Brain-dead

Doesn’t time fly? Especially when one’s away from home.

But leaving this island brings with it countless pitfalls and unforeseen dangers.

Therefore, the very best advice I can give fellow island dwellers is to stay put. Regardless of how enchanting those journeys to the south are, how benign the climate is down there (we don’t have one up here – we have weather only), and how wonderful the hospitality of friends and family –  there’s usually a price to pay.

Taking the Northlink ferry from Lerwick to Aberdeen means one is going to find oneself in mortal danger for twelve hours. If the ferry travels via Orkney the being in mortal danger time increases by two hours. This, as you can imagine, can be rather nerve-racking.

During my last trip south the degree of nerve-racking – just after James (my husband) and I had found our cabin and settled in for the night, or rather gritted our teeth in expectation of being tossed about by a force 8 south-westerly while on the high seas – increased from a force 5 breeze to hyper-hurricane force 14.

This rapid jump on the Beaufort Scale was caused by an announcement on the ship’s tannoy. Please believe what I am going to say next. Honestly, I’m not making this up. The silence in our cabin was disrupted by a crackling from the loudspeaker between our beds and a seamanly voice saying: “Would Davy Jones come to reception please, Davy Jones to reception.”

In case you don’t know this, according to Tobias Smollett in his ‘The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle’ (published 1751), Davy Jones has saucer eyes, three rows of teeth, horns and tail, and blue smoke coming from his nostrils.

The voice from the loudspeaker didn’t say anything about Mr. Jones’ locker, but it probably goes without saying that wherever Davy Jones goes, he brings his locker with him. And Davy Jones’ locker, as we all know, is the place where drowning sailors, and presumably drowning ships’ passengers go, i.e. the bottom of the deep, blue sea.

I wasn’t present, but I’m certain that the conversation between the ship’s purser and Mr Jones went as follows :

“As you know we’re going to have a bit of trouble during tonight’s crossing, according to the latest weather forecast. It’s just a precaution. I’m not saying we’ll all head for your locker, but it is a distinct possibility. It’s really just to make sure your locker is ready and waiting and equipped to the relevant maritime safety standards. As I’ve said, let’s hope we won’t all need it, or ideally we won’t need it at all, but it’s always better to be prepared, just in case.”

Thankfully, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I did not go to Davy Jones’ locker that night nor, as far as I know, did anybody else on board the Hrossey or Hjaltland (not sure which ship we were on), but the mere fact that Mr. Jones was on board was disconcerting in the extreme. I was too sick to lift my head off the pillow and found myself levitating several inches above my bunk on more than one occasion during the crossing, waiting for the next message from the loudspeaker, which was bound to be: “Abandon ship, every man for himself” (I guess the women and children are already in the lifeboats before this announcement comes).

Apart from being in mortal danger there are other pitfalls related to those journeys south, and I’m not talking about delayed or cancelled ferry sailings, long and dull motorway drives, and a purse that gets lighter with every mile, that’s all to be expected. No. I am referring to all those nasty germs that lurk south of the border. We don’t have them up here. Or rather we have different ones, ones we’re all immune to by now. Down there they have particularly vicious non-Scottish germs that pounce on all Scotland-dwelling travellers as soon as they’ve passed Gretna Green.

First one of them pounced on James, then one of them pounced on me. I’ve been brain dead ever since – and have suffered greatly as a result – hence no blog for some time, and my sincerest apologies.

Well, things down there aren’t all bad. There is that wonderful and wonderfully ramshackle nursery in Surrey, called Morris & Stevens, the kindness of friends and family (already mentioned above). Sadly there were exceptions to this. Baabin, our dog ate a Persian rug and some newly-restored oak flooring the last time we stayed with friends in London. This time, one of said friends tried to sell our dog, rather than have it in her house.

Luckily she found no buyers, and this rather distressing interlude was more than made up for by the kindness of strangers. Should you find yourself out of pocket and with a rumbling stomach in Kennington, there’s little point in sitting on the pavement with your hat on the ground in front of you. People will just pretend they can’t see you and walk past.

Go to the ‘Beehive’ instead, a little gastro pub in a quiet side-street. There you’ll find fellow guests generously donating their surplus-to-requirement chips to you, and very delicious they are too, chunky and with skins left on, though our dog didn’t like them.

I attended my first ever Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, traced some lost family silver, and ate rabbit stew with seasonal vegetables and herb dumplings. Or rather I didn’t get to eat the dumplings and veg, as they only featured on the menu, but did not appear in the stew.

James got lost in Leith, walking the dog at night, after a splendid dinner party and a lot of confusion about peace and peas.  He’d forgotten to take his glasses and had to take a taxi back to Lily’s flat from Salamander Street. The ride took just under three minutes. Actually he hadn’t forgotten his glasses, they were on his head, underneath his woolly hat, all the time.

And then we came back home, to a winter-white Shetland – eventually – two days later than planned. One boat cancelled, the other taking an estimated twenty-two hours – too long for the dog, if not the humans, and probably with Davy Jones on board once again, as it was rather stormy.

Sadly, there’s no photographic record of this – now legendary – trip, so my readers will have to make do with images of my winter-white garden. Could kick myself for not taking a picture of Mr. Jones, but my camera was in the car – three decks down….

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