Monday, October 27, 2008
a breath of winter
Sailed out of Aberdeen at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, heading for Lerwick in what I thought were mountainous seas, but hey, I do have a tendency to exaggerate. I did lurch to my cabin window at about 7.30 a.m to take some photos to prove that the mountains were real and not imaginary, but the very action of standing upright was more than enough to bring on a fit of the dry heaves and I had to assume the horizontal position promptly before I went in for major cabin redecoration.It was a journey from hell, and as the ship left Aberdeen harbour and wallowed and yawed out into the full ferocity of the North Sea, I did wonder if I was going to make it intact.
And what vicious shipping magnate named the Shetland ferries in such a completely unsympathetically onomatopoeic fashion. To wit : the s.s. Hrossey and Hjatland. Don't know about you, but when I give it the technicolour yawn, the sounds that emerge from me are along the lines of Hrosseyyyy and Hjat, hjat, hjaaaatt. Too much information, I suspect. Enough already.
I'm still swaying slightly and I've been here for 24 hours now. I was greeted with horizontal sleet as I came off the boat. Sleet? Yikes. We are far North. Edinburgh was sub-tropical by comparison. I'm only here for four days, talking to Shetland's teachers about the projects that I worked on with their children. Also talking about my dragon book and banging my climate change drum, but mainly having fun showing groups of teachers how I managed to get their children to enjoy writing stories. This involves a lot of drawing on the dreaded interactive whiteboards which is about as easy as drawing with a small and wayward half brick with a different agenda from your own. Where I place my pen on the board bears little relation to where the actual drawn line appears. This is deeply disconcerting. Off the top of my head I imagine it to be a bit like chopping onions using those gloved hands that you see in use in nuclear power stations when they're handling uranium - you stand on one side of the leaded glass screen, and on the other side are your virtual hands actually using the knife on the onions. Weird. However, when the whiteboards work, they are truly amazing devices, enabling large numbers of people to watch as you draw something to illustrate what you're wiffling on about.
But when, as happened today, I accidentally hit the wrong area of the screen with my mouse/pen/cursor, and all the huge drawing we'd been working with disappeared, it was incredibly hard to keep sounding ladylike when all I wanted to do was curse like a sailor.
Two hours of talking is effortful, though. At the end of the morning all I was fit for was to curl up with a book and try to pile in enough calories to stop myself from freezing. I can't seem to find a switch to turn the heating up, or indeed, to turn it on in this room where I sit tapping out this post. And yes, I've piled on more layers of clothing, but there's a limit to how many layers I can fit, one on top of the other before my arms stick out from my sides like the Michelin woman. The heating here in Lerwick comes piped in from the town's monster incinerator which occasionally belches out foul smokes and fumes that you can taste. It's called 'district' heating, and is a grand idea if, and it's a big if, the filters work. On the days when you can almost chew the air, I suspect the filters are not working as they should.
So. Tomorrow, I go talk to another group of teachers, but afterwards I hope to get out of Lerwick and go breathe some seawashed air. Winter has already arrived up here at sixty degrees North, which came as a surprise since I left mid-autumn behind in the softer South. I want to get out in the crisp wind, feel the teeth of ice blown across the sea and flirt with the Big Chill before it comes in a few weeks time to the more temperate latitudes where I live. Annoyingly, the clocks went back this weekend, thus allowing fewer hours of daylight to walk Shetland's coastline. I won't be able to go for the long walk I'd anticipated, and will have to find a shorter route - perhaps I'll attempt Fitful Head again, now that there's no chance of being set upon by Arctic terns determined to protect their nesting sites. At this time of year I might get blown off the summit, but that's a risk I'll be able to see coming. The Arctic terns came out of a clear blue sky last May and forced me to turn back. This time the only thing that'll be nesting in Shetland are sets of occasional tables.
And that was a truly pathetic joke for which I apologize.