Monday, May 26, 2008

toot sill

I've been getting my hands dirty with Shetland soil - weeding my
hosts' rose garden and fighting what I hope is a winning battle
against the pernicious creeping buttercup, which has always sounded
to me like a guerilla freedom-fighting cow, rather than a weed. Also
touched the Shetland sky and trucked up Ronas Hill on Saturday in the
good company of a friend from Shetland Arts, and we both remarked
upon the fact that the miles fairly fly by when you have a companion
to blether to. On Sunday I nearly made it to the top of Fitful Head
( the migraineur's summit) but ten feet off the summit, I was
dissuaded from climbing higher by a determined and scary Great Skua
( or Bonxie as they're called here)which divebombed me with
increasing ferocity and proximity until I had to turn back. so back
allll the waaaaay down to sea level and I went for a paddle in the
turquoise and icy waters of Quendale beach. Tucked myself up in a
sand-dune and read the Sunday papers and had a cup of tea - just like
a proper tourist.

Beautiful weather - sunny and chill, but on Saturday, in the odd
sheltered hollows that we found by the side of the many tiny lochs
which turn the landscape into lace, the sun was blissfully warm.
Still, it's more of a weatherbeating than tan that now has turned my
face even more wrinkled than usual. Sigh. None of the perfumes of
sweet Araby nor the diligent application of precious unguents have
made a blind bit of difference to the marks that Time has scribbled
all over my skin. I am rapidly approaching a prune-like state, which
is something that I manage to forget until confronted with the
evidence in the mirror at tooth-brushing time. Whereupon I leap
backwards from my reflection with a squeak of dismay.

Can this really be me?

I must learn not to mind. Most of me doesn't, because I fit myself
far better as the years go past. There's a kind of comfort inside my
own skin, most of the time. Well...except those times when I'm aware
that I've increased in girth, and discover that my clothes don't fit
and that realisation stupidly, still has the capacity to make me feel
grim. But doesn't stop my forays into the secret bar of Green &
Blacks tucked at the back of a kitchen cupboard. I think I need re-
programming. I need a brain-wipe in the chocolate- loving synapses.
Actually - my love of food generally makes it well-nigh impossible to
turn myself into a sylph. I'd hoped that the solitude of living on my
own again up here in Shetland would reduce me to monkish aescetism.
Alas - no. I have been cooking up a storm since I arrived here, with
the sole beneficiary of all this culinary largesse being myself. Last
night it was bouillebaisse ( the quick version) before that it was
coq au vin, the day before it was a puy lentil, red wine and chicken
stew...the problem is, I'm still, in my head, cooking for the family,
so the net result is that I end up eating the same thing three days
on the trot. And that is dull, dull, dull.

I even made bagels for the hillwalking at the weekend, and the first
thing I did on taking possession of this kitchen, was make a batch of
sourdough starter, which I turned into bread five days later. I'm a
hopeless case, I fear. Cooking is simply what I do between the hours
of five and seven each day. I have invited Mary Blance and her man
for tea next weekend, and already I'm planning pudding.


Mel said...

Well, do tell Mary that one of your readers is a *very* long lost cousin. My great-great-grandfather, Charles Blance, ran away from Shetland sometime back around 1860. Got tired of tending the sheep, as my grandmother tells it. She has correspondence of her father's from the grandmother he never met, to whom he apparently sent money on a regular basis.

Nobody in our line has yet been back to the islands, but someday.

Unknown said...

Will tell her, I promise. I think that life was unimaginably hard here, back then. Stories abound of people living in tiny crofts, heated by peat fires, lit by fulmar's oil lamps ( urgh - the smell of burning fishy oil) and owing a living almost entirely to the sea, with the odd bit of kale, potatoes and swedes thrown in. But the sea is all and everything here. Wir midder, da sea - our mother, the sea.

Have you heard of a cd by a Fair Isle woman called Lise Sinclair? The cd is called 'Ivver Entrancin'' and contains some of the most haunting and exquisitely beautiful tunes ever put together. lise Sinclair comes from a long lineage of musicians, and has a voice to dream to. If you wanted to connect with your long-lost roots, she would be a great place to start. And one of the tracks on the cd is 'Wir midder, da sea' sung by a group of Shetland children.

Alison said...

i find that having the toothbrushing mirror at a height where only he who is 8 inches taller than me can see in it is quite a blessing, personally.