I sit on the front grass (we have grass in Orkney, rather than lawns) and wave to visitors as they pass in the coaches. Usually I get a few return waves but, recently, coaches have started to appear with tinted windows, so it’s difficult to see whether anyone is aboard, let alone waving.
As a visitor myself to the islands, before we moved to live here, I was often that person passing the front garden of a local. A retired gentleman would be out mowing, pruning or just sitting. There’d be a dog, a child on a toy tractor and washing on the line, down the side of the house. There may be a pile of logs ready for winter. Colourful garden flowers, thriving in the shelter of Rosa rugosa – planted for that purpose – would speak of a settled existence. The gardener may be an Orkney native or an incomer long ago.
As the coach sped past I would catch a glimpse into this other life – different from my own and very appealing. I would think how lucky they were to be living in such a special place but, at the same time, how ordinary they seemed to be making it, rake in hand and jacket hanging from a spade handle. I would always hope they were not taking it for granted. I hoped they knew what they had and appreciated it.
When my chance came I jumped at it (Bev had agreed to move to Orkney) so we snapped up the building plot on offer and set the wheels in motion – planning office; architect; electricity board; roads department; builder – and found it would all work. We sold our house in the south, moved into a friend’s granny annexe for the duration and waited to be handed the keys to our new home which, it just so happened, was on the tourist coach route.
Now, when I see the coaches pass, and look into the faces of the people watching me harvesting the grass, I wonder what’s in their minds: ‘Oh, look at that lucky blighter living in that idyllic spot. I wish I could be him’ perhaps. I do believe in making things happen for oneself. People said we were brave to sell up and move here but it really only requires a bit of determination to follow a course of action. The first step is to say, one to another, ‘Let’s do it’. After that things fall into place if you work at it. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t like it so go home again?
I was at the front one afternoon, in a deckchair, enjoying a beer, when Steve, the new guy, just moved in next door, came out. In the spirit if neighbourliness – which is very strong in Orkney – I invited him over for a drink and to show him how to wave at coaches. He was picking it up quite well until I pointed out he had just waved at the No 2 service bus to the ferry terminal. Steve soon got the hang of it and we fell to chatting about how he was enjoying the new home and Orkney in general.
Things came to an abrupt halt when Tracey came out to see why she couldn’t hear the mower which Steve had been sent out to operate. ‘We’re just having a beer, love, and waving at tourists’ said Steve meekly. ‘We’ve plenty of beer, or wine, if you’d care to join us’, I added.
‘I’m working my socks off in here,’ said Tracey, ‘this is rather disappointing. I didn’t come all this way to Orkney just so you could drink beer and wave at tourists,’ she said.
Steve drained the last of the bottle and trudged off to mow the grass. ‘Here’s a big coach,’ I shouted. Steve raised his hand half-heartedly and pulled the starter cord on the mower. The peace was shattered now so I went in and watched an antiques programme on the telly.
Richard writes regularly for Scottish Islands Explorer. His first book: 'Scotland’s Islands – A Special Kind of Freedom' was published in 2014. 'Orkney – A Special Place' appeared in 2017, with 'Orkney - A Special Way of Life' arriving in 2021. The books are published by Luath Press, Edinburgh