09 Weekly News 4 January 1999

Dear All,

What’s in your front garden?

Forty eight king penguins in our front garden. We think they are up sheltering from the storms at sea. They have made an interesting diversion from the indoor nose blowing and cold coddling. Seems I successfully infected Pat after all, so our start at Stromness has been delayed whilst he gets through three months’ stock of loo rolls and accepts Sarah’s medicinal herb tea with honey and brandy.

The penguins have been calling “ecstatically”, beaks pointed skywards, and small groups doing “the walk” a sort of display where they puff out their chests, arch their necks, tuck in their chins (do penguins have chins?) and swagger, head moving side to side to impress the others. They sort of sidle up to each other, but if they get too close will be rewarded with a fusillade of vicious smacks by the annoyed penguin’s wing. Then they jab each other with sharp beaks, part a bit….and so it carries on.

The fur seal pups are also a welcome diversion. There are five in our local area and each day we interrupt our chores of dandelion picking or fuel or water fetching to seek them out in whatever niche they have tucked themselves away in. If they are asleep they look so cuddly. The tips of the hair on their heads are turning blond and they lie curled and cute. But if they are awake they sit up in a pose to echo the proud stance of their fathers and growl away. I’m afraid it just makes us laugh, think of a new born lamb snarling.

This has been a long break from the cemetery work. We’d like to have used the time better to do some decent walking, but colds and bad weather have stopped us.

We did get over the pass to overlook Fortuna Bay on new years eve though. There was a stiff wind to blow us up to the pass. The last bit of the climb was steep scree and snow. We were in wellies as normal which taxed me a little. But the reward was the other side. We dropped down to where we could sit overlooking the bay in the shelter of some rocks. Here was something we have been missing since leaving KEP. It was the scale of scenery. Down in Stromness bay the mountains are two thousand feetish and have been dusted with snow this week past, but they just don’t compare to a miles wide view of six to seven thousand footers with glaciers in between. The glaciers were striped by moraines and chossed with crevasses and above it all the blue sky and speedy clouds. We just sat and drank it in.

So no cemetery work to report on. I had meant last time to give a resume of the work at Leith but Christmas and visitors rather took over. So here it is:

In the little ‘town’ cemetery in the middle of the station we removed and burnt the old picket fence and replaced it with a post and chain fence. We dug out eight concrete grave surrounds and discovered one unrecorded brass plaque inscribed “Edward Dunn 1870-1912 British”. We probed extensively for any other grave markers. The original seven crosses were removed, mended where necessary, and painted. Sections of others were found from which we made complete crosses thus replacing eleven in all.

At the big ‘country’ cemetery outside the station we again replaced the old wooden fence with a post and chain one. The original angle irons from the old fence were so securely planted that we opted to use them again. A couple of broken ones were replaced and a few others straightened, or moved to even up the fence line.

Seventeen headstones had fallen down. Pat drilled and pegged these so when we lifted them back on they should stay upright. Three of the base plinths were levelled before the stones were re-erected. Two concrete headstones were repaired using concrete and one cross with a split base wired back together and uprighted. Cement was used to fill around the bases of most of the uprighted stones. There were several grave surrounds to dig out and tidy up. The main monument and all but four of the concrete headstones and crosses were painted. This was only a first coat and a second is needed, but the aesthetic effect of painting was immediate and impressive.

A tour group including some ex-whalers will visit mid January and will bring more paint and hopefully will paint the prepared angle irons and put a second coat of masonry paint on the concrete memorials. It will then look very smart. We have also suggested that this group might be well placed to decide the fate of the tribute boxes on the graves. These boxes originally held artificial flower arrangements etc, but are all broken and decrepit. They should probably be removed but we did not feel qualified to make such a decision.

If you know anyone else interested in the cemetery project or the Lurcocks’ odd summer holiday you can direct them to our website. http://www.wildisland.demon.co.uk [not any more] which has some general information, some nice piccies and our newsletters are regularly posted there.

Well that’s the worky bit over, hope you are sticking to the new year resolutions. We have not made any and have thus kept to them quite well so far.

Much love,

Sarah and Pat

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