Saturday, 18 January 2020

Neil Peart, 1952 - 2020

Neil Peart , who sadly passed away earlier this month, was the drummer and lyricist with the Canadian rock band Rush. The rhythms and beats of Neil's drumming were always interesting, there was always some little quirky percussive thing going on, but for me, his wordsmithing was of an even higher standard. Here was a guy who could seemingly pen verses on any topic in a thoughtful, meaningful way, whose rhymes were soothing on the ear, and which featured some clever puns.

Phrases, a couple of lines of a verse, often whole songs, would strike a chord on first hearing, or perhaps months and years down the line, when a new situation arose to confound an expectation and needed some serious thought. 

Through the early to mid Eighties, when Our Lass and I were courting, or engaged, and even for a year of marriage, we spent a lot of time apart due to... well, I guess you could call it 'our careers'. Often at different ends of the country, occasionally in different countries, our relationship was forged by 10p pieces and good, old-fashioned pen and paper. As in any long-distance relationship, things weren't necessarily easy, and a song that often kept me sane was this gentle ballad:

As a rather naive chap, I took most news at face value and didn't look too deeply into the background. A dawning awareness that stuff might not be as it seems was epitomised by a song which was probably about the 17th Century but... hmmmmm:

Much later in life, when a pair of risk-averse 50 year olds were trying to decide whether to leave the comfort of suburbia, the trappings of two reasonable salaries and a slow, steady decline into our dotage, or careen off on an adventure into island life with a reduced income, increased costs and horizontal weather, another tune sprang to mind:

[Apologies to Mark at this point, if he was expecting that one to be 'Subdivisions'. I couldn't put every song in the list!]

Devoted aficionados of Imperfect and Tense may recall an early 'Stuff On My Phone' post featuring Rush which I suppose means it's the track of theirs which I listen to most. Other tracks would perhaps have been more obvious musically, but the words of this one elevate it to that position:

A question. Am I allowed a 'Serendipitously' yet? I don't think I've had one so far in 2020... Serendipitously, once in Orkney, some songs which I had been listening to for over 30 years began to take on added resonance:

Neil had obviously taken the time to experience wide open vistas and elemental forces. I like to think he would've appreciated Orkney.

And there's a few verses of another song which hold special meaning now:

I wouldn't wish to give the impression that the Book of Tense is solely populated with Rush song lyrics as a guiding principle, but sometimes a line will lodge in the memory until such time as it is needed. With drumsticks and pen, Neil Peart certainly forged his creativity closer to the heart.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Er... incoming!

Yesterday was a day of blustery showers, frequently of hail. A more organised personage may well have chosen to set up a time lapse experiment, certainly during the morning when the low sunlight was creating some lovely effects. Sadly, I did not.

However, betwixt writing the previous blogpost, trying to complete a jigsaw and catching up with missed tv programmes, I did manage to shuffle to the front door on a few occasions.

The below photos are crops from two panoramic sweeps, taken about ten minutes apart. The image quality isn't great as they were taken on my phone, which I was struggling to hold steady during a slow half-pirouette. Technically, there could've been a third image a bit later still, but that would've involved an absolute soaking.


Sunday, 12 January 2020

Knickers and a twist

Now that the midwinter festivities are over, life is returning to normal. I'm sure that in many places, as at Tense Towers, 'normal' is a mixture of work and domestic chores, which seriously makes a dent in any opportunities for wildlife and cake.

Wednesday saw gales across the county, so my work was indoor admin (much safer than being up a ladder) but, before commencing that particular delight, there were some domestics to attend to. Having put a load of dirty laundry in the washing machine, I moved some clean clothes from the free-standing drying rack to the airing cupboard, then took some already aired clothes to our bedroom to be put away. Everything was going along nicely as per the usual script: play Mahjong with everyone's socks and hope that there's no odd ones left over; organise my knickers so that no two consecutive days are the same colour (too much info?); and grizzle continuously whilst rummaging through the wardrobes to find sufficient coat-hangers for trousers, blouses, shirts and tops. It's quite mindful in a way (assuming no odd socks) and is a neatly-contained task with a satisfying conclusion and no risk of any strange surprises.


