Sunday, 19 February 2017

A Winter's Tale

As often happens during the early part of February, the UK experienced a few days of wintry weather. Orkney wasn't unduly troubled with snow, if anything it made the place even more picturesque.

From the front door, looking to the hills of Hoy
Kirkwall marina

The roads were a bit icy-dicey, first thing, but by the time I arrived on Eday for a day's work, the snow was just a distant memory. As far distant as Rousay, in fact.

Working on the west side of Eday, tucked away from a chilly south easterly breeze, I was actually shedding layers in the gentle warmth of the returning sun. Bizarre!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Ploughing rig

Looking out of the lounge window this morning, I was puzzled by some stacks of bales that had suddenly appeared in a field across the valley. Then I put my specs on. They turned out not to be little pyramids of bales, but the latest round of the local ploughing championship.

Between taking the two photographs above, it had rained quite a bit and we'd been for a walk, so my damp brow was as furrowed as the distant field.

The vessel out in the Flow, is the accommodation rig Safe Zephyrus, which is one of three flotels currently anchored here for, presumably, maintenance. The other two are Safe Caledonia and Regalia.

Inaugural auspiciousness

At the beginning of the month, Tense Towers had another visit from First Born. She arrived in a bit of a gale (interesting plane landing), had several sunny walks (yes, really) and finally managed to synchronise social engagements with Sian from 'Life on a Small Island'.

First Born, Sian and Our Lass
Years ago, before Our Lass and I moved to Orkney, it was First Born who found Sian's blog and pointed her dad in its general direction. The rest, as they say, is history... or his and her stories, if you're being pedantic (Who? Us?).

So it was a rather special moment to be present at the first meeting of the two, which occurred, unsurprisingly enough, in a cafe. The table didn't stay this empty for very long.

I'm not sure why they're being all so smiley and looking at the photographer, but it could have something to do with the fact that the cake counter is behind me.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Test for eco

Today, several pieces of social media output converged upon a single point in time and space somewhere between my left and right ears. It was a critical mass of scientific information that pointed to the folly and fecklessness of our species, and which I could no longer ignore. The evidence has been there for ages, that's part of the problem, but it is also out of sight. So although the message has been trying hard to get through, it has often fallen short of the mark or not been tuned to the correct wavelength, possibly because we do not want to hear it, having raised prevarication to the status of an art form.

Firstly, a beach-combing Facebook page alerted me to a hitherto unknown initiative.

Then, another post, this time by global environmental campaigners Plastic Free July, provided a link to a blogpost concerning the dire consequences of our actions which affect sea birds.

Lastly, I searched for info on the 'hitherto unknown initiative'.

And here's the thing, for once, for a fleeting microsecond, for a distance measured in nanometres, I was ahead of the curve.


The previous weekend, we had been walking on the beach at the Sands o' Wright, in South Ronaldsay, when I spotted some small thing out of place. I bent down to pick it up, rolled it around in my hand, concluded that it was a tiny piece of plastic and, unthinkingly, stuck it in a coat pocket.

I have just retrieved the object from its forgotten resting place.

Yup, most likely a nurdle.

It's a tiny drop in the ocean, there's just way too much of it out there.

It's a tiny drop in the ocean, but it's a start.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Not-so-wordless Wednesday

I am always delighted to receive a new book, so when a mystery parcel arrived last week, I was surprised and excited in equal measure. The gift was from First Born, and once opened, it sat there on the kitchen table, in all its wordy potentiality.

But hang on a minute...

There's something awry here...

Ah... not a heavy tome, then...

More of a footnote, really.

And so...

Sunday, 29 January 2017

BGBW 2017

First up, let me say that I didn't think I'd be participating in the 2017 Big Garden Bird Watch. Readers with a longer than normal attention span (all of you, surely?) may recall that the only bird to grace our garden with its presence during the previous BGBW had been a Snipe. What may not have been revealed at the time, was the fact that the RSPB's survey was not designed to cope with this particular scenario. Following a heated email debate and some pedantic sulking (yes, that was me), I admitted defeat and didn't submit the record.

So here we are in 2017 and, to be honest, I wasn't prepared to put myself through all that again. The local avifauna had other ideas, mind, and a single Blackbird pointedly paraded up and down outside the lounge window until I relented.

But it didn't stop there. Not by a long chalk. A tiny flurry of movement on the dry stone wall resolved itself into a Wren and then a House Sparrow gave away its location by chirruping from the rooftop.

Three actual birds, actually in the garden, on the actual weekend of the BGBW and they were all on the actual form, so totally legitimate for the survey. I will admit that I had to have a bit of a lie down after such frenzied activity.

