed down with cloudy lemonade on a park bench overlooking the Peedie Sea as the sun set over the cathedral. Peaceful and beautiful though it was, the temperature had begun to plummet. By now the Northlink ferry terminal building was open so I set off on foot for the great indoors.

An Aberdeen skyline taken from Union Terrace.
The Hjaltland arrived from Lerwick shortly after eleven and after a bit of faffing around, vehicles and passengers for Aberdeen were allowed to board. Having arranged neither a cabin nor a reclining chair for myself, like many others headed to the bar to find a space to doss around in for the next seven hours it took to cross the Pentland Firth. There are lots of couches but as they are divided with hard and uncomfortable arm-rests every three feet or so, you couldn’t lie on them. Maybe Warwick Davies could, but he wasn’t, to my knowledge, joining us this evening. A young woman spent about twenty minutes pumping up a double inflatable mattress with a foot-pump, much to the entertainment of fellow travellers, only to then be told by a steward, as she settled down on it for the night, that it was blocking an emergency assembly area and she had to let it down again. A monotonous night passed, the calm waters being the only blessing. At around seven in the morning, we finally docked in the ‘granite city’. I won’t try to describe Aberdeen as my visit was so brief that I don’t think that it would be fair. First impressions were positive though. I strolled out of the dock and made my way to the bus depot. I immediately spotted a National Express coach pull out with only one passenger on it. That would be cool, I thought. I had quite a bit of time before the Megabus to ‘the Sooth’ (or “Englandshire” as Kelly calls it) was due to leave, so I wandered the indoor shopping mall and adjoining train station for a while. Meanwhile, a crowd gathered at the departure gate. No prizes for guessing which one. A huge, blue, double-decker leviathan turned up and we all squeezed into it. The next twelve and a half hours were unpleasant, so if you’re thinking of it, go away and think some more until you see sense.

Seventy minutes to midnight, the remaining passengers were disgorged at Victoria. I went down to the tube and bought a ticket to Uxbridge. I found myself standing, not because I had to, just as it was a relief not to be sitting. I’d had more than enough of that, thank you. Past Ealing and Alperton and then it was on to the old Metropolitan line stations I remembered from my dim and distant youth. However much my hometown had had a facelift, the reassuring landmarks were still there: the colonnaded market, the ‘Three Tuns’ and Randall’s. I walked past my alma mater too, but there was not much joy at seeing that particular edifice. It was after midnight by the time I knocked on mum’s front door and set Hannah barking. It was Sunday now, her birthday. A hug, a kiss and a hope that she liked the picture I’d carried seven hundred miles for her.

I am so needy.