For most chores at Tense Towers, Our Lass and I operate on a system based around task urgency, availability of personnel and number of snits given. In essence, if it doesn't need doing and/or no-one is around or can be bothered to do it, it doesn't get done. However, another consequence of the system is that we do tend to pitch in with most things eventually. It isn't exactly a 50/50 split and the spider protocol is constantly being re-written (I think the term for this is that the document is 'live', a fact whose irony is often lost upon the spider in question). So, there I was, with everyone's socks satisfyingly paired, in possession of sufficient coat-hangers to reduce grizzling to a minimum and with only Our Lass's knickers to put away.

Er... hang on a moment... I don't recognise this pair?! Hmmm, they aren't mine, but I'm pretty sure they're not Our Lass's either. Having checked the label, I realise I'm holding a pair of ladies knickers that aren't my wife's size, a situation which most definitely can be described as a strange surprise. I couldn't begin to remember when I last had hold of another lady's knickers. Should I phone Our Lass at work to confirm they're hers? Wait a minute, knickers are usually in sets, and this pair is very much on its own, in style and designer. Perhaps they were inadvertently picked up when we were south visiting relatives? [Carefully puts knickers down] Oh God, whose might they be? There were four generations of womanhood present for Hogmanay, and I can only rule out young V, who is all of eleven months old.

With rising panic, I try to decide whether to phone my sister-in-law instead, but running the likely conversation through my head, it doesn't seem like an option guaranteed to defuse the situation. Perhaps I should just put them away in Our Lass's knicker drawer and pretend I didn't notice? Let's face it, I'm a bloke and therefore not expected to pick up on such fine details. Hey, why am I feeling guilty? After all, I'm not the one with a new pair of knickers not bought by their partner. To be fair, we tend to purchase our own underwear, ever since the incident, a very long time ago, with the pair of knickers with four leg holes. [Blushes]

In the end, I bit the bullet and messaged Our Lass, asking about the pants puzzle and including an Embarrassed emoji. It turned out that they were a gift from said sister-in-law at New Year.


This tale actually followed hard on the heels of a recently-purchased bra where one of the shoulder straps has a half twist and is effectively a Moebius strip. If the thought of the words 'bra' and 'strip' in the same sentence makes you uncomfortable, please spare a thought for the wearer.

Someone else with their knickers in a twist this week has been Counter Terrorism Policing South East, who have produced a guide to inform police forces and government organisations about the threats from ideological extremism. In their infinite wisdom, the document's authors had included the environmental and climate campaign group Extinction Rebellion alongside violent and extremist organisations which are banned in the UK. The guide has now been pulled, saving Our Lass the dilemma of whether to report me to the authorities, as she would be obliged to do under the Prevent programme.

Sunday, 5 January 2020


A belated Happy New Year to one and all, as life returns to what passes for normal on this particular planet. Bank balances, bathroom scales and hard-working livers ponder the madness of the festive season, whilst the rest of us contemplate whether it will be climate change or world war which will curtail our plans in 2020.

Our Lass and I ventured south for a few days to spend time with family. We travelled on New Year's Eve (Hogmanay), with an early crossing of the Pentland Firth, before a long drive down the A9 to Fife, stopping off at various places en route.

Duncansby Head lighthouse greeting the dawn
In Abernethy Forest, we visited the RSPB's Garten reserve (famous for its Ospreys in Summer) and I tried, unsuccessfully, to photograph some of the birds flitting about the feeding station.

Missed a Coal Tit, but scored a bonus Chaffinch

Finally! A Coal Tit

Exquisitely-focussed bit of ground and a blurry Crested Tit

Icy. One of the small lochans which we visit in Summer for its dragonfly diversity
Lunch on New Year's Day was a four generations affair from Our Lass's side of the family. Despite being the scruffiest person present, I was chuffed with this image as it didn't take long to set up, everyone was looking at the camera and no-one blinked!

After several days cooped up indoors, we were in need of some fresh air and exercise, so Our Lass and I visited the nearby Loch Leven national nature reserve.

