Monday, 18 March 2013

The boy who lost a bus

                Whoops! Hello there. It certainly has been a while. Rumours of my demise have been grossly exaggerated. I'll have no truck with the wishful thinking of others.

"It's eating everything in it's path!" Grass is insidious stuff.
                I’ve been busying myself in the garden recently. The untamed machair grass has embedded itself everywhere and the lack of vegetable gardening for a number of years has necessitated some pretty heavyweight digging. A big ask for a guy who, arguably, has never done a hard day’s work in his life. I’ve made a slow start in the ‘new house that was never built’ foundation area. It is enclosed to a depth of four breeze-blocks, but the water table kicks in after just two and a half. Below that is saturated sand. Of course, at the edge there are considerable amounts of hardcore to deal with too. While Andy insists that his rotavator can chew its way through just about anything, I don’t want to be responsible when it meets with some of the huge chunks of breeze-block or pre-Cambrian basalt that are lurking about. I can only foresee one victor in that confrontation and even if I am mistaken I can honestly see it being an expensive and ultimately rather Pyrrhic one. I am currently about half way across the house footprint. A trailer full of manure awaits.

                I had a scare with the bus one Sunday last month. Kelly had taken four days off and went to Kirkwall for the weekend. This meant that I had to do the dreaded ‘school runs’. On Friday evening, all the students come home and then on Sunday evening they all go back again. That generally ensures that our passenger allowance is stretched to its fullest. The bus always gets dirty pretty quickly, so I made sure that I had a few hours set aside on Sunday afternoon to wash and valet it. Alas! I wasn’t aware that it was booked in for some garage work on Saturday, so soon after I got back on that morning, the mechanic arrived to take it away. It didn’t arrive back until Sunday afternoon. I barely had enough time to hurriedly trot up the garden with a bucket of soapy water, my trusty sponge and non-leather chamois to wash all the crud off it. All it needed then was a rinse but I had to drive it up the garden and closer to the house to where the garden hose is. My mistake was not accounting for the complete lack of traction of tyres on the wet grass. I had gotten myself stuck, just minutes before the ‘kids’ were due to get picked up. Neither a snowy ascent of Mount Seymour nor a damp hill road in St Lucia could defeat me, but a slight incline in my own garden had bested me. I confess that I rather panicked, turning the air blue. As I considered telephoning our neighbour to pull us out with his tractor, a superhero in the form of Gail appeared and gave me the nudge that I needed and once I had a little bit of momentum going I concentrated on just not losing it until I reached the blessed tarmac. (I have since learned that there is a water hose at Loth Pier so no repeat of this debacle need ever happen again.) They managed to catch their ferry, but only just. It was chaos. There was not even time to print all their tickets off, so their fares just piled up on the front passenger seats as they alighted. I can only hope that the ticket machine tallied up at the end of the day. I must confess that I was, by then, way past caring. It was with a euphoric sense of relief that I handed Kelly back the keys. I swear I’ll never get the hang of this.

It's looking grim over Will's mother's. Or in this case, the neighbour's.

Ooh! Another dramatic sunset. Avec mist.
                There seem to be fewer and fewer opportunities to go exploring these days. I have still not ventured out and about to photograph the island as I have intended for many weeks now. Whenever there is a dry, calm and pleasant day, my attention is constantly being demanded elsewhere. The most either of us have managed of late is to wander outside to catch a particularly interesting sunset or sunrise.  If there is a break in the clouds though, you can pretty much guarantee there’ll be one every night.


Quite often you can't even see the houses, let alone
know what the hell they're called.
                Thanks to Orkney Library, I have been able to obtain a copy of Naggles o Piapittem by Gregor Lamb. This is like the Holy Grail of Sanday and I have no excuse for not finding my bus passengers these days. It’s a little out of date it must be said. There have been a number of new houses built since publication but what ages it most is that the most essential landmark on the island, Loth Pier, wasn’t even a twinkle in a developer’s eye, let alone the two miles of blacktop leading to it. But from it I’ve been able to scribble the place names onto my Ordnance Survey map for future reference. The book also contains information on derivations from Old Norse of many of the names. For example, the area around us is called Sellibister, which translates as Hall Farm, which in Norse was something like Salr Bol-staĆ°ir. I suggested to Gail that we change the house name again and repaint the sign. She didn’t give me a happy look. My favourite property name referenced in the book is Skitterha (Diarrhoea House). They don’t mince their words up here.

                To bring this epistle bang up to date, it’s time to relate the tale to which the title of the piece eludes. A phone call last week informed me that my work clothes were ready, a brand spangly new polo-shirt and a fleece, both embroidered with the Sanday Bus logo. They just needed picking up from Kirkwall. So despite a noisy, Easterly wind keeping me awake most of the night and then continuing into the morning, I got up early in order to catch the bus to Loth pier. When we arrived, Kelly told me that the bus was getting on the boat too as it was time for its MOT. She asked if I minded driving it on for her so that she could get home. The pier crew organised vehicles onto the good ship Earl Thorfinn, then turned their backs on me. I had to sound the horn to get their attention and let me on. They must be used to the bus being parked on the pier before driving off, but you’d have thought that the fact that it had been booked on might have suggested that today was different, if me sitting at the wheel with the engine running with the bus pointed at the ramp wasn’t enough of a clue. They belatedly waved me on and the ramp was raised behind me. Phew! That was close.

                The crossing to Kirkwall was a bit choppy. I simply stuck my head into a copy of Terry Pratchett’s “Light Fantastic” and listened to my i-pod on shuffle. Every now and then I’d chance a glance out of the starboard window. The view alternated between sea and sky and was distinctly blurred between each. Gail would have hated it. I loved it.

This post has about as many holes as my alibi! 
                When the ferries arrive in port, the vehicles are disembarked first, with foot passengers not allowed out through the car deck until it is all clear. With that in mind, although I hadn’t been asked, I thought that I ought to be prepared to drive the bus off at Kirkwall, so that my fellow passengers could get to dry land, even though someone from the garage was supposed to arrive to take it away. Nobody did. I had been parked up on the pier for at least five minutes and the Thorfinn moved from the jetty before someone turned up. If I’d left it on board, he’d have had a swim before his problems even began. I handed over the keys and went shopping. I picked up my new gear, got Gail some drugs (Olbas pastilles and double strength Gaviscon – y’know, all the really hard stuff), found a joke shop where I could get some plastic fangs for an islander who is making a monster glove puppet and dropped some books off at the library before hitting Didldidi and Tesco. When I made it back to the pier to catch the boat home, I dropped all my shopping in the waiting room and started looking around for the bus. It never came back. I retrieved my bags and boarded before stepping out onto the breezy, chilled deck to see if it had arrived at the last moment. It hadn’t. We set sail sans bus. I spent the whole journey concerned that I’d no longer have a job when I got back. I had no words of reassurance for those fellow islanders who were relying on the bus to get home, particularly those who like me live at the North end, about fifteen miles away from the pier. Fortunately plans were afoot to get us all home in private vehicles. Nobody was left stranded, which was very much appreciated. The bus, apparently, was now ready for collection. That is little comfort, given that it was supposed to have been delivered to the pier on time. My peers are assured that it'll be on the first boat tomorrow. And I still have a job. I think. 

                Well, nobody has asked for the clothing back!