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Crowdfunding – how did we do?

We did it! We raised £1772 through our crowdfunding campaign, which will increase to just over £2,000 once Gift Aid is received from HMRC. Together with sales and event income, this should be sufficient to cover the publication costs of the next issue. Hurrah! So we’d like to say a huge thank-you to everyone who made a donation to our campaign.

Raising the funds to publish our lovely magazine is a recurring challenge. Income from sales and events are not sufficient to cover the full costs, requiring us to seek additional sources of income to keep us afloat. In the past, we have received grants from Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City councils but this year, as the public sector reels from the effects of lockdown, it was clear their priorities were elsewhere. So, taking a deep breath, we decided to explore the opportunities offered by modern technology and launch a crowdfunding campaign.

After reviewing the alternative crowdfunding platforms, taking into account such things as appearance, fees, support for charities and ease of use, we opted for Crowdfunder. Then began the hard work of designing our Crowdfunder pages, explaining who we are, what we do, why we’re seeking funding, what we’ll do with the money we receive and deciding what rewards we could offer to donors in return for their contributions.

The next challenge was publicising the campaign which we did through mail shots to our supporters, postings on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and encouraging all the team and their friends to spread the word as widely as possible.

The fundraiser was open for a month (March 2022) during which we received 64 donations, the majority of which were made in the opening and closing weeks of the campaign. Around a third of donors opted for one of our rewards which included being named and thanked in print in Issue 17, receiving a copy of the current issue, being put on the list to receive a complimentary copy of Issue 17 once it is published, and being entered into a draw to receive a signed copy of the Walrus manuscript.

Walrus was a humorous and whimsical story written by former editor, Martin Walsh, about the exploits of a walrus, stranded on Aberdeen beach, then looked after in a tenement outhouse in Torry. It was published in instalments here in the POTB blog during the campaign. The manuscript, signed by Martin, was won by Lady Thornfield, an artist whose work features in Issues 14 and 15 of POTB.

If you missed it, our fundraiser project page is still available to view on the Crowdfunder website. Although that project is now closed, donations can be made at any time through our Crowdfunder Charity page where they will always be extremely welcome. Thank you for your support.

The Boat sails again – our first post-Covid live event

Blue Lamp event
Click on the image for a few more photos of the event

A grey Sunday outside, but inside at Aberdeen’s Blue Lamp an afternoon lit up by words, music, laughter and friendship.

This was Pushing Out the Boat’s first post-Covid lockdown event face-to-face. More importantly, it was our first chance to say a big ‘Thank you’ to retired but long-standing crew members Freda Hasler and Martin Walsh, who did so much over the years to keep this particular boat afloat.

As if their work for the magazine weren’t enough, Martin also agreed to curate the afternoon’s readings, so very much a personal choice, and one that worked perfectly. Most of the prose and poetry was taken from past issues of the magazine and is listed below. In addition, special guest and friend of Pushing Out the Boat Wayne Price read an extract from a tense piece about adolescent fear he’d started during lockdown.

Thanks must go to the afternoon’s other readers, Eleanor Fordyce and Alison Green, and to singer Alastair Eddie, who entertained us pre-event and during the interval with a selection of standards from the great American songbook.

It would be invidious to highlight individual pieces by any particular author or reader in the face of so much good material. For those not present, there was an instructive lesson to the author of this article from sight of Martin’s running order and its single word characterisation of each piece as ‘sharp’, ‘earthy’, ‘poignant’, ‘playful’ and so on.

In keeping with Martin’s well-judged taste, two of his own pieces listed quite rightly as ‘humour’ opened and closed the programme – Long Haul Flight (not in any issue of the magazine), and New York Dialogue, his weel-kent conversation between a Central Park squirrel and a migrating Mexican humming bird, who he miraculously summonsed from the audience in the shape of Lou Parra Lazcano. They both appear in the photo at the head of this post.

It was a great culmination to the afternoon’s entertainment, and was followed by a presentation of gifts to Freda and Martin on behalf of all POTB crew members by current magazine editor Lily Greenall.

Oh, and finally the afternoon raised almost £200 from donations and sales, a useful adjunct to our recent online crowdfunder (of which more anon in a forthcoming blog post). Our thanks to Lewis at the Blue Lamp who generously provided the venue for us, and of course to all our contributors and audience.

Anyone interested in their feelings about the magazine and their input to it over the years can find separate Q&A posts on this blog with Martin and Freda, as well as a heartfelt tribute to them by Lily and POTB trustee Judy Taylor.

———————————–

Work from Pushing Out the Boat read at the Blue Lamp, Sunday 24th April 2022. Copies of all the issues concerned are available from our online shop.

