I have trouble choosing holidays because I am easily bored. I like cultural stuff but I also like exploring the countryside, and it’s a bit hard to find art galleries in the wilderness. For many years I went to Scotland in August: a few days of culture, exhaustion and expense at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival followed by some inexpensive chill out time on the Islands of Orkney. I would take my bicycle on the train and camped close to the centre of the Scottish capital, then blew away the cobwebs by cycling on deserted roads of the windswept islands.
But then I started going out with Ross. He had a car. We decided to go on holiday together. We had an agreement from the start: he did the driving; I did the talking and thinking. We decided to do my favourite holiday, so I started planning.
I trawled through the Festival programme, highlighting everything that fitted our dates. Then I marked in a different colour the shows that looked interesting, then I made the final choices, fitting the shows together so we could get to them in time.
Ross was a musician, well, a drummer anyway. He had never been to the festival but he trusted me. Though semi nocturnal, he said 11am shows would be fine. He could get to them; it was only 20 minutes by bike into town. To save time and make sure we got the shows we wanted, I booked everything in advance. It was all arranged. What could possibly go wrong?
Ross’s bowels, that’s what. We’d been together for a while, often had breakfast together. He’d never mentioned his bowel problems and I’d never noticed anything awry. Maybe it was the long drive. Or sleeping on the hard ground.
But every morning I’d be ready to head off for our first show and he was never ready. He refused to tell me what the matter was, why he would vanish to the convenience block and stay there whilst I watched the minutes ticking by, getting more irritated with him. I got sick of his nonsense so gave him his own ticket and the map and let him find his own way into town. Not a great start, but it was better than fighting every morning.
The trip to the Orkneys was slower than we’d planned. We’d set off late, of course, but we had a head wind and our bikes on the roof slowed us down. More irritation. At last we got to the port and had to run to catch the ferry but in the rush Ross lost his car keys. When we got to the island he phoned the port office, and they agreed to hold them for us.
Another ferry got us to Hoy, and I was really getting fed up with Ross’s delays. His presence reminded me how much I enjoyed travelling alone, being free to do things on impulse. There is something about being a single female that gets people talking to you; couples are largely left to themselves.His lack of conversation allowed me to babble without interruption, but it began to get on my nerves. He never seemed to mind what we did, where we went or when.
So when we went out walking and met up with a couple of climbers, I tried hard to keep up with them. It was great to have someone to talk to, about travel, the outdoors, anything. But I wasn’t as fit as them and my trainers had little tread left. I’d slipped a few times that day. Each time I went down I laughed and so did Ross. But then I went down and felt series of popping noises in my left ankle. Ross stood and laughed as I rolled on the ground screeching; the climbers thought he was a real bastard. It took him a while to realise my screams were not of laughter but of fright.
We were about half a mile from a hostel which was about a mile from the one where we were staying. Ross and the climbers tried carrying me with crossed hands, but it was painfully slow and with the paths so narrow and uneven, I asked to be carried piggy back instead. By taking turns we got to the hostel by which time I’d had to take off my shoe and sock as my ankle was the size of a football. It looked really bad and everyone thought I must be in agony but I was giggling like I was stoned. We got a lift back to where we were staying and the ferry was held up whilst the doctor made a house call.
He didn’t think anything was broken but I knew it was.
I’d heard that popping noise as I hit the ground, and I was still off my trolley. He left me some painkillers, incredulous that I was still in no pain. I have since discovered a wonderful thing about my mind: I seem to have a switch that turns sudden pain into joyful babbling. I was telling funny stories, laughing at my cleverness. I have no idea whether others appreciated my wit, but I was amazed at how much fun I was having.
Next day I sat with my leg bandaged whilst everyone else organised our evacuation to the mainland. Ross rode his bike to the ferry, a guy staying at the hostel rode mine whilst I got a lift in the wardens’ car. At the quay a sailor threw me over his shoulder and loaded me onto the ferry. At the main island an ambulance was waiting, but we had to wait till Ross locked up our bikes and found somewhere to leave all our gear.
