Sunday, 30 March 2014

Heading into Spring, 2014.

March is here already. I can’t say that I am too dismayed that the days are whizzing past. The sooner the season changes the better. The longer days can’t possible do any harm either. I picked up my first payslip in just under three years. There was a concern that they may have deducted tax and NI contributions even though I’m nowhere near earning the threshold. It has not stopped HMRC asking for three and a half grand though. Some interesting correspondence between us lies ahead. Looks as if I could become the poorest guy paying fifty percent tax in history!
Smokey picks her way between the puddles.

The volunteer lifeguards at the pool have to attend a training session every month to keep their skills honed. In February, a session was also arranged also for the key-holders, who’s responsibility it is to look after everything other than the pool itself,
to practice their role in an emergency situation. The lifeguards were simulating different aquatic mishaps in front of them and everybody was working together through each scenario in accordance with the Emergency Action Plan. Thankfully there were no casualties. Mind you, it wouldn’t have been the first time that I’ve become a genuine casualty in the course of training. I hadn’t even passed my RLSS exam when I had a nosebleed in the pool and then damaged a toe during a mock rescue. These mishaps are not helping to build confidence that I can be part of the solution instead of the problem.

The deep, blue B9069!
That very same day, the sea defences at Bay of Lopness were breached and flooded the road. A mountainous sea on top of an unusually high spring tide brought waves not so much over the top of the dunes, but through some of the access points to the beach, which are slightly lower. These are gaps that tractors have used/caused to get down onto the beach, probably to carry away driftwood and tangles. There is just such a narrow space opposite our neighbour’s driveway, where they keep their little dingy and, sure enough, debris was strewn across the road. The other side of us, toward Newark, there was about a foot of standing water for nearly a hundred yards. Again, the path of the water from the top of the dunes was evidenced by rubbish and pebbles leading down the landward side of it, just like glacial moraine. The Skoda made it through the deluge at a crawl to avoid a bow-wave. The fun and games started a couple of days later when the salt-water exposure seized the brakes. I’m used to the odd wheel slipping over the grass, but when you’re dragging tyres on dry tarmac then you know that you’re in trouble. I had to take a wheel off and apply liberal persuasion with a hammer to loosen things up. I’m sure that’s all that professional mechanics do.

Andy shows that he's a keen follower of fashion.
 There was profit and loss to be experienced only weeks later. I had ordered a nice, new high visibility shell jacket all the way back before Christmas, but being unable to get back to Mainland to collect it, it sat gathering dust in Kirkwall. Eventually, the good lady wife of our island councillor volunteered to bring it back to Sanday for me.  That joy was tempered however by the loss of my ‘pride and joy’ Columbia mountain boots. The stitching holding the uppers to the rubber sole and carcass had been eaten away. They were now useless, fit only for the bin. I did cry a little bit. Now all I’ve got left in the way of practical footwear are a tired pair of Merrells and my wellies.

Who let the sun-dogs out?
I very much enjoyed the Winter Olympics and it provided a great motivation to get up in the morning. The way that Elise Christie annihilated the completion in her first qualifying race promised much. It certainly did not prepare any of us for the evil, petty, vindictive persecution of her that was to follow. I would have loved to see her on the long track. I’m sure that she would have broken up the tedious orange domination of the event. Gail and I needed to tear ourselves away to do some shopping and also pop into the visiting mobile library. A spectacle awaited us on our return. When looking out of the window, there was a second bright spot in the sky. The big orange blob was to be expected, even this far to the North, but there was also a huge glare to the right of it. I had no idea what it was, but when a posted a picture online I was informed that I was watching a ‘sundog’. I looked it up on the internet. A parhelion is an atmospheric phenomenon that creates ‘false suns’. There are some excellent images available. Certainly knocks mine into a cocked hat and shows that I should have taken the time to look around for other bright spots.

Most oft deserted road to Loth peir at Spurness. 
The Sanday ranger had reported some damage to the access to the Doun Helzie arch which I went to check out for myself. The half mile of track leading to the top of the Stove links had also been through the wars. I had to stop the car a number of times to remove large stones out of the way and speculatively plan a route between the ruts and peaks. I don’t think I lost any bits from underneath, but it was quite scary. At the top of the hill, I left the car and walked toward the beach. Part of the route includes a dip beneath a strand or two of barbed wire. It’s not really what you could call visitor friendly. From the fence, where last year there was a gentle, sandy descent of about twenty feet, the whole slope had eroded away, leaving a precipitous vertical drop instead. It would have been possible to scramble down, but the ascent was likely to have been a little more arduous. I decided not to risk it. The nearest property is at least half a mile away so it is unlikely that a living soul would have been able to hear my piteous cries for help. A rope ladder is required for the future.

Within weeks we were treated to another amazing ‘light show’. In the two years we’ve been here, we’d witnessed a couple of half decent aurora. What the end February had for us was a whole new palette altogether. Looking back, we’d had a foretaste of it a week earlier, another green glow in the Northern sky. But this was a big one. It was right overhead, if anything slightly to the South of us. It arced all the way across the sky. You could even tell, quite clearly, where it was curving to the North toward both horizons as it encircled the pole. The cascades of green were punctuated by deep reds and the movement was like billowing curtains of light. The thing went on for ages. We stood out in the garden with all the house lights turned off for as long as we could, but we were turning blue with cold and had to go back indoors. Every now and again, I’d go to the door and look out at the continuing drama of the skies.  It was the most amazing sight and no words, certainly not mine, can do sufficient justice to them. Alas! You really do need to see it for yourself.

Half of the Orkney Ferries North Isles fleet.
From the Earl Sigurd, Earl Thorfinn right and Shapinsay left.
Then you have the kind of drama that you don’t need. Two weeks later, Gail had a scheduled hospital appointment in Kirkwall but had had a premonition that her attendance would be unlikely. I agreed with her that I was most likely to be responsible for the failure, especially as the car was running on fumes at the time. However, it was to be Orkney Ferries that would throw the spanner in the works. They phoned on the morning of departure to say that they were cancelling the morning boat. They lay on an additional sailing at midday, but Gail would miss her appointment and we would have only an hour on mainland before the afternoon return sailing. We were saved when the hospital re-arranged their timetable for us, we caught the lunchtime boat after all but decided to stay in Kirkwall overnight and come home the following afternoon. This is what qualifies as a holiday for us these days. After the hospital, we booked into the Peedie Hostel before going out to Lucano’s Italian restaurant for a ‘slap-up’ nosh. After a good night’s sleep, we went for an early morning dip at the Pickaquoy pool, had breakfast at CafĂ© Lolz before hitting the shops. I wonder how many other people end up spending nearly three hundred quid just on a visit to the doctor?  The treatment might be free, but the fiasco associated with it is something completely different. At least we didn’t have to pay for parking. Thank goodness for small mercies.