Sunday, 10 December 2017


I'm afraid I don't dance, much to Our Lass's frustration and eternal regret. She's a long-suffering gal, but I think even my Beloved would agree that apart from having two left feet, a chronic lack of confidence, whole body arrhythmia and absolutely no talent, I'm a shoe-in for a perfect score of four tens.

Nope, I don't dance. Well, not unless they allow head-banging, which I don't think they do.

How and ever, at least we have 'Strictly Come Dancing' on the Beeb. Yes, of a Saturday and Sunday evening, Our Lass and I can sit down together and watch folk who can dance in the company of other folk who maybe shouldn't or who strive to or who are surprisingly ept at the whole sashaying across the floor thing.

And on Monday to Friday evenings, too, with 'Strictly - It Takes Two'. Honestly, at this time of year, nothing gets done around Tense Towers.*

Ok, so it is often just so much kitsch, a bit hammy in places and of no great consequence in the grand scheme of things, but... but, to be honest, there's so much consequential shit going on in the world, that a bit of Strictly lightness is required to see us through the dark times.

And, for all my protestations to the contrary, I do enjoy it. All the humour (good and bad), the banter between the professional dancers, most of the theatre and, now, as we approach the final, the emerging edge of competition.

I have always become somewhat 'emotional' when witnessing someone's personal achievement, whether it's at a wedding, at a sporting event, watching an underdog striving to win or someone coming through adversity to triumph in the end. I do, I well up, silly sod that I am.

Strictly is the same. I tend not to root for the best dancers, but the ones that are working so hard and surprising both themselves and us, punching above their weight in a medium that isn't their own. For that alone, you have to applaud them. Jeez, I'm getting teary just typing this.

Yesterday was a case in point. Mid-morning, I returned home from a trip to the supermarket to find Our Lass listening to a Robbie Williams cd. So far, so normal. But then the melody of 'Beyond The Sea' floated from the speakers and I was transported back to a fortnight ago when Susan Calman and Kevin Clifton were eliminated from Strictly, following their American Smooth to the Bobby Darin classic. That started the klaxons blaring in my head, so I was probably at a low emotional ebb when the semi-final began in the evening.

Alexandra Burke and Debbie McGee should, barring any Speedo or tutu swapping between the judges, make it through to the final. That's only right and proper, they have previous experience (though in Debbie's case, a long time ago) and they have consistently put in amazing performances. Which two of the other three semi-finalists should join them in the final isn't so clear cut. Joe McFadden has been a revelation this series, but had a bit of a wobble in one of his dances last night, and there's little to choose between Molly King and Gemma Atkinson, who are somewhat mercurial. But, yep, I was punching the air and wiping away the tears at the Tangos (Tangoes?) of both Gemma and Joe.

Whatever happens tonight in the dance-off and in next weekend's Strictly Final, I'm likely to be watching the Glitterball through a watery veil of emotion.

* At other times of year, there are other reasons!

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Big tree, little tree, cardboard box

Can we pun it? Yes we can! And that, you will be relieved to hear, is the limit of my knowledge as regards Bob the Builder.

The Woodland Trust organise a competition every year to find Scotland's favourite tree. For 2017, the honour of the country's most loved woody plant has been bestowed upon a two hundred year old Sycamore in Albert Street in Kirkwall.

I happened to be in town this morning, as work was cancelled due to Storm Caroline, and took a few photos of the 'Big Tree', as it is affectionately known locally. Admittedly, a dreich day in December is never going to offer opportunities to capture the most picturesque view of anything, let alone a deciduous tree in an urban street.

As can be seen in the latter image, there's a large metal support keeping the tree upright, but the branches do still fill with leaves in the Spring, so the old Sycamore is certainly putting up a fight.

If you're wondering 'why the heck did they plant that there?', well, as it happens, they didn't.

Here's an old postcard from 1890, by Tom Kent, which I found on the BBC Scotland website, showing the tree inside a walled garden. Apparently, there were once three trees, but two were felled during the widening of the street, before a public outcry saved the third, our Big Tree.

Copyright Tom Kent
The next few images were taken by Sandy Windwick in the 1980s, and are now held in the Orkney Image Library. Up until 1988, the Big Tree still had its original 'head of hair', but it was pollarded soon after, as Sandy's 1989 image shows.

Copyright Sandy Windwick
Copyright Sandy Windwick
I made the 'hair' remark, as the shop just by the tree is Hazel's Hair Stylist, presumably not named with any dendrological accuracy!

