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Twilight of the Gods

One does not associate the Pentland Firth with hazards for caravanners but the Admiralty pilot for North Scotland advises masters of small craft to avoid the area in westerly and easterly gales. On a falling tide, westerlies are the more feared. As the ebb tries to empty the North Sea and billions of tons of water flow through the strait against the wind, mountainous seas quickly develop and the blown spume from the crests appears almost solid as the All Father, Odin, strips the waves of their substance in his eternal battle with Njoror. One comes to accept the Norse stories of the cloud ship Skidbladnir and sympathise with its master, Freyr, who, when he is not sailing in it, carries the vessel in his pocket.

But a caravan should be safe, and we pitched camp a few yards from the cliff top overlooking a wild but not dangerous sea. Below us was a rocky beach where the children were able to seek cowrie shells in the sandy crevices. No-one warns experienced northern sailors against northerly winds and we watched fishing boats and the ferry as they passed by, rolling and heaving on the swells for which Scottish waters are notorious. Eight miles away, the cliffs of Orkney could sometimes be seen through the torn clouds as skuas and gulls wheeled and screamed and fought. Fulmars, those recent immigrants from the Arctic, abandoned their normal, graceful, stiff-winged flight and and frolicked and played like teenagers at a fairground. We thought we saw a storm petrel but it was certainly an artefact of our imaginations – or perhaps, I fantasised, it was Loki, the mischievous, in one of his disguises.

Darkness falls late in the northern summer but, that night, it came earlier than usual. By ten o’clock it was no longer possible to read without artificial light and we retired to our beds, protected from the increasing tempest by the cliff which threw the wind high overhead. We could hear it keening and thrumming on the cliff edge like a horde of Valkyries searching out the souls of dead warriors slain on some terrifying battlefield. The thunder of breakers sent us to sleep and we were unaware that, as darkness finally fell, the wind was backing to the west as if its origin was being drawn by a malignant sun to its grave on the horizon.

We were woken at one o’clock by a sudden shuddering as the caravan rocked on its corner steadies. We always called them ‘anchors’ and, on this occasion, the nickname seemed appropriate as the caravan lifted again and then dropped.

“I think we’re dragging our anchor,” I joked but no-one laughed.

By now, the wind had shifted due west and was hurtling across the open moor, slamming into the side of the caravan. Loki, I was sure, was playing with us. The shelter afforded by the low cliffs which had so impressed us earlier in the night had vanished. As the storm increased and the caravan rocked on its springs, we were driven to wondering whether the cliffs themselves had blown away.

Jennifer and Michael shared the bunk beds at the front of the caravan, Jennifer on top and Michael, aged four, below.

“Are we going to blow over?” Michael wanted to know.

So did I.

At two o’clock I decided that we probably wereif I didn’t do something about it. But what? Well, I could park the car between us and the wind. Surely a ton and a half of steel should be an effective windbreak? Loki was created before mankind invented steel and I had heard that the powers of the gods of Asgard were ineffective against modern technology.

I dragged myself out of bed and out of the caravan in my pyjamas – we aren’t the sort of people who go caravanning with dressing gowns and my anorak was in the car. Even on the sheltered side of the caravan, it was difficult to stand but the car felt reassuringly solid and I drove it round and parked tight against the windward side of the ’van. When I returned to its shelter, both children were crying quietly to themselves. Michael was trying to comfort his older sister and the two children were holding hands between the upper and lower levels of the bunk. No one held my hand.

Moving the car seemed to have made things worse although I knew that wasn’t possible unless my information about the gods’ powers was wrong – Loki, again defeating the unwary. Clearly the awning had to come down before it was torn down. Of course, I had known this earlier, but the damned thing was always a pain to take down even on a calm afternoon. Now, Rosemary and I battled with what seemed like acres of canvas that flogged ever more vigorously as we removed the pegs and poles. Of course it tore and could never be used again.

At four o’clock we knew we had to move. Striking camp is never pleasant. Apart from the sadness of finishing one’s holiday, there is the need to coil wet and dirty electric cables and to empty waste water containers and the chemical closet. The spare wheel, stored under the caravan, is always wet and muddy. That morning, in what felt like a rehearsal for a latter-night Götterdämmerung, the wind howled with increasing ferocity and two white-faced children watched through the car windows as Rosemary and I struggled to cope. As I moved the car from its sheltering position, I was sure the caravan would blow over if not actually join Skidbladnir in its headlong flight. But, with our obviously impending departure, Loki must have relented because we were eventually able to hitch up undamaged and park face to wind. We sat resting from our efforts. Loki must have thought we were changing our minds because, even now, the vehicle rocked and swayed with the headwind.

Sighing, we drove away from our idyllic camp-site. Half an hour later, bowling along the A9 into a 60 mph headwind of our own making, the car and caravan – but not our nerves – were rock steady. We pulled into the side of the road. It was just coming light, the wind had dropped to a slight breeze and we decided to have breakfast in the caravan. Rosemary detrmined to do us proud and produced bacon and eggs which we ate as the sun rose from over Sinclairs Bay. For a moment, the tower of the castle of Old Wick stood blackly exactly in the centre of the red disc as it climbed above the horizon.

Michael was unusually quiet and then he said, “Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“Who’s Loki?”

I had been researching Norse legend for several weeks but I knew I had kept my research, and last night’s fantasies, to myself.

“Loki?”

“Yes. It was him, wasn’t it?”

“What was?”

“He made the storm, didn’t he?”

I temporised and asked Jennifer, “Who do you think Loki is?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never heard of him.”

“You haven’t said about him to Michael?”

“No. I’ve never heard of him.”

“Have you, love?” I asked Rosemary. She was busy with breakfast and wasn’t listening.

“Have I what?”

“Have you said anything about Loki to Michael?”

“Who’s Loki?” she asked.

“Michael said, “It wasn’t just Loki. There was others, too.”

“Were others too, Michael. Not was others. Who were the others?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who told you about Loki?”

“Nobody. I saw him. In the wind. He said he was called Loki.”

“What did he look like?”

“I don’t know. Sort of ... big. He was laughing.”

Michael nagged me to tell him who Loki is but, you see, I’m no longer sure that I know.”

 
Word Count: 1300
 
 
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