Monday, 28 October 2013

the leisure game
as played in
Stromness Academy
staff vs pupils
Up on the flank of Brinkie’s Brae, the Slow Bicycle Race is finished, Throwing Up The Welly Boot is over, and now it’s the Staff vs Pupils hockey match, staff dressed in nappies as babies, pupils dressed as themselves except for three senior boys supervising the game dressed, Godfather-inspired, as Mafiosi.
mafiosi supervising
This is Stromness Academy in play mode.
Of course "school" derives from the ancient Greek word for leisure and the Latin for "school" was ludus, game. Hmm. Irony?
Another day, in work mode: O-Grade Latin have been writing up their account of the episode where Julius Caesar, held hostage by pirates, promised to return and defeat them and crucify them; “how amusing,” said the pirates; they were less amused when he defeated them and crucified them. Ishbel has written it as a square dance, brilliantly. I wish I’d kept a copy because now I can remember only two lines:
Take your pirate, five and six
And nail him to his crucifix.
Another day: an inspector is asking the class questions which I know they are well able to answer, but they sit, round-eyed and silent, watching the smartly-suited, fast-speaking foreign animal inviting them to think about Galatia in the Roman Empire (now part of Turkey), and how the Galatian language was a Celtic language which developed into Gaelic. From round-eyed, his hearers descend into apathy: Gaelic happens some other place, the inspector has not done his homework, this is Norse territory where the old language was Norn, and the place they feel connected to is Norway; quite a few are learning Norwegian and some go to Norway to learn how to play the Hardanger fiddle; there are plenty of European connections, only not where the foreign animal is thinking.
Had he realised it, their interest was easily aroused by the gorier bits of Roman history, Caesar crucifying the pirates, Nero offing his mother, Claudius offed by his wife; or by Catullus sailing his boxwood yacht from Turkey to his pad on the shore of Lake Garda, or the cheating in the boat race in Book V of the Aeneid, the sort of things they knew from their daily lives.
But whatever topic the inspector had tried, he wouldn’t have got them speaking, for they needed several months at least before they would relax enough to speak to a newly-arrived creature fae sooth.
One year I had a C-stream third-year class for maths; they named themselves Thick Maths, inscribed the name on a placard and stuck it in the window of the portacabin that was their classroom. They were lovely people: boys who were well able to discuss the finer points of the John Deere versus the Massey Ferguson and which was the better beast, Charolais or Simmental, and they could do quite complicated calculations so long as it was to do with the farm, the fencing, the amount of feed; girls who loved to do bills, to write down purchases, prices, amounts, totals, in round, neat handwriting, every letter i having a little flower instead of a dot, the addition reliably correct, chatting softly all the time, admiring their friends, shredding the characters of their enemies. I came to believe that they already knew everything they needed to know for a good and satisfactory life in Orkney, and to try to “stretch” them (such was the educational buzz-word) was not only cruel but pointless.
One small group, four girls and one boy, were with me for extra arithmetic tuition, and I had a little room with a computer for which I wrote a program that would screen a simple calculation question, such as 9 X 7 on the screen and give, say, five seconds for an answer. After ten such questions a mark out of ten appeared, and the next pupil had a shot. They were all fine at doing this, and could all get 10/10. Then it gradually speeded up, and the slower ones began to drop by the wayside; there would come a speed where no-one had time to key in an answer; the winner was whoever was last able to get 10/10 – calculation speed plus physical typing speed.
The fascinating thing was that Henry was the slowest of the bunch, but the girls wanted Henry to be best. So Laura and Susie sat each side of him, took a hand each, pressed his fingers on the keys and made him the winner. Henry, a most amiable boy, was pleased with the attention; the girls were content that the boy was best and that they had made it happen.
Those girls were women who had the power to achieve their ambition, and the knowledge of how to use that power. They already knew all that was necessary to live the kind of life they wanted. What use was school to them, I wondered.
Among the pupils were a number of very talented musicians, some of whom are now playing in orchestras. At one time my room was next to the music room, and it was a pleasure to hear the startlingly professional-sounding flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin and voice coming through the wall.