Issue 7

Eleanor Fordyce – Bidin
John Hargreaves –Deep in a Russian wood
Maureen Ross – A Woman writes to her Imaginary lovers
Auld Yin – Peeweets

Issue 9

Heather Reid  – The S Word
Martin Walsh – Momadu and the Sardine Fishers
Martin Walsh – Oot o a botle
Rapunzel Wizard –Urban Shaman

Issue 11

Maureen Ross – The Love Calculations of the Gentleman Spider

Issue 12

Eleanor Fordyce – Wish You Were Here
Alison Green – The Six Wives o Harry Troup
Stephen Pacitti – The Possom Spider

Issue 13

Eleanor Fordyce – The Lost Shoe

Issue 14

Martin Walsh – New York Dialogue

Issue 15

A C Clarke –Poems I Don’t Want to Write
Sheila Templeton – The Iceberg that sunk the Titanic

 

Pushing Out the Boat Crowdfunder

POTB CrowdfunderOn the 1st of March we are launching a Crowdfunder in a bid to secure the future of our magazine, Pushing Out the Boat.

Like many charities and arts organisations, we have been hit hard by the impact of Covid. It was a major achievement that we were able to produce a new issue of the magazine during a lockdown. But we were unable to launch it with our usual face-to-face event of readings and exhibition of art work. Our vendors were either closed or operating under severe restrictions for much of the last two years. And we were unable to hold or contribute to any other physical events. The result is that both our sales and income have fallen significantly.

Unlike many arts organisations we receive no state funding and are run entirely by volunteers.

Contributions to our fundraiser will not only help us produce our next magazine, Issue 17, in spring next year, but more importantly provide us with the resource to ensure that we are sustainable in the longer-term.

You will find all the details on our Crowdfunder page where, as a token of our thanks, we are offering a series of modest rewards for different levels of donation. Additionally, one lucky donor will receive a signed manuscript copy of  ‘Walrus’, a delightful new story contributed to our fundraiser by long-serving former editor Martin Walsh. The first chapter of this story is already posted on our blog where further chapters will follow weekly, throughout the fundraising campaign.

Don’t forget that if you are a UK standard rate taxpayer we can claim Gift Aid on your donation from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, increasing the value of your contribution to us by 25%.

During the  campaign, which will run till the 1st April, we will post regular updates here and on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Feel free to like or share any of the posts there as well as passing on this news to any of your contacts who might be happy to donate.

Thank you for your help.

Walrus

Martin Walsh has written this amusing and whimsical story to be published in instalments during our crowdfunding project to raise funds for the publication of the next issue of Pushing Out the Boat and to get our finances back into balance following the damaging effects of the Covid years. If you enjoy it, please consider making a donation.

Chapter One – Encounter

Published 25 Feb 2022

Chapter One – Encounter

It was a bitter February afternoon.  The sea was wild, the wind slicing spume off the waves, whisking it like soap suds onto the sand.  I was on one of my regular daily runs along the long, deserted stretch of beach, north of the river Don. The driving sleet was so fierce that I had to press my hand over my forehead as I ran, keeping my eyes to the ground a few feet ahead.  That’s why I didn’t see him until the very last moment.  He let out a warning growl, ‘Wrrrr‘.

‘Good gracious!’ I said, skidding to a halt and struggling somewhat for words.  I gazed at his doleful expression and those two scary-looking tusks. ‘You’re a bit far from home aren’t you?’

He looked at me through baleful eyes.  His voice, deep-throated, full of hesitance, redolent of the arctic wastes: To be frank, sir, I haven’t a clue where I am.  Where are all the ice-flows?  Where are my companions?  What is this place?

‘This place, my friend, is Scotland,’ I didn’t think he’d be bothered with specifics.

Never heard of it, he said.  And then, with the saddest eyes you have ever seen,  I’m so tired, so very tired.

‘I’m not surprised,’ I said, suddenly overcome with compassion.  I knew fatigue – I was a long distance runner.  But what could I do for this poor creature so far from home?  It didn’t take a genius to see that he needed rest, a chance to recalibrate his body compass,  to eat some nourishing food, and regain his strength away from the prying eyes of my fellow humans. Before I could stop myself, before even considering the logistics, I blurted out,  ‘Why don’t you come back with me?’

But I don’t know you, he said.  Then, after scrutinizing my face for some moments, his expression seemed to soften.  I do like your moustache though; you remind me of my brother – before he tusked.

I wanted to laugh at this; but I didn’t know whether walruses (especially tired ones) had a sense of humour and I didn’t want to offend him.

Do you have somewhere safe I might sleep?

Even as the wind-driven sleet bit into my cheeks, my mind was racing.  I lived three stories up in a Torry tenement.  Even if he could manage all those stairs with that great blubbery body of his, I could hardly get him there without my neighbours seeing him.  Co-habiting with a walrus might raise eyebrows.  But then I remembered the brick outhouses in the yard at the back.  Each flat had its own one.  They were Spartan but just about big enough to accommodate a walrus even at full stretch.  ‘Yes, I do,’ I replied.  But how to get him there?  It was on the other side of town and without easy access to the shore.  Luckily, I thought, I have a van.  ‘Have you ever been in a motor?  I asked.

What is motor?

‘Never mind, I’ll explain in good time.  My place is a little distance from the sea, too far to walk, that’s why I need the motor for transport.  Besides I have to prepare your accommodation.’  Walrus looked at me blankly.  ‘Look,’ I pointed, ‘just along here, there’s a place where I can get my motor down to the beach – but I have to go and fetch it.  I reckon I can make it back here in an hour.’

