The Height of Absurdity: Orkney 4.2

24 May, 2016 by katelaity

The Height of Absurdity 1

By stages we made our way to the northern edge of the land. Unfortunately I was left with the vague feeling of dissatisfaction with things after that conversation, although Tansy continued to deport himself (as he was then) with the utmost geniality and charm, so I felt doubly irritable with myself for being such a churl in comparison. I should have simply forgotten about the matter but Tansy had that way of getting under my skin that made me feel ridiculous and somewhat retrograde to modernity. It occasionally forced me to re-examine my beliefs in a most uncomfortable way, and no man likes that.

Whilst we waited for our boat across to the islands, we found ourselves at a restaurant that was part of a small inn in Thurso. In brighter weather, it would doubtless host many seaside travellers for while it was considerably north of the gentle beaches where people took the bright sun it was part of the dramatic Scottish country side that had so charmed people in the novels of Sir Walter Scott. I vowed that we would come back to the Highlands for I had no idea they were really quite so lovely as they were, and had assumed that Scott invented them for his novels. Imagine my surprise at their breath-taking beauty.

Our host was a man named Hogan, who at first seemed a disappointment because he did not at all fit the popular image of the wild Scotsman. He didn’t even have a kilt. And while his hair had a reddish tinge to it, it was certainly no wild tangle that called to mind the wild gorse or who looked ready to declare,

“One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name!”

In fact, the man seemed almost like an Englishman, so calm was his demeanour and thoughtful his speech. By degrees my disappointment turned to an appreciation of his good nature and usefulness, for finding we awaited a boat to Orkney, he saw that we were no ordinary idlers but men of purpose (at least Tansy was at that time) and offered us whisky and wisdom when we told him of our task.

‘If you venture to the land of Orkney you’ll need to be cautious,’ he said as he put the tumblers before us, including a third so he could join us. If it seemed neglectful, then it might be well to note that the dining room of the inn was only sparsely populated and the others there all seemed to known him well enough to hail him by his Christian name, so must be accustomed to his familiar ways.

‘Are the Arcadians particularly savage?’ I enquired.

Hogan laughed. ‘Not the least. In fact they are about as likeable a sort as you can find. Island life is harsh and the people are especially kind to one another.’

‘Ah ha,’ I said nonplussed by this information. ‘So what should we be wary of?’

‘Why the weather, of course. You do realise that even the Vikings themselves were nervous about Orkney’s fierce storms?’

‘Vikings?’ Tansy’s eyes lit with excitement. ‘Were there Vikings here?’

‘Of course, the Vikings settled throughout the north, from York to Orkney and points in between.’

‘But they were driven out by King Alfred, weren’t they all?’ I tried to dredge up my memories from school days but I admit they were somewhat hampered by my inattention at the time. ‘I mean, when he wasn’t burning cakes. He was the one who burned the cakes, right?’

‘It’s a pity that such a great martial leader and venerable scholar is remembered only for burning the cakes,’ Tansy scolded.

‘The state of education in this land is not my particular fault,’ I said, feeling a bit put upon…



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