Privates on Parade – Mykines, Faroe Islands
The last tourists of the day had long gone. They had boarded the precariously bobbing fishing boat and chugged off to the mainland. I thought I had the island more or less to myself. The locals were pottering around in their quaint little village rather harmlessly and so I climbed the bluff above the town and practised yoga surrounded by the flocks of puffins I had travelled all this way to see.
Stripped down to just my shorts I went through the calming routine and contorted my body into the shapes that Indian mystics believe will give me eternal happiness, longevity and a positive outlook on life. By the end of the session I felt both invigorated and in tune with the universe once more. I let out a long contended sigh and settled down for some deep meditation before dinner.
The long day walking, the camera-melting loveliness of the scenery of the Faroe Islands combined with the wonderful weather were obviously too much for me and I was suddenly overcome by the urge to meditate – naked. Normally, I am not really one for taking my clothes off in public places and only a few weeks previously I had run out of a sauna in Germany when six nubile Teutonic teenager girls had sauntered in wearing just dazzling white smiles. The only time I had actually gone skinny dipping (in Africa) had resulted in me cavorting naked through a local village and gate crashing a funeral looking for my stolen clothes. But, as everyone else had left the island I felt that it might be fun.
Meditation doesn’t come easy to me but I must have hit the right groove (or what ever it is Yoga masters call it) and ducked on out of the universe for some time as the next thing I was aware of was the sound of annoyingly chirpy whistling rapidly approaching (oh my God, I thought, it’s a cockney plasterer). As quick as I could I stood up and tried to jump into my shorts, protect my modesty and not go as red as a beetroot. None of these simple tasks were terribly successfully performed and by the time the intruder (as I thought of him) on my island had walked over to me I was a nervous gibbering wreck.
“It’s just like privates on parade, isn’t it?” asked the man as he sat down and began to unwrap a packet of sandwiches.
“Oh, sorry, I was, er, just..er…meditating,” I stammered as I tried to pull up my shorts without mooning in the guy’s face or toppling backwards into the sea.
“No, man, the puffins, the bloody puffins. Look at them, all lined up like privates on parade.”
And that, unfortunately, was how I met Wing Commander (retired) Carter.
Later, after I had dressed and taken the obligatory pictures of the puffins, we wandered back along the path to the small village of Mykines (pop. 8). I was decked out in my normal kit of dirty shorts and t-shirt and hiking-boots whilst Wing Commander (retired) Carter was more sartorially attired in grey flannels, a crisp white shirt, regimental tie, blue blazer and loafers. I kept thinking as we walked back: Only a Brit would turn up on an island in the middle of the North Atlantic in loafers.
As we walked the Wing Commander (retired) told me his life story in short military type bursts:
“Arrived here two days ago. Knocked on the first door. Told the woman there, ‘Listen, my boys built the bloody airport for you Jonnies during the war. Mind if I billet down in your spare room?'”
I was, of course, sleeping rough and had been attracted to the island for its solitude and tranquillity.
“You know, I collect islands…”
“Oh really? Where do you put them?”
“Chiloé, Robin Crusoe Island, Madagascar…been to ’em all.”
And then a thoughtful pause:
“Bombed the shit out of most of them as well. Military service, that would have made a man of you…”
And then a slight wink:
“But after seeing you running around starkers I am not sure even the Army could turn you into a man…”
And with that the old guy picked up the pace, muttering something about a cold beer and a roast beef sandwich, and left me dazed and confused, once again surrounded by puffins.
I caught up with him later that night in the tiny village store-cum-post-office-cum-bar-cum-restaurant where he was, much to the amusement of the proprietor, rearranging the fridge into a more logical order. I sat drinking from my water bottle (I couldn’t afford a beer) and tried my best to look French (not easy for someone with a half decent education and a savage dislike of poodles.)
I thought that after all the effort of getting to Mykines to see puffins I really had to finish off the experience by eating a couple. Ecologists and animal-lovers (like the GHG who refused to cook for me for a week after she found out) may frown at this cavalier attitude to local fauna but I sincerely believe that their high-minded views would certainly be modified if they had spent an hour trying to pick puffin shit out of their pubic hair. The meat was surprisingly unlike chicken and instead tasted of fishy-liver. It might have been nice if it hadn’t been stuffed with fruit cake.
I love fruit cake. For me its one of the best things in the world. In fact I won’t let my parents see their grandson until they have given me one of my mum’s big, fat, stodgy fruit cakes, but honestly, what kind of folk would stuff a bird with it? If the cook had been so desperate as to run out of stuffing I am sure we could have gone for a root around the island and snuffled up a few onions or a carrot. What next? Christmas Day turkey stuffed with creme caramel, pavlova stuffed guinea foul or mango-sorbet stuffed nut roast for the veggies amongst us. But, of course, being a Brit, I ate it without complaining, made a weak joke about saving on the washing up and took my leave.
Before I left, though, I asked the cook how to best prepare the puffin to make sure that the meat wasn’t tough. I thought that if ever I should be lost in the wilds of the Faroe’s I should at least be armed with one good recipe.
“Well,” she said leaning closer as if she was about to tell me the recipe for the world’s most potent love-potion, “the secret is to boil the birds first in a pan of water which has a six-inch nail in it. Then you can stuff it and roast it.”
“Ok, but how long do you boil it for?”
“Until the nail is soft.”
Later that night (or as close to night as you can get in the land of the midnight sun) I lay in my sleeping bag watching clouds roll down the cliffs. The sun turned them into fiery horses which galloped slowly out to sea. The puffins were settling down for the night in their burrows. The Wing Commander (retired), I saw was making a last inspection of the island (probably still fighting the Hun, I thought) and the wind was whispering its secrets in my ear. I felt insanely happy. I was alone, sleeping rough on an island in the North Atlantic, my belly was fully of fruitcake and puffin and the Almighty even had the decency to put on a light show for my gratification. I flipped open my hipflask, took a long sip of something which tasted dangerously like drain cleaner and wished that all days could be as happy and fulfilling. I fell asleep thinking that I must be the luckiest man alive.
About the Author
Philip Blazdell has been travelling for the last fifteen years. His travels began when he followed a girl in nice purple pyjamas to Istanbul and got into all kinds of trouble. He has never looked back. Philip’s pet hates are still Air Portugal and KLM, but thankfully he doesn’t have to use them as much as he used to. He still doesn’t enjoy getting up in the morning to go to Copenhagen though he is gradually coming to terms with this. When not travelling he can be found following his beloved Liverpool and is perhaps the only person in the country who actually believes they will win the league this year. On days when the Reds aren’t playing he can be found at home in a little Cambridgeshire village, cooking and drinking Tusker beer.