What is hour?

I rolled my eyes, trying to think.  Why does everything have to be so difficultI remembered a Japanese fisherman friend who could estimate the time by measuring the height of the sun above the horizon with his hands.  But the sun and horizon were hidden.  ‘Listen my friend, just wait here, I’ll be back as quickly as I can.  Trust me.’ For some reason I touched my heart at this point.  To my astonishment he repeated the gesture by placing a flipper across his shiny chest.  ‘You can either hide up there among the dunes,’  I gestured towards them, ‘or better still, just paddle a little distance offshore and keep your tusks below the waterline.  If any humans pass, they’ll just think you’re a seal.  Understood?’

He looked at me but said nothing and I couldn’t read his expression.  I’d have to do all this by sign language. Briefly I wished I’d been in the marines where they teach that kind of stuff.  I pointed towards the waves making a swimming motion, then raised and lowered my forearms, palms down in a ‘wait-out-there’ gesture.  Next, like a second-rate charades player, I tried to indicate running home then reversing direction and driving back to collect him.  I could see he was trying to fathom things out as I set off back towards the city.  I turned to wave just before exiting the beach and was relieved to see him making his way into the waves.  But would he be here when I returned?

~~~

I raced home, the north wind at my back, with a renewed sense of purpose, something I had lost during these Covid days.  I loved beach-running, imagining myself a latter day Herb Elliot, the Aussie athlete who had honed his strength and endurance on the steep sand dunes of Portsea, South Australia.  Although way before my time I’d read about him in one of my dad’s books.  I no longer felt the cold as I pounded on through the docks, across the river and home to the gull-echoing granite canyons of Torry.

Opening the tenement door, I tore through to its dismal rear yard and out again into the sleet.  The light was already beginning to fade as I pushed open the unlocked door to my shed.  Mine was the last one in the line – a line of brick-built outhouses so strangely out of kilter in this city of granite.  But it was the best one for Walrus: in the unlikely event of anyone going to their sheds in this weather, no-one would pass his door.

I had a bike in the shed, a few tools and a broom; but what I really needed were the three stout 8 inch wide planks that I kept there.  I hauled them out and tested their strength against the wall.  They were mighty heavy and I could only manage one at a time as I hauled them along the corridor to the front door and across the pavement to my van.  But shit, the car keys were in the flat – six flights up.  Thankfully I was still running on adrenaline.  I was up and down again, then back in my shed, dragging everything outside and brushing the flag-stone floor.  All ship-shape.  Guest accommodation ready!

I man-handled the planks into my van and jumped in.  ‘Walrus – here we come!’ I hollered, smacking the steering wheel with excitement.

~~~

By the time I reached the beach again, darkness had almost fallen.  The headlamps drilled long boreholes through the frenzied air above the sea, the waves dramatically white-maned against the darkling sky.  Walrus was nowhere to be seen.  Maybe he’s scared of the light, I thought, turning off the headlamps and the engine, then battling down to the water’s edge.  The wind and the sea roared in my ears.  I scanned the horizon.  I couldn’t see anything.  I began to pace up and down the beach, cupping my hands around my mouth, and hollering.  ‘Walrus!  Walrus!  Where are you?’   My spirits ebbed as the sky darkened into night.

Then I heard him.  ‘Wrrrr’, that same deep-throated growl he had used when we met.  ‘Oh, thank god,’ I said, ‘I thought I had lost you.’  Leaning against the wind, I watched him haul his great body out of the waves.  His eyes were rheumy. ‘You must be cold,’ I said.

Cold?  He gave me a pitying look.  No sir, this is hot.

‘Of course,’  I said, feeling rather stupid, ‘and no need to call me sir, please call me Mike.’  I gave him a little bow.  ‘Do you have a name I might address you by?’

Walrus.

‘No other names?’

Walrus. He repeated, looking, I thought, a little exasperated.

‘OK Walrus, let’s get you home.’  I gestured towards the van.  Through the spindrift darkness, we walked together – like the walrus and the carpenter – up the gentle slope of the beach.  Once at the van I opened the back doors and pulled out the three planks, laying them side by side to make a broad ramp.  ‘Do you think you can manage that?’ I said, gesturing towards it.   He gave me a weary look and began to inch his mighty frame up the ramp and into the van’s interior.  Stout as they were, the planks creaked and bent alarmingly under his weight.  I could barely watch and wanted to help him but his look of affronted dignity held me back.  As he flopped down exhausted onto the metal floor, the van sank deeply on its suspension and I noticed that his rear flippers were hanging over the back sill.  I pointed at them, ‘You’ll have to pull those inside,’ I shouted above the wind, ‘so that I can close the doors.’  He looked at me blankly but understood once I eased the doors shut.  ‘And it will be hell-of-a-noisy once we get moving,’ I said.  But his eyes were already closed.