As mentioned yesterday, the 100+ Common gulls that showed up for the ploughing competition over the road, didn't deign to set foot within the environs of Tense Towers, but this morning offered up a whole new level of excitement.

I was stood by the window, watching a Rook on a nearby fence post in the field opposite. It easily resisted my attempts to either levitate it or force it to fly across to our garden by mind power alone, although I did have a sudden impulse to eat a worm. No idea what that was about. It did occur to me to wonder why it was sat there, which was serendipitous, as a few fence posts further along the field was a raptor.

All thoughts of worm snacks disappeared in my mad dash for a camera, and I fired off a volley of shots through the rain-splattered window. I didn't dare open the front door, as this would've likely spooked the bird but, luckily, our bedroom window wasn't closed. With great care, I gently pushed it further open, until I could bring the camera lens to bear.

Unfortunately, the bird was sat with its back to me, and remained in this orientation throughout the whole 10 minutes I was able to watch it, before it glided off along the fence to the furthest corner of the field.

The raptor was staring intently into the recently ploughed field, possibly looking for worms (perhaps the Rook was even smarter than I'd already given it credit for). By its size and markings, I reckoned that it was a female Merlin, and I watched in awe as she took a break from hunting for lunch to run through a few stretching exercises.

Pleasingly, one of my photos captured one such move, the falcon equivalent of Tai Chi, 'Grasping the Pipit's Tail', perhaps?

And here is one of the few pictures where the bird looked around.

With a predator sat close by, I was probably very fortunate that any small birds showed up in the garden at all. I think we'll call that a result.

A sporting legacy

There's not much motorsport in Orkney, we're not Mull or the Isle of Man. The local motor club does have an autotest championship and there's a motocross club for the two-wheeled scrambling brigade, but that's pretty much it, really.

So imagine my surprise, when I discovered that Orkney had been mentioned in the same breath as the World Rally Championship. It seemed so petrol-headedly preposterous that I had to follow the link. For the 2017 World Rally Championship, the official Ford team will carry the number plates from a couple of cars belonging to the owners of the local Ford garage in Kirkwall. It's a nice bit of publicity, when normally the fastest thing on the road, certainly around here, is the wind.

But, and it's a big muddy but, I was reminded this week that there are plenty of Orcadian competitions which involve engines. Quite large engines. And mud. Plus some huge tyres. Did I mention the mud?

Saturday saw an event very close to home, the East Mainland Agricultural Society's Ploughing Match, which was held at Hurtiso Farm in Holm. The field for the competition was located across the road from Tense Towers, so we had a grandstand view. By 9 o'clock, there were a dozen tractors on site, all rigged for ploughing. Whilst there weren't many spectators, a sizeable flock of Common gulls had gathered, as is usually the case if they spot a tractor and plough. The gulls soon lost interest, however, when the competitors climbed out of their cabs and began a reconnaissance of their allocated plots. 

I have no knowledge of the skills required to accurately drive a tractor (other than having owned several Land Rovers). Neither do I have an appreciation of the intricacies of ploughing or its use as a mudsport, but I know plenty about pitting one's wits against opponents in the muddy outdoors in inclement weather (think orienteering, off road navigational rallying or most Winter birding trips). And before you say that all tractors have air-conditioned cabs, surround sound and GPS, let me say that most interest seemed to focus upon the sole entrant in the vintage category, who was definitely closer to the elements than his fellow competitors.

As the rigs lined up in the morning, it looked as though there was some scruntineering and judging for the Best Turned Out Rig. It was not, as I first thought, a bid to establish a base line for later in the day and the award for the Muddiest Tractor.

The avian crowd assembled in a nearby field. They must've mistakenly thought "A dozen tractors?! Twelve times the amount of food!"

By 10 o'clock, things were underway in earnest, although it was hardly a level playing field (apologies, I couldn't resisit that pun).

An hour later, it was darker, wetter and oh so very much ploughier.

Big respect to the guy in the old tractor which lacked a cab or any mod cons. I cannot imagine the likes of Formula 1 stars such as Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel taking to the wheel in such circumstances, without a good deal of carping.

The event went on all afternoon, with a few families coming along to watch the action before, one by one, the machines trundled back to their home farms. The following morning brought a brighter, sunnier day and, as I wandered along the road, a thought struck me. In these days of corporate logos, sponsorship from big business and the argument over the amateur/professional divide, just how many sporting events do leave behind a tangible legacy on the ground?

05.02.17 update: the results were featured in the local paper the following week...