The staffroom of course thrummed with knowledge and elevated discussion; three of us, however, Gordon, Pie and I, preferred to play bridge, sometimes joined by Crommy which would make a proper four, otherwise one of us bid two hands, an exercise in phased forgetting if it was to be done fairly. We had only an hour, and needed to play as many hands as we could in the time, so the bidding was fast and extravagant to a degree that would curl the toes of a proper dedicated bridge player. Some staff did not approve of our evil card-playing and once we were glowered at, our poor tattered coffee-stained cards castigated as “the devil’s picture-book”; but at that moment we were engaged in a 7-no-trump doubled and re-doubled, and hardly heard the words.
R.E. teachers came and went rather briskly: came with joy and enthusiasm, went with sadness and disillusion and (sometimes) haste. One was unlucky enough to have the same name as a TV cartoon character: if the cartoon had been South Park (which had yet to be invented) his name would have been Cartman; this happy coincidence led to him being tormented ruthlessly. He was misguided enough to warn senior girls about the shortness of their skirts which might reveal their knickers; the next week the senior girls turned up at R.E. wearing skirts rolled up at the waistband to űber-mini-level, revealing vast purple bloomers; they sat at the front crossing and uncrossing their legs, staring at him with hard and lustful eyes. It was not long before he fled across to Caithness, where he lived in his tent notifying the Education Office that he was taking sick leave and requesting that his pay be sent to the nearest post office.
Latin and Greek were the subjects I was initially qualified to teach, but when Latin stopped being required for University entrance, and Science became three subjects instead of just one, it was clear that the numbers choosing to learn a dead language were going to decline sharply; up in the seats of educational power the classicists tried to postpone the death of their subject by making it easier: no longer did a pupil have to learn to write the stuff, no more worries about gerund and gerundive; even translation became easier, since a lot of it was now from a set book; questions on historical and cultural background were introduced. All, predictably to no avail: the patient was doomed, and no reduction of the effort required to grasp its subtleties was going to restore it.
So naturally I had a worry that I might find myself being slid over into the R.E. slot. My knowledge of gods and their habits was restricted to the kind of episodes that Greek writers found hilarious, for example:
role model celeb: Dionysos, god of wine
Vulcan is miffed because Venus (his wife) is shagging Mars, who is athletic and beautiful, unlike himself, who is lame and ugly though awesome at metalwork; so Vulcan makes a net of wire mesh and catches in it Venus and Mars in flagrante delicto, hauls them to where the gods are banqueting (a thing they did a lot of) and dumps them on the table - an early version of writing to an Agony Aunt, I suppose, hoping for sympathy for himself and a ticking-off for the captives; but the gods just roar with laughter and sink some more wine and Jove himself is heard to say “I wish it was me in there with her”.
Well back into B.C. the serious thinking was done by people like the inventor of the atom, or the chap who proved why, if you organised a triangle with sides 3, 4, 5, you’d got yourself a right-angle so that the sides of your house would fit together. The gods seemed to fill the slot now occupied by celebs, providing entertainment and awe, fodder for fans. The really powerful entity, before which even celebs were helpless was Necessity, which meant something like “the way things work”, the laws of nature that govern existence.
godly behaviour: Zeus carries off Europa
All of which seemed to me to make quite a bit of sense, but fearing that this kind of godliness, while it might have appeal for pupils, would surely cause trouble up among the authorities, I started an Open University Maths degree course, simultaneously enabling me to teach Maths rather than R.E. and letting me study my favourite subject once again. Double whammy. Hence Thick Maths and Henry, Laura and Susie, as well as Ishbel square-dancing Caesar and his pirates.
luggage gondola
There came a year when it seemed an idea to take some of the Norway-orientated young to Italy, to get a taste of the different life south of the Alps, and I organised a trip to Venice and Florence during the Easter holiday. To get there we had the ferry crossing, followed by train to Edinburgh and thence to London, a night there in the Youth Hostel, flight to Milan, coach across Italy to Venice, arriving 2 a.m., walk to hotel, baggage coming on a gondola – a long, strange journey for most, who had never before even seen a train.
