Stay Tuned!

I hadn’t realised how long it had been since I last posted! Tempus Fugit! I’m sure none of you will be surprised to learn that the reason I haven’t posted is because I was a little busy working. Last week though was a little different from my usual – I was being filmed for an upcoming BBC Programme called Our Lives!

It turns out that it’s not only newspapers and magazines that find my story interesting; the BBC too have become taken with it. This filming is quite different to the filming I’ve done before though, mainly that it’s several visits over 3 months for the better part of a week at a time! I don’t know how most people would feel in this particular situation but I found it pretty uncomfortable. The one thing I hate more than anything else is to be the centre of attention, so this is a little outside my comfort zone!

Still, it’s for the good of the island – hopefully. You see, this 30 minute programme – the first dedicated programme (as far as I know) featuring North Ronaldsay started out as being about me and my many jobs. However, it became pretty clear to the Powers That Be that everyone on this island and across the Orkney Islands, and The Western Isles all hold down multiple jobs. It’s how it has to be to make ends meet and to keep a small isolated community going.

I intend for this programme to give an accurate view of what it’s like to live on an island like North Ron. I guess the first thing is to change your perception of jobs, we don’t operate on a 9-5 basis, we don’t have a rigid routine of waking at the same time, doing the same job everyday and returning home at the same time. Our working day could be any length (it could even extend into the following morning) and in that working day there could be any number of things that need to be done, if you’ve been following my blog, you’ll have an idea what I’m talking about. But if you think about your own lives, although you have one job description and one workplace, there are several tasks you’re expected to do each day, several problems that you’ll have to solve. That might help with how we adapt to doing various things throughout the day!


Burns Supper

I’ve been to a couple Burns suppers and quite a few Ronaldsay doo’s but the calibre of last night’s event rose above and beyond anything I had seen before!

The evening started as tradition would have it, with the piping in of the haggis, followed by an address to the haggis, a speech on the ‘immortal memory’ of Robert Burns in which Kathryn Sclater regaled us with the far reaching affect that Robert Burns has had on the world and still does to this day. The extent of which, I confess, I had no idea.

Burns’ suppers tend to follow a pretty standard format which brings us to Michael’s fantastic Toast to the Lassies. Both his toast and his wife’s Reply to the Lassies were written in a witty and entertaining rhyme. Doing well to be heard over the fierce gales pounding the centre and the showers that made us all thankful we were indoors with plenty of candles, a lively band and a stout pair of dancing shoes! The weather was not going to stop any of us last night!

As you can imagine, several hours of speeches can get a bit on the monotonous side so the speakers decided to shake things up a bit this year! Howie, rather than stand before us and recite a poem from Burns, decided to dress for the occasion! Turning the recitation into a pantomime-like performance around the room!

After a selection of music from Burns’ time, we had a toast to the island in which the speaker recognised the unique way this island handles challenges. Here on North Ronaldsay, no matter the situation, you have jobs to do and you just have to get on with it, one way or another. Speaker Andy Cant recognised this as he shared some of his memories of just about everything going spectacularly wrong (usually, and certainly in my experience, while working with animals). Never one to shy away from major problems, the Ronaldsay islander gets the job done, come rain, shine, hail, or roof-rattling wind, then it’s onto sorting the series of disasters from earlier in the day.

It was quite a poignant toast in truth, just a few hours earlier I, myself was reminiscing with a good friend about the uniqueness of islanders – nothing is ever a major problem, everything is taken in stride and dealt with. Don’t get me wrong though, the end product, just like the islanders themselves, are not perfect, nor pristine but they hold together and they do what’s needed of them… until the next little tweak or tighten is required!

From there started the dancing! Again, it’s pretty standard fare for a Ronaldsay doo to carry on well into the wee hours of the morning but again, last night exceeded expectations! The band were in their element, happily playing until nearly 3 in the morning!

Normally at the end of the evening we all hold hands and sing Auld Lang Syne, which of course we did last night but there was no holding back for the band, still playing even after that. The dancers, both young and old still on their feet! All I can say is, thank goodness the first plane of this lazy Sunday afternoon was at midday, giving everyone a chance to catch up on some sleep! I’ve no idea what time people started drifting out into a much calmer evening, the wind having burned itself out, but I feel confident to say that everyone would leave with a smile on their face.

