Thursday, 26 November 2015


Still in England... still on a training course... still walking to and fro between hotel and venue.

Yesterday morning, I ventured out a little earlier than the previous day. There were fewer people and more birds. Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Herring Gull, Magpie, Jackdaw, Goldcrest and...

A Kestrel. The lone sentinel at the gates of dawn.

Today was a later start, so many more people and consequently fewer birds to be seen. But there was a Grey Squirrel and, as there was more daylight, I noticed this bug hotel or wildlife stack outside one set of offices.

Ee, it proper gives you hope, so it does.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The call of the wild

In a change to the advertised programme, this blogpost comes to you from an industrial estate in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, England. Following my departure, earlier this month, from the waste reduction charity Orkney Zerowaste, I have ventured sooth for a spot of technical training.

This morning the weather was fairly benign, if a little chilly, so I walked the mile or so from my hotel to the training venue, through the industrial estate and alongside the channelised River Team. That description doesn't make it sound too hopeful for the chances of some wildlife, and indeed, the view was often like this...

However, as the saying goes, faint heart never won a fair maiden (at least, that is an approximate and publishable rendition of what was said), so off I jolly well went.

At various points of my stroll through the industrial sprawl, thoughtful planting of trees and shrubs had softened the harsher effects of acre after acre of factories, workshops, offices and car parks. The most obvious tenants of this landscape were Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens and a few Black-headed Gulls.

As I was about to cross over a road, a high-pitched, but grating, call gave me pause for thought. It was familiar, but also somehow mysterious. I concentrated upon crossing the road safely, pondering whether I had simply heard one of the many vocalisations of a Magpie. Once back on the pavement, a further call solved the conundrum. A single "chip" being the clue to the identity of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. No wonder I was confused - very familiar from our Milton Keynes days, but now not heard so much in Orkney.

The return journey, later in the afternoon, was uneventful save for the rising Moon, a waxing gibbous globe creeping slowly above the horizon from behind the houses on a low hill to the east. So, despite the street lights, the traffic, the noise and the impersonal and intrusive industry, it was still possible to feel an elemental connection with the sky and the natural cycles that have shaped our lives for generations.

My hotel room is on the third floor, quite a change from our single storey abode in Orkney. I've been here a whole twenty four hours and haven't used the lift so far. Which pretty much assuages any guilt I might feel about having a fried breakfast.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Three lovely reasons why I frequent so many tea shops...

This is a guest photo-blog by Second Born (the muckle peedie sister, seeing as she's our younger daughter, but taller than First Born).

The montage uses photos taken by Our Lass and the girls, during a trip south earlier this, or possibly last, year. I had quite forgotten about it, until I noticed a 'Draft' blog sat in the Posts list.


Thursday, 12 November 2015


And so, dear reader, if Storm Abigail doesn't knock out the electrics, tomorrow I shall be revving up the vacuum cleaner. I suppose you could say that it's the old 'suck or blow' conundrum...

Monday, 9 November 2015

Where's Baxter?

It's a question that is asked occasionally at Tense Towers, though not so much in a 'red and white striped bobble hat' sort of way.

In fact, when it was posited this morning, by Our Lass, the phrasing was along the lines of, "Don't be too keen to vacuum the floor, I've lost Baxter."

Now I'm guessing that there isn't a household in the land that doesn't have at least one phrase which is understood perfectly by the occupants, but which is complete gobbledegook to the rest of the population.

One of ours is Baxter. He's not a hamster, or any sort of pet, or even a tin of soup. To be honest, he's not a 'he', they're a 'they'.

It all began years ago, when Our Lass announced that she'd lost the backs to her earrings.

"Why are your earrings called Baxter?" I had, not unreasonably, asked. And it stuck.

Another Tensified phrase is Norma Wright, which is usually heard following questions like "Do you want another hot drink?" or "Can I give you a hand with that?"

