My RGN nursing days ended when I retired but the itch to do something useful persists.
I have worked for Shetland Island Council for nearly a year in a role designed to provide support and respite for those caring for someone at home. It has been my privilege to be welcomed in to people’s homes and lives, to hear the history of working and living, maybe nearly 100 years ago which is recounted in fascinating detail and dialect. All agree that it was a hard way of life to endure but a good life.
I was asked if I would do a nightshift and pondered this. I always disliked nights in hospitals, the unending battle to be awake and alert at all times in perhaps a 12 hour shift, but this was different. I knew the people and I knew I could be helpful so said, “Yes” and set off along the dark sheep strewn, winding road for my first shift.
In true Shetland style I was warmly greeted and led through into a cheerful, cosy lounge with a peat laden stove blazing on the hearth. An old ‘Butt and Ben House revamped over the many years with honey coloured wood floors, glowing colours and everywhere family photos, books, magazines and every comfort I could have wished for. Here the family had been born and now, here some still lived and others visited and stayed nearby. My memories of slogging shifts on chilly wards faded in an instant.
When I set off in the morning, heading for home, the sun was rising making a fiery glow over the sea. The sheep who stay out on the hills over winter were wandering over the land, nibbling the short verges and licking keenly at the salt on the gritted surface. I think one car passed me on this single track road as I waited in a ‘passing place’. We waved as everyone does here and I drove slowly on, following the twists and turns, the rises and falls and taking in the immense peace and stark beauty around me.
I remembered driving back from other night shifts in other places, the urgent rush of early commuters, industrial estates, people queuing at bus stops, running to catch trains. Another world, another life.
I want to say that ‘it clutches at my heart’ (I nearly didn’t put that!) I could have said that ‘it grips me or I love it’ but that wouldn’t say enough.
To hell with it, I am 71 and I can say what I like. We will only have lived here 2 years in February but somehow you slide into Shetland’s timelessness and feel that you belong.