With us came Ian MacInnes, head of Art, himself a fine painter, his wife Jean, Susie Johnston, the doctor’s wife and a doctor herself, Frank Eunson (Geography) and his wife Clare; and their expertise was most welcome.
Several posts would be needed to do justice to that trip, just as a lifetime would be too short to comprehend all that was on offer: all I can do here is scamper briefly across the scene as it unfolded .
St Mark's, Venice
In Venice, Ian conducted us all round the Accademia, telling us what and why and how; and we were awed by the sheer size of Tintoretto and Titian on the walls of churches just a step away from our hotel, gobsmacked by the magnificence of St Mark’s, charmed to see mussel-gatherers in the lagoon rowing standing up and facing forwards, impressed by the glass-blowers of Murano, incredulous about Attila the Hun’s bum-print on a stone outside the cathedral on Torcello. Everyone will likely have their own favourite pieces of wonderment; mine was the fleeting notion, contemplating the complex group of domes on St Mark’s, that a person with a sleeping-bag and a wee primus stove could live up there quite cosily, hidden from public view, roasting a pigeon or two a day culled from the hordes down in the square.
view from top of Duomo
And we had still to sew up Florence: train from Venice, sleeping quarters in a vast flat near the centre, enormous famous paintings in the Uffizi, gripping ascent of steep winding stair inside the double dome of the Duomo, emerging outside onto a perch with vertiginous view down to the street below, spectacular art and architecture everywhere.
Bus to Fiesole up in the hills, peaceful Roman theatre, great view of Florence down below.
tower summit
Day in Pisa, up the eerie winding stair of the leaning tower, steps either very steep or almost flat depending where you were in the circuit, faintly vertiginous feel at the top – what if it chose this moment to finish its topple?
Pisa cathedral and leaning tower
Into the cathedral to watch the swing of the mighty pendulum, as Galileo had done 400 years earlier. Discover a new favourite food – ice cream with brandy (adults only).
Then coach to Milan, flight to London, quick tour, courtesy of Jo Grimond (our MP) of House of Commons, train to Edinburgh, train to Scrabster, discovery that the Ola had broken down, oh no, how to get across to Orkney … unless, yes, headmaster MacLean arranged for us to be picked up and flown across, hurrah! Back to the centre of things, brains almost swamped by the many marvels we had momentarily touched the tips of.
And, for one boy, near starvation because of a disinclination or inability to eat pasta.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Discovery and Resolution
and Erebus and Terror
Stromness: just across the road from our house was Login’s Well, where Cook and Franklin took on water for their ships, and part of our house was the custom house where crews signed on, and the house itself was part of the former Login’s Inn. So we were encircled by powerful historical vibes.
Our youngest, Em, was the first to move in, before any furniture, eager to be near her friends. But at 2 a.m. we had an urgent phone call to come and rescue her from the monster sea-lice. Though less than chuffed at the time, I’ve since read that “one to three sea lice are enough to kill a juvenile pink salmon newly arrived in saltwater” so probably a juvenile Em newly arrived in Stromness was right to be wary of the brutes.
A trapdoor in the kitchen floor revealed the space beneath our pier, a perfect hidey-hole for miscreants at low tide, half-full of black water at high tide – though a miscreant standing on tiptoe, and patient enough to wait for the tide to recede, would survive – if the monster sea-lice didn’t pick him off first.
When we first moved in, there was a splendid privy at the end of the pier, wherein one could sit enthroned watching the Ola heading straight for one’s comfort zone, and hoping that the captain would apply the brakes in time. Afterwards one could lean over the pier wall and watch the jobbies heading out into the harbour, recalling a joke I’d first heard in the olden days sailing at Cramond: the wind dropped, I forgot to close the self-bailer and was greeted by (a) intruding jobbies and (b) the obligatory Joke “you’re just going through the motions, ho-ho-ho”.
