Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Monday, 18 May 2015

Not so much God's Acre...

... as Tense's half acre, or at least 50 x 45m of... er... habitat.

The bulk of the 'garden' at Tense Towers has been left to its own devices for over a year now. Something had to be done. With the assorted vegetation (Couch grass, Docks, Thistles and Dandelions) being somewhere between ankle high and knee high, it was always going to be a tough gig.

Still, I reckoned that I'd cracked the problem of how we could lose weight, become a bit trimmer (no pun intended), lessen the furrowed brows of our neighbours and save ourselves some money into the bargain. Our Lass had recently ditched her gym membership, so my cunning plan was Mower-cise, man (or woman) and machine in perfect harmony. What could possibly go wrong?

About a third of the way around my first lap of the... let's call it 'lawn' for simplicity's sake, my trusty mower of over a decade gave up the ghost. No amount of cajoling would encourage it back to life. Ah, the best laid plans, eh?

A swift trip to the various gardening equipment emporia of these isles gave me plenty to ponder: cutting width, engine size, deck material and propulsion options, to name just a few. More research online led to the decision to go with a Honda-powered 53cm machine, with an alloy deck and self propulsion. Happily, there was a local agent for my chosen brand, so I ordered it and was flabbergasted to discover that it would be £160 cheaper than the manufacturer's price, delivered to Orkney, fully mantled and full of fuel and oil. I had to wait a week and half for it, but it was worth the wait! Unfortunately, the vegetation didn't stop growing during that time.

Having now completed the first cut of the whole 'lawn', which had to be done using Tense propulsion as the grass was so thick, I am now fit to drop. I look forward to the day when I can engage the self propulsion option and merely saunter around the garden at a brisk pace.

As I trundled the mower back across the lawn after its exertions, I noticed that a cow and calf had appeared in the neighbouring field. Two pairs of eyes were watching me with, what felt like, a mixture of bovine amusement and critical appraisal. I was just glad that they didn't whip out cards giving me marks out of ten.

Friday, 15 May 2015

What the... ?!

Following the necessity of a hasty trip away from Orkney and down south into England, I've been having a few culture shocks.

I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that things which I haven't seen for ages will now look somewhat different, in light of the changes to my life, 21st Century progress and the world generally moving on.

For example, take the humble Dunnock.

Now, the habits of these small birds have exercised this blog on previous occasions, most notably here and here. Yes, I have ranted on and off about the promiscuous shenanigans that three Dunnocks often engage in, but my comments have, more than not, been about the almost Victorian attitude that we pin to the lifestyle of this bird. In the time since I last saw this species on a regular basis, which would've been back in jolly old MK, the world has moved on considerably. I will leave you to judge whether that is for the better. So, when I spotted a couple of Dunnocks in my brother's garden, the passage of time and recent celebrity culture had a strange effect upon my reaction.

"Crivens, what's that twerking under the bird feeder?!" was my questioning cry, trying not to spill a mug of tea in indignation at the blatant sexualisition of a neatly manicured lawn, blossom-laden hedging and lush herbaceous borders.

I think it's probably time for me to head back north to the open vistas of Orkney. For although its landscape is as indelibly marked by the human hand as everywhere else, life there is more in the grip of the seasons, the weather is more likely to clip you around the ear, and it is the sea with its finger on the 'Destruct' button.

And the garden at Tense Towers is currently Dunnock-free.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Bank Holiday whether

Honestly, it's not a typo. Let me explain...

Occasionally, very occasionally, within the walls of Tense Towers, everything is not sweetness and light. Probably not a shock, eh? Well, the cause of one of these infrequent bones of contention is the fact that Our Lass and I do not have synchronised public holidays. You can be a bit shocked at that, possibly even for the fact that Our Lass would want to share 24 hours of unfettered access to curmudgeonly old me.

The reason for the 'days off' disparity is... actually, I've no idea, but let me try to navigate you through the evidence as presented.

Orkney is part of Scotland (just don't remind it too often).

Scotland is part of the UK (defo don't remind it too often).

