Thursday, 7th November. Lerwick. The fishing trip is over, but I’m staying on Mizpah for a couple of days to wait for my ferry back to Scrabster.
I went for an adventure on the bus, well, I use the term ‘adventure’ loosely because I only got as far as Scalloway, less than 6-miles to the west of Lerwick. There wasn’t much in the small town; however, I did find a pub. After a couple of pints of lager and a failed attempt at engaging the one other punter in conversation, I left.
The woman in the bus shelter had to be American: wherever they travel to in the world, as soon as they hit 56° latitude, and it doesn’t matter what time of year it is, American tourists from the lower-48 will dress like they’re about to attempt a trek to the South Pole in winter. Yes, it was cold on Shetland, but it was still way above freezing.
I got onto the bus first and claimed my favourite seat – back row, passenger-side corner. A few teenagers, carrying musical instruments of various sizes boarded, followed by the female Arctic Explorer. She wandered up the aisle; hiking boots, creme ski salopettes, duvet jacket and a matching glove/hat combo’, and sat two seats in front of me. As she plopped herself down, the trapped warm air blasted out from under her thermal shell, giving me a whiff of her perfume (unidentifiable). The bus pulled away.
“Jeeez they drive these buses fast!” – Yep, American. I congratulated myself.
“Yeah…there are seatbelts provided that nobody ever uses…but if we do go off the road, at least we won’t hit any trees, because there aren’t any on Shetland.”, I replied, with no attempt at reassurance. I’d forgotten that Americans don’t get my brand of humour.
“Where are you off to?”, she asked, which I thought was a silly question because the bus only goes to Lerwick and there’s nothing in between.
“Lerwick. Are you off to scale North Face of the Eiger, you absolute whopper?” I asked – Okay, I said, “Lerwick”, the rest of it occurred only in my head.
“The roads are icy…are you local?”, she asked as she moved from her seat to the one in front of me, adding “I’m Fiona…from Michigan?”, before giving me a chance to answer.
Fiona, mid-’30s, had a look of Val Kilmer and did that irritating ‘upspeak’ intonation, which makes every sentence sound like a question? I’ve no idea why people do it? It just makes them appear insecure about what they just said.
We chatted. By the time we reached Lerwick, I was ready for another beer, so I steered Fiona away from the coffee idea that she’d suggested and into Captain Flint’s pub. Over 2-hours, I got the American’s life story: a typical, almost cliche account of school, college, university, culminating in a high-paid career and the dream husband. Fiona still works as a buyer for a high-end fashion label, but the dream husband had turned into the nightmare ex.
“I packed my things and left”, she told me. “Then the next week, I asked for a two-month sabbatical from work and bought a flight to London”. I asked her why she’d left her husband? “We argued…all the time. The very last contact I had with him was an argument. We ended seven-years together with a ridiculous quarrel about who should pay for Netflix that escalated out of control”. She felt terrible about that, parting under a black cloud that way, but being in a similar boat, I was in no mood to play counsellor. I’ve since recognised how she feels.
So, from Michigan, this woman had boarded a plane to London, got off at Heathrow and simply got on the first coach she saw, which took her to Manchester. Fiona had then meandered north, through the Lake District, on to Edinburgh and then Aberdeen, where she’d caught the 14-hour ferry to Shetland.
“Where are you heading next?” I inquired.
“Back to my hotel?” she replied. That could have been a question, but I’m not sure.
“No, I mean where are you going after Shetland?”
“No fixed itinerary. I have a week left in Europe, then I’m heading to Thailand. I’ll probably do Paris, Rome, I like the look of Portugal? And maybe Prague?”. Another thing about Americans – a lot of them have no concept of how big Europe actually is.
We finished off the afternoon with a shot of some weird blue drink which someone at the bar insisted we try. Fiona went back to her hotel for a nap, as she left, she told me she’d find me on Facebook. She didn’t.