The Road to Muckle Flugga
by Norman Jorgensen
October and November 2009
North by North West
My longest serving friend Allen and I have been saying for years and years, probably ever since we shared a flat when we first left school, that we should go on a winter holiday together, somewhere as wet and bleak and windswept as humanly imaginable What? Why? You may ask, and we would both be stumped for a sensible answer, though it still seems like a good idea. How much sunshine do two blokes need in their lives? Our wives, Jan and Helen, both being English, have no interest in England in winter, or even autumn, their souls obviously deeply seared by too many long slow trips down t’ pit in nine foot snow drifts.
What feels like several days and Qantas / BA code share later and Al and I are at Heathrow. It’s five in the morning and the place is all but deserted, and you know how when you’re not in a hurry everything goes smoothly, well, our cases were first off the plane, we are first in immigration and all but waved through, Al in the UK lane and me in Aliens (I know I’m a bit green round the gills, but even so…) customs was nowhere to be seen, and, to finish off, the hire car bus is waiting with the door open and pulls out as we step aboard.
We arrive at Martin and Carolyn’s house in Guildford, Surrey (without the fringe on top (sorry, couldn’t resist that) so early we have to go and find an early opening coffee shop to fill in a couple hours so we turn up at a decent hour. Martin is Helen’s brother and he’s married to Carolyn, and they have two “perfect” children. The weather is being anything but miserable and, in fact, the weather’s damn near perfect. Bugger. Blue skies, balmy temperature, an occasional fluffy cloud, gentle breezes, and, better still, work is 20,000 kilometres and several time zones away.
Before leaving home and heading off to the wilds of Scotland on Oct 14th, and with swine flu season in UK about to snort into full season, back in Perth I went to my usual medical surgery for a shot. The new 12 year old doctor took one look and me and said, ‘Mmmmm, I don’t like the look of you.’
You’re no oil painting yourself, I thought, but somehow I sort of guessed what he was concerned about was my girlish figure. The next morning there I was with a referral at the pathology clinic for the usual tests where the most gorgeous young woman dressed in a nurses’ uniform, in a scene straight from Benny Hill, handed me plastic bottle with a suitably appropriate yellow lid and sent me into the toilet to provide a specimen. Now, normally I can pee for Australia, and that would be no problem. I could just about lift the brand name off the porcelain with the fire hose that pours out of me, especially after I’ve been at the turps. Fortunately, or unfortunately, perhaps, this was only nine in the morning, and even I can’t quite persuade myself that the sun is set over the yardarm at that hour. I stood in front of that bowl grasping my plastic bowl in one hand and my, er, how do you put this in a family show, my dick, in the other and nothing happened. Nothing at all. In fact, in a state of nervousness, it had all but disappeared. I turned on the bathroom taps, thought only wet thoughts, jumped up and down on the spot and, eventually, after the longest time and wringing it out like a old fashioned mangle, managed to produce about three quarters of a cup of what looked like New Zealand Semillon Blanc 2006 coloured liquid. I was just about to screw on the lid when I fumbled and accidentally dropped the bottle. Splat, it bounced and emptied all over my legs of my jeans and suede boots. ‘Oh,’ I exclaimed, with some disbelief. ‘Heck!’
Now I go through life deluding myself that I’m as suave and sophisticated as Cary Grant with the soundtrack of A Affair to Remember running though my head, but, in reality, I normally end up looking just like Oliver Hardy’s idiot lovechild. There is no way in the world that it is possible to go back to the nurse at the counter, laugh jauntily, with sophistication and style, and say, ‘Juday, Juday, Juday, my dear, I seem to have had an accident.’ Then she‘ll say, ‘That’s fine Mr Grant, I mean, Mr Jorgensen, you come back tomorrow. And here’s my mobile number, and would you mind if my twin sisters, Inga and Helga … ‘ especially while you’re clutching a little bottle in a Gladbag, your boots are covered in pee and with your fly still wide open.
As I said, Al and I are in now Guildford, very close to a picturesque village called Shere, so we head out for the morning in search of it, and with GPS’s help, find it. It’s so pretty it looks like it should be on a tin of Christmas shortbread, with a church spire, village duck pond, a pub built in 1425 and the locals straight out of Agatha Christie, all green wellies, quilted jackets, walking sticks and head scarves like the Queen. Sitting in the pub for lunch we are getting increasing worried about getting murdered as this village is more Midsomer than the TV series. We’re so glad there was no one obviously from the Local Something or Other Hobby Society ready to do us to death with pruning shears, pitchfork, candle stick, or ancient dagger.
The pub is The White Horse, and, according to the little history on their blackboard, the original building dates from 1425 and was the refuge of all sorts of bandits, rustlers and smugglers. In 1955 during renovations the builders uncovered the skeleton of a young woman bricked up in a chimney. What was that all about? They also came across a hidden cellar full of barrels of French brandy from 1720. I couldn’t help wondering if that didn’t pay for the entire building programme, and a world trip for the owners, no doubt.
When we arrive home Caroline asks if we’d seen The Holiday, that film with Cameron Diaz and Jude Law, as it was set in Shere, including scenes in the pub. We watched it that night after dinner. The striking difference between the real Shere and the Hollywood version was the artificial snow the movie producers apparently sprayed over entire countryside. It would have been the same snow they used again for the final scenes in Brigid Jones, also set there. And, sure enough, on screen there in the White Horse are Cameron and Jude having dinner at the exact same table as us, in front of the same medieval curtains, and on obviously the same carpet from 1425. And whereas Jude was there with Cameron Diaz, I scored Allen Newton? Didn’t I feel cheated! Big time.