The privileged viewpoint on the pier was eliminated, first by the spouse who (for some obscure reason) dismantled the privy, and later by the construction of a sewer (as had also happened at Cramond, putting the Joke out of business). Thereafter one had to use the throne at the top of the house, with an identical view of the Ola, but from a greater altitude and no ho-ho.
Once furnished and lived in, the house lost its appeal for the monster sea-lice, but the occasional harbour rat would come by, hoping for a treat. Harbour rats were big chaps, and there were lots of them living along the sea-front. At lunch-time third-year boys would go down to the harbour with fishing-rods and catch them; probably best not to inquire what they did with them once caught.
Later on, we had a cat, Thomas, who was a brilliant ratter, and tidy with it: he would lay his rat out neatly on a plastic bag at the front door, eat the middle bit and leave the fore and aft pieces for the first person out of the door in the morning, usually myself, still swilling the last bit of toast and gulp of coffee, in too much of a hurry to clear away Thomas’s left-overs.
Kay, Cee and Em on Rackwick beach
From Stromness it was a fine day out to take the ferry over to Hoy and walk the track across to Rackwick’s beach, colourful boulders, stupendous cliffs, little stream with plank bridge for weans to bounce on, scattering of wee stone houses. 
One day I went up Mel Fea, the hill south of the bay, and came across the remains of a crashed aircraft; many aircraft remains lie among the Scottish peaks, and there are at least three on Hoy; I imagine the cause had usually been cloud down over the summits, but since all you have to do to clear any summit in the U.K. is stay above 4,406 feet it seems likely that a false reading from the altimeter might have contributed: when I was on a gliding course (thus noticing this sort of detail) I saw an altimeter zeroed at the start of the day, a thunderstorm came and went, and in the afternoon the instrument read 1000 feet, a difference that could easily plough the pilot into a hill.
Up there above the Pentland Firth among the bare stones and heather, with the wind whining through the propeller and rattling the bits and pieces of aluminium the thought of what it must have been like for the pilot gave me the shudders, and I was glad to get down to the beach and bairns bouncing on the plank bridge.
If there was plenty of time to catch the last ferry, you could go back via the western cliffs, past the Old Man of Hoy; the cliffs are awesome, and so are the bonxies (great skuas), which don’t want you anywhere near their nests and would really like it if they could drive you over the edge to your doom. The bonxie is a cousin of Erebus, classically the embodiment of primordial darkness, the son of Chaos. He is the Dalek of the bird scene; “ucksterminate!” is his cry, usually abbreviated to “uck”.
As you cross an invisible line that marks bonxie territory you hear a statement of intent, “uck”, and here comes Mr Bonxie, bug-eyed with paranoid hatred and determination, straight for your belly-button; if you have prudently brought a stick you can raise it above your head so that he attacks it instead of your precious scalp; whoosh, off he goes, but from the rear here comes Mrs Bonxie belly-button-bound: “uck”, stick, whoosh, off she goes, “uck”, here comes Mr B again, whoosh, “uck”, Mrs B … and then you pass the other invisible  line, and Mr and Mrs Bonxie toddle off back to their nest, happy bunnies, they’ve beaten off the enemy. Ah, phew, now you can enjoy the scenic wonders again, “uck” no you can’t, you’ve crossed into the next bonxie’s territory … and so it goes, lightning glimpses of majestic cliff between bouts of bonxie-battling. Since the bonxie gets his food by making other birds vomit up their catch, it’s tempting to think you might down a tin or two of sardines before trying to cross his territory and divert him with a nicely timed puke, but I’ve never had the necessary supply of sardines to hand at the moment of need.
Famously, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you, and perhaps the bonxie can’t be blamed for his behaviour: he may have heard about our human tendency to assassinate wildlife and feel that proactive is the safe way to go.
After the harassment of the bonxie (and the wariness in case you fall over the edge, whirling to repel his advances), it is very peaceful down at the pier waiting for the ferry back to Stromness. But sometimes when the tidal current is at its fastest it is like crossing a fast river boiling over the underwater rocks, and it might be best not to finish off the sardines until you are back in Stromness.