As mentioned previously, due to storm force winds, I opted for discretion over valour today. In fact the only ladder I climbed all day was this one, as I used the time festively to decorate a somewhat smaller tree.

And the cardboard box? Well, I had ordered some stuff from south last month, which hasn't yet appeared on our doorstep. Enquiries with the retailer revealed that the box had taken a inadvertent detour to Shetland, but was now back in Aberdeen, awaiting the next cargo vessel to Orkney. Again, however, due to Storm Caroline, we won't be seeing the parcel before the middle of next week. Oh, fix it!

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Found it!

Better late than never, as they say...

Here's the link to the Beatles' programme mentioned in yesterday's blogpost:

If you've not seen it, but would like to, there's a week and a half left to watch it on catch-up.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Song cycle

A few weekends ago, I was searching through catch-up tv for something interesting to watch, when I spotted a documentary about the Beatles, originally broadcast in June this year. I don't know how I missed it at the time, but no worries, that's the beauty of catch-up services.

The documentary was about the making of the Sergeant Pepper album, which is now 50 years old, and was presented by Howard Goodall. From the old Victorian poster found by John Lennon in a shop in Kent (which became the lyrics to 'Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite') to the invention of the variable speed tape machine to allow two takes at different speeds to be mixed together ('Strawberry Fields Forever'), it was a very interesting programme. The band's producer at Abbey Road studios was George Martin, who was an integral part of the creative process of recording such an innovative and ground-breaking album. Sadly, I can't find the link to the programme now, my apologies.

Then, the other evening, I was browsing through a social media feed (OK, it was Facebook), when I happened upon a link to CRMK (Community Radio Milton Keynes), which was broadcasting 'Between Two Worlds', a progressive rock show, hosted by an acquaintance from our time in MK. There was an eclectic mix of tracks, none of which I had heard before (I hadn't even heard of the bands!) and I think I will be 'tuning in' more regularly in future. Some of CRMK DJ Kev Slaymaker's shows are available on Mixcloud.

This morning, my thoughts turned to another formative music programme on the radio, Radio One's Friday Rock Show which ran from 1978 to 1993 and was broadcast between 10pm and midnight on a... you've guessed it... Friday evening. For much of the show's time, it was hosted by Tommy Vance (TV on the radio) and was essential listening after lights out. Today I have been reminiscing with the show's theme tune, 'Take It Off The Top' by Dixie Dregs and also the tune which accompanied the weekly quiz, the Friday Night Connection, 'Theme One' by Van Der Graaf Generator.

In listening to the latter, I learnt that 'Theme One' was originally written and recorded by none other than George Martin, also 50 years ago, for the launch of Radio One. Should I have known that? Probably not, I was only five years old at the time.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Stuff On My Phone (8)

I mentioned, a few SOMPs ago, that thinking of my favourite bands or artists, it is a difficult task for me to narrow down the track selection to a single song. This scenario is further complicated when, having finally made a choice, the track in question isn't then available from the media library with which one's mobile phone is aligned. This is a problem which requires a creative solution (rather than purchasing a different phone, as that would just be pandering to global consumerism).

Back in the day, when picture discs were all the rage, I bought the most pop-tastic, tune-catchingly commercial, multi-layered rock album of all time (possibly), 'Hysteria' by Def Leppard.

The Leps are a Sheffield band who were at the forefront of the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) in the late 70s and early 80s. They have gone global, had more than their fair share of tragedy and disaster, and are very much de rigueur in the Tense clan.

Certainly, as youngsters, First and Second Born were keen to explore the mysterious environment that was their dad's LP collection, and I can only assume that this picture disc was responsible for some of what followed. I suspect that if Second Born was asked to state her religion, she would devoutly admit to worshipping at the altar of Def Leppard.

Oddly enough, my favourite Leps track isn't on the 'Hysteria' album, though there are some stonking tunes on it (and seven hit singles). Nope, the song that holds me in its thrall is 'White Lightning' from the 'Adrenalize' album of 1992. This album was the first one released after the death of guitarist Steve Clark, and so featured some of his ideas and songs. His great friend and fellow Leps guitarist Phil Collen had to mimic Clark's style on the latter's guitar parts, in what must have been a poignant time in the studio.

'White Lightning' was an unfinished Steve Clark track, so Def Leppard used it to create their own tribute to their lost bandmate and his tortured soul. Whatever our temptation: alcohol, drugs, gambling or pleasures too numerous to mention, there's a salutary tale here for all of us. And a sonic smorgasbord of spine-tingling riffs from the one they called White Lightning.