A dapper Tree Sparrow
We returned to Orkney yesterday, arriving home about 8pm. In the all-too-brief moments of sunshine this morning, there was an amazing rainbow, although I couldn't photograph it in a single frame, and had to take a panoramic shot, before cropping out the extraneous bits.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Peace on earth

Christmas Day in Orkney was a calm, bright affair. Occasional squalls moved slowly through, producing small patches of diffuse rainbow arcs, which were sadly way too ephemeral to photograph.

But the low Winter sun invigorated both the landscape and the inhabitants with its golden glow and... can I actually feel some warmth?!

From the front door, mid morning, the illumination and serenity were wonderful. Going for a walk was a no-brainer.

We pottered down the single track road, towards the old kirk by the shore, and yes, there was definitely some warmth to be felt from the star in the sky. We paused by some flooded fields to enjoy the reflections of the landscape and the Starlings carolling on the roof of the kirk.

There was not a wave to be heard as we gazed across Holm Sound. Redshank and Snipe called their alarms as we stopped by a low wall, but a small flock of Turnstones just carried on foraging through the seaweed on the tide line.

Our Lass remarked upon how the light was catching the lichen on the wall, and I took the hint, as I'm fairly useless at artful framing.

Now we were on the sunlit side of the old kirk, the plumage of the sole remaining Starling was alive with greens and purples, as the bird's jazzy song mingled in the air with the calls of Long-tailed Duck, Gadwall and Teal.

By the time we had walked up the Tieve Road, passed by Greenwall and were headed back to Tense Towers, our next view of the kirk was a beauty. In silhouette with, in the distance, the cliffs and headlands of South Ronaldsay.

And in the far distance, the lighthouse on the Pentland Skerries. Just look at those gorgeous retreating horizons, each a differently-hued grey. 😍

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

The lights are on, but...

The gravel quietly crunched as I eased the van to a standstill. It felt very pleasant to be parking up at midday on Christmas Eve, contemplating a relaxing lunch, then tidying up any loose ends in slow time during the afternoon. Unpacking the van, my euphoria (which was just getting into its stride) tripped over its own shoelace as I rummaged through a rucksack, trying to find my free-standing torch. Hmmm, several screwdrivers, a pair of cutters, an invoice book and a couple of diaries... but no torch. Dang! I double checked the other box which I had had with me in the equipment room. There's was lots in that, but nothing illuminating. Oh... bother!

I had only been a little bit smug at knocking off early on Christmas Eve, but it jolly well served me right. 

At the back of my mind, I was pondering two facts:

1. Would the office where I had been working shut at 1pm for the festive period?
2. Would it be possible to find a direct dial number for the nearest desk to the equipment room?

These questions was answered quite quickly, as dialling an 0800 number gave a complete spiel of the firm's opening hours over the Christmas and New Year, but then the pleasantly-accented voice reeled off several options of buttons to press for various departments, none of which were the 'I'm an idiot and I've lost my torch" office.

Taking pot luck, I jabbed at '2' and when it was answered, I blurted out "I don't want to book anything, but I need to speak to Cynthia (not her real name) in the next room!"

Perhaps call centre staff are used to muppets like me phoning up, but the voice on the other end of the line was completely unfazed, simply putting me on hold whilst Cynthia was located, and then I was transferred through to her.

In short order, Cynthia had unlocked the equipment room where I'd been working, switched on the light and had a quick look around.

"I can't see anything, I'm afraid," she said. This at least reassured me that I wasn't going mad, as I flippin' knew I'd checked the room before I'd left. It may only have been a man look, but a big red torch usually does not escape detection.

"OK," I said, "In that case, please could you look around the back of the smaller equipment rack, as that's the only place I can think it might be."

Sure enough, there it was, still switched on and a shining example of how much of a pillock I am. Thankfully, the firm was going to be open all afternoon, so I had time to drive the twenty miles back there and sheepishly collect my torch from a grinning receptionist.

Honestly, and a bit topically, I'm wondering whether I could even be trusted to follow a big star in the sky.


Second Born went on a trip to London yesterday, a fact I only became aware of when she popped up on social media...