Friday, 27 September 2013

Hi! Remember the time I used to keep a blog. No? Me neither.

                A month and a half, that’s abandonment that is. Anyway, how have you been? I certainly hope that this epistle finds you well.

Age begins to tell as author suffers first erectile dysfunction.
                Gail arrived home safely from her hospital visit last month. This was despite a very low cloud that nearly forced the pilot to turn around and go back to Kirkwall. He managed to get it down safely before he then had to head on the North Ronaldsay. They don’t pay those guys enough, I can tell you.

                Orkney has enjoyed a quiet summer. It’s the sort of thing to make you forget all about how long winter lasted.  The days got very long indeed. Anyone who has seen Al Pacino in ‘Insomnia’ will know exactly what went on in our heads. There are no black-out curtains thick enough to cut out such a plethora of sunlight and when you can’t sleep you also can’t help feeling guilty that you’re not doing something useful outside. It’s no use screaming that it’s only three o’clock in the morning when you can smell the grass growing, hear the birds singing and see the bunnies, equally as confused, hopping around looking for an early breakfast. The only reassuring thing is the knowledge that there isn’t a mad, bad Robin Williams around.

How did I manage a trip to 1960's Garsdale, Cumbria?
  I received an unexpected envelope from the Jury Summoning office, inviting me to attend court. If anything, I have been anticipating an appearance on the other side of the dock. It was not for the courts in Scotland, however, but for the Portsmouth circuit. I had to apologize for having the audacity to move away and request that I be excused, indefinitely. I don’t intend to be heading Sooth for a long while.

They say that cats have an extraordinary sense of hearing, but surely that cannot have been the explanation for why, within twenty four hours of me mentioning to Gail that a certain Siamese gentleman hadn’t paid us a visit for a while, a certain Siamese gentleman turned up on our doorstep. Then again, perhaps it is. He has demonstrated that he clearly possesses an acute ear, a profound understanding of the English language and an uncanny familiarity with my daily routine in order to ensure that our paths would cross at that precise moment. Either that or I somehow willed it and performed telekinesis but, if that was the case, I suspect that he would have been mightily aggrieved, which he did not seem to be judging by the way he polished off a small plate of tuna. He followed me about the garden for a while, critiquing my horticultural prowess, before sloping off when he realized that there were no more goodies in the offing. He may be an opportunist, freeloading bastard, but he’s our guest opportunist, freeloading bastard and we love him.

This is exactly what happens when you cast nasturtiums!
Talking of my horticultural prowess, I’ve actually had some success. Not all of it, obviously. The only beans that made an appearance were the ones that I kept indoors. The carrots, leeks, onions and potatoes have been going great guns outdoors though. The parsnips and spinach have been less keen, but I still have hope for them. I’ve even experimented a bit by planting a couple of beds of flax. They seem to be doing alright, so if I can turn a large plot over during the winter, I might try a field of it next year. I also have a little pet squash plant that is busy wending its way around the vegetable garden, flowering and fruiting at intervals along its path. I’ve been here before so I’m not going to get too excited. The fruits never developed into anything previously and when I did manage to get some courgettes going last year, the bunnies and the starlings munched their way through them. I have managed to ponce some tomato plants as well. Currently producing nothing more than little green bullets, they are a work in progress. Gail has managed to not murder her rosemary and basil plants. Just recently, my Woodland Trust order turned up. I’m not sure that they enjoyed spending a week in a box in the post and when they find out where they’ve been sent to it may turn out to be the final straw. I certainly don’t have the heart to stick them outside yet. I’ve set the plugs into pots to encourage the root systems and I’ll introduce them to the great outdoors in Spring. I hope they forgive me or else there’ll be a tiny gang of Dryads ganging up to kick lumps out of me.

If Andy's seeing mermaids, it must be the 'shrooms!
There have been a couple of really calm days. As if the fact that we would have had to pay to use electricity off the grid if we stayed indoors wasn’t enough of an incentive, one look over the dunes to the mirror smooth water in the bay is nothing short of an invitation. Dragging the kayaks down the garden and across the sand, we’d paddle around on the crystal clear, minty green sea. I’ve been out a couple of times on my own since, heading around the corner at Newark toward Elsness or over toward Whale Head. I remember paddling in Portsmouth and not being able to see squat beneath the boat. Here the water is a distraction. At times the sand below appears to be within touching distance, but it’s out of the reach with a six foot long paddle. Other times, I glide over kelp beds and the water goes really dark and I might as well be trying to paddle through treacle. Then, all of a sudden, a head appears and when the seal sees me, it plunges below with a mighty splash. It’s so quiet out there that you can hear them breathing when they think they’re being smart and swimming right behind you. In the evening, you can hear them singing from their roosts, or whatever the place that they hang out is called. Having just the selkies and the seabirds for company is just awesome.

My pool lifeguard training started recently. You may think that looking after a handful of folk in a postage stamp size pool would be a walk in the park, but the RLSS is a national standard. The difficulty I’m having is not the physical aspects of the gig, although the first aid will be difficult as I’ve never done any of that before, but simply trying to visualize doing this stuff anywhere bigger than a postage stamp pool. The handbook covers flumes, wave machines, movable floors, diving boards and a dizzying myriad hazards and complications that are so hard to imagine when you are standing in a hall with a foot spa in the middle of it. I exaggerate of course, but it is as far away from being a lido as the bandstand on Southsea Common is from the Royal Albert Hall.

Is there anything else? Oh yeah, there is. The kittens have moved out of the stables, moved back in and moved out again. Their mum has started to take them out hunting with her, but when the weather turns nasty she brings them back to shelter. Then she goes out on her own. It is honestly like a rabbit morgue out there. I feel sick just describing the heads with spines coming out of them with two furry back feet at the other end and absolutely nothing else in between. Loads of carcasses just like that spread all over the place.
Different degrees of success in concealment.

Sometimes the gulls and the crows pick the rest of the meat off the bones, other times it looks like it too horrible even for them. I’ve taken some of Smokey’s tuna over there, some small Pollock or a tin of cat food that Smokey would turn her nose up to and it all gets eaten, but mum keeps on bringing in more rabbits. Today we had a phone call from a neighbour who works with the Cats Protection League in Scotland. The kittens were seen in the road the other day and so would we help catch them so that they could be neutered and homed. We had to explain that they are much older than they look and are now as feral as it is possible to be. Neutering is a sensible and responsible thing to do though, so we promised to let her know when they were back. It’ll be nice to see them up close. Nice for us that is. I think they’ll probably hate us and chew our faces off given half a chance. Cats are so cute!