But, as I said earlier, I can't download that track so, instead, it is a web link to a Youtube page (at least whilst there's still a Youtube).

Shown for illustrative purposes only - does not play (try the link above).

Monday, 20 November 2017

Talk to the animals

There's a house I've visited a couple of times recently, carrying out some work for the owner. In the course of this work, I have needed to go in and out of the house many times, and usually did so through a conservatory leading into a kitchen.

The household includes a cat, which is usually found in the conservatory, either scoffing food or having a snooze. As I am a stranger to the home, said cat normally scarpered when I journeyed through his (I think) world, escaping via the hole where the cat flap should be or hiding in some dark recess of the conservatory.

Every time I visited the house.

Every time I walked through the conservatory.

I even took to talking to the cat to reassure him that I meant no harm but, presumably, the cat assumed that this was a bluff and was having no part of it.

Exit cat, stage right or left, take your pick.

But the very next time I went back through the conservatory... every single time... the cat would be back again.

Today, the story was the same, despite the fact that I now knew the cat's name (which I will not reveal here to save his embarrassment). Personalised and placating banter from me cut no mustard with the cat.

Until the very last time, as I was leaving the house at the end of the task, I said goodbye to him and he sat still, didn't even move a muscle. Smugly thinking to myself that I'd built some bridges with the animal, I was just about to close the door on my way out, when I heard a noise.

Slowly turning around and gently opening the door once more, I looked at the cat. Yup, he was still there. Obviously awake. Not scarpering. Then I heard the noise again. It wasn't coming from the cat.

I scanned the room slowly. At the opposite end of the conservatory, perched on a shelf, was a Blackbird. Moreover, a Blackbird whose state of anxiety had just gone up a notch or two, with the addition of a human to its list of woes.

Leaving the door wide open, I stepped over the now-rooted-to-the-spot cat, moved around to the other end of the room and managed to coax the blackbird towards the door, hoping that in its fear of me, it didn't forget the greater danger from the cat. As luck would have it, the bird was all over that plan and made good its escape, bursting forth through the doorway and alarm calling as if every Sparrowhawk in Orkney was on its tail.

I looked at the cat, who gave me a stare in return. A stare that said, "See that hole where the cat flap should be? That flippin' bird hops in here every day and pinches my food!"

Sunday, 19 November 2017


Here in Orkney, there has been one gale after another of late, such that many folk were feeling the onset of cabin fever, or at least in need of some respite from the horizontal weather. This morning was much calmer, with plenty of blue sky and a generous helping of golden sunlight.

As we ate breakfast and gazed out of the lounge window, we spotted a solitary sparrow-sized bird perched on a wire fence. As it was on its own, we surmised it probably wasn't one of the local House Sparrow flock, and so it proved. Recourse to binoculars revealed a male Chaffinch (can't remember the last time we had one of those in the garden), who was very interested in the habitat created by the local community allotment.

It was chilly, certainly cold enough for a bit of frost, so we wrapped up well and, by heck, it was great to be outside, simply for the sheer joy of it. We wandered down to the shore, passing a field that contained a big flock of Golden Plover and a few Lapwing. After all the recent rain and hail, there was still quite a lot of standing water, especially in the pastures near the old kirk.

Around one of the temporary pools we counted thirteen Moorhen, all intent on searching for their own tasty morsels, but keeping an eye on each other in case someone else struck gold.

As it was nearing high tide, the birds on the shoreline were quite close to us, giving good views of Snipe, Turnstone, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover. A flyover by a large helicopter heading out to the North Sea put up into the air all manner of birds: geese, waders and ducks, the latter including a small flock of Red-breasted Merganser.

Turning down a track, we followed this for a while, in the company of a pair of Stonechat, who flitted in front of us, between fence and ground, for a good few hundred yards.

On the return journey, the sun was at our backs, so the views were much improved.

Above is a photo of Castle Howe (left), the site of a possible Iron Age broch, with the old kirk further around the bay (on the right). The hills of Hoy, across Scapa Flow, can be seen in the distance.

And here's a closer view of the bay and kirk. Did I mention that it was great to be out in the fresh air?

The rest of the day was filled with gardening (Our Lass), washing the van (Me) and sorting out the recycling (also me), before the lowering sun brought a chill to the air once more and we retreated back indoors for a welcome mug of hot chocolate.