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Blue Rush

Alastair Macleod

Blue Rush

love and power in the waves


This book is set in Orkney, an archipelago of islands off the North of Scotland. Orcadians have always been aware of the power of the sea in daily life and in relationships. Now the sea is being harnessed as tidal energy as we strive to combat global warming. This story contains some words of Orcadian, the local dialect, consisting of Norse words and phraseology, remnants of when Orkney was an old Norse Jarldom under the Vikings, and Scots words acquired when that Jarldom fell. A glossary of these words and their meaning is at the end of the story. The characters portrayed in this story do not represent any person living or dead.


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Blue Rush

 

 

 

February 26th 2011, Yesnaby, Orkney; wind force 8, squally showers.

 

He stood a little way off, looking round the corner of one of the stark, windowless, red brick wartime huts. He scanned the sea for where the device should have been. The telemetry had indicated trouble. Half of the array had broken free and drifted south along the cliff face.

Further out she could still see some marker buoys from the remaining array. She watched him from the warmth of the 4x4. The vehicle was rocking and shivering, buffeted by the huge gusts as it sat in the puddles and rough clay of the cliff-top car park.

 

Then he began to walk away, down the rutted tractor track towards the geo. Though he didn’t know it, in the summer the short turf would be littered with wild flowers; bright thrupenny bits of yellow tormentil, little blue stars of vernal squill, and here and there the purple of the Scottish primrose. Now the surface was a greyish-green with patches of brown. At the lip of the geo the turf gave way to coarse grass, combed by the wind into punk styled tufts. Snow flurries of sea foam were flying up from a quivering jelly-like mass below. The huge slow breakers that quarried the face of the sea cliffs broke themselves on the reef skerry. He listened; there was a roar like constant traffic as the air bubbles in the waves tumbled and spun and then, underneath that sound, at irregular intervals came a dull thud as a huge wave hit the bottom of the cliff.

 

By the gods this sea was fierce. The fishermen had warned them that their generating machine wouldn’t take the pounding.

“But,” he said, “we’re engineers, we have done the calculations.” Yet there was huge backwash from the cliff wall, more than they had anticipated, and, there was the wind.

He watched as meringues of foam, as big as dinner plates, driven inwards from the reef, came scudding across to rest finally on the calmer surface waters of the inner geo.

Any profile above the water would be catching the gale, adding to the wrench on the moorings.

 

He took out his digital camera to take shots of the sea, the cliffs and the foam.

It began to rain, not vertically but almost horizontally, into his face. Big cold wet rain drops stung his skin and wet his trousers in seconds. Then it began to sleet. He turned back towards the Toyota. Before him, the wet snow drove in white streamers across the ground.

 

“Well?” she said as he finally managed to get himself into the vehicle.

“Mon Dieu,” he said, “what a climate.”

“What’s gone wrong?”

“It’s like a washing machine down there,” he replied. “The backwash is huge, causing such turbulence.”

“So the fishermen were right,” she said.

“Pains me to admit it, but it seems so,” he muttered. “But all that glorious energy. C’est superbe, look at it go.”

 

A huge wave had smashed into the headland and they watched a surge of foam reaching right up to near the top of the cliff. From where they were parked they could see, all along the coast, a thin mist of sea spray drifting inland.

“Can you recover the array that broke free?”
    “We’ll need divers, “he said, “but not today, not today.” He laughed, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

He had to rethink some things. This was a costly miscalculation. He thought they had been patient, done everything right, but they had not only underestimated the strength of the backwash, but also how the wind affected things.

“Look… smoke,” he said pointing along the cliffs. A thin column of water spiralled upwards.

“No it’s a stream. It blows backwards,” she said. She’d seen it once on a walk, a small stream near the stack, blowing back up the cliff in a gale.

 

Kara felt for a moment his weakness. She knew some things about her own place that he didn’t, for all his qualifications. She used to come here with Andy, the bird man. He liked to walk and they had been along these cliffs many a time looking at bonxies and fulmars. He had been fine but it wasn’t going anywhere. He was on a short term contract and went off to Shetland. The birds took precedence with him. He wasn’t a settling type. And she knew Yesnaby for other reasons. It was a “sparking” place. When she was sixteen she used to come out here with Robbie Flett in his Mitsubishi. In Orkney, with no woods or leafy lanes, intimate privacy was a problem; the car meant freedom and somewhere where young Orcadians could go to make love. On weekend nights several cars could be parked out here.

 

She looked across at Phillippe. He had told her he was 29, from Dieppe on the French coast. She had been attracted by his contrast to her men so far. He was dark where they were fair, he was slim where they had been “full bodied”, as Andy had termed himself. And, compared to the others, Phillippe had a certain attentiveness that Mitsubishi Robbie had never had. Phillippe had long graceful hands, not coarse like Robbie’s, and he could and would dance.

 

He stopped tapping the wheel and swivelled round and leant across to kiss her.

For Phillippe, his island girl was delightful. She was not as demanding as a French girl would be. She was kind and soft and passionate and her rounded figure suited him better than the starved look of the girls back home. He delighted in her blue eyes, fair skin and soft blonde hair.

 

The relationship was new. Only a week old. They had met at function thrown by his company. She had noticed him dancing with a slim blonde, not a local. She had spiered him at the bar, and soon got him to talk. His English was attractively accented but good. And he was a good lover.

For the professional young women of Orkney, this influx of engineers and scientists was a godsend. It opened up the choice and here were men on good salaries, men with prospects. The selection of farmers, shopkeepers, and local government officers could seem dull to a girl. These new men, some of whom were international, were connected to energy, to taming the unruly sea, it was exciting.

For Phillippe, Orkney was on the edge of something; the edge of Europe, the edge of civilisation, the edge in weather terms and the edge in engineering terms.

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