Don’t you just love Google Maps? It is a very useful tool to study the coastline of the Scottish Islands before visiting them. Dreaming away behind your computer before actually being there.
Based on the aerial pictures we look for suitable beaches to land the kayaks safely and avoid being trapped by slippery weed covered rocks when getting in at low tide. We judge the beaches on not being too close to houses or roads, a good escape at low tide and campground options. But beware, the beach can look good on the picture but can be rubbish in reality.
After studying the coastline of the island of Hoy at home we found out there were not many beaches suitable for landing our kayaks. But we found a little beach on the east side overlooking Graemsay and landed our kayaks on that beach at high water. In reality, it seemed to be some sort of harbour for small boats, something we missed while checking it out on Google Maps. The boats could only leave the harbour when the tide was in. There we met Jimmy and his best buddy Franky. Two nice elderly men who lived their entire life on the island. I and my friend started a conversation with him.
A bit shabby looking in his unbuttoned checkered shirt over faded blue overalls and high waders covering his legs. He was leaning on his shovel, squinting his eyes to the late sunshine he took his time to talk to us in his thick Orcadian accent. Taking his time while Franky was labouring on.
I don’t think Jimmy had any teeth left in his mouth and the sounds he produced were recognisable as some sort of language. But he was very expressive with his wrinkled facial expressions and wide gestures. It turned out that he and his pal was digging out a harbour for their own benefit and for the local fisherman. Visiting sailors would have to pay for the privilege of using the slipway.
Jimmy would work twice a day at low tide to dig out the harbour. Rain or shine, at any time of the day/night, midge or no midge, with buckets and spades. He said had some bigger equipment coming to dig out the harbour a bit faster. At the same time, the contractors would do some construction work.
He was paying for this project out of his own pocket and with a lot of elbow grease. And he had his trusted friend Franky helping him.
I knew exactly what his wife thought of the entire enterprise. Totally bonkers. But the work would keep him occupied and out of the house.
My friend never knew what the man was talking about and left the conversation early. Me, on the other hand, fell a bit in love with the elderly chap. He was so passionate about his project. Committed to his job, going on against the odds. You got to admire that kind of tenacity.
Now read the title of this story again. Read it slowly and out loud as it is written. Now you have a taste of the Orcadian accent. What I have learned from talking to this toothless elderly chap is that in order to understand what he is saying, you got to listen to the words you do understand. But the most important thing to do is watch the gestures and body language and expressions on the face. Most of the time that will help you to fill in the gaps of bits you missed in the conversation. However, the most important thing is to listen with your heart without any judgement and the intention of really wanting to understand the other.