Writing, Walking, Decay, Cleaning

Tuesday 17th October

The blackness tells me it is early, probably before six am, but I know it to be morning. I roll out of bed, press the kettle, heater and computer switches, fumble to the loo, pull on jumper and trousers and pull back the curtains. A few lights sparkle across on Mainland but nothing more.

My coffee has a scummy ring of dense flavour, a powdery, undissolved residue that I will grow accustomed to. Nescafe Azera. It tastes good. At some point in the middle of the night I realise we forgot to secure the roof of the Nissan hut yesterday, the rope that needed to be secured against Orphelia. Having started quiet when I awoke, the wind is already rising and I fear it will be too rough to climb ladders twenty feet high today to manage this task. The winds remind me of Faroe, of sitting safe in Hannes’ house, watching as the horizontal rain drove across the village spread out in front of me.

My day begins. My time is my own until nine am, Thelma likes time to herself first thing so my early hours are treasured time. No seals this morning, as I write, I notice the ferries again but this time also the passage they take, far channel or near channel and know that the tide must be high for near channel is a shortcut, only traversable when there is enough water. I also look for a lifeboat, two vessels are identical twins but the third will be distinguishable by the lifeboat stored on deck.

7.22 far channel, 7.43 inside channel, 8.01 inside channel, lifeboat on deck.


Shapinsay. Hmmm i need to learn how to take better screen shots! Blue dot is where Im living, just look at all those ferry lines crossing in front of my window! The other beaches marked are Sandgarth in South and Ness in North.

Paulo and I take the ball and head out along the road and down to the shore. The wind is strong and gusts behind me, it sends the ball further than I could throw alone. Sometimes I pretend not to see it and the dog looks reproachfully as I pass, spreading my hands and saying, Where’s the ball Paulo? Wheres the ball? His eyes follow me, willing me to return to pick it up before getting it himself and running on, to drop it again and then crouch, sheepdog like, waiting for me to fetch.

Small waves chop at the shore, I wonder where the seals play today as I launch the ball carefully into the edge of the waves. Paulo careers after it, tumbling across the stones, leaping unseen obstacles. This side of dog ownership I can do. Thelma has told me she needs a dog and house sitter for two weeks in February, I’ve said I’ll know by Christmas whether I might be interested. Will I, I wonder? No mute swans, the whoopers are in residence at the squally loch. We climb the hill still heading southward and the wind chases me along, I must ask if there is another route I might take on days like today, so I head into wind at the outset.

Beyond the limit of yesterday’s walk I find a stone wall and beyond that, another loch, thick with birdlife. I want to walk on but can neither see a way through or over the wall and am aware that retracing my steps into the North wind will take longer than my out run so turn for home. Paulo does an extra mile, for each time he gives me the ball, I turn and launch it into the wind, back the way we have come so he covers each section four times to my one. He runs forward of me, back to me, back for the ball, back to me and then ahead of me, sits and waits for me to catch up.

In the old sheep shed are many pots that once held blossom but now sport bare earth, fading straggly stems or weeds. My task for the morning is to tidy work surfaces then empty pots, lift bulbs and set them aside, ready for repotting another day. I clear and sort. Other people’s detritus is so much easier to classify than ones own, throw, keep, consult.

I like working with the compost and the bulbs, casting any weeds or yellowed leaves outside, taking short breaks to feel the wind and watch the waves. The moment the debris leaves my hand it flies into the fields or the ocean, at the mercy of the wind. I fill old paint buckets and empty catering containers with spent compost, mixing it as I go, ready to use as a base when repotting. I think, I would rather be doing this than be at work and recall how I would have liked to be a market gardener when I left school. I ponder briefly about a piece of land but know this is not real.

Hundreds of geese just startled me, flying overhead to rest from their day time pasture, it is ten to six in the evening, grey and rainy. I am alone in the house which stands easily half a mile from any other property in every direction. Initially, I could not identify the noise of the geese until it intensified with the numbers flying over. There is something banging outside in the wind that will annoy me this evening but although I have looked several times today, I have not been able to identify the sound.

Over lunch, I check my mail and find a disconcerting message from work. Not the university itself, but the local council. They say I have not completed my PVG forms and must cease work at once, should never have started. PVG is the equivalent to Police Advanced Disclosure forms, the forms that declare whether or not someone is safe to work with young people. I answered the first query about this yesterday, my forms were completed and sent off, way back in September.

I fret a little, the message says I must not go in this week. College is closed to students but because of the delay in setting me up with IT access and because I have been timetabled in teaching sessions with students, my assessor work, the role to which I was appointed is both a blur in my head and very behind. I have planned to go in on Thursday to catch up, to give me time to clear my head and the manage the backlog. Now they say I cannot go in.

For now, there is nothing I can do, I am on an island, I cannot just ‘drop by’ the council offices and start again and to be honest I don’t feel like putting myself out, paying a return ferry fare just to take in forms. When I do cross to mainland it will be without my car and although Kirkwall is not huge, I do not, as yet, know where the council offices are. Walking from ferry to council offices and then on to work feels somewhat annoying. I make a telephone call assuring them that the forms were completed and sent off. This does not help, but exacerbates. I am told they are trying to be helpful but they urge that I must not work until forms have both been received and checks completed. I lose patience and say the only thing they are helping with is for me to consider my resignation. Without the extra time I have planned to give this week, my head will not be in a place where I am professionally ready to meet with candidates next session.

The discontent I felt last Thursday and Friday crawls around my head. The conflict I felt, last week, unable to agree swims because I was at work three days, instead of one grow in magnitude. The woman at the other end concedes that as there are no students in this week, I might go in to work for administrative purposes.

My afternoon involves rib cleaning. The rib we took from the water yesterday has tide marks, algal growth around it, not just one season, but several. I am given a squirt bottle of bathroom and kitchen cleaner and a green kitchen scourer. My back suffered this morning in the potting shed and I need to get this right. I play with knee pads and cushions but settle for a small wicker stool I find in the corner, put out for repair but which puts me at almost perfect height. The wind is blowing hard from the north and no sooner am I settled than I get up to close the sliding door of the byre.

The task is slow, I can see green on my cloth but the tide marks look little changed. I rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, slowly progressing and sectioning the rib to aid my progress. I get up to go for a stretch and walk, but find I cannot get out. I have inadvertently shut myself in, there is no handle on the inside of the sliding door. Flat palms against paint and minor panic until the door slowly moves and opens enough to get my finger tips in. Phew!

Before half the craft has been cleaned, Thelma comes and invites me to join her in going to another bay, more sheltered, for Paulo’s afternoon walk. The perfectionist in me wants to complete at least one half before leaving the task for the day but I acquiesce easily and we head for Sandgarth and then Ness (apologies for poor quality phone pics, I dont possess a camera)



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