Oh my god, I thought, don’t die on me!  But his mighty chest rose and fell in gentle reassuring waves.  His flippers flexed easily as I lent my weight against the doors and felt them click.  I drove home as gently as I could, trying to recite verses from ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ and then turning on a recording of ‘Homeward Bound’ by Simon and Garfunkle, hoping it might sooth Walrus as we drove over the hissing tarmac – though I doubt he heard a word or sound above the roar of the engine.

Driving over the cobbles of Victoria Bridge into Torry, the van was buffeted by a massive gust of wind which, without the ballast of Walrus, might have driven us onto the pavement and up against the parapets.  The sleet had now turned to horizontal snow as I pulled up in front our tenement block.  Although it wasn’t late, not a soul was about and the kirk across the street was almost obliterated from sight by the denseness of the blizzard.  Perfect, I thought, the gods are with us.  With keys in hand, I slipped quickly out of the van to open the back doors.   Unbelievable, Walrus was still asleep and snoring loudly, his whiskered upper lip trembling with each out-breath.   It would have been funny had I not been so anxious.  I patted him urgently on one of his back flippers.  ‘Walrus,’ I said, ‘come on old chap…’  But before I could finish, his eyes snapped open in terror and he let out the most almighty roar, his mouth open wide, his lower lip quivering.

‘It’s OK, Walrus, it’s OK,’  I held up my hands, palms towards him and lowered them very slowly.  ‘Remember me, MIke – I’m your friend – you know, the one who looks like your brother.   We met on the beach and now we’re home.  Somewhere safe.  Somewhere to rest.’  His look of fear gradually subsided, turning first to bewilderment then to utter weariness.  It seemed cruel to ask him to move but I had no choice.  I hauled out the three planks and he slid down them, his passage comically assisted by the skim of snow that had already settled on the ramp.  I tried not to laugh.  ‘OK, follow me, there’s a bit of a step here.’  I said pointing with one hand while working the front door keys to the tenement with the other.

I was surprised how easily he hauled himself along the floor – the sound of a heavy object being dragged across the lino, accompanied by the slap-slap of his front flippers.  Once in the back yard, he stopped to look up at the swirling snow, to sniff the air and to wrinkle his broad snout in satisfaction as if reassured by the elements.

I opened the shed door.  ‘Here we are my friend.  No palace, I’m afraid but you’ll be OK here and I’ll bring you some breakfast in the morning.’  Walrus slid inside. ‘I’ll close the door, just to keep you safe.’  But he was already asleep again, slumped in a corner.  I mopped the tenement corridor en route to my flat.  No sense in raising unnecessary suspicions…

Intrigued? Want to know what happened next? Chapter Two – ‘What do you give a Walrus for Breakfast’ will be published here on 8th March.

Chapter Two – What do you give a Walrus for Breakfast?

Published 8 March 2022

Chapter Two – What do you give a Walrus for Breakfast?

The next morning I awoke at dawn and went straight to my food cupboard, scanning its contents for a walrus breakfast.  The only possibility was an old can of Portuguese sardines in tomato sauce.  I tried to make up a Lewis Carroll-type verse: He wept like anything at the taste of tomato sauce… But it was too early in the morning for creativity and I went back to my usual worrying.  What on earth do walrus’s eat, apart from feckless young oysters?   Anyway, I was desperate to see how my new friend had survived the night, so I opened the tin, slopped its contents onto an enamel plate, grabbed a loaf of bread and scooted down the stairs.  It was bitter outside in the back yard.  Six inches of snow had fallen during the night but I knew that was the least of my worries.

I pushed open the door to the shed and there he was – a dark, shiny mound, like a huge sea-sculpted boulder, still sound asleep.   I didn’t tap him this time, just whispered a quiet ‘Morning Walrus.’ I slid the plate of sardines towards him, leaving it a few inches from his muzzle.  He was so deeply asleep that he didn’t even seem to hear the grating sound of enamel across the concrete.  How on earth will he eat, I wondered, without those ridiculous tusks getting in the way?  I didn’t have long to wait.  With his eyes still closed, I watched his broad, whiskered snout begin to quiver and his nostrils to twitch.  He opened an eye, its expression morphing rapidly from lugubrious to terrified and then, more slowly, back to baleful as he recognized again the face that reminded him of his brother.

‘You must be starving,’ I said.

‘Wrrrr,‘ he replied, but quietly this time, as if in assent.  He lumbered slowly towards the sardines.  Lifting his head delicately above the plate he let out another ‘Wrrrr‘.  This time I could have sworn there was a hint of appreciation in its utterance.  For those acquainted with cats, you will be aware how many shades of meaning they can express in a single ‘meow’, ranging from apparently deep affection:  Oh, I so love you master, to a sharply barked command: feed me, you laggard, have you no sense of urgency?

Perhaps it’s the same with Walruses, I mused.   The next thing I knew, Walrus had buried his head in the sardines, his tusks clicking noisily on the plate.  So that’s how they do it, I reflected, with their muzzle pointing vertically towards the ground (or seabed) and their tusks pointing backwards toward their chests.  It was all so obvious when you watched him.  To say that Walrus wolfed the sardines would be an understatement.  When he’d finished, I noticed a daub of tomato sauce on his nose and burst out laughing.  Ignoring me, he hooked his tusks under the empty plate sending it spinning noisily across the floor as he searched desperately for more sardines.