Now we share in a relaxing Sunday with friends and family, a big cuppa in hand, sharing a laugh or two carried on from last night, last week, last year and beyond!

Snowed Under… Literally!

Well, I’m sure everyone has been having fun with the snow and ice this last week – feel free and share any stories you have in the comments. Thankfully North Ronaldsay wasn’t hit as badly as most, certainly mainland Orkney really had it rough!

We’ve had a few delayed and cancelled flights over the week, I was on airport duty throughout and actually developed a new morning routine! For most people the first thing they do when waking up is get washed a dressed – not me this week! Before I’ve even got out of bed, first I check Kirkwall airport inter-island webcam to check the condition of the runways on mainland, then I might check the Kirkwall Hotel webcam to compare how much snow has actually fallen over night. Next, my attention turns to my island – I’ll have a look at the Met Office, I find they’re pretty accurate and then I’ll have a look on Weather File to check the wind speed and direction at the airport – it’s too dark to see the wind turbines in the morning. All of this gives me an idea of the chances of a plane making it to the island, what it doesn’t tell me is the time and likelihood of showers which have been the real bane in our lives, particularly for the staff at Kirkwall airport. We could see on the webcam that virtually as soon as they had the runways clear enough to take off, another nasty snow shower would rip through and cover everything again! My thoughts go out to all the staff and passengers of Kirkwall airport during what must have been a hell of a frustrating time!

Still, we made it through, the snow is all gone now – which is a mixed blessing for me! I’m back on post duty so I’m seriously relieved that the roads are clear for me driving around the island but the snow makes everything look a lot prettier. No place looks at it’s best during the winter but we have had a lot of rain this winter and the island is pretty sodden!

A macro shot of the hail on the road

Despite only having the post to deliver and home care to do (a relatively light day for me given that tomorrow I’m going to be doing it again plus tending 3 planes), I’ve never actually stopped all day – most of the work has been done from this chair! First off I worked on my third assignment for uni – this year’s course is on the Classics – and the assignment is a close textual analysis of two extracts from Percy and Mary Shelley’s Mont Blanc and Frankenstein respectively. I feel that went as well as can be expected given how much I loathe the Classics (no offence to anyone). Then onto a fair bit of collating and organising of information for the community council – we have a meeting next week and the amount of paperwork that goes into it is pretty incredible!

Anyway, I think I’m on top of it now, I’ve broken the back of my pile of paperwork and I’m no longer snowed under… For today at least!

A Belated Happy New Year!

It’s been a while since I last posted but when you have a look at my itinerary this last month, I hope you’ll understand!

Although I had to take the day off yesterday to go into town for home care manual handling training and a bit of hectic shopping, it marked the 4th consecutive week working at the airport! I had 2 days off on Christmas day and boxing day, then another 2 days off for New Year’s Day and the 2nd of January but the rest of the time I’ve seen in every flight! This week me and Helen (of Woolly Wally fame) have been clearing moss off the edges of the runways – it involves one of us scraping moss off the surface of the runway and the other shovelling it up and dumping it elsewhere. We started the work on Monday (took the day off today because I was a bit busy – covering the 8am plane and home care, with a lighthouse tour at 1pm and the last plane at 15:40) but we’ve managed to clear most of the first half of the short runway. Seemingly the short runway is the worst for moss, I have to admit, as Alex, the pilot was taxiing down the runway yesterday I couldn’t help but have my face squashed against the windows having a look at the edges of the runway!

The Civil Aviation Authority are coming to the island in May for their annual inspection of the runway to ensure it’s all up to their high standards and the runways will hopefully be resurfaced in June – hence the need for the moss to take a hike! I never appreciated how much work went into maintaining an airfield until now!

It’s funny though how things change when you start putting blood sweat and tears into something. When I first moved to the island, I had the choice of either painting the white lines on the apron of the runway or paint the red and white boards. At the time I had no idea what any of that meant so I chose the boards, thinking there wasn’t that many (we have 13), it takes about an hour to paint those boards!