But our all time favourite is the, possibly apochryphal, story told by the late Kenneth Williams, of a book signing where the author asks a lady who should the dedication be made out to. The reply is Emma Chizzit, so a dedication to Emma is duly written in a book and handed over. The indignant lady asks, "What's this?! I only wanted to know how much is it?"

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Life imitating art

Very occasionally, in these pages, I have mentioned the late Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series of books. In fact, I've just checked my back catalogue and there are a tiny proportion of posts concerning STP and his prolific literary output (less than 1%) which, bearing in mind his popularity within Tense Towers, is a bit of a travesty.

Following his death earlier this year, it's probably fair to say that many Discworld fans were in a state of trepidation regarding the 41st and last book to be written and finally published at the end of August.

Speaking for myself, I wasn't in a rush to buy it, but couldn't quite articulate why not. On our way to Rhodes for First Born's wedding in early September, Our Lass pointed out the book on the shelves of W H Smith's in Manchester Airport and asked if I was yet ready to purchase it. I was not, but still couldn't put it into words. Helpfully, Second Born came to my rescue, by echoing my thoughts and explaining that it was probably due to the fact that it was the last one and, once bought and read, that was it, no new Discworld tales.

As has become customary over time (in some unfathomable, holistic and serendipitous way), a Discworld book was published shortly before my birthday each year so, as long as I was in possession of a little patience, everything would come to he who waits.

And it unfolded in a similar way this year, too.

Again I prevaricated, carefully crafting reasons not to begin reading the book and so hastening the end of the story. However, eventually, I did succumb to curiosity and begin reading The Shepherd's Crown, a story centred upon the young witch Tiffany Aching, who lives on the downland where, unsurprisingly, the main agricultural occupation is the raising of fluffy, white lawnmowers.

Then, yesterday, the postman delivered the latest edition of British Wildlife (in fact, the first edition since the publication of The Shepherd's Crown) and on page 25 is an article about sheep and The Chalk.

See, I told you it was holistic.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Weather writer

It's been a while, huh? And I'm not sure why.

Blogging seems to have taken a back seat of late, but without any clear reason for the lack of output. Yeah, things have been busier recently, though not to the exclusion of all else, so it's a bit of a mystery as to the scarcity of wordage.

Coincidentally, this diminution of posting has accompanied some settled weather. Orkney has experienced a sort of Indian Summer, with warm spells and calm days. Perhaps the meteorology is my muse?

Now, as we experience the calm before the first storm of the season, here I am sat at my computer, tippy-tappeting away at the keyboard, brow furrowed in concentration as, outside, night falls and the sky uses the cover of darkness to unleash some serious weather.

In fact, the return of my muse was presaged a few mornings ago, when I opened the bedroom curtains, bleary-eyed and out of focus due to a lack of spectacles. I was vaguely aware of a flock of birds flying over the garden and away from the house.

Cue a quick sprint to the lounge for my bins, dodging Our Lass mid-Whatsapp, and arriving at the window to ID the flock. It was a large, tight group of birds, by now flying over the stubble field across the road. Starlings. But before I could even think of uttering the word 'murmuration', I noticed the reason for this particular behaviour. It was a female Hen Harrier, gliding nonchalantly through the airspace between the flock and the ground.

As the RSPB website explains:

"Starlings join forces for many reasons. Grouping together offers safety in numbers – predators such as peregrine falcons find it hard to target one bird amidst a hypnotising flock of thousands."

OK, this particular flock was not of that order, but the intention was pretty clear.

However, Hen Harriers don't routinely surf the web, so this lady raptor suddenly went into a steep climb and stall, talons raised, as she bludgeoned into the massed ranks of Starlings.

The flock disintegrated, as each bird suddenly remembered an important engagement elsewhere, but not before one of their number had to send its final apology for a missed meeting. The harrier landed in a neighbouring field with her prize and, once sure that she wouldn't be disturbed, began to devour the unfortunate victim.

The whole episode had lasted a matter of seconds, but the memory of the natural drama will stay with me for a long while.