The look in his eyes as he gazed at me was heart-rending.  Shrugging apologetically, I offered him the loaf.  He looked at it for a while, gave it a dismissive sniff then stabbed it with his tusks.  He must have been desperate though, because he snaffled the whole thing down before turning his eyes on me once more.

‘Oh dear,’ I said, ‘look I’m really sorry, Walrus, that’s all I’ve got in the house.  Consider it just a small appetizer.  I’ll need to go out and buy you a proper breakfast, you’ll just have to be patient with me.’  This was so typical of me – never thinking things through!  I’d figured out from his anatomy that he must be a benthic feeder and wouldn’t normally be able to catch fish; but he obviously loved their taste (or was it just the tomato sauce?  My last cat, Mactavish, loved it too).  Thankfully Torry was full of fish houses so, with luck, I could bulk-buy cheap fish to satisfy what I imagined would be his enormous appetite.  Once again I resorted to charade-like gestures:  I’m going to have to lock you in, be back soon, trust me mate.

~~~

Hooking a Covid mask around my ears and over my face at the entrance to the first fish house I came to, I pushed through the dangling strips of thick plastic sheeting, and into its cave-like interior.   Wasting no time on niceties, I blurted out to the man behind the counter, ‘Can you sell me a box of cheap but wholesome fish, I’ve an army to feed.’

He scrutinized me curiously from beneath his white plastic fish-monger’s hat, his body clad in shiny yellow, his white-booted legs planted squarely on the fish-wet concrete.

‘There’s nae cheap fush these days, pal.  Cheapest ah hiv is smaa haddies, nae gutted like.  A box’ll set ye back fufty quid.’

‘Jeez,’ I said, ‘nothing cheaper?’

‘Sorry pal.  Ye could aye try John Charles up ‘a street, he sometimes his mackareels, aat’s aboot as cheap as ye’ll get.’

So that’s what I did.  I bought a big fish-market sized box of mackerel – they were cheaper – and hoisted them with some difficulty into the back of my van.

By the time I’d lugged the box, with its 40 kilograms of fish, through the tenement and across the snow to the outhouses at the back, I was knackered.  I leant, breathing heavily, against the shed door.  Walrus must have heard me because he let out his now customary greeting from behind the door.  It was muted this time, thank god, but I thought it carried a note of desperation.

As I unlocked the door he gave me a look which unequivocally said  ‘I could eat a horse.’ or whatever the walrus equivalent was.  But what if he doesn’t like mackerel?  I was back in  worry mode again.  I knew there was no way he could catch a mackerel even if they did live up there in the arctic.  But I needn’t have worried.  I tossed him a fish to test his response.  It was instantaneous.  His ‘Wrrrr’ was the most enthusiastic yet.  It was a wrrrr without qualification, without even a ‘where’s the tomato sauce then?’

I was overcome with relief and joy; I could have hugged him.  Forgetting where I was, I let out a whoop of triumph and danced a little jig in the snow.  Idiot! I kicked myself, what on earth was I doing?  Glancing upwards through the whirling snow, I scanned the window apertures in the grey cliff of the tenement.  No sign of prying eyes, I noted with relief, but suddenly I was almost knocked over by Walrus shooting out of the shed to bury his head maniacally into the box of mackerel – in full view of anyone who might be watching.

‘Walrus, no!’  I scolded, waving an index finger at him as I tried to drag the box into the shed, but he hooked his tusks over the opposite  side and he was much stronger than me.  I had to wait until a pause in his eating frenzy.  Only once he’d lifted his head out of the box was I able to jerk it away from him and back into the shed.  He followed, galumphing,  and I quickly slammed the door, leaving him to his feast.  As I made my way back toward the tenement I thought I saw a curtain twitching on the second floor.

Chapter Three – Ina Seivwright

Published 8 March 2022

Chapter Three – Ina Seivwright

Back in my flat I warmed my backside against the radiator, luxuriating in its heat as I stared out of the window and watched the snow swirling by, smudging the outline of the docks beyond.  I was supposed to be working – working from home – but I just couldn’t face my laptop, couldn’t stop thinking about Walrus.  What the hell was I going to do with him?  How long could I keep him cooped up?  How long would it take him to recover his strength?  What on earth would I do if he’d been spotted by the curtain twitcher?

There were two flats on each floor in the tenement and, if my guess was right, that curtain belonged to Mrs Seivwright – she who disapproved: disapproved of my efforts at polishing  the communal stairs, tutted at the occasional girl friends I brought back to the flat, didn’t like the English.  My fears were soon confirmed as there came a sharp rat-a-tat at the door.

Standing before me stood the mighty bulk of Ina Seivright, her slippered feet apart on the landing, meaty fists on hips, face red and breathing heavily.   She came straight to the point.

‘An fit wis aat ah jist seen comin oot yer sheddie?’

‘No idea, Mrs Seivwright.’

‘Ye ken pets is nay permitted.’

‘And what d’you think you saw?’

‘Nay sure.  Couldnae see recht thro the snaa.  Bit it wis affa big.’