England, Wales and Northern Ireland are also part of the UK (there's a whole continuum of remind, or not, going on there).

So, Our Lass and I live in the UK, governed from Westminster in London. We also live in Scotland, governed by a Scottish Parliament with some devolved powers. And, just for added spice, we live in Orkney as well, with the Orkney Islands Council (OIC) having local powers. 

Our Lass works for a nominally UK-wide, umbrella organisation, the National Health Service (NHS). No, they don't make umbrellas [sigh]. In reality, she is employed by NHS Scotland through NHS Orkney. With me so far?

I work for an Orcadian charity with links to a larger umbrella Scottish charity. No, they don't make umbrellas either. Actually, with all this talk of handy gadgets to keep the rain off, it's turning into the perfect Bank Holiday weather blogpost! But I digress.

Apologies if, following the General Election, you've had it up to here [signals above head height] with charts and graphs, but here's my explanation as an Excel document...

Apart from January and December, there's not a great deal of correlation. Add in the fact that the Orkney work ethic, as a principally rural environment where farmers have to put in a shift every day, doesn't necessarily follow officialdom, and you can probably see that there's going to be trouble at Tense Towers.

So far, this year, if I've been in doubt, I've turned up for work and discovered all the businesses around our site are all open and busy. Admittedly, this does precious little for Our Lass's humour, but as I say, "When in Rome..." 

No, let's not look to see which national holidays they take in Italy!

The latest instance of 'Bank Holiday whether' occurred on the 4th of May. I went off to work as normal and was able to book the firm's van into a local garage for a small repair. The morning's weather was typically Orcadian, a few sunny periods interspersed with heavy showers of hail. By the time I left work and headed home, it was fine and dry, so Our Lass and I decided to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine and wandered down the hill to the coast. En route, passing between rough pasture and lush fields, we expected to be bombarded by irate waders, busy setting up and defending territories, but all was strangely quiet. Perhaps this oddness made me pay more particular attention, I don't know, but we were surprised to see several broods of tiny Lapwing chicks being ushered into hiding between tussocks of grass. Wowser, I didn't know that they hatched this early in the year!

We sat on a stone bridge parapet, where a stream flowed onto the beach, watching Oystercatchers bathing in rock pools and listening to Swallows as they skimmed low over the fields and verges around us. It turned into a balmy evening, with Snipe drumming overhead, a male Hen Harrier incurring the wrath of every breeding wader in the area and a male Sandwich Tern catching fish to tempt Mrs Tern with a bit of courtship feeding.

Coldplay's 'Yellow' kept popping into my head, as every field, garden, churchyard and roadside verge was covered in the colour of Spring. Coltsfoot were still in flower, accompanied by Dandelions, Lesser Celandines, Primroses, Marsh Marigolds, Daffodils and Cowslips. Yeah, they were all yellow.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Festival frolics

A couple of weekends ago, Our Lass and I attended the inaugural GlastonBurray Festival. The more observant amongst you will have noticed that this isn't the big annual music event in Somerset, but a rather somewhat smaller gig, arranged to raise funds for the Burray School Playground and Community Hall.

The action took place in the Burray Hall and featured ten local bands/artists through the evening. It really is incredible how many gifted musicians live in these islands.

As well as organising the festival, main man Douglas Montgomery also found time to play in four of the bands: Saltfishforty; the Silver Penguins; The Chair, and Rocker. Other acts featured were: Jenny Hall, the Andy Taylor Group, Charlie Wallhead, Those Boys, Electric Mother and Bad Apple.

It was a cracking night of music and mirth, featuring many genres, from folk to metal and everything in between.

Master of Ceremonies for the evening was some bloke in a hat, who changed his rock-themed t-shirts between each act, and bore an uncanny resemblance to our local MSP.

Let's rock!
Set list in the corner of the hall, along with the mixing desk

Saltfishforty kicked off the evening (the second song was 'A ring on her hand', so I was ecstatic)
The stonking, stomping sound of The Chair
AC/DC appreciation band, Rocker. And Laura carries off the Bon Scott vocals brilliantly 
In the above photo, note the brown-hatted MC MSP on the far left. He's a bit more towards the centre with his day job.

