Friday, 23 March 2018

The Hall of the Slain

What's this, you're thinking, has old Tense gone all mythic with the blog? Has several years of soaking up Norse influences from Orcadian culture finally pushed him over the edge. Or is he embarking on a project to pen a dark, Scandinavian murder mystery?

Not so much. The house where I was working today was called Valhalla. It was set in a very rural location, and the only dead thing on site was the satellite dish. It was a morning of steady, though gentle, rain, and a southerly breeze was barely noticeable. All in all, I thought, it could've been worse. I had not required the services of a Valkyrie (and the jury is still out on exactly what those services were) and it wasn't going to be last night's roast pork for tea (again).


As I deployed my ladder, I noticed that at its footing were lots of Coltsfoot springing from the bare, muddy ground, their flowers like tiny yellow explosions of colour. I was very careful where I put my boots. Once up at dish height, my ears finally got a message through to my brain, that the air was full of birdsong. Not your normal common or garden birds (though in much of Orkney, they are common and can be found in yer garden!), but creatures of wild moorland and rough pasture.

Skylarks were singing brightly, ascending in their own inimitable way, as if to celebrate the sheer joy of being alive on such a sunny and warm damp, overcast day. Curlews were bubbling and skirling for all they were worth, Redshanks were performing display flights, and Oystercatchers were piping as if their lives depended upon it. Now that I was concentrating on the sounds, I also detected Common gull, Rook and Snipe in the orchestration and, possibly, the far off cry of a Buzzard.

The rosy glow I felt from being in proximity to such fantastic wildlife was warmth enough to carry me through the task.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Light show

Sunday had one more surprise in store for Orkney. After several nights of probable aurora, but way too much cloud cover to see it, tonight was clear and still with minimal cloud. And the Northern Lights, or Merry Dancers as they're called here, put on a fabulous show.

Both of these photos were taken from our front door, mainly because it was freezing and I'm a complete wuss. The first image shows the main band of the auroral arc with many rays emanating from it. The dull red glow, bottom right, is the glow from Kirkwall, I think.

The second image is looking more west than the usual north. It is thought that the pale ray may be a Steve, as it is separate from the main arc of the aurora. Above Steve is the Pleiades star cluster. Below Steve is another cluster, several ships and a couple of rigs anchored in Scapa Flow.

Cameras do tend to over-emphasise the colours, as to my naked eye the aurora tends to be a pale greeny-grey. There are many better photos of the night's entertainment, taken by folk with more camera skills than I, on the Orkney Aurora Group Facebook page.

Broken spring

Another spell of cold weather means that Winter is in no hurry to let go of its grip on the land. We've escaped the snow which is plaguing places further south, but the easterly gales and consequent wind chill make life difficult for humans and wildlife.

Perhaps this has swayed my perception, but I was convinced that Spring was advancing slower this year. Time to fire up a blog search and look at the annual dates when I first mention Coltsfoot...

2014  No record

2015  15th March

2016  19th March

2017  12th March

2018  18th March

So much for perception, eh?

But I am sure that this year's Coltsfeet Coltsfoots flowers have only just emerged from the cold, cold ground.

Meantime, my little car is making an ominous creaking noise whenever I hit an undulation in the road. This is more likely to be a broken spring.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

A walk on the wild Lyde

This weekend we're cat sitting for friends who have journeyed south for a family celebration. Milly, their kitten, is a house cat, so rather than her come to us, we're spending time with her in West Mainland. Hopefully, the entertainment value of the encounter is equally shared between Our Lass, Milly and myself.

Ironically, Saturday began with a pair of sun dogs. This is the view eastwards from the top of the Lyde Road, looking across to Kirkwall Bay.

This house is situated conveniently close to the RSPB reserve at Cottascarth, so after the morning frost had disappeared, we made a short trip up to the hide in the hope of a glimpse of a Hen Harrier.

Unfortunately, we weren't in luck, with only a pair of Ravens to show for our efforts, but back at Milly's, we had a fortuitous encounter with a Buzzard.

Sunday is the wrong side of dreich, so we're channelling the spirit of Milly and being house humans. At some point in the future, I will blog about my thoughts regarding pets, a possibly contentious subject and one about which I have quite mixed feelings.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Stuff On My Phone (13)

2018 sees the tenth anniversary of a rough time in my life. A decade ago, in pre-blog days, I experienced a period of work-related stress that had repercussions for myself and those around me. Now, at some distant remove from that episode, it seems a reasonable moment to pause and reflect, in a manner that wasn't an option at the time.

In 2000, I began working for a small, but growing, electronics company which, in many ways, became my dream job. It was a rewarding time, both from the sense of making a difference and also remuneration. As the company's ranks swelled, we all rode the wave of hard work and job satisfaction, and after eight years, I found myself managing a product line as well as co-ordinating installations and repairs. Those latter roles began to need more resource and manpower but, in fire-fighting mode, I was either too busy juggling projects or too close to the problem to recognise it for what it was.

The upshot was that I internalised everything, taking the burden of the looming deadlines, customers' high expectations and general lack of resource as my problem, not the company's. This was not a healthy state of affairs and, inevitably, I ended up as a sobbing wreck in the boss's office.

Sent home and visiting a doctor at my local surgery, I vaguely heard the words he was saying... something about a football pitch, countless blades of grass, one blade among many, yada, yada. My head was still full of all the things that weren't being done at work so, when I returned home, all I could explain to Our Lass about the doctor was "When the heck does he think I have time to mow the lawn?!" After a time (memory has kindly erased how long), I returned to work, to a company that was also wondering what was going to happen next. I did not appreciate their point of view for some considerable while.