One of the wonders of Stromness after life in the sticks was the shops: now we could instantly access a wide array of goodies without needing our wheels, for in that one long street running along the line of the harbour were two butchers, two bakers, supermarket, clothes shop, shoe shop, book shop, newspaper shop, cafè, pubs, hairdresser, doctor, lawyer, blacksmith, plumber, art gallery, post office, probably much more that I’ve forgotten. Recently I’ve heard that some of these no longer exist and that now you need the wheels again, to go to Kirkwall, 14 miles away. Sad.
Up till now I had always happened to teach in girls’ schools, and selective ones at that. But in Stromness Academy the pupils came from the whole population of West Mainland and numbered around 500. Some were very bright indeed, and were headed for university; some saw no point at all in school and were only filling in compulsory time until they could get on with their real life, which they were already living out of school hours, driving the John Deere or serving in the cafè. Some who left Orkney to go to university were utterly charmed by the anonymity and the larger world that opened up for them, others found themselves unable to live in a place where no-one knew them, and lasted only a term before coming back permanently.
the Holms; Hoy in background
“Activities” happened on a Friday afternoon (apparently learning doesn’t rank as an activity in the wonderful world of education). For me, this came to be a “ramble” which meant that I took people for a walk; often the people were third-year boys. One day at low tide we were able to get out on the Holms, the two low islands at the mouth of the harbour; the boys found long sticks to have pretend-fights with; I was beginning to find out what a different animal the boy is from the girl. A Friday came when I took them in the car to the cliffs at Yesnaby; it was raining hard and blowing what other cultures would call a hurricane, so the boys didn’t want to get out of the car and walk anywhere; but I wanted to go and see if any more pieces of cliff had fallen off recently, so away I went for half-an-hour or so; when I came back, soaked, and got in the driving seat and looked at the dashboard, I found that all the control knobs had been pulled out and were hanging down on wires. Girls would have just been chatting, maybe destroying some classmate’s reputation but leaving the control knobs alone.

This post has gone on long enough: a detailed study of the microcosm that was Stromness Academy needs a post all to itself . . . 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Spoots and Peats
(the beaches and moorland of Orphir)
There are those who would kill for their peat-bank, and since the right to a peat-bank is often murky it’s a wonder that the heather is not littered with bodies. For a good peat-bank can provide fuel at only the cost of the work needed to get it, and for anyone who likes being out in the sunshine digging (once you have the right tool – the tuskar) and stacking at a steady pace the work is pretty pleasant; if your peats are of a good texture, well dried out and stacked properly at the back door, there is your year’s fuel, a huge freebie.
the joy of cutting peat
We were lucky enough to have acquired a peat-bank along with a big house in the middle of Orphir, with a fine outlook across the Flow. Somewhere up among the peat-banks was the boundary of the estate, marked not by any fence or wall but described in the old titles as the line of sight from a piece of Newcastle coal to Orphir schoolhouse, about three miles away. In vain did I look for the piece of coal; no doubt it had long since buried itself in the peat or formed part of someone’s fuel stack, and I wondered how that boundary could possibly be decided now. You might think that since it was only moorland it wouldn’t much matter, but you only have to see the red glow in the eyes of even the mildest man who thinks that a bit of land belongs to him to realise that it does matter. A lot.
spooters at Waulkmill
Another freebie, this one yielded up by the beach, is the spoot (razorfish) which, when disturbed, burrows down into the sand, causing a spurt of sandy water to squirt into the air. The spoot-hunter, armed with long knife and bucket, stalks his prey walking slowly backwards. Mr(s?) Spoot feels the tread of the stalker and, preferring flight to fight, wheechs away down to what he believes to be safety; sadly, this very strategy causes the spurt that reveals where he is: had he only lain perfectly still his assassin would have passed onwards, never knowing that he was lurking there. But now the spooter thrusts his long knife into the sand at the spot marked by the spurting of Mr Spoot, pinning him down; then with his free hand he howks Mr Spoot out into the bucket, and from there to the waiting frying pan.