The small hospital apologised for making me wait a full five minutes to be seen; I’d expected to be there for hours. Almost immediately got x-rayed. My ankle was broken and the plaster they put on it felt as heavy as I was. I got lessons in how to use stairs and then we were free to go. But go where? The ambulance had done its duty getting us here and nobody knew how to get to the port. Fortunately I remembered the bus service, so we hobbled to the nearest bus stop and got back to our bikes.
We were running out of money and rain was threatening, so Ross got some clingfilm to stop the plaster melting. The ferry was delayed about an hour; something about the cargo on the previous journey. We were worried the port office would be shut when we got to the mainland so wouldn’t be able to get the car keys.
At last we were told we could board Ross set off to put the bikes in the hold. I had to walk the length of the jetty to get to the ferry.
I had never used crutches before.
I had hardly slept the night before as I couldn’t get comfortable.
I was hungry because we’d had to buy clingfilm instead of food.
It was starting to rain.
The further I hobbled, the longer the jetty seemed to be.
I got to a portacabin and a woman asked for my ticket, so I had to do a detour up a ramp to her.
Then I hobbled down a ramp and continued along the jetty.
There was a large gangway leading up to the ferry.
There were a lot of steps on the gangway.
They were metal and didn’t look very solid.
It looked like the stairway in ‘A Matter of Life and Death.’ It seemed endless
There were some sailors at the top of the stairs staring down at me.
It was all too much.
I stood at the bottom of the gangway and cried.
The woman in the portacabin saw me.
She came out and asked me what was the matter.
I said my boyfriend had our bikes in the hold and I didn’t know where he was and the steps were too big and I was frightened and I didn’t think I could get on the ferry and my boyfriend didn’t know where I was and I was tired and hungry and I wished I’d never come on holiday and stayed at home and watched tv and my life sucked.
She looked up at the sailors.
“Right,” she said and marched up the gangway. The sailors retreated from her.
I couldn’t make out everything she said to them but it was something about ‘ticket’, ‘entitlement to travel’ and, very loudly, ‘get your sorry arses down there and help that poor woman’
They were not happy but they came down the gangway with a wheelchair and the three of them struggled back up with me.
A couple with a toddler invited me to join them. They had too much food so shared it with me. Ross found me eventually; he’d found the staff just as helpful – they couldn’t tell him where to put the bikes, so he was tempted to tell them where to shove their ferry.
The same jolly sailors dumped me on the jetty when we docked.
I discovered why the ferry had been delayed. The previous cargo had been cattle. A lot of them, and they had clearly expressed their distress in the way animals usually do. The jetty was awash with their comments on the treatment of animals in transit.
It was still raining.
It was dark and getting late.
Ross was nowhere to be seen. He had to get the two bikes off the ferry, then find a phone box to phone the port office to get the keys to the car so we could start the long trip home.
I saw the sailors drive past me whilst I began my hobble to solid land. It was too much to expect them to offer me a lift, though they did seem to slow down so I didn’t get sprayed with the sludge.
Somehow, somehow Ross found the car and the keys and loaded the bikes and was waiting me.
We’d planned to spend the night at a friend’s house in York but we didn’t make it till the following day. I’d been told to keep my foot elevated so most of the trip I had it on the dashboard with my nose pressed into my knee. We did not have a headwind this time. We stopped part of the way and squeezed into the back of the car for a few hours nap.
Once I got used to the crutches, it was great the way people were so considerate of me, though I hated imposing on everyone. My top floor flat was a real problem too. But I learned to pull myself up the stairs with the railings and go down on my bottom.
Perhaps the most annoying thing was the response of my cat. I’d always thought Monster was an intelligent beast, and was great company whenever I was ill. But he discovered the plaster was a great way to sharpen his claws. What he didn’t get was that my other leg was not, so I had to be on guard against getting my good leg shredded whenever he came near.