Whilst I'd been away, things had been happening, resource was being created and a whole department began to take shape. Unfortunately, it seemed unlikely that I would be a part of it, as I was offered the choice of several other, perhaps less demanding, roles. At this point, I began to realise that I was on a journey of sorts. I hadn't heard of the Change Curve, but being told that I was no longer required in the role that had suited me like no other was a proper blow. Shock and denial turned to anger.

Having asked for a weekend to think things over, I channelled the anger into a heartfelt letter to the boss, outlining why I thought he was wrong. Subsequent redrafts followed, each lifting a cloud as the expletive count lowered. All through this process, the song playing in my head, and I do not know how it came to me, was Green Day's 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams'. This was a band whose output tended to be generationally restricted to the bedrooms of First and Second Born, so I likely absorbed the vibe, unconsciously, through the walls.

The following week, letter delivered, I felt strong enough to argue my corner, resulting in the small victory of a desk in the corner of the nascent department. From this vantage point, I was able to rebuild some self confidence, using the best bits of the old me to forge a more resilient, but wary, new me. During that time, on site with a trusted and valued customer, I talked about what had happened. Bless him, the customer kindly gave me the "It's ok to say no" talk which, in many ways, was the final piece of the puzzle. In the years afterwards, I hope I repaid his kindness, it was the least I could do.

I spent a further five years with the company, with my only significant use of the word 'no' being the occasion when I refused the position of departmental manager. Later, when the question arose again, I accepted, and had the honour of managing (at least on paper!) the best bunch of colleagues a guy could wish for. They were often infuriating, occasionally ridiculous, but frequently sublime. To a man and woman, each understood the need to complete the task, using their many and different skills to accomplish what was required. A chap can learn a lot from a team like that.

So now, whenever I listen to 'Boulevard...', it reminds me of not only the low point, but also the highs. Which is quite cathartic and pretty much all you could ask of a SOMP track.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

The icing on the cake

On Thursday, I was tasked with moving some equipment to allow building work to proceed on the upgrade to the hostel on the island of Papa Westray (often known as Papay). Due to the time involved in travelling, sailing wasn't an option, so a trip in one of Loganair's Britten Norman Islanders was the alternative.

This week has been particularly wintry, with much of England and the central belt of Scotland having enough snow to cause havoc with everyone's travel plans. Sadly, this included First Born's long weekend visiting Orkney, which was scuppered by stationary traffic on the M62 and cancelled flights out of Manchester.

Orkney, by contrast, has seen light but frequent flurries of very fine snow, which drifted in the strong easterly breeze. So I wasn't completely sure that my flight would go ahead, or that I could return to Mainland later in the day.

I needn't have worried. Despite the wind chill and freezing temperatures, we left Kirkwall Airport on time and headed for our first port of call, the island of Westray. As we flew over Shapinsay, the bright Winter sun sparkled off the frosty scenery below, lighting up Helliar Holm lighthouse and Balfour Castle and casting long shadows behind them. Then, as we passed Egilsay and Rousay, a snow flurry obliterated the view for a while. As we neared Westray, the sun returned, giving spectacular views along the cliffs of the island's western coast. In the far distance, Noup Head lighthouse looked as though it was perched on a giant slice of carrot cake, the dark cliffs rising from the sea towards the snowy icing above.

Having landed on Westray, the next hop was a scant two minute journey to Papay, officially the word's shortest scheduled flight. As the seats in front of me were now vacated, I was able to film this bit of the journey without getting in anyone's way.

Conditions deteriorated a little during the day, but with the equipment successfully relocated, my return flight went without a hitch. We encountered a few more snow flurries en route, but made it back to Kirkwall without incident. And by some weird Pavlovian response, I celebrated by purchasing a carrot cake.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Stuff On My Phone (12)

I have thought long and hard about whether to include this particular track in the SOMP series, as it's one thing subjecting readers to my dubious taste in music, but a completely different kettle of fish to launch an ear worm on an unsuspecting group of kindly folk who, for some inexplicable reason, keep coming back for more.

Y'see, I hope that the series doesn't actually need the links to the music tracks, as it's as much about the personal story of why the tracks are special to me in some way and are, therefore, loitering on my phone.

To that end, there's not a link in this blogpost, but that's mainly because the song is an absolute ear worm, at least to me. I'm not sure how contagious an ear worm can be, but I really wouldn't want to unknowingly inflict one on anyone. The choice will be yours.

Oh yeah, that 'thought long and hard' comment at the beginning of the post, it was about 3.2 microseconds. I only downloaded the song recently, having been blithely unaware of its existence and huge success at the top of the charts in 2013. I happened upon it earlier this year when it was used in a tv advert by Peugeot, promoting their 5008 SUV model. We'll conveniently gloss over the fact that Peugeot probably don't have a Stargate-type facility with a portal to a world where whales happily leap over causeways, eh?

As befits the status of ear worm, I can't remove the song from my head, so have done the only thing that will eventually lead to its eradication. I've downloaded it and play it a lot. At some distant point in time (possibly when a major French car manufacturer has invented the afore-mentioned portal) I will become bored with it, but current evidence makes that supposition unlikely.

Wanna risk it? John Newman's 'Love Me Again'.