There was nothing else for it.  I would have to tell her.  ‘What would you say if I told you it was a walrus?’

Her jaw dropped, I could see her trying to process the information, comparing the size of what she had seen with this revelation.  She scrutinized me with a look of utter disbelief.  ‘I’d say ye wis aff yer heid.’  But I thought I caught a flicker of interest in her eye.  Maybe I could even win her over.

‘Would you like to meet him?’

‘Ye’re kiddin?’ she replied.  My God was that the hint of a smile? ‘Ah’ll hae tae get ma beets on first.’

‘I’ll see you down there. then.’

Waiting patiently outside the shed, I watched Ina emerge from the tenement and trudge slowly out through the snow.  As she drew near I put a warning finger to my lips and opened the shed door a couple of inches.  The stench was overpowering.  Slumped In the corner lay Walrus, eyes closed, chest rising and falling gently, his flippers folded over his chest like a portly gentleman after a mighty pub lunch.  Pinching my nose and waving my hand in front of my face, I opened the door a little wider.  I beckoned Ina over to look inside, putting a finger to my lips once again so she wouldn’t awaken and frighten Walrus.

Ina’s face was transfixed, a look of utter enchantment replacing her normal sour expression.  Walrus was a picture of contentment, having consumed half his box of mackerel.  I closed the door and we left him in peace.

As we re-entered the tenement, Ina invited me into her flat for a fly cup.  I told her the whole story, of how I’d stumbled across Walrus and brought him home, having promised him a quiet spot for the night to rest up.  She gazed at me with a look of astonishment.

‘Promised him? Are ye tellin me, the craiter spiks?’

‘Well his eyes and body language speak to me and I seem to hear words.’

She gave me a slightly quizzical look, the kind you might give a daft person but I didn’t really care.  The main thing was she clearly shared my enchantment with Walrus, and I was sure she wouldn’t make trouble now – maybe she might even be able to help.

‘I’m worried,’ I said, ‘I really haven’t much of a clue what I’m doing here.  The only animal I ever cared for was a cat.  I hate confining Walrus but I don’t want anyone seeing or pestering him – he needs to rest.

‘Fit aboot the Marine Laboratory?’

‘You mean that ugly building up the road near the golf course?  What about it?’

‘M’be they’ll hae some cliver chappies in there that can help.’

I turned the idea over in my head.  The place was supposed to be full of boffins wasn’t it?  Maybe there would be someone there who could advise me.  ‘Good thinking, Ina.  I’ll try and find some contact details on my lap top and give them a ring.  Thanks for the tea, I’ll keep you posted.’  And with that I was out the door and galloping up the stairs to my flat.

Chapter Four – Dr Hazlett

Published 15 March 2022

Chapter Four –  Dr Hazlett

‘Marine Laboratory here, how can I help?

‘Walruses,’ I blurted out, ‘you wouldn’t happen to have an expert on them would you?’

There was a long pause. ‘Well that’s a new one…’ The reply was polite, hesitant, the receptionist sounded as if she were turning over options in her head.  ‘Walrus is a mammal isn’t it?  We do have someone who fields questions on whales and dolphins.  I could put you through to him if you like?’

‘That would be great, thanks.’

‘We only have a skeleton staff here at the moment due to Covid restrictions but I could transfer you to his home number.  His name is Dr Hazlett.  Hold the line please.’

He came through almost immediately, his voice old, grumpy, and a trifle suspicious. I wondered what the receptionist had told him.

‘Look.’ I said, ‘I know this is going to sound a trifle bonkers, but I’ve got a very exhausted walrus at home with me in Torry and I’m at my wit’s end worrying about what to do with him.  The receptionist, told me you might be able to help.’

‘Is this some kind of a wind-up?  There are no walruses in Scotland.’

‘That’s what I thought,’ I replied, ‘until I almost fell over one on the beach north of the Don.  I took him home in my van because he looked so poorly.  He’s in my outhouse, I’ve been feeding him on mackerel.’  There was a splutter of disbelief down the line, ‘Please don’t put the phone down Dr Hazlett,’ I added quickly. ‘If you don’t believe me come and see for yourself.  I live at 167 Victoria Rd not far from the Marine Lab.  My name is Mike and I work at the Bank of Scotland in Union Street.’  I hated adding that last bit but thought it might add some gravitas and it seemed to work, or, at least, he didn’t put down the phone.  He went on to pepper me with questions about Walrus and then about myself but I could tell from his tone that, although he remained suspicious, his attitude was beginning to change.  There was now a note of barely restrained excitement in his voice.  ‘I’ll be round in half an hour,’ he said, ‘I’ve got to come from the other side of town.’

~~~

I met him outside the tenement kicking the snow off his boots.  He was a rugged looking guy, an outdoor type, much older than me, in his 50s I guessed, with the whiskers of a beard escaping around the fringes of his face mask.  The visible parts of his face were weather-beaten and he had on a worn Barbour jacket and a chunky woollen hat.  Clutched in one hand was a bulging sack.

