I decided on my Christmas present for Nic a few months ago and began to organise it in early November.
The lights are down, the moon is up. Werewolves are howling from the depths of the gloomy forest. At the Castle of the Black Lake, the blood-thirsty Count is plotting to capture his next victim. It’s Friday night at the Sanday Community Hall and we have been transported to the ghoulish realms of Transylvania.
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Two years ago we escaped domesticity and ran off for a weekend among the heathery hills of Hoy. A month ago eldest son Miles finally voiced what had obviously been a small irk in his mind ever since. Why hadn’t we taken the boys with us to Hoy? They wanted to see it too.
Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat.
IN THE INKY DARKNESS BEFORE dawn I am already up and out in the feed shed, moving quietly by the light of my head torch.
For the most part, the pace of island life is probably slower than your average city existence. But it ain’t necessarily so. Sometimes one is caught out by a rare combination of efficiency and workaholism.
NEVER IMAGINE THAT YOUR imagine that your past won’t catch up with you. It might take a while - by definition it kind of has to take a while. But it always gets to you in the end: usually just when you have forgotten all about it.
I have always had a wee thing about collective nouns - a parliament of rooks, a siege of herons, a parcel of penguins - and so on. If I’m stuck for one I make it up - a chaos of children, a madness of midges, a hunger of seagulls. I mentioned this to my learned uncle ages ago and yesterday he e-mailed me a list of some lesser known ones thrown up by a competition run through his village magazine.
WHEN, FROM THE HILLY comforts of Perthshire, I first mentioned this island of Sanday to my father, he studied the map I proffered and, with wry humour, pronounced it a spit of sand unlikely to survive the next storm. Four years on and the island really feels quite large and solid, and doesn’t seem to be vanishing before our very eyes or sinking underfoot. In fact, it’s easy to forget that we live on a very small landmass. It is, after all, 20 miles long.
Living the idyll of remote island life, as I do up here in Orkney, I manage, for the most part, to veer away from the violence and tragedy of the world at large.
Rain lashes at my kitchen windows.
ON THIS RARE, WINDLESS, sun-filled morning everything - birds and animals, barley fields and ocean - is still, at peace, calm and silent. Well, apart from the sound of the Land Rover engine, which is intruding on the silence of the island. I should have cycled or walked - my journey is short - but a large box of veggies awaits me at my destination, so I need the vehicle.
My, but it’s been a wee bit blowy this week. Or, rather, it’s been a week of contrasts. One day we were lolling in the heat of the afternoon, shading our eyes from the intense sun as we drowsily chatted with friends around our garden table while the boys played "who can get wettest" with the garden hose. Next day said garden table blew over (and it’s not light) with the help of 60 mile per hour winds.
I’m not a great fan of the sponsored activity as a way of raising funds for personal use. I can still remember taking part in a 20 mile sponsored bed-push (how mad was that?) when I was in my early teens. I can’t remember what we were raising money for, but I distinctly recall the pain of asking neighbours and friends of my parents to promise me an amount per mile completed. And the embarrassment of having to call on them again to extract the monies from their unwilling hands.
Our hay fields were cut just before we headed south for a week, and I must admit that I have never felt less like leaving home. To anyone not involved in farming or keeping horses, this may seem a tad eccentric, but the thing is that once the grass is cut you really want to watch over it until it is safely stacked in your byre for the winter.
The ageing process is not pretty, or clever. For my 42nd birthday I wake up with a cricked shoulder, blistered hands and all-over muscle ache. OK, so we spent yesterday shifting about 600 old hay bales out of the sheep byre, but there were six of us and everyone else (average age 15) still looks bouncy and supple.
Sheep farming, lesson three: shearing. Or clipping. It’s equally difficult whatever you call it. But we have five very shaggy Jacob sheep and the job needs doing. "Clip sheep" has been chalked on to our kitchen blackboard for about a month now, but with no gear and no know-how, we’ve been hoping for some solution to present itself.
A couple of months ago I was volunteered into running a pottery day as part of the summer-school activities for our island schoolchildren.
Last night, in the late, fading sunlight of our Orkney simmer dim, Nic gave our lawn its first ever haircut.
If I were to write honestly about the dominant activity of our week, this column would reek of blocked pipes, overflowing drains and a mysterious amount of broken glass in the septic tank. In fact, by Friday we were wondering why one gets an indepth manual of how everything sticks together and functions when you buy a car, yet with the purchase of a house there is no such thing. Why don’t the title deeds come with a map of plumbing, electricity and phoneline routes?
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 4 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind direction: North east