I wonder if this will become a regular feature of the Orcadian musical calendar?

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A weather eye, cartridge loading and a u-boat

[See update at foot of article]

It's odd. The more summer migrants that turn up, the more wintry the weather becomes. We're seeing Great Skua, Wheatear and Swallow quite regularly now, but here was some of Sunday's meteorological input...

With just over a week to go before the General Election 2015 to decide the make-up of the next UK government, it's nigh on impossible to put on the tv or the radio and not be bombarded with spin, speculation and cynical politicos spouting forth.

It is predicted, though by no means a certainty, that the Scottish National Party (SNP) will do well in Scotland, for despite losing last year's independence referendum, their membership has rocketed in the intervening months. Perhaps folk reckon that the promises made back then by the Westminster elite were emptier than hollow laughter?

The SNP leader and Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has confounded the political world by not playing fair. She has been 'accused' of positive campaigning, having an inclusive agenda and, worst of all, actually talking to actual voters. I don't think London can cope with stuff like that, as its negativity and lack of respect for other parties and voters alike, is too ingrained. We will see soon enough whether the Scottish population, and perhaps some of the UK's, has seen through the Westminster bluster and bile.

Yesterday, local events managed to shove the election lower down the agenda. A submarine was seen in Scapa Flow, purportedly from the Dutch Navy. Apparently the UK MoD refused to comment, but I'm sure there would have been a bit more activity if it was thought to be from a non-NATO country!

Here's the view from Tense Towers as the sub made its way out of the Flow.

Today at work, I had one of those sudden impulses that come along every once in a while. Nothing salacious, you understand, but the need to know was very strong. And I'm not very spontaneous, apparently. I urgently needed to ascertain, with little room for doubt, just how many printer toner cartridges you could fit into the back of a Ford Fiesta.

Plenty, as it turns out. I ran out of data, but not room, at 50. Who knew?

I had a morning bathed in warm sunshine, though everywhere I drove had just had rain, snow or hail. It was bizarre. Nice bizarre, but bizarre nonetheless.

Then, late this afternoon, I watched from home as more wintry showers tracked their way across Hoy and over West Mainland.

There's something satisfying, though not always comforting, in forecasting the weather by just looking out of the window. On Orkney, there's no place to hide, the weather has unrestricted access to all areas.

30/04/15 Update: Today's The Orcadian contained a report which indicated that there were two submarines seen on the same day. The Dutch one mentioned in the link above, but also another one, possibly Norwegian, which is the one I photographed later in the day.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Search Engine Optimisation? I think not.

It's been a bit of a hectic week for Yours Truly, much more frenetic than normal and with various minor disasters along the way. To be fair, 'hectic' is a relative term, but we are where we are, so let's just say that on the Continuum of Hect, I haven't been near the middle.

As is often the case, one tiny thing can change the mood, a brief encounter that restores default settings. And, as is also the case, things tend to get much worse before they become better.

So, after a working week of being hither, thither and yon, flicking between part time jobs and projects like the television when Our Lass has the remote control, I was beginning to unwind during the journey home, listening to Test Match Special on the car radio.

Glancing left, across farm pastures and rough ground, I noticed a bird perched on a fence post not too far from the road. Double taking, I realised that it was a Short-eared Owl, at eminently photographable range. With all thoughts of chilling out forgotten, my adrenalin levels put their boots back on and wearily reached for their hard hats. I was only three miles from home, so...  barely ten minutes later I was back in position but, this time, in the company of Cameron Bins and Very Wrong Len. I turned the car around and slowly coasted to a stop, so that with the passenger window open, I had a reasonable view of the field, but the camera and I were not too obvious.

The owl was still on the same fence post, scanning the long grass for mice or voles, its head turning this way and that, steadfastly ignoring me, other traffic and various Oystercatchers.

Over the years, I have seen countless folks' photos of raptors, waders and owls sat on fence posts. I must admit to wondering whether they were putting in some serious hours to capture the images or whether it was a matter of right place, right time.

Now I knew...