Similarly, you don’t appreciate how long those runways are until you have the length of them then progress back to the building one spade width at a time! While we’re doing this, our boss is back and forth in the tractor, collecting gravel to fill the potholes in the runways. You honestly wouldn’t believe how many bucketful’s it takes to flatten them out!

Then there’s keeping the airport building clean, that takes a couple of hours easily – it doesn’t seem a big building but it quickly accumulates dirt with so many people coming and going, then there’s the fire truck has to be cleaned, only to be covered in runway dust on the very next inspection!

Wow! It’s a good job I like working at the airport! But now I see the airport completely differently. Well, when I first moved here I didn’t really see it but now I can see the work that’s involved in keeping it running but it’s a bit more than that – I can see the effect me and the rest of the staff are having on the airfield. Those boards are still looking pretty good, the runways will be ready for resurfacing and judgement when the CAA arrive, the building will be cleaned again next week. All these things happening behind the scenes but are equally as important as providing fire cover for the plane landing.

Well better sign off, enjoy the rest of the women’s final in the BDO darts before the last plane then that’ll be me in for the night hopefully, but still a few other bits and pieces to do before I can call this day done!

Another touching surprise!

Yesterday morning I received a lovely calendar and a 2 page letter from a woman in Australia! She had been reading the International Express and my story had inspired her to send a calendar and a 2 page letter all the way across the world! I’m still really amazed that so many people are moved by my simple life on this little island, enough to hand write a letter or send a Christmas card! It’s really moved me in turn. The Christmas spirit is in full force this year.

Speaking of the Christmas Spirit, my last Christmas present arrived this morning. I’ve been working a lot lately so I treated myself to a few things (that were on sale!). I love these little shops that pop up on Facebook and as soon as I saw the shower curtain, toilet seat and mat I just couldn’t resist! I bought 2, I have a little snowman on a green/blue background! And they arrived just in time! Really pleased with how they looks!

If I don’t post again before – have a lovely Christmas everyone!

Back to normal!

I hope I’m right in saying that North Ron is back to normal! It has been an interesting couple of days!

Storm Caroline broke a few of our power lines so we’ve been without power for much of the last 2 days. It seems one of the problems was a couple of broken lines at the crossroads at the south end of the island, every gust brought the broken wires together and shorted out the island generator. I can tell you, that was seriously creepy having the lights flick on and off as the genny shorted, of course at the time we had no idea what was going on or how long this was going to last.

My house is totally electric so no Rayburn for heating or cooking, we got as much of our meal ready as possible, we only needed 20 minutes of power to cook our pasta – we got 3! We managed to boil the kettle and put it in with the pasta, amazingly it did actually cook in the boiled water so the Thursday night we did have a meal!

We were still without power on Friday morning so we were approaching the danger zone for the freezers. The power went off around 1:30pm on Thursday so we sprang into action. By an amazing stroke of luck, my late grandfather had a small generator for holidays in Peebles so we inherited it. It was a godsend! We dug it out, battled the snow to get some fuel for it – of course the instructions on how to use it were in the computer, not much use there in a power cut eh?

The wee genny drank fuel quicker than we expected so we couldn’t run it as long as we’d hoped and it was only a 2kw genny so we could get the freezers back up to temperature (or back down to temperature?) and we managed to cook some more past on the induction heater my folks bought from Lidl a couple of years ago, didn’t know why or when we would use it but now I’m glad they got it!

The house was freezing, it’s amazing how quickly a house can lose heat, so the thermals, that we hadn’t needed this year, were dug out and the blankets were layered up to keep warm. We looked like we were about to head out on an artic expedition rather than just sitting in the house reading a book!

The pilots were trying to fly out to the island, they were on standby in Kirkwall waiting and hoping for a break in the weather but it didn’t come. I was on plane duty through Thursday and Friday, wasn’t long off the phone to the co-ordinator saying that the 2nd flight had been cancelled and we were done for the night when Billy drove down the driveway in the digger, blaring the horn. No idea what was going on, I climbed out the chair as quick as I could (I have an electric recliner chair which was stuck in the reclining position when the power went off!).