Waulkmill beach
Perhaps one day a spoot will evolve that chooses to freeze instead of flee, and the practice of spooting will die out. But meantime, lightly fried, they are regarded as a delicacy by some, maybe the same people who gorge on snail porridge and jellyfish ice-cream. Personally I’d prefer a mackerel any day. 

Swanbister beach

A spoot ebb (low water during the big equinoctial tides) tempts the aficionados of spooting out onto beaches that are mostly deserted, for the temperature and wind strength are seldom such as to encourage one to lie about smeared with sunblock, reading about the fifty shades; but those of us who enjoy the emptiness of the rippled sand, the clear water, the distant horizons , the oystercatchers, the seals, the tepid shallow water of the Flow beaches, the breakers and intense blue of the oyster plant at Skaill, become Orkney-beach addicts.
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Marian, another ferrylouper, moved into the district not far from us, and we became friends; she was from the U.S.A., and was astonished to find that she couldn’t get bullets for her beretta, and worse, that she was expected not to carry it with her at all times. One evening she visited us when we were watching The Goodies; on screen Tim Brooke-Taylor spread the Union Jack over a table, sat down in a chair and put his feet up on the flag. Shocked to the core, Marian said “He’s put his feet on your flag!” “So?” said we, “it’s only a piece of cloth, it’ll wash.” But no. Feet on flag was desecration, and punishable by, er, what exactly? It remained unclear.
We were both keen bridge players, and would often travel into Stromness of an evening to make up a four with a colleague of mine, Ishbel, and her grandfather; Marian and I took turns of being driver for the evening, and it was a quite frightening experience being the passenger, for Marian’s soul was still in the U.S.A. and believed that here, in the 51st state, only ignorance and thrawnness kept us driving on the left. The road between Orphir and Stromness had very little traffic, and there were long straight stretches where one could relax, but as Marian swooped, well to the right, round the S-bends at the start of the Scorradale Road, extolling the superiority of the American number-plate system, it was impossible to pay attention to her words, for I was poised to make a grab for the steering-wheel if any oncoming vehicle should suddenly appear driving on the un-American side of the road. Anyway she was already off on a different theme – taxation: all citizens of the U.S.A. filed their tax returns honestly and timeously, it appeared, whereas “you-all” (viz my friends and I and all Brits) cheated and lied and paid no tax if we could possibly get away with it. Both parts of which seemed unlikely, but argument would perhaps turn her attention away from the road, so I buttoned the lip, watched the road, hoped to survive.
The grandfather, who had spent some time in U.S.A., got on famously with Marian, and one evening she brought him a tomato plant in a pot. The only place he could put it was at a small window with not much light and very little heat, but it would be a clear loss of face if tomatoes never appeared. In the course of time, when we arrived one evening we saw that the plant had produced large dark-red tomatoes; Marian was enormously pleased, and the grandfather was glad, for he had taken a lot of trouble buying the best tomatoes he could get hold of and pinning them invisibly to the plant.
A heart condition put Marian in hospital for a while; unable to believe that a hospital stay was free, she wanted a room to herself, with her favourite bottle of whisky, and was ready to pay for it; though she did get the whisky, the room was not possible, and she had to share with three others who, to her vocal disgust, were unwilling/unable to make up a bridge four. When I visited, the three seemed barely conscious, but they might have simply been in retreat.
She remained in Orkney, continuously amazed at the driving and taxation habits of us Brits, and envying our tomato-growing expertise, until her death. Generous and interesting, she left the neighbourhood the poorer for her going.  
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Stromness Academy had a nautical department which provided evening classes in navigation and seamanship. With a spouse who was producing a constant stream of sailing-dinghies, I thought it might be good to probe the inner secrets of how to find your way over the trackless sea, although my colleague in maths pointed out that nowadays all that old lore was useless because it had been overtaken by satellite communication; but then he also said that computers would shortly be able to produce accurate language translation, and I knew that was unlikely, so I reckoned the old navigational lore could easily be useful – especially as I had no satellite communication device.
