Saturday, 19 April 2008

A Day to Remember

Waking up in the attic bedroom I had a "Room at the Top" experience. As I plugged in the two bar electric fire, (the radiator being temperamental I'd been told) It was all so surreal, like being in a 1960's kitchen sink drama, but before I was tempted to scrabble round for shillings for the meter and pencil and paper to re-write "A Taste of Honey" meets "Saturday Night & Sunday Morning" my stomach told me I hadn't eaten since 4pm yesterday.
Breakfast was another experience. Presented with a fully fried breakfast, under the assumption that I'd need stoking up on the first day, I had to swap it for an egg on toast.
Being the only guest in the B & B (no surprise there) the owner was keen to strike up conversation. I wasn't. He proceeded anyway, to tell me about the imminent birth of his first grandchild and the party plans for his Mother's 80th. Today was not a good day to talk about Birthdays, but then he wasn't to know that.
At the bus stop I met "Jimmy", spitting and smoking outside the shelter. "Is this where I get the 75 to John O' Groats?" "Aye" Taking that as a yes, another traveller turned up. "Aye Jimmy" "Aye" he replied. Now this was the economical sort of conversation I needed today. As Jimmy got off outside the hotel in Keiss,and shuffled along the path, I wondered if he'd missed the last bus back from "Weatherspoons" last night.
When the bus deposited me at JOG and drove off into the fog, looking around,I realised I was the only solitary person there. At 9.30 am, I wasn't concerned. As the shops and the cafe opened up for business there was still no sign of the man with the sign. A major blow, as this year, I'd decided to be "cheesy", pay to get my photo taken, pick up my "Passport" and join the hallowed "End to End Club"
"Well, did you ring him last night?" said the lady in the gift shop "Err no, was I supposed to?" "He doesn't turn out at this time of year, in this weather, unless you ring him the night before". No photo then. Next question, "Where can I get my passport and join the club?" "Right here!" she replied, "If you go over there and sign the guest book, I'll get it ready", and, she continued, darkly, "Be careful not to give away to much personal information" "Such as?" "Well, I'd say, name only. No address, telephone number, e mail, bank account details, sort code, pin number, d.o.b., sex, orientation, chest size ...." Ok" I stopped her there, "I think I get the idea"
It was interesting looking back over other peoples entries, how and why they'd "Jogled" or "Lejoged" But really, by car? surely that was tantamount to cheating! Suddenly she loomed over my shoulder "I hope you're not putting comments on other peoples entries, it's not allowed". "Of course not" I replied "Only on the ones who did it by car. I just put, Do it the hard way you Jessie's!." "Well", I added, "it's hardly in the true spirit of a Jogle/Lejog challenge now is it?"
Of, course that wasn't quite how the conversation went, I didn't want to be excommunicated from the club before I'd even joined. Apparently, my entry will be photocopied and sent to Lands End. So, I'd better be on my best behaviour throughout this trip and report in to H.Q. Land's End with a click of the heels and a smart salute. "Carol Pollock reporting in at Lands End at 17.00 hours on 01.09.08. Here is my passport, stamped, at Post Offices en route, and I think you will find, on checking your records, that I did indeed leave John O'Groats at 09.50 hours on 08.04.08, Sir!"
With the absence of the sign, I took the only photo opportunity left open.The man in the "First and Last" gift shop obligingly took one of me at the harbour wall.
I needed to get going, and with all the vim and vigour of first day enthusiasm and absence of aching limbs, I made it to Keiss in just over 2 hours. What also helped was the "Walkman" on my mobile phone. My daughter had downloaded 3 hours worth of my favourite tunes (plus a few of her own odd choices) Plugged in, with only the sheep as an audience, I can recommend belting out Boston's "A Man I'll never Be" , at the top of one's voice, for an exhilarating experience and now I had the brief beach reprieve from the A99 to look forward to.
Last year, Hamish, a very helpful and handsome young sales assistant in the outdoor clothing shop and Information Centre in Wick, had suggested this detour off the main road. We'd gone in to buy socks for Dave and while he looked at socks, Lynne and I looked at Hamish.
Gambling along the sand dunes, I turned the music off to listen to the sounds of the sea before descending onto the beach. It was breathtaking, but then ahead of me, marring this wonderful view, was this great big yellow monstrosity with a pipe attached. Like a giant building toy, it towered over the beach. I had to find out why. I could see trucks, machinery and men in hard hats beavering away, and
as I approached, I saw the name on the truck "John M Gunn & Sons Ltd" Ah the famous Gunns! I'll have to tell you more about them tomorrow. For now I approached Mr "Hard Hat" The yellow thing turns out to be a contraption to transport oil to somewhere or other. "The largest of it's kind" he said proudly "But surely it's not going to be a permanent feature of this lovely beach?" I asked, aghast, "Oh no",he replied nonchalantly," we'll move on to somewhere else next year" Anyway, it was time to stop asking questions and move on before he clapped a hard hat on my head and set me to work.
And it wasn't long before I came to the river Dave and I had waded across last year, but that was July, and this was April. It was tempting, as the beach stretched on for another two miles ahead, but I didn't fancy frost bitten toes, so headed back to the road. Not so easy with a large obstacle in the way, namely, the yellow pipe, which close up was the size of a tunnel! There was no choice. With a furtive glance at the "Gunn men" in the distance I hoisted myself over as quickly as I could without being spotted.
Back on the road again, I approached Wick, with an agenda in my head. First stop, the Info Centre. Hamish was either on his day off, or jetting round the world on photo shoots. I hoped the latter. Picking up a map of the town, I needed to find the Library and the Churches. The library was open until 7pm, so first I went to light a candle, and believe me, I tried every church door in town, all were locked, as was the Wick Heritage Centre I'd also planned to visit being intrigued by the advertisement in a Highland brochure, "Behind a small exterior, the museum is huge, a must see attraction!"
Well, I couldn't see, so it was off to the library where I was ready and prepared for the Highland visitor policy on using the Internet. Compulsory Passport I.D for a measly 1/2 hour time slot in the computer room.
If I'd hoped they might relent and extend the time period ( I was the only customer) I was disappointed. "Most certainly not, besides, we're moving the furniture in here at 6pm as we're having a new carpet fitted and you'll be blocked in" the Library Manager beamed cheerfully. Quite clearly a new carpet was the most exciting thing to have happened in Wick Library in years. Enthusiastically he began dragging tables in at 5.45. Steady on! Tempted to whip up a banner "I shall not be moved" to hold aloft over the sea of tables and chairs, I instead, left for the only place left to go on a wet, windy evening in Wick. Weatherspoons for an early supper. Perhaps I could buy Jimmy a drink, Aye, I was ready for a spot of conversation now.