‘You must be Mike, the banker,’ he said with a mischievous twinkle, ‘I thought these might come in useful.’ He shook the sack.

‘And you’ll be Dr Hazlett,’ I replied, trying not to wince at the banker reference.  ‘Come on through.  Very good of you to come at such short notice.  So what’s in the sack?’

‘Mussels.  Live mussels.’

‘Oh wow, that’s just brilliant.’  I could have hugged him.

‘I’m no expert on walruses but my guess is that these will be as close to his natural diet as you can find.  Can’t believe he’s been eating mackerel,’ he said, shaking his head.

‘Me neither,’ I replied. ‘I guess he was desperate, but I should warn you, they make him fart something awful.  Hope you’ve got a strong stomach.’

‘Ever tried dissecting a long-dead, stranded whale,’ he grinned.  ‘But what intrigues me is how on earth you managed to get him here?’

‘Long story,’ I replied as we emerged into the back yard and crunched across the snow. I put a finger to my lips as we approached Walrus’s quarters.  Carefully opening the door, I peaked inside.  He was slumped in a corner with his back against the walls, his two flippers folded over his stomach, eyes closed, a look of sleepy contentment on his face.   Creaking open the door a little wider – so that the Doc could take a look too – a shaft of wintry sunlight flicked across Walrus’s face bringing him sharply awake.

‘Wrrrr.’ he bellowed, lurching belligerently toward the Doc with terrifying menace.  Perhaps he saw this older bearded newcomer as a rival alpha male.

Stepping quickly between them, arms extended, I shouted, ‘Whoa, Walrus, this is my friend, he’s come to help you.’  The look Walrus gave me suggested betrayal: But you promised me peace and quiet. This morphed to incomprehension: Help me? How he gonna help me?

I turned to the Doc who looked a bit shaken but also intrigued.  ‘Why don’t you toss him a few mussels,’ I suggested, ‘gently, just in front of him.’

Walrus had risen to his full height, and continued to glare belligerently at the Doc.  At first he ignored the mussels that the Doc threw his way, not daring to take his eyes off his rival.  But then his nostrils began to twitch as he caught their whiff.  Lowering his head he sniffed at the nearest mussel.  ‘Wrrrr,’ his tone this time was less aggressive, excited anticipation struggling with lingering suspicion.’  He looked at me, as if for reassurance.

‘It’s OK,’ I said. ‘Dr Hazlett is my friend, he wants to be yours too and these mussels are a gift from him to you.’

Really? he was still looking sceptical until a faint memory seemed to dawn.  Mussels.  I know these from home.  Almost as good as oysters.  He worked his tusks methodically from side to side across the floor scooping the mussels into neat blue-black, barnacle-encrusted piles.   Then he opened his big whiskered jaws and began to crunch them noisily down.  I turned to look at the Doctor.  He was grinning from ear to ear.

‘I can’t believe I’m seeing this,’ he said, ‘Odobenis rosmarus, here in little old Aberdeen.  It’s like some strange dream… some parallel reality.’ He shook his head as if to shake himself back into the real world.  Walrus was now looking at him impatiently.  Doc laughed, ‘Even I can read that look,’ he said, tossing Walrus more of the mussels which bounced lightly, like skimmed stones, across the floor.

As the Doc continued throwing handfuls of shellfish at Walrus I scanned the shed.  The box of mackerel was now three-quarters empty, a good sign I thought, but there were little piles of excrement everywhere and the smell was overpowering.  ‘Hey, Doc,’ I said, ‘what do you think?  How much longer should we keep him here?  He’s already had about thirty kilos of mackerel and a good whack of your mussels.  They must have done him some good, surely?’

‘I don’t think you should keep him here a minute longer.  It’s a pity, I would have liked to have taken some measurements but he looks way too dangerous for that.  I’ve no idea how we get him back to sea or how on earth you managed to get him here in the first place, but that’s where he should be.’

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘you’re right and he’s definitely in much better shape now.  Let’s lock him up again with half the rest of the mussels and make a plan.  He seems OK so long as he’s got food and privacy.   Anyway I’m bloody freezing, let’s go up to my flat and grab a coffee.  You can leave the rest of the mussels out here against the door.’  This was a mistake.

Chapter Five – The Open Sea

Published 22 March 2022

Chapter Five –  The Open Sea

Mugs of coffee in hand, I gestured Doc to sit on the single kitchen stool while I stood, bum to radiator, next to the window.   He turned his piercingly blue eyes on me and, after insisting I called him Wil, said, ‘What I still don’t understand is how you got him here or how you…’  But at this precise moment, from somewhere outside came a furious ‘Wrrrr’ followed by the sound of violently exploding wood.  Rapidly craning my neck to look into the yard below, I was just in time to see Walrus hauling himself off the door which now lay off its hinges beneath him, shattered in the snow.   Doc leapt off his stool and joined me at the window as we watched Walrus hook his tusks under the edge of the door and flip it effortlessly over to reveal the half-full sack of mussels beneath it.