Useful or not, navigation was immensely interesting, and I borrowed the sextant for a weekend, to see if I could put our house in its correct place on the chart by taking a sighting of the sun at noon from our bedroom window which had a view clear across the Flow to the low-lying north coast of Scotland. It was not easy. The house moved half a mile inland, then out onto the water; but after a while I got it in its true position, and was satisfied that if the day came that I was lost in mid-Atlantic I’d be able to pinpoint my position – so long as I had a chart, a sextant, a chronometer, and perhaps a compass, and so long as the waves didn’t heave about too much, and so long as I could see the sun or some recognisable star, and had the almanac … and a calculator … and some toast, and coffee … yes, I was dreaming, but it was very gripping.
Signal flags could be useful, I felt, for a wife trying to get a message across to a nautical-minded husband; the best one had to be X - stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals, failing which, perhaps L - you should stop, I have something important to communicate might work? would F - I am disabled, communicate with me be a tad too pleepy? was it worth flagging  J - I am going to send a message by semaphore and continue by holding wee flags and waving the arms about? no, that would mean having to remember another great heap of signals, and Morse was hard enough.
My Morse learning was by sound signals, and I became reasonably proficient, except that there were two pairs of letters that I often mixed up, making the message “luckqou” somehow lacking in bite. Came the exam, and it turned out that the Morse was done by winking light in a darkened room. I had been up most of the previous night, and after a day at work I saw only two or three flashes of the light in the dark room before I tipped over into a dreamless doze, and awoke unrefreshed and groggy, needing to write down the text of the message, and straight after that being given two pieces of rope and told to construct a bowline on a bight; um, a bowline, easy-peasy, that was how you tied on the climbing rope, but a bight? eh? a big, wide bay? how/what/why? In the middle of this wonderment time was up, a minion came round with a bag to collect the ropes, I did a swift bowline and hoped for the best.
Now at worst, lost in mid-Atlantic, not only could I find out where I was, but also signal passing vessels that LXF with  . . . -- -- -- . . .  for backup if they failed to notice. And luckqou if they steamed on regardless.
~   ~   ~   ~   ~
canoe-eye view
In real life, meanwhile, we plootered about in the sheltered waters of Scapa Flow in our yawl, once camping at Pegal Burn in Hoy where we took a few cuttings of honeysuckle, visiting Cava, where two ladies of advancing years lived in isolated contentment with never a mod con, rowing across to Orphir when they needed to do their shopping. In our canoe I would often float along the shore in the evening to see the seals that lived on the nearby rocky headlands and listen to their song.
need to walk
In so many ways, Orphir was an idyllic environment, but it had a down side - the daily journey to work, with the children (for there was no school transport), and the increasing need to ferry the bairns about to visit their friends (mostly done patiently by the spouse). In winter, the road was often difficult; during one return home from Stromness the car ground to a halt in deep drifts on the Scorradale road; we started walking, but when we’d reached the foot of the hill we were most kindly taken in by the Orphir schoolmaster and his wife and given beds for the night. There was a day when it was impossible to get the car out onto the road, and I walked the 11 miles in to work, on a breathtakingly beautiful day utterly silent; no traffic was managing to get along the road until within a mile of the school. Dear me, too late for register class.
The other continual worry was a monster mortgage: by today’s standards, house prices were low, but interest rates were very high; Orkney house prices started to rise, as they had already done down south, and there came a point where we could sell our too-big Orphir house for enough to let us buy a smaller house in Stromness outright. Living in Stromness would mean that I could walk to work and that the bairns could see their friends whenever they wanted.
Stromness from the air
We were extraordinarily lucky: we got a house right on the shore, with a pier running out into the harbour, and before long our far too many belongings were in their new home.
A cutting from the Pegal honeysuckle came too, and is still flourishing: I can see it on Google Earth.