Apparently the coastguard had managed to get a hold of Billy, they were landing on the island at 3pm and bringing the SSE engineers! So I’m getting my layers on when another colleague at the airfield turns up at the door to tell me the coastguard are coming. He works for Scottish Water, I hadn’t even thought about the water! We need power to pump the water into the tank so as much as it was an emergency for us, it was an even bigger emergency for the island which was soon to run out of water!

The folks came with me to the airport with their cameras – they’ve never seen a coastguard helicopter up close and thankfully this visit was bringing salvation for us instead of picking up someone in dire need of medical attention.

Predictably the helicopter never even noticed the wind that was causing so many problems for us, thank god for the coastguard! The engineers wasted no time in fixing one of the problems – within an hour of them being on the island, we had power through the night! No idea how they managed that, half of that hour was in complete darkness!

The next day though the power was on and off throughout the day as the engineers tried to find the next problem, it took them most of the day working out in snow showers that were so thick at times, you couldn’t see a thing!

Our pilots did an amazing job getting our first 2 flights to the island in between snow showers! I was out late feeding beasts but judging by the fact that the stair lights in the lighthouse were on, I would say the north end finally had power.

I think the worst is over now and we’re getting back to normal, we’ve had a boat this morning, the snow has melted away and there shouldn’t be any problems for the flights getting in today. That was the worst hit the island has been in many years, it’s strange really because 3 years ago on the 8th/9th of December, we had the weather bomb. My dad and I were travelling from Edinburgh to North Ronaldsay to sign the tenancy agreement for my house, the wind was so strong that it took the two of us pushing against the door to close it, we had to walk bent double to stay on our feet and yet there was very little damage done on the island! Funny how it just has to hit you in the right place!

Anyway, I’d like to say a huge thank you to my neighbour who made us a coffee on his gas stove, Alex and Jack for offering the warmth of their home, the engineers who got the island running again and the coastguard who brought them here. I’ve no idea what we would have done if it hadn’t been for so many people working so hard together not only for us but the whole of Orkney and Shetland – it’s massively comforting to know that remote outlying areas aren’t forgotten in the chaos around the country.

A touching surprise

This morning I received a Christmas card from a Chinese woman living in Aberdeenshire who had been watching me on STV news and was so inspired by my story that she took the time to send me a card!

There was no return address so if this woman or her family happens to be on social media, I’d just like to say a huge thank you! It really lifted my spirits and it’s just great to hear that my story has touched other people.

It’s been a little while since I last wrote, I’ve been a little busy with the first community council meeting after the election of the new council and an assignment for university due tomorrow! Thankfully I’m getting on top of it and judging by the weather forecast I may have more time that I planned to work on the rest of my work!

Storm Caroline is set to hit us tomorrow afternoon with winds gusting to 80mph around the time of our middle flight so I suspect I’ll have one flight to attend tomorrow and then have the rest of the day off (apart from the gym). The wind is to be equally bad on Friday so probably no planes, if there aren’t any planes then there won’t be any post for me to deliver on Saturday, which is a blessing since the wind is still to be pretty serious on Saturday and I worry about the doors of the post van!

Thankfully, my university tutor is completely on the ball and has already sent an email out saying that since a lot of Open University students are on remote Scottish Islands she is expecting a lot of late assignments with power cuts causing us problems! I have to say, I hadn’t even thought that far – times like this when the wind is set to be serious, there are so many things you have to think about.

First you have to make sure that everything in the garden that can be blown around (like wheelie bins) are properly weighed down, you’d be amazed how they can make their way around the garden! You try and park your car in the most sheltered part of your land, the wind is to be North West on Friday so the house should be shielding the vehicles.

When you’re out and about you have to check the wind turbines before you get out the car, should the wind take the door like a sail and bend a crease right in your door! You need to watch out for any flying debris that’s managed to break loose.

When I came up to the island to view the house before I moved in, it was during the weather bomb and I kid you not, I was bent double just trying to stay on my feet, the wind was so strong it literally took your breath away. It took my dad and I both shoving the door to close it as it was into the prevailing wind at the time. Luckily nothing has come close to that since and we’ve had worse than what is predicted for storm Caroline so hopefully it won’t be as bad as we’re expecting.

We’ll scope out the damage at the beginning of next week!20171206_175346[1485].jpg