‘Oh, shit,’ I yelled, dashing towards the door, ‘we’ll never get him back into the shed or my van in this state.’

I was down the stairs and into the back yard within seconds, Doc not far behind.  Walrus was busy ripping open the bag with his tusks.  Even I didn’t dare approach too closely.  ‘It’s OK mate,’ I said in the calmest voice I could muster, ‘nobody’s going to touch them, they’re all for you.’

Walrus gave me one of his impenetrable looks then went back to his feast.  Doc tapped me on the shoulder, gesturing towards the tenement.  At almost every window a face was watching the cabaret below.  My head was pounding.  Nothing really mattered now except to get Walrus back to sea.  I was at my wit’s end. ‘What the hell do we do now, Wil?’

He looked at me through those sharp eyes of his.  ‘Well, Mike, you managed to get him here, single-handed, and you sure as hell didn’t carry him here in your arms.  Whatever magic you worked then, you need to find it again now.’

‘Thanks a lot.’ I replied sarcastically, turning to study Walrus again.  He’d finished the mussels by now and was licking his lips triumphantly.  He looked magnificent: proud, fierce and indomitable.   I stared at him in mixed admiration and despair.  He turned his eyes on me.  ‘Wrrrr.‘  It was a command this time, no doubt about it.  Home.  The word echoed round my head like a joyous peeling of bells, home, home, home.  I turned to look at Doc, ‘You hear that, Wil?’

‘Hear what?’

‘Never mind,’ I replied, ‘I think he’ll come quietly now.’  I beckoned to Walrus, ‘Come on old chap, let’s get you home.’  Doc stood to the side, his face a picture of scientific incomprehension and awe as Walrus galumphed past him.  At the back door of the tenement, hands on hips stood Ina, grinning broadly.

‘That wis an affa guid show ye pit on there mi loon.  Ye should be on a telly.  Onything, ah can dee tae help?’

‘Just keep the passage clear if you would, Ina, he gets spooked by crowds.’ I could already see some of my neighbours milling in the corridor.  Ina was into traffic-cop mode instantly, waving her hands commandingly.  ‘Awah back, oot the wae, heavy goods comin thro.’  My neighbours retreated reluctantly up the stairs and we were soon out on the snowy front pavement.  As Walrus flopped onto the paving stones, an old lady on the other side of the street gasped in horror, eyes wide open, hand over her mouth.

‘Give us a hand would you, Wil?  I’ve got a ramp in the back of the van.  Walrus knows the drill.’  We hauled the three planks out together and watched Walrus clamber aboard – so different from his laboured efforts the day before.  ‘You’ll give us a hand on the beach, won’t you Wil?’

‘Try and stop me.’ He grinned.

‘I’ll need to turn,’ I said, ‘visibility’s not too good in the van, could you keep an eye out for traffic?’

‘What do you mean turn, the nearest beach is just up the road, beyond the Lab, just beyond the Battery.  You weren’t thinking of going back to the Don were you?’

I slapped my forehead, ‘Durrr, why didn’t I think of that?  Yep, there’s a nice little beach just inside the last breakwater, isn’t there?’

Minutes later, I pulled into the side of the road just above the broad winding path down to the beach.  The wind was still blowing out of the North, shivering the gorse bushes at the top of the brae.  The landscape was locked under snow, gulls surfed the wind or hung in mid air above the estuary and one of the Shetland ferries, with its dramatic Viking logo, was nosing out into the swell.

Walrus was already up on his front flippers, facing out of the back of the van, sniffing the air as Doc and I opened the back doors.  ‘Oh, shit,’ I said, ‘There’s a kissing gate across the path, how the hell are we going to get him though there?’  Doc scratched his beard, ‘Think he might just fit under the barrier if we’re lucky.  Looks like there’s about two foot of clearance.’

‘Wrrrr,’ said Walrus, flippers already over the threshold, eyes peering impatiently down at the snowy verge below the back of the van, as if contemplating leaping.

‘Whoa, hold your horses, matey,’ I shouted.  ‘Wait for the ramp.’  Doc was already hauling out the second plank, while I pulled out the third and slid it into place.  Walrus was down the ramp like a rocket, almost knocking over the Doc in passing.  He needed no instructions, pushing open the kissing gate then sliding like a fat limbo dancer under the metal horizontal to its side.  Once on the path beyond, there was no stopping him.   He slid over the broad, wooden steps with a kind of heavy, fluid grace.  Flopping onto the beach he made straight for the water.

Half-submerged, he turned to look at us.  He placed a single flipper over his chest.  ‘Wrrrr’, he said, bowing his head slightly, before disappearing under the waves.  We saw his mighty head reappear from time to time, watched by a family of surprised harbour seals.  He turned one last time.

‘Go North, old friend.’  I shouted, but he needed no bidding from me.  ‘Send us a post card when you get home.’  Doc was shaking his head in disbelief.

Back in my car, he fixed me in a long poker-faced stare before breaking into a mischievous grin. ‘You’re going to need a carpenter to fix that shed door of yours and you’ve a lot of explaining to do!’


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