In England there is an old belief that if you’re waiting for a bus, eventually one will come, very closely followed by another …… and then another! In reality the phenomenon has some truth to it, and even has a choice of names – bunching, clumping, convoying or even platooning. Mathematically it’s bound to happen if several buses are serving a single route. I mention this as in early September I lived through another 24 hours of amazing coincidences (see PCs 19 & 48 for previous examples).
Albany Villas where we live is a suburban street here in central Hove; like most inner city areas parking for cars is often difficult and the spaces fought over. Outside Amber House is a bay reserved for those drivers with disabilities; a ‘blue badge’ bay. There was often an ancient Jaguar XJ10, in immaculate condition, parked there. The driver, an oldish chap with a white ponytail (this being Brighton these things hardly raise an eyebrow) used it for driving his very elderly and infirm mother about. Seeing them regularly we got used to nodding, saying whatever greeting was appropriate depending on the time of day etc. And then they disappeared ….. completely ….. for over a year. On the first of September we remarked to each other: “I wonder what happened to them? Haven’t seen them for ages.” Later in the afternoon, the car is back. Weird or what? First Bus!
We had spent the previous evening with Ted and Richard. Ted has taken some beautiful photos, not only of us towards the end of last year and then of Jade and her family, but also some gorgeous ones of our wedding in August. Before going out to a local restaurant for supper, we joined them on the terrace of their large apartment in Palmeira Square, famous for its large terraced houses of the Regency period. Over drinks we caught up with events over the summer and somehow the conversation came around to Scotland and the Orkneys. I hadn’t been so far north but Celina had. And then I mentioned that way out into the Atlantic Ocean is the island of St Kilda. Nowadays the only human inhabitants are Army personnel, manning the radars used to track the surface-to-air missiles test-fired from the range at Benbecula. The soldiers are commanded by a junior Royal Artillery officer and spend six months there. I would probably never have heard of St Kilda if I hadn’t been in the Royal Artillery, and ducked down when the postings branch started looking for the next Officer Commanding St Kilda! It was a posting most of us did one’s best to avoid; if you were an ornithologist it was OK, if you weren’t you soon became one, for there was nothing to do in your spare time, unless you liked counting seabirds and sheep. (This before the age of the internet – and ‘no’, that’s not called ‘The Stone Age’!)
Apart from a rock called Rockall (an original name you might think!!) even further west out into the Atlantic, this group of islands is Britain’s most westerly point, a speck in the North Atlantic more than 40 miles off the Outer Hebrides, over 100 miles from the mainland of Scotland. St Kilda is a place of extremes. It has the highest cliffs in the UK, plunging 1,400ft to the sea. It has recorded the highest wind speeds in the country, 198mph (320kph), which explains why there are no trees!! More rare seabirds nest here than anywhere else in Europe. Not for nothing are these islands described as “the edge of the world”.
The last permanent civilian inhabitants of Hirta, the main island of St Kilda and the only habitable one, requested evacuation in 1930. There were just 36 of them: with numbers of able-bodied men dropping year on year, the people were more and more dependent on supplies from trawlers that might sail past or, failing that, handouts from the Scottish mainland. During the winter months, the St Kildans could find themselves as cut off from the world as they had been in the Middle Ages.
The ruins of houses on St Kilda
Not surprisingly, neither Ted, a Canadian, nor Richard, English as the day is long, had heard of St Kilda. I hadn’t thought about it since the 1980s, so it was quite extraordinary to open the second section of The Times the following morning to find: “A composer, a piano and a concert at the edge of the world”, an article about recording the once-lost songs of the people of St Kilda (Times 2 September 8th 2016). Weird or what? Second bus!
To keep my little brain from turning to mush, most days I do a very quick crossword in The Times newspaper. The day after the St Kilda article was in the paper, the crossword contained a clue ‘senseless talk’ for which the answer was ‘Twaddle’. (Pretty easy crossword huh!) The dictionary says: “Twaddle/ Trivial or foolish speech or writing; nonsense.” Such a lovely truly English word, ‘twaddle’; sort of rolls off the tongue after a glass of wine or three, in a speaking sense rather than a nonsense sense, but not one in common usage these days!
I love the author Bill Bryson’s works, especially his ‘Notes from a Small Island’ and the latest update to his amusing observations of Britain, ‘The Road to Little Dribbling’, a book I had been given for my birthday last year. And as part of my ongoing very necessary education, I also got given a copy of Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’. In six sections he attempts to explain the why, and where, and how of what Earth is and about life itself. Painstakingly researched and stuffed with amazing facts, figures and anecdotes, he’s traced scientific studies and the development of our understanding about ‘being’. You can plough though chapters such as ‘The Richness of Being’, ‘Cells’, ‘Darwin’s Singular Notion’, ‘The Stuff of Life’. And plough you do, as there is so much information there is a danger of overload; I suspect it’s a book to read more than once. Bryson of course clearly loved researching the very people who have contributed over the centuries, some earnestly , ……. and in the evening of the crossword containing ‘Twaddle’ day, I read …… “some very casually but significantly and some writing ‘twaddle’” Weird or what? Third bus!
Mere scribbles for autumnal reading
Richard 14th October 2016
PS Just in case you are reaching for your iPad, I also got the answer to 20 Across – ‘Walk Wearily’!